Obama’s Visit–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

November 25, 2015

Obama’s Visit–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

by Azmi Sharom


Agong and Obama

Issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in foreign affairs.

THE first American president to visit us was Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) in the 1960s. His reasons for visiting were probably the same as President Barack Obama’s: security (although in those days it was about the “threat” of Vietnam and the feared domino effect of nations falling under the thrall of Communism, whereas now it’s Islamic State) and economy (although then it was probably more about ensuring we keep on supplying tin and rubber whereas now it’s about keeping us from being too influenced by China).

Whenever the President of the United States visits another country, he is bound to make waves of some sort. According to oral history (i.e. my mum and dad), when LBJ came here all sorts of craziness ensued, like the inexplicable chopping-down of strategic trees; as though some renegade monkey was going to throw himself at the presidential convoy.

Our Prime Minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, wasn’t too fussed about the visit, saying that Johnson needn’t have come at all.

 Obama’s visit wasn’t quite as colourful, with security measures being limited to thousands of guns and the closing of the Federal Highway (no more monkeys in KL) and all our leaders expectedly excited and giddy.

What I found interesting about Mr Obama’s trip is his consistent request to meet with “the youth” and civil society. He did it the last time he was here and he did it again this time.

This is all well and good; he’s quite a charming, intelligent fellow and he says soothing things. So what if he gave us a couple of hours of traffic hell (in this sense, the American Presidency is fair for he treats his citizens and foreigners alike: I have been reliably informed that whenever Obama visits his favourite restaurant in Malibu, the whole town is gridlocked by security measures. What, you can’t do take away, Barack?).

Anyway, I see no harm in all these meetings. But then neither do I see any good. At least not any real and lasting good, apart from perhaps the thrill of meeting one of the most powerful people on earth and having him say things that match your own world view.

The world of social media went a bit loopy when a young man at the “town hall meeting” with youths asked the President to raise issues of good governance with our Prime Minister, to which he replied that he would. And maybe he did, but at the end of the day, so what?

Frankly that’s all he will do, a bit of lip service, because issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in international affairs. They may make a big song and dance about it, but they don’t really care.

And before you accuse me of anti-Americanism, I believe this applies to most, if not all, countries. The Americans like us because we appear to be hard in the so-called “war on terror”.

They need us, not because we are such a huge trading partner, but because they want us on their side (by way of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) in the economic battles that they have been, and will be, continuing to fight against China.

We see this behaviour of putting self-interest over any sort of serious stand on principle happening again and again. Why is it that the United Nations Security Council did nothing when Saddam Hussein massacred thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons, but took hurried military action when he invaded Kuwait?

Perhaps it is because at the time of the Kurdish genocide, Saddam was fighting Iran which was deemed by some, at least, as the great enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if he is a genocidal butcher.

It is trite to mention the hypocrisies abound in international relations. Anyone with the vaguest interest in world affairs can see it. To expect any less is naïve.

Besides, there is another danger of having a big power like the US mess around with our national problems. If they do so, it will be all too easy for the rabid so-called nationalists amongst us to scream that foreign intervention is leading to loss of sovereignty and national pride. Their “patriotism” will muddy the waters, adding issues to confuse people when there need not be any added issues at all.

azmi sharom

The point of this article is this – for those of us who want to create a nation with true democracy and respect for human rights, we’re on our own folks.



ASEAN: Bridging the South China Sea Dispute

November 22, 2015

ASEAN: Bridging the South China Sea Dispute

by Mergawati Zulfakar


South China Sea

Nobody wants to admit it publicly, at least on the Malaysian side that the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus meeting in Malaysia early this month nearly became a disaster.

Disagreement between the United States and China over how to address the South China Sea issue resulted in the ministers failing to issue a joint declaration outlining ­cooperation in regional security matters.

The United States and its allies had pressed for a mention of disputes in the South China Sea in the joint declaration while a senior US defence official said China had lobbied ASEAN members to avoid any reference.

South China Sea

This is not the first time maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea became an issue. ASEAN Foreign Ministers ended a meeting in Cambodia two years ago without issuing the customary joint communique as there had been disagreement over the growing assertiveness of China in the South China Sea.

 The South China Sea is fast becoming a focal point especially since four of the six claimant countries are ASEAN members, namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The other two are China and Taiwan.

This week as the 27th ASEAN Summit and related summits begin, the issue is escalating again. It will be interesting to see how as Asean chair Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak will handle leaders from China and the United States during the 10th East Asia Summit (the Asean 10 plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US).

Should the host country downplay the issue as it doesn’t want to get the unnecessary attention of China? Well, it depends on the situation.

