Friday, September 30, 2016

What a minister’s reluctance to be PM reveals about race in Singapore

The government holds that the city state needs an ethnically Chinese leader, but citizens may not agree

The move on Wednesday by Singapore’s popular deputy premier to emphatically quash suggestions he wants to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong exposes the conservative ethnic consensus in the country’s leadership, despite a public clamour for greater political openness, observers say.

Public speculation about Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s fit as Lee’s successor has been swirling in recent years, and resurfaced on Monday after an independent survey showed nearly 69 per cent of Singaporeans would support the 59-year-old ethnic Tamil as the country’s next leader.

“Just to be absolutely clear, because I know there’s this talk going around… I’m not the man for PM, I say that categorically. It’s not me,” Tharman told local media late on Wednesday.

Tharman said the top job was not his ambition.

He is one of two deputy prime ministers and oversees financial and social issues. The former central bank chief took the job in 2011, having entered politics in 2001. He was finance minister from 2007 to 2015, and an education minister before that.

 “I’m good at policymaking, good at advising my younger colleagues and supporting the PM, not being the PM,” he was quoted as saying.

Political observers told This Week in Asia Tharman’s comments revealed his tacit acceptance of the long-ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) belief that the Chinese-majority country was not yet ready for an ethnic minority leader.

“It may be that he genuinely does not want the job but it is also possible that the results of that survey have exposed the gulf between popular thinking and many of Tharman’s senior PAP colleagues on ethnicity and politics,” said Garry Rodan, professor of Southeast Asian politics at Australia’s Murdoch University.

Singapore will allow more opposition lawmakers, says PM

“The PAP orthodoxy…emphasises that most Singaporeans are reluctant to support candidates from outside their own ethnic group for top leadership posts,” Rodan said.

Singapore’s resident population of 3.9 million is made up of 74.3 per cent Chinese, 13.3 per cent Malays and 9.1 per cent Indians, with others making up the remaining 3.2 per cent.

Alex Au, a prominent political blogger, said Tharman was “being a very loyal colleague”.

 “He does not wish pressure to build on his cabinet colleagues to choose certain options when it comes to leadership succession,” he said.

Singaporean leaders – including current premier Lee and his father, the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew – have said the country’s conservative majority Chinese electorate had some time to go before it would accept a non-Chinese leader.

But the survey of 897 Singaporeans, commissioned by Yahoo Singapore and conducted by independent polling firm Blackbox Research, showed 73 per cent of people disagreeing that the race of the premier is an important factor.

“The poll results confirm data from other Blackbox surveys that race is not the primary criterion as a basis for choosing a preferred candidate among the Singapore public,” the polling firm said in the report.

Long-time Singapore political observer Bridget Welsh said Tharman’s popularity “stems from his support of spending for social welfare and services, and management of the economy, as well as his ability to bridge groups as a more liberal and open leader compared to his peers”.

But “as an elite-orientated party, the PAP categorically rejects selection by popular opinion,” said Welsh, a Southeast Asian politics expert at the National Taiwan University.

“Tharman is too liberal, too popular, and an ethnic minority – all features that do not fit with today’s hardline PAP,” she added.

Tharman, who concurrently served as the chief of the International Monetary Fund’s powerful policy-steering body from 2011 to 2015 while in government, grabbed the limelight at last year’s general election as he used his avuncular speaking style to take apart the opposition’s economic policies and explain the government’s position.

Video clips of his speeches at the hustings went viral on social media, spurring the hashtag “#TharmanforPM”.

Tharman led a team of legislators to sweep the five-seat Jurong district with 79 per cent of the vote in the country’s unique system of bloc voting. It was the highest winning margin in the country. The PAP won the election with 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.

But the economics-trained Tharman, with degrees from the London School of Economics, Cambridge University and Harvard University, has repeatedly denied having designs on the top job. In July last year he used a sporting analogy to describe his aversion to being premier.

“I was always, in sports, a centre-half rather than centre forward. I enjoy playing half-back and making the long passes, but I am not the striker,” Tharman told CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria in a forum.

“Unless I am forced to be, and I don’t think I will be forced to it, because I think we have got choices,” he was quoted as saying.

Au, the blogger, said Tharman’s popularity signalled that the “public is hungry for a different style of governance”.

Singapore court sends teen blogger Amos Yee back to jail for criticising Christianity and Islam

There is a perception that he is more “approachable and intellectually flexible than some of the ministers in cabinet who perhaps because of their military background come across as rigid or inarticulate,” Au said.

Former army chief Chan Chun Sing, the current PAP whip and leader of the powerful National Trades Union Congress, is seen as one of the ruling party’s preferred candidates to be the next prime minister.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who returned to work in August after suffering a stroke earlier this year, is also seen as a contender.

In the Yahoo poll, Chan scored 24 per cent support to be a prime ministerial candidate, while Heng got 25 per cent.

Au said the current public debate on leadership succession is “a function of the moment”.

In past leadership changeovers, prime ministers’ successors were named early and had lengthy understudy.

