Book Review: Scholarship and Engagement in Mainland Southeast Asia


March 30, 2016

Book Review: Scholarship and Engagement in Mainland Southeast Asia

by Andrew Alan Johnson

Scholarship_COVER-200x300Oscar Salemink, editor, Scholarship and engagement in Southeast Asia, (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Press, 2016)

Thailand, for all its political stops and starts — or perhaps because of this — has unparalleled publically-engaged academics. Nidthi Eoseewong, Charnvit Kasetsiri, Thanet Aphornsuvan and many others relate academia to public life, pushing forward public discussion in a way that is enviable from a country (the USA, in my case) where scholarship is too often treated like either a business serving students or as a collection of irrelevant exotica.

Of Thailand’s public intellectuals, Chayan Vaddhanaphuti of Chiang Mai University looms large. Over the course of his career, Achan Chayan has worked to advocate for minority rights (risking death threats and accusations of treason) as well as building networks across Southeast Asian academic institutions. He exemplifies the best qualities of a Thai public intellectual, and thus it is no surprise that the essays in the liber amicorum, Scholarship and Engagement in Mainland Southeast Asia, edited by Oscar Salemink, are ringing with fond memories and praise for Achan Chayan across generations of scholars. Indeed, it is telling that even non-Thai-speaking scholars refer to Chayan as “Achan,” the Thai term somehow capturing this sense of Chayan’s public role in ways that “Professor” nowadays fails to.

My engagement with Achan Chayan came 10 years ago, when I was a graduate student doing field research in Chiang Mai. Like the best of mentors, Chayan, rather than imposing his own idea of what was important about my project, helped me think critically about my own work in multiple ways. As Michael Herzfeld remarks in his conclusion to Scholarship and Engagement, it was only later, after having completed my book, that I realised the depth of Chayan’s inspiration.

Overall, the volume is well put together, although a few essays ramble, and could have used another pass to refine and sharpen their general points. The book’s three sub-sections, too, are awkwardly titled. For example, “Politics, Activism, and Cross-Border Politics in the Greater Mekong Subregion” is the second, and “Scholarly Activism in the Greater Mekong Subregion” the third. These sections roughly correspond to an overview of Chayan’s work, its impact upon historical and anthropological work, and the thorny issues surrounding policy and minorities.

Charles Keyes opens the volume with the first section’s solo chapter: a brief biography of Chayan’s work and its impact upon Thailand and Thai studies. In an era when most work on ethnic minority issues was done by foreigners, and in the face of pressure from official state organs, Chayan pursued a principle of “speak[ing] truth to power” (p 17), pushing for a vision of Northern Thailand as a multi-ethnic and environmentally sustainable society with links across the region. It was a work that, as Keyes notes, was not without risk, and his chapter empahsises the personal commitment that Chayan gave to his causes.

In the second section, Olivier Evrard gives an example of socially-engaged history of the sort inspired by Chayan. Looking at French and Siamese records, Evrard charts the changing status of Khmu migrant labourers in the early 20th century. At first, these workers were governed by treaties between Luang Prabang and Chiang Mai, but as colonisation set in (external in the case of Laos, internal in the case of Siam), old relationships and networks became something else from the viewpoint of the central state: labor recruiters became traffickers, and migrant teak workers turned into a threat.

Evrard reminds us that migrants, as a category, are in fact created by state policy. This theme of the mismatch between detailed awareness of local situations and top-down policy returns in Christopher Joll’s chapter on Thai policy-makers’ essentialist understandings of the conflict in the South as compared with a multi-causal approach of the sort emphasised in Chayan’s work.

Shigeharu Tanabe’s chapter also deals with the issue of social engagement, looking at Northern Thai Buddhist meditation practices aimed at extinguishing the self that nonetheless provide a vehicle for addressing social problems and resisting political repression. It’s a welcome rebuttal to too-simplistic characterisations of Buddhist meditation as entirely inwardly-focused (Tanabe takes a well-placed jab at Deleuze here) and shows how practice, especially in the Northern kuba tradition, can be focused on social as well as personal transformation.

Katherine Bowie’s chapter takes a very different turn to more historically-focused studies, focusing instead upon her own experience of engaged scholarship in the 1970s. In an account reminiscent of classic anthropological fieldwork memoirs (see Powdermaker 1966; Levi-Strauss 1955,;Descola 1996), she describes a problematic introduction into a post-military coup Northern Thai field site and the tangled web of village politics that she encountered. As she attempted to assist in the organisation of a mat-weavers’ cooperative, class and other tensions within the community came to the fore in ways that were productive both for her scholarship as well as – eventually — the mat weavers themselves.