A senior Malaysian official said Malaysia should not sweep it under the carpet as it was a claimant country.“As chair we have to be objective, we have to be fair but we have to reflect the discussions that will take place. If the South China Sea is featured substantially in the leaders’ discussion, then it will have to be reflected in the 27th ASEAN Summit chairman statement and China will have to understand that.We do not want to isolate anybody. We have our views and perhaps ours will probably not be the same as Vietnam or the Philippines. Still, we have to acknowledge all these diverse views and it should be reflected in the statement.”

ASEAN and China have long been working on a binding code of conduct (CoC) to address numerous issues faced by claimant countries. However, only a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was finalised and signed in 2002.

The declaration reaffirms the parties’ commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other international laws on state-to-state relations. It also states that ASEAN members and China should resolve disputes “by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations”.

In the last few years, China has been rather aggressive in reclaiming the area and latest reports suggest Beijing is trying to establish a de facto 12-mile territorial zone around the reclaimed area by building airstrips and other facilities for military forces.

These activities have been received with much criticism from claimant countries like the Philippines and Vietnam.

During the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur in August in a joint communique issued, the ministers in criticising China had said reclamation activities carried out in the disputed area could undermine the peace, security and stability in the area.

However, in recent weeks, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been more conciliatory in his remarks by saying China has always insisted the dispute should be resolved peacefully through talks but Beijing has a responsibility to protect the country’s sovereignty and maritime rights.

One official believed that China was so far advanced in reclamation of the area that there was no turning back. “They won’t reverse in what­ever they are doing so they can afford to be conciliatory. Now they can talk about the CoC because they have managed to change the reality on the ground, building port facilities, military buildings and even an airstrip on the islands. It is like checkmate, really,” the official said.

Another concern now is that they have widely reclaimed the area and that their authority has become more effective in the area. “So potentially their claim can over time be supported in international courts,” warned the official.

Another concern is a recent move by a US warship conducting a so-called freedom-of-navigation patrol around the area claimed by Beijing.

“It is worrying really. The question is to what extent do you want to challenge China? It can turn the area into a hotspot which we have avoided all these years,” said an official.

For Malaysia, its quiet diplomacy to manage the issue has worked well so far.Kuala Lumpur has to be careful how it deals with China, which is its biggest trading partner. At the same time in recent years, Malaysia has developed solid relations with Washington.

“We do not want instability in the region and we do not know how China as a superpower will behave in future. We do not know how they will treat us and maybe it is good to have somebody to provide a check and balance,”said an official.

Going viral in Cambodian Cyberspace

November 19, 2015

COMMENT: Times are changing in Cambodia as a result of peace, Din Merican at his UC Officepolitical stability and economic development following the formation of the Royal Government in 1993 (although the civil war did not end until 1997). Phnom Penh and the provincial cities and towns are now bustling with economic activity.

Education is a top priority – at least in the private sector – and the availability of the internet is helping in the process of intellectual development of the Cambodian people. Students I meet at the University of Cambodia have e-mail, Facebook and Twitter accounts and enjoy internet facilities on campus. Twenty-four-hour internet services are available and shops, cafes and hotels provide internet and wi-fi services.

Students have hand phones to communicate via internet. But internet penetration is second lowest in ASEAN after Myanmar. That means that HE Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen and his Cabinet colleagues and local officials must rely on people to people dialogue, the television and the mainstream media to explain government policies.

Hun Sen at UNGAWith regard to social media, credit must be given to the Royal Government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen for making this possible.  Cambodia has a young population (average age below 25) which has forgotten what their parents and elders went through during the period of the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge reign of terror and the years of international isolation and the sacrifices they made to end the civil war and achieve peace and reconciliation. As a result, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his colleagues face the challenge of managing expectations.

Based on my discussions with graduate students at the Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, I know that the Royal Government is not taking its people for granted. It is creating jobs and business opportunities for Cambodian SMEs, and attracting foreign direct investments into the country. For this to continue, Cambodia needs political stability.

So in my view, adversarial politics is not the way forward for Cambodia in the short term to medium term. What Cambodia needs is a people-centered government. Samdech Hun Sen does not deserve the treatment he received from Cambodians in New York when he attended the UNGA last October.

There is no censorship of information. However, it is natural for any government to ensure that the internet is not used to deliberately disrupt public order and create unrest. Cambodia is no exception. –Din Merican

Going viral in Cambodian Cyberspace

by Sebastian Duchamp


Social media is on the rise in Cambodia, and it may just mark the beginning of the end of the systemic culture of judicial impunity, as well as the long-dysfunctional democratic system.

A Popular TV Station @ University of Cambodia

To shine some context on the matter, social media vigilantes have been busy linking brutal attacks on two lawmakers outside the National Assembly building in late October to military units and Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) loyalists, specifically the Naga Youth Federation; the sworn protectors of Prime Minister and CPP leader, Hun Sen, who had earlier been protesting outside the house of Kem Sokha, the Vice President of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).

