Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oil Updates from Indonesia

- Indonesia Tangguh LNG Plant May Restart Fully By Oct -Official
- Indonesia Jan 1-Sep 24 Avg Oil Output 949,270 B/D -BPMigas
- Indonesia Releases Oil Stock To Make Up For Shortfall In Production
- Around 22 Of Indonesia's Oil Basins In Frontier Areas
- Indonesia's Bukit Asam Revises Down Sale Target
- PT Indonesia Power Seeking Additional Coal Supply
- PGN Supplies Gas To PLTGU Cilegon And PLTGU Tanjung Priok
- Indonesia's Jambi's Mineral Product Exports Down 99.20 Pct
Email Kerry at author@sidharta.com.au for the full report

Business & Trade updates from Jakarta

- CIMB says Indonesia to account for 40 pct profit by 2015
- Semen Kupang to resume operation by the end of the year
- BW Plantation IPO Indicative Price IDR525-IDR750/Share
- BW Plantation to offer shares to public in October
- Indonesia's Inflation Estimated At Around 1% In Sept.
- Indonesian Govt To Inject Us$49 Mln Into Waskita Karya
- Indonesia's Leyand Secures Loan To Acquire Toll Road Co
- Indonesia's United Tractors Set To Chalk Up 15% Increase In Sales
- Indonesia's Gozco Posts Increase In Income
- Indonesia Cuts Import Duties On Japanese Cars
- Indonesian District Cirebon Records 80 Thousand Tons Of Rice Surplus
- Prices Of Natural Rubber Predicted To Rise Next Year
- European Investors In Indonesia May Build Organic Fertilizer Plant
Email Kerry at author@sidharta.com.au for the full report

U.S. Takes a Radical Turn on Myanmar

BANGKOK - The Barack Obama administration has broken ranks with its recent predecessors in announcing its intention to engage Myanmar's ruling generals while also maintaining economic and financial sanctions against the military regime. The outgoing George W Bush administration imposed new financial sanctions against individual regime members and their associates, and often referred to Myanmar as an "outpost of tyranny".

The announcement, previewed on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly meeting on September 23, marks the most radical shift in US policy towards Myanmar since economic sanctions were first imposed in the 1990s in response to the regime's reported human-rights abuses.

It also apparently puts new pressure on the regime to ensure that democratic elections scheduled for next year are free, fair and inclusive of the political opposition and ethnic minority groups. At a press conference on Monday, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell made official the shift in policy towards a mix of sanctions and engagement.

"For the first time in memory, the Burmese leadership has shown an interest in engaging with the United States, and we intend to explore that interest," Campbell told reporters. He also said that the US government will press Myanmar "to comply with its international obligations, including on nonproliferation, ending any prohibited military or proliferation-related cooperation with North Korea, and full compliance with United Nations [Security Council Resolutions] 1874 and 1718".

That referred to recent reports that North Korea has provided assistance to Myanmar's nascent civilian nuclear program, which some fear could lead eventually to the development of a weapon. The two isolationist regimes were linked in July when a North Korean cargo ship believed to be carrying weapons and headed to Myanmar was pressured by the US Navy to return to North Korea.

The US policy review process began in February after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that neither sanctions nor the engagement policies practiced by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other Asian nations had achieved positive results in moving the regime towards democratic change and that a new strategy was needed. Senator Jim Webb's high-profile visit with senior junta members last month also hinted a move towards more policy engagement was on the cards. US interests go beyond mere political change in Myanmar. Clinton emphasized in her comments last week the various regional security concerns emanating from Myanmar, including the outflow of narcotics, rampant human trafficking, large refugee populations in neighboring countries, and communicable disease. She also mentioned the regime's links to North Korea and the threat of nuclear proliferation in the region.

Washington is clearly hoping that through engagement it can bring Myanmar into a framework where international norms apply, including in security matters. This may yet be a long hope for a country with a long history of official xenophobia and defiance of international opinion. Yet it is notable that the US State Department said that it was the generals who are seeking engagement with the US, not the other way around.

Both Clinton and Campbell have made it clear that US policy would be unwavering in its commitment to pushing for democratic reform, the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, including National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and serious dialogue between the regime, the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups. Clinton said, "Our support for the country's democratic opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, will not waver."