In the final major section, contributors address the thorny ground of development interventions, which too often avoid a deep engagement with local civil societies. Rosalia Sciortino, the former regional director for the Rockefeller Foundation (among others), effectively shows that theory is not divorced from practice even on the development side. This was particularly so during the 1990s when new technocratic interventions (the sort of thing dreamed up in TED Talks or Thomas Friedman columns) based around quick solutions and neoliberal integration came to replace civil society-based, locally-informed ones.

This philosophy of intervention oddly recalls those from the 1950s that fetishised the power of Western scientific knowledge to divine all of the solutions to the developing world’s problems. Similarly, in Ronald Renard’s contribution, we also see the fallout from a move in policy away from community-based solutions. He looks at the end of opium eradication projects in the isolated Wa region of Myanmar that emphasisedthe social origins of opium cultivation and addiction solutions focused on improving conditions for farmers, and the rise of a new, top-down approach that focuses upon law enforcement.

Building upon this connection between the assumptions of international (and national) organisations about local communities, Oscar Salemink’s own contribution to the volume examines the issues surrounding Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in Vietnam. Salemink argues that the discourse of ICH in Vietnam creates certain possibilities and limits others, giving ethnic minorities a space within the state but limiting their role (and, interestingly, forcing the state to promote practices that they had just a few years before denounced).

But this also applies to scholars — in a state where open opposition is unproductive or impossible, Salemink argues that scholars are forced to work within the limits of state discourses. In Myanmar, however, Mandy Sadan shows how both state and resistant approaches carry their own risks. State discourses that present minority studies as “traditional” and (Kachin) minority studies dominated by the Baptist Church and ethnonationalism both fail. As a corrective, Sadan advocates for an as-yet unrealised middle ground along the lines of Chayan’s Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) for the highlands of Myanmar.

Overall, these essays are largely productive in looking at the history and potentiality of engaged scholarship on (for the most part) ethnic minority issues in mainland Southeast Asia, a note driven home by Michael Herzfeld’s excellently-written conclusion. Some essays (Evrard, Tanabe, Saelmink) are useful additions to the scholarly field in their own right. Others (Sciortino, Sadan) are interesting insights into the deeply hierarchical nature of national and international interventions, and some (Joll, Keyes, Bowie) reflect implicitly or directly upon Achan Chayan’s own profound impact on scholarship in Southeast Asia. In addition to the topical focus of each chapter, the book will be of use to those studying activism, development, or fieldwork ethics in the region and beyond.

Andrew Alan Johnson is  Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS College

Review of Scholarship and engagement in mainland Southeast Asia

Singapore is not an Island


March 30, 2016

Singapore is not an Island

by Bilahari Kausikan

Singapore’s Top Diplomats, Ong Keng Yong (left) and Bilahari Kausikan

Malaysia is undergoing a systemic change that has profound consequences for Singapore

What do most Singaporeans make of recent events in Malaysia? Bersih. Pesaka. 1MDB. A Deputy Prime Minister sacked. Protests and counter-protests.

Are we so inured to commotions across the Causeway that they seem no more than the faint tolling of distant bells, evoking only bemusement and schadenfreude? Our system works, so shrug and tend our own garden.

If this is the attitude, it is mistaken. We are indeed different. But I believe Malaysia may be on the cusp of a systemic change that could have profound implications for us.

Since 1957, first Malaya then Malaysia, was premised on a political and social compact that had Malay dominance as its cardinal principle. So long as this was not challenged, other races could have their own space. In political terms, this compact was reflected in a system structured around an alliance of race-based political parties with the dominant Malay party – United Malays National Organisation or UMNO – at its centre.

The Chinese were represented by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), later joined by Gerakan; the Indians by the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). Two opposition parties, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), were in principle multiracial, but in practice largely Chinese and Malay and in any case were peripheral.

It was our refusal to accept the system’s cardinal principle that led to Separation from Malaysia in 1965. But it was a system that had its own coherence and until relatively recently, it did not serve Malaysia badly. And despite the complexities of bilateral relations and occasional periods of tension, over the last 50 years, it was a system we learnt to work with, while going our own way.

Pressure Point–Religion

That familiar system is now under immense stress. It is not certain that it can hold together.The pressure point is religion. Arab influences from the Middle East have for several decades steadily eroded the Malay variant of Islam in which adat or traditional practices coexisted with the Quran in a syncretic, tolerant synthesis, replacing it with a more austere and exclusive interpretation of Islam. This is one aspect of a broader process of globalisation which is a socio-cultural and not just an economic phenomenon. It has changed the texture of Malaysian society, I think irreversibly.

