Malaysia-China Relations: A New Turn? – Analysis


November 25, 2016

 

Malaysia-China Relations: A New Turn? – Analysis

Malaysia’s Najib Razak. Photo by Malaysian government, Wikipedia Commons.

Malaysia’s perceptible tilt towards China especially in economic relations reflects Malaysia’s foreign policy of hedging major power influence in the region and globally. While it seeks closer ties with China, it does not imply that Malaysia is shifting away from the US.

By Johan Saravanamuttu and David Han Guo Xiong*

Since Najib Razak assumed the premiership of Malaysia in 2009 China has featured significantly in his foreign policy. It was Najib’s father Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister, who was the first leader in Southeast Asia to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic in 1974.

That said, Malaysia’s foreign policy has been one of hedging against major powers in the region and globally. While Malaysia has shown great awareness of China’s rise and importance in the Asia Pacific region, it remains highly cognisant of the political and economic role of the United States in the region.

Malaysia’s Perceptible Tilt Towards China

Thus, Malaysia is among the 12 countries that have signed the US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement in Auckland, New Zealand, on 5 February 2016. The TPP is interpreted by some observers to be a crucial pillar of US rebalancing in the Asia Pacific to check China’s rising political and economic influence.

However, it is uncertain whether the US would commit to the TPP after the Obama administration. Thus, seemingly as a hedge to the signing of the TPP, the Malaysian parliament approved on 20 October participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — thought to be China’s brainchild — just prior to the Malaysian premier’s seventh state visit to China this week.

Recent developments in Malaysia demonstrate a perceptible tilt towards China, particularly in economic relations. When President Xi Jinping unveiled China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road or “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) strategy some three years ago, Malaysia welcomed the initiative and has remained very enthusiastic about it.

On 3 September 2016, the Malaysian Minister of Transport, Liow Tiong Lai (concurrently President of the political party Malaysian Chinese Association, MCA) extolled the virtues of OBOR in a Malaysia-China Business Dialogue event in Kuala Lumpur. Liow suggested that Malaysia could be “China’s gateway to ASEAN” and a crucial link to the 65 OBOR countries across Asia, Europe and Africa.

Impact of New Posture

This new Malaysian posture has come together with concrete developments in Malaysia-China relations. Malaysia is currently China’s largest trading partner in ASEAN with total trade of some US$100 billion expecting to reach $160 billion by 2017. China has also recently become the largest direct foreign investor in Malaysia, overtaking Singapore, Japan, Netherlands and the US, through buying assets in Malaysia’s troubled 1MDB.

These multi-billion assets bought from the Malaysian national fund include Edra Global Energy sold to China General Nuclear Power Corp for $2.3billion and a 60 percent stake in Bandar Malaysia, 1MDB’s flagship 197-hectare property site in Kuala Lumpur, at a price tag of $1.7 billion to China Railway Construction Corp. The China railway corporation is also thought to be in pole position to undertake the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed railway worth some $16.6 billion.

More interestingly, in keeping with its OBOR policy, China has been deeply involved in the rebuilding and refurbishing of sea ports in Malaysia. According to Transport Minister Liow, Malaysia’s has signed a “port alliance” with China linking six of Malaysia’s ports to 11 of China’s. Currently, China is helping Malaysia to rebuild and expand port services at Klang, Malacca and Carey Island in the Straits of Malacca and Kuantan on the South China Sea. Some 70 to 80 percent of the ships passing through the Straits of Malacca are said to originate from China.

Kuantan on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula would be of great importance to Chinese maritime trade as well. Liow said his ministry is therefore encouraging China to participate in port construction across 120 kilometers of the Malacca Straits. According to Liow, the port alliance with China would help develop shipping, logistics and other related industries to augment the $1 trillion worth of OBOR trade.

Ramifications for Malaysia

There are three ramifications of Malaysia’s embrace of OBOR. Firstly, OBOR, which is partly funded by the AIIB, would help China to further expand its prominence in Southeast Asia. It is expected that through the OBOR, Malaysia would be a key node for China to access the ASEAN market. China’s increased economic prominence through OBOR and the AIIB could improve China’s image among ASEAN countries as a major player in boosting the economies of Southeast Asia.

