Malaysia’s Foreign Policy is Clear and Consistent

September 17, 2017

Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman: Malaysia’s Foreign Policy is Clear and Consistent

by Anifah Aman

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COMMENT | I refer to the comment article written by Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), who also heads the Policy and Strategy Bureau of PPBM, entitled All that glitters is not gold in US-Malaysia relationship which was published by Malaysiakini on 15 September 2017.

I noted Rais Hussin keen interests on the conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy. As Rais Hussin would appreciate, Malaysia’s foreign policy is clear and consistent. Malaysia continues to pursue an independent, principled and pragmatic foreign policy, with the overarching thrust to safeguard its sovereignty and national interest as well as to contribute meaningfully towards a just and equitable community of nations.

The conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy will continue to be guided by the principles of respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non–interference in the affairs of other nations, peaceful settlement of disputes, peaceful co–existence and mutual benefit in relations.

Therefore, I am perplexed to discover inaccurate and false narrative in his comment article, and wonder whether Rais Hussin was being deliberately obtuse. As such, I am compelled to address the inaccurate and false narrative, point by point as below:

1. Malaysia has entered the orbit of Chinese influence both commercially and militarily. On any given week, many illegal Chinese fishing vessels cruise along the coasts of West and East Malaysia.

As a small nation that relies heavily on international trade, Malaysia has no choice but to have relations with all countries in the world. As threats to peace and security become more complex, Malaysia has no choice but to work together with all countries in the world.

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Increased economic and investment activities between Malaysia and China were the result of globalisation and the law of supply and demand. Likewise, increased activities in the sphere of security would include closer military cooperation. It should in no way be construed as a sign that Malaysia has entered the orbit of Chinese influence. Malaysia has similar relations with many other countries, including the United States of America, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Singapore, etc.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agencies (MMEA) will arrest any fishing vessels that conduct illegal fishing activities in Malaysia’s maritime areas. MMEA vessels and aircraft, as well as vessels and aircraft belonging to the Malaysian Armed Forces conduct routine patrol and surveillance of Malaysia’s maritime areas. Chinese fishing vessels have been spotted only sporadically, and therefore it is completely untrue and utterly erroneous to suggest that Chinese fishing vessels cruise along the coasts of West and East Malaysia on a weekly basis.

2. More oddly, the Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, with the most recent berthing taking place just before Trump met Najib in the White House. The very act of allowing Chinese submarine to break into Malaysian waters, all without the formality of conducting a joint exercise, suggests that Malaysia is now a quasi-alliance of China that is willing to listen to Beijing at every turn. Thus, how can the US-Malaysia relationship serve as a building block of a stronger international maritime order?

It is true that Chinese warship and submarine made a port call at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in early September 2017. That was not the first time that Chinese military vessels make a port call at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and would not be the last.

Military vessels from numerous countries including the United States of America, Australia, Japan, France, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, etc., have made port calls to various Malaysian ports, including at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and will continue to do so.

Therefore, it is clearly a fallacy to equate the recent docking of Chinese military vessels as a sign of Malaysia quasi–alliance with China.

Military vessels undertake port call at foreign countries to replenish supply, provide shore leave to the crew after long period at sea, as well as to undertake minor maintenance. Port call by foreign military vessels also contribute to local economies.

With regard to the procedure, any foreign military vessels planning to make port call at Malaysian ports, including at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, must submit such request to the Government of Malaysia through diplomatic channels. Such request would be considered by the relevant Malaysian agencies before being submitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for final approval.

It is also timely to state at this juncture that Malaysia upholds the supremacy of the rule of law. Malaysia believes that international law is the equaliser amongst states, regardless of their political, economic or military power. All countries must work together to ensure peace and stability, as well as maritime order.

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3. Fourthly, Malaysia did nothing monumental with regards to ASEAN and the East Asian Summit in 2015 when Putrajaya was the chair of both entities, except holding grandiose and well-choreographed meetings as a public relations stunt.

4. Yet, 2015 was the year when China’s militarisation of the South China Sea began in earnest.

5. If Malaysia couldn’t contain the situation in the South China Sea and North Korea, why should one believe that without chairing Asean and the East Asian Summit, Malaysia could wield even more influence?