The generals have played lip service to engagement with ASEAN while making few if any concessions on democratic change. This is where some analysts believe a US carrot and stick approach - mixing humanitarian aid with targeted sanctions - could change the regime's behavior. Campbell said that humanitarian assistance would be expanded "to the extent we are confident the assistance is reaching the people in need".

He did not say whether the restitution of US aid would be strictly through the old capital city of Yangon or divided between central Myanmar and refugee and internally displaced persons populations along the Thai-Myanmar border. The US provided limited aid to Myanmar during rescue operations for last year's Cyclone Nargis, which the UN estimated adversely impacted over 2.4 million people.

The new US policy intends for now to maintain sanctions at their current level, including the so-called "smart" sanctions imposed in recent years against individual junta members and their associates. However, it was also made clear by Campbell that discussion of easing sanctions would be possible if significant reforms were taken "to address core human rights and democracy issues that are inhibiting [Myanmar's] progress".

As a stick, he said the US has reserved the right to apply additional targeted sanctions against the regime, "if warranted, by events inside [Myanmar]." The reference is clearly aimed at putting the generals on notice that further repression, such as the crackdown on Buddhist monk-led demonstrators in September 2007, would risk future engagement. The policy shift has already stirred debate among Myanmar watchers. "I think it all depends on what we mean by sanctions and engagement," wrote former UN official and historian Thant Myint U to Asia Times Online. "If by engagement we simply mean talking to the generals, then I suppose talking to them while keeping sanctions could make sense, at least in the short term, offering as Secretary Clinton said, to relax the sanctions as the talks progress." He added, "I can see why keeping some of the sanctions makes sense - the arms embargo for example or sanctions on specific individuals - but the restrictions on international aid including development aid, and the broad trade and investment sanctions should, I think, be replaced by a efforts to actively promote the kind of trade and investment and tourism that might actually help open up the country and undermine the status quo."

Democratic Yardstick

One near-term measure of the policy's success will center on the 2010 elections. Clinton said last week that "now is not the time to endorse or dismiss the process" and that "we urge [concerned Burmese parties] to take a measured approach to the 2010 elections until we can assess electoral conditions and determine whether opposition and ethnic groups will participate."

Clinton continued, "At the same time, we should continue discussions with the [Myanmar] authorities to emphasize that the international community will only recognize the planned 2010 elections as a positive step to the extent that the [Myanmar] authorities allow full participation by members of [Myanmar's] opposition and ethnic minority groups."

Campbell said that while the US government is skeptical that elections will be either free or fair, it will stress to the regime what conditions would be acceptable by Washington to label the electoral process credible.

The junta has so far ignored calls by opposition groups to amend the 2008 constitution or to state clearly under what terms political parties can organize and how the electoral process will be managed. Government intransigence and a widely perceived rigged national referendum to approve a new constitution last year has left many in the political opposition dubious about the prospects for the upcoming election.

The situation is not helped by the fact that most key opposition leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD chairman U Tin Oo, Shan National League for Democracy leader U Khun Tun Oo and 88 Generation Student leader Min Ko Naing still remain either in prison or under house arrest. Meanwhile, calls by ethnic minority leaders for constitutional provisions guaranteeing their political, social and cultural rights were ignored by the junta in drafting the 2008 constitution.

Several of the ethnic political groups have declared they will likely not participate in the elections. Ethnic insurgent groups who have maintained ceasefires with the regime for over 20 years suddenly saw their status in jeopardy last month when government troops attacked and routed a ceasefire group, the Kokang, on the Myanmar-China border. The ceasefire groups have been under mounting pressure to turn their troops over to government control and form political parties to join the election process.
In order to make the elections acceptable to the US, the junta will need to involve both the political opposition and the ethnic minorities in the process. Clinton called for the junta's engagement with the political opposition and ethnic groups to ascertain their desire for the democratic reform process. This was echoed by Campbell, who said that the US will push for "initiation of a credible internal dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority leaders on elements of reconciliation and reform".

This call was supported by detained pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi, who through her lawyer welcomed US intentions to diplomatically engage the generals, but reiterated that the opposition should also be consulted. A letter written by Suu Kyi to Myanmar's military leader, Senior General Than Shwe, and due to be officially submitted in the coming days, seeks permission to meet with foreign ambassadors in Yangon to learn their views on the US policy shift.

