Malaysia’s Human Trafficking Problem: Corruption hinders Decisive Action against Traffickers


May 26, 2017

Malaysia’s Human Trafficking Problem: Corruption hinders Decisive Action

by Rebecca Schectman

http://www.newmandala.org/malaysia-must-wake-human-trafficking-problem/

 

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This is pure and unadulterated bullshit, coming from Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Laureate.  The Rohingyas are powerless and stateless. But push them in a corner, they will fight back in order to survive. Malaysia is equally to blame for lacking the political will to deal with human trafficking. Our Police Force is incorrigibly corrupt.

On Sunday, 21 May, Rohingya community members, local leaders, and NGOs working on human trafficking gathered at a Rohingya graveyard near Alor Setar, Kedah to commemorate the second anniversary of the discovery of mass graves and trafficking camps at Wang Kelian. I attended the event representing Tenaganita, an organisation that has worked on migrant rights and human trafficking issues in Malaysia since 1991.

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 Some 300 Rohingya gathered at Kampung Kepala Bendang near here today(May 21, 2017)  to pay tribute to the discovery of several mass graves in Perlis, thought to contain bodies of fellow migrants.

Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign and Tenaganita have called on Malaysian authorities to address the corruption that allows Malaysia to be a trafficking hub in the region. At the Wang Kelian memorial, Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid of MAPIM, the Malaysian Consul­tative Council of Islamic Organisation, stated that authorities should work with trafficking survivors to identify the ‘big fish’, the leaders of trafficking syndicates and the corrupt Malaysian officials who allow them to operate. Tenaganita recognises that the camps and bodies found at Wang Kelian are just the tip of the iceberg—currently, the Global Slavery Index estimates 128,800 individuals are trapped in modern day slavery in Malaysia. That’s about 0.4% of Malaysia’s total population, putting Malaysia among some of the least responsive countries to combat human trafficking.

While the trafficking camps and mass graves found two years ago are potent reminders of the deadliness of trafficking, it is also important to note that there are multiple trafficking schemes seen in Malaysia. Beyond forced labour and sex trafficking, Tenaganita has uncovered cases of marriage trafficking, the sale of babies, organ harvesting, child prostitution, and child marriage. Not all trafficking happens across the Malaysia-Thai border. Traffickers often use budget flights to bring men, women, and children into Malaysia for exploitation. Many of Tenaganita’s cases involve women trafficked to Malaysia for forced labour as domestic workers, which counters the stereotype of trafficked women only being victims of sex trafficking. Like refugees and migrant workers, domestic workers are not adequately protected under Malaysian law. Traffickers know this and often exploit people who are eager to come to Malaysia, such as asylum seekers fleeing their countries or women desperate to support their families.

Corruption, inadequate training of enforcement officers, and limited awareness of trafficking dynamics all contribute to the lack of enforcement of Malaysia’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Act (ATIPSOM). Only a fraction of all prosecutions for trafficking crimes result in convictions according to the 2016 US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, which states, ‘accountability for traffickers remained disproportionately low compared to the scale of the human trafficking problem in the country’.

Trafficking prevention has not been adequately addressed at the national or regional level. For example, there are no mechanisms for safe repatriation, or the protection of trafficking survivors upon return to their country of origin to ensure they are not re-trafficked. Traffickers nimbly operate across borders—governments and enforcement agencies must also work closely together when prosecuting traffickers, protecting survivors, and preventing trafficking crimes. The newly ratified ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP) takes steps in the right direction, but does not incorporate cooperation by civil society organisations like Tenaganita who have been fighting human trafficking for decades.

 

At the graveside memorial, I saw that the lives lost at Wang Kelian had not been forgotten, at least by the Rohingya community and organisations working on the issue. But despite some efforts to enact legislation, the Malaysian government still lacks the political will to address issues that mostly affect non-Malaysian workers, migrants, and refugees, all of whom are acutely vulnerable to trafficking, forced labour, and debt bondage. It is now time for Malaysia to get serious about enforcing existing legislation and especially going after the collusion between authorities at all levels and trafficking syndicates. The horrors of Wang Kelian must not be allowed to continue, whether through the trafficking of refugees across the Thai border or the trafficking of young women into domestic servitude within Malaysian homes. Unless there is a concerted effort to tackle the human trafficking business in the country, Malaysia will continue to be a trafficking destination.

