Opportunities and Challenges of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and US Policy and Pakistan


September 10, 2017

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Number 395 | September 7, 2017

ANALYSIS

Opportunities and Challenges of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Implications for US Policy and Pakistan

by Lin Wang

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China and Pakistan have long maintained diplomatic and military ties. However, close economic cooperation is a more recent development. The flagship project of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – is expected to provide $40 billion in Chinese investments to Pakistan. CPEC is not only a strong economic boon for Pakistan’s economic growth in the next three to five years, but also an opportunity for Pakistan to stabilize its society and reshape its image from a fragile state to an emerging economy in Asia. From a geopolitical perspective, CPEC is also regarded as a game-changing project in South and Central Asia. The prospect is promising, although the detailed opportunities and challenges CPEC faces still need to be carefully evaluated. Although CPEC is a bilateral project between China and Pakistan, it has already drawn interest and  worry from other stakeholders in the region, including the United States and India.

Pakistan is important not only for the stability of South Asia, but for US national interests (including Afghanistan policy), China’s regional interests, global counter-terrorism, and the stability of the Muslim world as well. CPEC acts as a game-changing opportunity for Pakistan’s development and its future role in the region. With the implementation of CPEC and the emerging commercial attractiveness of Pakistan and the South Asia region, Chinese and US economic and security interests in Pakistan and the region are converging.

Pakistan has about 200 million people and is the second-most-populous Muslim-majority country in the world. It shares borders with India, China, Afghanistan, and Iran, which are all important players to the stability of the region and the world. As a nuclear country, Pakistan’s influence should not be underestimated. The country has a number of extremist groups and global terrorist organizations, and has sacrificed soldiers, civilians, and treasure fighting terrorism. Pakistan is still a fragile and internally divided state with a promising yet troubled economy.

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Pakistan? Where the Hell is this messy China controlled Place? 

US strategy and policies towards Pakistan need to be reoriented and reshaped. Pakistan and South Asia have long posed a challenge for US leaders, and that challenge has become one of the priorities of the Trump administration, as evidenced in the newly-announced strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia.

Opportunities

CPEC offers a number of opportunities, the first of which is economic development. The large influx of investments will work as a strong economic incentive for Pakistan’s government and social sectors to improve the business environment and enhance commercial attractiveness for more foreign investments, which will not only benefit Chinese investors engaged in CPEC, but will also benefit all foreign investors in Pakistan, including the United States. Industrialization in Pakistan will also help to create jobs for the country’s large, under-employed population, turning a social and fiscal burden into an economic and developmental driver.

A second opportunity that CPEC could provide is stabilization and improved security. With planned infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing investments, CPEC will create more private-sector opportunities and offer a realistic pathway out of poverty for Pakistan’s people, especially those extremely poor who otherwise may be tempted to fight as mercenaries for the Taliban or ISIS. Economic development will help to maintain domestic stability and enhance security in Pakistan for the medium to long term. Combined with strengthened governance and improved capacity, Pakistan will have greater political willingness and capability to fulfill its security commitment and responsibilities for global counter-terrorism.

Finally, CPEC could contribute to the further integration of South Asia. The core vision of CPEC is to improve infrastructure to facilitate inter-connectivity. The project is expected to connect China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asian countries together, integrating a market of two billion people and stabilizing the region. CPEC will empower South Asia to enjoy the full benefits of region-wide trade, stretching from Iran to China.

Challenges

 

Despite the many opportunities that CPEC potentially affords, clearly there are challenges too. First, CPEC could be an opportunity to enhance governance, but for CPEC to succeed in the first place Pakistan’s political and social governance is vital. By the end of 2016, almost all of Pakistan’s political parties as well as the different provincial governments formed a political consensus in support of CPEC. But, with the large amount of foreign investments expected, there must be the fair and efficient allocation of development benefits. This will be a test of Pakistan’s political and social governance capabilities.

Second, security will remain a challenge. For now, the Pakistani government and military have arranged more than 10,000 security forces to protect the people and projects of CPEC while a long-term and sustainable security mechanism is built.

Finally, there is geopolitics. The complaints that China’s promotion of CPEC blurs the distinction between political strategy and commercial interests demonstrate that the other main players in the region like India may try to contain CPEC and dismiss the potential cooperation opportunities brought by the project. With the concern that an empowered Pakistan will threaten India, India may provoke Pakistan, trapping the two states in traditional hostilities and losing the focus on economic development.

