Thursday, April 17, 2014

An Indonesian Perspective on Aussie Genie in a bottle

Ridiculous,” or “It would never happen here,” would be the reaction of many Indonesians, if not most, when they read Reuters’ report about the decision of the premier of Australia’s New South Wales state, Barry O’Farrell, to resign from his position on Wednesday after he was found to have lied about accepting a A$3,000 (US$2,800) bottle of wine as a gift.

O’Farrell received a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange from power broker, businessman and lawyer Nick di Girolamo.

“As someone who believes in accountability, in responsibility, I accept the consequences of my actions,” said O’Farrell, who was elected to the position in March 2011.

We Indonesians will feel strange about the news wire’s analysis that the O’Farrell scandal was an embarrassment for Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who praised his colleague’s announcement, and described it as a sign of integrity. “We are seeing an act of integrity, an act of honor, the like of which we have rarely seen in Australian politics,” said Abbott.

Top government officials in Indonesia would not likely feel embarrassed when a colleague or subordinate becomes embroiled in such a scandal or when they steal billions of rupiah from the state.

For Indonesians, the O’Farrell case merely concerns a bottle of wine. Why should it spark public uproar?

It is true that O’Farrell lied, but in Indonesia this is commonplace despite public officials swearing on a holy book to uphold honesty and integrity upon their inauguration.

But it is as if Indonesian officials are not required to keep integrity intact in carrying out their state duties. Just look at the “innocent” faces of graft suspects at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) office.

It is true that is unfair to compare Indonesia with Australia. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Australia ranks ninth and Indonesia 114th out of 175 countries surveyed.

But it should not be an excuse for us to tolerate officials who tell lies.

The scandal Down Under is not just about accepting a bottle of wine. It is about the values of honesty and

O’Farrell had no choice but to resign, or else he would have faced the wrath of the Australian public, including the media, who do not want to be led by a person who has lost credibility.

Can we learn from Australia, this time around at least?

Jakarta Post Editorial

Rockefeller rebooted for Asia's century

Many US citizens have heard the phrase "American century", coined by media mogul Henry Luce in 1941 in an article predicting the post-World War-II rise of America as a superpower. Fewer know that another titan of American industry, John D Rockefeller, gently opened the way for a multipolar world through his philanthropic activities in Asia.

John D Rockefeller's relationship with China started during the American Civil War, when the business magnate sold kerosene in the country and supported missionary work there. It can be argued that Rockefellers' Asian legacy is an important part of America's multicultural heritage.

At the Rockefeller Foundation's first board meeting in 1913, plans to focus on providing healthcare in China led to the development of the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing. Opened just four years later, the institution still stands today.

Perhaps no other American family has contributed more to cultivating and broadening our understanding of the arts, cultures and traditions of Asia than the Rockefellers.

John D Rockefeller III, father of the four-term US Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia, founded the Asia Society in 1956 with the aim of promoting greater knowledge of Asia in the US.

As a former president of Asia Society, Vishakha Desai, has stated, "The Asia Society's success is due in large measure to the foresight of John D Rockefeller III, his parents, and the successive generations of Rockefellers who understood the social, economic, political and cultural significance of Asia long before most of the American public."

When this author first moved to New York City after completing graduate studies at Harvard, on several occasions I visited the Asian Art Fair, where a dizzying array of Asian art was annually displayed at the Armory on the Upper East Side, partly sponsored by the Asia Society.

During one of these visits I accompanied my mother to observe the miniaturized figurines of the ancient fertility goddesses, admired for their terracotta clay originally from the Harappa region, which is part and parcel of the 2,500-year-old Indus valley civilization.

Today, as Asia embraces globalization, there is a need to revive the Rockefeller vision for the 21st century. How can we synchronize the ancient and the post-modern with the humane and the technologically advanced? In the age of hyper-connectivity and big data, our universal pursuit of global culture must harmonize billions of growing minds in Asia and the West.

"What clear vision Rockefeller had," wrote Richard C Holbrooke, former chairman of Asia Society, on the 50th anniversary of its founding. "He founded the Asia Society only 11 years after World War II, only three years after the Korean War - well before Vietnam became a national trauma. Asia was perceived by most Americans then as an area that meant poverty, disease, overpopulation, and war. The Asian American community was nearly invisible."

