Thursday, July 24, 2014

Indonesia’s next President Jokowi needs to step up


The election is over and Indonesia’s people have spoken. They have chosen a small-town businessman over the elite as their next president.

Many who supported Joko “Jokowi” Widodo have high hopes for the destitute and the working poor. They recognize that challenge is enormous. Indonesia is growing in prosperity but social exclusion is a serious problem.

Jokowi has runs on board, with his emphasis on affordable healthcare and his obvious commitment to Jakarta’s poor. He has also come out strongly for folks living with a disability and other marginalized groups. But his record on organized labor is less convincing.

Jokowi has promised that workers will be more prosperous under his presidency. But his role in the 2014 Jakarta minimum wage negotiations sent a different message. In a year where there was over 8 percent inflation, a wage rise of 10 percent didn’t account for much. Workers might have won a big increase in the previous year, but Rp 2,441,000 (US$212) per month is hardly generous in a city like Jakarta.

Jokowi’s approach to the trade unions in the lead-up to the election was also short-sighted and was no small part responsible for divisions in a labor movement that should have been behind him all the way.

The fact that Said Iqbal — the leader of the trade union recognized internationally as Indonesia’s most effective — supported Prabowo Subianto instead of Jokowi suggests that there’s a great deal of work to be done.

Iqbal of course made his own decision. And he has been paying for it ever since.

But Jokowi’s failure to engage seriously with the labor question was a contributing factor. Iqbal was disappointed with the 2014 wage negotiations. But he nevertheless repeatedly invited Jokowi (along with Prabowo and others) to debate labor policy before the elections. Jokowi never showed up. Prabowo did.

What’s more, Jokowi went on record urging workers to compromise with their bosses rather than protesting in the streets during the campaign. This sounds sensible — and indeed is good advice in cases where bosses are fair and reasonable — but it is also dangerous.

Workers’ right to engage in public protest is hard-won in post-Soeharto Indonesia. The last thing the country needs is statements from a presidential candidate suggesting that they shouldn’t exercise that right.

A first priority for Jokowi as president should be to bring all the trade union confederations to the table, including the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPI), which Iqbal heads. Indonesia’s future relies on foreign investment and the prosperity of local business, but also on the prosperity of workers.

If people in full-time manufacturing jobs can’t afford to educate their children or save for their future, then the country is in trouble. And few people can claim better credentials than Iqbal when it comes to empowering workers to take their place in the new Indonesia.

Jokowi and Iqbal should be natural allies. They share a commitment to universal health care and to the welfare of Indonesia’s poor. It would be a terrible waste if poor decisions on both sides in the lead-up to the election created sworn enemies where there should be allies.

These two giants in the fight for social democracy need to make peace.

As Idul Fitri approaches, the time is ripe for rapprochement.

Nothing would be a more statesman-like act from a new president than extending the olive branch.


The writer is director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney. She has been researching the Indonesian labor movement since 1995.


Hong Kong democracy and Beijing’s promise

But the position of the Chinese authorities has hardened since 2007. Officials are indicating that candidates have to ‘love China, love Hong Kong’. There will also be a nomination committee that will exercise ‘institutional nomination, implementing the majority will’. What seems to be intended is that a pro-Beijing elite will capture the majority of seats on the nomination committee, which would then control the list of candidates for the chief executive election. The requirement that candidates have to ‘love China, love Hong Kong’ will therefore form the basis of a political screening process.

Such insincerity on the part of the Chinese authorities has led to impatience in the pro-democracy movement. The situation is becoming more confrontational as Beijing shows no inclination to back down: suggestions for compromise initiated by moderate groups have been given the cold shoulder. More significant still, the pro-Beijing united front has formed many ‘patriotic organisations’ which have been engaging in numerous confrontations in political seminars and gatherings. Civilised political discourse in the territory has been deteriorating and this in turn contributes to the political polarisation of society.

There are also deeper structural factors involved that can be seen across East Asia, and grievances are accumulating. Globalisation and economic integration with Mainland China have led to a widening gap between the rich and the poor. And, for the bulk of the population, especially for young graduates, real wages have been in decline for more than a decade. Many young people cannot afford their own home — and there are also widespread complaints about the general difficulties of getting married and having children.

