Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore


November 17, 2018

Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore

by mergawati zulfakar

http://www.thestar.com.my

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IT is an ASEAN homecoming for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the summit hosted by Singapore. The last time he attended an ASEAN Summit was in Bali 15 years ago where then Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri gave a tearful farewell speech.

This week at the 33rd ASEAN summit, all eyes will be on the Prime Minister again as he sits down next to another female leader who he has been critical of in recent weeks.

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And because of ASEAN’s way of doing things, the seating arrangement will be done in alphabetical order – which means Dr Mahathir will be seated next to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

In his Address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September, Dr Mahathir blamed Myanmar authorities, including a Nobel Peace Laureate, for closing their eyes to the fate of Muslims in Rakhine state who were being murdered and forced to flee their homes.

 

In an interview conducted the same week in New York, the Prime Minister made it clear that Malaysia would no longer lend its support to Suu Kyi over her handling of the Rohingya. He remarked that Suu Kyi seemed to be a “changed person” and he had lost faith in her.

For years, it was taboo for ASEAN leaders to even mention the word “Rohingya” during their meeting, skirting the issue by using words like Muslims and Rakhine state, bearing in mind ASEAN’s non-interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

But the situation became worse, and it is understood that Malaysia started raising the matter during the leaders’ retreat as recent as three years ago.

“The leaders’ retreat is where they can raise any issue but it will be unrecorded. But when we saw no serious efforts from Myanmar, Malaysia started using ‘Rohingya’ at official meetings,” said an official familiar with the issue.

“Obviously, Myanmar didn’t like it. It was an affront to them. We all know this is beyond the red line for them but we did it,” he added.

And Suu Kyi, who has been attending these summits, showed her displeasure. “You could tell from the body language and all that. She did not like it,” said an official.

At the ASEAN summit, the 10 leaders would normally pose for a group photo holding hands and giving their best smiles to the international media.Even former Prime MInister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak felt uncomfortable, telling his officers it was awkward.

So how would Suu Kyi handle someone who has lost faith in her? Would she care enough to find time and explain to a leader who once fought hard for Myanmar to be a part of ASEAN despite the world condemnation against the military regime that curtailed her freedom?

As for Dr Mahathir, the rest of ASEAN must be looking to him, wondering what he would do next.

“What else is Malaysia doing after such strident statements by the Prime Minister?No ASEAN country in recent times has singled out the leader of a fellow AASEANean country especially on the United Nations platform,” said an official.

When Dr Mahathir says he no longer supports Suu Kyi, what does he mean exactly? Suu Kyi is a legitimate leader who is still popular among her people.

“What is it that you want to do when you make that statement? What message are you sending? “How do you translate it through Malaysia’s foreign policy,” asked an observer.

“Malaysia must realise there could be some repercussion over such remarks. It may affect not only relations with Myanmar but also other ASEAN countries because “we are like a family”.

Whatever the Prime Minister utters is officially national position. Which means officials will have to rationalise it and implement it in the best way that will protect and promote Malaysia’s interests, not only in its relations to the country concerned but also ASEAN and globally.

For Malaysia to play a constructive role, it is important to protect and maintain some level of goodwill and trust. Putting it simply, it is vital to maintain good relations and keep the communication lines open”.–Mergawati Zulfakar

An official admitted that any statement deemed critical of leaders of another country could diminish any measure of trust that remains between Malaysia and Myanmar.

“In ASEAN or even Asia as a whole, face saving is very important. You do not humiliate, you don’t admonish if you want to maintain relations and some form of trust,” the official said.

Going tough on the Rohingya issue started in Najib’s time. Is Dr Mahathir’s speech at UNGA an indication that the current Government is not compromising and will take an even tougher stance on this issue?

Whatever the Prime Minister utters is officially national position. Which means officials will have to rationalise it and implement it in the best way that will protect and promote Malaysia’s interests, not only in its relations to the country concerned but also ASEAN and globally.

For Malaysia to play a constructive role, it is important to protect and maintain some level of goodwill and trust. Putting it simply, it is vital to maintain good relations and keep the communication lines open.