Rebecca Schectman has worked with UNHCR and Tenaganita in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as a 2016-17 Luce Scholar. She graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2016 with a degree in International Relations and Latin American Studies. She has worked on issues ranging from preserving memory of human rights abuses in Argentina to studying citizen feedback platforms in Uganda. Her research interests include migration, forced displacement, development, and human rights.

 

The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide


May 21, 2017

Book Review:

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Newborn babies crushed under the weight of a soldier’s heavy boot. Children having their throats slit as they try to protect their mothers from rape by security forces. Women and girls facing rape or sexual assault and humiliation. The elderly and infirm burnt alive in their homes. 1,000 killed and another 75,000 displaced to Bangladesh. These atrocities were documented in a disturbing February 2017 United Nations report which concluded that they are ‘very likely to amount to crimes against humanity. More recently, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Yanghee Lee has named them ‘definite crimes against humanity’.

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The most recent reports have not emerged in a vacuum. In 2015, the Yale Law School found ‘strong evidence of genocide against the Rohingya’. The same year, the International State Crime Initiative from the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London concluded that genocide was taking place in Myanmar. In 2013, Human Rights Watch identified crimes against the Rohingya which it argued amounted to ethnic cleansing.

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Sheer  hypocrisy of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto Foreign Minister: ASEAN’s Non-Intervention Policy VS Responsibility to Protect(R2P)

National League for Democracy chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, right, and central committee member Win Htein, center. (Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

The government of Myanmar has denied this charge. U Win Htein, a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s now more than one year old National League for Democracy (NLD) government, rejects claims of crimes against humanity, and says this is an internal affair that has been exaggerated. This rhetoric is eerily close to that of the previous governments that the NLD vowed departure from.

Certainly, this is not a popular concern domestically. The Rohingya are not recognised in Myanmar, and are instead called Bengali. Their history in Rakhine State and rights to citizenship are heated issues of contention. While the NLD has appointed several commissions to investigate the situation in Rakhine State, they are lacking either the mandate or capacity to deal with the situation that has arisen since October 2016.

Given this, there is a need for an accessible publication which brings together the complex history and discussion of the increasingly brutal persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar today. Unfortunately, Azeem Ibrahim’s The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide is not that book. Instead it is hastily written and poorly considered, offering an inaccurate rehashing of history, no new arguments and a failure to engage with current debates.

A large section of the book summarises convenient arguments from the contentious debate over the origins of the Muslim community in Rakhine State and the Rohingya ethnic label, despite recognising that the discussion is peripheral. There are numerous factual errors throughout not just this section but the whole book, such as the claim that most rulers of the Arakanese Mrauk U dynasty were Muslim (p. 24). There are other claims which would be significant if any evidence was provided. Rather, unreferenced passages assert that the 1784 Burmese invasion of Arakan was ‘in part as there were so many Muslims in Arakan’ (p. 65); and that the British never used the term ‘Rohingya’ in their records because the administration was in the habit of categorising the population by religion, not ethnicity (p. 31) — the latter simply an untenable statement. Errors such as these are surprising, given the author’s extensive academic qualifications.

Image result for James T Davies is a PhD candidate researching Myanmar at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

There is little discussion of genocide before the reader arrives at the chapter devoted to the topic. Here, we find that the book is not actually arguing that there is genocide underway, but that the Rohingya are ‘on the brink of genocide’ (p. 99).

While invoking the term genocide is sure to attract interest, the discussion is lacking in depth. The 2015 Yale Law School report noted, significantly, that it was difficult to establish intent for genocide on the part of the Myanmar state. However, this book does not engage with this report or the question of intent, despite it being crucial to any allegation of genocide. Instead, outcome appears to be equated with intent. The overwhelming focus on the crime of genocide could perhaps have been substituted with a discussion of other crimes against humanity in relation to the Rohingya, as noted by the UN and others.

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One of the most striking flaws of the book is its failure to consider Rakhine perspectives. This is reflected not only in the considerable confusion and misinformation about contemporary Rakhine political parties (p. 121). The author appears to have spent very little time in either Rakhine State or Yangon, and not to have consulted the Rakhine communities who have long lived alongside the Rohingya. In a chapter devoted to solutions there is little mention of the Rakhine, despite the fact that any resolution must include both communities. Instead, solutions offered refer primarily to international pressure, reflecting the publication’s target audience.

