Monday, February 28, 2011

BALI – Latest Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Prepare for something magical and unique if you are privileged to be in Bali this Saturday, March 5, 2011, for Nyepi observances. That's the day Bali goes absolutely quiet for 24 hours. Streets empty. The airport and seaports close. Homes are shuttered and the lights are turned off. Even broadcasting to the island is shut down. Nyepi must be experienced to be believed. We hope that you manage to enjoy this peaceful day in Bali in an otherwise all-too-hectic world.

In Nyepi news: We've got details on police measures to keep the peace over the holiday and what you should do if you suffer a medical emergency on the special day of quiet.

Bali Update will turn 13 in two more days. We reflect on the past and ask your continued support to help keep the world informed on developments in Bali.

News stories this week: University student stage peaceful protests in support of the new zoning law. Flash floods in Bali's north flood at least 600 homes. 52 illegal aliens from Afghanistan and Iran are caught on a boat headed for Australia. And petitions are filed by the public seeking to stop a pool-restaurant-spa complex being constructed at the BTDC complex in Nusa Dua.

Meanwhile, Bali's rabies death toll has risen to 124 people while the cost of anti-rabies vaccines is put at US$633,000 for every three months of the ongoing drive to eradicate that disease from the island.

Last week's comments form the chairman the APINDO, Panudiana Khun has drawn angry responses from many corners. This week, Mr. Khun clarifies his earlier comments we quoted from

In tourism and development news: Governor Pastika wants to open tourism information centers at major religious temples in Bali. Legislators in Karangasem call again for a moratorium on new hotel and villa construction in that region. The Indonesian Association of Travel Agents (ASITA) warns that traffic congestion is threatening to negatively impact Bali's tourism flows. And some heartening news: officials and private citizens are working together to help save Bali's turtle populations.

We've got the year-end wrap on tourist arrivals comparing 2008-2009-2010 in the latest installment of 'Bali by the Numbers.'

And news of a birthday party held last week in Ubud for that community's resident population of monkeys.

Coming events include:

An exhibition by Alex Valenzuela at the Gata Art Space in Ubud March 11- April 11, 2011.
The Fremantle to Bali Yacht Race is back and set to sail on April 26, 2011.
The BIZNET Bali International Triathalon is now just four months away and set to run on June 26, 2011.
All this and more in this week's Bali Update.

Full report at

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

BALI – Latest Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Prepare for something magical and unique if you are privileged to be in Bali this Saturday, March 5, 2011, for Nyepi observances. That's the day Bali goes absolutely quiet for 24 hours. Streets empty. The airport and seaports close. Homes are shuttered and the lights are turned off. Even broadcasting to the island is shut down. Nyepi must be experienced to be believed. We hope that you manage to enjoy this peaceful day in Bali in an otherwise all-too-hectic world.

In Nyepi news: We've got details on police measures to keep the peace over the holiday and what you should do if you suffer a medical emergency on the special day of quiet.

Bali Update will turn 13 in two more days. We reflect on the past and ask your continued support to help keep the world informed on developments in Bali.

News stories this week: University student stage peaceful protests in support of the new zoning law. Flash floods in Bali's north flood at least 600 homes. 52 illegal aliens from Afghanistan and Iran are caught on a boat headed for Australia. And petitions are filed by the public seeking to stop a pool-restaurant-spa complex being constructed at the BTDC complex in Nusa Dua.

Meanwhile, Bali's rabies death toll has risen to 124 people while the cost of anti-rabies vaccines is put at US$633,000 for every three months of the ongoing drive to eradicate that disease from the island.

Last week's comments form the chairman the APINDO, Panudiana Khun has drawn angry responses from many corners. This week, Mr. Khun clarifies his earlier comments we quoted from

In tourism and development news: Governor Pastika wants to open tourism information centers at major religious temples in Bali. Legislators in Karangasem call again for a moratorium on new hotel and villa construction in that region. The Indonesian Association of Travel Agents (ASITA) warns that traffic congestion is threatening to negatively impact Bali's tourism flows. And some heartening news: officials and private citizens are working together to help save Bali's turtle populations.

We've got the year-end wrap on tourist arrivals comparing 2008-2009-2010 in the latest installment of 'Bali by the Numbers.'

And news of a birthday party held last week in Ubud for that community's resident population of monkeys.

Coming events include:

An exhibition by Alex Valenzuela at the Gata Art Space in Ubud March 11- April 11, 2011.
The Fremantle to Bali Yacht Race is back and set to sail on April 26, 2011.
The BIZNET Bali International Triathalon is now just four months away and set to run on June 26, 2011.
All this and more in this week's Bali Update.

Advertise your products with Bali Discovery and Bali Update

Follow me, in 2011 on Twitter

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

The Built-In Acrimony of Indonesia's Free Press

The government is finding out the real cost of a free press: Nobody’s reputation is safe, particularly if a media owner decides to take sides politically.

Last week’s tirade from Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam marked the peak of poor relations between the state and the press. It is by no means the first time that cabinet ministers and their master — President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — have been upset by the media.

The complaining officials are correct, at least to a point. Many media outlets adopt extremely negative attitudes toward the government and bureaucracy, tending to ignore positive news to concentrate on their own agendas. Often, media organizations create news rather than report on it.

Kompas, one of the most respected major dailies, is a case in point. Each week, its Monday edition almost always carries a new advocacy.

Some of the newspaper’s campaigns do turn into news, such as last year’s articles on environmental damage in Kalimantan caused by uncontrolled mining leases. That prompted a visit by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of a presidential working unit on development, which led to a crackdown on licensing.

Sometimes, Kompas’s campaigns take priority over significant current events.

A few weeks ago, the newspaper’s main story was about the high price of pharmaceuticals. The president’s remarkable admission that development was hampered by five political “illnesses” was relegated to the second page.

Newspapers create news. Reporters frequently produce reports along the lines of “The government should …” after calling up their stable of experts.

While analysts often raise valid points, this type of reporting should not eclipse other current events, which are often relegated to the back pages.

Within such a system, there is plenty of space for bias. Dipo’s complaint was that three media outlets — Media Indonesia, Metro TV and TVOne — were actively campaigning to blacken the reputation of the government.

Media Indonesia and Metro TV are owned by Surya Paloh, founder of the National Democrats (Nasdem) mass organization, while TVOne is owned by Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie and his family.

Attacking the government clearly brings benefits to the owners, serving their own particular political ambitions.

Bakrie probably believes his money and influence can win him the presidency, while Surya, spurned for years by Golkar, presumably believes he can turn his new social organization into a political force that can help him further his own ambitions.

The problem for the government and other “enemies” of the press is that attacking the media is a hopeless task — much to Dipo’s chagrin.

Freed from the yoke of tyranny by former President B.J. Habibie, the media industry has no interest in being shackled once more.

There has been controversy over whether infotainment programs should be classified as news or if they are in a completely different category and should thus be more strictly controlled.

In July last year, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) issued a fatwa, or edict, barring Muslims from watching “immoral” gossip shows.

The ensuing controversy ended with an agreement that the programs would self-regulate — a process which, to date, has not changed these shows’ penchant for poking into the lives of celebrities and public figures, as well as constantly regaling audiences with the details of scandal after scandal.

Dipo, the cabinet secretary, has found that it is not that easy to restrain independent media outlets.

In response to Dipo’s threat to cut the three media organizations’ access to information and state-funded advertising, Media Indonesia and Metro TV accused the cabinet secretary of breaching laws safeguarding press freedom.

Dipo refused to apologize for his threat, but he agreed to mediated talks with the media outlets.

However, at a press conference on Thursday, Dipo blamed the media for discouraging foreign investment by reporting on political bickering and social conflict. “Does that kind of news reporting benefit all of us?” he asked.

The point of his criticism, Dipo said, was that the press had not provided enough information to the public about the government’s accomplishments despite the many challenges it faced.

Dipo perhaps needs to take a leaf from the president’s book.

Yudhoyono, stung by criticism from religious leaders earlier this year that his government was too fond of lying about its achievements, gave a speech recently that essentially acknowledged the weaknesses of his administration.

The admission may be the first step to solving the nation’s problems and creating a better Indonesia.

Discourse almost always boils down to whether the glass is half empty or half full. And while spin is a natural tool of any government — or any company, public institution or media organization with vested interests, for that matter — excessive spin will alienate the audience.

Most people will immediately recognize half-truths, biases and blatantly wrong information fed to them.