Against this backdrop of growing social grievances, the people of Hong Kong are also seriously concerned by the collusion between top government officials and big businesses. In the past this was a vague concern, but with the investigations of former chief executive Donald Tsang and former independent commissioner against corruption Timothy Tong, as well as the current corruption court case involving the former chief secretary for administration, Rafael Hui, and the Sun Hung Kai Properties tycoons, the collusion has become more than apparent.

People increasingly realise that policies favouring big businesses come at their expense, especially those concerning land sales, provident fund management, the absence of collective bargaining rights for trade unions and the lack of competition in many sectors, including supermarkets.

Since the massive protests on 1 July 2003 against the proposed Basic Law Article 23, the Chinese authorities have increased their interference in Hong Kong politics, leading to a vicious circle: as the Chinese leaders become more worried, they interfere more, triggering more resentment, and the Chinese authorities in turn believe that they have to intervene more.

The anti-patriotic education campaign in 2012 was a good example. Former president Hu Jintao considered that ‘the hearts of Hong Kong people had not returned to the Motherland’. They therefore had to be better educated. But the patriotic education program was rejected by parents and students as brainwashing, and as going against the community’s core values.

On 10 June 2014, the State Council Information Office released a white paper on the implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ model, with the intention of lowering the expectations of the people of Hong Kong about political reform. The basic message was that whatever power Hong Kong has derives from Beijing. It also asserts that local ‘judges have a “basic political requirement” to love the country’. This has alarmed the people of Hong Kong because the independence of the judiciary is one of their most significant core values. The white paper probably contributed to the huge turnout (around half a million people) for the following pro-democracy rally on 1 July.

It seems unlikely that Beijing will grant Hong Kong genuine democracy. But widespread unrest is also unlikely: most people in Hong Kong are moderate and value stability and prosperity. Still, the government will lose legitimacy in the eyes of the people, and society will be further polarised.

Joseph Cheng is Professor of Political Science at the City University of Hong Kong.

MH17, Gaza and the value of human life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of human life. About the lives so cheaply lost on MH17. About the anger and grief this tragedy has unleashed. About the sense of sacredness and solemn ceremony that followed it. There’s something cathartic about all this. That we mark this with ritual public grieving tells us that these lives – and therefore our own lives – are sanctified; that their termination is an almost blasphemous violation. On some level this reassures us, which is probably why we pore over news coverage of such events, seizing on small harrowing details and the personal stories of the victims.

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about why it is these lives particularly that have earned such a response. The more I heard journalists and politicians talk about how 37 Australians were no longer with us, the stranger it began to sound. Something of that magnitude happens just about every week on our roads, for instance. In the last week for which we have official data, 29 people were killed this way. The youngest was two. We held no ceremonies, and we had no public mourning of the fact that they, too, were no longer with us.

Why? I don’t ask critically, because I’m as unmoved by the road toll as anyone. But it’s surely worth understanding how it is we decide which deaths matter, and which don't; which ones are galling and tragic, and which ones are mere statistics. We tell ourselves we care about the loss of innocent life as though it’s a cardinal, unwavering principle, but the truth is we rationalise the overwhelming majority of it. What does that tell us about ourselves?

Here, the most obvious counterpoint is the nightmare unfolding in Gaza. As I write this, nearly 600 people – overwhelmingly civilians a third of whom are children – have been killed. By the time this goes to print, that number will be redundant. There’s grief, there’s anger and there’s some international hand-wringing, but nothing that compares with the urgency and rage surrounding MH17, even if there is twice the human cost.


If you take your cues from social media, on which this comparison is being relentlessly drawn, the reason is simple: Palestinians are not rich Westerners, and so their lives simply don’t matter. No doubt there’s some truth to this: humans are tribal animals, and we’re as tribal in death as we are in life. But it’s not an entirely satisfactory explanation because it comes from people who would likely exempt themselves from this rule. And yet those same people have almost certainly grieved comparatively little over the thousands of South Sudanese killed in the past six months, or the 1.5 million to have been displaced. Should we conclude they value African lives less than Palestinian ones? 

It’s not merely a matter of cultural affinity. Consider the Egyptian press, which has wholeheartedly embraced the Israeli offensive. “Sorry Gazans, I cannot support you until you rid yourselves of Hamas,” wrote Adel Nehaman in Al-Watan. He was comprehensively outdone by Al-Ahram’s Azza Sami who tweeted “Thank you Netanyahu, and God give us more men like you to destroy Hamas”. Then she prayed for the deaths of all “Hamas members, and everyone who loves Hamas”. Meanwhile, television presenter Tawfik Okasha urged Egyptians to “forget Gaza”, adding for colour that “Gazans are not men” because they don’t “revolt against Hamas”. That, presumably includes the hospital patients or the kids playing football on the beach who have been bombed in the past week or so.