“US support for CPEC, or simply no containment of China’s engagement in Pakistan and the region, will also reduce the trust deficit between Pakistan and the United States.”

CPEC is intended to strengthen and diversify Pakistan’s role in South Asia, activate Pakistan’s role in the global value chain and to integrate the whole South Asia region. The project also works as a benchmark or complementary project for existing US cooperation programs with Pakistan. China, the United States, and the global community should make full use of their respective resources to stabilize Pakistan and support its economic development as a new emerging economy in Asia. US support for CPEC, or simply no containment of China’s engagement in Pakistan and the region, will also reduce the trust deficit between Pakistan and the United States.

Moreover, the US government can also encourage or facilitate US companies’ entry and business in Pakistan, helping them to create a better business environment. With such facilitation, American high-end manufacturing companies like GE, Caterpillar, and top consulting firms like McKinsey will be able to seize the emerging commercial opportunities with CPEC in infrastructure, energy, manufacturing, and other industries and become beneficiaries of CPEC-driven business opportunities in Pakistan.

About the Author

Lin Wang is a Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, Research Fellow at the China Business News Research Institute, and Senior Journalist at China Business News. She can be contacted at WangL@EastWestCenter.org.

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The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington

APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

Racial Segregation–A Colonial Legacy is institutionalized by UMNO via religion


August 27, 2017

Racial Segregation–A Colonial Legacy is institutionalized by  UMNO via religion

by Dr.Syed Farid Alatas

What is unacceptable is to try to differentiate the inhabitants of Malaysia through legislation that would end up segregating people.–Dr. Syed Farid Alatas

Apartheid is an Afrikaans word which literally means “apart-hood”.  It refers to a system of racial discrimination and segregation that was established in South Africa and derives its notoriety from that case.

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The UMNO sponsored racist group

As in many countries, racial segregation began in South Africa during the colonial period, first under the Dutch from the end of the seventeenth century and then under the British who took possession in 1795. But, it was only much later in 1948 that racial segregation became an official policy. White Afrikaner minority rule was established through legislation by the National Party which ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

Under apartheid legislation the population was classified into four racial groups—white, coloured, Indian and black. Millions of non-white South Africans were forcefully removed from their homes and relocated to segregated neighbourhoods. There was no political representation for non-whites.

The apartheid system went so far as to deprive South African blacks of their citizenship. Instead, they were to become “citizens” of supposedly self-governing homelands called bantustans.

Non-whites became separate and unequal inhabitants of South Africa, with little rights and poor access to decent public services and facilities. Apartheid ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

Although the term apartheid is mainly associated with South Africa, comparisons have been made with Israel. Many scholars and writers have sought to compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with South Africa’s treatment of non-whites during the period of apartheid.

Those who apply the apartheid analogy to Israel say that the institution of controls such as military checkpoints, restrictive marriage laws, unequal access to land and other resources and, indeed, the West Bank barrier itself, that West Bank Palestinians are subject to, is evidence of an apartheid-type state.

The American linguist, philosopher and political commentator Noam Chomsky said of the Occupied Territories that “what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid… What is happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse [than in South Africa]. There is a crucial difference. The South African Nationalists needed the black population. That was their workforce… The Israeli relationship to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is totally different. They just do not want them. They want them out, or at least in prison.”

What is the danger of an apartheid-type system developing in Malaysia? Most historians and sociologists who have studied the pre-colonial Malay world agree that the racial divides that characterize Malaysia today were far less prior to the coming of the Europeans.

There was a great deal of assimilation to Malay culture and inter-marriage, from where we get the Baba or Straits Chinese and the Jawi Peranakan. But colonial Malaya introduced racism that led to instances of apartheid. For example, the Selangor Club was a whites-only establishment. Locals, along with dogs and other pets, were not granted admission.

Such an environment enabled the British and other Europeans to keep up the illusion of racial purity and superiority, to forget that they were in the East, and to socialize with their own kind. Physical segregation was accompanied by racist views that the British had of the Malayans.

A.R. Wallace, the nineteenth century naturalist, said in his work, The Malay Archipelago, that “[t]he intellect of the Malay race seems rather deficient. They are incapable of anything beyond the simplest combination of ideas and have little taste or energy for the acquirement of knowledge.”