Malaysia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015 was well–regarded by many countries. Malaysia’s constructive approach on various issues including the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula (and North Korean nuclear issue) was well-received.

Malaysia has done admirably in advancing discourse on these issues, taking into account that ASEAN works on the principle of consensus, and as chairman, Malaysia is merely a facilitator.

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Malaysia’s policy on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. Throughout its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015, Malaysia has impressed upon all countries the need to ensure peace, security and stability and to avoid the threat or use of force, as well as to avoid activities that could escalate or complicate situation. Malaysia further stated that recent activities have eroded trust and confidence amongst parties. Malaysia also called on all parties to ensure non–militarisation in the South China Sea.

Malaysia’s principled and consistent position was well–received and well–accepted, and reflected as agreed texts in various documents issued during Malaysia’s chairmanship including the various chairman’s statements, joint communique of Asean ministerial meeting, etc. The texts were also used in various documents during Laos chairmanship in 2016.

ANIFAH AMAN is Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Malaysia’s Grand Poobah’s Chequebook Diplomacy in Washington DC

September 15, 2017

Malaysia’s Grand Poobah’s Chequebook Diplomacy in Washington can be strategic, admits Ambassador Emeritus Dennis Ignatius



COMMENT | Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent White House soirée has brought Malaysia an unprecedented level of scrutiny and negative publicity. All major US newspapers, for example, unanimously panned the visit, highlighting the inappropriateness of inviting someone linked to an ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation (into 1MDB-related money-laundering charges).

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Najib’s Chequebook Diplomacy–Helping America Great Again impresses Donald J. Trump

It is a measure of just how far his reputation has fallen internationally after once having been feted everywhere as a reformist and moderate Muslim democrat. It is also a reminder of how little all of this really matters in a world dominated by realpolitik and the pursuit of strategic advantage.

Certainly, Najib himself didn’t appear to lose too much sleep over all the bad press. For him, the visit was clearly about positioning himself for the next elections and burnishing his credentials as a well-respected international leader able to run with some of the most powerful leaders in the world.

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Taken together with earlier high-profile meetings with President Xi Jinping, King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the meeting with Trump, as well as Britain’s Theresa May, lends credence to Najib’s narrative that under his stewardship, Malaysia has become “a rising star” and a “global player.”

While the urban crowd and opposition supporters will no doubt shake their heads in disbelief, it will play well with Najib’s rural base, effectively neutralising the 1MDB issue, arguably Najib’s most troublesome political challenge.

Najib’s grand strategy

Beyond the optics and the controversy over 1MDB, the visit also revealed a side to Najib that will surely drive the opposition to further despair: he is proving to be a far better strategist than he’s been given credit for.

He has parlayed the powers of his office and all the levers of state control at his disposal to successfully play off both China and the US to his advantage.

It might be recalled that he deliberately pivoted to China after his falling-out with the Obama Administration.

In Beijing, last year, he complained about foreign meddling, of being treated unfairly, of being lectured to by Western powers. In not so many words, he went on to contemptuously dismiss the US and other Western powers as has-beens with no future in Asia and hinted about a new strategic partnership with China.

It appears that Washington, already alarmed at China’s growing clout in the region, quickly got the message. Washington will now play along to get along.

Furthermore, with a more amoral (some would say unscrupulous) occupant in the White House to do business with, and with Beijing beginning to get too demanding (as witnessed by the unravelling of the Bandar Malaysia deal), Najib might have also seen the need to recalibrate the balance between the US and China.

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Playing the China-US Hedging Game

Better relations with Washington will now give Najib more room to manoeuvre. It will also allow Najib to undercut opposition criticism that he is too close to China.

He has thus put both Washington and Beijing on notice: be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you. It is, in fact, the global application of his domestic political approach: as he once told Chinese Malaysians, “If you show support [for UMNO-BN] we have no problem giving more… if not, difficult lah.”

Though it is still too early to predict how all this will turn out, no other prime minister has displayed such a flair for big power gamesmanship as he.

Buying his way to respectability

In order to demonstrate to both the US and China that they have much to gain both strategically and economically by being supportive of his administration, Najib has resorted to a form of chequebook diplomacy hitherto only used by rich and powerful countries – promising contracts, investments and big-ticket purchases in exchange for support and endorsement.

With China, Najib generously granted PRC corporations billions of ringgit in infrastructure contracts, even favouring PRC contractors over our own.