Mergawati Zulfakar –merga@thestar.com.my

Mahathir’s UN speech proposed as basis of Foreign Policy


October 16, 2018

Mahathir’s UN Speech proposed as basis of Foreign Policy

 

PARLIAMENT | The Foreign Ministry today tabled a motion in the Dewan Rakyat for the speech of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 28 to be set as the basis of Malaysia’s foreign policy.Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah also proposed that the Dewan Rakyat agree with the direction of the country’s foreign policy as stated in the Address of the Prime Minister.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub seconded the motion.

In tabling the motion, Saifuddin said the prime minister’s speech outlined, among others, the position and foreign policy of the country based on principles such as not favouring any power, neutrality and practising the “prosper thy neighbour” philosophy.

“The Prime Minister also emphasised Malaysia’s relations with the world’s major powers, as well as other issues such as the situation in Palestine, the plight of the Muslims in Rakhine (Myanmar) and the trade war between the economic powers,” he said.

Saifuddin said Mahathir also noted the importance of the UN as a key platform to resolve universal issues and expressed the hope that the UN will continue to play an important role in maintaining international peace and security.

“The Prime Minister’s speech also outlined the objectives and plans of the foreign policy of the New Malaysia to support the sustainability of economic, political and social developments within our own country,” he said.

Saifuddin said the motion was tabled to enable the government to obtain inputs, views and feedback from the members of the Dewan Rakyat because the government needed to have a foreign policy framework as a select committee on foreign policy has yet to be formed and the new Parliament has yet to have a caucus of MPs on foreign relations.

“We propose that Malaysia’s foreign policy framework comprises four key components, the major strands of foreign policy which have been largely disclosed in the Prime Minister’s speech at the UN; empowering the foreign ministry; strengthening inter-agency cooperation; and increasing the people’s participation,” he said.

Bernama

In defence of Mat Sabu’s ‘18-wheeler’ diplomacy


October 1, 2018

In defence of Mat Sabu’s ‘18-wheeler’ diplomacy

Opinion
by Phar Kim Beng

http://www.malaysiakini.com

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COMMENT |

Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu has reached a small milestone. He was in New York City between September 23-29, one of the longest trips ever by a Malaysian Defense Minister, and among the few to attend the United Nations General Assembly so soon after his appointment to cabinet.

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The length and the early trip to the United States are key, even if it is his 10th visit in the last four months, from the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore – during which he emphasised the centrality of ASEAN and the importance of the ‘Mahathir doctrine’ – to his visit to Lebanon in June.

To those not in the know, southern Lebanon is one of those delicate areas where conflicts could erupt at any given time. Malaysian peacekeepers are there to help maintain some semblance of order as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

Malaysians blue helmets have always been deeply respected. Be it in Congo in 1962 or Somalia in 1989, Malaysian soldiers have always been at the forefront of peacekeeping efforts.

Infamously, the book and movie Black Hawk Down got its details wrong. It wasn’t just the Pakistani blue helmets who retrieved the American rangers trapped in the fire fights in the centre of Mogadishu, Malaysians also saved the day.

Tariq Chaudhry, a UN diplomat, has always tipped his hat to the bravery of the Malaysian soldiers.

His doctorate thesis on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at Cambridge went as far as accrediting the Malaysian armed forces in maintaining the peace in Bosnia after the Dayton Agreement in 1995.

Mat Sabu is aware of this glowing legacy. He celebrates them, and is able to hit it off with Dr Mahathir Mohamed precisely because both agree peace is something which Malaysia can do and has done the world over.

Mohamad also believes that wars are a blight on humanity. One should avoid such aggressive behaviors. This is again a position not unlike the view of Mahathir, who also hates wars.

 

Just yesterday, Mahathir hinted that Malaysia is looking into following Japan’s constitution which prevents the country from entering armed conflicts.

Thus Malaysia has pulled out of the conflict in Yemen – which has now degenerated into a complex humanitarian emergency, where tens of thousands of people have died from dysentery, lack of clean water and medical services. The numbers are greater than the combatants who actually perished armed conflict between the Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition.

Preventive diplomacy

Since Malaysia has always had a policy of “active” neutrality starting from the 1960s – a concept enshrined by Malaysia’s participation in Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), further reinforced by the late Tun Ghazali Shafie’s concept of the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan) – our foreign policy has always focused on maintaining peace.

In the same month that Mohamad participated in the Shangri-La Dialogue, he hosted the Malaysia-Australia High Level Committee on Defence Cooperation in Butterworth. Australia is one of the members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) which Malaysian navy and armed forces still treasure deeply.