The strengthening of economic ties between ASEAN and China would obviate potential conflict, and enhance the benefit for ASEAN and China to work closely together economically.

Secondly, Malaysia’s perceptible tilt towards China in the OBOR venture could be a nudge to the US to maintain its current commitment to Southeast Asia. If the US, under its new President, reneges on its commitment to TPP, this would be a setback for Malaysia as the TPP has the potential to enhance Malaysia-US economic ties.

Thus, Malaysia’s favourable tilt towards China and OBOR could help to cushion some of the negative fallout of such a scenario. It could also be a signal to the next US President that America risks losing the support of its friends to China if the US does not continue its economic rebalancing role in Asia.

Thirdly, domestically, strengthening economic growth would be advantageous to Najib’s administration. Due to domestic political challenges having a strong economic performance would enhance the legitimacy of Najib’s government. The economic benefits of OBOR would play a vital role in buttressing Najib’s regime.

Najib’s recent visit to China  will improve bilateral ties significantly with OBOR featuring prominently in this development. This does not however imply that Malaysia is coming under China’s sway while shifting away from the US.

Drawing closer towards China economically is a pragmatic move by the Malaysian government to expand its economic space and boost economic growth. Provided the US continues its commitments to Southeast Asia Malaysia will also seek to build up ties with the US for regional peace and development.

*Johan Saravanamuttu, Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, was previously professor of political science at Science University of Malaysia (USM). David Han is a Research Analyst with the Malaysia Programme at RSIS.

Asia Foundation: Top 10 Recommendations for Trump Administration on Asia Foreign Policy


November 18, 2016

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Leading up to the 2016 U.S. elections, The Asia Foundation—a non-partisan, non-governmental organization—convened high-level, closed-door working groups of Northeast, Southeast, and South Asian policy specialists led by Dr. Yoon Young-kwan, Professor of International Relations at Seoul National University and former Foreign Minister of South Korea; Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Executive Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand; and Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Founding Director of the India Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Asia will only grow in strategic importance for the United States,” said project Co-Chairs of the American Task Force Dr. Harry Harding, University Professor at the University of Virginia, and Ellen Laipson, President Emeritus of The Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., who together provided the U.S. response to the Asian views. “Of greatest concern to Asians today is the extent to which the American role in the region has been questioned during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign. Early signs from the new administration that it will devote high-level attention to the vital region are gravely important.”

Asia Foundation: Top 10 Recommendations for Trump Administration on Asia Foreign Policy

http://asiafoundation.org/2016/11/14/asia-foundation-releases-top-10-recommendations-trump-administration-asia-foreign-policy/

San Francisco, November 14, 2016 — The U.S. must not shrink from its leadership role in the international order, according to a new Asia Foundation report released today. Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia: The Future of the Rebalance is the Foundation’s signature foreign policy initiative bringing together diverse, distinct perspectives from influential Asian foreign policy specialists and thought leaders. The report arrives on the eve of possibly the greatest change in American foreign policy in Asia since the end of World War II. One of the principal conclusions of the report is that most Asians believe that a robust, sustained, and consistent U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security presence in the region is essential.

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By John J. Brandon

avarabannerpicfinalAfter a grueling election season, on November 8, Americans elected their 45th president of the United States in a stunning victory for Donald Trump. As in much of the world, policymakers in Asia have been transfixed by the twists and turns of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, raising questions over where U.S. foreign policy toward Asia will stand under new leadership.

With 60 percent of the world’s population and some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and thorniest security challenges, Asia’s rising strategic importance cannot be overstated. The 2016 campaign revealed mounting skepticism on how the U.S. will to continue its role in global leadership, and concern over what the China strategy would be in a new administration.

Now President-elect Donald Trump will find a complex set of issues to address in the dynamic and divergent region, including security, trade, pressing inter-Asian tensions, expectations of Asian leaders and the broader public about America’s role, as well as rising powers eager to set their own agendas.