With many Khmer ‘netizens’ taking to social media to identify more suspects – as there were clearly a large number of protestors – and linking them directly to Hun Sen’s son, Hun Many, it appears that the authorities may be acting in the interests of the people; something rarely seen in Cambodia.

In early November, prosecutors arrested three Cambodian soldiers who turned themselves in for taking part in the attack, and announced they would not be looking for any more suspects.  The same prosecutors – who are rarely said to react without being paid – have recently decided to reverse this decision and have announced, based on the circumstantial evidence revealed by the viral video, that they would continue the search for suspects linked to the beating.

Modern Cambodian Monka

All of this begs the question, just how much of a threat does social media pose to Hun Sen’s control of the state apparatus that has blessed him with almost uninterrupted rule over the country since 1979?

The short answer, is that it represents perhaps one of the biggest challenges in recent times to the strongman’s rule, and largely serves to discredit his public announcements that there would be civil war if the CNRP won.

Although there doesn’t seem to be any reliable statistics, I did some number crunching based on available resources.  Out of a population of 15 million, a good estimate of the number of Facebook users would suggest that there are somewhere between 1.4 and 1.5 million Cambodian monthly active users, a 12 per cent increase in users between 2014 and 2015.  The vast majority of users are between the ages of 18 and 25, and are increasingly using more affordable mobile devices.

There are three reasons why this huge increase in interest and availability of social media. Firstly, it encourages a new level of trust – all but obliterated under the Khmer Rouge regime – and open discussion among the Cambodian people.  The confident growth of societal stability represents a healthy sign for any peaceful transition of power, which is undoubtedly a key precursor for any stable democratic regime to prevail.

Two young boys surfing the internet and chatting online at an internet shop, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Southeast Asia

Two young boys surfing the internet and chatting online at an internet shop in Phnom Penh city. This is a positive development for Cambodia.

Secondly, given that print media (which rarely makes it to rural areas anyway, where much of CPP’s support lies) and traditional radio or television broadcasting companies are largely owned by CPP-linked elites, unregulated outlets such as Facebook pose an unprecedented forum for voicing discontent.  This poses quite the thorn in the side of Hun Sen.

Both major party leaders, Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy, have official pages on Facebook, and it is fairly clear who has more support.  If ‘likes’ are anything to go by, Sam Rainsy clearly eclipses the incumbent Prime Minister; leading by 500,000 total page likes – which have risen at a fairly constant rate week-on-week – to 1,820,588 at the time of writing.

Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, currently at 1,330,541 total page likes, is trailing his opponent in his Facebook escapade.

Most dubiously, according to Facebook’s own statistics, Hun Sen’s total page likes increased by an erratic 14 per cent in a week.  The peak happened to coincide with the Myanmar elections on 8 November, although it is unclear what to make of this.  What is clear, is that it looks more like a heartbeat surge in popularity, compared to the more credible steady climb on Sam Rainsy’s page.

What is also clear, is that Hun Sen appears to have been greatly saddened by recent protests on visits outside the country to New York and Paris, which many speculate may have precipitated the protests and beatings against CNRP lawmakers.

The Prime Minister has recently been taking a more personal tone against his rival in his latest address to the Khmer diaspora in Paris that even went as far as reflecting on his offspring’s superior academic achievements in comparison to those of Sam Rainsy.  In Cambodia, school grades, of course, don’t always reflect academic ability; and are often an indicator of how much one is willing to bribe their way to success.

Whether these likes are those of genuine supporters, imaginary friends, or those engaging in schadenfreude can only be a matter of speculation.  After all, what’s more enjoyable than watching a well-entrenched strongman implode under the sheer weight of his own ego?

Thirdly, and most importantly, unlike the unfortunate Hun Sen, the CNRP knows how to use social media effectively.  The professional and often emotionally-charged videos (that are often accompanied by a soundtrack that would make John Williams blush) and photos that Sam Rainsy regularly posts on social media stand testament to this.  They also reveal a politician standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Khmer people; something that  Hun Sen repeatedly fails to pull-off.

On a side note, in reaction to the NLD’s sweeping victory in the Myanmar general election, one Khmer netizen replied to a post by opposition leader Sam Rainsy on his Facebook page, “…regrettably that Cambodia country is seems to be late and have to wait for 2018. Cheer! [sic]” 2018, of course, refers to the year of the next general election.

The mood in Phnom Penh, which already has seven CNRP lawmakers compared to the CPP’s five, is that Hun Sen may finally lose the 2018 general election, and with the cat out of the bag so to speak, his loss may be definitive this time.