At the New York City headquarters recently, the new president of Asia Society Jossette Sheeran announced that it was launching an innovative think-tank to develop "solutions for the Asian century".

The non-partisan, "Asia-centric global network" of experts will be working to create the solutions that advance prosperity, security and sustainability of Asia and the world. The goal is to attain a new level of understanding between Asia and the US in a global context and build on Asia Society's policy successes.

At a keynote address at the Asia Society Policy Institute's launch on April 8, deputy secretary of state William J Burns highlighted the importance of the US's pivot: "As a Pacific nation in the midst of a Pacific century, we are fully committed to this historic undertaking."

The Asia Society Policy Institute plans to create a network of experts who could offer both an in-depth local, managerial, corporate, and global policy perspective on the major challenges of the day.

Towards that end, a panel of diplomats and policymakers attempted an open and frank discussion on the ways in which Obama administration's attempts to "pivot" or "rebalance" have been perceived on the other side of the Pacific by both small and large nations.

While Singaporean Ambassador to the US Ashok Kumar Mirpuri whole-heartedly welcomed the American pivot, former prime minister of pakistan Shaukat Aziz, with its roller-coaster relationship with the US, seemed at best ambivalent about the strategy.

Speaking at the event, China's ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said that a sound China-US relationship was very important to maintaining peace and prosperity in Asia.

Cui quoted Lao Tzu in reference to the pivot, saying "We have to come up with a new way". The reference is to a Taoist idea of a pathway that is indescribable, which cannot be put into words.

"If the two sides can reject more firmly the Cold War mentality, can rise above the constraint and confines of outdated military alliances and truly see each other’s success as an opportunity for common prosperity, China-US relations can certainly see greater progress in the future."

Dinesh Sharma is associate research professor at the Institute for Global Cultural Studies, SUNY-Binghamton.

Wish to comment re the USA position on the Ukraine as I feel there is considerable hypocrisy when one considers the following:

Wish to comment re the USA position on the Ukraine as I feel there is considerable hypocrisy when one considers the following:


China invaded and annexed Tibet and the USA remained silent.


Kissinger and Gerald Ford encouraged President Suharto to invade East Timor which it then annexed costing the lives of several hundred thousand East Timorese. (This had a two-fold purpose. The first, to protect the secret passage of nuclear armed US Submarines through the Ombai Wetar Straits which saves the subs eight days steaming time from the Pacific to the Indian oceans; and the second, to prevent a Cuban styled entity from occurring in the heart of the Indonesian archipelago, Asia’s rising star and newly acquired best friend status.


The USA (and, regrettably Australia was complicit) recognized Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua in 1969 through a very much flawed UN sponsored plebiscite called ‘The Act of Free Choice’ (which effectively was the Act of No Choice) also resulting over the past 45 years of tens of thousands of Papuans being slaughtered by US and Australian trained Indonesian Special Forces.


And lastly, the USA former Secretary for State admitted back in the 1990s that the North Vietnamese attack on an USA vessel was indeed fabricated to justify the USA invasion of Vietnam.





Kerry B. Collison

Foreign Correspondent ‘Defense & Strategic Affairs’, Washington.



It was the last supper, but who was to know?

The Christian Easter and Jewish Passover always happen at the same time of year for a very good reason –- and it’s not just so Christians can taunt Jews with moist sweet hot cross buns made of flour, while Jews taunt Christians with dry unleavened Matzo crackers made from Polyfilla Exterior.

It’s because Jesus was Jewish and the last supper was actually a Passover meal. And if it was anything like most Passover meals in most Jewish households, it may have gone something like this ...

Judas was exhausted. He’d spent the day cooking gefilte fish, chicken soup, beef brisket (extra lean for Apostle Thaddeus who’s been conscious about his weight since someone called him ''Apostle Fattiest'' at the local bathhouse). An eggplant dish for Simon The Zealot who’d recently become a hardline vegan (typical Simon, once he committed to something, he just wouldn’t budge).