The first substantive talks with Myanmar officials are expected to take place on the sidelines of the current UN General Assembly, which is being attended by Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Prime Minister General Thein Sein, the highest-ranking Myanmar leader to attend in 14 years. The US waived travel restrictions to junta members, allowing them to leave New York and travel to Washington during their stay.

The question going forward is whether Myanmar's rulers are serious about reaching out to the US or simply employing another of their diversionary tactics to draw attention away from other issues in the lead up to the elections. It's a tactic the regime has frequently used in the past when dealing with the United Nations. And it's not clear to most the generals will accept any compromise suggested by the US that weakens their hold on power.
By Brian McCartan Asia Times

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Is Bali at its Last Resort? Read about a new US$100 Million project taking shape in South Bali.

Other top news stories include a debt to share swap between Mandiri Bank and Garuda; pointed criticism against North Bali tourism officials for poor promotion of ‘Sail Indonesia;’ complaints from Bali tax officials that sales and rental prices are being underreported; an official notice to mariners to ‘do things right;’ and the government moves forward on its pledge of free education K-12.

Badung officials are getting frustrated with a new hotel operator in Bali demanding that the Sara Residence be closed until all licenses are in hand. Bali has temporarily run out of rabies vaccine. Security and more CCTV cameras have been added at Tanah Lot temple site. And, the Melia Bali adopts an orphanage in West Bali.

Mark your calendars for an evening with the world’s finest champagnes at the Mozaic Restaurant in Ubud October 2nd; a husband-wife show of paintings and jewelry from 5 November - 7 December at the Ganesha Galery; and a rare performance of Bach’s D Minor Partita at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival on October 7th.

To get Bali news as it happens, follow me on Twitter.com at BaliUpdateEd

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Full report may be viewed at:http://www.balidiscovery.com/update/update681.asp

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kerry in Sydney for book launches

If there are no new postings from Thursday 24th to Monday 28th this will be because I shall be in Sydney attenting these four titles book launches.

More info at: Sid Harta Book reviews:

Java City of Solo emerges as haven for religious radicals

Jakarta - Solo has long been known as a laid-back city, home to ancient temples, beautiful batik cloth work and good food. But the Central Java city, also known as Surakarta, and its surroundings have taken on a sinister side recently - as a haven for religious radicals.

On Thursday, terrorist leader Noordin Top was killed in a nine-hour siege on a house on its outskirts. No one knows how long the 41-year-old Malaysian had been hiding there. He narrowly escaped a police dragnet last month in Temanggung, which is a three-hour drive from Solo. He also had a local guide in Solo, Bagus Budi Pranoto, one of three other men shot dead. Bagus, alias Urwah, had been released from prison about two years ago, after serving three years for involvement in the 2003 bombing of Jakarta's Marriott Hotel. He returned home to Sukorharjo village, 10km outside Solo, said security expert Noor Huda Ismail. Urwah began downloading extremist documentaries and recording them onto VCDs for distribution. He also produced in-house jihad documentaries in Indonesian, including titles such as...The United States Of Losers,' often lecturing youngsters and housewives from the area.

Urwah is also close to one son of extremist preacher Abu Bakar Bashir. The presence of Bashir and the Al-Mukmin religious school in Ngruki on Solo's edge encouraged the proliferation of radicals. A number of those involved in terror attacks in Indonesia are Al-Mukmin alumni, which Bashir co-founded in the 1970s. Bashir has said the use of bombs to wage jihad, or holy war, against those attacking Islam is not proper in Indonesia. He has also denied links to the radical Jemaah Islamiah group, from which Noordin split to set up his own group.

However, analysts say Bashir has endorsed these radical groups. Last month, he held a hero's funeral for two terror suspects shot dead by police in the Temanggung raid, where he pronounced them 'martyrs'. Bashir has close connections with all these groups and perhaps that's why they all gather there.'

Solo, a city of 500,000, has had a volatile past, however. In the 1960s, communists based themselves there and were purged from the city by the army. In 1998, on the eve of former president Suharto's downfall, mobs attacked government buildings and properties owned by Chinese-Indonesians. Now it seems radical Islamic groups are continuing this tradition. In fact, one group tried to drive American tourists out of Solo nine years ago. Others remain suspicious of the area's Christian churches.
Since the 1960s has been a place which both the communists and Muslim hard-liners felt they needed to take over.
Excerpt from Straits Times by Lynn Lee

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Among our most newsworthy reports this week are the killing by police of the Malaysian terrorist Noordin M. Top in Central Java last Thursday and an off-shore earthquake that made its presence felt in Bali on Saturday morning. There's also news of a blackout on Wednesday that virtually left the entire island in the dark. Read also about the timely system being put into place on South Bali's Tanjung Benoa peninsula to save lives in the event of an actual tsunami.