It is impossible for any country to insulate itself from globalisation. Religion in Singapore is not immune from globalisation’s consequences, and not just in our Muslim community. Evangelical Christianity is one example. But Singapore is organised on the principle of multiracial meritocracy. So long as this is accepted by all races and religions as the foundation of our identity, the most corrosive political effects are mitigated. In the Singapore system, God – every God – and Caesar are separate and so all Gods must perforce co-exist, with the state playing the role of neutral arbiter.

Not so in Malaysia. The cardinal principle of Malay dominance is enshrined in the Constitution, which also places Islam as the first component in the definition of a Malay. This makes the mixture of religion and politics well-nigh inevitable. UMNO politicians have been unable to resist the temptation to use religion for electoral advantage. They are responding to the logic of the system as it has evolved.

In 2001, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made a fundamental political error when he tried to undercut PAS by declaring that Malaysia was already an Islamic state. A constitutional controversy ensued. But the most damaging consequences were political not legal. Tun Dr Mahathir’s incautious declaration gave a sharper political focus to the changes in the interpretation of Islam that were under way and catalysed a competitive dynamic in which those inclined to religious moderation were inevitably outbid and overwhelmed.

The result has been an increasingly pronounced emphasis on religion in UMNO’s political identity and a significant and continuing narrowing of the political and social space for non-Muslims.

Surveys show that Malaysian Malays privilege Islamic credentials over other qualities they look for in their leaders. A Merdeka Centre survey this year revealed that 60 per cent of Malaysian Malays polled identified themselves as Muslims first rather than Malaysians or even Malays. Demography accentuates the political impact of these attitudes. In 1957 the Chinese constituted 45 per cent of Malaya (West Malaysia). In 2010, they constituted only 24.6 per cent of Malaysia including East Malaysia. Malay fertility rates are significantly higher than both Chinese and Indians.

In the 2013 Malaysian General Election, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition got only 13 per cent of the Chinese vote. Two days after the election, Utusan Malaysia, an UMNO mouthpiece, pointedly asked “Apa Lagi Cina Mau?” (What more do the Chinese want?)

The question was provocatively phrased, but not entirely unreasonable. Prime Minister Najib Razak tried hard to win back Chinese votes but got almost nothing for his efforts. MCA won only seven seats. Gerakan was wiped out. The DAP won 38 seats, the largest number in the opposition coalition.

A new system in the making?

The Chinese parties in BN had clearly lost the trust of Chinese voters. Can MCA win back Chinese votes? Doubtful. MCA is obviously powerless to stem the narrowing political and social space for non-Muslims; the fecklessness of its leaders exposed by constant scandals and internal bickering.

In 2013, BN lost the popular vote but retained its parliamentary majority because of the 47 seats it won in East Malaysia. Native East Malaysians are not ethnically Malay but are classified as bumiputera. Some in UMNO began to question whether it was really necessary to work with the Chinese at all. The declining numbers of Chinese in the Malaysian population will sooner or later make them electorally irrelevant to Umno and BN had already retained power without their votes.

Nor can the opposition coalition of the DAP, PAS and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat – Pakatan Rakyat (PR) – form a new multiracial system. PR was always a motley crew. Although its component parties are in theory multiracial, they have nothing in common except the ambition to displace BN. Only Anwar’s charismatic personality and political skills held them uneasily together.

Anwar is now in jail and PR has fallen apart. PAS has left. Without Anwar, Keadilan’s future is bleak. The DAP is subject to the demo- graphic constraints of a falling Chinese population and is unlikely to make substantial electoral advances beyond its present strength, although it will probably retain what it now holds. PR’s successor – Pakatan Harapan – a coalition of the DAP, Keadilan and a minor breakaway faction from PAS, is a forlorn hope (pun intended).

PAS has purged its moderate leadership and is now led by the ulama. UMNO is increasingly relying on religion to legitimise itself. UMNO and PAS may eventually form some sort of de facto if not de jure alliance that could be the core of a new ruling system. There may be token ornaments of other races, but the Malaysian system will then comprise an overwhelmingly dominant Malay government with a DAP-led Chinese opposition. This will be potentially explosive.

I do not know if such a system will really replace the current system, but it certainly seems possible, even probable. It will not happen overnight. But the controversy over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) could well hasten its emergence. The recent demonstrations seem to foreshadow such a development.

Struggle for Power in UMNO

The anti-government Bersih demonstrations held in late August this year (2015) were, despite a sprinkling of other races, predominantly Chinese affairs. PAS, which had joined previous Bersih demonstrations, stayed away. The organisers claimed the demonstrations were apolitical, but the DAP with Keadilan clearly played significant roles.