During the Suharto era, the government funded the National Development Information Office through a contract with international public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. A highly expensive operation, it was canned well before the economic crisis hit. But it did serve a valuable function in “selling” the country to investors and foreign media.

Yudhoyono and Dipo should perhaps look at more effective ways of selling the government’s message, which should be bolstered by hard facts.

Up until Yudhoyono’s admission that there were ills plaguing the nation, no one wholeheartedly believed the stories of progress his administration tried hard to sell. How could they? The media repeatedly pointed out that a vast majority of the population remained poor despite so-called economic leaps.

On the flip side, the media should be made to understand that they are not a law unto themselves.

The decline in professional standards has been evident over the past few years and this will no doubt result in the cancellation of subscriptions and the switching of channels from unscrupulous operators to more reliable ones.

There is some merit to Dipo’s claim that some media organizations are biased. Naming specific examples of shoddy journalism at regular news conferences at the State Palace could stop journalists from twisting facts. Hopefully, this would lead to a more responsible press.

However, journalists are usually thick-skinned — let us say it is an occupational hazard. Since it will take time for improvements in the media’s ethical standards, the state needs to develop a set of rules as well. By Keith Loveard security analyst at Jakarta-based Concord Consulting.

25 Years Later, Some Justice for Marcos Victims

MANILA — Payments to 7,526 claimants, each amounting to 43,200 pesos, or about $1,000, grow out of a nearly $2 billion judgment in 1995 by a U.S. jury in Honolulu that found the Marcos estate liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances. The victims have not received payments until now because of disputes over the Marcos property.

Although the checks are small and although the restitution comes without apology or acknowledgment from the Marcos family, victims and legal experts said the restitution was significant because of the message it sent to the Philippines and to other nations in which abusive leaders have been forced from office.

The money comes principally from a $10 million settlement last summer with the family of a Marcos associate, said the lead lawyer, Robert A. Swift, who has pursued the case through legal hurdles for nearly 25 years. He said the remainder of the checks would be distributed over five weeks at 16 locations around the country.

In January, the court in Hawaii held Imelda Marcos — his widow — and the couple’s son, Ferdinand Jr., in contempt for refusing to furnish information and for continuing to use frozen assets of the estate and ordered them to pay a fine of $353.6 million for the benefit of the victims.

China Demonstrations Fail

AN ATTEMPT by unidentified microblog users to whip up a “jasmine revolution” in China has produced little visible response so far except for police jitters and a revived official antagonism toward the foreign media. It has also created friction between China and America’s outgoing ambassador, Jon Huntsman, who was seen on February 20th near a McDonald’s outlet in Wangfujing, in downtown Beijing, where messages circulated on the internet had called on people to congregrate. (Mr Huntsman said it was a coincidence.)

The ambassador has now issued a statement strongly condemning the detention and harassment by police of several foreign journalists who tried to cover the response to another call for protest, this time on February 27th. One of the journalists was punched and kicked, by people who appeared to be plainclothes police, and then detained for several hours. Several reporters had their cameras and video equipment confiscated. A report by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (which has since been removed from the club's website) counts 16 news organisations whose staff were harassed by police: either assaulted, manhandled, deprived of their equipment or detained. Mr Huntsman called on the Chinese government to “hold the perpetrators accountable”.

Chinese officials have accused the foreign media of overreacting to the attempt at a protest; a handful of ordinary citizens did appear to respond to the call in Beijing and Shanghai, but only a handful. They were quickly taken away by police and were at all times outnumbered by journalists. But the police response suggests a kind of worry on the part of the officials: they seem to be profoundly concerned about the country’s vulnerability to large-scale upheaval. The massive security deployments on February 20th and 27th, and the accompanying detention and surveillance of dissidents, indicates they feared a real possibility of serious unrest. They pulled out all the stops to cow the government’s critics into silence.

In Beijing this has included measures directed at the foreign media that are reminiscent of the dark days that followed the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Todd Carrel, a reporter for ABC news, suffered serious and lasting injury at the hands of plainclothes thugs on the square in 1992, while covering the anniversary of the crackdown. In the buildup to last weekend, numerous foreign correspondents were given warnings by the police that they would need official clearance to report in either Wangfujing, ordinarily a busy shopping street, or Tiananmen. Although officials have often insisted on clearance to conduct journalistic activities on Tiananmen, the extension of such restrictions to Wangfujing was new.

In many cases the police insisted that journalists visit them at an office building to receive these warnings. One colleague was told that he had to turn up at the building on Sunday afternoon, just when the protest was due to happen. When he said this was not convenient, he was told there might be future difficulties with his visa if he did not comply.

The security in Wangfujing that afternoon was extraordinary. I walked up the length of the broad pedestrian street and saw as many plainclothesmen and uniformed police as I did shoppers. Two police officers stood at the ready with attack dogs. I saw one foreigner being escorted away by police and others being stopped to ask for their identity papers. Later, say reports, water was sprayed over the street in what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to scatter anyone who might linger. Civilians in red armbands, a sort of unarmed militia who are often mobilised to assist police with major security operations, such as during Beijing's Olympic games in 2008, were out in force on Wangfujing and streets leading into it. Any attempt at protest would not have lasted a minute under such scrutiny.

The government is always edgy as it prepares for the annual session of the country’s legislature, which begins this year on March 5th. But as security precautions as far afield as Kashgar suggest, it is more than usually nervous this time. Copies of The Economist on sale in Beijing had last week's Banyan column (about China in the context of the Arab world’s turmoil) ripped out by censors. CNN’s reports on the upheaval are often blacked out. Even Mr Huntsman’s name has become a blocked search term in China.

China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, in what might have been partly an attempt to assuage any would-be revolutionaries, promised in an online “chat” on Sunday (hours before the called-for protest in Wangfujing) that the government would continue efforts to tame inflation. Rapid increases in house prices have been causing strong resentment among those not yet on the housing ladder. “I only have two years left for my tenure of office. I think the work in the two years will be not at all easier than that in the previous eight years, but will be much tougher instead”, said Mr Wen. Certainly China’s police are braced for trouble. The Economist

Taiwan's commonsense consensus

Economic integration with China is not doing what China hoped and the opposition feared

Two elderly men in baseball caps have been touring Taipei’s government district this week with a loud-hailer. The slogans they shout are plastered over their battered little van: “Warmly welcome Chen Yunlin and the inauguration of the Economic Co-operation Committee!” It is not catchy, and nobody pays a blind bit of notice.

Their excitement about two of the latest signs of Taiwan’s burgeoning ties with China is not widely shared.

Mr Chen is a Chinese official who has been leading negotiations with Taiwan. Since Ma Ying-jeou was elected Taiwan’s president in 2008, these have led to 15 cross-strait agreements, including last year’s “ECFA” (Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement)—a free-trade agreement in embryo. Mr Chen arrived in Taiwan on February 23rd with a group of businessmen, scouting investment opportunities. The day before, an Economic Co-operation Committee (ECC), a joint China-Taiwan body to oversee implementation of the ECFA, met for the first time.

All this is par for the course these days. Exchanges between the two sides have been booming for over 20 years. China and Hong Kong take more than 40% of Taiwan’s exports; its businesses have at least $90 billion invested in the mainland, where some 800,000 Taiwanese live. And the past couple of years have seen a remarkable acceleration in exchanges. Besides Mr Chen and the ECC members, 400 Chinese travel agents arrived on February 22nd. The previous week saw the mayor of Nanjing fly in with 100 people in tow, and the governor of Liaoning province with 800. Regular direct flights began only in July 2008. Yet last year 1.6m Chinese tourists visited.

For both Mr Ma’s Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), and the Chinese Communist Party, this is a deliberate political strategy. The KMT hopes to show voters the benefits of better ties with China, after the fraught eight-year presidency of Chen Shui-bian, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which believes Taiwan is independent of China.

Taiwan’s economy grew by over 10% in 2010, when Taiwan recorded a surplus on bilateral trade of more than $70 billion with China and Hong Kong. China hopes economic interdependence will win hearts and minds. This will keep the more congenial KMT in power. And it will bring closer the day when Taiwan’s people fall willingly back, as China sees it, into the warm embrace of the motherland and “reunify”.

This cunning plan does not seem to be working. In local elections in November, the DPP won more votes than the KMT. Despite being trounced in the presidential election in 2008, and seeing its former leader, Mr Chen, jailed for corruption, the DPP now has a realistic chance of winning back the presidency next year. And in polls on Taiwan’s future reported by the government’s Mainland Affairs Council, support for unification “as soon as possible” is as low as it has ever been, at 1.2%. Even the numbers wanting “status quo now/unification later”, at 17.6%, have barely budged since the 2008 election. In the same period, support for independence, now or later, has climbed from 30.5% to 35.5%.

