Sedition in 140 Characters

April 17, 2015

Sedition in 140 Characters

by Azrul Mohd Khalib

EricThe next time I see Eric Paulsen of Lawyers for Liberty, I have to remind myself to congratulate him for being, if I am not mistaken, the first person in Malaysia to be charged for sedition based on a Twitter post back in January.

Worthy of an entry into the vaunted Malaysian Book of Records, don’t you think? He was also the first person to be charged for sedition this year. Pembuka tirai 2015. During the heat of the hudud debate last month, two other tweets from him attracted the IGP’s TLC resulting in his arrest, detention and investigation for, guess what? Sedition!

I once wondered, when Twitter was first launched, what on earth can a person say in 140 characters? Being someone who has been criticised as being overly verbose, who loves to beat the bushes and is totally incapable of saying something in five words when it can be said in 20, I found myself alien to the idea of such succinctness and brevity. You can say plenty, apparently, and piss people off.

Eric can not only express himself eloquently within those limits, his tweets can also cause noses to go out of joint, sphincters to spasm and contract violently, and hands to clutch hair (or empty air for some) under berets, kopiahs and songkoks.

Earlier this month, cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque better known as Zunar, was slapped with nine sedition charges for tweets critical of the conviction of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy. Nine! I think he makes it to the Book of Records for most sedition charges faced by an individual under this draconian law first enacted by the British during the colonial era.

Opponents of the right to freedom of expression (unless it is their own), supporters of the idea that “there is too much freedom and not enough limits and restrictions”, and advocates of cracking down on “troublemakers” are currently having a field day with the successful passage of Bills related to the diminishing and restrictions of constitutional freedoms sold as necessary for national security and fighting extremism.

I don’t know about you but have you looked and heard this lot lately? Some seem to consist of people belonging to obscure NGOs which no one seems to have heard of, some wearing pseudo military uniforms, and who use threats and abusive language peppered with words of hate, violence, prejudice and racism. Others smile sinisterly in Parliament and celebrate while our rights are trampled under their jackboots.

Meanwhile the powers that be are apparently terrified of the written word, speech, thoughts and even cartoons which espouse and celebrate the freedom of expression and diversity of opinion, promote and defend moderation, demand accountability and transparency, and speak out against injustice and tyranny.

Cartoonists, writers, lecturers and lawyers are being arrested, detained, dressed up in stylish police lock-up purple and made to face charges of sedition. The loud defenders of Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the Sedition Act and other measures to curtail fundamental civil liberties seem to be made of Teflon, impervious and able to act with impunity as they misuse and abuse the issues of race, religion and royalty for their own purposes.

Irony? More like tragedy.

Outside observers could be forgiven for asking what and whose side is the government on and what are they defending against from their own people? Make no mistake. We are at a point where we are starting to bear more resemblance to the society of George Orwell’s 1984 than the vibrant parliamentary democracy envisioned by our nation’s founders.

When the government begins to turn against its people, expecting to hear only compliance, obedience and assent, therein lies the danger of tyranny.

Draconian laws which act as “catch-alls” cannot and must not replace the need for diligent andKhalid Abu Bakar2 thorough professional police work. Above all, the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” must continue to be part of the bedrock of justice in this country and not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

When laws are passed which prevent the possibility for any judicial review, presumes guilt over innocence, does not require to demonstrate intent, allows for the arrest and detention of a citizen without charge or trial and is deliberately vague in the description of the alleged crime, the question that needs to be asked is not if the laws are going to be used, but when they will be abused.

Is this the legacy that our politicians today aim to leave for the children of tomorrow’s Malaysia: the creation of a tyranny to maintain political relevance and dominancy and to defend us from the threat of extremism?

That to maintain power and be protected from terror and extremism, we must ourselves become a tyranny? Have we, by these actions, been defeated by doing precisely what those who live and thrive on terror and extremism expects us to do? Changing our way of life, viewing each other with suspicion and to live in fear?