Last month, a pro-government counter-demonstration was organised by Pesaka – a right-wing Malay group ostensibly devoted to silat, the Malay martial art. The demonstration was almost entirely Malay, positioned as defending Malay rights and marked by fierce racial rhetoric. Before the demonstration, posters were displayed, captioned “Cina turun Bersih, sedialah bermandi darah” (Chinese who attend Bersih, be ready to be bathed in blood) which depicted a Bersih supporter being slashed with a parang. A flier with a similar slogan was found at DAP headquarters.

UMNO denied organising the demonstration. Dato’Seri Najib did not attend but said he had no objections to Umno members doing so. The President of Pesaka is an UMNO leader. Another UMNO politician, who was one of the driving forces of the Pesaka demonstration, proudly admitted he was racist because it was under the Constitution.

Thankfully, violence at these demonstrations was avoided by the strong police presence. But the demonstrations certainly raised the temperature of an already racially fraught atmosphere.

Although the authorities denied it, the affray that broke out in July at Low Yat Plaza, a mainly Chinese shopping area in Kuala Lumpur, after a Malay youth was accused of stealing a mobile phone, was certainly racial. It exposed the tinderbox Malaysia had become.

Shortly after news broke about US$700 million (S$1 billion) believed to be from 1MBD being traced to what was alleged to be Mr Najib’s personal account, a Putrajaya spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has not taken any funds for personal use.”

UMNO has always operated through a system of patronage. If this is what the spokesman was hinting at, then Dr Mahathir’s accusations against Mr Najib ring hollow. Did he not preside over the same system and for far longer than any other Malaysian prime minister?

This system also means that Mr. Najib is in no imminent danger of being forced from office so long as he holds the majority of UMNO divisions and retains Malay support. Frustration may account for Dr Mahathir’s attendance at the Bersih demonstration which I do not think has raised the good doctor’s standing with the Malay ground.

The 1MDB scandal is less about corruption than about a struggle for power within UMNO. Dr Mahathir seems to have expected to exercise remote control even though he was no longer prime minister. Among his grievances with his successors were their warming of ties with Singapore, Mr Najib’s decision to settle the railway land issue, cooperation on Iskandar Malaysia (IM) and the refusal of both Tun Abdullah Badawi and Mr Najib to proceed with his pet white elephant: the “crooked bridge”. Dr Mahathir wants to replace Mr Najib with someone more pliable.

The intra-UMNO power struggle is not over. Mr Najib retains his office but has been politically damaged. Dr Mahathir’s reputation may have been dented, but he still has a following within UMNO and the Malay public.

Mr. Najib cannot allow himself to be outflanked on the right. Two days after the September demonstration, he attended a Pesaka gathering. He praised Pesaka members as being “willing to die” for the government and said “Malay people can also show that we are still able to rise when our dignity is challenged, when our leaders are insulted, criticised, shamed”, adding, “We respect other races. But don’t forget: Malays also have their feelings. Malays also have their limits.”

What next?

A former minister, Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin, has said that “if Najib succeeds in uniting UMNO and PAS, then I am confident the Malays will forgive his grave mistakes”, adding that “after fulfilling this large and sincere task” he should step down and hand power to former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

I do not know if Mr. Najib feels he has committed “grave mistakes”. But he certainly will not hand over power to a man he unceremoniously sacked. Still, Mr Zainuddin is probably not wrong about anyone who brings UMNO and PAS together becoming a Malay hero. It may not be Mr. Najib, but the trajectory of political developments in Malaysia already seems to point in that direction.

Malaysia and Singapore are each other’s second-largest trading partner. Malaysia is Singapore’s sixth-largest investment destination and we are the top investor in IM. Every day tens of thousands of Malaysians commute across the Causeway to work in Singapore. It is in our interest to see Malaysia stable with a healthy economy.

Mr. Najib understands that Malaysia and Singapore need each other. So far and unusually we have not figured very much in the controversies. Dr Mahathir did trot out his tired line about Singapore Malays being marginalised. But it did not catch fire. Did the government dampen the spark? No way of knowing for sure but if it did, it is one more black mark against Mr Najib in the old man’s book.

We, of course, have no choice but to work with whatever system or leader emerges in Malaysia. But some systems will be easier to work with than others. And the current heightened state of racial tensions suggests that we should not assume that the transition from one system to another will necessarily be peaceful.