Yesterday, The Asia Foundation released “Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia: The Future of the Rebalance“—a set of strategic recommendations for the incoming president on foreign policy toward Asia, including concise top 10 crucial actions. The Asia Foundation’s quadrennial project convenes a series of closed-door, high-level working groups of Asian and American thought leaders across the Asia Pacific leading up to the election.

In contrast to the majority of Asia policy studies in the United States which limit their inquiry to American views, this project emphasizes a diverse set of Asian perspectives. This year’s Asian participants comprise both established foreign policy luminaries and a younger generation of rising stars from civil society and policy institutes. In addition to the chapters written by the project’s three Asia chairs, three emerging Asian leaders who participated in the workshops contributed a forward-looking snapshot entitled “The Future of Asia,” in which they envision Asia’s future and the optimal role of the United States in it. A response from two prominent American foreign policy specialists examines the political appetite within the U.S. for such recommendations.

Here are the top 10 recommendations for the new president:

1.Maintain a robust, sustained, and consistent American presence in the Asia-Pacific. A precipitous reduction of engagement in Asia would be detrimental to the interests of most Asian countries as well as the United States. Any diminution of U.S. credibility will push the Asian states toward self-help in the security realm and trigger massive destabilization of the regional order.

2. Support Asian regional architecture and institutions. While bilateral relations are important, multilateral mechanisms and diplomacy that promote greater cohesion among Asian countries are essential to America’s continued engagement in the region. America should support the mandate of the China-led AIIB, while partnering with Japan and India in infrastructure development in Asia.

3. President-elect Trump should re-examine his position on the campaign trail and ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), finding a way to move forward productively on this comprehensive trade agreement, which most Asians see as a mutually beneficial pillar of America’s role in the region.

4. President-elect Trump should rethink U.S. strategy on the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are an evermore imminent threat. In a matter of just a few years, the DPRK will have the ability to attack U.S. territory with a nuclear-armed ICBM. U.S. “strategic patience” has failed. After toughening international sanctions, the United States must eventually begin talks with North Korea to find a permanent solution on the Korean peninsula. At the same time, the U.S. government must be prepared for sudden political instability in the DPRK, and continue consultations with key stakeholders, including South Korea and China.

5. President-elect Trump should pursue a balanced approach toward China. As China continues to rise as an economic, political, and military power, the 45th president must resist the temptation of polarizing rhetoric or policies. Asian nations value America’s economic and security presence, but they do not want to be forced to choose between the world’s two largest powers. A strategic mix of engagement and hedging is a better U.S. policy toward China than either confrontation or appeasement.

6. The new president should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Although the United States follows UNCLOS as a matter of customary international law, the failure of Congress to ratify UNCLOS weakens the U.S. position on the South China Sea and on international law more broadly. The U.S. should continue its freedom-of-navigation operations and encourage other countries such as Japan and Australia to undertake their own FONOPS to make such activity more multilateral.

7. President-elect Trump should work with India to address South Asian security. As it draws India into a larger role in Asian security, Washington should work with Delhi to develop a coordinated approach to countering terrorism, nudge Pakistan toward political moderation, and promote regional economic integration in the South Asian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean region.

8. President-elect Trump should not abandon Afghanistan. It would be unwise for the U.S. to withdraw completely from Afghanistan. Poor governance is often the cradle of terrorism and instability, and to counter such instability, the U.S. must continue to promote the rule of law, build civil society, and support economic and development measures that increase Afghanistan’s national capacity to effectively govern and to provide for its own security.

9. The Trump administration should continue to play a leading role in nontraditional security. Broadly speaking, Asian nations have been slower than the United States to address security challenges such as climate change, disaster relief, terrorism, and food security. Most Asian countries welcome American expertise in humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and mitigating the effects of climate change, and they want the United States to continue to lead and to facilitate cooperation in these nontraditional security areas.