There's a long awaited installment this week of "Bali by the Numbers" reviewing tourist arrivals to Bali in June and July and including my prediction for 2.2 million visitors by year's end.

There's also more interesting reading in the form of a Jones Lang LaSalle overview of Bali's tourism industry.

Calendar book ready? Be sure to note details of a "fun-raising" Halloween party in Ubud on October 31st, a 25 km down hill bike tour to fight polio on October 18th, an important exhibition of young Indonesian photographers October 10 – November 30, a joint exhibition by a Balinese and Irish painter in Ubud October 6 -30th, and a solo exhibition at the Maya Ubud Resort running through October 30th.

Feeling theatrical? Attend a series of free dramatic play readings being held in conjunction with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in the first week of October. Details in this week's edition.

It's high season in Bali over the coming weeks due to the Lebaran holidays. Rooms are at a premium, contact www.Balidiscovery.com if we can help.

To all our Moslem readers we extend the greetings of the season. "Maaf Lahir & Batin."

I'm in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong over the coming few days. Contact me if you're in these cities and you'd like to talk Bali travel.

Got to run – I'm sending this from Shanghai and my dim sum lunch is getting cold.

Bali tourism news as it happens: Follow me on Twitter.com at BaliUpdateEd

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...
J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours
Full text version at: http://www.balidiscovery.com/update/update680.asp

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Asia's political princesses step forward

It may be just a coincidence, but a number of Asia's political princesses are stepping forward at the same time to reclaim a part of the limelight enjoyed by their parents and build political spaces of their own. Some of them have been called the ninjas of their nations and others labelled spoilt brats riding on the wave of support.

No matter. Together, they are livening up the region's political scene. Sceptics are keen to see how they will perform. New faces even appeared in Myanmar last week. The daughters of two former Myanmar premiers jumped into the political fray with intentions to contest elections next year.

Ms Than Than Nu, 62, and Ms Nay Yee Ba Swe, reports say, will team up with Ms Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, the daughter of a former deputy premier, to form the Democratic Party. Their bid has raised questions about what it would do for the fortunes of another political princess - Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of former military General Aung San, who remains under house arrest.

Elsewhere, other daughters are attempting to join the ruling class.

Ms Park Geun Hye, 57, is the daughter of late South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee, who is revered for transforming the country's moribund economy into an industrial powerhouse yet despised by some for his authoritarian ways. She is now among leading contenders to be president when elections are held some time in 2011 or 2012.
Indonesia's Puan Maharani, 36, is the granddaughter of former president Sukarno and daughter of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

She could become the conciliatory political figure who brings together her mother's Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party. Political observers say she may well be offered a position in Dr Yudhoyono's next Cabinet and that she might accept. Encouragement is coming from her father Taufik Kiemas, who reportedly believes that it would not be advantageous for the PDI-P to remain out of government.

In the Philippines, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos' daughter Imee Marcos turned heads last month when she attended the funeral of former president Corazon Aquino, who inspired the people-led revolution that toppled the Marcos regime. Filipino political pundits saw her appearance as a conciliatory gesture to restore rapport between the two prominent political families.

Indeed, dynasty descendants often gain a special position in the region's political landscape. While this treatment is similar for both sons and daughters, the latter often attract more attention, with the respect accorded to them seen as a gesture to elevate the status of women in Asia's male-dominated societies. Among these daughters, those who rose to the highest levels of power exhibited their own strengths as well.

This list would include India's late prime minister Indira Gandhi and former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, both of whom were assassinated, and Sri Lanka's former president Chandrika Kumaratunga. Yet there is no denying the similarities that these daughters share with their fathers add to their appeal.
Puan Maharani, observers have said, has the charisma of her mother.

Ms Park, on the other hand, it is said, reflects the strengths of her father. In 2006, she remained unfazed after an assailant pounced on her and slashed her cheek with a small knife, leaving a 10cm cut that required 60 stitches. Less than 10 days after the incident, she was back at work. Likewise, in 1974, her father had remained unshaken when his wife was slain by an assassin's bullet that missed him. He proceeded to conclude his speech before turning to her.