The next month(in July), Mohamad visited the Farnborough Airshow in the UK, an event which typically hosts the amazing acrobatic Red Arrows. The UK is also a member of the FPDA.

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https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/uk-south-china-sea-royal-navy-warship-beijing-hms-sutherland-gavin-williamson-trump-us-australia-a8208016.html

Given the insistence of the UK of remaining a vital and active player in maintaining freedom of navigation in South China Sea, Mohamad’s trip reassured them that their role in FPDA is deeply cherished.

In July 2018, the minister also made it a point to visit Bangladesh in light of the country’s growing tensions with Myanmar over the influx and mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims, which neither side seems to acknowledge is facing one of the worst humanitarian disasters.

With his trip to Cox’s Bazar, Mohamad is engaging in preventive diplomacy. He is trying to prevent the issue from further enlarging into an explosive issue that can drag ASEAN and South Asia into a structural conflict over the millions of Rohingya facing near-certain death.

Indeed, having strengthened all the necessary pillars in FPDA – by visiting Singapore, hosting the Australia and later the New Zealand delegation, in addition his UK trip – it seems Mohamad is emphasising the backbone of Malaysian defence diplomacy through FDPA.

 

This is why the trip to Bangladesh happened in August. In that month, Mohamad strengthened the confidence of the Malaysian peacekeepers in Lebanon, and sent a powerful signal to Myanmar that peace and freedom to all must be of paramount importance.

The following month, Mohamad went one step further: he visited the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus with Japan. Japan is critical precisely because the country in 1994, under then Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama, created the ASEAN Regional Forum from the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference.

In this particular trip to Nagoya, Mohamad signed an MOU with Japan to enhance mutual humanitarian assistance, civil military cooperation, in addition to strengthening the Malaysian peacekeeping operations in Port Dickson, which has been ongoing since 2005.

It should be added Japan immediately pledged a donation of USD1 million to reinforce peacekeeping facilities. These are all major achievements, as they reflect a strategic continuation of the dialogue and method of cooperation with Japan. How? It was Nakayama who suggested a multilateral forum where all countries in Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia could hold annual defence dialogues.

By 2005, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus took place in Kuala Lumpur, with a goal of consolidating the defence diplomacy of ASEAN member states and expanding the ambit of ASEAN’s defence collaboration with external dialogue partners, including China, Japan, South Korea, the United States.

If one observes all of Mohamad’s frenzied activities and trips, including the current one to the US, it is clear that he knows how intricate the defence portfolio has been since the 1960s.

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This is why every single trip can be related to either ASEAN, FPDA, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, and the UN.

The ’18-wheeler’ strategy

I would term this Mohamad’s 18-wheeler defence diplomacy, the metaphorical large truck that he drives taking the previous cargo forward. The precious cargo is of course Malaysian sovereignty, regional equilibrium, and international peace.

And, this is all done in a way to further the parameters of the ‘Mahathir doctrine’, where battle ships should not linger in any parts of the South China Sea unless the goal is to jointly address the effects of piracy.

In this sense, Mohamad’s upcoming meetings with his counterparts in Manila and Malawi deserves more commendations.

Mohamad is trying to stabilise one of the world’s oldest conflicts that go all the way back to 16th century, when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived to upend the religious and racial balance of Mindanao and Manila.

One should remember that Mohamad is a humanitarian at heart. He knows that Philippines and Mindanao Autonomous Region are constantly hammered by natural disasters.

Unless Malaysia and Philippines can work together, complex humanitarian emergencies can lead to endemic poverty, and hopelessness, all of which are fuel of terrorism and kidnap for ransom groups, that can spill over into Sabah and Sarawak.

So to his critics in UMNO and PAS who said that Mohamad hasn’t been doing his homework, they must realise that it is they who have been sleeping on the job as the opposition.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

How ASEAN can be resilient


September 11, 2018

How ASEAN can be resilient

Borge Brende and Justin Wood / Khmer Times
Image result for wef asean 2018 vietnam
ASEAN has long been praised for its ‘open regionalism’ whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. 

 

As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Unless ASEAN remains united as a bloc, write Borge Brende and Justin Wood, it will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.

Is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) resilient enough to thrive amid the regional and global transformations taking place today? While the global economy continues its broad-based expansion, disruptive economic, geostrategic, and technological forces may threaten Asean’s gains of recent years. To survive, Asean members must make important decisions about the role of their community in regional affairs. With the right choices, the region can convert disruption into an opportunity for a resilient future.