This is about as thorough a dehumanisation of Gazans as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Israel’s media doesn’t even come close. And this in a country where the Palestinian cause has been a kind of social glue for decades. But that’s what happens when the sanctity of life meets the power of politics. For the Egyptian media – now effectively a propaganda arm of the government – Gaza merely represents a chance to attack the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged. It doesn’t matter who dies. It doesn’t matter how many. What matters is that their lives – and especially their deaths – can be used in the service of the story they are so desperate to tell.

And that, I fear, is a universal principle. It is not merely the death of innocents that moves us, even in very large numbers. It is the circumstances of it that matter. We decide which deaths to mourn, which to ignore, which to celebrate, and which to rationalise on the basis of what story we want them to tell. Palestinian deaths matter more than Sudanese ones if you want to tell a story of Israeli aggression. Israeli deaths matter more than Palestinian ones if you want to tell a story of Hamas terrorism. Asylum seeker deaths at sea matter more than those on land if you want tell a story about people smuggling. But a death in detention trumps all if your story is about government brutality. And a death from starvation matters if you want to tell a story about global inequality – which so few people do. Everyone will insist they’re merely giving innocent human lives their due. And that’s true but only in the most partial sense. These are political stories driven by political commitments.

MH17 allowed us to mourn and to rage because it delivered a story we were well prepared to tell. It’s easy to rage when the plot is one of Russian complicity, roguishness and cover-up. And frankly, Russia deserves the whack it’s getting for its handling of the aftermath. But in my most naive moments I hope for a world where the value of human life is universal enough that we can outrage ourselves; where we can tell the stories we don’t particularly want to; the stories in which we are neither the heroes nor the victims, but the guilty. That’s what we’re asking of Russia. One day someone mourning no less than we are will ask it of us.

Waleed Aly is a Fairfax columnist. He hosts Drive on ABC Radio National and is a lecturer in politics at Monash University.

Special Report: Inside Xi Jinping's Purge of China's Oil Mandarins (incl: Indonesia)

Oil executive Jiang Jiemin rose to power in Communist China in time-honored fashion: by hitching his star to a mighty mentor.

In Jiang's case, that patron was another oil man, Zhou Yongkang, who went on to become the chief of China's internal security apparatus and one of the country's most powerful men.

Like Zhou before him, Jiang rose to the top of country’s biggest oil producer, China National Petroleum Corporation. In return, say people familiar with his career, Jiang helped Zhou build power by using the oil giant to dispense patronage. In March last year Jiang ascended even higher, when he was named to run the agency that oversees all of China's biggest state-owned companies.

Their relationship was on display ahead of the party's 18th congress in November 2012, when both attended a banquet for CNPC veterans of a 1980s drive to find oil in remote western China. In toasts and remarks, Jiang continually referred to Zhou as "the leader" and urged the oil men to "accept the leadership of the Party's central committee" and of Zhou himself, says an executive who was at the banquet. The flattery, the executive says, "was so obvious."

Today, the retainer's loyalty to Zhou has backfired. In September, Jiang was sacked and arrested, a victim of a seismic power struggle as Chinese President Xi Jinping sets out to crush Zhou, the most senior leader targeted in a corruption probe since the Communist Party took power in 1949.

In a bid to isolate his rival, Xi is steadily taking down Zhou's extensive web of colleagues, political allies, relatives, staff and business associates of his family, according to people familiar with the investigation. Corruption investigators are swarming the CNPC group, where Zhou, 71, a geophysical engineer, built a vast network of friends and allies over the decades.

Jiang, 58, is the most senior executive to fall in an ongoing purge of current and former managers of the petroleum giant. He is accused of using his position and CNPC's massive budget to help Zhou buy political favors and maintain his network of supporters across China, according to people with ties to the Chinese leadership.

The campaign against Zhou is roiling the entire Communist Party. A Reuters examination of the oil-industry component of the crackdown shows the extent of the purge, a drama that will have repercussions well beyond China.


"The scale of the probe into CNPC is unprecedented, but perhaps the severity of corruption at the company is also unprecedented," says Qing Yi, a Beijing-based independent economist.