5:30pm guests started arriving. First was Apostle Matthew the Tax-Collector. Nice fellow, ran a small accountancy firm in Jerusalem, ''The Chartered Ones''. He’d brought a gift of flourless Passover biscuits from Schnookie’s Cookies but said it was a massive rip-off. They were just regular flourless biscuits but, come Passover, the price goes up five shekels. He made a mental note to audit Schnookie’s next tax lodgment.


James the Greater arrived next. Great guy. He gave Judas a big hug and complimented him on the decor (particularly the table, hired from Shlomo’s Trestle-Table Party-Hire). James the Lesser followed behind: he just sat down, moaning about why everyone had to sit on only one side of the table; ''It’s not like we’re going to be painted one day in a panoramic depiction, is it? Pffff. Ridiculous.'' Judas didn’t know why he invited him every year, but you can’t invite The Greater and not invite The Lesser. Passover-invitation etiquette can be so tricky.

The rest of the apostles arrived on a maxi-donkey taxi: they apologised for being late, the footy traffic was a nightmare. Doubting Thomas worried there were not enough fold-out chairs for everyone, but Apostle Bartholomew found a couple of small crates in the back and bulked them up with copies of the Old Testament. Nobody was using those any more. 

A knock at the door. Judas opened it: ''Jesus! We’ve been waiting ages!'' As always, Jesus took his seat in the middle of the table and the ceremony began –- they all read from the Passover text, drank wine, got a bit tipsy, then the usual Passover shenanigans began. Apostle John did a hilarious trick on Apostle Simon involving a bowl of hot horseradish and a soup ladle. Apostle Andrew delivered his old gag about how ''Moses went forth and came fifth'', a real eye-roller. Things were getting rowdy: they were behaving like drunken yobbos at a Corinthians under-19s' footy bash (Apostle Peter decided to report it in his Epistle Of The Pissed Apostle). 

Just then Jesus silenced them, announcing he had a prediction: ''Someone here will betray me!'' Nobody knew what that meant, but Apostle Philip said he also had a prediction: ''One day, some bozo named Dan Brown will write a best-selling book, suggesting that this table’s seating arrangement is an archetypal symbol of female genitalia! Let’s all lean in funny directions, play along with it!''

The Passover ceremony wound up. The Apostles headed home on the back streets (avoiding the police booze-camel). Jesus said goodbye to Judas at the door; ''Thank you for this last supper.'' Judas said, ''Well it won’t be the last one, Jesus. We’ll have plenty more suppers together!'' And with that, Judas farewelled him with a friendly, heartfelt Judas kiss. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Missing Suharto Yet?

The dust is still settling over last week’s legislative election in Indonesia. Pundits are still mulling over the “whys” and “hows” of the results. We can all agree though that — the lack of a decisive winner aside — Indonesian democracy is still in rude health.

As we await the official results (although it’s fairly clear that the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has won a plurality) I’d like to share some of the observations I gleaned when I — as always — hit the road to watch the campaign unfold.

One thing that particularly struck me was the undeniable nostalgia for the certainties of the Suharto era among ordinary Indonesians, especially those in the rural areas. I was surprised by the amount of times I came across people wearing T-shirts bearing the image of the cheekily-smiling general with the caption: Lebih enak jamanku kan? (“Weren’t things better when I was around?”) Foreigners may find this surprising: wasn’t Suharto’s “New Order” a quagmire of corruption and human rights abuses? Didn’t Indonesians rise up to get rid of him in 1998? How on earth could they miss him?

Well, for one thing, post-Reformasi Indonesia has not been great for everyone. Corruption has not abated. Red tape has worsened. Competition for jobs and resources has intensified. Of course, civil liberties and political freedoms have improved dramatically. These are real achievements but the lack of economic social justice has made them somewhat hollow.

Furthermore, Indonesians are also yearning for what they consider to be “decisive leadership.” The outgoing administration’s policy flip-flops have had a significant impact on rural families as the prices for everyday commodities, from onions to rice to beef have ricocheted uncontrollably.