10. Finally, President-elect Trump needs to continue to project American “soft power.” No country in the world can match the resonance of American “soft power” in Asia. The United States can strengthen liberal and modernizing forces in Asia by exercising its unique influence in partnership with local initiatives rather than imposing an agenda on the region and interfering in the internal affairs of states. Political modernization owned by Asians themselves will enhance America’s political standing and advance her foreign-policy objectives over the long-term. The U.S. should continue to cultivate educational and cultural ties with Asia, support civil society organizations and technological innovation, and serve as a role model for good governance by building capacity and sharing best practices.

It’s clear from our many long discussions across the region that Asia wants the U.S. to exercise global leadership in this complex era, and not succumb to the temptation of isolationist sentiments. If the U.S., rich with experience in global leadership, retreats in this situation, there will be a leadership vacuum. This will not only damage the long-term interests of the United States, but will create a chaotic situation in Asia and throughout the world. For this reason, Asia and Asians expect continued leadership from the United States. It must not falter.

Read the full report

John J. Brandon is senior director for The Asia Foundation’s International Relations programs in Washington, D.C. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis


November 17, 2016

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Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

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Malay Nationalism or Tribalism ala Ku Kluk Klan

One thing that shocked me when I first went to Sweden for my studies 35 years ago was how dirty a word “Nationalism” was in Western Europe. This reaction, I realized, was very much a reflection of how the concept was positively implanted in my mind while a schoolboy in Malaysia; but it also demonstrated how greatly human experiences can differ in different parts of the world.

More importantly, it revealed to me how strongly we are intellectually captured by the language use of our times and our location.

But the Swedes are very proud of their country, so how come nationalism is frowned upon so badly? The same thing applied throughout Europe, at least until recently. Excessive immigration over the last two decades, coupled with declining economic fortunes and waning self-confidence has buoyed the ascendance of ultra-rightists groups in all countries throughout the continent.

So why was Nationalism so despised? Europe is after all the home continent of the Nation State.

For starters, Europe was always a place of endless wars often fought ostensibly for religious reasons between feudal powers. The arrival of the Nation state ideology helped to lower the frequencies of these tragedies, but only to replace it soon after with non-religious types of rationale for conflict. The American Revolution and French Republicanism added the new phenomenon of “government by the people”. The French case also brought into the equation the Left-Right Dimension that would define politics and political thinking for the next two centuries.

This conceptual division between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule expressed sharply the rights of common people on the one hand, and the role of the state on the other. Once this gap was articulated, conflating the two poles anew became a necessary task.

The three major articulations in Europe of this mammoth mission to bridge the divide and achieve a functional modern system were Liberal Democracy, Communism and Fascism. While the Anglo-Saxon world championed the first, Stalin’s Soviet Union perfected the second and Adolf Hitler developed the third to its insane conclusion. In Europe, it was basically these three actors who fought the Second World War.

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Malay Tribalism in Action

In Asia, Japan’s brand of state fascism ran riot throughout the region, rhetorically championing nationalism in the lands it took from the European colonialists.

While the National Socialism of the Third Reich died with Hitler, Fascism lived on in Franco’s Spain until 1975 and Nationalist Communism of Stalin continued in Eastern Europe until the early 1990s.

Nationalism in the rest of Europe after 1945 came to be understood with disdain as the longing of the Nation State for purity and autonomy taken to pathological lengths. It is after all always a defensive posture, as is evidenced today in its return in the form of right-wing anti-immigrant groups.

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Maruah Melayu dijual ka-Cina untuk membela masa depan politik Najib Razak–Jualan Aset 1MDB

In Malaysia, nationalism was—and for many, still is—the most highly rated attitude for a citizen to adopt.There are obvious reasons for this, given the historical and socio-political context in which Malaysia came into being. Constructing a new country out of nine sultanates, the three parts of the Straits Settlements, with Sabah and Sarawak on top of that, was a more daunting task than we can imagine today. Furthermore, the contest was also against other powerful “-isms”, especially Communism and Pan-Indonesianism. These threatened to posit what are Malaysia’s states today in a larger framework, and would have diminished these territories’ importance and uniqueness.

