Friday, November 16, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Trump’s Asia Policy Is Mostly about China – Analys...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Trump’s Asia Policy Is Mostly about China – Analys...: Trump’s Asia Policy Is Mostly about China – Analysis Nearly two years on, the Asia policy of US President Donald J. Trump’s administr...

Trump’s Asia Policy Is Mostly about China – Analysis

Trump’s Asia Policy Is Mostly about China – Analysis

Nearly two years on, the Asia policy of US President Donald J. Trump’s administration is beginning to take shape. With the exception of its attempt to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, it is mostly about China, or more accurately, what other countries can do to help it win its struggle with China for dominance in the region. Indeed, that seems to be the common prism through which a patchwork of US Asia initiatives is originating and being implemented. Its Asian allies and friends are beginning to see it this way and that US strategic policy toward them is much more about advancing its position vis a vis China than their own priorities.  They are responding accordingly.

Here is the context and their probable perspective.

US China policy is now clearly a mix of containment and confrontation. The new US National Security Strategy released in December 2017  characterizes the US-China struggle as “a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order… “. It also labels China as a “revisionist power” meaning that the U.S. thinks China wants to change the existing rules, norms and values that govern relations between nations. This is the “international order” that the U.S. helped build and now leads, and for which it is the principle arbiter and beneficiary. Following this lead, the US Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act that identifies China as the primary threat to US security and proposes a “whole of government” counter-effort.

Doubts regarding the more strident tone and tenor of US-China policy were laid to rest by US Vice President Michael Pence’s 4 October ‘it’s us or them’ speech. He bluntly criticized China across the board and declared that “China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies”.  Confirming the policy shift, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said “The recent policy of the Trump administration to act against China has taken the Chinese by surprise _ _ _”

To combat the China ‘threat’, the official US strategy is to ” redouble [its] commitment to established alliances and partnerships, while expanding and deepening relationships with new partners that share respect for sovereignty, fair and reciprocal trade, and the rule of law.” This means the U.S. is increasing pressure on its allies and friends to support its new more belligerent China policy.

Its strategy is manifest in its grand vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”.  The core principles of the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ include freedom of navigation, the rule of law, freedom from coercion, respect for sovereignty, private enterprise and open markets, and the freedom and independence of all nations.   These are all elements of its new China policy.  So is its enhanced military and political relations with Taiwan. Within this framework, the U.S. is proposing – and pushing for – a renewal of the “Quad” – a potential security arrangement among the four large democracies of India, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. . To Asia, the intent of the Quad is to constrain and contain China’s burgeoning military power.  The U.S. is seeking to “reinforce India’s maritime capabilities as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean region and beyond.”

Let’s look at some specifics. Although promulgated before Trump became President, the implementation of the 2015 US Asia Pacific Maritime Security Strategy complements its overall strategy regarding China. It declares that the U.S. is enhancing its defense posture in Southeast Asia. Its intent is to strengthen “our military capacity to ensure the United States can successfully deter conflict and coercion and respond decisively when needed.” To accomplish this, the U.S. is “working together with our allies and partners from Northeast Asia to the Indian Ocean to build their capacity to address potential challenges in their waters and across the region.”  Presumably this means first and foremost combating the China “threat”. The Strategy specifically warns that “we see countries developing new technologies that appear designed to counter [existing US] advantages.   This is a reference to China’s anti-access/area-denial strategy to keep the U.S. military out of its near waters in a conflict.

US policy initiatives toward Southeast Asia and allies like Australia and Japan are a derivative of its policy of containment and confrontation of China. They are dominated by what these countries can do to support this effort. The U.S. appeals to them to support its Freedom of Navigation Operations challenging China’s claims in the South China Sea—or to at least undertake their own. The U.S. wants them to join its maritime domain awareness network and is assisting them to do so.  It asks them to allow it to base or “rotate” its troops and equipment on their territory or to facilitate their presence and missions in the region by providing refueling locations for its planes gathering intelligences on China. For those that can, like Australia and Japan, the U.S. wants them to provide military assistance and training to key countries in the region to enhance their capacity to assist the U.S. in a time of need. Perhaps most important, the U.S. wants them to publicly welcome and support its political position and military presence in the region. So far the results are embryonic and mixed.

The U.S. is also making increasingly strident attempts to counter China’s growing soft power.  Because the US cannot hope to match China’s economic largesse, it’s soft power increasingly relies on the attraction of its economic and political values and the shared commitment of its allies and friends to democracy and the existing US led international order. Thus the U.S. has launched a campaign touting these values publicly condemns China’s value and behavior, and warning others of China’s nefarious intentions – in general and in particular in the South China Sea.  Moreover it has stepped up its “diplomatic” efforts to persuade Southeast Asians to support its policy. In January, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Indonesia and Vietnam. His mission was to begin implementing the new US Defense Strategy that calls for expanding and transforming Washington’s network of alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific into a “networked security architecture”. In late July/early August US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the Shangri-la Dialogue and the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore. Aside from the lobbying he did there, he also visited Malaysia and Indonesia presumably pushing this policy that at base is aimed at China.