Sebastian Duchamp is a pen name. The author is a scholar and keen observer of Southeast Asian politics and society.

Please note that my view is that a true scholar does not need to hide under a cloak of anonymity. He should be open and impartial and should not  take a position which is obviously pro-CNRP and Sam Rainsy.–Din Merican 

Editor’s note: On 16 November Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and now faces a potential two-year jail term upon his return to Phnom Penh from South Korea for an older charge of defamation.


PACOM’s Role in Sustaining Indo-Asia-Pacific Security

November 5, 2015

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 328 | November 4, 2015


PACOM’s Role in Sustaining Indo-Asia-Pacific Security 

by Paul Lushenko and Jon Lushenko>

As the successful completion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal–the economic pillar of President Obama’s rebalance to Asia–demonstrates, America’s strategic reorientation continues. Even if the TPP is ratified and implemented, America’s rebalance is beleaguered by competing traditional and human security challenges epitomized by inter-state war and natural disasters. The degree to which US Pacific Command (PACOM)–responsible for operationalizing the rebalance’s security component–can reconcile these countervailing priorities will affect America’s ability to sustain Indo-Asia-Pacific security.

China’s increasingly revisionist approach in Asia underscores America’s need to maintain a warfighting capability while concomitantly casting doubt on the durability of America’s “hub-and-spokes” security system. Budgetary constraints, a reduction-in-force, and Cold War restraints on America’s conventional ballistic missile capability have eroded the US’ ability to wage inter-state war according to some analysts. This is especially evident in the maritime domain.

Beijing’s Anti-Access and Area-Denial (A2AD) strategy is designed to exploit US Navy-specific vulnerabilities. China’s investment in ballistic and anti-ship missile technology, as well as “grey zone” capabilities that exploit the space between war and peace and include cyber attack and exploitation, underpin the A2AD approach. Some regional experts interpret China’s development of more formidable military hardware and skill sets as foundational to its pursuit of a “hub-and-spokes” arrangement with Chinese characteristics. Functional cooperation on non-traditional security challenges, economic interdependence, and heightened social ties between China and its neighbors are said to enable Beijing to supplant Washington as the guarantor of Indo-Asia-Pacific security.

Beyond maintaining a credible deterrent, America and its security system are burdened with the added responsibility of managing human security challenges. Notwithstanding competing definitions of what constitutes a human security challenge, natural disasters, terrorism, and piracy generate instability that threatens regional security. Although this reality helped inform America’s rebalance, the degree to which the policy continues to rely on such considerations is debatable. Most puzzling is the absence of documents that govern how the US and its allies and partners will safeguard the rights and needs of people across the region.

The Pentagon’s recently published Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy lacks serious discussion of non-traditional security concerns, and the Western Pacific Naval Symposium Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea evokes limited confidence based on China’s expanded assertiveness.

Operationally, the rebalance policy has fostered more initiatives to help confront traditional threats despite the prevalence of human security challenges. This trend is best evidenced by “Pacific Pathways,” a program spearheaded by the US Army in 2014. This program enhances responsiveness and interoperability between America and regional armies. It manages the participation of a battalion-sized infantry unit in a succession of exercises over a six-month period. While leveraged to deter threats including China’s putative revisionism, planners seem to also qualify this program as a way to manage the consequences of humanitarian disasters to alleviate suffering and destruction.

However, it is difficult to determine precisely how the US Army and its sister services will achieve these goals. Initiatives seemingly more aligned against human security challenges, including the recent construction of a National Watch Center in the Philippines, are merely intended to provide situational awareness. The high importance regional states attach to human security compels PACOM to determine how to better enable operations that provide for basic needs. Thailand, for instance, increasingly rationalizes its alliance with America based on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support.

PACOM needs to better resolve the tension between maintaining a credible deterrent and resolving human security challenges to sustain Indo-Asia-Pacific security. A two-track approach to reconcile these countervailing priorities is possible. First, PACOM should adopt a more sustainable warfighting approach that both expands offensive capabilities and capitalizes on an organic ability to conduct “grey zone” operations. The former is punctuated by weapon systems affording greater range and lethality, including development of an anti-ship missile. The latter includes increased integration of offensive cyber capabilities as well as command and control systems capable of withstanding A2AD threats.

Other counter-targeting measures, such as dispersal and shifting of America’s regional military footprint, will further sustain PACOM’s combat-power in the event of a Sino-US war. Likewise, distributed lethality, a concept first introduced in early 2015, is designed to shift naval operations from a defensive mindset while signaling a renewed emphasis on warfighting.