Perhaps this is not so surprising. Taiwan has long behaved as a normal country in almost everything except its dealings with its large neighbour. As those become easier, the status quo seems even more desirable. And increased contact highlights points of difference as much as a shared ethnic and cultural heritage. Knowing China better makes Taiwanese even more aware of how lucky they are to be prosperous and free.

So Mr Ma has to balance his economic romance with China with political aloofness. In response to the upheavals in the Middle East, he has called for reform in China. He keeps asking America to sell Taiwan new fighter jets. This week he berated an envoy from the Philippines, with which Taiwan is furious for deporting Taiwan citizens accused of fraud to China.

Perversely, the traditionally “pro-independence” DPP is better placed to profit from the heightened sense of a distinct Taiwanese identity that increased contacts are spawning. But it too faces a dilemma. People undoubtedly do like the economic benefits of co-operation with China. The KMT has negotiated them under a weird formula known as the “1992 consensus”, in which China and Taiwan sit down together agreeing there is only “one China”, while keeping silent about what that means.

The DPP rejects this. The rival contenders for its presidential candidacy next year are competing to come up with other “consensuses” to propose as a substitute. They know that to be a credible party of government again, they have to be able to deal with China. As one supporter puts it, “that’s not a consensus, it’s common sense.” So this week the DPP launched a think-tank intended both to devise a workable China policy and to act as a channel for cross-strait talks. China seems ready to give the DPP a chance. The trip by Chen Yunlin, the senior Chinese negotiator, includes a foray into the party’s heartlands in the south of the island. The DPP itself is for once not to stage any protests against his visit, though doubtless plenty of citizens will.

Make me free or Chinese. But not yet

The KMT likes to portray the DPP as dangerous hotheads who might force China to carry out its threat of invasion if Taiwan declares independence. The DPP paints the KMT as a party of Chinese stooges leading Taiwan blindfold towards absorption by the mainland. In fact, the two parties are having a more sophisticated argument: not about independence or unification, but about how best to preserve a status quo most people in Taiwan cherish. The danger is how China might react as it becomes clear that present policies are bringing unification no closer. The hope is that, with so much else to preoccupy it, its leaders will enjoy the smoother relations and not ask where they are leading. By Banyan for The Economist

Sunday, February 27, 2011

WikiLeaks Fears Over Chinese Nukes

Top Chinese officials reportedly want to equal US nuclear arsenal

Top Chinese officials have declared that there can be no limit to the expansion of Beijing's nuclear arsenal amid growing regional fears that it will eventually equal that of the United States with profound consequences for the strategic balance in Asia.
Records of secret US-China defence consultations, leaked to WikiLeaks and provided to Asia Sentinel, have revealed that US diplomats have repeatedly failed to persuade the rising Asian superpower to be more transparent about its nuclear forces and Chinese officials have privately acknowledged a desire for military advantage underpins continuing secrecy.

According to the US diplomatic cables, Deputy Chief of China's People's Liberation Army, General Staff Ma Xiaotian told US Defence and State Department officials in June 2008 that the growth of China's nuclear forces was an "imperative reality" and that could be "no limit on technical progress."

Rejecting American calls for China to reveal the size of its nuclear capabilities, Lieutenant-General Ma bluntly declared "it is impossible for [China] to change its decades-old way of doing business to become transparent using the US model."

While claiming in a further July 2009 discussion that Beijing's nuclear posture has "always been defensive in nature and that China would "never enter into a nuclear arms race," Ma acknowledged that "frankly speaking, there are areas of China's nuclear program that are not very transparent." However in order to maximise the effectiveness of its nuclear forces Ma reiterated that "China must limit transparency regarding its nuclear facilities, the nature of its weapons systems, and its force structure."

Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister He Yafei similarly told US officials in June 2008 that nuclear transparency was "a sensitive issue" and that "now is not the time for China to tell others what we have." He added that there will be an "inevitable and natural extension" of Chinese military power and that China "cannot accept others setting limits on our capabilities."

Other leaked US cables reveal that Japan fears that China's nuclear arsenal will eventually grow to equal that of the US, and Tokyo has urged Washington to retain strong nuclear capabilities to deter an "increasingly bold" China from doing "something stupid."

In top-level nuclear policy consultations in June 2009, senior Japanese Defence Ministry officials told US representatives that Tokyo's assessment was that "China is rapidly upgrading its nuclear capability beyond its relatively insignificant levels from the 1980s and the 1990s, and is trying to reach parity with Russia and the United States."

"China is displaying newfound confidence in its military capabilities and is visibly showing its strength in the region, particularly with respect to the [Japanese] Senkakus [island group]," Japan-US Defence Cooperation Director Kiyoshi Serizawa told US diplomats. Serizawa warned that China was "making 'step-by-step' overtures toward claiming the islands."

Similarly a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official warned that China's "troubling" nuclear build-up had to be viewed in context of other Chinese activities including its 2007 anti-satellite test, cyber attacks and growing naval capabilities.

"If China perceives the United States having difficulty accessing the region, it is more likely to do 'something stupid,' Japan-US Security Treaty Division senior coordinator Yusuke Arai said.

In a separate discussion with US diplomats, senior Japanese Defence Ministry officials expressed concern that the Obama Administration's intention to negotiate with Russia deep cuts in nuclear forces would encourage China's nuclear build up.

Defence Policy Bureau Director-General Nobushige Takamizawa claimed that comments by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates' during the 2009 International Institute for Security Studies' Asia Security Summit in Singapore -- the Shangri-La Dialogue – on the need for the US and Russia to reduce their respective nuclear arsenals "gave the impression that the United States considered China's nuclear force as small enough not to warrant halting its build-up, thus 'encouraging' China to continue to increase its nuclear arsenal."

"Given that Japan has consistently urged China to decrease its nuclear weapons, China and other Shangri-La Dialogue participants would have interpreted the Secretary's comments as indicative of a gap in positions between the United States and Japan. General Ma Xiaotian, People's Liberation Army Deputy Chief of the General Staff, appeared to be genuinely 'happy' with Secretary Gates' comments," Takamizawa asserted.

In the same discussion, another senior Japanese Defence official warned that while China had long declared a "no first use" nuclear weapons posture, "no nuclear expert believes this is true."

The Japanese Foreign Ministry also highlighted what the Japanese government considered "desired" characteristics for US nuclear strike capabilities: "flexible - credible - prompt - discriminating and selective - stealthy and also demonstrable - sufficient to dissuade others."

Both US and Japanese officials agreed that the opaque nature of China's nuclear build-up was troubling and the Japanese underscored that close US-Japan coordination was "critical" before to any US decisions on "deep cuts" in nuclear weapons talks with Russia.

"Japan basically welcomes nuclear arms reduction by the United States and Russia, but the two governments need to be cognizant of China's expanding and modernizing nuclear capabilities," the US Embassy in Tokyo reported to Washington, adding that Japanese officials had emphasised that "the foundation of Japan's national security rests on the credibility of US extended deterrence."

Following the release of the Obama Administration's Nuclear Posture Review early last year, the US and Russia signed a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty on April 8, 2010, in which Washington and Moscow agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals by half, to 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons, over the next seven years.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates China currently has up to 90 inter-continental range ballistic missiles - 66 land-based ICBMs and 24 submarine launched ballistic missiles – together with more than 400 intermediate range missiles targeting Taiwan and Japan. Similar estimates were published in the US Defence Department's 2010 report to Congress on Chinese military power – though it was estimated that the number of short to medium range missiles available to target Taiwan and Japan could exceed 1500. According to media reports the US intelligence community predicts that by the mid-2020s, China could more than double the number of warheads on missiles capable of threatening the United States.

Owing to the great sensitivity of the subject, the US and Japanese Governments agreed that they would not publicly release any details of their June 2009 nuclear consultations.

Other leaked US diplomatic cables reveal that Beijing has offered some assurances about the safety and security of its nuclear forces with the China's strategic nuclear and conventional missile force commander, Second Artillery General Jing Zhiyuan telling a US congressional delegation in August 2007 that an unauthorized or accidental launch of a nuclear weapon was "definitely impossible."

General Jing explained that China nuclear weapons were subject to strict monitoring and direct control by China's Central Military Commission. He cited as a personal example "that even as the Second Artillery commander, he has to apply for access to launch facilities and be escorted by his staff."