Putting a new regime in place of the retreating British required a rallying idea; and what better than the very fashionable image of a new nation to whom all should swear allegiance. Malayan nationalism was thus born.

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For Inclusive, Liberal and Progressive Malaysia–Escaping the Nationalism Trap

It is no coincidence that the path to independence became much easier after Malaysia’s major political party, UMNO, decided under Tunku Abdul Rahman to change its slogan from the provincial “Hidup Melayu” [Long Live the Malays] to the inclusive “Merdeka” [Independence].

But already in that transition, one can see the problem that Malaysia still lives with today. Is Malaysia the political expression of the prescriptive majority called “Melayu” [later stretched to become “Bumiputera”], or is it the arena in which the multi-ethnic nation of “Malaysians” is to evolve?

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Nationalism in essence, and most evidently so in its narrow ethno-centric sense, is defensive and fearful, and understood simplistically and applied arrogantly very quickly show strong fascist tendencies. The issue is therefore a philosophical one.

What Malaysia needs today, is to accept the regional and global context that sustains it, and work out as best it can a suitable balance between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule which is clearly less belaboured and less painful than the cul-de-sac alleyway it has backed itself into.

OOI KEE BENG is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) and the Editor of the Penang Monthly (Penang Institute). He is the author of the prizewinning The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2006).

Australia’s China choice is not between security and prosperity


November 15, 2016

Australia’s China choice is not between security and prosperity–Why not both?

by Paul Hubbard, Australian National University @Canberra

http://www.eastasiaforum.org
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If strategic rivalry between China and the United States escalates, Australia will face uncomfortable choices that could leave one or both partners unsatisfied. But it is wrong to frame this as a trade-off between national security and economic prosperity, as if strategic strength were born from economic pain. National security and economic prosperity are both vital national interests and deeply symbiotic. A stable international order underwrites economic prosperity; international economic engagement supports a stable order.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in her office at Parliament House.

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in her office at Parliament House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Unfortunately, economists and strategists have trouble talking on the same terms. The starting point for economists is usually an abstract model that assumes the security infrastructure and norms needed for markets to thrive. If economists think about armed conflict it is usually as a ‘tail risk’ — potentially catastrophic, but highly unlikely. But take away a stable national, regional or global order and the business and commerce that generate material prosperity will evaporate.

Security thinkers don’t sit around and assume thriving societies. Instead they are paid to detect threats and contemplate worst-case scenarios. Mitigating these requires clear thinking, well-resourced diplomacy and defence capability. This, in turn, depends on a prosperous economy.

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Chairman Mao Zedong meeting with the Hon. Gough Whitlam QC, Prime Minister of Australia during the historic Prime Ministerial visit to the People’s Republic of China, 31 October – 4 November 1973. Photo courtesy the Hon Tom Burns AO, Chair of the Queensland China Council, personal collection.

Australia can afford multi-billion dollar submarines and joint strike fighters because it has a US$1.2 trillion economy. The Defence White Paper’s US$32 billion funding target for 2020–2021 assumes that the Australian economy will continue growing faster than the United States, the Euro Area or Japan. Achieving this requires deeper economic engagement with a fast growing Asia.

The complementarity of security and prosperity is not a new discovery. Former US president Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 Peace Without Conquest speech recognised that popular support for communism in Southeast Asia came not from the peasant’s fascination with Marxism, but rather from a desire for basic life necessities and an ‘end to material misery’. He proposed the creation of the Asian Development Bank to show that these needs could be met through markets and capitalism, without resorting to radical communism and violent conquest.

While the United States lost the battle against communism in Vietnam, it won the war for open markets and prosperity in Asia. The examples of Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore convinced China’s leaders in 1978 to put aside the horrors of Maoism and adopt not just ‘reform’ but crucially, ‘opening up’.

Unbridled ideology was exchanged for market pragmatism. The result was the largest and most rapid movement of humanity from poverty in history. China stopped exporting international revolution and instead now exports 18 per cent of the world’s manufactured goods, in accordance with the rules-based order of the World Trade Organization. Foreign investment in and out of China puts assets at risk on both sides, giving owners a strong material interest in preserving peace.