He has also earned the undying gratitude of President Xi by wholeheartedly embracing the latter’s One Belt One Road (Obor) initiative, dismissing concerns about the viability and lack of transparency of many Obor projects.

And under his watch, Malaysia made its first purchase of defence equipment from China.

In Washington, Najib opened his chequebook once again promising to buy more than RM42 billion in new aircraft for Malaysian Airlines (MAS), RM300 million in fighter jets for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), and to direct RM12 billion to RM16 billion in new investments from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Kazanah Nasional to US infrastructure projects.

He also promised to “persuade” AirAsia to switch from British-made Rolls Royce engines to American-made GE engines.

No doubt, this was all music to Trump’s ears, a small contribution to making American great again.

American officials, of course, deny the visit will have any impact on the DOJ investigations but does anybody really believe that Najib would have made all those expensive promises simply to make Trump feel good?

After this, expect European and Japanese salesmen-politicians to come knocking at our doors with hat in hand and high praise for Najib on their lips. For so long as there’s money to be made, inconvenient issues like human rights and good governance will not be allowed to get in the way.

Cost of Najib’s generosity

The downside, however, is that Malaysia’s already beleaguered opposition, as well as its human rights defenders, can now expect no sympathy or moral support from the US and other democracies.

Najib has neatly turned the tables on his detractors; far from isolating him internationally, he has now marginalised them at home.

Worse still, the nation will have to pay a heavy price for Najib’s extravagant chequebook diplomacy.  We are already heavily indebted to China; now we will be driven into even greater debt with billions of new borrowing to pay for Najib’s Washington promises.That the government of a cash-strapped developing country, which has had to impose a new tax (GST) on its own hard-pressed and long-suffering populace just to stay afloat, would offer such an extravagant economic boost to one of the richest economies in the world is both unprecedented and mind-boggling.

DENNIS IGNATIUS, a former Malaysian ambassador, firmly believes that we should put our trust not in the leadership of politicians but in the sanctity of great institutions – our secular and democratic constitution, a democratically-elected parliament, an independent judiciary, a free press and a government fully accountable to the people. He blogs here.


Nice Mr. Najib’s “Flourishing Democracy”

September 12, 2017

Nice Mr. Najib’s “Flourishing Democracy”: Comment by Sarawak Report

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Malaysia’s Pathological Liar claims to be on a Journey of Exoneration to the United States to meet his counterpart  at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.–Who between two will be conning the other?


The greatest liars are the ones who set out to deceive themselves.  Najib has mocked his mentor and the former icon of UMNO, Dr Mahathir, for belatedly admitting to strong arm tactics that damaged democracy and gifted his criminal successor with far too much personal power.

On the other hand, Najib is admitting no such thing relating to himself. In an authored statement that has had the world in stitches on the eve of his great ‘journey of exoneration’ (or so he would have it) to the United States, he paints himself as a great promoter of individual rights and the rule of law in Malaysia.

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This is what UMNO has turned this person into–kissing the hand of a liar. It makes me sick.–Din Merican

Every single thing he says in this article is demonstrably untrue and it comes from the mouth of a man who has orchestrated the theft of more money from his own people than recorded in any other global investigation.  Take the United States’ revered NGO Human Rights Watch on the subject:

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Trump’s invitation was “particularly inappropriate”, given Najib’s use of repressive laws to stifle critics.

“There’s little doubt that Najib will use this White House visit to burnish his credentials going into next year’s election in Malaysia, and redouble his repression of critics using the stamp of approval from this visit,” HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson told Reuters.

Najib begs to differ.  He plainly seeks to convince himself that since he is not presently putting people up against walls and shooting them publicly he runs a consensual and democratic government.

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He created a system which gave Najib Razak absolute power to inflict harm on our body politic, not Knowledge. Now he is regretting for doing so. 

Instead, in Malaysia people live under a more subtle fear that they may disappear or end up like the opposition leader in jail on cooked up crimes. People in government jobs bemoan they and all their family must vote for Najib’s UMNO party or they will be found out and lose their posts (their bosses warn UMNO monitor their votes).  This is not democracy, it is dictatorship through fear.