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Perhaps the most well-known stereotype was that of the indolence of the Malays. The Malays were stereotyped as lazy and unwilling to perform hard work. The pioneering work of Syed Hussein Alatas, The Myth of the Lazy Native, argued that the characterization of the Malays and other natives such as the Javanese and Filipinos as lazy was part of the ideological justification of the Europeans to rule the colonies as well as import foreign labour.

The Chinese in Malaya were frequently referred to as “greedy Chinamen” who could be found anywhere there was an opportunity to make money. The European view of the Indians was extremely instrumental, looking upon them as a docile population that could be easily exploited as a source of cheap labour.

In the colonial system, racial segregation was not total. Neither was it absent. Indeed it was a system of mini-apartheid that was founded on racist attitudes towards the Malayans. Now we have to be wary that mini-apartheid is being brought back to Malaysia in a different guise, that of religion.

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It comes from an excessive sense of impurity and fear of contamination that can only be a reflection of the social and political insecurity that some Malays are currently experiencing.

In such a context, there is a need to live in a way that exaggerates the Islamic identity so that the Malays can feel that not all is being lost. The emphasis on the tudung and other aspects of the dress code are examples of the bid to strengthen religious identity.

It is, of course, understandable that people would attempt to emphasize their Malayness or Muslimness if they felt themselves to be under threat economically or politically. What is horrifying, however, are attempts by the political leadership to capitalize on these fears by introducing apartheid-like measures.

What is unacceptable is to try to differentiate the inhabitants of Malaysia through legislation that would end up segregating people.

Recently it was announced that the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry is considering a reckless proposal to legislate the segregation of trolleys for halal and non-halal food items in shopping malls. This is ostensibly to alleviate the fears of Muslims regarding the contamination of the food they purchased by non-halal items.

It was suggested that non-halal products could use red trollies while halal products would use trollies of another colour. Well, let us say that the trollies for halal items were green. This would amount to Muslims using green trollies and non-Muslims using red trollies throughout the supermarkets of Malaysia. As if Malaysians were not divided enough, do we have to deal with yet another identity marker, that of trolley pusher?

Making it compulsory for supermarkets to practise such segregation, or even allowing them to do so, sets a very dangerous precedent and puts Malaysia on the slippery slope towards an apartheid-like state. Will the segregation stop with the trollies?

After some time, it may be suggested by some that Muslims feel offended or uncomfortable to see “pork-infested” items being sold in the same supermarkets that they patronize. They may object to seeing alcohol being sold in front of their eyes. They may demand that there be separate supermarkets for Muslims.

This demand may also be extended to kedai runcit and convenience stores. I can also imagine that in future some people may object to non-Muslims eating in halal restaurants. What is to guarantee that these non-Muslims may not inadvertently bring traces of porcine substances into the halal restaurants?

Therefore, it would seem sensible to call for segregated halal restaurants in which Muslims and non-Muslims dined in separate areas and used utensils that were washed and stored separately. There would even be calls to make it compulsory to have separate restaurants for Muslims and non-Muslims. The call for segregation would escalate to encompass more and more areas of life in order that the Muslim consumer would not worry about contamination.

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Malay politicians and religious leaders have to take a decision. They can choose to play to the gallery of narrow-mindedness and racism and take advantage of the obsessions of certain unschooled Muslims. They can choose to capitalize on the ignorance of certain sections of the Muslim population of Malaysia. Or, they can take the lead by educating these Muslims on how to live a decent Islamic life, that is, one with a multiculturalist sensibility, that is not ridden with doubts and insecurities.

The last chapter of the Qur’an, entitled Nas or Humankind, asks humans to seek refuge with God from the mischief of Satan, the whisperer of evil (al-waswas) into the hearts or men and women. In this way, Satan attempts to destroy belief by planting psychological anxiety in Muslims, affecting the purity of their faith and way of life.

The duty of the Muslim is to fight this insecurity and live harmoniously with all. Such a spirit of Islam was exemplified by Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet and Caliph of Islam, when he advised his governor, Malik al-Ashtar, to have mercy, kindness and affection for his subjects for they are “either your brother in religion or one like you in creation.”

* Dr Syed Farid Alatas is an Assoc Prof at NUS.