Second, PACOM should advance the transformation of America’s exclusivist “hub-and-spokes” system into an open security architecture capable of resolving the broad scope of regional security objectives through cooperative action. Some experts contend that enhanced regionalism including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can lead to a “security community” to manage regional challenges. However, PACOM can also take two mutually reinforcing actions that will enable it to create an inclusive security arrangement beyond a still emerging ASEAN-led community building project.

While modernizing alliances and broadening partnerships, PACOM should leverage these relationships to achieve greater cooperation among geographically and culturally disparate states. Trilateral initiatives including the India-Japan-US, Australia-Japan-US, and Korea-Japan-US dialogues promise to institutionalize what has heretofore been episodic cooperation on natural disasters across some if not all of these countries as observed during the India Ocean Tsunami in 2004, Japan Tsunami in 2011, Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and Nepal earthquake in 2015. Meanwhile, PACOM should extend America’s bilateral alliances and partnerships into regional security fora. Marketed as the region’s preeminent security mechanism, the ASEAN Regional Forum constitutes a favorable candidate. Even more promising is the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus).

By fostering greater indigenous capacity to resolve vulnerabilities, PACOM can transfer the costs and responsibilities of managing Asia’s non-traditional security challenges to regional states. This would enable PACOM to channel a greater portion of its limited resources towards high-end threats.

An open security architecture has an additional advantage. It positions the evolving Sino-US relationship in a cooperative framework anchored by international law and norms to help ameliorate bilateral misunderstanding and miscalculation that can lead to war.

Unfortunately, Beijing’s South China Sea reclamation efforts, and American naval operations near China’s artificial islands, threaten to exacerbate a security dilemma. A sustainable warfighting approach for PACOM constitutes an insurance policy allowing America to deter continued revisionism and reassure its allies and partners.

About the Author (s)

The authors’ views do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Naval War College, Army and Navy, Department of Defense, and Government. Paul Lushenko is a Major in the US Army. He can be reached at paul.lushenko@gmail.com. Jon “Shank” Lushenko is a Lieutenant Commander (sel) in the US Navy. He can be reached at jlushenko@gmail.com.

Related Articles
 India-Japan-U.S. Trilateral Dialogue Gains Additional Traction, by Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Sylvia Mishra, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 327, October 22, 2015.

China’s Non-Military Maritime Assets as a Force Multiplier for Security, by Justin Chock, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 322, September 22, 2015.

Indian Navy Role in Yemen and Beyond Highlights Range of Objectives, by Sarosh Bana, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 317, July 28, 2015.
The complete Asia Pacific Bulletin series can be accessed here.
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: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington. D.C.

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.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Ho

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: Alex Forster, 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.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

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: Alex Forster, 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.   East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

Malaysia-China relations–Leveraging the Business Connection

October 29, 2015

Malaysia-China relations–Leveraging the Business Connection

By Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Although the solutions to our economic malaise have to be rooted in our own structural reforms – political and socio-economic – there is no doubt that the China connection can make a difference – a big difference!

The British-China relations–Triumph of Business Sense over Political Ideology

Malaysia does not need protection by or from any sheriff – old and new. But we badly need Chinese trade and investment if we want to grow our jobs and sustain our current consumption and lifestyle.–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

The extraordinary British press coverage of Chinese President President Xi Jinping’s current visit to Britain is worth reading as to what the British are saying about themselves and the state of the world.It prompts us to take a serious look at ourselves today. It is about time we review our commercial relations with the rest of the world.

Many local media columnists in Britain were outraged that  David Cameron’s government was making such a big deal of the visit. As a Fortune magazine article succinctly put it:

Britain is sucking it up big time this week, having finally learned to kowtow after a 218-year trade relationship in which it has tended to be the one handing out the humiliations. ((Geoffrey Smith, A weakened Britain finally learns how to kowtow to Beijing)

Why did the British Prime Minister David Cameron, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Her Majesty The Queen and others – roll out the red carpet for the Chinese leader? Why did Her Royal Highness Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, wear a symbolic red gown in a banquet dinner in Buckingham Palace where Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of Cambridge were said to have “showered Xi and his wife with the fairy dust of royalty ancient and modern”?

The Queen  Honoring XiKate and XiObviously, it is not because of any newfound love of the Chinese. Put it down to the realities of the global economy and Britain’s declining competitiveness.

Why the Need to suck up to China?

Veteran Labour MP Paul Lynn remarked in Parliament that Britain was behaving like a supplicant fawning spaniel that licks the hand that beats it. But the fact is that the British taxpayer has to pay for his salary and allowances; and the country’s treasury badly needs an injection from the world’s largest economy if the ordinary British citizen is to not bear the burden of higher taxes and continued loss of jobs.