In this respect, the book makes an important point about the failure of the international community to address this issue. Western governments’ vision of what is occurring in Myanmar has been blurred by their ‘indulgence’ of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, the book argues (p. 133). There is a reluctance to pressure her government, which was hailed in the US as a foreign policy success of the Obama administration. Ibrahim pushes back both against the argument that Aung San Suu Kyi is doing her best as well as claims that the plight of the Rohingya is a hiccup to be expected during a difficult transition from military rule to democracy. The book rightly notes that such a perspective flies in the face of evidence that Aung San Suu Kyi has proved herself unwilling to show leadership and to prioritise the Rohingya issue — and that ultimately she must hold responsibility.

Therefore, the book argues, international pressure is going to be crucial for the Rohingya. We are told via a ‘Media Pack’ on Ibrahim’s website that he has an address book to rival a Prime Minister’s. If the book serves to bring attention to this desperate situation, then it may redeem itself somewhat.

Image result for James T Davies is a PhD candidate researching Myanmar at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

James T Davies (pic above) is a PhD candidate researching Myanmar at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He should write a book on the Rohingyas since he is very critical of Azeem’s attempt to expose the plight of the people of the Rakhine State.–Din Merican

Also READ:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/azeem-ibrahim/who-is-instigating-the-vi_b_7810972.html

Myanmar, ASEAN and the Rohingya Issue


March 30, 2017

Myanmar, ASEAN and the Rohingya Issue

by Mathew Davies

ASEAN here is not the problem; ASEAN is being used by Malaysia as a justification for solving the issue. Regional understandings about the value of ASEAN here are evolving — ASEAN is not becoming an actor that enforces its standards, but is becoming a tool for others to do that enforcing.– Davies

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/28/rohingya-a-threat-to-asean-stability/

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The democratisation of Myanmar, culminating in the National League for Democracy’s assumption of power in early 2016, was meant to mark a step forward for the Rohingya. The hopes of the international community, Myanmar’s partners in ASEAN and the Rohingya themselves have been bitterly disappointed.

The March 2017 Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar notes that the Muslims of Rakhine state had not benefited from ‘any improvements’ over the last year. October 2016 had seen a serious crackdown on the Rohingya following an attack on members of Myanmar’s police force. In her report, Yanghee Lee states that 150,000 people saw the humanitarian aid that supported them interrupted during the crackdown, 3000 Rohingya were displaced from their homes and 69,000 fled across the border to Bangladesh between the start of the crackdown and February 2017.

We should not expect any swift response from ASEAN itself. December 2016 saw an informal foreign ministers retreat organised in Yangon which resulted in nothing but platitudes about the need for long term solutions. ASEAN knows this does not work. The crisis that unfolded after October 2016 was just the latest in a series of crises over the last decade which have seen ASEAN powerless to respond — the most recent coming in 2015 where thousands of Rohingya found themselves trapped at sea after the traditional land routes through Thailand were closed. Each crisis has been accompanied by ASEAN inactivity, even as scholars and activists call on it to live up to its commitments to human rights and ‘people-centred’ regionalism.

What is new, however, is the extent to which the disquiet of Myanmar’s fellow ASEAN members is being expressed both openly and stridently.

In the vanguard of this new dissatisfaction has been Malaysia. Prime Minister Najib Razak in December 2016 stood in front of a banner that decried the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingya and declared ‘I don’t care’ about ASEAN’s policy of non-intervention, ‘do you expect me … to close my eyes? To stay silent? I will not’.

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Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Anifah Aman

In March 2017, talking at the International Conference on Rohingya hosted in Putrajaya, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman called on Myanmar to address the Rohingya issue and noted both the regional consequences of the crisis and the role of ASEAN as a potential solution to it. At the same conference, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi called the situation ‘disappointing and unacceptable’.<

What does this newfound voice on the Rohingya mean for ASEAN? ASEAN’s policy of non-intervention, in the sense of the regional organisation itself taking action, is not changing any time soon. It is unlikely ASEAN will release a substantive statement on the Rohingya and it is unimaginable that they will take actions to punish Myanmar.