CNPC is one of the world's largest companies, with global operations and 2013 revenue of $432 billion. Its publicly listed subsidiary, PetroChina, trades in Hong Kong, Shanghai and New York and is the world's fourth-biggest oil producer by market capitalization. Jiang ran both the parent and PetroChina from 2007 until last year, when he briefly headed the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC).

Interviews with senior CNPC officials, statements from the authorities and an analysis of the positions held by the arrested executives indicate that investigators are scrutinizing offshore and domestic spending, including oil service contracts, equipment supply deals and oil field acquisitions.

The investigation has already touched CNPC group operations in Canada, Indonesia, China and Turkmenistan, say people familiar with the proceedings. In addition to Jiang, the Chinese authorities have confirmed the arrests of CNPC vice president Wang Yongchun, PetroChina vice presidents Li Hualin and Ran Xinquan, and the listed unit's chief geologist, Wang Daofu.

Criminal prosecutors are now investigating Jiang and Wang Yongchun for bribery, the official Xinhua news agency reported July 14, without giving details. In China, the announcement of a criminal probe means charges are almost certain to follow. Acquittals are rare.

SASAC, the state-owned company regulator, said last year that Li, Ran and Wang Daofu were under investigation for "severe breaches of discipline." In China, this phrase is often a euphemism for corruption, but SASAC did not go into details.


Oil industry sources have told Reuters that another six senior CNPC group executives have been detained and are under investigation, but there have been no public announcements of these cases. Dozens of other managers have been questioned as investigators methodically unravel Zhou's petroleum faction, according to senior officials at CNPC in Beijing.

The authorities have yet to reveal any specific evidence against Jiang or any of the other detained CNPC managers. CNPC and PetroChina did not respond to questions for comment on the investigation or arrests. The party hasn't made any public announcement about Zhou's fate.

As is routine in Chinese corruption cases, Jiang, Zhou and the other people named in this article as suspects couldn't be reached for comment, nor could their lawyers be identified.

While not dismissing the graft allegations, some Chinese say the purged officials appear, in part, to be victims of a brutal struggle within the Communist Party. "All this is not transparent, so people are suspecting that's the case," says Mao Yushi, an advocate of economic reform and honorary president of a private Beijing-based consultancy, Unirule Institute of Economics. "I share the suspicion."

Anxiety now grips the non-descript offices inside CNPC's steel-and-glass Beijing headquarters, according to staff working at the building. Managers are being regularly taken away for questioning, company officials say. Some prominent executives have returned to their desks after the interrogations, while others remain in custody. Senior staff told Reuters they expect more arrests.

To spearhead his crackdown, Xi has enlisted a close ally: Wang Qishan, a veteran official with a reputation as the Communist Party's top trouble-shooter and an implacable corruption fighter. Wang heads the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which as the party's internal watchdog division is the most powerful investigative body in China. On June 30, the commission said Jiang had been expelled from the party for corruption. The commission did not respond to requests for comment.


Xi is determined to bring down Zhou for allegedly plotting an audacious power grab ahead of the 18th Party Congress in November 2012, people familiar with the probe say. Zhou is accused of attempting to promote his supporters into the leadership so that he could rule from behind the scenes after he retired, they say. He has been under virtual house arrest in Beijing since late last year.

Zhou was a relentless networker over his decades at the top of Chinese industry and politics, oil industry veterans say, cultivating supporters throughout China. Jiang was one of his agents in building these connections. Some of this support for Zhou involved tapping the pork barrel.

At the helm of CNPC, Jiang recruited political allies for Zhou by approving proposals to build refineries in a number of provinces, a person with ties to the leadership told Reuters. "Local governments were grateful because the refineries helped boost their economies and created jobs," the source said, without pinpointing specific deals. "Through Jiang Jiemin, Zhou Yongkang won over their loyalty."

Under Jiang, one of CNPC's most controversial moves was a 2008 decision to build a $6 billion refinery and petrochemical project at Pengzhou, near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. Zhou was party secretary in Sichuan between 1999 and 2002 and established a political stronghold in the southwestern province. Investigators have made many arrests in Sichuan in the campaign against Zhou.

From the start, there were strong environmental protests against building a refinery in the earthquake-prone area. Some critics of the deal also questioned the wisdom of situating the complex so far inland, in an area far from ports and without major nearby oilfields. Most of China's major refineries are on the coast with easy access to imported crude.