Of course national interests go beyond the economy. Providing for the material welfare of citizens is only one of the legs of political legitimacy. States sometimes adopt goals that cut across the material welfare of their citizens. The first era of globalisation did not stop the imperial follies of the First World War. The following wave of fascism and totalitarianism subordinated individual welfare to the strategic interests of the state.

China’s policies after 1978 were calibrated to reassure the international community that its re-emergence would not follow this menacing route. Deng Xiaoping’s foreign policy mantra was to hide China’s strength and bide its time. Hu Jintao promoted China’s ‘peaceful rise’. Which is why strategists have reacted with alarm to a more assertive foreign policy under Xi Jinping.

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What should economists make of this? Is China’s increasing assertiveness ‘a reality that seems to have bypassed many of Australia’s economic commentators’ as one strategic commentator suggests?

The new direction is worrying. Perhaps the risk of conflict is slightly less remote. But there’s not enough to overthrow the central scenario under which China continues to prioritise domestic and international stability. Just as regional stability serve Australian prosperity, so too does it serve China’s own vital economic interests.

The economist would also distinguish threats to international stability from more common but less catastrophic risks that hide among the cross-border movements of people, goods and capital. As Deng Xiaoping famously observed, opening the window invariably involves letting in a few flies.

The best line of defence against economic harm is competition in a well-regulated domestic market. Unlike Mao’s China, which hoped that correct behaviour would flow from correct ideology, the market system does not depend on the goodwill or benevolence of market participants. Where threats appear to specific security interests, the solution is not to shut the window on prosperity, but rather to use some of the proceeds to buy more and better fly-swats.

This approach allows Australia to choose both security and prosperity, putting the country in a more comfortable position to deal with both the United States and China.

Paul Hubbard is a doctoral candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University. He is currently on leave from the Australian Treasury as a Sir Roland Wilson Scholar, and is a former Fulbright Scholar in international relations. The views in this paper do not reflect those of the Australian Treasury.

The economics of Australia’s security in Asia

Under Trump,US Allies in Asia May Look to Themselves for Security


November 13, 2o16

For years, American allies in East and Southeast Asia have been quietly preparing to rely less on the United States for regional stability and security. That shift came despite President Barack Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia, which was a centerpiece of his administration’s foreign policy and was likely to continue if Democrat Hillary Clinton had won Tuesday’s U.S. presidential vote — notwithstanding her election-year renouncement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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President-elect Donald Trump’s upset in the election, however, could mean a very different future for U.S. foreign policy in the region, and could hasten the drive toward the self-reliance among Asian allies that is already underway.

“Asians have quietly been hedging their bets for many years that America’s distraction with the Middle East and lingering budget woes would eventually lead to a retrenchment of American leadership,” said Lindsey Ford, who advised senior Defense Department officials on Asia policies for more than four years under the Obama administration, until 2015.

“Unless a new Trump administration moves quickly to assuage these fears, this trend will only increase,” Ford, now director of Asian security at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said in a statement just after Tuesday’s election.

On the campaign trail, Trump said he would call on Japan and South Korea to pay more of a share in the expenses of security cooperation with the United States, and expressed openness to the idea of nuclear proliferation among U.S. allies. Obama is set to leave office at a time of rising tensions over disputes in the East and South China Seas and North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons. Foreign Policy asked Ford to outline a sense of what U.S. allies in East and Southeast Asia should expect.

Under Trump, U.S. Allies in Asia May Look to Themselves for Security

This interview, conducted by email, has been condensed and edited.

FP: What is the most telling example of Asian allies hedging in preparation for a diminished U.S. presence in the region?

LF: One of the most telling examples of Asian hedging is the careful balancing act we’ve seen Association of Southeast Asian Nations nations engaging in for quite some time. This has included diversifying both their economic ties as well as their military investments between the U.S. and China. Witness this past month’s visits by [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte and [Malaysian] Prime Minister Najib [Razak] to China as a great example. We’ve also seen this balancing act play out time and again in the South China Sea, where ASEAN nations have wrestled with how to avoid hewing too closely to either the United States or China.