It is my impression that many young Malaysian Chinese have forgotten the lessons of May 13, 1969. They naively believe that the system built around the principle of Malay dominance can be changed. That may be why they abandoned MCA for the DAP. They are delusional. Malay dominance will be defended by any means.

Any new system will still be built around this principle, and if it has some form of UMNO-PAS collaboration at its centre, enforcement of this principle will be even more rigorous with even less space for non-Muslims.

The respected Malay poet and writer Pak Samad recently warned “the way race issues are played up… it is not impossible that things will peak into a state of emergency”.

Pak Samad is a member of the DAP and he was appealing to the government to take a more equitable attitude towards all races. But his views and those of some idealistic young urban Malays are exceptional and, during an intra-UMNO power struggle when the banner of Malay dominance is raised particularly high, utterly irrelevant.

Singaporeans should also note that no country’s domestic politics exists in a geopolitical vacuum.

Chinese Ambassador’s Remarks

In the midst of these unfolding developments, China’s Ambassador to Malaysia made his way to Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Close to where only a few days previously the police had to use water cannons to disperse a potentially violent anti-Chinese Pesaka-led demonstration, the ambassador read out a statement that among other things pronounced the Chinese government’s opposition to terrorism, any form of racial discrimination and extremism, adding for good measure that it would be a shame if the peace of Petaling Street was disrupted by the ill-intentioned and that Beijing would not stand idly by if anything threatened the interests of its citizens and Malaysia-China relations.

Under other circumstances these sentiments would perhaps have passed notice. But the timing and context laid the Ambassador’s words and actions open to disquieting interpretations.

Was it just bad judgment? What was he trying to do? If the ambassador was trying to help the Malaysian Chinese, then he failed miserably. He probably made things worse for them by confirming the worst suspicions of the Malay right wing.

But were the interests of Malaysian Chinese even a consideration? Was the intention to highlight a rising China’s clout? The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman defended the ambassador’s visit to Petaling Street as “normal” and emphasised China’s adherence to the principle of non-interference. But this was of course what she would have said irrespective of China’s intentions.

More telling perhaps was the apparent confusion over whether or not the Chinese ambassador should be summoned to explain himself. This should have been obvious. A retired Malaysian diplomat who used to deal with China pointed out the dangerous precedent that would be set if no action was taken. But different Malaysian ministers contradicted each other, with a clearly frustrated Foreign Minister Anifah Aman finally telling them all to leave it to Wisma Putra.

Was this the consequence of China’s influence? Possibly. In the end, some sort of meeting with Wisma Putra seems to have occurred. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi subsequently announced that the Malaysian Cabinet decided to “call in” the Chinese ambassador (he was careful to make clear the ambassador was not being “summoned”).

Lesson for Singapore

We cannot solve other people’s problems. Malaysians must work out their own destiny and we will have to live with their choices.

Are we completely immune to contagion from Malaysia? After 50 years, does our collective Singapore identity now trump racial identities? Maybe under some circumstances. Optimistically, perhaps even most circumstances. But under all circumstances?

I doubt it. Let us wish Malaysia well and hope that the worst does not occur.But it would be prudent to take no chances and prepare ourselves as if it might. The first step is for all Singaporeans to understand what is happening in our neighbourhood and realistically appreciate our own circumstances.

Deterrence and diplomacy are necessary to reduce the temptation that some in Malaysia may have to externalise their problems and minimise the bilateral friction that will sometimes be unavoidable. Strong deterrence and agile diplomacy must be underpinned by national cohesion which in turn rests on a foundation of common understandings.

Of late it seems to have become fashionable for some sections of our intelligentsia to downplay or even dismiss our vulnerabilities. Some political parties tried variants of this line during our recent General Election. Are they blind and deaf to what is happening around us? Is their desire for notoriety or political advantage so overwhelming as to make them indifferent to the consequences?

Malaysia is not the only concern. The haze is a daily reminder that all is not well down south too. This is not the most salubrious of neighbourhoods.

•Bilahari Kausikan, a former Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, is now Ambassador-at-Large. He was recently in Phnom Penh where he delivered a Distinguished Lecture at Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia

 

Donald Trump’s Hip Shooting Foreign Policy Babble


March 29, 2016

Donald Trump’s Hip Shooting Foreign Policy Babble

The Opinion Pages | Editorial

Donald Trump might use nuclear weapons to go after Islamic State terrorists. Or maybe not. In a recent spate of interviews, including with The Times, he was unable or unwilling to clarify his disturbing views on this and other critical national security issues, which sometimes shift from one minute to the next.