Without mentioning Zhou, a CNPC official with knowledge of the project told Reuters that Jiang backed the plant because he wanted to please political leaders. "It doesn't make much sense to build the project there," the CNPC official said. "Where do you source your crude oil?"

In its project proposals, CNPC said the Sichuan refinery would process oil from Russia, Kazakhstan and western China. Some industry analysts say southwest China has very little refining capacity, and the Pengzhou project fills that gap.

An earthquake devastated Sichuan in 2008. Undeterred, Zhou prodded local officials to beef up safety measures and press ahead with the refinery. "Build up Sichuan's heavy petrochemical industry," he urged on a 2010 visit to the province, according to reports in the state-run media. When the refinery started production this year, China's economic planning agency said it would boost the regional economy.


PetroChina, with a market capitalization of about $225 billion, is China's dominant oil and gas producer, with global operations including oilfields, refineries, pipelines and petrochemical plants. It is a subsidiary of CNPC, and yet a power in its own right: PetroChina holds most of its parent's assets on its balance sheet.

While Jiang was at the helm of both companies, PetroChina launched a spending bonanza, heeding a political command to secure access to more offshore oil as part of Beijing's campaign to boost energy security. Annual capital expenditure almost doubled to about $57 billion over the six years to 2012. In the five years to 2013, the company also spent $25 billion on overseas assets. These outlays are now under the microscope.

CNPC vice-president Wang Yongchun was the first senior oil executive to fall, late last August, as part of a wider campaign to roll up Zhou Yongkang's network.

Days later, in early September, the probe into Jiang was made public. More than 300 of Zhou's relatives, allies and business associates have been arrested, detained or questioned, according to people briefed on the investigation. Authorities have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) from Zhou's family members and associates, they said.

Zhou's last public appearance was in Beijing on October 1. He has been under virtual house arrest since late last year, people briefed on the probe say.


The purge then broadened:

* About the time Jiang was arrested, the former head of PetroChina's Indonesia operations, Wei Zhigang, was recalled from his post and is now under investigation, three Chinese oil industry sources told Reuters. Senior CNPC sources in Beijing say investigators may probe two oilfield acquisitions in Indonesia, where it appears the company overpaid for assets.

* In December, investigators detained CNPC's chief accountant, Wen Qingshan, two people with direct knowledge of the probe told Reuters. Wen was also chairman of PetroChina's Hong Kong-listed natural gas distribution arm, Kunlun Energy. In statements to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the companies said Wen had resigned because of unspecified "personal matters."

* Early this year, Zhang Benquan, head of PetroChina's operations in Iran, was taken away for investigation, said two Chinese oil industry sources familiar with the situation.

* In May came the arrest of PetroChina's overseas operations chief, Bo Qiliang. Company sources told Reuters that investigators visited his Beijing home and took him away for questioning. In a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange on May 16, the company said Bo left his post due to an unspecified change in his role. Earlier, he was chief of PetroChina's operations in Kazakhstan.

* An oil industry official in Beijing confirmed a report this month in the financial news magazine Caixin that two other top oil men were under investigation: Li Zhiming, the head of CNPC and PetroChina operations in Canada, and Beijing-based Song Yiwu, deputy head of CNPC's overseas operations.

The investigation of Jiang also involves his alleged role in the use of CNPC funds to cover up a politically embarrassing tragedy.


Investigators have questioned Jiang over the transfer of CNPC funds to pay off the victims of a March 2012 car crash involving the son of Ling Jihua, a top aide to then-President Hu Jintao, three sources with ties to the Chinese leadership told Reuters.

Ling's son, Ling Gu, in his twenties, was killed while driving a Ferrari in Beijing. One of the two young women passengers was also killed and the other injured.

At the behest of Zhou Yongkang, Jiang arranged payments of millions of yuan to the dead woman's bereaved family and the surviving passenger in a bid to buy their silence, said the sources. All three sources, who are not political rivals of Zhou, said they were briefed by investigators or senior officials.

In helping cover up the crash, they said, Zhou wanted to gain influence over Ling. When President Hu belatedly learned of the affair, he was disappointed and demoted Ling to head the United Front Work Department, a lower-level ministry. Ling and Hu could not be reached for comment. The United Front Work Department did not respond to requests for comment.