“As the saying goes, nature hates a vacuum,” Au said. “This is causing public speculation to circulate but the window will close soon when the successor is anointed.”



Pandora’s Box. US widow sues Saudi Arabia over 9/11 terror attack

Pandora’s Box. US widow sues Saudi Arabia over 9/11 terror attack

A woman widowed when her husband was killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 sued the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia just two days after Congress enacted legislation allowing Americans to sue foreign governments for allegedly playing a role in terrorist attacks on US soil.

Stephanie Ross DeSimone alleged the kingdom provided material support to al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, in a complaint filed Friday at a US court in Washington. Her suit is also filed on behalf of the couple’s daughter. DeSimone was pregnant when Navy Commander Patrick Dunn was killed.

Fifteen of the 19 men who hijacked airliners used in the attack were Saudi nationals. One jet struck the Pentagon, seat of the US military, two destroyed the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York while another crashed in a Pennsylvania field as its passengers fought back against the hijackers.

A US commission that investigated the 2001 attacks said in a 2004 report that it “found no evidence that the Saudi government, as an institution, or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al-Qaeda.” Long-classified portions of a congressional inquiry that were released in July found the hijackers may have had help from some Saudi officials.

The kingdom has previously denied culpability. Its embassy didn’t immediately reply to an e-mailed message seeking comment on the suit.

An official at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the state-run Saudi Press Agency on September 29 that the US Congress must correct the 9/11 bill to avoid “serious unintended consequences,” adding the law is of “great concern” to the Kingdom.

DeSimone, who is suing for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. SCMP


China’s yuan joins an elite group of reserve currencies created by the International Monetary Fund

China’s yuan joins an elite group of reserve currencies created by the International Monetary Fund

From tomorrow, the yuan, also known as the renminbi, will become the fifth member of the IMF’s prestigious Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket of currencies, alongside the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen and British pound.

Analysts say it marks the beginning of a new era for the yuan, paving the way for its wider adoption in international trade and bolstering China’s status as a key player in the global financial system.

However, they also say that Beijing would need to carry out more reforms in the years ahead to push the internationalisation of the yuan, as it is now the only SDR reserve currency that cannot be fully traded. International investors still face a lot of restrictions in trading in yuan-denominated bonds and stocks.

[It is] a landmark moment in the renminbi’s journey towards becoming a truly international currency

Peter Wong Tung-shun, chief executive Asia-Pacific, HSBC

Peter Wong Tung-shun, chief executive of the Asia-Pacific region for HSBC, described the inclusion of the yuan in the SDR basket as “a landmark moment in the renminbi’s journey towards becoming a truly international currency.”

The SDR is an international currency reserve created by the IMF in 1969 to promote trade, increase liquidity and supplement member countries’ official reserves during financial crises.

Beijing first started to allow use of the yuan outside the mainland in 2003 when it let Hong Kong banks conduct certain designated business in the currency. In 2009, it started to push the currency harder, permitting international companies and businessmen to settle trade in yuan, and a year later allowing the yuan to be used in investment.


The IMF’s elite SDR basket was created in 1969 to promote trade. Photo: Reuters

In November last year IMF managing director Christine Lagarde declared that the yuan satisfied the two main criteria for inclusion in the basket, namely that it was “widely used” and “freely usable”. The IMF announced the yuan was to become its fifth reserve currency in December.

“The SDR inclusion now formally catapults it into the ranks of the world’s most important reserve currencies, and will give greater confidence to companies and institutions around the world to settle trade in yuan and invest in yuan-denominated assets,” Wong said.

“Going forward, we believe the Chinese authorities will continue to deliver financial and capital market reforms, gradually opening the door to more cross-border flows, and ensuring that China and the renminbi become increasingly integrated into the global financial system.”

Wong said Hong Kong, as an offshore yuan trading centre and a key financial and asset management market, would play a pivotal role in the internationalisation of the yuan in the future.

China is likely to let the yuan become fully convertible only when its economy recovers

Marc Chandler, Brown Brothers Harriman Investor Services

Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy of Brown Brothers Harriman Investor Services, described the yuan’s induction into the SDR basket as “an acknowledgement of the immense strides China has made since the 1970s, and especially since its entry in to the World Trade Organization in 2001.”

The World Bank last month sold US$700 million in bonds denominated in SDR, the first such issue in more than 30 years.

“In the bigger picture, the role of the yuan as a reserve currency can only go up. The IMF has estimated that the yuan accounts for about 1 per cent of global reserves,” Chandler said.

King International chief executive Jasper Lo believes it may need five years for the yuan to become fully convertible.

He said: “The mainland economy is weak and a fully convertible yuan now would lead to capital outflow. China is likely to let the yuan become fully convertible only when its economy recovers. This may need about five years time.”