The recent horrific terrorist attacks around the world have provided a new opportunity for Mr. Trump to fan fears and throw out his alarming prescriptions for dealing with the world’s most complex challenges. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump was asked if he would use tactical nuclear weapons against the Islamic State. “I’m never going to rule anything out — I wouldn’t want to say. Even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t want to tell you that because at a minimum, I want them to think maybe we would use them,” he said on the Bloomberg Politics program “With All Due Respect.”

He was more measured in his comments to The Times on Friday, saying nuclear weapons are “the biggest problem the world has” and he would use such weapons only as “an absolute last step.” Even if Mr. Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, doesn’t really believe that nuclear weapons should be used against a terrorist group, the fact that he has voiced it lends weight to this insane notion and could make it easier for other nuclear-armed states to think about that possibility.

The consequences of using a nuclear weapon in terms of lives lost, physical destruction and cost to American moral standing would be devastating. The United States and Russia have significantly reduced their nuclear arsenals, and the threat that either would ever use the weapons has greatly receded, in part because advanced conventional weapons can destroy almost any military target. Equally bizarre was Mr. Trump’s casual attitude in endorsing the idea of Japan and South Korea developing their own nuclear weapons, which would reverse America’s longstanding efforts to prevent the number of nuclear-armed states from expanding.

Mr. Trump also challenged decades of American policy by calling NATO “obsolete.” Since the Cold War, the alliance has undergone reforms and remains the primary organization that can deal with military threats. It is central to the stability of Europe, which is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, weak economies and the flood of refugees from the Syrian war. With Russia’s aggressive movements in Ukraine and threats to the Baltics, this is no time to suggest that Washington is rethinking its strongest commitments to its allies. Although Mr. Trump said he doesn’t want to pull America out of NATO, he said it has to be changed so the United States bears less of the cost.

Mr. Trump is confronting most of these issues for the first time, and many of his thoughts are contradictory and shockingly ignorant. In speaking with The Times, for instance, he complained that one problem with the Iran nuclear deal is that American businesses are now losing out to Europe on lucrative deals with Iran. He did not know that that is because Congress has insisted on keeping American sanctions in place.

Mr. Trump claims he is not an isolationist and wants to “make America great again.” It is hard to see how he achieves that when he describes a completely unhinged view of international engagement that denigrates Muslims and other foreigners and international organizations, including the United Nations. Mostly, his vision of cooperation with allies depends largely on how much they would pay the United States for protection.

In his interviews, Mr. Trump has said “unpredictability” is central to his thinking. He seems to have no inkling that operating in a dangerous world — one in which the United States is militarily involved in many conflict zones — requires some ability to communicate intelligently and forthrightly with both allies and enemies. It also seems to have escaped him that American voters deserve to know what a candidate is actually proposing.

A version of this editorial appears in print on March 29, 2016, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Dangerous Babble on Foreign Policy. Today’s Paper

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah: What’s your deal with Najib Razak?


March 28, 2016

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah: What’s your deal with Najib Razak?

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Politicians like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah cause the electorate to lose faith in politics. Affectionately known as Ku Li, he confirms our suspicions of him. He is all spin and no substance. He joins a long list of sycophants who should have had the interests of the rakyat at heart, but at the critical moment, let down the people and himself. Where are the men of integrity and honour?

Ku Li’s betrayal may not matter now, because a majority of the population still cast their votes. In time, this number will drop because they will see politicians as untrustworthy.So, was it emotion, or political expediency which prompted Ku Li to sign the ‘Kelantan Declaration’?

The Citizens’ Declaration of the ‘Save Malaysia’ movement is supported by former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The Kelantan Declaration is just a vanity declaration, like a love letter for politicians. It is a tit-for-tat move to distract the rakyat from national issues.

So did Ku Li sign because of his 30-year-old grudge against Mahathir, whom he challenged for the UMNO party presidency in 1987 but lost by a whisker? There were irregularities in voting, and Ku Li’s supporters mounted a legal challenge. The High Court declared UMNO an illegal party and forced Mahathir to form UMNO Baru, and Ku Li, Semangat 46.

Was Ku Li exacting his revenge on Mahathir? Or did Najib Abdul Razak whisper sweet nothings into Ku Li’s ears and promised him a role more prominent than that of a mere MP? He is free to sign the Kelantan Declaration and express his loyalty to Najib, but in the past, why did he have to string some of the rakyat along, and say that he cared?

Ku Li has expressed dissatisfaction with the government on numerous occasions. When asked why he refused to leave UMNO Baru and fight for change from the opposition benches, his answer was always “No!” He claimed to be more effective, fighting for change from within.