Ironically, the more the U.S. hardens its policy against China and increases its pressure for support from the region, the more its “soft power’ wanes. Its ‘allies and friends’ in Southeast Asia in particular do not want a confrontation between the U.S. and China – at least one that will involve or negatively affect them.

Their particular concern is that the intensifying competition for influence and military dominance in the region could spill over into their domestic politics with the U.S. and China each supporting its supporters and opposing its opponents.  This happened during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and it could happen again. They rightly fear that in the supposed words of Thucydides “the strong will do what they can and the weak will suffer what they must”.

So Southeast Asian leaders are doing the best they can to preserve a modicum of independence and security for their nations. They are hedging between the two. As former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd puts it  “many US allies may decide to hedge their bets, waiting until it becomes clearer whether the US [policy] shift will be permanent and whether it will succeed.” Meanwhile they are increasingly aware that they are becoming pawns in a US-China ‘Great Game’ and that the policy of the U.S.  – – as well as that of China – –  towards them must be viewed through this prism.

*Mark J. Valencia, Adjunct Senior Scholar, National Institute for South China Sea Studies, Haiku, China

This piece first appeared in the IPP Review.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: INDONESIAN prisons will soon start spawning even m...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: INDONESIAN prisons will soon start spawning even m...: INDONESIAN prisons will soon start spawning even more jihadists A new law is funnelling more radicals into the ordinary prison popula...

INDONESIAN prisons will soon start spawning even more jihadists

INDONESIAN prisons will soon start spawning even more jihadists

A new law is funnelling more radicals into the ordinary prison population

AMAN ABDURRAHMAN was first arrested in 2004 following an accidental explosion during a bomb-making class near Jakarta. But his career as a jihadist really got going in prison, where he has spent 12 of the subsequent 14 years. Until recently Mr Aman was able to run a militant propaganda campaign from his cell. He translated some 115 articles from Islamic State publications into Indonesian and uploaded them online. He also recruited volunteers to go fight in Syria—all from behind bars. He became IS’s “most important ideological promoter” in Indonesia, according to Sidney Jones of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a think-tank in Jakarta. Abu Bakar Basyir (pictured), a radical cleric on death row for masterminding bombings in Bali in 2002 that killed more than 200 people, first befriended Mr Aman in prison and then distanced himself from him because he was “too hardline”.

Indonesia’s 477 prisons were built to house 125,000 prisoners. They are currently crammed with more than 254,000. One facility, in the province of South Kalimantan, holds 2,459 in a space meant for 366. An officer at a high-security prison in Jakarta says it is not uncommon for 15 inmates to be placed in a cell of nine square metres intended for three people.

Graft flourishes. Earlier this year a raid by the KPK, an anti-corruption agency, revealed cells with air-conditioning, flat-screen televisions and private bathrooms. Even the KPK could not get into several cells, because the keys were kept by their occupants.

Small wonder, then, that jihadists have been able to recruit and organise freely from prison. Authorities were shocked to discover that a gunman involved in an attack on civilians in Jakarta in 2016 was a former prisoner who had served as personal masseur to Mr Aman while in jail. He had been granted an early release just months before for “good behaviour”.

Abu Husna is another man who organised terrorism from jail. He leads one of the two main Indonesian factions supporting IS (Mr Aman leads the other) and is a former cellmate of Mr Basyir. Baim Maulana, a former weapons-procurer for jihadist groups and separatists in the province of Aceh, describes how Abu Husna and fellow IS supporters controlled certain parts of the maximum-security prison in which he used to be held: “This included the kitchen at one point.” Mr Maulana received an invitation for a meal with Abu Husna, who wanted Mr Maulana to work for him. “I couldn’t refuse at that point, so I left it open-ended—surviving in prison was already tough as it was without rejecting their offer,” Mr Maulana says.

Terrorist inmates sit atop a “moral hierarchy” in prison and are often regarded by other inmates as enlightened, at least in comparison with drug offenders and petty criminals, says Taufik Andrie of the Institute for International Peace-Building, which helps released extremists reintegrate. “They act like pesantren (Islamic school) leaders,” he says, “and are given a lot of privileges in jail amongst inmates”. Amir Abdillah, who helped build the bombs used in an attack in Jakarta in 2009, says, “Radicals offer fellow inmates a chance to atone for their sins and pray together.” Mr Amir says that when he was arrested, he was convinced he “was doing the work of God and would be respected even in prison”.

The key to stemming the spread of radical ideology among inmates, argues Mr Andrie, is segregating the hardliners. “This unfortunately does not happen in ‘medium-security’ prisons or in centres where detainees await trial,” he explains. Until 2016, when Mr Aman was transferred to a maximum-security prison, he could receive visits from admirers. Some of his visitors went on to commit a series of bombings of churches and police posts in Surabaya in May. The same month Mr Aman reportedly mediated between police and pro-IS inmates at another prison after they seized control of part of the building and slit the throats of five police officers.