Far from tolerating dissent, Najib’s brave critics in Malaysia are routinely hounded in innumerable ways, under a raft of flexible laws that give him immense power to accuse and lock them up on grounds of ‘subverting the state’, ‘acting against harmony’, ‘acting against parliamentary democracy’ and so on.

If the courts eventually release these people, given the accusations are so fickle and outrageous, he then exercises the sort of arbitrary and ‘informal’ powers that people in genuine democracies can only gasp at.  Passports are removed, bank accounts are frozen – Najib’s victims are rendered penniless prisoners within his borders.

Free Speech?–No Freedom After Speech

When Najib claims that ‘freedom of speech is alive and well in Malaysia’ he appears to forget that this site has, for example, been itself arbitrarily banned in the grounds of ‘reporting falsehoods’.

Notably, he has not dared to legally challenge a single one of those supposed falsehoods, which now stand vindicated on every point by the evidence brought forward in the United States Justice Department’s own criminal investigation into 1MDB.

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Despite that vindication Sarawak Report remains banned and the editor “wanted” under a warrant issued in Malaysia for her arrest for supposed “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.  A false terrorism alert was even made to INTERPOL by Malaysia against Sarawak Report on Najib’s orders. Journalists inside the country face daily threats over ‘subversive reporting’, which they cannot ignore when instruments such as these are readily employed.

Suppression of Criticism Protects Rule by Criminals

There is a point to this partially legalised reppression.  Najib reckons the people’s pockets and their pensions are his to raid.  And, as this site and others have reported, he has done so without restraint, by placing often unqualified henchmen into the top positions at all the cash rich government-related funds and licencing them to raid the coffers through all manner of corrupt and self-interested investments (despite trechant warnings by the Bank of Malaysia).

And, of course, there is 1MDB, just one fully unmasked scandal amongst the many more yet to be revealed.

This rampant kleptocracy of recent years has destroyed Malaysia’s underlying economic security and wrecked hopes of advancement for the many, but it has all been terrifically good  for a certain class of foreign businessman, whose lack of moral quibbles has enabled them to make a pile of money facilitating the investment of all that loot in ventures overseas.  Such folk are ever ready to whisper in the ears of the stooping and cynical denizons of the corridors of Whitehall and the White House: “best deal with this Najib. He is a crook but he says he wants to buy our weapons and invest in our ludicrous projects when others won’t”.

‘Journey of Exoneration’?

By such means Najib has achieved his promoted ‘journey of exoneration’ to the United States. He will have Hurricane Irma to thank if the Washington press diverts its interest from this dirty little tryst.  However, the disapproval of the democratic media has already been made loud and clear.

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It has been noted that whilst Trump’s State Department personnel have been lined up for the welcoming party in this supposed strategic reach-out, designed to prize Malaysia back from China, representatives from the Department of Justice will markedly be absent.  Najib has to hope that this independent arm of state will not take advantage of her presence to interview Malaysia’s ‘First Lady’ about the $200 million of diamonds and jewellery, which she personally commissioned in the presence of Jho Low, her husband and bespoke boutique owner Lorraine Schwarz, at the Bel-Air Hotel in California over New Year in 2014.

They were bought with money stolen from 1MDB and the Department of Justice will doubtless be intrigued to know how she thought her husband would be paying for them.

864. In October 2014, $1,300,000 in funds traceable to misappropriated Deutsche Bank loan proceeds were used to purchase 27 different 18-carat gold necklaces and bracelets (“27 ASSORTED GOLD NECKLACES AND BRACELETS”) from Schwartz Inc. in New York. LOW arranged for the purchase and payment of this jewelry on behalf of the wife of MALAYSIAN OFFICIAL 1.

865. Schwartz was invited to show MALAYSIAN OFFICIAL 1 jewelry at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles on or about January 3, 2014. LOW texted Schwartz that day to confirm that she was there. At the Bel Air Hotel, Schwartz had dinner with MALAYSIAN OFFICIAL 1 and others, and thereafter was invited to a suite to show jewelry to her. She selected 27 different necklaces and bracelets. {DOJ Court Indictment]

Perhaps from the proceeds of GST? As money has poured out of Malaysia into Najib’s private projects he has sought to replace it with this tax on household goods.  He has also sought to counter the stench of high level corruption emanating from his own activities by setting the MACC onto everybody beneath him instead.  Over 600 arrests just this year against people who plainly reckoned that since their boss regards his job a licence to plunder it is only right they should have a piece of the action.