As the chairman of the Grand National Party three years ago, she had helped to consolidate its gains in the elections that took place then. Yet, in a region that is embracing modernisation, there is closer scrutiny of the privileges that such dynasty children enjoy and whether it is commensurate with their contributions.
Manila-based political scientist Benito Lim points out that Ms Marcos went to a university in the United States to study but reportedly did not complete the programme. Still, because of the popularity she enjoyed in the province where the family lives, she became a governor. Today, as she remains in the public eye, there are questions about why she does not do more to improve the plight of her people.

Likewise in Japan, the reappearance of the outspoken, non-conformist, former foreign minister Makiko Tanaka, 65, last month got people talking. She joined the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) just before the election campaign began, promising to play a bigger role. Yet her critics wonder what the daughter of former premier Kakuei Tanaka can contribute, especially now that the DPJ Cabinet has been announced. Some political observers believe she could still play an important role given that DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa was her father's protege.

But her stint in government left much to be desired. As foreign minister in former premier Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet, she upset senior bureaucrats and criticised then US President George W. Bush's missile shield plans. She also clashed with Mr Koizumi, which eventually led to her departure from the Liberal Democratic Party in 2002.

According to Dr Lam Peng Er, a senior research fellow at the East Asia Institute in Singapore, her reappearance is because patronage politics remains alive in Asia. Perhaps she is keeping the seat warm for her son, he suggested. Elevated status
Dynasty descendants often gain a special position in the region's political landscape. While this treatment is similar for both sons and daughters, the latter often attract more attention, with the respect accorded to them seen as a gesture to elevate the status of women in Asia's male- dominated societies. The Straits Times (Singapore) Shefali Rekhi

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stop the cruel sharia `qanun' in Aceh

The sharia qanun passed by the Aceh parliament this week is no less dangerous to Indonesia than the recent terrorist attacks in the capital Jakarta. The qanun will allow for adulterers to be stoned to death, and will put Indonesia on a slippery slope, threatening the rights of its people and risking its proud standing as an international beacon of moderate Islam.

Where the July bombings helped unite Muslims across the country in outrage at the barbarism and inhumanity of radical Islamists, most startlingly, the stoning bill has elicited little public condemnation. Only a handful of human rights groups have voiced their concerns at a law that grossly abuses the rights of Acehnese.

In fact, if the latest qanun is implemented, it will be time to stop referring to Indonesia as an example of civilized and moderate Islam. It will be time to start referring to Indonesia as the new Pakistan of Southeast Asia. Well Indonesia is not yet Pakistan, but it will not be too long before it becomes one. If politicians continue to accommodate hard-liners, allowing this type of conservative sharia to flourish, Indonesia is only a step away from being added the list of Islamic pariah countries that treat their citizens inhumanely. It will only be a few more years before Banda Aceh is the next Peshawar and East Java is the next Swat Valley. In fact, Indonesia may become worse than Pakistan, because even there people are not stoned to death.

There is still time to stop the folly. The central and provincial governments need to strongly object to and forbid the enactment of the law. This must be done soon, though. Even if the governor does not sign off on the qanun, the law will automatically take effect 30 days after its approval by parliament. If this is the case, the government should obstruct this barbaric law by not allocating any budget to the sharia institutions. In fact, Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who is opposed to sharia law, should consider scrapping the Sharia Affairs Office and the Sharia Police that were created in the province by the old corrupt governor, Abdullah Puteh.

There are a few political options to consider. Because the law was passed by outgoing members of parliament in Aceh, the new legislators can still revoke the law. Aceh's new parliament can make two arguments under the Helsinki MOU, which determined power arrangements in Aceh: First, the old parliament has no right to issue any new law; and second, all Aceh laws must follow internationally agreed-upon human rights standards.

Because stoning people to death is in direct contravention of human rights, the law is invalid and therefore should be canceled.

Third, and as a last resort, Jakarta has the power to overturn any local regulations that go against the Constitution and national laws. The central government has the right, if not duty, to block this law that is not in the line with the Constitution, which promises to protect human dignity across Indonesia.

Laws can only be changed though with public support. Sharia proponents who are willing to push the country to this intolerable limit have been met unchallenged by their moderate opponents, who, fearful of a backlash, are slow to speak out. Indeed, the actual problem of Islamic conservativism is not the conservatives, but the moderates who are too cautious in their opposition.