On the eve of its including in the SDR basket, the yuan remained weak, trading at 6.6698 per US dollar, down almost 7 per cent in the past year.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as:

yuan joins imf’s elite reserve currency club


Can fiction ever be an alternative to history? Indonesian history textbooks used to justify the evil of the Suharto regime and served as a tool to ascribe onto others all wickedness that it did not wish to recognize in itself

Can fiction ever be an alternative to history?  Indonesian history textbooks used to justify the evil of the  Suharto regime and served as a tool to ascribe onto others all wickedness that it did not wish to recognize in itself

A dark time -- Then Maj. Gen. Soeharto briefs members of the Army’s Special Forces (RPKAD, now Kopassus) prior to the removal of the bodies of the Army generals who were murdered during an alleged coup attempt on Sept. 30, 1965, which was blamed on the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). As the most senior military officer available at the time, Soeharto led all the operations to restore security and impose order in the aftermath of the alleged coup attempt. (JP/30 Tahun Indonesia Merdeka)

In the preface to the textbook Sejarah Nasional Indonesia (Indonesian National History, 1990), historian and former education minister Nugroho Notosusanto draws a comparison between the coming into being of Indonesian standardized history and the growth of a single majestic tree.

He argues that it is deep rooted in the past and can gradually provide a shade of truth for the nation’s future. Furthermore, its objective and scientific nature will create nothing but balance and harmony in the process of national development.

His analogy, however, is knotty (pun intended). It is knotty especially at the notion that history is singular, which could imply that other versions of narratives must not chime in and disrupt the telling of the great national tale.

Mind you, that proud Sundanese would object to and feel saddened by Mohammad Yamin’s historical narrative of Gajah Mada, the prime minister of the Majapahit Empire, who he constantly glorified as a national hero, peacemaker and unifier of the Nusantara archipelago.

Sang Mokteng Bubat, a historical roman dubbed factual by many Sundanese, deals with this issue of singularity, mainly in the constantly avoided history about relations between Sunda and the Majapahit kingdom.

It argues that Gajah Mada’s unification was actually the origin of colonial rule imposed by non-Europeans in the archipelago. But no matter how historicalSang Mokteng Bubat might be, this tale disrupts the official written history and is, thus, skipped over.

Similarly, the bleakest moment in our history is passed by in silence.

Almost all Indonesian written history in Indonesia skips over the mass killings of the communists and left-wing sympathizers after the aborted coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965.

Take the obligatory read, Pendidikan Sejarah Perjuangan Bangsa (the History of the National Struggle) for example. We were so accustomed to this that we thought the historical events presented in the book were all thorough, truthful and, most importantly, heroic.

I can clearly recall when my fifth grade teacher had my classmates and I role play, assuming the roles of heroes in an ongoing plot to crush the villainous communists.

We were instructed to show admiration for the Army and the people for their outstanding success in crushing the September movement of the PKI and to believe that the anti-communist purge was the right thing to do in order to support the national struggle and to march toward a just and prosperous society under Pancasila.

We were also instructed to believe that Soeharto was a hero who had so much love and respect for his people and his country.

This was all clearly stated in the book. As for the massacre, the book remains silent.

Never did we learn from history books that the purge meant the butchering of more than half a million of our brothers and sisters.

Had I known that crushing the communists could mean plucking out their nails with pliers, slitting their throats and guts, like what happened to Adi Rukun’s brother in the movie Look of Silence, I would not have taken the role of the heartless heroes.

Clearly, I was misinformed about this, and about many other things. And clearly, I was not alone.

It was only years later, when I resorted to reading fiction, that I found our history textbook was principally used to justify the evil of the regime and served as a tool to ascribe onto others all wickedness that it did not wish to recognize in itself.

The history book was so cleverly crafted that readers were in constant denial about the genocide.

Furthermore, readers even became nostalgic about the regime’s heroism and never found it necessary to unearth the atrocities that it had buried.

This could be one of the many reasons that reconciliation among us is never within easy reach.

In fiction, however, the killings are made clear. Ahmad Tohari in the Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (Dancer of Paruk Hamlet) trilogy narrates a description of the mass killings in Central Java and the close cooperation between the army and paramilitary groups.

I personally never knew about this political cooperation until years after Soeharto fell.

Mencoba Tidak Menyerah (Trying not to Surrender) by Yudhistira ANM Masardi vividly portrays the systematic massacre and politics of fear through the eyes of a small boy who is searching for his father after he was made to disappear due to his affiliation with the communists.

This too was a piece of information that actually took place but was never widely studied in schools.

Ashadi Siregar centers his novel on students who were annihilated by the army after the aborted coup, while Umar Kayam questions how society has been dehumanized for not having the courage to address the issue.

There seems to be a little bit more freedom in literature to speak about these topics that must not be spoken of. I am now more than interested in finding the reason that Indonesian fictional works could actually do this.

But in the beginning, upon finding out things that I had not known before, I was in some sort of denial.

I thought there was no way that that fiction could speak the truth and be historical. But as I read more and more narratives other than the standardized history, I finally came to the realization that fiction, to some extent, actually did.

Literature, according to Hoadley ( 2005 ), can reveal the coercion and violence exercised by the state over its citizens that has been denied in the nation’s written history. Fiction replaces the role of history.