Jihadist Terrorism back in Southeast Asia


August 21, 2017

Jihadist Terrorism back in Southeast Asia

by Zachary Abuza, US National War College

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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Within any Salafi-jihadist organisation there lies a debate over strategy: should the organisation target the enemy at home or the one further afield, like Western backers of the government? In Southeast Asia this debate has erupted in recent years. 

The Al Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) spent years engaging in sectarian domestic conflict before taking up a larger-scale international approach with the 2002 Bali bombings. But that attack was largely at the impetus of Al Qaeda, and from 2003–09 JI only managed to perpetrate roughly one major attack against a Western tourist venue annually. And with each attack, more of the organisation was dismantled.

 

This provoked a debate within JI between advocates of the Al Qaeda line and proponents of a sectarian conflict-based strategy. Neither side prevailed. Despite attempts to bridge the divide and establish a training camp in Aceh, JI splintered in 2010, and became a more or less defunct organisation which was incapable of military operations.

The 2014 emergence of the so-called Islamic State (IS) revitalised terrorist networks in Southeast Asia. Since 2014, a number of IS-inspired attacks and plots have been perpetrated following recruitment efforts by Indonesian and Malaysian leaders in Raqqa. But the majority of militants from the region still remain preoccupied with the far enemy and with joining IS. An estimated 1000 Southeast Asians have traveled to Iraq and Syria. Indeed, the fact that many traveled with their families, or ceremoniously burned their passports, suggests they had no intention of ever returning.

Many wanted to be part of the caliphate, attracted by IS promises and slick propaganda. Some simply saw themselves as being too weak at present to take on their government back home. Others perceived fighting with IS as a way to burnish their jihadi credentials and gain military skills before returning home to focus on the domestic enemy.

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Groups and cells across Southeast Asia declared ‘bay’ah’ — an oath of allegiance — to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But IS did not recognise any Southeast Asian cell or group until January 2016, when IS referred to Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf as ‘sheikh’, and called on other groups that had pledged ‘bay’ah’ to IS to fall under his leadership. That recognition allowed militants in the region to once again re-orient themselves towards the domestic enemy as they sought to establish a ‘wiliyat’ — a province of the caliphate.

This movement escalated following a mid-2016 video produced by IS central media that called on Southeast Asian recruits to travel to Mindanao or to engage in operations in the region if they could not travel to Syria. The trip to Syria has become more perilous with greater international cooperation among security forces. Hundreds of Southeast Asian recruits had been turned back by Turkish authorities, including 430 Indonesians alone.

The recent success of IS-pledged militants in tying down the Armed Forces of the Philippines for over two months will further attract followers and recruits. Sieging cities on two occasions, they have proven themselves as committed jihadists, willing to take the fight to the Philippine government. Marawi demonstrated the utility of targeting the domestic enemy. That in itself will attract foreign fighters from Southeast Asia and further afield. And with the Philippine military weak and spread thin, more attacks make both tactical and strategic sense.

The pogroms from Myanmar will also provide a new pool of talent to recruit from and networks to penetrate. The ongoing sectarian cleansing against the 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar has led to the deaths of over 600 and the displacement of over 75,000. The situation is growing more dire by the day with some 140,000 living in squalid internally displaced person camps, and over 40,000 others currently displaced by pogroms, much of which have been caused by Myanmar’s security forces.

Indonesian authorities have now broken up two terrorist plots to blow up the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta. Recently, an armed militant group, the Harakat al-Islamiyah (HAY), has begun operations against Myanmar’s security forces, at the same time that IS has begun to reference the Rohingya in its (albeit diminished) media. There are signs that HAY is trying to recruit from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, with a surge in arrests of Bangladeshi nationals across the region.

The July 2017 decision by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to ban Hizbut Tahrir is also likely to inflame the anger of Islamist militants in Indonesia. While Widodo is rightfully concerned about conveyor groups — such as Hizbut Tahrir — the ban is likely to put the Indonesian government back in the cross hairs. The Indonesian government’s threat to ban the messaging app Telegram, resulted in the company removing 55 IS channels, another thing likely to incur the wrath of militants in the region and get them to refocus their energies towards the domestic government.

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Further, there are several hundred terrorism suspects in Southeast Asian prisons, including over 200 in Indonesia alone. Most will be released in the coming years, and they will be unlikely to travel. And though Indonesia touts its de-radicalisation program, it is not compulsory and its prisons have long been key nodes of recruitment and indoctrination.