In Aceh, where the law was introduced, the only group actively voicing their opinions are, unfortunately, not those who oppose, but those who support the qanun. They are the students and legislator associated with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the Islamist Party that is in a coalition with the incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party.

Despite the rhetoric of the PKS nationally that it is a moderate Islamist group, they are the ones pushing for quick and further implementation of sharia in Aceh. This type of qanun benefits neither Yudhoyono's reputation nor the people in Aceh. It is time for the central government to speak out against this law, even though it would mean facing proponents of sharia in Aceh who are part of the party that supported Yudho-yono in the presidential race.

In fact, this is also a good opportunity to turn upside down the whole process of enacting sharia law in Aceh and Indonesia. The government should strangle the sharia institutions and discourse. It is time for moderate Muslims to say no to the newest sharia in Aceh and any future sharia that insults Islam, Indonesia and the present moderate tradition.

Aguswandi, Cambridge. The writer is a fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead
Center for International Affairs.

Friday, September 18, 2009

China’s Myanmar Dilemma

Asia Report N°177

14 September 2009


Each time global attention is focused on events in Myanmar, concerned stakeholders turn to China to influence the military government to undertake reforms. Yet simply calling on Beijing to apply more pressure is unlikely to result in change. While China has substantial political, economic and strategic stakes in Myanmar, its influence is overstated. The insular and nationalistic leaders in the military government do not take orders from anyone, including Beijing. China also diverges from the West in the goals for which it is prepared to use its influence.

By continuing to simply expect China to take the lead in solving the problem, a workable international approach will remain elusive as Myanmar continues to play China and the West against each other. After two decades of failed international approaches to Myanmar, Western countries and Beijing must find better ways to work together to pursue a wide array of issues that reflect the concerns of both sides.

The relationship between China and Myanmar is best characterised as a marriage of convenience rather than a love match. The dependence is asymmetric – Myanmar has more to lose should the relationship sour: a protector in the Security Council, support from a large neighbour amid international isolation, a key economic partner and a source of investment. While China sees major problems with the status quo, particularly with regards to Myanmar’s economic policy and ethnic relations, its preferred solution is gradual adjustment of policy by a strong central government, not federalism or liberal democracy and certainly not regime change. In this way, it can continue to protect its economic and strategic interests in the country. In addition to energy and other investments, Myanmar’s strategic location allows China access to the Indian Ocean and South East Asia.

But Beijing’s policy might ultimately have an adverse effect on Myanmar’s stability and on China’s ability to leverage the advantages it holds. Political instability and uncertainty have resulted in a lack of confidence in Myanmar’s investment environment, and weak governance and widespread corruption have made it difficult for even strong Chinese companies to operate there. Myanmar’s borders continue to leak all sorts of problems – not just insurgency, but also drugs, HIV/AIDS and, recently, tens of thousands of refugees. Chinese companies have been cited for environmental and ecological destruction as well as forced relocation and human rights abuses carried out by the Myanmar military. These problems are aggravated by differences in approach between Beijing and the provincial government in Yunnan’s capital Kunming, which implements policies towards the ethnic ceasefire groups.

At the same time, resentment towards China, rooted in past invasions and prior Chinese support to the Communist Party of Burma, is growing. Myanmar’s leaders fear domination by their larger neighbour, and have traditionally pursued policies of non-alignment and multilateralism to balance Chinese influence. Increasing competition among regional actors for access to resources and economic relationships has allowed Myanmar to counterbalance China by strengthening cooperation with other countries such as India, Russia, Thailand, Singapore, North Korea and Malaysia. The military government is intensely nationalistic, unpredictable and resistant to external criticism, making it often impervious to outside influence.

While China shares the aspiration for a stable and prosperous Myanmar, it differs from the West on how to achieve such goals. China will not engage with Myanmar on terms dictated by the West. To bring Beijing on board, the wider international community will need to pursue a plausible strategy that takes advantage of areas of common interest. This strategy must be based on a realistic assessment of China’s engagement with Myanmar, its actual influence, and its economic and strategic interests. The West could better engage China to encourage Myanmar’s government to commit to a truly inclusive dialogue with the opposition and ethnic groups. In addition to talks on national reconciliation, dialogue should also address the economic and humanitarian crisis that hampers reconciliation at all levels of society. At the same time, China should act both directly and in close cooperation with ASEAN member countries to continue support for the good offices of the United Nations as well as to persuade the military to open up.