But this does not suggest that the official history, which is dubbed central, objective and scientific, be sidelined.

I just find it compulsory that the peripheral, subjective and fictional be taken into account and analyzed accordingly, because that was the only access that most Indonesians living under the New Order regime had.

It could be true that fiction did not serve as a reliable source of historical information, but neither did Indonesian historical writings. Our historical writings and fictional works are, anyway, in so many ways equally fictional.

If writing history, as suggested by Nugroho Notosusanto, is similar to growing trees, then let there be more trees and let people learn to choose which tree gives better shade.

The writer
Taufiq Hanafi lectures at the School of Arts, Padjadjaran University in Bandung and works as a researcher at the Graduate School of Humanities, Leiden University in the Netherlands.


Dire straits for Malaysia’s world heritage - Why Melaka and George Town are at risk of becoming ghosts of their former selves

In 2008, the Malaysian cities of Melaka and George Town were jointly listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As often happens in World Heritage Sites, a label meant to highlight and safeguard heritage has also opened the floodgates of tourism. The subsequent wave of gentrification and speculative development has caused mass-evictions and damage to both social and urban fabric.

Now, these cities risk losing their World Heritage status.

The mounting urban crisis in these historic cities highlights a couple of issues. Firstly, the weak enforcement of building codes – especially to protect heritage. Secondly, the need for careful planning to mitigate the unintended social and spatial consequences that accompany rapid development.

These issues are structural, not partisan. Melaka is governed by Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional, while Penang – whose state capital is George Town – is an opposition state led by the Democratic Action Party. Yet the two cities share many of the same problems, and are therefore good case studies in urban governance in Malaysia.

While in theory there are rules to protect the built fabric of these historic cities, the reality is a little more complicated. For example, the George Town Special Area Plan – a set of guidelines required by UNESCO as part of its listing process – was only gazetted on 1 September this year, a full eight years after the city was listed.
Patchy enforcement of guidelines has been an even greater challenge for these cities. Illegal construction, renovation and demolitions have plagued both Melaka and George Town. NGOs like George Town Heritage Action (GTHA) have sprung up to address the perceived gaps left by city officials.

GTHA has been vocal about the lack of heritage monitoring and enforcement in George Town, but illegal works continue to chip away at historic buildings. Meanwhile, Melaka’s World Heritage Office quietly shut its doors in July this year, absorbed into larger municipal structures. It is unclear what this means for future monitoring of the site..

If both states have been slow to enact and enforce heritage legislation, they haven’t been shy in courting development. Land reclamation is a substantial part of growth plans in both states. Melaka is now the focus of a RM30 billion deal with China which will see three reclaimed islands rise from the waters of the Malacca Strait. Residents, however, have raised concerns about the impact this development will have on the old town.

Penang also has a number of major land reclamation projects planned – some postponed and others in progress – though these are further away from George Town’s World Heritage Site. While money from this sort of development has helped keep budgets in the black, there are concerns about the social and ecological consequences.

If authorities are struggling to manage built heritage, intangible cultural heritage is an even more complex challenge. The explosion in tourism has had a resounding echo in local real estate values, and rising rents have pushed century-old trades and businesses out of these historic centres. This undermines the very traditions for which the two port cities were listed as World Heritage Sites.

In George Town, one Singaporean developer alone has purchased over 200 historic shophouses just outside the boundaries of George Town’s World Heritage Site. Each of these land purchases has been accompanied by a flurry of eviction notices.

The dwindling population of these historic towns is a social crisis as much as a cultural one. Increasingly, the historically working class population of these port towns is being pushed into more affordable housing further out of the city centre. The problem has become so severe in George Town that Penang’s state government is now considering re-introducing rent control. The question now is who has the rights to the city?

In June, things came to head when a group of NGOs, Penang Forum, wrote to UNESCO to raise concerns about a proposed transport hub at the edge of George Town’s World Heritage Site. Penang Forum argues it was ‘duty-bound‘ to alert UNESCO before the state committed itself to any construction work, particularly at the archaeologically rich area called Sia Boey.

UNESCO subsequently contacted Malaysia’s federal heritage body for a report. The state hit back, with Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng describing the letter as ‘a stab in the back‘. The letter sparked a war of words, with politicians and even the Consumer Association chiming in.

Malaysia’s twin heritage cities are contested spaces. There are conflicting ideas about how they should develop, and what development means for them. With their rich history and human scale, Melaka and George Town have the potential to be Malaysia’s most liveable cities.

But sensitive planning is needed to protect both built heritage and local residents from gentrification. As it stands, however, they seem well on their way to becoming ‘Disneyfied’ ghosts of their former selves.

Soon-Tzu Speechley is a research assistant at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)’s Architectural Conservation Lab. He has written for numerous publications in Malaysia, Australia and the Netherlands, including Penang Monthly and Failed Architecture. He has also edited a number of books on Malaysian architecture and history.