But we are seeing a willingness from certain member states to talk openly and critically about the domestic situation within other member-states. Here ASEAN’s policy of non-intervention has always been more an ideal than a rigid practice. But we are now seeing an escalation in the intensity of language that ASEAN has not experienced before.

Image result for Myanmar, ASEAN and the Rohingya IssueMyanmar’s Foreign Minister, Aung San Suu Kyi

The image of Najib standing publicly in front of a poster about ethnic cleansing is outside of established practice when it comes to the usually staid practices of regional diplomacy. Zahid openly stating that Myanmar is ‘committing genocide through its ethnic cleansing’ is even more inflammatory. This shift in rhetoric changes a precedent for the norms that outline legitimate practice among ASEAN members. A more open, robust and even critical engagement between members could well have consequences for their willingness to work together on other issues, and in doing so effect ASEAN’s ability to dampen down regional tensions through its veneer of decorum.

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Lost in the public argument, however, is something both more subtle but also more telling about how Malaysia views ASEAN. The ‘disregard’ for practices of non-intervention just discussed is not a disregard of ASEAN itself so much as it is a desire to use ASEAN to promote action. This is a dangerous precedent.

In the run-up to the December 2016 informal Foreign Ministers retreat, the Malaysian Foreign Minister noted that he believed ‘that the ASEAN Member States are bound by international principles on the promotion and protection of human rights, which are also enshrined in the ASEAN Charter and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration’.

ASEAN here is not the problem; ASEAN is being used by Malaysia as a justification for solving the issue. Regional understandings about the value of ASEAN here are evolving — ASEAN is not becoming an actor that enforces its standards, but is becoming a tool for others to do that enforcing.

This is very significant for the future of ASEAN. Non-intervention, through blunting the potential for regional tension, allowed ASEAN to be viewed as a way to enhance the security and freedoms of its members. In the Rohingya case, Malaysia is using ASEAN to promote regional tensions. What this means for how other members view and use ASEAN over time is going to be something to keep a close eye on. A greater willingness to politicise ASEAN to chastise members will strike at key tenets of regional diplomacy and in turn at the sources of stability of ASEAN itself.

Myanmar has long valued ASEAN for the protection it provides not only from the wider international community but also its fellow members. But the unwillingness of Myanmar to resolve the Rohingya issue has pushed ASEAN members towards new forms of protest. This failure is already a tragedy, but for ASEAN it might become a disaster.

Mathew Davies is Head of the Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at The Australian National University. You can follow him on Twitter at @drmattdavies.

Malaysia’s Megaphone Diplomacy


December 28, 2016

ASEAN has to deal a Jonah Najib Razak in its midst–Malaysia’s Megaphone  Diplomacy

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ASEAN’s Jonah–Najib Razak

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Earlier this month, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak made what many saw as a serious breach of diplomatic protocol when he spoke out against Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya — treatment that, in his view, amounted to “genocide”.

Such an act of megaphone diplomacy is almost unheard of among the ASEAN member states, especially coming from an ASEAN leader, and poses serious ramifications for the ASEAN region.

READ: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/367351

Speaking at a mass rally that was organized to show solidarity with the Rohingya, Najib directly questioned the inaction of Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, pointedly asking, “What’s the point of a Nobel Peace Prize?” and telling her, “Enough is enough!”

Najib raised more eyebrows when he called on Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to join him, even making reference to recent Muslim protests in the Indonesian capital against the incumbent Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. “Do not just protest against Ahok. The Rohingya should be defended in Indonesia,” he told Indonesian Muslims.

(Read also: Good reason to tread carefully on Rohingya crisis)

Jakarta has yet to respond to Najib’s move, but Naypyidaw has predictably condemned Malaysia’s interference in its domestic affairs. A day before the rally, an official in Myanmar’s President’s Office warned, “A member country [of ASEAN] does not interfere in other member countries’ internal affairs”, while a commentary by The Irrawaddy’s editor-in-chief was headlined, “Malaysia, Don’t Use Burma to Distract from Disquiet at Home”. The Myanmar government has since announced it was stopping its migrant workers from going to Malaysia and Suu Kyi has refused to meet Malaysia’s foreign minister.

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How, then, do we explain Najib’s move? What are the ramifications for the ASEAN region? What steps should Indonesia — as the region’s primus inter pares — take to not only restore ASEAN unity but also to help resolve the Rohingya issue?