The loss of the caliphate has led to a shift in attention back to the domestic enemy in Southeast Asia. Until a militant Salafist group emerges from the embers of IS, the more distant enemies will recede in the strategic thinking of Southeast Asian militants.

 

Zachary Abuza is Professor of National Security Strategy at the US National War College. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect the opinions of the Department of Defense, National Defense University, or the National War College. Follow him @ZachAbuza.

 

Malay Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication


July 25, 2017

Malay Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication

by Dr.M. Bakri Musa,Morgan-Hill, California

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This UMNO leader has been sleepwalking as Malaysia becomes  a morally sick nation. This gua tolong lu tolong gua character fits Harry Frankfurt’s depiction of a bullshitter. How unlucky you are, my dear Malaysia.–Din Merican

The Malay community’s underdevelopment is not confined to only one or two areas, for example, the often cited and very obvious spheres of economics and education. On the contrary Malay underdevelopment is widespread, to include especially our understanding of our faith Islam. I do not mean to shock by my assertion. Rather this state of affair is obvious except to those who refuse to acknowledge it. The Islam that is being practiced by Malays today has been reduced to the mindless repetition of its rituals. As Islam is central to Malay life, I will address this particular issue in depth later (Part Seven).

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Zakir Naik, the Prophet of UMNO Malays–Good luck to them under this man’s conception of Islam

Malays are proud of our dominance in politics. That however is purely the consequence of demography, not political skills, maturity, or sophistication. Our politics resembles more of the Third World authoritarian variety rather of mature democracies. Malay political skills despite our over representation in that sphere are still primitive. As a result, we are unable to leverage our considerable political clout derived from our demographic dominance effectively to solve our problems.

Instead, the contrary is what is occurring. Our political dominance aggravates our problems. As a community we are obsessed only with achieving political power and not on how to effectively leverage it to benefit our people. Further, politics and political power detract us from other equally vital spheres. We have perverted the political process for our personal gains and in the process making corruption an integral part of our politics and governance. We have legitimized politics as the route to untold riches through our acceptance of cronyism, corruption and nepotism among its players.

The other sphere where Malays could claim dominance is the civil service. Again, this is not achieved through merit rather through legislative fiat, the imposition of strict quotas and constitutional provisions. As such we cannot be proud of our achievement; it is not legitimate. As a consequence, the civil service is far from being exemplary or a source of pride. It is the but the butt of endless jokes and embarrassments. The civil service is on par with our political institutions in being corrupt, incompetent and ineffective.

The fragility and incompetence of both the civil service and political institutions are readily exposed in their inability to handle seemingly routine and minor conflicts. Because of this ineptness and frank naiveté, trivial administrative problems are let to fester until they explode. At the local level, minor conflicts over stray dogs for example would quickly escalate, threatening our fragile social stability by pitting members of one community against another.

What should be a simple public health and safety matter (preventing dog bites and subsequent risk of rabies, a major problem in China and India, and now fast becoming one in many parts of Malaysia) is allowed to degenerate through administrative and political incompetence into a potentially acrimonious communal conflict between Malays, who generally consider dogs as dirty and haram while to Chinese they are favorite family pets.

In American cities there are ordinances requiring those walking their dogs to carry plastic bags to pick up their droppings. Failure to have those bags or pick up the dog’s waste would result in severe fines. Dogs must also be on a leash, and stray dogs will be captured. If they are not claimed within a few weeks they are “put to sleep.” Owners of certain breeds (like pit bulls) also have to carry liability insurances. These are sensible rules to serve the public good. Yet we are unable to establish them without getting entangled in silly and dangerous public arguments about race.

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If this is not a whole lot of bullshit, what is ? The Malays can prosper under an enlightened and honest leadership

At the national level, consider the annual exercise of awarding scholarships to Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia (SPM) candidates. This is not a matriculating examination; those students still have to undertake two more years of schooling before they could qualify for university entrance. Meaning, SPM is only slightly above middle school qualification. Yet invariably around June of each year there would be a national outcry over the distribution of scholarships based on this examination. We are not here dealing with graduate fellowships or post-doctoral grants!