Asked about the hundreds of conventionally armed ballistic missiles China has deployed along its southeast coast opposite Taiwan, General Jing asserted China's longstanding position that Taiwan is part of China and claimed that "the deployment of these conventional missiles is not targeted at 'our Taiwan compatriots' or other countries ... These missiles target independence forces." Asia Sentinel by Philip Dorling National Affairs Correspondent for The Canberra Times, an author, and is currently engaged as a Visiting Fellow at the school of Humanities and Social Science in the Australian Defence Force Academy

Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators visiting Afghanistan

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators. The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as "information operations" at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

"My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. "I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line."

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on "hostile foreign groups." Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a "propaganda rider" that also prohibits such manipulation. "Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans," says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It’s what you learn on day one."

When Holmes and his four-man team arrived in Afghanistan in November 2009, their mission was to assess the effects of U.S. propaganda on the Taliban and the local Afghan population. But the following month, Holmes began receiving orders from Caldwell’s staff to direct his expertise on a new target: visiting Americans. At first, the orders were administered verbally. According to Holmes, who attended at least a dozen meetings with Caldwell to discuss the operation, the general wanted the IO unit to do the kind of seemingly innocuous work usually delegated to the two dozen members of his public affairs staff: compiling detailed profiles of the VIPs, including their voting records, their likes and dislikes, and their "hot-button issues." In one email to Holmes, Caldwell’s staff also wanted to know how to shape the general’s presentations to the visiting dignitaries, and how best to "refine our messaging."

Congressional delegations – known in military jargon as CODELs – are no strangers to spin. U.S. lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war. But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds."

The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. "How do we get these guys to give us more people?" he demanded. "What do I have to plant inside their heads?"
According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. "Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesn’t look good," says John Pike, a leading military analyst. "It doesn’t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that."

At a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misue of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. "We called it Operation Fourth Star," says Holmes. "Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations." At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.

It wasn’t the first time that Caldwell had tried to tear down the wall that has historically separated public affairs and psy-ops – the distinction the military is supposed to maintain between "informing" and "influencing." After a stint as the top U.S. spokesperson in Iraq, the general pushed aggressively to expand the military’s use of information operations. During his time as a commander at Ft. Leavenworth, Caldwell argued for exploiting new technologies like blogging and Wikipedia – a move that would widen the military’s ability to influence the public, both foreign and domestic. According to sources close to the general, he also tried to rewrite the official doctrine on information operations, though that effort ultimately failed.

(In recent months, the Pentagon has quietly dropped the nefarious-sounding moniker "psy-ops" in favor of the more neutral "MISO" – short for Military Information Support Operations.)

Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders.

Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. "It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!" Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.

In March 2010, Breazile issued a written order that "directly tasked" Holmes to conduct an IO campaign against "all DV visits" – short for "distinguished visitor." The team was also instructed to "prepare the context and develop the prep package for each visit." In case the order wasn’t clear enough, Breazile added that the new instructions were to "take priority over all other duties." Instead of fighting the Taliban, Holmes and his team were now responsible for using their training to win the hearts and minds of John McCain and Al Franken.

On March 23rd, Holmes emailed the JAG lawyer who handled information operations, saying that the order made him "nervous." The lawyer, Capt. John Scott, agreed with Holmes. "The short answer is that IO doesn’t do that," Scott replied in an email. "[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and IO works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional." In another email, Scott advised Holmes to seek his own defense counsel. "Using IO to influence our own folks is a bad idea," the lawyer wrote, "and contrary to IO policy."

In a statement to Rolling Stone, a spokesman for Caldwell "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors." But after Scott offered his legal opinion, the order was rewritten to stipulate that the IO unit should only use publicly available records to create profiles of U.S. visitors. Based on the narrower definition of the order, Holmes and his team believed the incident was behind them. Three weeks after the exchange, however, Holmes learned that he was the subject of an investigation, called an AR 15-6. The investigation had been ordered by Col. Joe Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. The 22-page report, obtained by Rolling Stone, reads like something put together by Kenneth Starr. The investigator accuses Holmes of going off base in civilian clothes without permission, improperly using his position to start a private business, consuming alcohol, using Facebook too much, and having an "inappropriate" relationship with one of his subordinates, Maj. Laural Levine. The investigator also noted a joking comment that Holmes made on his Facebook wall, in
response to a jibe about Afghan men wanting to hold his hand. "Hey! I’ve been here almost five months now!" Holmes wrote. "Gimmee a break a man has needs you know." "LTC Holmes’ comments about his sexual needs," the report concluded, "are even more distasteful in light of his status as a married man."

Both Holmes and Levine maintain that there was nothing inappropriate about their relationship, and said they were waiting until after they left Afghanistan to start their own business. They and other members of the team also say that they
had been given permission to go off post in civilian clothes. As for Facebook, Caldwell’s command had aggressively encouraged its officers to the use the site as part of a social-networking initiative – and Holmes ranked only 15th among the biggest users. Nor was Holmes the only one who wrote silly things online. Col. Breazile’s Facebook page, for example, is spotted with similar kinds of nonsense, including multiple references to drinking alcohol, and a photo of a warning inside a Port-o-John mocking Afghans – "In case any of you forgot that you are supposed to sit on the toilet and not stand on it and squat. It’s a safety issue. We don’t want you to fall in or miss your target." Breazile now serves at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he works in the office dedicated to waging a global information war for the Pentagon.

Following the investigation, both Holmes and Levine were formally reprimanded. Holmes, believing that he was being targeted for questioning the legality of waging an IO campaign against U.S. visitors, complained to the Defense Department’s inspector general. Three months later, he was informed that he was not entitled to protection as a whistleblower, because the JAG lawyer he consulted was not "designated to receive such communications." Levine, who has a spotless record and 19 service awards after 16 years in the military, including a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq, fears that she has become "the collateral damage" in the military’s effort to retaliate against Holmes. "It will probably end my career," she says. "My father was an officer, and I believed officers would never act like this. I was devastated. I’ve lost my faith in the military, and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend anyone joining right now."

After being reprimanded, Holmes and his team were essentially ignored for the rest of their tours in Afghanistan. But on June 15th, the entire Afghan training mission received a surprising memo from Col. Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. "Effective immediately," the memo read, "the engagement in information operations by personnel assigned to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is strictly prohibited." From now on, the memo added, the "information operation cell" would be referred to as the "Information Engagement cell." The IE’s mission? "This cell will engage in activities for the sole purpose of informing and educating U.S., Afghan and international audiences…." The memo declared, in short, that those who had trained in psy-ops and other forms of propaganda would now officially be working as public relations experts – targeting a worldwide audience.

As for the operation targeting U.S. senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year.

Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target. Rolling Stone

Pakistani shooting exposes 'spy war'

THE shooting of two Pakistani men in Lahore by an undercover CIA agent has taken a new twist after it was claimed the victims worked for Pakistan's own intelligence agency and had been tailing the American's car for hours.

Raymond Davis, 36, sparked a diplomatic crisis last month when he shot dead two young men in the centre of the Punjabi capital. A third local man was killed by a back-up vehicle rushing to rescue him.

The reason for the shooting at a busy junction in daylight remains a mystery. Although the two men were armed, witness reports do not back the US government's claim they were common criminals trying to rob Mr Davis.

What is clear is that as they pulled in front of his car, Mr Davis felt threatened enough to pump seven bullets with professional accuracy into the two men. Pakistani officials claim they were shot in the back.

Pakistani political and security sources have claimed the two men were operatives of the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency: spies keeping tabs on a spy, killed in a story of brinkmanship gone wrong.

Officially, ISI denies this and suggests the men were Mr Davis's informants, who turned on him in a dispute over pay, causing him to panic that they would reveal his true identity.

However, according to ABC News, at least four Pakistani officials confirmed they were working for ISI. The Sunday Times found that both political and Foreign Office sources corroborated the claim that at least one of them was hired by ISI, although not a full agent.

Sources said the men had been sent to follow Mr Davis because ISI believed he had crossed "a red line". Late last month, Davis was asked to leave an area of Lahore restricted to the military. His mobile phone was tracked and some of his calls were made to Waziristan, where the Pakistani Taliban have a safe haven. It is suspected the calls were made to "ground informants" guiding US drone strikes against Taliban militants.

Pakistani intelligence officials allegedly saw Mr Davis as a threat who was "encroaching on their turf", and, according to one report, the men followed him for two hours, recording his movements on their phone cameras.