In expelling Jiang from the party, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection didn't mention the Ling case or any specific findings against him. It said Jiang was guilty of taking advantage of his post to benefit others and extort huge bribes.

For a time after the car crash, Jiang's career appeared on track. At the 18th Party Congress in November 2012, Xi took over as party boss. Zhou retired. Jiang was elevated to the Communist Party's Central Committee, the elite, 200-odd member group which includes the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the supreme decision making body headed by Xi.


If Jiang felt any disquiet about the crash probe, he showed no sign when he appeared that month at an assembly of bosses of state-owned firms in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Dressed in a black suit and pink tie, he readily answered questions about CNPC's plans.

Xi, however, was gathering his forces against Zhou and the oil faction.

At the congress, Xi's fix-it man, Wang Qishan, was promoted to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee and named head of the party watchdog commission. That made Wang the second-most powerful leader in China behind president Xi, according to political insiders in Beijing. Wang immediately sharpened the watchdog's bite with extra investigators, publicly warning that no corrupt official was safe, no matter how senior.

The rolling purge has left PetroChina's board scrambling to keep markets informed as authorities ensnare top executives in the investigation.

"As soon as the news spread, the audit committee consulted hired lawyers in order to decide what appropriate course of action should be taken," says Franco Bernabe, the former head of communications giant Telecom Italia SpA, who served for some 10 years as an independent director of PetroChina until May. Bernabe declined to discuss specific allegations against the arrested executives.

Bernabe said management has tightened guidelines and procedures to limit the potential for graft. But some senior managers say the sheer size of the oil empire Zhou and Jiang built will make change very difficult. The CNPC-PetroChina group has dozens of subsidiaries and employs more than 1.6 million people.

One sign of the murk: Some senior PetroChina managers familiar with the investigation say they aren't even sure where in the sprawling conglomerate – parent CNPC, listed subsidiary PetroChina, or the other units – each of the many alleged offenses is supposed to have taken place.

(Reported by David Lague and Charlie Zhu in Hong Kong and Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing. Editing by Michael Williams)


INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW REPORT - Old Scores and New Grudges: Evolving Sino-Japanese Tensions

The deterioration in relations between China and Japan has spiraled beyond an island sovereignty dispute and risks an armed conflict neither wants. A November regional summit is a fence-mending opportunity – if the two countries’ leaders rise above nationalism and manage multiple flashpoints.

Politically viable options to bridge the wide gap on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute remain elusive. New frictions have arisen: China’s declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) above the East China Sea deepened Tokyo’s anxiety that it desires both territory and a new regional order; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and statements that suggest a retreat from past apologies for the Second World War atrocities reopened old wounds. Asia’s two most powerful countries increasingly prioritise defence build-up over diplomacy. Their law-enforcement vessels, navies and military planes engage in frequent and risky encounters at sea and in the air. Old Scores and New Grudges: Evolving Sino-Japanese Tensions, Crisis Group's second report on the deteriorating relationship, analyses events, actors and dynamics that complicate ties and impede diplomacy.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • China should instruct the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) navy and air force to refrain from risk-seeking and avoid collisions during patrol, exercise and surveillance. Japan, in turn, should instruct its Maritime and Air Self-Defence Forces (SDF) to take extra caution to avoid collisions or conflict with the PLA.


  • Japan should continue to urge resumption of the multi-agency, high-level bilateral maritime affairs consultation process and operationalisation of a defence agency communications mechanism. China should drop political conditions for such actions. Both countries should prioritise implementing the non-binding Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) they have agreed on.


  • China and Japan should establish hotlines between their coast guards, and between the National Security Council (Japan) and the National Security Commission (China), and ensure that those in charge have authority to speedily reach decision-makers and frontline personnel in an emergency.

“China should calm anti-Japan rhetoric, delink wartime history from the islands dispute and open senior political channels to Japan”, says China Analyst Yanmei Xie. “Japan should avoid actions and comments suggesting revisionist history views”.

“November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is a chance for the two leaders to meet and smooth troubled waters”, says Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia Deputy Project Director. “Both countries should seize it”.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Imams called in as Aboriginal inmates warm to radical Islam

Australia's spy agency has been enlisted to help crack down on radicalisation in jails after revelations Aboriginal prisoners are converting to Islam and risk becoming extremists.