All who voted for POTA and the amendments to the Sedition Act, remember this moment if the day comes that these laws are ever used on you. Those who use might to make right often fall victim to their own devices. For allegiances, alliances and loyalty are but fleeting concepts in Malaysian politics.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Malaysia: Authoritarian Politics returns with the passage of POTA

April 7, 2015

Authoritarian Democracy returns with the passage of POTA


Khalid Abu Bakar

The Malaysian government has passed an anti-terrorism bill reminiscent of the notorious Internal Security Act it discarded in 2012, earning the government widespread condemnation from international civil rights groups and journalism associations.  The passage comes at a time when the country is also increasingly using its 1948 Sedition Act – which Najib also promised to do away with against its political critics.

The new Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), pushed through in the early hours today, April 7, allows suspected terrorists to be detained for a maximum of 38 days without trial, with a Prevention of Terrorism Board that would then be empowered to extend detention to two years and renewed every two years after that, with no maximum period of detention. The measure allows for detention solely on the word of a police inspector, extendable for an additional 38 days during which the suspect is not permitted access to counsel. Critics of the government fear the act could be used against them.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, when he was in a considerably stronger position than he is now, ordered the cessation of detention without trial in 2011, earning praise as a moderate leader from the United States and other governments.

Najib as 1MDB advisor

However, the country is plainly worried – and rightly so –about suspected fundamentalist returnees from the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with estimates of those who have slipped out of Malaysia for the Middle East. Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, the police chief, in a Twitter message, told Agence France Presse on Monday that 17 people had been arrested on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks in Kuala Lumpur, including two recently returned from Syria.

Malaysian voters are plainly jittery. As Asia Sentinel reported on March 20, unofficial guesses are that as many as 400 young Malaysians have left for the Middle East although some alarmists put the figure as high as 1,000. Authorities say the numbers are far lower, at “scores.” Zahid Hamidi, the Home Minister, told reporters in January that 67 were known to have gone to join the fighting and that at least five had been killed.

Malaysian Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, pictured in 2010

Civil rights and journalist groups, however, questioned the need for the return of a draconian security act that was abhorred by much of the country.  Amnesty International, in a prepared release, said that: “Such laws do not comply with international human rights law and contradict commitments made by the Malaysian authorities to the international community.”

The Kuala Lumpur-based Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in a prepared release said it was “appalled at the government’s proposal to reintroduce indefinite detention without trial.” The organization said it is “farcical that Prime Minister Najib Razak made a big show of announcing the repeal of the ISA in 2011 and for Parliament to have passed a law repealing it in 2012, only to have a very similar act reintroduced in 2015 under the exact same leadership.”

Human Rights Watch issued a similar statement, saying “Permitting a government-appointed body to order indefinite detention without judicial review or trial is an open invitation to serious abuse,” according to Phil Robertson, the Bangkok-based deputy Asia director of the organization. “The draft law creates conditions conducive to torture, and denies suspects the right to challenge their detention or treatment.”

The measure appears at a time when the government has dramatically stepped up the use of the sedition act, which Najib had also promised to do away with.  However, under pressure from United Malays National Organization party chieftains alarmed by growing public frustration and annoyance over a continuing string of scandals including that of 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, a shaky state investment fund, Najib has been forced to return to the law with a vengeance.  The debt problems of 1MDB have impelled the Fitch rating service to downgrade the country’s entire financial system over the fear of a default. In particular, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who engineered Najib’s replacement of former Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has been savaging Najib at every turn.

So far, nearly 160 arrests have been made under the sedition act, almost all of them members of the opposition, members of the press, human rights organizations and others including Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, or Zunar, perhaps the country’s most popular cartoonist, who makes a specialty of mocking the spending habits of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.

That has led Amnesty International to describe the country as an expanding black hole for human rights, calling on authorities to end the use of the act “to criminalize criticism of the government.”

Amnesty International, according to the statement, “has long expressed concerns about Malaysia’s oppressive laws which allow for arbitrary and/or preventive detention, in the same way that it has expressed its increasing concern over the use of existing laws to repress peaceful dissent.”