Meanwhile, as we all know, the mounds of evidence of corruption by Najib himself, which resulted in charges and a planned arrest by the former Attorney General, have been shelved in Malaysia, thanks to Najib’s abuse of the constitution and sacking of that AG.

All of the above qualifies Najib not as a democrat, but as a full blown dictator, as everyone who knows anything about Malaysia knows and understands – with the possible exception of himself, since self-delusion is a characteristic of all dictators.

Not Shooting People Yet, But Najib Has Made Ready To Do So

Najib buys his followers (with stolen cash) and pays others to bend the law.  He cheats and rigs elections. He persecutes critics who point out such failings.

However, in case such measures cease to work (which he plainly fears they may in the face of his flagrant sins and gross unpopularity) he has already enacted a series of unprecedented and totalitarian measures that will give him powers to shoot, burn and kill whoever and whatever he likes simply by declaring a State of Emergency in the presence of his cousin the Defence Minister and a couple of other chosen flunkeys. The Council of Rulers protested this shocking law – Najib ignored them.

The United States should note that Najib has achieved something very remarkable in Malaysia:  he has united a raft of former sworn enemies into a unprecedented coalition against him.  It is a coalition that unites religions and races into a platform calling for reform and its de facto head is the opposition leader currently in jail.  Najib has even propelled his draconian predecessor, Dr Mahathir into joining this coalition and into calling for the re-strenghtening of Malaysia’s independent institutions against the strong-man at the centre.

On his own side, meanwhile, Najib has reduced his following within UMNO to a tight core of paid-up interest groups, which has mischievously joined forces with the extremist rump of its own former political foe the PAS party, which has been campaigning for an Islamic State in Malaysia.

It is a sad thing for the United States to be seemingly allying with a criminal ethnic nationalist in bed with Islamic extremists against a reformist coalition based on broad democratic values. Yet this is what appears to be shown by this latest invitation extended on behalf of President Trump and Najib is using it to his full advantage.

After all, like all true dictators of a totalitarian mould Najib has full control of Malaysia’s mainstream media – a control he is seeking to extend into the online world as soon as possible with plans to monitor Facebook and blogs for ‘seditious’ criticism.  This media is promoting dutifully via the papers, radio and TV that Najib’s presence in the Oval Office represents ‘proof’ that the devastating and detailed proceedings of the United States Justice Department are nothing but manufactured lies.

The creeps lining the corridors of Whitehall and the White House know that isn’t so.  They also know how a continuing criminal regime will damage Malaysia and the stability of the region. They must take responsibility for their superficial cynicism in allowing this charade to have taken place.


DOJ 1MDB probe independent of Najib-Trump meet

September 12, 2017

DOJ 1MDB probe independent of Najib-Trump meet, says The White House

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The US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) investigation into the 1MDB scandal is independent of the upcoming discussions between US President Donald Trump and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, the White House said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the discussions will instead focus on a wide variety of regional and security issues.

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“[They will be] talking about ways that they can strengthen counterterrorism cooperation, certainly the halt of ISIS, addressing North Korea and their continued actions, and making sure that we promote maritime security in the South China Sea.

“We’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation being led by DOJ, and that investigation is apolitical and certainly independent of anything taking place tomorrow (which is today),” she said at a press briefing yesterday.

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No Gua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua agenda at Trump-Najib Meet at the White House on September 12 Meeting–The Good News


Sanders was asked whether Trump would address the DOJ investigation or avoid the issue, and what is expected of the meeting between Najib and Trump, which is scheduled to take place later today.

The DOJ is currently investigating the alleged misappropriation of US$4.5 billion from 1MDB on grounds that some of the funds had been routed through the US financial system.


It has filed multiple civil forfeiture suits since last year to seize the alleged proceeds of the misappropriation (totalling US$1.7 billion) and also revealed in a court filing last month that a criminal investigation has been underway for some time.

Its civil forfeiture filings had linked a certain “Malaysian Official 1” (MO1) in the scandal, saying that some of the funds had been routed through his bank account, and had been used to purchase diamonds for his wife.

MO1 is alleged to be referring to Najib, but he has denied allegations of misappropriating public funds for personal gain.