Modi’s travails do not end with ‘surgical strikes’ at Pakistan

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains entrapped in his self-cultivated image of being a muscular Hindu nationalist leader. The contradiction needs to be resolved. The starting point lies in diligently addressing the Kashmir problem with a view to find an enduring solution.

The morning after India’s ‘surgical strikes’ across the Line of Control (LOC) at Pakistan appears to augur a brave new world for the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yet, the gains are almost entirely in India’s domestic politics on Day 1. The world at large remains indifferent.

This works in three ways. One, Modi has addressed the widespread outrage and anger in India over the cross-border terrorist attack on the Indian army base in Uri on September 18.

Two, his government has rallied the domestic opinion, which in turn puts pressure on even the raucous opposition parties to voice support for Modi – reluctantly, cautiously and temporarily though.

Three, Modi salvaged his reputation among the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) core constituency, which believes he will be Pakistan’s nemesis.

Indian “surgical strikes” across the LOC are not taking place for the first time. The difference today is that Thursday’s are multiple strikes and, second, they have been publicized.

The decision to publicize the covert action underscores the tremendous political importance the leadership attaches to the optics in domestic opinion.

Simply put, Modi’s aura of being a forceful leader was threatened with dissipation, and he has taken care to preserve it. The overnight surge of the morale of his acolytes in the social network sites is self-evident.

The president of the ruling BJP Amit Shah claimed in a statement, “It is for the first time (that) in this frontal fight against terrorism, India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Modi is feeling secure… Today’s strikes signal the rise of a new India…”

It is a clarion call of Hindu nationalist credo with one eye on the upcoming crucial state election in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab next year, which could set the tone for Modi’s prospects of a renewed mandate in the 2019 parliamentary poll.

In the long game, Shah gave a push to the ‘Hindutva’ ideology as the manifesto of the ‘New Indian’. Equally, there’s a Hindu-Muslim dimension to India’s electoral politics.

As days and weeks pass and the autumn gives way to winter, as adrenaline flow slows down, the ramifications of the surgical strikes of September 29 are bound to seep into the Indian consciousness.

For a start, the surgical strikes have caused what a leading Indian security expert and senior editor, Praveen Swamy calls the “meltdown of the long-standing ceasefire on Line of Control in an year that has until now been the most peaceful in a decade”.

Ironically, the agreement on a ceasefire on the Line of Control in 2003 was the finest foreign-policy achievement of the previous BJP government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, because it helped reduce clashes along LOC – and cross-border infiltration too – which immensely helped Delhi to finesse the insurgency in Kashmir.

According to published official data, incidents of exchange of fire across LOC significantly dropped and fatalities actually dropped to zero.

Things are going to change now with the breakdown of the 2003 understanding. This would demand pushing forward troops from their base camps and a new norm of action across LOC by both militaries.

The ‘known known’ will be Pakistan’s reaction. That Pakistan will react to the surgical strikes cannot be doubted. It is a matter of time.

The Pakistani military leadership will not accept the Indian surgical strikes as the ‘new normal’. Nor will Pakistan be dissuaded from the culture of deploying ‘strategic assets’ – non-state actors – in its asymmetric war with India.

The Pakistani behavior across Durand Line for decades testifies to its tenacity to pursue strategic objectives no matter what it takes. Pakistan has continued to project power into Afghanistan in open defiance of US entreaties for the past decade and a half.

When it comes to India, which is regarded as an existential threat, Pakistani military will not countenance any amount of pressure from the international community to detract it from its chosen path.

On the other hand, US is also not in a position to pressure Pakistan because of the crucial importance of the latter’s cooperation in the fight against terrorist groups in Afghanistan and for the upkeep of American military bases.

If Pakistan redeploys forces to the eastern border, it would hurt US’ priorities vis-à-vis Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which Pakistani military is conducting against terrorist organizations ensconced in North Waziristan in the lawless tribal areas adjoining Afghanistan.

The Zarb-e-Azb’s principal target, Tehreek-e-Taliban, not only threatens Pakistan’s internal security but also provides recruits for the Islamic State, which is trying to get established in the region. In sum, the success of the military operation in North Waziristan impacts international security.

Therefore, when the balance sheet is drawn, it is debatable what India’s surgical strikes hope to achieve. Paradoxically, Indian Army is being called upon to live up to the ‘new normal’.

This would mean not only heavy focus on India’s border with Pakistan (aside fastening internal security), but also means taking the eye off the disputed border with China. Besides, India gets stuck in the groove of a ‘Pakistan-centric’ foreign policy.

The pretensions of the Delhi elite that India’s main foreign-policy challenge lies in matching China’s rise are withering away.  Kashmir becomes the Albatross tying India down, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

This has profound geopolitical implications.

The bottom line: The denouement of the present course to browbeat and confront Pakistan is beyond Delhi’s ability to calibrate.

The ruling circles claim bombastically that Modi is asserting to Pakistan that he is a ‘different leader’ and Pakistan can no longer ‘take India for granted’, that he is showing that the rules of the game are changing and henceforth it’s going to be ‘jaw for tooth’, et al.