Mr Davis tried to escape after the shooting but failed. Items found in his car immediately fanned suspicion - a police report stated he had a Glock pistol, 75 bullets, a "survival kit" and a telescope. Questions were raised about what he was doing in a lower-class district that housed the office of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an organisation blacklisted by the UN as a terrorist front.

Mr Davis was unmasked as a CIA employee last week, but US papers had previously kept his true identity quiet after being told his life was at risk.

The US government claims Mr Davis has diplomatic immunity and is being held illegally. Fearful of looking like a US lackey to an enraged public, the fragile Pakistani government has refused to release him, and the judiciary and political establishment demand he stand trial.

Sources close to the case, however, claim the incident has much wider implications and reveals a covert turf war being waged between ISI and the CIA.

According to one senior official, the granting of more than 2000 visas to US officials has riled ISI, which feels threatened by the presence of undeclared CIA operatives on its doorstep.

Mr Davis has become a pawn in a high-stakes tussle between the two agencies. ISI is using the controversy to demand the identities of CIA officers working in Pakistan and access to the drone technology used to target terrorist militants along the border with Afghanistan.

A senior ISI officer told The Sunday Times that Pakistani intelligence wanted to "move forward" from the affair if the US was willing to make concessions and treat Pakistan "as allies".

Trust could be regained by identifying agents and entrusting Pakistan with drone technology, he suggested. "Give us the drones and the question of sovereignty doesn't come in."

The question of drone secrets was reportedly raised at a meeting between US and Pakistani army chiefs last week.The Sunday Times(The Australian)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Filipino Maid Industry – Will the Middle East Crisis bring an End of the remittance bonanza?

FILIPINOS are all jittery over the events in the Arab world, and rightly so. This is a type of unease that is shared across the board, from those with next of kin working slave jobs for a pittance there to the dollar billionaires who own the malls and the juiciest slices of the national economy.

The ordinary families cannot afford losing the remittances from the Arab countries, which employ at least 70 percent of all OFWs. The business sector moving people and cargo cannot afford Middle East-supplied crude oil at over US$100 per barrel—which would likely happen once the political turmoil becomes a full-blown political conflagration.

The dollar billionaires who own the malls fear a drop in mall sales, which is inevitable once remittances thin out. The banks fear a drop in remittances, which the banks facilitate for a fee, as well as a sharp reduction in vehicle loans which OFWs take out from the banks to buy those brisk-selling AUVs.

Other fears:

1. The national government has been historically inept at evacuating OFWs from strife-torn countries.

2. The supposedly remunerative jobs back home for displaced OFWs are more fiction than fact. They do not exist, unless the returning OFWs have mastery of the English language that they can use for BPO jobs, or have programming and networking and database management skills for the ICT jobs in the BPO sector.

And we can add this: The ambassador in charge of evacuating workers, former AFP chief of staff Roy Cimatu, is a troubled man himself. He is at the center of a Senate investigation on corruption—and pabaon—at the AFP.

There is a two-word summary of the dire consequences of a full-blown convulsion in the Arab world: economic catastrophe.

The fear and trembling in Manila is at a scale we only know and feel.

Why? Because the other countries that are generating remittances on a moderate to huge scale do not have a one-dimensional, remittance-dependent economy such as ours, except for Mexico. But Mexico is a special case because it relies on dollars sent in from the US, not the Middle East. And the menial jobs that the Mexicans take in the US—while affected by the recession—will not really disappear in massive volumes.

India and China also have remittance-sending overseas workers but these workers are evenly spread out in various countries, again, unlike us whose OFWs are concentrated in the Middle East countries.

And, we all know this: We are the only economy in the world with a yearly remittance that is greater than its yearly merchandise exports and foreign direct investments.
That People Power, called Jasmine Revolution now, forced a despotic Ben Ali out of power in Tunisia awed us. But, it was shock that came after, when People Power spread through the Arab world like a proverbial wildfire.

As Bahrain and Libya were rocked by bloody protests, the worst of our nightmares—violence destabilizing countries that are host to hundreds of thousands of OFWs—is staring us in the face. What if the protests in Bahrain move over to the huge kingdom after the causeway?

We took note of the long Iran-Iraq War but only lightly. We were concerned a bit when Iraq invaded Kuwait and when the Allied forces dealt with Saddam. What is taking place in the Arab world right now is something that truly terrifies us because this is a real threat to our remittance-based economy.

Imagine these: Planeloads of returning OFWs, massive joblessness, an economy deprived of its main anchor overnight. A huge void and with no tools to fill up that huge economic void.

Planning for the return of dislocated workers—this is the greater tragedy—is not something that has been done by the national leaders. Because of our basic incapacity to deal with this. Because of the limited absorptive capacity of the local job market. Should the events in the Arab world force out, say, 100,000 workers, there is no way we can place one third of the 100,000 three months after their arrival.

We can say this again: Returning OFWs, unless armed with the skills required by the BPO job market, would end up swelling further the ranks of the jobless. We can’t state what await them any other way.

The six other growth areas other than BPO, mining, tourism etc, are not really potential major employers for returning OFWs.

So what are we to do? Right now, we have no option but to sit and wait—and join the community of nations in praying that the Arab upheavals would not result in more theocracy. Or worst, the emergence of Taliban-like leaders.

As a general rule, democracies with the rule of law, open economies, free press and strong civil societies are better host countries for our OFWs. Here is the econimic equation: A single OFW in North America sends in a monthly remittance equivalent to the remittances of 10 OFWs in the Middle East.

If a popularly elected parliament emerges in a post-Qaddafi Libya, we can truly claim “answered prayers” after the days of blood and unease. Manila Times

Bangkok-Phnom Penh Conflict - Understanding Cambodia's goal and strategy on the border

Many years ago, MR Kasemsamosorn Kasemsri - one of the best diplomats Thailand ever produced - gave me an invaluable lesson in diplomacy and life. If we really want to get to the bottom of any matter, we must not simply ask "why?" but more importantly "why now?"

The latest border fight between Cambodia and Thailand provides a case in point. The artillery fire started by Cambodia (allegedly aimed, as stated by the latter, at a Thai construction site and machinery for road building in the border area) came out of nowhere and caught Thailand off guard. The road construction in and around the area by both countries has been a matter of bilateral dispute, as each has claimed that that area of construction is within its own territory.

Leaving the legitimacy of the territorial claims aside, it's worthy of note that:
1. Cambodia has purposely chosen the Preah Vihear Temple as the launch site for its own cannons and rockets. The basic rule of military engagement is that return fire be aimed at the launch site of the offensive artillery. If the temple is so precious to Cambodia, as it claims, and there is no other overriding hidden agenda, how can Cambodia knowingly put the temple at risk by originating its firing from there?

2. Cambodia claimed "heavy damage" was done to the structure of the temple by the rounds returned by Thai guns. The fact of the matter is that the temple was damaged extensively over the years by the Khmer Rouge's heavy shelling to root out General Lon Nol during the country's civil war. Any genuine conservationist would never place artillery at the site of the temple. By so doing, Cambodia is using the temple as a pawn and gambling it away as a hostage.

3. Recently it seems that the campaign by Thailand and its friends for Unesco to halt the completion process of the World Heritage registration - submitted by Cambodia to include the entire surrounding area - is gaining ground. Cambodia cannot want to see its plan slip through its fingers. Something must be done by the Cambodian leadership to invigorate and fuel the fire in the bellies of diehard conservationists everywhere, and for Unesco to wrap up the process quickly per the Cambodian design, to prevent further possible destruction to the temple.

If Unesco accepts the Cambodian registration request in its entirety, the territorial question will be nullified, as the Unesco ruling will make the Cambodian territorial claim a fait accompli, and a Thai appeal or any further action would be rendered futile. It would likely be put in the "unsportsmanlike-like" and "hostile" categories.

The aforementioned factors can explain the "why now?" question. Now on with the Cambodian strategy and tactics.

Simultaneous to its military manoeuvre, Cambodia launched an all-out appeal to the United Nations as well as Unesco. The trump cards it has are several. And the Cambodian strategy will go down as a best-case study in diplomacy for years to come. It's a multi-pronged, multi-level strategy, taking full advantage of Thailand's serious internal divisions and misplaced nationalism of a vociferous few.

On the international stage, Cambodia is perceived as a smaller country and at a lower developmental rating than Thailand. The perceived notion of a smaller and weaker sibling falling prey to a bullying bigger brother always attracts sympathy. Cambodia also knows that it has a staunch ally in France on the UN Security Council.