His critique of the government convinced some of the opposition that he could be an interim prime minister should GE14 result in a hung parliament, or if the no-confidence vote against Najib had been successful. Some people may remember that at the convocation ceremony of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), in June 2014, Ku Li moaned about the division of race and religion, the low standards of fluency in English, and Malaysian education.

He reminisced about his teenage years when athletes were selected on their sporting prowess, and Malaysians were united in their support of them, irrespective of their race. He recalled fond memories of Wong Peng Soon, the All-England badminton champion, in 1950 and 1951.Today, he supports the leader of a party which condones division in society.

In 2010, Ku Li said that in the 1980s, the government was spending money like water, and the Defence Ministry would purchase Exocet missiles, at RM2 million each, for target practice.

Why regurgitate these issues?

Why regurgitate these issues, decades later? He once held the portfolio of finance minister, and had to sign the chits, but did not complain about the frivolous spending on the armed forces.

He held two heavyweight ministerial posts, (finance and international trade and industry). His arguments would have carried weight. Why were these matters not highlighted, then?

A few days ago, Mahathir stunned Malaysians with the revelation that Ku Li and a group of UMNO Baru leaders had secretly plotted to oust Najib. Mahathir said, “He (Ku Li) came and met me, and said he wants to push for a no-confidence vote. He said he can get the majority, but he failed.”

The irony is that having been defeated, Ku Li later signed his allegiance to the man he had wanted to topple.How are we to have any confidence in our politicians, if they fail us when they fall at the first hurdle? Where is their persistence, and their moral duty?

On September 16, 2008, former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim failed in his bid to secure enough defections in UMNO Baru to oust the erstwhile PM Abdullah Badawi. Anwar was subsequently demonised by UMNO Baru politicians. Today, the same politicians keep silent about Ku Li’s tactics, which were similar, and also failed.

If there is any threat to the stability and national security of the nation, it is from politicians who have abrogated their duty to serve the rakyat.  Our enemy is not from outside, it is from within. Our enemy is made up of politicians who fail to act against corruption, injustice, and divisive and racist politics.

Members of the political elite want only one thing, to hang on to their seats. And power.You know what you must do in GE14

 

Cambodia : Making a Difference


March 27, 2016

Cambodia : Making a Difference

by Dr. Michael Mineham

It’s a welcome opportunity where we can do something that actually makes a difference.

This is what happened when I first visited Cambodia. I found out that I could personally pay to have landmines destroyed, along with other explosive remnants of war. Which I did. Other Australian friends are also helping out. Associate Tony Langer explains more:

Cambodia would like to present an image to the world of a peaceful, developing country – largely to promote business and tourism. And yes, this is true, but Cambodia is still one of the countries in the world that is most contaminated by the explosive remnants of war (ERW). Afghanistan and Iraq are high up on the list, but depending on the sources, Cambodia comes in at anywhere between numbers 4 to 6.

A Young Cambodian Mine Victim–Make a Difference for her

This is because Cambodia endured nearly 30 years of international and civil war, from the 1960s until 1998.Part of Cambodia’s western border with Thailand is still one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. This is the K5 minefield that was largely laid by Vietnamese forces after driving the Khmer Rouge into the mountains of the west.

The Khmer Rouge at that time also laid landmines in front of their fortifications and along strategic routes. The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces estimate that on average, there are 2,400 antipersonnel mines per kilometer of this K5 mine belt.

I recently talked to a social worker who told me that in one day, in the western province of Pailin, he met three landmine victims. Each of these victims had both lower limbs blown off by landmines. But get this. The lower legs of each victim were destroyed by different mines at different times.

The eastern half of Cambodia is also contaminated with cluster bombs. US Air Force records reveal that from 1965 to 1973 the US dropped 2,756,941 tonnes of bombs over central and eastern regions of Cambodia. This involved 230,516 bombing sorties, aimed at 113,716 different sites. The tonnage of bombs dropped over Cambodia was more than the entire tonnage of bombs dropped by the Allies in World War 11.

The rationale for this bombing campaign was to disrupt the Viet Cong supply lines to South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. But for various reasons, including jungle foliage and soft ground in the rainy season, up to one third of these cluster bombs failed to explode on impact and they still remain in the ground, fully armed, waiting for a second chance.

Well, I obviously knew that I couldn’t go out on my own and dig up and remove this explosive stuff by myself. But I knocked on doors, and was admitted as a Volunteer Assistant to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre. My job was to help shoot videos and help with CMAC publicity. But along the way, I found that I could pay for one of CMAC’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams.These are 3-man teams that respond to emergency finds of explosives.