In the ultimate analysis, though, Indian Army can take things only thus far and no further. And Modi faces a Hobson’s choice.

A denouement has to be found on the political and diplomatic track – either by engaging Pakistan directly or allowing third-party intervention to bury this ancient quarrel.

India’s diplomatic thrust to ‘isolate’ Pakistan is a road to nowhere in the prevailing power dynamic in regional politics.

Meanwhile, Modi’s ‘development agenda’, on which he secured the mandate to rule would take a beating.

The sharp slump in the Indian stock markets on Thursday can be taken as the writing on the wall if war clouds gather on the horizon.

Just as news broke about surgical strikes along  the Line of Control, Bombay Stock Exchange slid 534.70 points, or 1.84%; India’s National Stock Exchange slid 1.75%, or 152 points.

Clearly, Modi’s travails do not end with surgical strikes. He remains entrapped in his self-cultivated image of being a muscular Hindu nationalist leader. The contradiction needs to be resolved. The starting point lies in diligently addressing the Kashmir problem with a view to find an enduring solution.

Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for Asia Times since 2001.


US$76 billion worth of Indonesian-owned assets held overseas

The Indonesian government is going all-out to promote a tax amnesty program amid jitters from Singaporean bankers, who are estimated to hold tens of millions in assets spirited overseas, and by reformers, who say the amnesty gives fugitives too good a deal.

The program is aimed at rich Indonesians who have undeclared assets overseas, with President “Jokowi” Widodo leading the campaign in several cities to try and convince prominent businesspeople to take part.

Jokowi held several “meet and greet” with entrepreneurs in Central and West Java to discuss the government’s flagship program to repatriate Indonesian assets parked overseas and increase tax revenues.

The program is designed to catch big tax evaders who have massive assets overseas but who have never declared them in Indonesia. According to the law, taxpayers who are the object of the tax amnesty program are individuals or corporations that have taxation rights and obligations in accordance with existing taxation regulations.

Under the amnesty scheme, the government seeks to bring about the return of an astonishing Rp1 quadrillion (US$76 billion) worth of Indonesian-owned assets held overseas and to recoup at least Rp165 trillion in penalty payments that it plans to use to plug the holes this year’s state budget deficit.

Businesspeople who repatriate their assets will enjoy a redemption rate ranging from 2 to 5 percent of the assets, while those who declare their assets will get a 4 to 10 percent rate.

“I am optimistic with this program. I do not talk numbers, but most importantly public trust in the government is shown. I also saw their compliance and awareness to pay the taxes. This is a very good movement,” Jokowi told economists and businesspeople who attended a lunch meeting at the State Palace recently.

The Indonesia’s House of Representatives agreed to pass the tax amnesty bill into law during a plenary session bathed in interruptions from lawmakers back in June. In total, nine party factions agreed to the formation of the Tax Amnesty Law.

The Jokowi government hopes the first period of the program, which began on July 1 and runs until the end of September, can attract a large number of participants. Its second period is scheduled from Oct. 1 to the end of December.

Several conglomerate and prominent business owners in Indonesia are joining the program. Names such as Murdaya Poo, Hutomo Mandala Putra—better known as Tommy, son of the late president Suharto – former Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) chairman Sofjan Wanandi, property magnate James Riady, Triputra Group founder TP Rachmat, as well as media mogul Erick Thohir.

“I have been waiting for the amnesty for years. The tax amnesty will ease the burden of my children who will inherit my fortune and people who work for our firms,” Murdaya Poo told journalists after filing his tax amnesty.

He then called on fellow businesspeople to follow suit, assuring them tax officials were helpful. Poo also said that he would repatriate all of his offshore assets and declare them.

The Finance Ministry’s Directorate General of Taxation said 1,929 new taxpayers have registered since Jan. 1 to participate in the amnesty program, contributing Rp 6.86 trillion (US$522 million) of declared assets and Rp123.24 billion in redemption.

As of Sept. 5, Rp 223.89 trillion in assets have been declared with redemptions at Rp 4.78 trillion. Of declared assets, Rp175.21 trillion came from domestic declarations while Rp 35.60 trillion came from overseas. Meanwhile, repatriated assets were recorded at Rp 13.08 trillion. Asia Times

Thursday, September 29, 2016


In an unprecedented move, seven UN member states from the Pacific raised their concerted voices on Papua during the prestigious 71st session of the UN General Assembly in New York this week.

Nauru started the intervention by highlighting the issue of human rights violations in Papua, followed by a newcomer in the discourse of Papua: the Marshall Islands.

Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands followed suit and went one step further by specifically highlighting the issue of the right to self-determination for Papuans. Tonga emphasised the gravity of the problem and Palau, another novice, called for constructive dialogue with Indonesia to solve the Papua issue.

This was a historic moment for us as we have never had such unified high-profile intervention when it comes to the issue of Papua at the UN. Perhaps the only lone ranger used to be Vanuatu, which tried to break the silence of the UN fora.