Many have attributed Najib’s strong stance as a political move aimed at distracting the domestic public from the 1MDB scandal, as well as an attempt to burnish his credentials among the Malay Muslim voters ahead of upcoming general elections in 2018. Certainly, the recent Bersih 5 rally indicates that the 1MDB scandal continues to haunt Najib, who is also facing a sustained challenge by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to force him out of office. Indeed, the latter has formed his own political party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which will compete for the same Malay Muslim voters who have traditionally supported Najib’s UMNO (United Malays National Organization) Party.

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No Credibility for Malaysia’s Racist Prime Minister

Yet, it is important to consider the following facts. First, the rally attended by Najib also saw political leaders from the opposition PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) take part, meaning it had some degree of cross-party support. Second, the Rohingya issue was also previously discussed by the Malaysian cabinet. On November 25, the cabinet met to consider a proposal for its national soccer team to withdraw from a regional competition co-hosted by Myanmar.

While the Cabinet decided against the proposal — fearing FIFA sanctions — Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin explained, “We will pursue other avenues in raising our concerns […] We will use diplomatic (means) that will be announced by the Foreign Ministry.” Here it should be noted that while the UMNO party dominates the cabinet, a number of positions are held by non-Muslim parties that would have no need to attract the Malay Muslim votes.

Third, on the day prior to the rally, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry issued its own strong statement saying, “The fact that only one particular ethnicity is being driven out is by definition ethnic cleansing.” Interestingly, when the statement was shared on the ministry’s official Twitter page, the hashtag #R2P (responsibility to protect) was also used.

While the interests of politicians and bureaucrats are often blurred in a country where UMNO has held power since 1957, one would imagine that foreign ministry officials would not so easily allow political considerations to harm the country’s foreign policy.

As such, it is clear that there is some sense of consensus among Malaysia’s political leaders and bureaucrats on the Rohingya issue that goes beyond an attempt to distract from a particular scandal and/or vote-winning ahead of upcoming elections.

Given the above, it is possible that more consideration has gone into Najib’s megaphone diplomacy than was initially thought.

While that may be the case, it is also clear that Malaysia’s stance has serious ramifications for ASEAN. For one thing, Najib’s appeal to Indonesian Muslims threatens to export his brand of religious politics to the ASEAN level and divide the region along Muslim versus Buddhist lines. This is not only foolish but dangerous in such a diverse part of the world.

His stance also represents a major departure from the ASEAN norm of not openly speaking about each other’s domestic affairs. By doing so, Malaysia threatens to open a Pandora’s Box, which may lead to Myanmar responding with its own difficult questions about Malaysia’s domestic problems. Such a situation, whereby member states start criticizing each other’s domestic problems out in the open, will do no good for ASEAN unity.

As mentioned before, we have already seen one ASEAN minister refusing to meet another and an ASEAN member state imposing a ban on its citizens from working in another member state. This is far from what should be happening during the first year of the ASEAN Community’s regional integration and requires urgent regional leadership to not only restore ASEAN unity but also to help resolve the Rohingya issue.

In this sense, Indonesia’s more nuanced approach should be welcome. While Indonesia has gone for more quiet methods, that does not necessarily mean it is brushing the Rohingya issue under the carpet. Jakarta recognizes that the focus should be on taking steps that will actually help the Rohingya. This can be achieved neither via megaphone diplomacy nor by offending Naypyidaw.

Indeed, there are deep-rooted, complex and multiple underlying factors that have led to the situation in Rakhine state. Only with the cooperation of the Myanmar government will an effective, long-lasting and comprehensive solution be found that appeases all stakeholders, including the Rakhine Buddhists, the Rohingya Muslims and the mostly Burman military.

Indonesia should thus continue to position itself as an honest broker that understands the complexity of the situation and that realizes this is more than just a religious issue. Its offer to dispatch humanitarian aid is a good first step.

The offer builds on Indonesia’s previous efforts that have led to the building of schools and a hospital in Rakhine state and demonstrates two points: on the one hand that Jakarta is rightly focusing on the practical needs of food, blankets, education, health care, etc., and on the other hand that Jakarta has earned the trust of Naypyidaw to even conduct such activities inside the volatile Rakhine state. In this sense, President Jokowi would do well to politely ignore Najib’s call to join him. There are better ways to address the situation in Myanmar.