ASEAN has undergone an impressive turnaround in the past five decades. A region of turbulence, disharmony, and underdevelopment in the 1960s is today one of relative peace and economic success. Much of the credit belongs to the community-building efforts of the countries under the Asean umbrella. But the region also benefited strongly from the post-World War II global architecture and institutions that promoted inward flows of investment and outward flows of exports.

Today, this global backdrop is in a state of profound transformation. The benefits of free and open trade are being questioned, international institutions are being challenged, new geopolitical powers are rising, and – despite ups and downs – the global economy continues to tilt further toward emerging markets. All of this creates an opportunity for new and competing visions of how the world should be organized and run.

Alongside rising geopolitical uncertainty, ASEAN countries must grapple with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The exponential development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, precision medicine, and autonomous vehicles is transforming economies, businesses, and societies.

ASEAN members will feel the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution acutely. Consider the future of jobs. The working-age population in the bloc is increasing by 11,000 people daily and will continue to grow at this rate for the next 15 years. This demographic expansion is happening just as many existing jobs will be substituted by intelligent automation and AI. Systems of taxation that rely on labour income will come under pressure. National budgets will be challenged at exactly the moment when Asean members must increase their investment in reskilling labour forces and developing infrastructure for this new age.

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Or consider the future of manufacturing. Technologies such as 3D printing and cheap industrial robots are enabling products to be made in small, highly-customized forms rather than large batches of uniform goods. For ASEAN, the shift from centralized global supply chains to localized production systems could have a serious impact on export revenues and the investment by which it is driven.

Faced with these disruptive shifts, ASEAN must strengthen its community. Economically, regional resilience can be bolstered by building a genuine single market: ASEAN has 630 million citizens with rapidly rising spending power. Fully implementing the ASEAN Economic Community will be key. With a strong regional market, ASEAN can drive its own economic destiny, rather than relying on demand from external markets, and will be better insulated against potential protectionist shocks.

Creating a single market for services will be critical. Here, especially, ASEAN members must respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, tackling issues such as harmonization of rules governing the use of data. New technologies – including digital platforms, big-data analytics, and cloud-based services – do not recognize national borders and function best when they operate at scale. With a single digital market, ASEAN can develop truly pan-regional services in finance, health care, education, and e-commerce.

Of course, ASEAN should not build a fortress that keeps out the world. Indeed, the bloc has long been praised for its “open regionalism,” whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. This approach has been integral to its economic strategy from the beginning, and continues with the soon-to-be concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership joining ASEAN with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

Strengthening the political-security community is equally essential. With the architecture of global governance being challenged, ASEAN members must make their voices heard if they want a world that supports their interests. Individually, Southeast Asia’s countries carry little weight; collectively, however, they represent almost a tenth of the world’s population and nearly 5 percent of its GDP.

Historically, ASEAN has played a pivotal role in facilitating regional relationships, giving rise to the notion of “ASEAN centrality” in Asia. In 1993, the bloc established the ASEANn Regional Forum – now with 27 members – to foster dialogue on political and security concerns. It established the East Asia Summit, currently with 18 member states, in 2005.

Today, however, the geopolitical context is evolving. As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Many observers believe that other countries are undermining ASEAN n unanimity by developing dependencies with individual countries, built on investment, trade, and assistance. Unless it remains united as a bloc, ASEAN will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.

The so-called ASEAN way, characterized by consensus-based decision-making and non-interference, has served ASEAN well, and the bloc would be unwise to jettison it. But a reassessment is needed if ASEAN is to speak with a strong voice on regional matters, rather than allowing dissenting voices within the group to prevent the adoption of collective positions. Given that existing global institutions are being challenged, and given the rise of Asia in global affairs, Asean must reinforce its ability to influence the debate.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on September 11-13 and will provide an opportunity for such a reassessment. In an increasingly uncertain world, the need for the countries of ASEAN to deepen their community and their commitment to integration and collaboration is stronger than ever.

Copyright Project Syndicate 2018.

Borge Brende is President of the World Economic Forum; Justin Wood is Head of Asia Pacific and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum.