Since the bombings in May the authorities have been trying hard to disrupt terrorist networks. A revision to the anti-terrorism law allows suspects to be arrested pre-emptively and held for up to three weeks (a judge can extend the detention to as much as 290 days). A spike in arrests has followed; there are only 466 people convicted under terrorism laws in Indonesia’s jails, but since June some 350 suspected terrorists have been arrested.

In the absence of reforms to the prison system, however, this campaign is likely to make things worse, not better. “It is not clear how already overburdened detention centres, prosecutors, courts and prisons are going to cope,” writes Ms Jones in a recent IPAC report. In all likelihood, thrusting so many radicals among other prisoners will simply create more terrorists

The Economist

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesia is moving into election mode

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesia is moving into election mode: There will be sweeping general elections in Indonesia in April next year for the presidency, the national parliament, provincial parl...

Indonesia is moving into election mode

There will be sweeping general elections in Indonesia in April next year for the presidency, the national parliament, provincial parliaments, and at the regional level across the nation. Australians might go to the polls around the same time, but there will be a big difference in scale. In Australia, around 16 million voters will go to the polls, while in Indonesia over ten times this number ­– nearly 190 million people – are enrolled to vote.

The main contest at the national level in Indonesia will be between the incumbent, President Joko Widodo, and the challenger, Prabowo Subianto. From one point of view, this looks like being a rerun of the contest five years ago. In 2014, Jokowi (as the President is universally known) and Prabowo also squared off.

In 2014, it looked as if the contest between Jokowi and Prabowo would be close. Jokowi was a civilian newcomer to the national political stage promising reform. Prabowo, with a strong military background, had long experience in elite politics in Jakarta and had good financial backing for his presidential bid.

Things look different this time around. At this stage, Jokowi seems to be in a strong position. Numerous polls in recent months have put him comfortably ahead of Prabowo.

But with five months to go to the polling day on 17 April, there is still time for Prabowo to make up lost ground. To close the gap, he will need to take any chance he can to discredit Jokowi – in social policies, economic affairs, international relations, and anywhere else he can find an opening to land a blow.

The Prabowo camp is playing politics with major China-supported programs to suggest that Jokowi’s drive to build infrastructure in Indonesia is too dependent on foreign support.

Recent statements from Prabowo suggest that he is keen to present himself as a true nationalist, second to nobody in his love for people and nation. Jokowi, Prabowo has implied, is inclined to be too friendly to foreigners.

Last month, for example, the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were held in Indonesia for the first time in the nation’s history. The meetings were a major event, providing Indonesia with a key opportunity to showcase national economic potential.

Nevertheless, Prabowo saw a useful opening to score points off Jokowi. Noting that humanitarian rescue programs were underway in Sulawesi after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Palu in September, Prabowo called for the IMF-World Bank meetings in Indonesia to be curtailed. The money saved, he said, should be used to help the disaster survivors in Palu.

It is certainly true that all possible efforts are needed to respond to the crisis in Sulawesi. But the suggestion that the IMF-World Bank meetings should have been be cancelled at short notice was pure political grandstanding. Over 12,000 visitors from nearly 190 countries were scheduled to arrive in Indonesia. Prabowo, playing the nationalist card, was clearly aiming to suggest that Jokowi preferred to meet with foreign visitors rather than attend to the urgent needs of disaster survivors within Indonesia.

Prabowo’s team has played other nationalist cards as well. Just a few weeks ago, a leading member of Prabowo’s election team questioned whether China’s support for a key infrastructure project in Indonesia should be accepted. Prabowo’s brother, well-known businessman Hashim Djojohadikusumo, has been providing financial support to Prabowo’s presidential bid. As part of Prabowo’s team, Hashim called for a review of China’s involvement in a proposed US$5.4 billion high-speed rail link between Jakarta and Bandung.

On one level, Hashim’s suggestion that the planned Jakarta-Bandung rail link be reviewed was reasonable. It is always important to consider whether large infrastructure projects make sense. But the project is now well advanced. To cast doubt on the construction of the rail link at this stage is hardly helpful.

The Prabowo camp is playing politics with major China-supported programs. The aim is to suggest that Jokowi’s drive to build infrastructure in Indonesia is too dependent on foreign (in in this case, Chinese) support.

Perhaps it is too early to take much notice of these pre-election manoeuvrings. Five months is a long time in politics. Much can happen in Indonesia between now and April.

But the overall campaign patterns are already clear. Jokowi will project a steady-as-we-go message, emphasising stability and his well-known concerns with the personal lives of Indonesians in urban areas and villages across the nation. Prabowo will aim to undermine Jokowi’s narrative of his role as a simple man of the people and will work to present an alternative vision.

Prabowo will need to build credibility across Indonesia before his challenge can be seen as posing a real threat to Widodo’s re-election in April next year. At this stage, Jokowi looks strong and the election is his to lose.

Lowy Institute

Wednesday, November 14, 2018