Myanmar is heading towards elections in 2010 which, despite major shortcomings, are likely to create opportunities for generational and institutional changes. International policy towards Myanmar accordingly deserves careful reassessment. China is encouraging the government to make the process genuinely inclusive, but will certainly accept almost any result that does not involve major instability. While its capacity and willingness to influence Myanmar’s domestic politics is limited, the international community should continue to encourage Beijing as well as other regional stakeholders to take part in a meaningful and concerted effort to address the transition in Myanmar.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is Global Power Still Shifting to the East?

Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers one year ago, the idea that the centre of global power is shifting eastwards has gained currency. Central to this story has been the rise of China, a result both its decades of spectacular economic growth, and a sense that the People’s Republic has weathered the current crisis better than most.

But over recent weeks, the mood in developed economies has improved. The latest figures indicate that the days of recession may be fading away. Tim Geithner has suggested it might be time to start removing some of the governments’ financial props for private enterprises. Stock markets have risen, an indication of improved sentiment, or maybe even another asset bubble. And rather than fundamental reforms to capitalist economies, at best there has been some tinkering around the edges. We might be forgiven for dismissing the crisis of the last couple of years as no more than a blip, and the latest developments as an indication of a return to the previous normality.

Does this renewed optimism suggest talk of economic power shifting east was premature? Probably not. In China’s case at least, the last year or so has seen important changes in the reality and perceptions of its role in the global economy, which have implications for the global balance of power.

Firstly, China’s own confidence of its international role relative to others has received a boost. This has resulted partly from the entreaties of western commentators and politicians for China to do something to help save the global economy, even if realistically these have overstated China’s influence. The forthcoming 60th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China will be a good opportunity to gauge exactly how the current leadership sees China’s global role.

Secondly, much of the angst over shifts in global economic power was fed by a sense of despair, or even decline, in developed economies. Even if this despair is passing, one effect of the crisis has been to erode the moral authority of the US and others to advise China on its development path.

Thirdly, the crisis has highlighted to the leadership in Beijing the extent of China’s interdependence with the global economy, and particularly its previous dependence on exports to the US and Europe. However the crisis has reinforced the desire in China to boost its domestic drivers of growth, although global economic forces also constrain Beijing’s room for manoeuvre. Premier Wen Jiabao’s speech to last week’s World Economic Forum meeting in northeast China outlined the extent to which the Chinese stimulus package was focused on expanding domestic demand, as well as meeting wider political objectives of improving standards of living across the country.

Crucially too, China’s economy appears to have pulled through the crisis in reasonable shape. The shock to its economy was real, and there remains plenty of uncertainty over the sustainability of this year’s stimulus-induced growth. But the historical precedents, such as the recovery from the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s, point Beijing’s way.

Where does this leave the question of shifts in global power? It suggests that the continued emergence of a stronger and more confident China has been hastened by the crisis, and that the evolving relationship between China and the global economy will increasingly be informed by China’s interests.

However, it is also important to recall that shifts in global power could take a number of different forms. While some emphasize the rise of China, others (though not the Chinese government) preserve a role for the still-dominant US by talking up a “G2” which would see Washington and Beijing join hands to lead the world. There has also been talk about a broader re-emergence of East Asia as the centre of the world economy, or even an Asian century (brushing under the carpet the diversity and complexities in Asia, however you define it).

Other emerging and developed economies will also compete for influence as shifts in global economic and political power play out over the coming years. This helps highlight that there is nothing inevitable about changing patterns of power: there is no “when China rules the world”. But current evidence suggests the drift eastwards will be with us for a while yet.

Opinion Asia by Tim Summers. Tim Summers, a former British diplomat is a researcher at the Centre for East Asian Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Terror mastermind said among four dead in Indonesia raid

Armed Indonesian police stormed an Islamic militant hideout early Thursday in a raid strongly suspected to have left terror mastermind Noordin Mohammed Top dead.

A decapitated corpse believed to be Noordin's was among four bodies recovered after the early morning raid on a village house in Central Java, an officer of the elite Special Detachment 88 anti-terror squad reported.