China: Friend or Foe?

August 27, 2017

China: Friend or Foe?

by Dr. Munir

THE 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerston is reputed to have said: “There are no permanent friends, and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”

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This has become a truism in international relations. China is and will be the same in its conduct of global politics, even if its style and idiom are different from the last over two centuries of Anglo-Saxon diplomatic action and language.

Malaysia, too, should look to secure its interests in its international relations, including of course those with China, with whom the country has become close.

If Malaysia does not do so, any country getting the opportunity – not just China – will take the shirt off our back. This has happened in the past, particularly in the long colonial period under the British.

In the ASEAN region, the case of Vietnam is a good example of the ebb and flow of relations and interests. After its victory over the Americans in 1975, an ascendant Vietnam was viewed as a threat by the original five Asean member countries, a fear that was magnified by the Vietnamese invasion of what was then called the Democratic Kampuchea on Christmas Day, 1978.

Despite the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of the invaded country, ASEAN members held a higher common interest in territorial integrity and could not countenance the Vietnamese invasion. (ASEAN’s stand had the full support of China and the United States). Vietnam therefore was the enemy.

It was not until the Vietnamese withdrawal 10 years later that ASEAN began to explore a possible common future with Hanoi, even as Vietnam itself had to face up to a post-Cold War world and the economic development it had to bring to its people after the ravages of two generations of war.

In 1995, Vietnam applied and was accepted as a member of ASEAN. It is no longer the enemy of old. It is a friend in an ASEAN which has been able to hold together with sufficient common interests.

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Malaysia’s Najib  needs China. But it will come on China’s terms

Now with the rise of China, the common interests holding ASEAN together are challenged by separate responses to particular situations.

What is the ASEAN common interest in respect of China’s claims and activities in the South China Sea?

There is not any longer the kind of common position that held them together against the Vietnamese invasion of the then Kampuchea. While ASEAN member states have not become foes because of divergent interests in their relationship with China, their friendship has taken on various shades of grey, as the common interest becomes less clear and gets more murky.

The economic attraction and huge prospect of China obviously cannot be ignored. This promise for the future from China is real. In purchasing power parity terms – the preferred International Monetary Fund measure of economic size – China’s economy would be three times that of the United States in a generation.

Add to that an America that precisely has a President it does not need at this point in history. It is a no-brainer where the future lies.

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America spoke of a geo-strategic pivot in 2010 and of the instrumental Trans-Pacific Partnership. Look where it all is. China, of one-belt-one-road (changed to belt and road because of the suspicion raised that the “one” is China), announced at the end of 2013. Look at the roll-out that is taking place.

It would be an extremely stupid country that does not recognise all this. It would not serve its interest to wait on a dysfunctional America.

Those which put too much store by the United States, like Singapore, have to negotiate an adjustment. Those like Cambodia, long in the Chinese orbit, made adjustments long ago.

Malaysia is relatively new in the adjustment process. It is a plus that it is in it. But, as with anything new, it is understandable that there are different points of view on this, spiced by Malaysia’s own domestic politics.

There is the contention that because of the need to address 1MDB liabilities, Chinese investment is being accorded preferential treatment. It is also pointed out that China’s investment record in Africa and Sri Lanka has been exploitative and Malaysia is exposed to the same sort of practices.

Leaving aside a certain contradiction between the two assertions – there is no particular 1MDB-type problem in Africa or Sri Lanka – the main point that Malaysia must protect and promote its interests should be well taken.

However, there should not be a fixation with 1MDB, which causes Malaysia to be in a paralysis. The future of the country is bigger than 1MDB. Malaysia does not belong to any Prime Minister past, present or future.

So let us treat with China on its merits. Malaysian Ministers assure us the country’s interests will not be neglected. They must be held to it.

There is no doubt Malaysia needs the investments, particularly in infrastructure and connectivity. Malaysian government finances do not allow the kind of development expenditures needed without causing stress to the fiscal deficit, where there is a standing commitment to bring it down.

Nevertheless there is a need also to look at the country’s balance sheet to ensure liabilities and contingent liabilities do not stretch it too far. We do not want to be hocked to China, or to any country or institution, such that we lose our economic sovereignty. There has to be care and good calculation.

The East Coast Rail Link project provides a good example of how all the arguments of dependence and protection of interests should be assessed.