POTA is shameless revival of the ISA

April 6, 2015

POTA is shameless revival of the ISA, says The Malaysian Bar

by Steven Thiru, President of the Malaysian Bar

Steven ThiruCOMMENT: The Malaysian Bar abhors detention without trial, and views the Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2015 (commonly referred to as “POTA”), which was recently introduced in the Dewan Rakyat, as a repressive law that is an affront to the Rule of Law and repugnant to the principles of natural justice.

It is a shameless revival of the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA), Restricted Residence Act 1933, Banishment Act 1959 and Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969, all of which were previously repealed or revoked in 2011 or 2012.

Moreover, many of the oft-touted goals of the Government Transformation Programme, of removing old and archaic laws, have been comprehensively reversed because POTA, like the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (“POCA”) that was extensively amended and expanded in 2014, allows for detention without trial and restricted residence or internal banishment.

Pota is purportedly directed at persons who are “engaged in the commission or support of terrorist acts involving listed terrorist organisations in a foreign country or any part of a foreign country”. However, because words like “engaged”, “commission”, “support” and “involving” have not been defined in POTA, the reach of the legislation is extremely wide and lends itself to abuse.

It opens up the possibility that almost anyone could be targeted under POTA. We have seen how ISA, which had been meant to deal with the communist insurgency, was used to stifle political dissent and imprison political opponents.

The exclusion of “political belief and political activity” as a ground for detention under POTA is also false comfort.

The Malaysian Bar is concerned that organisations not registered as political parties under the Societies Act 1966, or not registered under the Societies Act 1966 at all, may be subjected to the wide powers of POTA.We also note that in the past, politicians and political activists had been detained under the ISA for activities that were nonetheless viewed as prejudicial to national security or public order.

Under POTA, a person can initially be remanded for investigative detention for a maximum of 60 days. A magistrate has no discretion to refuse a request by the police for remand, and is reduced to a rubber stamp. Further, there is no provision for the person remanded to be informed of the grounds of arrest, nor is there any guarantee that legal representation will be permitted.

This is because the Police are prone to applying the exclusion under section 28A(8) of the Criminal Procedure Code to deny access to legal representation.Moreover, it is to be noted that POTA allows for a Sessions Court Judge to order that an accused person be attached with an electronic monitoring device upon the application of the Public Prosecutor.

However, the Sessions Court Judge has no discretion at all in the matter. Thus, like the Magistrates’ Court in respect of investigative detention, the Sessions Court has also been made a mere rubber stamp.

POTA also confers draconian powers on the inquiry officer – who is not expressly defined in POTA – tasked with investigating the allegations against the accused person and presenting the evidence to the Prevention of Terrorism Board (“POTB”).

In this regard the normal rules of evidence and criminal procedure are excluded, and the inquiry officer may procure evidence by any means. The inquiry officer then presents his/her report to POTB and there is no provision for POTB to inquire into the report or require further investigation. Moreover, an accused person is not legally represented before POTB. POTB has extensive powers – it may grant a detention order of up to two years or a restricted residence order of up to five years.

These periods of detention or restricted residence may be subsequently renewed for an indeterminate period. These orders are to be made by POTB without due process, inasmuch as the accused person is denied the right to make any legal representation to POTB.

Next, the argument that POTA cannot be compared with ISA because it is no longer the Minister of Home Affairs who decides on the detention or restriction order, is specious.

Members of the POTB are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (but, following convention, upon the advice of the government) and can be dismissed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at any time.

This absence of security of tenure undermines whatever independence POTB purports to have. Only the chairman is required to have legal experience, and there is no provision that he or she must be, or must be qualified to be, a judge.

We have seen from the practice of POCA that the names of the members of the Prevention of Crime Board have not been made public. It is likely to be no different for members of POTB. The fact that POTB hearings will not be held in public means, in effect, that Pota will allow secret hearings by a secret panel. There will be no transparency. There is no provision allowing for a prospective detainee to be present at a POTB hearing, and/or for the detainee to be legally represented.