The Chinese economy is now worth $17.6tn, marginally higher than the $17.4tn the International Monetary Fund estimates for the US. For the first time since 1872, when it overtook the UK, the US has been knocked off the top spot by China. The IMF calculated these figures by using purchasing power parity (PPP) which compares how much you can buy for your money in different countries.

And this is among the bag of goodies that Xi is bringing to Britain on this current state visit:

• £30 billion of business agreements, including a one third stake in the UK’s first nuclear plan for a generation.
• an expected big jump in Chinese tourists to Britain with easier visas. Each Chinese tourist typically spends £2,688 on an average visit, totaling about £500 million a year.
•further increases in Chinese student enrolment in Britain. Presently accounting for nearly 90,000 of the 310,000 higher education non-EU students, the fortune and health of many British higher education institutions, and their student-related housing and service industries, depends on the expansion in Chinese student numbers.

The Lesson for Malaysia—Not TPPA

U.S. President Barack REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

Secret Deals at Malaysia’s Expense–TPPA?

Here lies the lesson for us too in Malaysia as we face an increasingly bleak economic future with many analysts noting that the amber lights have been flashing for some time with the sharply devalued ringgit, decline in foreign investment, high levels of individual and household debt, rising cost of living, and falling business confidence.

Capitalizing on our China Connection

Although the solutions to our economic malaise have to be rooted in our own structural reforms – political and socio-economic – there is no doubt that the China connection can make a difference – a big difference!

Just as the British, and other nations, are attempting to strengthen relations with the largest market in the world, Malaysia can do much more to take advantage of China’s progress. And our policy makers do not need to reinvent the wheel or borrow from the British in establishing a higher level of Malaysia-China partnership and cooperation.

The following proposals on Malaysia-China relations, for example, are from the “Transforming the Nation: A 20 Year Plan of Action” report prepared by the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong) in July 2012. They appear to have been largely ignored

• A comprehensive review of existing policy towards China in all sectors – economic and non-economic – with a view to broadening linkages and cooperation for the mutual benefit of both countries. This review should incorporate inputs from the private sector, civil society and other key stakeholders.
• Inter-university exchange programmes to increase students’ knowledge and experience of the two countries. Scholarships and other forms of assistance should be granted by local foundations to sponsor students.
• Expansion of cultural tourism. Government’s role in the development of Malaysia as a halal hub aimed at attracting Muslim tourists from China should be expanded

It has been rumoured that some time later this year will see a visit from a high ranking Chinese leader to Malaysia – perhaps Xi himself. Will we see a round of mainly indifference or even China and Chinese bashing? Or will we capitalize on the rise of China to salvage our sinking economy the way the British are doing?

Fortunately our relationship with China – for a start – is not on the same level as the one which Britain has had. Our relations with China begun with the Second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak’s visit to China and we have yet to fully capitalize on this ground breaking relationship.

Hopefully this observation from a British commentator on the Guardian website will give pause to our local hotheads blowing hot air on anyone or anything associated with their definition of pendatang:

He doesn’t need lil’ ole us to make him feel important. He’s president of the world’s biggest superpower. I hope he’s gone away feeling we did make an effort and the UK is a country worth bothering with. However much it seems to irk some people, there’s a new sheriff in town and I hope they’re nicer to us than we were to them when our star was in the ascendancy and we owned half the world (and went to war with them when they tried to stop buying the opium we liked flogging them.)

Malaysia does not need protection by or from any sheriff – old and new (and the TPPA). But we badly need Chinese trade and investment if we want to grow our jobs and sustain our current consumption and lifestyle.

Malaysia’s Politics of Survival by Elimination

October 23, 2015

Malaysia’s Politics of Survival  by Elimination

by stratfor



  • In the near term, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will survive efforts to oust him over mounting corruption allegations.
  • Whether or not Najib holds onto power longer, the years leading up to the next general elections will be turbulent ones.
  • Political stability, crucial to Malaysia’s economic rise, will be challenged by demographic changes that stress the country’s delicate ethnic balance. 



A deepening political crisis in Malaysia is highlighting the country’s longstanding ethnic divides and its uncertain road ahead. Since early this year, Prime Minister Najib Razak has been caught in a scandal surrounding the heavily indebted 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign wealth fund. Among other points of controversy, Najib is struggling to explain the source of nearly $700 million deposited in his personal account.

This week, with Malaysia’s Parliament back in session, the opposition is renewing its efforts to oust the Prime Minister through a no-confidence vote — a measure that will succeed only in the unlikely event that Najib’s tightly consolidated party apparatus comes apart. Indeed, Najib is likely to remain entrenched in power for the foreseeable future. In the process, however, the political crisis in Kuala Lumpur will both expose and exacerbate broader challenges confronting Malaysia, particularly regarding divisions between the politically influential “Bumiputera” (the umbrella term for ethnic Malays and indigenous groups) and the economically powerful ethnic Chinese and Indian populations. At risk is the carefully balanced status quo that has enabled the Malaysian economy to flourish without communal disruptions.