This week’s debate at the UN General Assembly might remind us of a similar but much more colorful debate on Papua at the assembly in 1969, when the forum decided to close the chapter on Papua by accepting the result of the Act of Free Choice.

If in 1969 some African countries expressed opposition to the assembly’s decision to adopt the result of the 1969 Act of Free Choice for Papuans, today the Pacific nations are taking the lead.

Indonesia’s response, however, was highly predictable. Repeating the slogan of territorial integrity and sovereignty, the government’s response unfortunately does not provide us with facts and evidence of the improvement in the human rights situation in Papua.

It may be remembered that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to solve the killing of four high-school students in Paniai on Dec. 8, 2014. The investigation into the case has been delayed for almost two years and we have not seen much progress.

The families of the victims recall that at least eight government institutions sent their respective fact-finding team to interview victims on the ground and personnel of the Army, the Papua Police, the National Police, the Air Force, the Papua Legislative Council, the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK), the Office of Coordinating Security, Political and Legal Affairs Minister, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM). None of these teams, however, has ever published their report for public consumption.

Similarly, the dossiers on the Wasior killings of 2001 and the Wamena case of 2003 have been pending for more than a decade at the Attorney General once Komnas HAM finished its investigation. These were not ordinary crimes but crimes against humanity, one of the most serious crimes punishable by Indonesian and international law. Unfortunately, both Komnas HAM and the Attorney General’s Office have argued over evidence and procedure for years.

Komnas HAM insists that it has provided conclusive evidence and has followed proper procedure. On the other hand, the Attorney General’s Office has argued that Komnas HAM has not met the requirement of a pro-justice investigation as investigators did not take an oath as required by the Criminal Law Procedures Code. Both institutions have overlooked the fact that victims continue to suffer.

Memories are still fresh on the surge in the arrests of Papuan youth when they took to the streets to express their opinions in public despite a constitutional guarantee of the right to do so.

The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) documented that at least 4,587 individuals, men and women, were arrested by the police for expressing their political views in 13 cities, namely Dekai, Fakfak, Jakarta, Jayapura, Kaimana, Makassar, Malang, Manado Manokwari, Merauke, Sentani, Wamena and Yogyakarta.

While most of the arrestees were released within 24 hours, the deployment of police in 13 jurisdictions across the country would not have been possible without the blessing of the National Police top brass.

While we were grappling with human rights conditions in Papua, we were shocked by the President’s decision to appoint Gen. (ret) Wiranto as the coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister.

In February 2003, the UN-sponsored Special Panels for Serious Crimes of the Dili District Court, Timor Leste, indicted Gen. Wiranto, then the Indonesian defense and security minister and Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) commander for crimes against humanity in connection with the events in Timor Leste in 1999.

As we were yet to recover from the President’s unfathomable choice, we were presented with another unprecedented decision when the Indonesian Military TNI chief named Maj. Gen. Hartomo to lead the military’s Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS).

Hartomo was the commander of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) Tribuana X unit assigned to Papua when Theys Eluay was murdered. Hartomo and six other Kopassus officers were charged with Theys’ murder on National Heroes Day in 2001. He and his team were found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison by the Surabaya Military Court and discharged from the Army.

These all are simple facts that tell us the way our government commits to human rights in Papua and elsewhere, which the Indonesian delegation to the UN General Assembly describes as “robust and active”.

The writer, Budi Hernawan who obtained his PhD from the Australian National University, lectures in international relations at the Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy, Jakarta.


Are the U.S. and China Headed Towards a Naval War in Asia?


The United States does not have a coherent strategy to deal with a rising People’s Republic of China in the Western Pacific. Nor do foreign policy experts specializing in the Asia-Pacific region have a concrete set of ideas to coax an increasingly assertive Beijing into accepting the U.S.-led post-Second World War liberal-institutional world order or to reassert Washington’s dominance in the region.

It is becoming increasingly clear that China hopes to chart its own course independent of the existing Western frameworks as Beijing reaffirms its claims to the South China Sea and continues to build artificial islands in the region, but how policymakers in Washington will deal with the issue is an open question.

“U.S. policy has failed spectacularly,” Seth Cropsey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told a small lunch gathering at the Center for the National Interest—which is the foreign policy think-tank that publishes The National Interest—on Sept. 28. “China’s actions show that it see us as a strategic competitor. We choose to see China as a large market that can be cajoled and persuaded into joining us as a defender of international security and economic security. U.S. policy makers hope that the large volume of trade between China and the U.S. and the accompanying economic progress in the former would remold Chinese rulers to look, think and act more like us. The evidence does not support this hope.”

But while the Chinese see the United States as a strategic competitor, experts agree that a military confrontation is not a foregone conclusion. Beijing hopes that it can force the United States to de facto accept the South China Sea as its territory. “I don’t think conflict—naval or otherwise—between the U.S. and China is inevitable,” Cropsey said. “More likely is that China will continue its effort to turn the international waters of the East and South China Sea into territorial waters.”