‘Absolute ouster of judicial scrutiny’

One of the most offensive aspects of POTA is its absolute ouster of judicial scrutiny. No judicial review of the detention order or the restriction order is possible. This violates our constitutional scheme, which invests judicial power in the judiciary, and is further contrary to Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees equality and equal protection before the law.

The small concession that courts can review procedural compliance is illusory in practice since POTB determines its own procedures.

Along with the introduction of POTA, the government is proposing to introduce a Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Act 2015, and to amend POCA, the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Prisons Act 1995 and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (“SOSMA”).

However, when taken as a whole, all these other legislative measures actually make the introduction of POTA itself wholly unnecessary.The amendments to the Penal Code enlarge the nature and extent of offences within Part VI that deal with terrorism, and for which alleged offenders must be tried in open court.

The amendments to POCA – the introduction of which the Malaysian Bar also opposed – extend its scope to include terrorists.

While we have serious concerns about some of these other amendments as well, the combination of these two sets of amendments, together with the new Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Act 2015, adequately address the threat that is posed by terrorism, whether foreign or domestic.

It is also noteworthy that the amendments to SOSMA expand the scope of surveillance and information gathering (and constitute a violation of the right to privacy). POTA is therefore clearly not required.

Blight on history

Malaysia’s experience with detention without trial laws is a blight on our nation’s history. Detention without trial laws are not only abhorrent to the Rule of Law and the principles of natural justice, but are counter-productive from a security standpoint as well.

Lack of transparency in detention without trial undermines public trust in law enforcement and reduces cooperation with authorities.

Detention without trial also frustrates criminal investigations, by encouraging police to make an arrest before they have sufficient evidence to maintain a successful prosecution in open court.

The war against terrorism is not a physical conflict, but a contest of ideals and principles. Terrorists do not share our ideals and principles with regard to the rule of law, human rights and principles of natural justice.

Compromising or abandoning our own ideals and principles as a response to terrorism makes us no better. We are capable of winning the war on terrorism and rejecting those negative values, whilst abiding by the rule of law, respecting and protecting human rights, and applying the principles of natural justice.

By introducing POTA, Malaysia also violates her international commitment to abide by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178, passed unanimously on 24 September 2014, which provides that:

“The Security Council reaffirms that] Member States must ensure that any measures taken to counter terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law, and international humanitarian law, [and underscores] that respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are complementary and mutually reinforcing with effective counter-terrorism measures, and are an essential part of a successful counter-terrorism effort and notes the importance of respect for the rule of law so as to effectively prevent and combat terrorism, and [notes] that failure to comply with these and other international obligations, including under the Charter of the United Nations, is one of the factors contributing to increased radicalisation and fosters a sense of impunity…”

It is unacceptable that Malaysia – as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council – has adopted a course of action that contravenes a resolution of that very same body.

The Malaysian Bar remains steadfastly opposed to detention without trial. As such, we view the POTA as a backward step.

We call on the Malaysian government to withdraw POTA, and bring all other legislation into line with its domestic and international commitments to respect the rule of law and the principle of natural justice.

STEVEN THIRU is President of the Malaysian Bar.

‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’

March 9, 2015


‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’

In foreign policy, every success is just the start of the next crisis. Brent Scowcroft (above with President G.H.W. Bush) has pointed this out often in his four ­decades at the top of the American national security establishment. When the Soviet Union was conceding defeat in the nuclear arms race, he wondered if Gorbachev would instead “kill us with kindness.” When the Evil Empire was crumbling, he fretted about loose ­nuclear weapons and ethnic slaughter. When American troops were routing Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, he worried that “Iraq could fall apart,” leaving us to pick up the pieces. Again and again, this taciturn Mormon has been the Woody ­Allen of American foreign policy.