FP: What specifically might Trump do to assuage these fears?

LF: President-elect Trump could begin by publicly reaffirming that America’s extended deterrence commitments — its nuclear umbrella — remains rock solid. His earlier suggestion that countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea should perhaps seek out their own nuclear capabilities seriously spooked Asian partners. While he may not wish to explicitly walk back these statements, he needs to make clear that nuclear proliferation is in no one’s best interests and that the United States remains firmly invested in protecting its allies from nuclear attack or provocation.

FP: U.S. partners like Japan and the Philippines are already looking to further boost their own military capabilities — what might an acceleration in those efforts look like?

LF: Under President [Shinzo] Abe, Japan has slowly dipped its toes in the waters of becoming a more “normal” military power for the first time since World War II. Thus far, Japan has proceeded relatively cautiously in reinterpreting its definition of “self-defense” and the appropriate role for its military forces. However, this change could be accelerated should Japan feel more convinced it could not rely on the U.S. security umbrella. We could potentially see Japan moving to increase military spending above its traditionally limited levels of one percent of gross domestic product. We could see an Abe government push to more fundamentally revisit or overturn Article 9 of the Constitution, allowing Japan to build a more traditional “offensive” capability for its forces. Either of these developments would worry neighbors such as the Republic of Korea and China, potentially setting off ripple effects in terms of their own military spending and posture.

FP: Does the imminent breakdown of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have security implications?

LF: From a security perspective, the biggest implication of our failure to secure the TPP would be the loss of American credibility in Asia. If our allies and partners view our failed follow through on issues such as TPP and Syria as evidence that America will not make good on its word, it will greatly diminish their trust in our security commitments and leadership. This could, in turn, make it harder for the U.S. to build coalitions of support on any number of thorny international security problems, such as countering the Islamic State and deterring North Korean provocations.

FP: A line of presidents have failed to make substantial diplomatic headway with North Korea. What might a Trump approach look like — are there any clues?

LF: Dealing with the North Korea situation is perhaps the biggest looming issue in Asian security affairs at the moment, and one that the incoming president will need to move quickly to address. There is very little indication that Donald Trump has already developed these plans, or that he fully appreciates the long graveyard of failed North Korea policies that have preceded him. In brief statements on the issue thus far, he has suggested he would merely tell China “this is your problem.” This approach will almost certainly fail. One can only hope that in the coming months he will reach out, as he has suggested, to solicit creative thinking on this and other issues.

FP: Does Taiwan face increased risks under Trump?

LF: It’s simply too soon to speculate what a Trump presidency could mean for Taiwan. Taiwan has typically enjoyed strong bipartisan support within the U.S. Congress, but like the rest of Asia, they will need to spend some time sounding out the new team and taking the temperature to see where things stand.

Bersih 5.0: UMNO plays hardball


November 8, 2016

Bersih 5.0: UMNO plays hardball

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

It is no surprise that the sabre-rattling and harsh rhetoric by UMNO and various members of the Government is growing in intensity as November 19 – the day of the planned Bersih 5 rally in Kuala Lumpur – approaches.

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At least three hardline tactics are discernible from the UMNO side. One is of crude threats (once again) to start a blood bath by Red Shirts leader Jamal Yunos. Showing his complete disregard for the law and showing his middle finger to the agencies that are supposed to enforce it as well as abandoning whatever sense of civic decorum may still linger in him, the Sungei Besar UMNO leader made the following threat during a press conference :

Kami berikrar dan menentang mereka habis-habisan. Kami tidak akan teragak-agak untuk melakukan apa saja, walaupun sanggup bermandikan darah. (We swear to fight them to the end. We are prepared to do anything, even shedding blood)”

Malaysians can expect this fascistic and openly lawless grouping within UMNO which is bent on suppressing any form of opposition and criticism – in the name of supporting the Government and ensuring peace and order – to make more provocative statements and more blood curdling threats in the coming days.