His many failings aside (and there were many), Suharto’s New Order gave Indonesia a taste of stability and progress. After assuming the presidency in 1967, Suharto managed to lower Indonesia’s poverty rate from almost 60 percent to just 13 percent before the economic crisis hit in 1997. Access to education and health care also improved significantly. Under him, the Indonesian economy enjoyed 6.5 percent annual economic growth between late 1960s and 1997. Hyperinflation — at 660 percent in 1966 — was reduced to 19 percent in 1969.

Suharto — through controls of the economy — protected Indonesians from the worst excesses of capitalism. This hasn’t occurred with democracy and perhaps that is why Indonesians miss him, even though it was those controls which messed-up the economy in the first place.

It’s unsurprising therefore that the Golkar Party, under the business magnate Aburizal Bakrie, has tried very hard to capitalize on the so-called “SARS” ( Sindrom Amat Rindu Suharto , or Missing Suharto Syndrome). The party used Suharto’s image heavily in materials and even got his daughters to campaign for them. This has been moderately successful. Golkar is projected to win just 14 percent of the popular vote, which is more or less status quo for them.

To be fair though, it still puts them in second place and it’s proof that Bakrie’s controversial business history hasn’t really scared off Golkar’s faithful. Still, it could also be a sign that Indonesians aren’t backward-looking. Or rather, that urban dwellers won’t easily forgive or forget the abuse of power and circumscribed democracy of the Suharto days. But no one can deny the depth of Suharto’s achievements. For better or worse, today’s Indonesia is his creature. Love him or loathe him, you cannot dismiss his legacy.

Last week’s results show that while many yearn for stability and security Indonesians aren’t willing to give a carte blanche to those who wish to turn the clocks back.

But would-be leaders and their followers alike would do well to remember a Javanese saying Suharto often quoted: Ojo gumunan, ojo kagetan, ojo dumeh, or “Don’t be easily impressed, nor easily shocked and certainly not arrogant.”

Karim Raslan is a columnist who divides his time between Indonesia and Malaysia.

In Whose Interest? Debating resource nationalism in Indonesia


Indonesia is increasingly described as a country where ‘resource nationalism’ is on the rise. A recent swathe of protectionist policies and legal disputes with foreign companies in the mining and oil and gas sectors has earned it this unenviable title. Most people who use the term ‘resource nationalism’ do so in a pejorative way. Industry commentators, journalists and some scholars typically deploy it to criticise government attempts to assert greater control over resource sectors at the expense of foreign investors. At best, such analysts frame resource nationalism as short-sighted, poor policy-making; at worst they see it as the work of corrupt, rent seeking government elites. In contrast, proponents frame nationalist practices as a means of giving citizens a larger stake in their own finite resources, and achieving a more just system of rent distribution.

So is resource nationalism in Indonesia driven principally by a logic of redistribution or a logic of vested interests?

Law 4/2009 on Mineral and Coal Mining (the 2009 Mining Law) is the most widely referenced example of Indonesia’s rising resource nationalism. The natural resource sectors have largely steered Indonesia’s economic growth over the past decade, with profits swelling in the context of a global commodities boom. Mining contributes 12 per cent of Indonesia’s GDP. But large multinational companies dominate the sector, particularly American based companies Freeport McMoRan and Newmont. Freeport is the country’s largest copper producer by far, with 73 per cent of market share and gross profits of 1.53 billion in 2013. 1 Since 2009 an assertive Indonesian government has begun introducing new laws and regulations that attempt to capture a larger share of these industry profits.

The 2009 Mining Law and its implementing regulations replaced the decades old Contract of Work (CoW) system. The CoW system was widely viewed within industry circles as offering favourable and stable conditions for foreign investors. In contrast, the new law mandates that foreign companies divest 51 per cent to a state or domestic company after the tenth year of production. 2 It also places a ban on the export of certain raw minerals and requires mining companies to build smelters for domestic processing. 3 The export ban was finally implemented in January this year, causing significant consternation within Indonesia’s mining industry, bringing exports of some minerals to a virtual standstill and disrupting global mineral markets. Analysts claim that small companies are closing, miners are being laid off, and many warn of an escalation in mineral smuggling. 4