China is using a multipronged approach to deny U.S. naval and air forces access to the region using a sophistical network of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons. Additionally, Beijing is actively working to intimidate and harass U.S. allies in the region in the hopes that they will acquiesce to Chinese demands. But Beijing is not just using its military forces in its efforts to force America and its allies from the region, the China is using paramilitary forces and “maritime militia” to harass fishermen and other commercial users of those water from other nations in order to gain de facto control over the East and South China Seas.

“I do think that if U.S. policy continues largely to overlook increasing Chinese aggression off its international waters on its south coasts, the prospects for a Chinese hegemony will increase as our Asian friends and allies seek new accommodations, new trading partners and new security arrangements,” Cropsey said. “Our willingness to resist China’s challenge to the international order is not growing.”

Indeed, Cropsey argues that American seapower is shrinking and that the naval balance in the Western Pacific is tilting toward China’s favor. The U.S. Congress simply does not understand how grave the situation is, Cropsey said. The United States must remember its large economic stake in Asia and the alliance network that girds those interests. “Instead of encouraging China to become a stakeholder in the international system, our goal ought to be to use diplomacy, military strength—including increased presence—to convince China that we will protect the international order...and ultimately—for this is what is at stake here—the United States’ broad interest in retaining our current position as a great power,” Cropsey said.

While Cropsey suggested that the United States shifts towards protecting its power in the Western Pacific, but he did not suggest any concrete course of action on exactly how Washington might achieve those aims. Retaining America’s position as the preeminent power in the Western Pacific likely requires a concerted grand strategy on the scale of President Harry S. Truman’s NSC-68—which formulated America’s response to the Soviet threat in 1950. However, most of the discussion focused on lower level policy questions directly relating to freedom of navigation (F Jeff Smith, director of Asian Security Programs at the American Foreign Policy Council—who was speaking alongside Cropsey—told the audience that China has been very clear that it does not believe U.S. military forces should be operating in the East and South China Seas. Beijing has made the calculation that it cannot effective prevent the United States from operating in the region right now, but as Chinese naval capabilities grow that might change. “There is a lot to suggest one day they may well be in a position to restrict the navigation of the U.S. military and believe they’re in a position to do so,” Smith said. “So the prospect for some kind of confrontation there is very real.”

The United States—despite never having ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)—interprets international law as allowing its warships to operate and conduct surveillance within any nations’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and pass through a nation’s 12-nautical mile territorial waters under “innocent passage.” That interpretation is widely accepted by the majority of maritime nations, however Beijing operates under a minority interpretation—shared by about two dozen countries—where it insists on prior notice before foreign warships may operate in its EEZ. “Unlike other countries who may send us a diplomatic protest when we operate, because we do these freedom of navigation operations—18,19, 20 a year—among friend and foe alike, Chinese vessels have actually confronted our warships,” Smith said. “This disagreement is very much out in the open and it’s becoming a test of wills.”

The United States believes that is on solid legal grounds to operate in seas claimed by China—bolstered by a recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in The Hague in July. However, international law only goes so far in the face of hard power—and China is doubling down on its claims—both with rhetoric and with a combination of naval forces and so-called maritime militia. Smith didn’t offer any solutions as to how the United States and its allies should convince the Chinese to accept the status quo as its power grows.

Eric Gomez, a defense and foreign policy analyst with the Cato Institute—who was also presenting alongside Smith and Cropsey—offered a potential strategy for dealing with a rising China. Gomez suggests that the United States should moderate its goals to maintain commercial freedom of navigation and making sure territorial disputes in the region don’t turn into hot wars. If the United States can’t prevent territorial disputes from turning hot, it should work to prevent Beijing from gaining military domination over East Asia.

The United States should reduce the presence of its ground forces in the region, Gomez said. Those U.S. ground forces that remain should focus on anti-access/area denial capabilities such as coastal anti-ship cruise missile batteries and air and missile defense. Naval presence should remain constant, but the United States should focus less on aircraft carriers and much more on submarine warfare in order to focus on sea denial capabilities, Gomez said. Freedom of navigation operations should continue in response to specific Chinese actions such as the militarization of the South China Sea.

“Sea-denial with China is more defensively-oriented and plays into U.S. military advantages in undersea warfare and surface control,” Gomez said. “I don’t we should be trying to get in through the A2/AD bubble with China and attack targets on their mainland. I think that has some very serious escalation risks.”

Such as strategy would create a no man’s land (or sea in this case) in the region where the two powers could establish a de facto status quo, Gomez said. It would also make conflict less likely without forcing the Unites States to abandon the region. Gomez admits that his plan could effectively create spheres of influence in the region and might not be politically popular, but America’s relative power compared to Beijing is on the wane.

“I think we need to admit to ourselves that the United States is no longer as dominant in East Asia as it sued to be, and reengaging on questions of military deterrence at the expense of these legal and normative concerns would be a more productive long-term discussion,” Gomez said. “I don’t see an easy route to getting China onboard to legal and normative order unless you can cite some sort of military deterrent.”

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor of The National Interest

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