 The writer heads the ASEAN Studies Program at the Habibie Center in Jakarta. The views expressed are his own.

 

 

 

Australia-Philippines Relationship Status: “It’s Complicated”


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Number 364 | December 14, 2016

ANALYSIS

Australia-Philippines Relationship Status: “It’s Complicated”

by Charmaine Deogracias and Orrie Johan

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The Philippines and Australia fought side by side in the 1944-1945 campaign that liberated the Philippines from Japanese occupation. After the war, both countries forged alliances with the United States, as Australia and an independent Philippines became increasingly friendly. Today, with their overlapping and proliferating security partnerships, Australia and the Philippines have built on seven decades of bilateral ties to become comprehensive partners.

The two countries share an interest in the continued security and stability of the region and in freedom of navigation of the seas. The rising strength of China also looms large in the security calculus of each country. Both are trying to navigate the vast economic benefits and security concerns that China’s rise presents in the region, and this focus has brought the two countries much closer together. A major difference between the two is that the Philippines has a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea while Australia does not.  This means that for a time Australia was more worried than the Philippines about being entrapped into a war against China. Now that friendly relations between China and the Philippines have been restored under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who vowed to rely on China economically, there is greater convergence with Australian interests in avoiding conflict with China. But Philippines-Australia relations are now being undermined by the new Philippine government’s allergic reaction to human rights and resulting criticisms by Australian and U.S. governments. Relations are also affected by Duterte’s skepticism of Australian and U.S. resolve in supporting the Philippines, and by Australia’s concerns about a shift by Duterte away from the U.S. and towards China. These trends pose major challenges for Philippines-Australia relations and risk causing them to deteriorate.

Australia’s Cautious Bilateralism

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Australia has chosen to respond to the risk of increased regional instability by pursuing closer ties with many of its neighbors in the region, including with the Philippines. Until recently, Australia relied on its close alliance with the U.S. for its security and did not pursue strong security relationships with many other countries in the region. China’s growing challenge to U.S. predominance in the Asia-Pacific has led Australia to shift its approach by bolstering its ties with other regional powers, such as Japan and India.

This trend was strongly encouraged by the U.S., which under the Obama administration has advocated a similar approach to others throughout the region to help develop an Asia-Pacific Principled Security Network and boost regional stability. However, this approach has also become more attractive for Australia because of concerns that the U.S. could reduce its regional presence or even surrender its regional leadership role in the long-term, given growing opposition to international engagement within the United States. In such a scenario, strong Australian ties with other countries in the region could provide additional leverage in future interactions with China.

Among these bilateral partnerships, Australia’s relationship with the Philippines has been one of its fastest growing. Bilateral security cooperation began in earnest in 2005 when the Australian government expressed interest in assisting the Philippines with counterterrorism challenges. The relationship has since deepened to include a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), which went into force in 2012.

Australia now conducts joint military drills with the Philippines, and has participated in the annual Philippines-U.S. Balikatan exercises since 2014. Australia has also supported the Philippines’ right to pursue an international arbitration tribunal’s judgement on its disputes with China in the South China Sea, over Chinese objections. However, despite these major bilateral advances, there have been signs that Australia is less willing than the Philippines to consolidate strong ties. Australia chose to sign a comprehensive partnership with the Philippines rather than the stronger strategic partnership that the Philippines sought, even as it chose to ink such an agreement with Singapore.

The reason for this appears to be that Australia has historically avoided escalating tensions in the region and chosen to refrain from pursuing a strategic partnership or alliance with the Philippines due to concerns that such an action could undermine stability in the South China Sea or force Australia into a conflict with China.

The Philippines’ Pivot to China 

Given the foreign policy shifts that Duterte is seeking, Australia’s calibrated form of security engagement with the Philippines is the kind that Duterte favors for now. His independent foreign policy is shaping up to have Russia as an ally, China as an economic partner, and have Japan compete with China to provide economic benefits and regional security for the Philippines.

Duterte would prefer to keep the status quo with the US alliance and the Australian comprehensive partnership, but their criticisms of his controversial anti-drug campaign will complicate this. Australia and the U.S. have provided a great deal of support to the Philippine military but Duterte has questioned Australian and U.S. resolve against China. He also criticized the US and Australia for meddling in Filipino affairs by condemning his anti-drug campaign that has so far resulted in over 3,000 extra-judicial killings. But his anti-U.S. sentiments are more deep-seated for personal and ideological reasons.