And Paris is not the only friend Cambodia can count on in this UN body.

Quite suspiciously the ceasefire mutually reached by both Thailand and Cambodia, and the fanfare over the latter's release of captured Thai soldiers, happened the day before Cambodia's petition to the UN to get involved and to send its peacekeeping forces. The two incidents provide a perfect backdrop for the Cambodian plea, and portray Cambodia as a peace-loving and peace-seeking nation at the expense of Thailand the aggressor.

Hun Sen himself is a veteran in diplomatic affairs. He was foreign minister of the PRK/SOC regime in 1979 before becoming prime minister in 1985. He and experienced compatriots like Hor Num Hong know how to spin the matter in the international arena better than anyone. Diplomacy is where experience and wisdom count.

Hun Sen's efforts are paying off. His strategy has made both the UN and Unesco start ticking. Both bodies are sending "fact-finding" missions to the area. Unfortunately for Thailand, the commiseration card is in the possession of Cambodia.

If Cambodia is successful in convincing the UN to deploy peacekeeping forces to the disputed area, as it strongly requests, the whole disputed territory will be out of reach of Thailand's appeal. But for Cambodia it is only the first of two punches it can pull to finish off the whole affair. Worse, nobody can tell how big the area might be under the jurisdiction of the UN peacekeeping forces.

Unesco is at a crossroads with regard to Preah Vihear Temple. Its fact-finding trip may make it realise that it should not be dragged into becoming a part of one country's agenda, and becoming the cause of irreparable conflict between two of its members. Or it can resolve to put a stop to any further structural damage to this World Heritage site by swiftly ruling that the surrounding area belongs to the temple, as Cambodia requests.

As for Thailand, we have long insisted that the territorial dispute is a bilateral matter and should be settled accordingly. Meanwhile, Asean has indicated its willingness to mediate, as both Thailand and Cambodia are Asean members, and the prolonged conflict between the two cannot be good for the whole grouping. The question remains whether Thailand is willing to consider multilateralism as an option.

These are the factors that Thailand has to take into account in formulating an effective strategy and response. So far Cambodia has been a good disciple of Sun Wu Tzu, the great 6th century B.C. Chinese military strategist. It is making its plans "dark and as impenetrable as night, and when it moves, falls like a thunderbolt".

But it is not too late for Thailand to appreciate the same military master who espoused time honoured wisdom. "Know your enemy and know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster." And to remember the warning of the same sage: "Strategy with tactics is the slowest route to victory; and tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." By Pornpimol Kanchanalak for The Nation, Bangkok

The Hypocrisy of Politics - ASEAN wants profit from Burma

When Asean foreign ministers at their recent retreat in Lombok, Indonesia, endorsed the political manoeuvres of Burma's military regime and called for an end to Western sanctions, the message was clear: Asean means business.

This message disappointed those who thought Asean might mean something else as well, such as good governance promotion and human rights protection. On Burma, Asean has placed profits over principles. If Asean wants to ensure real progress - not only for Burma but for Asean itself - it needs to prioritise democratic ideals and start challenging the military regime to deliver real change.

In Lombok, Asean foreign ministers cited Burma's November 2010 election and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest as "sure signs" toward democracy and cause for reviewing the policy on sanctions. It is hard to believe that anyone, let alone Asean leaders, actually thinks these events point to true reforms.

The State Peace and Development Council's (SPDC) authoritarian exercise to fill a new parliament with the old regime of military officers, associates and cronies wasn't a real election by any standard. The military backed Union Development and Solidarity Party (USDP) won an absurd 76 per cent of contested seats through various forms of well-documented fraud, including the widespread abuse of advance votes to manipulate results. In some areas, reported turnout exceeded 100 per cent of eligible voters. Authorities announced winners in constituencies where elections had not been held. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's claim that the election was "conducive and transparent" simply has no basis in reality.

Likewise, excessive praise for Aung San Suu Kyi's release requires ignoring basic facts. With the arbitrary term of unjust house arrest set to expire anyway, the SPDC used the opportunity to deflect criticism of the fraudulent election and build support for the new civilian military regime. Aung Suu Kyi's repeated calls for dialogue remain unanswered. Her continued freedom is not guaranteed. The SPDC's calculated move indicates no interest in national reconciliation and no evidence of the rule of law democracies require.

Asean has embraced the SPDC's big lie, and it looks worse than silly. It looks money hungry. Asean member states already profit from business deals with Burma's regime. In November 2010, Italian-Thai Development Company signed a US$8 billion development deal on the Dawei deep sea port project in Tenasserim Division. Singapore provides over 20 per cent of Burma's imports. At the end of 2010, trade between Burma and Vietnam was expected to reach $160 million, a 60 per cent increase over 2009.

Asean nations stand to increase already considerable and growing gains should barriers to trade and investment be lowered.

In the name of business, Asean seems willing to accept the harsh realities of military rule. The SPDC has devastated the economy for personal gain, detained thousands of prisoners of conscience, and tortured and killed democracy activists and ordinary citizens.

Civilians in ethnic states continue to be particularly at risk. Decades of armed conflict in eastern Burma have left half a million civilians internally displaced, with more than 140,000 in camps in Thailand. Now, violence triggered by the November election has caused the largest influx of refugees into Thailand in more than 20 years. Over 8,000 people continue to seek shelter in Thailand with no end to the latest fighting in sight. The authors of a recent report documenting human rights abuses in Chin State claim the evidence could amount to crimes against humanity.

There is a legitimate debate to be had over the effectiveness and value of specific sanctions. However, this debate must address the facts, and not the SPDC's fantasy of rigged votes, empty gestures and superficial reforms. The focus must be ordinary citizens, and not business interests. The goal must be Burma's genuine democratisation, and not Asean's economic integration. Profit motive and wishful thinking should not drive the discussion.

Asean's call to end sanctions does not meet these standards. Instead, the neglect of SPDC abuse and backing of SPDC deceit threatens its own credibility and eases the pressure on Burma's generals to step down.

It's time for Asean to place human interests over economic interests. This shift can enhance Asean's legitimacy and capacity as an institution upholding democratic norms. It also gives Burma's citizens a better chance at inclusive governance.

Asean should base recommendations on Burma on clear and publicised benchmarks, including tripartite dialogue, cessation of armed conflict in ethnic areas, and the release of Burma's more than 2,100 political prisoners. Asean should express an openness to cooperate with the SPDC, ethnic nationality groups and democratic forces to implement these actions.

Asean needs to show the SPDC and the world that when it comes to democracy and human rights, it means business.

Special to “The Nation” Bangkok by Khin Omar coordinator of the Burma Partnership network, which aims to promote democratic development in Burma.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Removing a Dictator Does Not Make Indonesia a Model for Egypt

Former President Suharto

On the day of Hosni Mubarak's resignation as president of Egypt, I sat in a coffee shop in Indonesia with a friend who had helped to bring about a similar resignation of Indonesia's former strongman, Suharto, just 12 years ago.

Today, Indonesia enjoys what many Western diplomats have praised as a thriving democracy. Yet my friend looked at me and said: "Our biggest mistake was thinking all we needed was Suharto's resignation. We hope Egypt can strive for better."

The feeling of simultaneous regret for his own country's situation and hope for that of countries protesting in the Arab world is not unique to my friend; it is one that has been echoed at food stalls, in universities and on social media outlets across Indonesia.

If senior US policy experts are touting Indonesia as one of the key models for emerging Muslim-majority democracies in Egypt and potentially elsewhere in the Arab world, why have so many Indonesians said that Egypt should learn from their country's failures rather than its supposed successes?

In the years following Mr Suharto's downfall, legalistic and institutional reforms were in many areas broad and thorough. But many Indonesians said those who praise the country's free elections and institutional reforms are missing the point.

The reforms that matter - those that would stem the pervasive corruption, improve social service delivery and stop violent mobs from being able to harm and kill minority groups at will - may have been enacted, but in many cases they have not been implemented. Essentially, Indonesians said they have not yet seen the fruits of democracy in their daily lives.

Without proper polling data it is difficult to determine how reflective these sentiments are of the Indonesian population as a whole. But the extent to which such sentiments have been expressed on social media outlets and in the three regions of the country where I have done fieldwork is striking. When compared with the praise that has been heaped on Indonesia by US foreign policy experts and senior officials, it is startling.