A Well-Entrenched Man

On the surface, at least, the hits keep piling up for Najib: A steady drip of leaked documents has magnified scrutiny on the Prime Minister and spawned official investigations both in Malaysia and in countries where 1MDB has been active, including Switzerland and the United States. Najib, who also serves as Finance Minister, has come under fire from the country’s central bank chief, powerful figures from within his own ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and Malaysia’s nine state sultans — whose power is largely ceremonial but who are perceived as guardians of Malay heritage and religion. Most notably, longtime Prime Minister and UMNO boss Mahathir Mohammad, Najib’s former mentor, has gone on the warpath. Since publicly withdrawing support for Najib in mid-2014, Mahathir, who governed for 22 years, has called for more intensive probes, joined a major opposition rally in August, and urged his former adversaries in Malaysia’s long-beleaguered opposition to table a no-confidence vote. (Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Badawi, resigned in 2009 at Mahathir’s behest.)

But the Opposition, with just 87 of the Parliament’s 221 seats, does not have the numbers to muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove Najib, even if it peels off disaffected lawmakers from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition’s ethnic Chinese and Indian parties. Moreover, the opposition alliance collapsed this summer, and certain factions are noncommittal at most about ousting Najib — particularly the conservative, Malay Muslim-dominated Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which sat out the anti-Najib rally in August.

UMNO is similarly divided. Several powerful party leaders who have publicly criticized Najib’s role in the 1MDB scandal and expressed concern about damage to the party’s credibility still oppose the no-confidence vote. Even with the opposition at odds with itself and its charismatic leader, Anwar Ibrahim, behind bars, UMNO does not want to chance a snap election with the 1MDB affair still unresolved. It narrowly held onto power after losing the popular vote in 2013, after all. Whatever the Prime Minister’s sins, UMNO lawmakers naturally do not want to see the party fall as a result. The leaked documents have implicated essentially Najib and his wife alone, largely sparing other major UMNO figures. This suggests an orchestrated effort designed to oust the Prime Minister without sinking the entire party.

An internal putsch against Najib is more likely sometime after the parliamentary session ends. But even this is unlikely. Earlier this year, Najib postponed the next party elections to 2018 and purged some of his most powerful detractors. An emergency vote would take two-thirds of UMNO’s Supreme Council or a majority of the party’s 191 divisional chiefs, and Najib reportedly maintains strong support in both of these blocs. Nearly all UMNO lawmakers and leaders have benefitted from his largesse, and the fact that Najib’s political machine has proved resilient testifies to the power of his patronage network. Party dissent will need to reach a much higher pitch to oust him. Despite Mahathir’s best efforts, this has not happened — yet.

Economic Complications

The crisis in the capital comes at a particularly bad time for Malaysia. With or without Najib at the helm (but particularly if he holds on), the years leading up to next elections, currently expected to take place in 2018, will be turbulent. In particular, an array of challenges is threatening Malaysia’s economic dynamism and the delicate ethnic balance that has undergirded the country’s remarkable rise. The political uncertainty is likely to exacerbate both issues, and vice versa.

A leading concern is that the scandal is diminishing Malaysia’s credibility with investors and driving down the value of its currency, the ringgit, which hit a 17-year low this month. Investors reportedly pulled around more than $4.5 billion from Malaysian stocks and bonds in the third quarter of 2015, while approved foreign direct investment declined by more than 40 percent through the first half of the year. Currencies have been racing downward across Southeast Asia, but the ringgit has performed worse than its regional counterparts — despite Malaysia having generally more favorable economic fundamentals and substantial foreign exchange reserves available to buoy it.

The country’s economic woes cannot be blamed solely on the political uncertainty. Even without the political crisis, Malaysia is facing economic headwinds because of low commodity prices and a looming interest rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve. But the scandal is certainly playing a role. Malaysia’s once globally esteemed financial institutions are now in question, and 1MDB is involved in nearly every key sector of the Malaysian economy, including energy, agriculture, tourism and real estate. Meanwhile, Najib’s influence over those purportedly investigating the sovereign wealth fund (in July, for example, he fired the Attorney-General) has raised questions about regulatory transparency and rule of law in the country.

UMNO in Power

Moreover, Malaysia’s reliance on semi-conductors and commodities such as oil, natural gas and palm oil leave it fairly vulnerable to global shifts. State investment funds like 1MDB and Khazanah Nasional Berhad (which Najib also chairs) were designed, in part, to give Malaysia additional economic buffer and allow it to use capital in a manner similar to neighboring Singapore. The success of such investment vehicles will become particularly important as China begins to focus on higher-value exports such as semi-conductors. Inversely, the economic woes have magnified the scandal. The commodities collapse, for example, has inflated 1MDB’s debts and shrunk the revenues available for UMNO to dole out to keep the coalition more firmly intact.