Changing the rhetoric on the South China Sea issue post-arbitration ruling, Duterte has chosen to take a more conciliatory approach in resolving territorial disputes with China and is poised to settle the contentious issue of sovereignty bilaterally. He has not sought a complete overhaul of his predecessor’s policies, as he expressed willingness to maintain close ties with Japan, which has become concerned at Duterte’s talk of radical shifts by the Philippines towards China. He is open to joint military exercises with Japan, but has redirected the focus of bilateral drills with U.S. armed forces from maritime security to humanitarian assistance and counterterrorism, and scrapped naval drills such as amphibious landings and boat raids altogether.

Duterte has not yet spoken of abandoning Australia or reducing the already low scale military exercises with it the way he has about the United States. But the fact is that Australia’s criticisms of Duterte’s extra-judicial domestic policies and controversial comments have put Australia on Duterte’s watch list alongside the European Union and the United Nations. It appears that under Duterte, Australian ambivalence towards stronger ties with the Philippines is beginning to be reciprocated.

Until recently, the main factor complicating Australia-Philippines relations was a divergence in attitudes to the risk of conflict against China. While that is no longer the case, differences over the Duterte administration’s policy approaches are now the primary obstacle to strengthening Australia-Philippines ties. These concerns will prevent the bilateral relationship from improving and may even undermine it in the future.

About the Authors

Charmaine Deogracias is  a journalist writing for Vera Files in the Philippines. She can be reached at charmdeogracias@gmail.com.

Orrie Johan is a researcher at the East-West Center in Washington. He recently obtained a master’s degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University. He can be contacted at orrie.johan@gmail.com

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.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

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Malaysian Politics: ‘Mother Of All Battles’ Shaping Up – Analysis


December 11, 2016

Malaysian Politics: ‘Mother Of All Battles’ Shaping Up – Analysis

http://www.eurasiareview.com/09122016-malaysian-politics-mother-of-all-battles-shaping-up-analysis/#comment-623327

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Malaysia’s besieged leader Najib Razak claims to have turned around his political fortunes despite the 1MDB scandal. While UMNO is increasingly confident of facing the coming general election, the ground may be far from sweet.

By Yang Razali Kassim*

The mother of all battles is shaping up in Malaysian politics as beleaguered prime minister Najib Razak pulled out all stops to defend himself in the face of a reconfiguring opposition. Putting his dominant party, UMNO, on a war footing at its recently concluded annual general assembly, Najib resorted to the Islamic doctrine of wala’ – or loyalty to the leader – as he manoeuvred to rally support and ready UMNO for a general election.

The enabler was his Number 2, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who started the ball rolling by pledging his own loyalty to Najib, who has been under siege since the outbreak of the 1MDB scandal last year. UMNO for the first time had to ward off an uprising against a sitting president led by a former prime minister and party president. In a single-minded drive to push Najib out, Mahathir Mohamad is leading a “people’s movement” to “Save Malaysia”. Having resigned from UMNO in protest against Najib, Mahathir has joined the opposition, even reconciling with his former ally-turned-nemesis Anwar Ibrahim to revive their once powerful political partnership.

Najib’s Survival Strategy

Mahathir is now demonised as a traitor who would even sleep with the enemy, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), to destroy UMNO, the Malay party he once led. The trigger that launched Mahathir on this warpath is 1MDB which has implicated Najib despite his denial of wrongdoing. The scandal has energised the divided opposition as well as Najib’s critics, culminating in the departure from UMNO of Mahathir and three other leaders, including deputy prime minister and UMNO deputy president Muhyddin Yassin. All three have formed a new party PPBM, also known for short as Bersatu.

This new party is set to join the Anwar-inspired Pakatan Harapan, formerly known as Pakatan Rakyat. This could strengthen the opposition coalition out to topple Najib, along with UMNO and the ruling national front coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN). It is this prospect of a reconstituted opposition coalition led in spirit and form by the two formidable former foes – Mahathir and Anwar – that caused Zahid to predict an epic clash. “We have to work triple-hard than previous elections because the mother of all battles will be in this coming elections,” he told the MalayMail in an interview. Another UMNO leader, the chief minister of Johor state, has described the coming general election as a “battle for survival”.