 

 

Data Driven Preventive Diplomacy For ASEAN Member States


July 6, 2018

Data Driven Preventive Diplomacy For ASEAN Member States

by Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla, The Habibie Center

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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ASEAN countries are no strangers to conflict and violence. As a region comprising diverse nation-states, Southeast Asia has experienced a number of inter- and intra-state conflicts. Political stability in the region has improved over the last decade, especially due to a decline in inter-state disputes. But intra-state disputes in the form of ethnic conflicts, violence against minorities and violent extremism — including terrorism — are gaining ground.

 

There are ongoing reports about Rohingya trying to escape from Myanmar and seeking refuge in Malaysia. Amid the Myanmar army’s denial of its alleged atrocities against the Rohingya, about 700,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled the country since August 2017.

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Meanwhile, according to the Global Peace Index, the Philippines is one of the least peaceful countries in the region due to its bloody war against drugs and crime that has resulted in increasing rates of homicide, incarceration and extrajudicial killings. Based on the same report, Indonesia had the greatest performance drop in the Asia Pacific in terms of peacefulness due to an increase in politically-motivated terrorism and growing tensions between hard-line fundamentalists and minority groups. Indonesia is also more and more vulnerable to the threat of an alliance between the so-called Islamic State, Darul Islam and some local violent extremist groups, as shown in the recent Surabaya bombing.

Even decades before the United Nations’ An Agenda for Peace report in 1992, ASEAN had committed to maintaining peace in the region without using the label of ‘preventive diplomacy’. From its inception, ASEAN was intended to be a regional conflict-prevention mechanism that internalised the practices of peaceful dialogue, consultation and consensus building among its members, amid the geopolitical uncertainty and diplomatic breakdowns that characterised the Cold War period.

The ASEAN Regional Forum defined preventive diplomacy for ASEAN in 2001 as member states’ diplomatic or political action to prevent disputes or conflicts that could pose a threat to regional stability, with the purpose of preventing such disputes from escalating to armed confrontation and minimising the impact of those conflicts and disputes on the region.

But in practice, preventive diplomacy in ASEAN is limited to the execution of forums and meetings that do not necessarily producing binding mechanisms to resolve potentially destabilising intra-state conflicts. ASEAN seems to be stuck in confidence-building measures and has not completely implemented preventive diplomacy as envisioned by the United Nations.

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Critics point to the development gap and significant political differences between ASEAN member states. The ‘ASEAN way’ that rests on the principles of consensus building and non-intervention is often cited as one of the factors that undermine a deeper commitment to implementing preventive diplomacy. ASEAN’s limited definition of preventive diplomacy is also criticised for constraining the practice of preventive diplomacy in the region to only include conflicts between and among states. This excludes non-state and intra-state conflicts or violence, which are seemingly growing in the post-Cold War era.

But the biggest challenge to preventive violence in ASEAN yet to be taken seriously is the lack of knowledge about conflicts and violence. To this day, it remains a challenge to pinpoint the general trend and exact number of violent events and conflicts within ASEAN. Some instances were allegedly perpetrated by the state, while others were committed by non-state entities and individuals. Although some reports intuitively indicate that violence in ASEAN is increasing, it is hard to identify the exact number of incidents because the data is scarce and rarely updated.

The limited reliable data that is available reveals that each country in Southeast Asia has its own patterns and characteristics of conflict and violence. In terms of intensity, there are also differences in the number of casualties and frequency of incidents. The types of violence also differ and include civil wars, insurgency, crimes, communal conflicts and violence against minority groups.

Relatively little data on violent incidents existed until recently, and the data is generally focused at the national level. Data on regional trends is patchy and scattered across various sources, which makes it difficult to generate a quick and accurate analysis to aid policy making processes. Not all countries have the capacity to record such data, which itself can be a controversial process in a number of ASEAN member states where conflicts are sometimes highly political.

Knowledge about the distinct features of violence in ASEAN is crucial to enable policymakers and stakeholders to identify shortcomings in the region’s approach to responding and preventing conflict. Such knowledge would also equip them to come up with effective policies and strategies to promote peace and stability in ASEAN.

A knowledge-based approach would enable stakeholders to resolve conflicts more effectively — not only by managing the impacts but also by preventing the escalation of future conflicts and violence. It would also encourage better practices of data collection and recording violence in and between ASEAN member states — which is essential to monitoring and evaluating preventive diplomacy and progress towards peace in the region.

Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla are Researchers at the ASEAN Studies Program, The Habibie Center, Jakarta.