There is reason for optimism. Malaysia has relatively low debt and inflation, as well as a healthy resource base on which it can continue to build. Its membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership would, at minimum, help the country diversify, gain an edge over rising regional competition, and position it at the center of global trade flows. So Malaysia’s economic slump alone may not be prolonged enough to sink the ruling party — UMNO survived even the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Nonetheless, Malaysia’s underlying strengths have given traction to the opposition’s assertion that graft and mismanagement must then be playing a singular role in dragging down the economy. This argument will gain strength if the slide continues.

UMNO’s Ethnic Gamble

More problematic over the long-term is the ongoing shift in Malaysia’s ethnic demographics. As in Singapore, Malaysia’s favorable investment climate has long relied on the country maintaining at least superficial political harmony. This is an innate challenge for a geographically fragmented country where the Bumiputera, or “Sons of the Soil,” have stood in contrast to the ethnic Chinese and South Asians, who wield economic influence disproportionate to their numbers.

Malaysia’s political stability has revolved largely around the dominance of the UMNO-led coalitions that have ruled every year since independence in 1957. These coalitions have ensured high-level representation from all major ethnic groups and the farther-flung regions of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo, facilitating flows of patronage to all corners of society and preventing a repeat of the 1969 communal riots or revival of pre-independence racial strife. The effective one-party rule has generally enabled policy continuity and targeted infrastructure and industrial development, minimizing uncertainty for investors and giving Malaysia a leg up over regional rivals. This environment, combined with Malaysia’s resource abundance and fortuitous position as a trade hub in a high-growth region, fueled a steady economic rise and the growth of a robust middle class.

Petaling Street 2

Tan-Sri-Mohd Ali Rastam

But the prospect of ethnic strife and resentment fueled by Malaysia’s affirmative action policies has continued to pose a risk to the country’s economic success. Mahathir, when still in power, tried unsuccessfully to peel back these policies, and it is unlikely that others will be able to do so. And throughout Southeast Asia, economic turmoil tends to lead to a push back against the ethnic Chinese populations. In Indonesia, for example, this has often led to violence. This issue is part of why Singapore is not still a part of the Malay Federation.

The ethnic balance underpinning Malaysia’s stability began to noticeably unravel in the 2008 general elections. Ethnic Chinese and Indian voters began to defect from the ruling coalition, upset with ossifying policies meant to cement the pre-eminence of Malays in political and economic life, as well as anti-minority rhetoric and occasional violence. Barisan Nasional lost 58 seats and its seemingly perpetual two-thirds majority. The shift became more pronounced in 2013, when a multi-ethnic opposition coalition won the popular vote. Today, the main Chinese party in the ruling coalition, the Malaysian Chinese Association, holds just seven seats (down from 31 in 2008) and no Cabinet posts. The main Indian party holds four.

Najib has increasingly sought to frame the 1MDB affair in ethnic terms. In this he has taken a cue from Mahathir, whose own rise was fueled by exploiting Malay and indigenous fears of, for example, “the Chinese tsunami.” UMNO has funded and helped organize the Malay nationalist “Red Shirt” movement, whose mass rally in September was narrowly prevented by police from storming a prominent ethnic Chinese business district in Kuala Lumpur. As political strategies go, this may appear exceedingly base, but it also reflects a recognition that Malaysia’s fundamental demographic makeup is changing, most notably among the Chinese. Since 1983, their share of Malaysia’s total population has dropped more than 8 percent, and birthrates among ethnic Chinese are by far the lowest of Malaysia’s main ethnic groups. For political purposes then, rather than wooing back minority voters, UMNO will increasingly work to secure its base and keep the opposition divided along ethnic lines.

This heralds a widening of ethnic divisions — punctuated by growing public unrest more common to Malaysia’s northern neighbors Myanmar and Thailand — that will challenge the core integrity of what is a particularly manufactured form of the modern nation-state. Lacking geographical or ethnic coherence, Malaysia’s solidarity has long stemmed from shrewd, inclusive policy making, with plentiful resource wealth available to grease away any frictions. A broad remaking of this political system — if it fails to preserve the ties binding Malaysia’s far-flung and disparate parts to the state — would thus prove unsustainable. To a degree, this risk will limit how far Najib and UMNO will be willing to push their ethnic advantage. But with the 1MDB scandal and the economic stresses drawing the ruling party into a protracted fight for survival, Malaysia is likely to slip further into an environment of new uncertainties.