At RM55bil, it is a huge financial commitment. But the railway of 688km from Port Klang to Pengkalan Kubor (beyond Kota Baru) is also hugely transformative economically. Will the investment reap the return to justify the risk? How much will local businesses benefit from project construction?

Let’s face it. The financial terms are pretty good and nobody has come forward with project proposal or financing. It would be stupid of Malaysia to bury its head in the sand and not embrace this highly significant project.

With 85% of project cost being covered by a soft loan at 3.25% by China’s Exim Bank and an interest-payment moratorium of seven years, the terms are very attractive. (The remaining 15% is to be raised through Sukuk issuance by domestic institutions).

The test is execution. We are not aware of the massive projects China has executed in its own country and therefore underestimate its abilities.

We are afraid China will swipe the whole project construction for itself, bring the steel and the cement, and so the money comes in just to go out again – even if the country might gain economically from all the multipliers when the project is fully completed in 2024.

There is some expectation 53 million tonnes of cargo will bypass Singapore, moving from Port Klang to Kuantan and onwards, adding to Malaysian economic benefit, although with Belt and Road, the pattern of movement of cargo is set to change significantly, affecting Malaysia as well.

The Prime Minister has promised that at least 30% of the project would go to local contractors. We must make sure this happens. Local contractors are cynical. It is critical that local contractors are not played out. China’s good faith is on the line.

But, as China rises, and becomes more powerful, will it be bothered by good faith with small countries? On the other hand, should uncertainty about China’s behaviour in the future deter us from moving forward now?

This is the dilemma of small countries like Malaysia. This is why countries like Singapore in our region have been clear about wanting balance and choice, with the continued effective presence of America and with active involvement of companies, not just American but also European, Japanese and so on.

There are two scenarios before us. First, China’s near total dominance of the South-East Asian region, when ASEAN states will relate with Beijing within a certain paradigm of the Middle Kingdom’s economic, political and security interests – like getting a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea only when South-East Asian states recognise no other extra-regional state should be involved in dealing with outstanding matters.

Depending on predilection, South-East Asia is left to the tender mercies of a Great Power, or to the good faith of a resurgent Giant of the new Asian Century.

The other scenario is one of balance, of continued presence and significance of the United States particularly, which would give ASEAN states – and Malaysia – wiggle room and the opportunity to hedge. Even then there are the risks of playing both ends against the middle.

The second scenario is fading fast. The first is probably upon us. It is best right now to have China as a friend and do whatever we can to secure our interests.

Tan Sri Munir Majid is Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy) Chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

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Note: For those who wish to understand Xi Zinping’s China, I recommend that they read Tom Miller’s China’s Asian Dream. Combining a geo-political perspective with reportage from 12 countries, Miller offer a fresh perspective on the post-Deng China and what it means for the future of Asia.–Din Merican

Asia’s Evolving Security Order

August 8, 2017

Asia’s Evolving Security Order

by Le Hong Hiep

Le Hong Hiep is a Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, and the author of Living Next to the Giant: The Political Economy of Vietnam’s Relations With China Under Doi Moi.

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During his visit to Huế, Vietnam’s former royal capital, earlier this year, Japanese Emperor Akihito and his entourage were reminded of their country’s longstanding cultural connections with Vietnam. In the eighth century, Phat Triet, a Cham Buddhist monk from what is now central Vietnam, traveled to Japan, where he helped to popularize Cham music and dance, which was later incorporated into the Japanese imperial court’s gagaku performances. During his visit, the Emperor had the opportunity to enjoy the Vietnamese version of gagaku, which also has Cham origins.

The Emperor’s visit to Vietnam – the first by a Japanese monarch – represents an important milestone in the maturing bilateral relationship, which has been buttressed not only by strong cultural links, but also by robust economic ties and growing strategic cooperation. At the end of last year, Japan was Vietnam’s largest source of official development assistance (ODA), its second-largest foreign investor, and its fourth-largest trade partner.

Along with closer economic cooperation in recent years, Japan and Vietnam have been strengthening strategic ties. The bilateral “strategic partnership” that was established in 2009 was upgraded to an “extended strategic partnership” in 2014.