The government argues that if Indonesians are to prosper, the country should no longer export raw commodities to richer countries via multinational companies. 5 Officials have stated that if Indonesia is to move beyond the middle-income bracket it must begin adding value domestically and building its domestic mining industry. State officials also defend nationalist policies as a necessary step towards more just systems of rent distribution. Former Director General for Coal and Mineral Resources Thamrin Sihite, for example, said the government wants “the benefits of our country’s resources to reach more Indonesians.” 6 President Yudhoyono himself claimed that, “many multinational corporations take too much and do not leave behind enough for the people of those countries…we want to have a fair share too.” 7

Many observers argue, however, that Indonesia’s resource nationalism is in fact driven by political opportunism, dressed up in nationalist posturing. It appeals to populist sentiment and can be leveraged for officials’ electoral ambitions. Deliberations over the draft of the 2009 Mining Law occurred in the lead up to Indonesia’s 2009 presidential elections. Commentators speculated, therefore, that the law’s nationalist tenor was driven by a desire to cultivate public support for President Yudhoyono’s re-election. 8 The same argument is being put forward now as campaigns heat up for July’s President elections and controversial regulations related to the 2009 Mining Law are debated in the parliament. 9 The logic is that a strong nationalist agenda that privileges domestic industry over foreign investors will garner votes, particularly when it concerns the ownership of precious natural resources.

But it’s hard to know just how strongly resource nationalism resonates with the Indonesian public, particularly in the densely populated urban centres of Java, where natural resource politics don’t loom large in voters’ everyday lives. 10 In fact, presidential candidates are unlikely to make resource governance the pillar of their campaigns. Issues surrounding resource ownership get more electoral traction at the regional level. In April there will be nation-wide legislative elections, and in provinces such as East Kalimantan and Southeast Sulawesi, where mining plays a big role in the local economy, resource politics is likely to feature heavily in legislative campaigns. Conflicting claims over the control of extractive projects is a source of political tension in these regions. But conflicts are often between the central and regional government, rather that with foreign companies. Since regional autonomy and the decentralisation of natural resource governance in Indonesia, there has been an ongoing tug of war between district governments and central powers over resource rents. Thus resource regionalism, rather than resource nationalism, is probably a more potent electoral tool in Indonesia.

A more contentious argument is that resource nationalism in Indonesia is in fact driven by the rent seeking ambitions of the political elite. 11 International indices consistently rank Indonesia as one of the least attractive countries in which to do business in the mining sector due to corruption, legal uncertainty and lack of transparency. 12 Industry experts often imply that strategic ambiguity permeates the regulatory structure of Indonesia’s resource sectors.  Laws are so vague that officials can interpret and apply them in order to cohere with their private interests. 13 Some of the country’s most prominent businessmen are well known to have close relationships with lawmakers and government ministers, and observers believe these well-established oligarchs and their businesses stand to profit from the export ban on mineral ores.

But do vested interests drive policies like the 2009 Mining Law, or do they hijack laws that were designed with goals of redistribution? It’s an important distinction. Nationalist sentiment runs deep within the psyche of this resource-rich, post-colonial country. Indonesia is not known for a vibrant or influential organised left, yet leftist ideas about social programming, state intervention and the people’s economy infuse Indonesia’s “political culture.” 14 It has been over a decade since the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank oversaw significant liberalisation and decentralisation of Indonesia’s resource sectors in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis. Now, these legal regimes are being reviewed and renegotiated by policy makers in a more confident economic environment. There is certainly a strong ideational component to the rise of nationalism in Indonesia that deserves greater analytical attention.

The 2009 Mining Law requires mining companies to build smelters for the domestic processing of raw minerals. The government argues that these are needed if Indonesians are to prosper.