In “The Strategist,” his informative but inelegant biography of Scowcroft, Bartholomew Sparrow argues that this former national security adviser (to both Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush) and still-reigning wise man (as he nears his 90th birthday) could also be considered “the United States’ leading foreign policy strategist of the last 40 years.” But just as there are writer’s writers, Scowcroft is a foreign policy strategist’s foreign policy strategist, not widely known outside the guild. One of Ronald Reagan’s national security advisers cited him as a model; so did one of Barack Obama’s. “They all wanted to be Scowcroft,” one study says of his successors. Sparrow, a professor at the University of Texas, wants to narrow the gap between guild esteem and public acclaim.

But the qualities that account for this esteem make Scowcroft a tough subject for a biographer: How do you give color to the classic gray man? Journalists have ­described him as having “the gaunt demeanor of a church elder,” his words “carefully weighted to ensure that they contain not a gram more of information than their author wishes to convey.” Even after hours of interviews, Sparrow’s Scowcroft remains a steely and reticent figure.

As national security adviser, Scowcroft was known for being a trusted “honest broker,” scrupulous about presenting different views and sticking to a fair process for debating and deciding among them. He also brought an unglamorous focus on details, since strategies, he said, “succeed or fail depending on whether they are implemented effectively.” Sparrow tries to discern a strategic vision as he traces his subject’s central role in many of ­recent history’s main events. What emerges is less a coherent vision than a distinct ­temperament — one resistant to the temptations of wishful thinking and suspicious of promises of either easy war or easy peace. “We’re humans,” Scowcroft has said. “Given a chance to screw up, we will.” That temperament has surely frustrated more than one commander in chief looking for the simple choice or smooth way forward. But it also may, more than anything, explain Scowcroft’s celebrated record.

When he was coaxing the Cold War to a peaceful end, a foreign policy triumph for which Scowcroft deserves a nontrivial share of credit, he rejected triumphalism in favor of caution. He was always “very worried about all that could go wrong,” one former aide told Sparrow, ordering preparation for all manner of unintended consequence as others gloated. Soaring rhetoric made him wince; Reagan’s thunderously cheered call to “tear down this wall” struck him as a “lousy statement” that only “made it less likely that Gorbachev would tear down the wall.” When it did come down, Scowcroft resolved that there would be “no jumping on the wall.” If ever there was a real mission-­accomplished moment, this was it. Yet compare that response to the later Bush administration’s triumphant reaction to the fall of Baghdad.

This caution held true of more controversial turns in Scowcroft’s career as well. In the wake of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Scowcroft was caught by news cameras giving a respectful toast on an unannounced trip to China. He thought it less important to project outrage or serve up punishment than to get the United States-China ­relationship back on track. What seemed the morally ­upright stance, Scowcroft argued, would do little more than provoke a backlash by an insecure Communist leadership. “If this meant appearing less than zealous about defending the human rights of Chinese dissidents,” Sparrow writes, “so be it.” But Scowcroft was denounced as “supine” by the just-departed American Ambassador, Winston Lord, “obscene” and “embarrassing” on the floor of Congress.

Scowcroft has called his approach ­“gardening,” designed to patiently foster long-term change. For vindication of the long view, Sparrow considers an earlier diplomatic effort that met with ­opprobrium: the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which at first seemed to trade acceptance of Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe for token concessions on self-determination and human rights. When the ­agreement was signed by the Ford administration, some White House aides protested, the president’s approval rating fell and even Ford’s own party blasted him in its 1976 platform for “taking from those who do not have freedom the hope of one day getting it.” Yet to Scowcroft, Helsinki’s token concessions would create a framework for more meaningful change. And ultimately, far from bolstering Soviet power, the ­accord turned out to be, in the assessment of the historian John Lewis Gaddis, “the basis for legitimizing opposition to Soviet rule.” Eastern-bloc human rights organizations started calling themselves Helsinki groups.