Again, like the municipal dog ordinance (or lack of), this scholarship problem could be readily solved through simple transparent administrative rules. For example, instead of using SPM scores which are poor predictors of academic success anyway, why not wait till these students are actually accepted to top universities and only then award them the scholarships. Publish the list of acceptable universities where these scholarships would be tenable and then if there are too many students for the funds available, have a sliding scale so those who are well off get less money. Such a simple and sensible solution, yet it escapes these Malay politicians and civil servants, again reflecting their incompetence and lack of imagination in solving the nation’s problems.

 

Lessons from the Brexit Debacle — All very British Bulldog


July 16, 2017

Lessons from the Brexit Debacle– All very British Bulldog

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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FORMER British Prime Minister David Cameron went for the Brexit referendum to strengthen his position in the Conservative party and end the warring among the Tories over the European Union, thinking the Brexiteers would lose.

His complacent and cavalier approach to the referendum in the British system of representative (not direct) democracy, without a robust presentation of the facts, resulted in a campaign driven by passion, emotion, prejudice and lies – and the vote by a whisker a year ago to get out of the EU.

How that was to happen was hardly touched upon. What was exposed instead were the deep divisions that exist in Britain.

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Cameron left the Brexit fiasco to Theresa May whose “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was a typical British Bulldog mess

Cameron resigned and left the mess with his successor Theresa May. Her contribution to the momentous decision was: Brexit means Brexit. Indeed, as a former Remainer, she bent over backwards to go for a “Hard Brexit”, rather like converts to a new religion who become extreme to show how true they are to the faith.

Indeed, she called an early general election to consolidate her position in the party and to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. Her “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was: no deal was better than a bad deal. All very British Bulldog.

In the event, the Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament, Theresa May’s position in the party is threatened and her hand in the Brexit negotiations weakened. She and her party stay in power through an unsavoury arrangement with the Democratic Ulster Unionists (DUP, who have an abhorrent set of beliefs – one of which is the Pope is the Anti-Christ – and who were able to extract £1.5bil from the prime minister who had famously said there was no “magic money tree” when nurses in the National Health Service sought a pay rise).

After the election last month, the Institute of Directors found a negative swing of 34 points in confidence in the British economy from its last survey in May.

Many epithets have been attached to Theresa May since. She has become rather like “Calamity Jane”. There is an appropriate Malay word that could be applied: kelam kabut. At sixes and sevens. Shooting every which way.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who did so much better in the election than expected, has been elevated to being, as described by a commentator, “a cross between zen master and Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi”.

This is a romantic notion, of course. The Labour Party is as divided as the Conservative Party, on Brexit as on anything else. Corbyn represents the far left, whose economic management for sometimes laudable social policies has many a time led Britain to a fiscal and monetary dead end.

The swing of support for the Labour Party came largely from young voters attracted to Corbyn’s promise to abolish university fees – although May’s political gymnastics and calamitous proposal to put a cap on state support for the old in retirement homes did not help the Tories.

At the first Prime Minister’s Question time after the election, Corbyn was straining at the leash to push his advantage, especially as the Grenfell Tower fire in London has exposed incompetence and division in British society yet again.

He was well armed with facts and figures and had May on the back foot. However, he was not able to put her to the sword. When the British Prime Minister cleverly turned the argument against him by saying it was the last Labour argument that had presided over the housing regulations that allowed the cladding that caused the Grenfell Tower fire to become an inferno, he did not get back at her.

He should have argued any government in power – and May certainly wanted to be in power – has no right to refer to the past (it was a Conservative government that got Britain into Europe) when its duty is to govern with responsibility here and now. Really not very Star Wars of Corbyn.

Britain divided

Be that as it may, both leaders are polarising figures. Britain is deeply divided along the lines of class, income, race, region and age. There is not a whiff of an Emmanuel Macron figure to try and unify recalcitrant constituencies, to find a new belief and a centre to move Britain forward.

Instead it looks as if Britain is going through a death by a thousand cuts. What are the lessons from all this – the sad tragedy that is being played out in Britain – that can be learned for our country and region?

The most important lesson is the threat of division in a country and society that builds up from a long period of neglect which is always exploited in politics.

United Kingdom Independence Party exploited xenophobic instincts among both the British upper class and the underclass, by playing on their fears, whether driven by racism and dislike of foreigners or by perceived rule from Brussels (the new Rome). These emotive references are easy points from which to get support.