Sheikhs and imams are being brought into prisons to deliver de-radicalisation messages during Friday prayers, but two prominent Sydney sheikhs have told a high-level forum that chaplaincy services are grossly under-funded and prison converts are misinterpreting the religion.

A small but high-risk group of radicals are causing concern to Corrective Services NSW and it is believed recruitment to Islam is active, particularly among Aboriginal inmates.

Sheikh Omar Hammouche, who has worked with inmates and prison chaplains, says faith is a powerful tool in the reformation of prisoners but the lack of Muslim chaplaincy services in NSW means prison converts are misinterpreting Islam.


There are just two Muslim chaplains spread across 10 of the state's prisons.

Sheikh Omar told a Corrective Services-sponsored forum at Sydney University's Law School last month that Islam was primarily taught face-to-face and knowledge needed to be properly explained.

He cited the case of one of British soldier Lee Rigby's killers, who wildly misinterpreted a line from the Koran - "kill the unbelievers wherever you see them" – to justify the stabbing on a London street.

"There isn’t enough capacity to address the needs and the requirements of the Muslim inmates," Sheikh Omar said. "When there are insufficient chaplaincy services appointed, we find that people then rely on other means to get their Islamic education ... Yes, you may be able to police the information they have, the books they receive but you can’t police the understanding they take from that or the application."

About 9 per cent of inmates in NSW are Muslim, even though only 3 per cent of the general population identifies as Islamic.

Sheikh Omar said many had a poor understanding of Islam. "Dare I say, if they knew their religion ... they wouldn’t be in prison in the first place so they need that face-to-face instruction."

Some imams and sheikhs struggled to communicate effectively with inmates. Senior management began consulting with the Muslim community in western Sydney a year ago and sharing information and contacts with intelligence authorities.

Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman, secretary of the Australian National Imams Council, told the forum many prison imams were avoiding hot topics such as jihad, Syria and Iraq for fear of being labelled jihadi supporters.

"These are topics our youth want to hear," he said. "If I’m not going to address it in the proper form, then they will go listen to someone else."

Australian National University researcher Clarke Jones, who is writing a book on prison radicalisation, said extremist conversions were rare because terrorism inmates tended to be at the bottom of the prison pecking order in Australia.

He cited the recent case of Sydney man Khaled Sharrouf, who posted images of himself fighting in Iraq and standing over slaughtered bodies, as an unusual case of an inmate committing acts of jihad upon release.

Sharrouf served four years for his role in the Pendennis terror plot and recently said on Twitter he received weekly lessons from al-Qaeda leader Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi via the jail phone, a claim that had not been verified.

"The problem is a lot of these de-radicalisation programs are very generic ... and tend to be a one-size-fits-all model," Dr Clarke said.

Asmi Wood, senior research fellow at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, was aware of Aboriginal conversions in prison and said elders were concerned that converts would join foreign jihad but he had seen no evidence of it.

Rod Moore, chaplaincy co-ordinator for Corrective Services NSW, told the conference NSW had "a long way to go" to increase chaplaincy services but the program led the way globally

Read more:

Thailand’s Democracy Under Siege

If the country is to reform, it must go beyond politics.

Like many other countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand is historically and culturally an inherently unequal society. The Thai language, for example, serves as a linguistic medium imbued with hierarchical indicators and class-based insinuation. Before addressing someone correctly, you are expected to determine first and foremost the person’s age. Then, the correct prefix can be placed in front of the name. Other linguistic and colloquial additives are used to connote the speaker’s positioning, chosen, preferred, or congenital, in the country’s social pyramid. And this is not to mention the continued, albeit waning, existence of royal and aristocratic titles and surnames among the populace.

Many other nations, you might argue, also have their share of royal families and privileged classes. But in Thailand, the system has been exceptionally well-preserved in the sanctified value system that belies the liberal veneer.

The stark contrast between rich and poor in Thailand may not be as extreme as it is in the least developed countries, but the unaddressed and reinforced disparity is a contributing factor that has fueled Thailand’s chronic conflicts.

Most elites in Thailand either have royal connections or derive their massive wealth from big businesses that, in turn, send tributary donations to royal and governmental projects. A large number of Thai elite were educated overseas and send their children abroad to ensure their continued privileges in the society. Public schools and educational institutes in Thailand, despite their relatively good standards, are nowhere near being among the world’s best. As testimony to Thailand’s conservatism, Thai university students still have to wear uniforms until graduation.