Since Scowcroft long prided himself on a “passion for anonymity,” it was a “shocking gesture,” in Sparrow’s words, when he took to The Wall Street Journal in 2002 to warn, under the headline “Don’t Attack Saddam,” of the dire consequences of an invasion of Iraq. The administration was staffed by protégés and former colleagues, and George W. Bush is the son of one of his best friends. To them, this public counsel was an act of betrayal — ­prophetic perhaps, but betrayal just the same. All the more so because, a decade earlier, Scowcroft had been a key advocate of using American military power to respond to Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Scowcroft and His GeneralHonest broker: Scowcroft with General H. Norman Schwarzkopf in 1990

In both cases, despite the apparent tension, Scowcroft had been focused on the same goal: preserving order. When ­Hussein threatened to upset the ­existing order, he felt Washington had to respond. And when the Bush administration threatened the existing order, he also ­responded.

In the final years of the Cold War, Scowcroft’s conservative focus on order may have been sufficient: Progress was on his side. But today, at a time when the international system is changing, for better or worse, the imperatives have ­become more complicated, less clear-cut. Scowcroft ­acknowledged later that once the Cold War ended, “we were confused, ­befuddled. We didn’t know what was ­going on, and we didn’t think it mattered much.” Or as Sparrow puts it, he does not try to “alter the nature of the game; . . . he plays the game set before him.” It was Scowcroft who helped momentarily push and then retract the widely derided concept of “the new world order.”

At one point in “The Strategist,” ­Sparrow paraphrases Seneca: “Luck is the result of preparation coupled with ­opportunity.” Scowcroft would most likely agree. In looking back at his accomplishments, he talks of “guiding and managing forces,” of “not bucking a tide.” Even if the imperatives today are different, Scowcroft’s temperament is still a useful tonic. For if anything makes Scowcroft a “great man,” it is that he does not see great men (or women) as all that significant.

Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, a member of the secretary of state’s policy-planning staff from 2009 to 2012, is an Eric and Wendy Schmidt fellow at the New America Foundation. He is writing a book about George Marshall.

A version of this review appears in print on March 8, 2015, on page BR24 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: On His Watch

Cambodia Realigns Its Foreign Relations

March 7, 2015

Cambodia Realigns Its Foreign Relations

by Murray Hiebert, Phuong Nguyen, YaleGlobal

Samdech Techo Hun SenSamdech Techo Hun Sen of Cambodia

Cambodia’s foreign relations map has undergone dramatic shifts in the past six months. In the aftermath of Cambodia’s elections in July 2013, Beijing promptly recognized the results and congratulated Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party for their victory.

However, as anti-government protests led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party grew in the weeks that followed, with protesters condemning the elections as fraudulent and calling on Hun Sen to step down, China has since largely remained silent and kept the prime minister at arm’s length.

At the same time, the Cambodian government in the past few months has moved to consolidate its relations with Vietnam following several years of deteriorating ties between the two neighbors. Phnom Penh made this move despite the anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia fed by opposition leader Sam Rainsy that has gained traction since the elections.

An ongoing political crisis and China’s apparent hedging on Hun Sen are behind this emerging geostrategic realignment.

Hun Sen is struggling to deal with growing opposition to his rule and grievances from the public on labor rights and governance at a time when Cambodia is at a critical political and economic crossroads. The country is seeking to become more integrated with the rest of Southeast Asia and the world in the years ahead. Cambodia’s youth are increasingly more educated and exposed to democratic norms and the outside world.

Hun Sen, whose strong-arm tactics largely worked in the past, now faces what is perhaps the most serious challenge to his rule in decades and is seeking outside recognition to boost his domestic legitimacy. The truth is, even if his party manages to win the next elections, Hun Sen must continue to deal with growing demands for greater transparency, better rule of law and more democracy.

China, until recently Cambodia’s most important patron, has not been willing to offer Hun Sen much political backing. While the two governments continue to maintain high-level meetings and exchanges, there has been a shift in Beijing’s policy toward Cambodia. Shortly after Hun Sen announced he would not step down in the face of opposition-led protests, an article in China’s state-controlled Xinhua in late December quoted Khmer analysts calling for national referendum on whether to organize new elections. Chinese leaders probably will not give Hun Sen the cold shoulder anytime soon, but they seem to be charting a middle course and slowly moving away from their past policy of wholeheartedly endorsing his government.