Facts can also be twisted, as was evident from the many false numbers that were given on the cost of EU membership. Once a base is founded on base instincts, it is not difficult to whip up falsehoods as self-evident truths.

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In Indonesia and Malaysia, many positions are being taken on race and religion which divide society and cause minorities to become victims. This has been happening for some time and these countries should be mindful of destabilising eruptions.

In Britain, destabilising developments have been caused through the vote. The rule of law holds back the ugliest ramifications of deep social division. One wonders how they might be expressed in less developed political systems in ASEAN.

The other division is in income. We applaud ad nauseam the splendid economic growth rates in the region, and how ASEAN as a whole is the seventh or sixth largest economy in the world, and could become the fourth largest in 2050 or whenever, but do we give enough attention to income disparities and maldistribution of wealth?

They are increasing in ASEAN, within and between member states. Together with other divisive factors, the crunch time in Britain came in the form of Brexit and a hung parliament. In the United States, in the form of Trump. What form could it take in ASEAN countries where the ballot box is not always the preferred means of securing change?

Even with the economy, even as it grows, disruptions are now happening with digitisation, which displaces employment.

Employment for cheap manufacturing cost is increasingly becoming an attraction of the past. What are ASEAN countries like Indonesia and Myanmar doing about training and education, and retraining, for the digital economy? What will happen to micro-, small and medium enterprises and employment levels?

There is much research which shows, and empirical evidence that confirms it, that those at the lowest rung of education and skill level are the most exposed to this fourth industrial revolution.

Displacement of employment, with the already large income disparity, is going to divide society again.

Disruptions and fissures must be anticipated and filled. Otherwise, divisions in society will cause severe problems later on. And sometimes even earlier rather than later on.

We can become smug in Asia, or ASEAN – indeed, in individual countries – at how well we are doing. Even superior, when looking at the travails of other countries. We must resist this. We must learn lessons and understand we are so very far from perfect.

Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Malaysia: A Lucky Country under Threat from Within


June 14, 2017

Malaysia: A Lucky Country under Threat from Within

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“Be with a leader when he is right, stay with him when he is still right, but, leave him when he is wrong.”

– Abraham Lincoln

COMMENT | The Prime Minister has again made this extraordinary claim – “In the end, 10 people died because we had no loyalty. All there was is a readiness to betray who? Our rakyat” – with regards to the “Sulu incursion” while reminding uniformed personnel to be loyal in preserving the country’s security.

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Keep Praying, Prime Minister, your lucky streak is running out unless you treat Malaysians Fairly

I will repeat the same questions I had in an article I wrote when the Prime Minister first made this claim of betrayal – “This, of course, brings us to the next set of questions. Who were those covert agents? What sort of investigations and which agencies were involved in routing out these ‘covert enemies’? Why weren’t the press and the people of Malaysia notified that our soldiers were killed because of leaked information? Were the families of the soldiers who were ‘sacrificed’ notified that their deaths were the result of an ambush because of leaked intelligence?”

I expect no answer, of course. A few friends have written to me “explaining” that “civilians” may have compromised troop movements and that is what our prime minister meant by “betrayal”. If you believe that civilians had compromised troop movement, I suggest we have a far greater problem than most people believe.

Of course, in this particular rejoinder the Prime Minister claims – “When our own people betrayed their comrades, when they fed information to our enemies, our enemies surrounded and ambushed…” – which implies that our men were betrayed by their “comrades”, in other words, by security personnel, which is worse but yet again no explanation will be forthcoming.

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Perkida–The Militant Arm of Najib’s UMNO

What if the liberalisation of the public sphere since the Mahathir era paved the way for the emergence of civil surrogates of political parties? What if the so-called “civil society” was used as a veil to hide and promote the rise of militants who are in fact sub-contractors of political parties discourse and actions?

Were those families of the 10 people who died told that their loved ones perished because they were betrayed by their “comrades”? Was there an investigation into these treasonous acts? Was there accountability? It does not matter, does it?

And are the Malaysian uniformed services “Muslim” uniformed services? I get that the majority who serve are Muslims but why does the Prime Minister feel the need to draw on Islam to remind the uniformed services to be loyal for the security of the country? The answer to this, of course, is obvious. Non-Muslims are constantly told that we are not patriotic enough, that we shelter under the security provided by brave Muslims and most importantly, there have been far too many Umno politicians and “activists” who remind us that government institutions are in reality “Malay/Muslim” institutions.