In fact, the contrast points to a much larger problem in the approach to democracy promotion among the most senior levels of US policy making, particularly as it fits into diplomatic relations. By focusing too heavily on the procedural indicators of democracy to judge a country's democratic "success," such as free and fair elections or legal reforms, policymakers as well as commentators risk missing many of the issues that contributed to civil unrest in Indonesia 12 years ago, and they are doing so across the Arab world today.

In fact, by heaping too much praise on governments that continue to fail in the basic fundamentals of liberal democracy and universal rights - such as minimizing corruption or protecting minorities - the US government risks accelerating the frustration and disillusionment with democracy in these societies.

Indeed, Dr Robin Bush, The Asia Foundation's country representative in Indonesia, has written on multiple occasions over the past two years about the threat that ongoing corruption and poor social service delivery present to the Indonesian democracy. She has noted the small but rising nostalgia in some communities for the stability of the Suharto era.

Indonesia was ranked 110th out of 178 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index last year. Thus, for Indonesians, hearing that their country is a beacon of democracy has seemed to create questions about the applicability of democracy more than anything else.

"This is it?" people wondered.

No one is saying that Indonesia is going to erupt into a wave of regime-change protests tomorrow, or that its citizens' problems are anywhere near those of protesters in many countries now. The fact that I am able to write this is a testament to that fact.

However, if US policymakers hope to promote governments that are truly going to address many of the frustrations creating instability in the Middle East and other parts of the world, it is important that they look soberly at the shortcomings, as well as successes, of countries like Indonesia.

Indonesia's fate is yet unwritten. To sell the country as a wholesale democratic success is to undersell democracy and the sentiments of many of its citizens.

After all, if there is anything that the beginning of the 21st century has shown the world, it is that neither the US government nor any other government can afford to ignore the voice of the individual.

By Jamie Morgan - Straits Times Indonesia has been in Indonesia for the past year via a grant from the US-Indonesia Society, doing research on US engagement with Muslim communities in the country. Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia.

HIV Sufferers and Discrimination

Most Asian nations carry discriminatory laws, UN program finds

The vast majority of countries in the Asia-Pacific region still have laws on the books obstructing the rights of people living with HIV and populations at higher risk of HIV exposure, according to a United Nations-sponsored conference in Bangkok last week.

"In the Asia-Pacific region, and across the world, there are too many examples of countries with laws, policies and practices that punish, rather than protect, people in need of HIV services,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), who joined the regional dialogue in a conference with participants from 22 countries.

Sidibé told a press conference that 19 countries criminalize same-sex relations, 29 criminalize some aspect of sex work, 16 impose travel restrictions on people living with HIV and many countries enforce compulsory detention for people who use drugs, with 11 countries in Asia issuing the death penalty for drug offences.

Community advocates and law- and policymakers joined experts from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, an independent body comprising some of the world's most respected legal, human right and HIV leaders, on Feb. 17. The participants discussed and debated region-wide experiences of restrictive and enabling legal and social environments faced by the key affected populations in the Asia-Pacific region, including people living with HIV. It was the first in a series of regional debates to be held across the world this year.

The law often brings overwhelming obstacles to the most vulnerable groups, said Jon Ungphakorn, a Thai social activist, former Senator for Bangkok and Commissioner of the Global Council on HIV and the Law. "The criminalization of men who have sex with men and drug users prevents them from getting access to methods for HIV prevention and care. In many countries, drug users are not separated from drug dealers, facing very high penalties," he mentioned as examples.

"In Thailand we have access to antiretroviral drugs, but it is not universal. Migrant workers and refugees don't have that access. Prisoners have access but only if they are Thai," Ungphakorn explained, emphasizing that prisons often lack health systems and mentioning a survey that showed that the HIV rate is much higher among those leaving prisons than those who enter them. "Prison is a place where they get HIV, and that is true for many countries."

The regional debate focused not solely on laws but on legal issues in general. "In fact there was a very strong message from the participants that it is not just about the law, but also on how it is applied. Law enforcement and obstacles in access to justice continue to be a problem and can increase the risk and vulnerability of people," Mandeep Dhaliwal, Cluster Leader HIV, Health, Human Rights and Governance at UNDP told Citizen News Service (CNS).

Other strong messages included the problems of criminalization and issues regarding mandatory testing. "There were many examples of good practices too, like judgments of courts which now need to get translated into meaningful change for affected communities," said Dhaliwal, who is member of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law's Technical Advisory Group.

"We definitely got a good picture of what happens and needs to be done in this region," she said. "And part of the process of the regional debates is to create mobilization, to catalyze actions. A lot of legislators talked about what they were going to do now. We need to address issues of the law with the same vigor we have for prevention and treatment issues. There still is a profound lack of awareness on the effect that laws can have on people living with HIV and those most vulnerable to it."

Six more dialogues are to follow in different regions of the world in the coming months. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law was launched in June 2010 by the United Nations Development Program, on behalf of UNAIDS, to analyze the most critical legal and human rights challenges of the HIV epidemic and recommend remedial policies. Its findings and recommendations will be announced in December. By Babs Verblackt who writes for Citizen News Service (CNS) and is based in Thailand.

Happiness and Bhutan

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck: The Happiest Bhutanese?
It's not for everybody, but still...

The concept of gross national happiness (GNH) was developed in an attempt to define an indicator that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than gross domestic product (GDP).

It is not clear just when Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth King of Bhutan, came up with the idea of substituting a Gross National Happiness Index instead of the more common gross domestic product to measure social, economic and political changes in his isolated Himalayan Shangri-la.

But substitute he did. The index was inaugurated and launched by the country by the Prime Minister on Nov. 24, 2008 when he passed his crown – and a newly-fledged democratic nation – to his Oxford-educated son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in 2008. The elder Wangchuck had been working on the concept for decades.

And, while it might sound like something that sprang from the hippies of San Francisco during the Summer of Love, Bhutan takes it very seriously. And perhaps so should Gen. Than Shwe and the Burmese government, for instance, or perhaps Kim Jong-un, the incoming Young General who will take over North Korea from his despotic dad.
And, of course, there is the small matter of the 100,000-odd ethnic Nepalese that the King Jigme Singye kicked out of Bhutan and who lived for several decades in seven UN refugee camps in southeastern Nepal until the United States offered to take 60,000 of them and five other nations each took 10,000 for resettlement. They appear to be looking Gross National Happiness in nations far from Bhutan.
Nonetheless, in 2008 the kingdom established an entire new institutional structure, with GNH committees at the ministerial, district and block levels to help shape the nature of Bhutan's political economy, legal foundation, health and education systems.

Happiness, the government says, "is a subjectively felt public good. Happiness is a public good, as all human beings value it. Hence, the government of Bhutan takes the view that it cannot be left exclusively to private individual devices and strivings. If a government's policy framework, and thus a nation's macro-conditions, is adverse to happiness, happiness will fail as a collective goal. Any government concerned with happiness must create conducive conditions for happiness in which individual strivings can succeed."

Coming up with an actual barometer to gauge national happiness isn't easy. The Centre for Bhutan Studies, headed by Karma Ura and headquartered in the kingdom's capital of Thimpu, has published a 6,600 word treatise on how it was developed to reflect GNH values, set benchmarks and track policies and performance.

Despite the fact that happiness is extremely subjective, the center has come up with an extremely detailed metric system to guide practical policies and programs. Screening tools are used for selection of policies and programmes, which are aligned with GNH. To develop these tools, the government chose at random 350 respondents in nine Bhutanese districts and spent an average of seven to eight hours to interview each one.

Ultimately that was cut down to a half day each and the survey was expanded to 950 respondents, who were each asked a total of 188 questions concerning psychological wellbeing, health, time use, education, cultural, good governance, ecology, community vitality and living standards in a mixture of objective, subjective, and open-ended questions.

"The subjective voice that has been relatively neglected in social sciences as a whole and in indicators in particular has been restored in GNH indicators to produce a balanced representation of information between the objective and the subjective," the center said.

"The distinction between subjective and objective is but an abstraction from reality, given that from a Buddhist view, they do not exist. What exists in a fundamental way is relationality (as opposed to subject and object) at all levels, which can only be assessed by a broad range of social, economic, cultural, and environmental indicators.

"Seen in this way, happiness and well-being are ultimately a way of being that is affected by and affects relational quality, which changes in meaning over time with deepening sensitivities to the world around us and with our understanding of what is important or valuable for us and for all sentient beings."

People, the center says, "can make wrong choices that lead them away from happiness. Right policy frameworks can address and reduce such problems from recurring on a large scale."