This cost 5 thousand dollars over a 3 month period, and I was funding the removal and destruction of unexploded ordnance found outside of the capital city, Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Landmine Museum

It’s largely forgotten that areas around and inside Phnom Penh were the final battlefields between the Khmer Rouge and the government forces of Lon Nol in 1974-1975. The CMAC HQ in Phnom Penh is itself on a former battlefield that was cleared before construction could begin.

This fighting didn’t involve only an exchange of small arms fire and a few rocket propelled grenades. This was war with all of the mechanized might of the 20th century. The Khmer Rouge was then fighting with Russian T54, T55 and T57 battle tanks. These tanks were firing 100mm rounds. Khmer Rouge rockets included the Russian and Chinese 122mm and 130mm long range variety.

On the Lon Nol side were American tanks and really big artillery that included 105 and 155mm howitzers. Not to mention US bombing support 3 times per day from F111s, Phantoms and T28 jets based in Vietnam and Thailand.

Well, the team that works to clear areas surrounding Phnom Penh is called Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team 6. During the period of my support, this team cleared 20,073 m2 of mines and UXO during 86 response calls. The actual numbers of items found and destroyed included 6 antipersonnel mines and 6 antitank mines. I pressed the button to destroy one of the antipersonnel mines, and I also saw some of the antitank mines destroyed. I watched as another one was cut in half to extract the explosives and recycle them as new demolition charges.

Along the way, the team also found and destroyed 2,520 pieces of UXO. This figure was inflated by the discovery of over 500 explosive-tipped heavy anti-aircraft rounds. But, well, those are the figures, and that’s what I paid to have destroyed.

I’m tempted to say that this was a real blast. I felt so good about paying to have all this stuff blown up and recycled, that I later signed up for a second and a third 3 month period to pay for EOD Team 6.

CMAC keeps meticulous records, and the grand total of the ERW that I funded to have removed and destroyed was 5,310 pieces of UXO, 13 antipersonnel mines and 15 antitank mines.

Watching mines being destroyed is better than watching a fireworks display. There’s an enormous brutality about these explosions. Fireworks are pretty, yes, but there’s something that’s also monstrous and hugely destructive about watching military explosives tear the earth and the sky apart.

Also, through my contacts with Australian Vietnam Vets working in Cambodia, I was part of an operation that found and destroyed an unexploded 120mm mortar shell, and a Russian PMN-1 antipersonnel mine. The PMN-1 is also called the Black Widow, because it contains around double the amount of explosive (200 gramrs) used in most other antipersonnel mines.

Both of these remnants of war were found only a short distance away from a school in Pailin province. The school grounds themsevles had been cleared of explosives, but the surrounding area was a former battlefield. There can’t be too many countries with schools in the middle of former battlefields. But, well, this is Cambodia. Before we cleared the area, you wouldn’t have wanted to kick a ball over the school fence and then go running around looking for it. The PMN-1 mine was easily within the distance you could kick a ball.

I later met a 14 year old boy who had stepped on a PMN-1 mine while cutting wood to help extend his house for visiting relatives. He lost both his legs and one arm, and was lucky to survive. This kid has become a spokesman for the anti-landmine movement. He said, “Even though I’ve lost my legs and an arm, I still have my voice to speak out against landmines.”

Well, I can’t claim to have saved a single life with my clearance work. Maybe I’ve just saved a few dogs and cows from the explosive stuff that I’ve had cleared. I’ll never know. But it doesn’t really matter because I feel so good about what I did.

If you spend time in Cambodia, you’ll meet landmine victims yourself. Cambodia has one of the highest rates of amputees per capita of population in the world.

I met a man (the brother of my car driver) who had survived the explosion of a Khmer Rouge rocket propelled grenade. He then received a blood transfusion at a jungle aid station, but the blood he received was contaminated with the AIDs virus. The compensation/assistance he’s received from the government? Zero.

Another story I came across was the winner of the only ever Miss Cambodian Landmine contest. Her first prize was supposed to consist of money for a university education, and a new prosthetic leg from Norway. But the money for her education didn’t turn up, and the new leg, when delivered, didn’t fit.

Most Cambodians in the big cities seem to be largely indifferent to landmines and UXO and the plight of victims. Comparatively few Cambodians contribute money to mine clearance or victim relief, and there seems to be a collective mentality of waiting for overseas funds to fix the problem. Well, so be it. But just a few dollars can make a big difference.

And making a difference, as I discovered, can really be a very simple undertaking. Who knows – like me, you’ll never be sure if you’ve saved anyone. But you’re going to feel really good about helping to make at least part of the world a better place.