So yes, the Arabisation process being what it is, the professional standards of our uniformed services at the level it is, and this constant need to remind Muslims that loyalty to country means loyalty to the political establishment, it is no surprise that religion would be used to bolster support. Of course, if you are a non-Muslim in the uniformed services, you could either learn from this Islamic analogy thrust upon you or tune out.

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BTN (Biro Tata Negara) cannot be allowed to poison the minds of new generations of Malaysians. It must be disbanded. We can no longer accept UMNO hegemony. Its divide and rule politics of race and religion, and rent seeking economics are leading us along the path of economic decline and moral decay. –Din Merican

I have said it before and I will say it again. I despise the propagandising of the state security apparatus. This happens all over the world. The Prime Minister’s rejoinder was delivered at a function organised by Wanita UMNO – a wing of a political party – so this was a political event and not a government event.

Of course, in this country, the lines are willfully blurred so I wonder what would happen if Pakatan Harapan, or God Forbid the DAP, organised a Ramadan event to honour the sacrifices of our uniformed services. Would these service people who embraced the “gifts” doled out at this Umno event be accepting to gifts offered by the opposition? Or would they be told by a government flunky not to intrude where they are not wanted?

I will just regurgitate what I wrote when another organisation was advocating loyalty to the establishment –

“Ultimately when we pledged to serve the king and country, our oath goes far beyond loyalty to the government. We are really serving the people of this country and our loyalty is with them. It does not matter if you support the establishment or the opposition, your loyalty should be with the people and not with political elites, especially when they dishonour the institutions you pledged to serve and protect.”

‘We have been lucky’

The Prime Minister is right when he claims that peace does not happen by accident, but because of the work done by the security services of the state. However, he should be aware that peace happens because of luck, too. We have been lucky. While pre-emptive action is a necessary component of national security, the element of luck also plays an important part.

With all the propaganda spewed against non-Muslims, we have been lucky that external forces have far more insidious designs that merely slaughtering non-Muslims in this region. These designs target Muslims and is about a specific Islamic ideology and a war against Islamic plurality.

I have talked about this briefly in my piece cautioning against snuggling up to the House of Saud but as far as domestic policy is concerned, I wrote about the corrosive effects of Islam as propagated by the state on the security of the nation.

If even Najib is not safe from Islamic enemies, two points need to be considered when it comes to our “luck” in avoiding the kind of carnage that other countries have faced from their home-grown Islamic extremists.

When it comes to propaganda against the non-Muslims –

1) “Just recently, instead of sanctioning the genocidal rhetoric of the Pahang Mufti, Najib, who portrays himself as a PM for the people, said, ‘we cannot compromise on the Islamic struggle in this blessed land. We reject those who dislike Islam and know who they are and their collaborators.’”

And when it comes to the enemies within, who would destabilise the security of the state and the state security apparatus.

2) “The UMNO state security apparatuses have acknowledged that IS (Islamic State) sympathisers could emerge from anywhere, even from UMNO’s bureaucracy, which has for years sustained an anti-non-Muslim sentiment for political reasons.”

Islamic extremism and terrorism do not happen in a vacuum. It happens in environments which are conducive to the kind of extremism that groups like IS propagate.

You can have all the pre-emptive action that you want but as long as there are citizens willingly to carry out terrorist acts, work with foreign agents to destabilise the government and have cover to spout their nonsense because it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between state-sanctioned propaganda and that which is advocated by foreign Islamic extremists, this is the environment that will eventually lead us to be another statistic in mass Islamic violence.

Now as far as foreign Islamic extremists are concerned, I doubt they would collaborate with non-Muslims, simply because they consider non-Muslims as filthy infidels – although the narrative has always been that non-Muslims corrupt Muslims, so perhaps there may be some non-Muslims who are susceptible to the money that these Islamic extremists get from the most mainstream of sources – so the obvious potential collaborators are those who are disenfranchised and been fed on a diet that Islam is under siege in this country.

Think about it this way. If there are people who are willing to betray their comrades in an incursion by foreign participants, how long do you think our luck will hold against the dark foreign Islamic cults aligned against us and their local proxies who are willing to betray the rakyat of Malaysia?


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.