The social and political changes taking place in Cambodia have not been lost on Beijing. Chinese leaders could be hedging their bets on Cambodia’s political future to avoid the kind of strategic blunders they made in Myanmar in recent years. Beijing long threw its support to Myanmar’s military regime and was taken unaware by the sweeping reforms President Thein Sein launched in 2011. Chinese leaders did not begin to face up to the new political reality in Myanmar until Thein Sein suspended construction of the multibillion dollar Chinese-backed Myitsone dam.

As part of its new policy, China is engaging different actors in Myanmar’s emerging political scene, from parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann and army chief Min Aung Hlaing to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Chinese leaders who have largely given Thein Sein the cold shoulder are now considering an official invitation for Aung San Suu Kyi to visit China. Neither President Xi Jinping nor Premier Li Keqiang made a stop in Myanmar during their diplomatic blitz across Southeast Asia in 2013. Interestingly, Cambodia was not included in that itinerary either, despite being a staunch ally and a popular investment destination for Chinese businesses.

Meanwhile, relations between Vietnam and Cambodia have blossomed during the past few months. Hanoi has provided Hun Sen with much needed outside recognition and a boost to his legitimacy. In late December, Hun Sen visited Vietnam ahead of the 35th anniversary of the ouster of the Khmer Rouge by Hanoi’s troops, and Vietnamese leaders lavishly congratulated him for his role in rebuilding Cambodia.

Two weeks after Hun Sen’s trip, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Cambodia, where the two leaders co-chaired a bilateral trade and investment conference – the largest since 2009 – and pledged to boost economic ties in banking, finance, agribusiness, tourism and telecommunications. At the end of 2012, Vietnamese businesses had invested around $3 billion in nearly 130 projects in Cambodia, making Vietnam one of the country’s top foreign investors. China, in comparison, invested a total of $9.17 billion in the country between 1994 and 2012.

Hanoi is closely watching the political turmoil in Cambodia, but still jumped at the chance to patch up ties with Phnom Penh following several years of irritation over border demarcation and Cambodia’s siding with China over the South China Sea disputes. In the foreseeable future, Hanoi still has an interest in sustaining regime stability in Cambodia and the ruling party’s grip on power given how overtly anti-Vietnamese Sam Rainsy has shown himself to be.

For instance, Rainsy has recently declared that Vietnam is encroaching on Chinese territory in the South China Sea, in the same fashion that he alleges the nation is grabbing Cambodian territory.

Offering Hun Sen political support when he most needed it, as well as strengthening bilateral economic ties, seemed like a logical choice for Vietnamese leaders. Hanoi is also concerned about the increasingly anti-Vietnamese rhetoric among the Cambodian population. Launching the new Cho Ray Phnom Penh Hospital, a joint venture between Vietnam’s Saigon Medical Investment and Cambodia’s Sokimex, was perhaps an effort to soften anti-Vietnamese sentiment through joint cooperation in the health sector.

But realistically, Hanoi’s support alone is insufficient to assure Cambodia’s and Hun Sen’s autonomy among foreign powers. Beijing’s noncommittal stance in recent months might also have prompted Hun Sen to look for support beyond his traditional patrons. For instance, he shrewdly used Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Cambodia in November 2013 to boost his domestic legitimacy – by asking Abe for advice on electoral reforms – and his position vis-à-vis China.

Hun Sen and Abe issued an unusual statement on bilateral maritime security cooperation, underscoring the need to settle disputes peacefully and according to international law. The two countries agreed to boost military ties, with Japanese experts, including those from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, expected to provide training to Cambodian military personnel for future United Nations peacekeeping operations. And in stark contrast to what happened at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh in 2011, Cambodia did not object to tabling a discussion on China’s Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea during the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo in December 2013.