In some branches of the behavioral sciences, the report says, the mind is conceived of as an input-output device responding to external stimuli, with happy and pleasurable feelings seen as dependent solely upon external stimuli. Happiness is perceived as a direct consequence of sensory pleasures. With such an overemphasis on external stimuli as the source for happiness, it isn't surprising that individuals are led to believe that being materialistic will increase their happiness.

But there is a contrary tradition to the external stimuli based happiness that point to a different source of happiness, showing that pleasurable feelings will be generated by shutting down sensory inputs and the related mental chatter.

"This involves secular meditation whereby the individual experiences the subject itself, as opposed to the subject perceiving external stimuli. There is much less external input to happiness through contemplative method. Long enough meditation may lead the brain structure (neural pathways) to be changed such that calmness and contentment will be a personality trait. In other words, the mental faculties can be trained towards happiness. From a contemplative perspective, extreme reliance on externally derived pleasure distracts the individual from inner sources of happiness, elevating the latter."

A measure of Gross National Happiness might be presumed to comprise a single psychological question on happiness such as 'Taking all things together, would you say you are: Very happy, Rather happy, Not very happy, or Not at all happy.'

But not in Bhutan. The GNH indicators have been designed to include "nine core dimensions regarded as components of happiness and well-being." They were "selected on normative grounds, and are equally weighted, because each dimension is considered to be relatively equal in terms of equal intrinsic importance as a component of gross national happiness."

The nine indicators include psychological wellbeing, time use, community vitality, culture, health, education, environmental Diversity, living standards and governance. Each of these is then broken down. Psychological wellbeing, for instance, include general psychological distress indicators, emotional balance indicators, and spirituality indicators. The community vitality indicators consist of a family vitality indicator, a safety indicator, a reciprocity indicator, a trust indicator, social support indicator, socialization indicator and kinship density indicator.

The index itself is constructed in two steps, one of which "pertains to identification and one to aggregation." From that point onward, the methods of measuring gross national happiness become too complicated to describe. Best to look up the Index itself from the Centre for Bhutan Studies. By John Berthelsen

Hong Kong's Budget Bureaucrats

Once again, the government ignores the long-term issues facing the territory

If Hong Kong were to choose to compare the abilities of its ministers with those of Singapore it would feel mightily embarrassed. Perhaps most striking is that between Singapore Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and his Hong Kong counterpart John Tsang Chun-wah as indicated by their respective abilities to both enunciate well-argued policies, and to implement them.

But there is perhaps a broader issue in that in Singapore there s a sense that the regime, however arrogant and oppressive, does feel a need to show results, to strive for excellence at least in some areas. Their Hong Kong counterparts mostly have the bureaucrats' preference for staying out of trouble, which means doing little to offend, in particular avoiding offending either local tycoon interests or their more distant masters in Beijing.

This week John Tsang unveiled his budget for 2011-12. Budgets are supposed to be both an occasion for adjusting spending and revenue for the coming year in the light of the conditions of the economy and requirements of society and of setting out medium-term plans for the tax system to reflect broader economic and social changes.

As he has done in his previous budget speeches, Tsang almost completely ignored the substantive longer-term issues despite the fact that the government itself has long acknowledged that the tax system is far too reliant on a very narrow and volatile range of imposts mostly related to the real estate market.

A few years ago the government intended to introduce a broad-based Goods and Services Tax (GST) to produce a steadier revenue flow. But it retreated in the face of widespread opposition and has since failed to come up with an alternative plan – though options are available such as taxes on power consumption and road usage which would both raise revenue and directly address what is arguably Hong Kong biggest social and long term economic problem – air pollution.

Tsang has not only failed to do so but his latest budget showed such a lack of imagination that the measures he announced to spend some of the massive surpluses that Hong Kong continues to build up in ways which contradict other, previously declared, policies. Some HK$4.7 billion is to go to provide an electricity subsidy to all local households, thereby making nonsense of a government campaign to use less energy and "go green". Sloganeering has long been a substitute for real policies to combat pollution but free electricity is positively contrary to anti-pollution efforts.

Tsang is also to make a partial waiver of residential property rates costing HK$9.9 billion in revenue. Rates are one of the most stable forms of revenue, fair in their application across all sectors of the economy and over time rising roughly in line with inflation. But instead of focusing on them as a key part of a more stable revenue system Tsang chose to make them the subject of an arbitrary, one-off reduction.

The government actually rejoices in property prices rising faster than other prices because it swells revenue even as it costs the territory's small and upcoming business dearly while rewarding those who have long been property owners. It cares nothing for the social or economic consequences of this real estate obsession.

Indeed both the power and rates giveaways were products of a refusal to recognize that Hong Kong has a chronic surplus revenue situation and reflects a desire by the bureaucrats to treat surpluses as gifts which they in their wisdom may sometimes deign to distribute arbitrarily. It is arrogant paternalism at its worst. This year it is also being used to massage the consumer price inflation figures in such a way as to make the real increase in government spending appear larger than it really is.

Tsang spoke a lot about the dangers of inflation, which he largely blamed on the US, and his determination to combat it. But this was so much self-aggrandizing nonsense. Given Hong Kong's peg to the US dollar and its ever growing economic linkages with a China simultaneously showing rising inflation and a rising currency there is scant that Hong Kong's government can do about local inflation. If it has any contribution that will be found in the huge increase ongoing in its capital spending, which has risen 50 percent over the past two years as it indulges in an orgy of transport projects headed by two which make no economic sense – a road bridge across the Pearl River delta and a HK$65 billion stretch of high speed rail track from the middle of Kowloon to the border – a journey which can already be done in under 30 minutes by car or the existing train route.

The huge outlays on these construction projects – which will also require import of labor – contrast with lack of capital spending on cleaning up the environment by replacing public and commercial transport vehicles and ferries with low-emission substitutes, on paying the power companies to stop burning coal – a major contributor to pollution – and follow most other major ports in developed countries in requiring ships to use low sulfur fuel when in local waters.

In another largely meaningless public relations gesture, Tsang announced that the government would issue inflation-linked bonds in an effort to allow savers to earn a real return at a time when savings bank rates are a negative 2 percent or more in real terms. However the proposed size of the issue – HK$5-10 billion is so small as to be meaningless in the context of HK deposits totaling HK$3.6 trillion. The market will ensure that the actual return on such a small issue is minimal and likely even less than their US equivalent.

The intellectual dishonesty of the government also shows up in its claims that it needs its HK$600 billion in fiscal reserves for a "rainy day" and also because it has HK$600 billion in unfunded future liabilities of its government employees – who mostly enjoy pension rights far superior to those in the private sector. Like most governments, Hong Kong has always operated on a cash rather than accrual accounting basis. So that liability is an irrelevance. If it draws up a real balance sheet it will be found that its other assets, such as the Airport Authority and Mass Transit Railway Corp. more than offset its pension liabilities.

The brutal underlying fact is that for reasons of both incompetence and the Scrooge mentality of the highly-paid senior bureaucracy government budget estimates almost invariably prove wrong by tens of billions of Hong Kong dollars. For the current year (ending March) there is expected to be a surplus of HK$71 billion against a projected deficit of HK$25 billion. This difference of HK$96 billion no less than 31 percent of total spending. Income is higher by HK$82 billion while spending has fallen short by HK$13 billion. Some of the wrong estimation results from the volatility of revenue sources – land sales and stamp duties on share and property transactions at a time of fast rising prices thanks to low interest rates and hot money inflow from the mainland. But erring on the side of building ever greater reserves is invariable.

The government also keeps out of account rises in the surplus of the Monetary Authority. These now total another HK$600 billion or so. They properly belong to the community but are used as a slush fund by the bureaucracy which claims they are necessary to maintain the stability of the banking system and the currency. These claims are largely nonsense. Prudential supervision of local banks is already the responsibility of the HKMA. Likewise it has no responsibility for foreign bank solvency as local depositors in Bank of Credit and Commerce International found when it went bust in 1990.

Instead the HKMA is using its clout to extend the scope of the government into new areas which properly belong to the private sector.

The latest such invasion enables the HK Mortgage Corporation, an HKMA offshoot, to launch a loan guarantee scheme for small and medium enterprises. It is also being invited to study setting up a micro-finance scheme. The private sector should be raising a fuss about these incursions but is not either because it is too scared of offending officials or can see these new schemes as a way of making money by making loans and then selling the risks to Hong Kong's equivalent of the US Fannie Mae.

But do not let Hong Kong government's abysmal record in "picking winners" and entering the commercial sphere stand in the way of more top jobs for bureaucrats. Asia Sentinel