The Indonesian government’s attempt, however, to review and renegotiate the country’s mining regime has been incredibly fraught. Companies like Freeport and Newmont make massive contributions to the country’s exports and to local economies where they operate. Their structural power and political influence is significant. Mining companies and their allies continue to lobby and campaign against regulatory change that violates their contracts and threatens their bottom-line. The government, on the other hand, has not launched a united or coherent campaign on behalf of its own laws. Long time observers of Indonesian politics have described the government’s attempts to implement the 2009 Mining Law as a fiasco. In fact, the night before the mineral export ban was due to come into effect on January 12th, President Yudhoyono offered a “grand compromise” that effectively allows Freeport and Newmont to continue exporting copper. 15 Many within the industry see this outcome as the government finally making a sensible decision to save both the industry and the economy from disaster. But smaller domestic companies, the media and, arguably, the general public, see the compromise as a concession to the very companies that the law originally targeted. 16

If resource nationalism in Indonesia is driven principally by the logic of redistribution, the story of the 2009 Mining Law tells us that ideology and ideas barely survive the amorphous world of Indonesian policy making. One prominent analyst argues that contemporary Indonesia is a patronage society, and a fundamental ordering principal of the contemporary Indonesian state is the clientelistic relationship between politicians and their network of supporters. 17 Between the vested business interests and patronage relations of Indonesian legislators, and the structural power and influence of the country’s massive foreign mining companies, the spirit of redistribution is difficult to locate in the current iteration of Indonesia’s new mining laws. 

Eve Warburton
PhD Candidate, Department of Political and Social Change, School of International and Strategic Studies,
College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Issue 15 (March 2014). The South China Sea



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Islamophobia and the left

Islamophobia and the left

A convenient adversary?


THE EMERGENCE of violent Islamism in the heart of the Western world, and the "war on terror" proclaimed against it, led to some interesting ideological trends. One might be described as progressive Islamophobia: a school of thought which, from a left-of-centre perspective, insisted that militant Islam was really a reactionary force, despite its claim to be fighting for the wretched of the earth. It was this school which devised the term "Islamofascism"—to stress the threat which fundamentalist Muslims seemed to pose to many things which the progressive camp held dear, from sexual equality to freedom of scientific enquiry. The British writer Nick Cohen has taken up this argument, and the late Christopher Hitchens took it further than almost anybody.

Arun Kundnani, a British-born scholar who is now an adjunct professor at New York University, is a different sort of leftist. He is not Muslim, either by background or conviction, but he maintains that "Islamophobia" is a thinly disguised form of racial prejudice, and that on both sides of the Atlantic, the war on terror has been an excuse for governments to ratchet up surveillance and harassment of people who are "guilty" of nothing worse than critical thought about their countries' domestic or foreign policies. He has been touring his new and old homelands with a book entitled "The Muslims are Coming". As the title implies, he thinks militant Islam has become a convenient bogeyman; it serves an ideological purpose, just as (from the viewpoint of a suspicious leftist) an exaggerated Soviet threat sometimes did during the cold war. 

Well, the bombers who attacked New York, Washington DC, London and Madrid were more than bogeymen, and the same applies to the Soviet invaders of Czechoslovakia. Mr Kundnani does (albeit only fleetingly) acknowledge that police forces have a legitimate interest in warding off terrorist attacks. But he also has some fair points to make about the counter-productivity of some of their efforts. In Britain, a well-funded government programme called "Preventing Violent Extremism"—intended to foster moderate Islam—had some weird unintended effects. The project known as Prevent was exploited by cynical "community leaders" and resented by ordinary Muslims who felt the government was trying to make them into compliant Uncle Toms. I came across Mr Kundnani when I was reporting on the Islamic scene in northern British cities, and I found that his analysis of Prevent rang true, as did other objections from a more conservative viewpoint.

Even if you don't share Mr Kundnani's relentless scepticism, it's worth engaging with his critique of the lazy thinking that is sometimes called "culturalism" or "essentialism"—the idea, simply put, that militant Islamism simply reflects something fundamental about Islam, and its propensity to inspire violence, rather than anger triggered by the realities of life in Gaza, Kashmir or Chechnya. Mr Kundnani isn't a theologian and he refuses to enter theological debate; he assumes that Islam, like almost any other religion, can in different contexts be an inspiration either to violence or peace—and that religion itself is not the main variable. His approach may under-play the importance of religious teaching and its interpretation, but many other approaches go to the other extreme—by maintaining that Islam, or certain readings of lslam, are a gratuitous, self-generating source of violence, regardless of what may be happening on the street.

Max Weber (who stresses the importance of religion as an independent factor in human affairs) wasn't right about everything, any more than Karl Marx was. The Economist