Cambodia is evolving quickly, both politically and economically, and it remains to be seen whether Hun Sen can retain power for several more election cycles. Beijing’s new strategic calculus in Cambodia has suddenly left Hun Sen feeling vulnerable, at least for the moment. This has prompted Hun Sen to work to boost his standing among other regional actors, particularly Japan, Vietnam and ASEAN, by offering them his support on issues of contention with China such as territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

(Murray Hiebert is senior fellow and deputy director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. Phuong Nguyen is a research associate with the CSIS Sumitro Chair.)

Four Ideas for a Stronger United Nations (UN)

February 8, 2015

Four Ideas for a Stronger U.N.

by Kofi A. Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland

Kofi A. Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland Gro Harlem Brundtland and Kofi A. Annan

Seventy years ago, the United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Looking around the world today, the least one can say is that it is not fully succeeding in this mission. From Nigeria through the Middle East to Afghanistan and Ukraine, millions are suffering and dying from that scourge, or are imminently threatened by it, and the United Nations seems powerless to save them.

We have four ideas for making the organization stronger and more effective. A big part of the problem is that the Security Council, which is supposed to maintain world peace and security on behalf of all member states, no longer commands respect — certainly not from armed insurgents operating across borders, and often not from the United Nations’ own members.

Throughout the world, and especially in the Global South, people struggle to understand why, in 2015, the Council is still dominated by the five powers that won World War II. They are more and more inclined to question its authority, and the legitimacy of its decisions.

We ignore this threat at our peril. Times have changed since 1945, and the Security Council must adapt.

Almost everyone claims to favor expanding the Council to include new permanent members, but for decades now states have been unable to agree who these should be, or whether, like the existing ones, they should have the power to veto agreements reached by their fellow members.

Our first idea aims to break this stalemate. Instead of new permanent members, let us have a new category of members, serving a much longer term than the non-permanent ones and eligible for immediate re-election. In other words they would be permanent, provided they retained the confidence of other member states. Surely that is more democratic?

Secondly, we call on the five existing permanent members to give a solemn pledge. They must no longer allow their disagreements to mean that the Council fails to act, even when — for instance, as currently in Syria — people are threatened with atrocious crimes.

Let the five permanent members promise never to use the veto just to defend their national interests, but only when they genuinely fear that the proposed action will do more harm than good to world peace and to the people concerned. In that case, let them give a full and clear explanation of the alternative they propose, as a more credible and efficient way to protect the victims. And when one or more of them do use the veto in that way, let the others promise not to abandon the search for common ground, but to work even harder to find an effective solution on which all can agree.

Thirdly, let the Council listen more carefully to those affected by its decisions. When they can agree, the permanent members too often deliberate behind closed doors, without listening to those whom their decisions most directly affect. From now on, let them — and the whole Council — give groups representing people in zones of conflict a real chance to inform and influence their decisions.

And finally, let the Council, and especially its permanent members, make sure the United Nations gets the kind of leader it needs. Let them respect the spirit as well as the letter of what the United Nations Charter says about choosing a new Secretary-General, and no longer settle it by negotiating among themselves behind closed doors. Under current procedures, governments nominate their own citizens as candidates for the position. Members of the Security Council then conduct rounds of secret voting known as “straw polls” to ascertain who has broadest and deepest support; crucially, the five permanent members use different colored voting slips so that their preferences — and those they do not favor — are made clear to the other 10 temporary members.

Let us have a thorough and open search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or region; let the Council then recommend more than one candidate for the General Assembly to choose from; and let the successful candidate be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years. He or she (and after eight “he’s” it’s surely time for a “she”) must not be under pressure to give jobs or concessions to any member state in return for its support. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that it can be used to find the best person to take over in January 2017.

These four proposals are spelled out in greater detail in a statement issued this Saturday by The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. We believe they form an essential starting point for the United Nations to recover its authority. And we call on the peoples of the world to insist that their governments accept them, in this, the 70th anniversary year of the United Nations.

Kofi A. Annan, Chairman of The Elders, served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1996 to 2007. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Deputy Chairwoman of The Elders, is a former Prime Minister of Norway and served as Director General of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003.