Defense cooperation, in particular, has progressed considerably. In 2011, Japan and Vietnam signed a Memorandum of Understanding to deepen defense ties, which now include exchanges of military delegations, naval goodwill visits, an annual defense-policy dialogue, and cooperation in military aviation and air defense.

Much of this collaboration has centered on the South China Sea, where China’s increasingly powerful navy has been asserting its sovereignty claims with increasing vigor in recent years. For example, China unilaterally established an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea and constructed seven artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago, located off the coast of southern Vietnam.

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Indonesian Air Force Sukhoi fighter pilots and crew walk across the tarmac after training for an upcoming military exercise at Hang Nadim Airport, Batam, Riau Islands, Indonesia October 3, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/M N Kanwa/ via REUTERS

In late July, China reportedly threatened to attack Vietnamese bases in the Spratlys if Vietnam did not stop its oil exploration activities in an area that lies within Vietnam’s continental shelf, but also within Beijing’s notorious nine-dash line. Given the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that China’s maritime claims based on that nine-dash line are invalid, Vietnam has superior claims to the area. But Vietnam decided to back down, rather than face the risk of armed confrontation.

That does not, however, mean that China’s coercive actions – which not only undermine Vietnam’s own security, but also threaten the regional status quo – are not being met with resistance. In 2013, Japan’s Defense Minister, Itsunori Onodera, visited Vietnam’s Fourth Navy Zone headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay to observe Vietnam’s defense setup for the Spratlys. During that visit, Japan and Vietnam agreed to expand defense cooperation into new areas, especially modernization of Vietnam’s maritime defense agencies and military technology.

At Vietnam’s request, Japan has also provided the country with six patrol boats to support its defense activities in the South China Sea. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, visiting Vietnam in January, pledged to provide six more boats worth $338 million.

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Japan will also reportedly sell Vietnam two advanced radar-based earth observation satellites. The order, expected to be delivered by 2018 and funded by Japanese ODA, will enhance Vietnam’s maritime awareness in the South China Sea. Vietnam is also said to be considering a purchase of second-hand P-3C anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft from Japan – a fleet that would likely be assigned to missions in the South China Sea.

From Vietnam’s perspective, Japan is perhaps the most important strategic partner with which to counterbalance China’s maritime expansionism and constrain its hegemonic ambitions. Japan is not only economically and militarily capable; it is also willing to help its Southeast Asian neighbors, so that they, too, can contribute to maintaining the regional balance of power. Japan’s power and longstanding antagonistic relationship with China reinforces the credibility of Japanese security commitments toward Vietnam and other countries in the region.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Vietnamese supreme leader Nguyen Phu Trong have agreed that Japan will provide more used vessels to shore up Vietnam’s maritime law enforcement capabilities to counter China’s increasing power in the South China Sea.

Vietnam’s interest in defense cooperation with Japan dovetails with the Abe Administration’s goal of “normalizing” Japan’s defense posture, in order to reduce the country’s dependence on the United States. Japan considers Vietnam a particularly promising security partner, precisely because of the countries’ shared maritime security interests.

Now that US President Donald Trump’s Administration is threatening to reduce military engagement with Asia, the need for strategic cooperation among regional actors is becoming even more acute. This goes beyond bilateral relationships, to include potentially the creation of a “principled security network,” as US President Barack Obama’s Administration once proposed.

Such an arrangement would resemble what Anne-Marie Slaughter and Mira Rapp-Hooper have called “mesh networks,” which “are highly resilient, because no individual node is critical to the structure’s survival – even if one link breaks, the structure survives.” Japan’s enhanced security ties with Vietnam and other like-minded Asian countries (such as Australia, the Philippines, Singapore, and India), may lead to the emergence of such a resilient network, which can serve as a vital hedge against declining US commitment to the region.


Of course, significant challenges lie ahead. Historical animosities continue to cast a shadow over Japan’s relationships with some Asian countries. Vietnam recalls the dark days of occupation by Japan during World War II, when famine killed up to two million Vietnamese.

But Vietnam has largely overcome its grudge against Japan. In fact, Akihito’s meeting, on his recent visit, with relatives of Japanese soldiers who remained after WWII to start families with Vietnamese women served as a symbol of bilateral reconciliation. The path toward ever-deeper economic and strategic cooperation, shaped by convergent national interests, now seems clearer than ever.