The Class Divide 

Looking at Thailand’s political crisis from a class-based perspective alone is flawed, offering only an incomplete explanation. Still, it is undeniable that Thailand’s social division is an outcome of a lopsided social structuring and a growing divide between conservative and progressive elements.
While these observations are mostly a micro picture of Thailand, it is precisely these cultural and socio-historical attributes that make democratization in Thailand problematic. At the risk of indulging in conspiracy theory, one often wonders if the masses in Thailand have been kept ignorant on purpose. State mechanisms, from school curricula to civil service codes, have long emphasized unity and conformity at the expense of values like equality and egalitarianism.

Currently, government agencies in Thailand are being deployed by the military government to monitor dissenting views with the purpose of keeping Thais in the cocoon of so-called national unity. Their rationale? The Thai monarchy has been a uniquely and solely benevolent pillar in the Thai society – as if no other social elements have ever done any good for the country. In short, diverse opinions will not be accommodated as this interferes with the perceived need to keep the country “unified.” Thailand’s overseas offices have also been instructed to reach out and explain the military government’s plans and policies, on the misguided assumption that a correct “understanding” of the junta’s “good intentions” will encourage the international community to accept and approve of their methods.

The exceptionalism and excessive glorification of the established order in Thailand, in this case the palace, is self-entrenching and carries enormous risk. It has done little to advance democratic education among Thais, resulting in an uneven and superficial understanding of their rights and duties as citizens. Suppressing dissent and instilling a sense of forced reverence – as evidenced in the several cases of arrests and other psychological warfare methods – is not the optimal way to strengthen democracy. The chronic protests that have repeatedly occurred among different groups serve as evidence of a serious breakdown in normal policy and political process.

Rethinking Paternalistic Rule

The problem with Thailand’s democratization, then, does not lie solely in Thaksin Shinawatra or in the excessive influence of parliament. Rather, it is the culture of impunity indirectly sustained by an unequal social structure. It is a common knowledge in Thailand that if you get caught breaking the law, you are quite likely to get off the hook if you have a powerful connection, palatial and political especially.

Given this starting point, many Thais have little faith in political institutions. This, in turn, breeds a culture of protests, extra-parliamentary politics, and the competition to attach oneself to individuals with a view to obtaining impunity. Personality cults and patronage-style governance weaken institutions, creating a cycle of corruption, bad governance, and double-standards, which further undermines public trust in politicians and the democratic process.

At some point, the Thai leadership will need to ask whether this cycle of paternalistic rule is sustainable. Elsewhere around the world, official institutions have learned, willingly or otherwise, to reform and adjust to changing socio-political contexts. The Thai military, like other actors in Thailand, will need to do the same. While it is using the opportunity of the coup to undertake several initiatives, such as stamping out mafia gangs and cleaning up corrupt systems, it will be interesting to see if it can resist the siren call of corruption and vested interests itself.

In particular, the two-pronged approach of running a “happiness campaign” of free concerts and fun festivals for the general public, while leaning on individuals to report in and sign a letter pledging to stay out of political activities has drawn widespread flak and raises eyebrows about the military’s expressed intention of consolidating democracy. Resisting pressure now will only mean larger, more severe cracks later. Silence, especially on the part of the palace, is not always golden. Palace defenders should protect the Thai monarchy from being exploited for political gain. One way to do this would be by improving the application of the lèse-majesté law to prevent unfair or excessive punishment. Most importantly, the junta needs to understand that reform of the monarchy does not necessarily mean abolishing it, as it seems to fear. And keeping the public in blissful innocence will only delay the nation’s political maturity.

Like it or not, Thailand needs to make room for different opinions. On the political and administrative fronts, more open debate is needed. Hunting down dissenting voices betrays the military’s insecurities, not its strength Thai people need to be better informed on politics so that they can engage in substantive, quality political debates, as opposed to the kind of rhetorical hate speech that has created this protracted divide. Otherwise, no government, civilian or military, will be able to end the pervasive corruption and acrimony that have engulfed the country. The Thai bureaucracy, too, needs an overhaul to make it more professional and meritocratic. To achieve this, the mainstream Thai body politic must strengthen civil society to reduce the polarization between extreme elements. At the same time, the Thai people must gradually learn to speak to each other as equals in the same, civil language. Only then can democracy begin the take root in Thailand.

Samak Mith is a freelance writer based in Singapore.