Supporting the Red Shirts

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Meanwhile a parallel attempt to kill off the Bersih rally is being made by Jamal’s superior in the UMNO leadership lineup. Intent on burnishing his ketuanan UMNO credentials at this time of leadership turmoil in his own party, Khairy Jamaludin, UMNO Youth chief, has called on the authorities to shut down the roads leading to Dataran Merdeka to prevent Bersih supporters from gathering at the square.

He has argued that the Red Shirts have emerged as a reaction to Bersih 5. His logic: if there were no Bersih 5 rally, there would be no Red Shirts demonstration.

The same argument can be made that the civil society opposition – which now includes ex-members of UMNO and their breakaway party – is marching due to the Government’s failure to bring about institutional reform, including in the electoral process, and its responsibility for the 1MDB and other cases of misgovernance. Hence all that’s needed to defuse that opposition is for the present leaders to step down.

Khairy and his UMNO colleagues such as the Home and Deputy Home Ministers, Zahid Hamidi and Nur Jazlan Mohamad, need to go back to school and enrol in “Fundamentals of Political Democracy 101” if they think that particular argument is a reasonable one to prevent citizens from exercising their right to dissent in legitimate and peaceful ways.

The third approach is that of using official channels to block the Bersih rally participants. We have a history of City Hall refusals to grant permits to opposition-organized rallies. A similar response can be expected of Bersih’s application to DBKL wherever the rally organizers may decide to hold the rally and however far it may be away from the city center.

At the same time the Police and FRU can be expected to mobilize en masse along the rally routes to prevent members of the public from joining the rally. They, as seen in the past, will have no qualms on using water cannons, tear gas, truncheons and other means of physical coercion on protestors who they perceive as resisting their instructions.

In addition, there is likely to be a new para-military team waiting to jump into action in case the rally event is seen as getting out of control. It is unlikely that Prime Minister Najib will use the newly minted National Security Council Act to declare the rally locality a Security Zone and to crack heads. That task is rumoured to be outsourced to the Redshirts.

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UMNO’s Top Rogues

But if the National Security Operations Force (NSCOF) is brought into action, there could be repercussions which the Government will surely regret, and have to pay for letting this particular genie of state sponsored violence and mayham escape from the bottle. Already the National Security Operations Force team photographed in full combat gear with guns and apparently supported by helicopters and 4WD vehicles has demonstrated to the public its ominous incompetence by its grammatically fractured motto – “speed and accurate” – displayed prominently on the showy extra-large arm badge worn by its team members.

Despite the heightened beating of UMNO’s war drums to dissuade the rally organizers and participants, the rally will surely happen. There will be a rally in Kuala Lumpur on November 19 in which we can expect a formidably-sized assembly of protestors – as described by Hishamuddin Rais, activist and Bersih resource person – “taking the Gandhi philosophy, non-violence.”

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The rally will be a multi-racial and peaceful one as previous Bersih rallies have been. We can also expect that the majority of participants will be from the Malay community, increasingly disillusioned and estranged from the present UMNO leadership.

This will make meaningless any blackening of it as a traitorous non-Malay or Chinese attempt to overthrow the Malay government, except by those belonging to the asylum.

But who is it that we can expect from the Malay community to march with other Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur and from another 40 or more cities in the world in support of Bersih’s peaceful objectives? There will be the usual supporters from the opposition, less PAS members aligned with PAS president Hadi Awang. There will also be PAS dissidents who have broken away as well as those still in the party but who do not go along with Hadi’s dalliance with Najib.

How large will the rally presence be from UMNO dissidents, some already with Parti Pribumi Bersatu and others still in UMNO but with little or no confidence in its present leadership? 50 thousand, 100 thousand?

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The last grouping is the wild card. Khairy’s open warning to UMNO Youth members who intend to participate in Bersih 5 that they will face disciplinary action shows he is clearly worried that they will turn up in their tens of thousands.

But can such bullying and intimidation still work? And if blood is to be spilled as Jamal Yunos has promised, Malaysians and the rest of the world will be in no doubt as to whose bloodied hands are the ones responsible.