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With his back to the wall, Najib’s strategy for survival has transformed him from a gentlemanly politician to an almost unrecognisable political animal. At the outbreak of the 1MDB scandal, he swiftly removed key senior officials who were not on his side, including the attorney-general, before sacking his chief critic, the deputy premier Muhyiddin. 1MDB has now grown into an international scandal as several governments launched probes where the financial fiasco affected their jurisdictions; yet at the UMNO general assembly over the weekend, 1MDB was hardly an issue as the entire party’s attention was deflected towards the impending general election.

Rohingya Issue

Najib the Malay nationalist then burnished his credentials as an Islamic leader by latching on to the latest humanitarian crisis on the Rohingya in Myanmar, which came at an opportune time for him. Usually cautious when making his moves and choosing his words, Najib was a different persona at the Rohingya solidarity rally the next day.

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“Enough is enough.They want me to close my eyes? Shut my mouth? I will not keep quiet. We will defend them (the Rohingya)!”–Najib Razak. How do you propose to execute your pledge. Mr Prime Minister? Talk is cheap.–Din Merican

He did the unprecedented in ASEAN: He brushed aside a warning by Myanmar not to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Upset that his foreign minister was turned away by Aung San Suu Kyi when he sought bilateral talks on the issue, Najib declared a limit to the ASEAN principle of non-interference when it came to human rights abuses. He even ticked off Suu Kyi for not living up to her name as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, while urging Indonesian president Joko Widodo to mobilise a larger rally in support of the Rohingya: “Enough is enough!” he said. “They want me to close my eyes? Shut my mouth? I will not keep quiet. We will defend them (the Rohingya)!”

Billed as the Muslim Ummah Solidarity Rally for the Rohingya, it was clearly not just to show solidarity with the persecuted Rohingya, thousands of whom have taken refuge in Malaysia. It was also to showcase solidarity between UMNO and PAS, the Islamist opposition which Najib has been trying hard to woo. Indeed, this was a showcase moment – of him on stage together with the opposition Islamist PAS leader, Hadi Awang.

In coming together to support the Rohingya, UMNO and PAS have signalled their converging political interests. While this does not necessarily mean they would end up as formal allies in the coming elections, it does raise the prospect of an electoral pact. The more UMNO can win PAS over, the lesser the chances of the Pakatan Harapan opposition getting stronger. ASEAN will now have to contain the political fallout on the diplomatic and regional fronts.

The Mood Outside UMNO

Najib is clearly overflowing with confidence. UMNO leaders claimed the party had turned the corner and was now solidly behind him. While this may be so, it is too early to say if UMNO is completely out of the woods, going by publicly-aired sentiments. One came from a recent press conference by an UMNO Youth leader who quit the party after he was suspended for allegedly trying to “sabotage Najib” by attempting to provide Mahathir with a speaking platform.

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It was not so much the Youth leader’s resignation but what he said. He said many more were standing behind him and claimed there would be “busloads” who would leave UMNO in “managed waves”. This would build up to the general election that is widely expected to be quickened to next year, before the fractured opposition could consolidate.

On a broader note, while UMNO may still be the dominant Malay party, it is no longer regarded as the sole representative of the Malay community’s political aspirations. Outside UMNO – indeed outside the Malay community – the mood may be in stark contrast. A recent article by a former senior civil servant and now a think-tank senior, Ramon Navaratnam, was telling. He warned of a “serious disconnect” between UMNO leaders and the wider Malaysian public.

Ramon wondered whether the UMNO leaders’ confidence and happiness was “shared by all Malays and Bumiputeras and especially, most Malaysians, including non-Malays and non-Muslims”. “Prime Minister Najib Razak and UMNO leaders are generally confident of the future, but are Malaysians happy too?” He listed five sources of discontent – inflation, corruption, unemployment, human rights, and deteriorating safety and security. The chairman of the ASLI Centre for Public Policy Studies said: “Malaysia’s public confidence by any measure is now low and declining…This is causing much loss of public confidence and unhappiness, which all political leaders must address expeditiously, before it’s too late for the 14th general election.”

*Yang Razali Kassim is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.