Loud explosions and gunfire were heard as police raided the rented house at around 7:00 am (0000 GMT) after a nine-hour siege on the outskirts of Solo city, a stronghold in Central Java of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) radical network.

Noordin allegedly also masterminded a 2003 attack on the Marriott that killed 12 people, as well as the Australian embassy bombing and 2005 attacks on tourist restaurants on the holiday island of Bali. Jemaah Islamiyah's ultimate goal is to unite Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and the southern Philippines into a fundamentalist Islamic state.

Noordin's faction is estranged from JI's mainstream, which has rejected spectacular attacks. But analysts say he has been able to fall back on a network of sympathetic schools and families while continuing to recruit.

Japan's New PM profile

New Japan PM a political heir out to rebuild

TOKYO: Japan’s new center-left Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is a soft-spoken and wealthy political scion with an academic bent who likes to chant meditative mantras to clear his mind.

A Stanford-trained engineering scholar, he is known for sometimes lofty and unconventional ideas that have earned the 62-year-old the nickname “The Alien,” also a playful stab at his bulging eyes and bouffant hair.

Hatoyama, the heir to a political dynasty often dubbed Japan’s Kennedys, followed his father and grandfather, a former conservative premier, into politics, taking an electoral seat on northern Hokkaido island in 1986.

His other grandfather founded Bridgestone, the world’s largest tiremaker, and Hatoyama remains one of Japan’s wealthiest politicians.

Friends of the new leader—who rarely betrays emotions and kept a sombre face even after his party’s stunning August 30 election win—describe him as more the scholarly type than a natural politician.

“If Japanese politicians are like hard liquor, Mr. Hatoyama is very plain, like water . . . [he] is cool but doesn’t offend people,” said a fellow Stanford alumnus, statistics professor Nozomu Matsubara of Seigakuin University.

Unexpected decision

Another fellow academic said he was surprised when he learned years ago that Hatoyama had entered the rough and tumble of national politics.

“He’s got money, he’s smart, and he didn’t have to choose the tough road,” Doshisha University cultural studies professor Masakatsu Murakami told Agence France-Presse.
Hatoyama himself has expressed a distaste for the rougher side of politics.

“In this world there are some people who try to climb the ladder by any means except murder, but I never want to have such naked ambition,” Hatoyama was quoted as saying in a 2002 biography.

Nonetheless, Hatoyama has become somewhat of a political revolutionary, breaking the decades-long grip on power of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with a pledge to build a “fraternal society.”

New vision

In a recent, wide-ranging essay, Hatoyama cited his own grandfather and an early 20th Austrian political thinker to promote his vision of a kinder, gentler society, while criticizing the excesses of “US-led globalism.”

He said this goal was the reason he left the LDP and co-founded the DPJ more than a decade ago. He rose to the top post in 1999 but slipped down the party ranks, only to take the leadership again in May when his predecessor was engulfed in a fund-raising scandal.

Hatoyama himself came under fire in June for accounting irregularities at his fund-raising body, when it emerged that 21 million yen ($230,000) had been wrongly recorded since 2005.

Life before politics

Before entering politics, Hatoyama in the 1970s received a Ph.D. in engineering in a field called operations research, which employs applied mathematics to solve complex problems, at Stanford University.

While in California, he married former actress Miyuki, now a lifestyle guru and inspirational speaker. The couple has one son, an engineering scholar now living in Moscow.

His extroverted wife has made headlines by saying her soul once traveled to Venus in a UFO, and that she met Tom Cruise in a previous life.

But Hatoyama, who has called Miyuki, 66, his “energy-refueling base,” has defended her ideas and himself betrayed a spiritual side.

He has said he likes to meditate and is quoted as saying: “I chant mantras without thinking anything. My mind goes blank while chanting meaningless words.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Singapore bank secrecy under the spotlight

Allegations that Myanmar's junta is stashing billions of dollars in Singapore have thrown a spotlight on banking secrecy in the city-state, which strongly denies being a haven for hot money. US-based human rights group EarthRights International says that energy majors Total and Chevron are propping up the sanctions-hit Myanmar military regime with profits from a gas project totalling nearly five billion dollars.

Total and Chevron have rejected the charge and two Singapore banks named in the ERI report as the repositories for most of the money -- the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. (OCBC) and DBS -- have dismissed it as false and baseless.

Wealthy Asians regard Singapore as the Switzerland of Asia, a rock-solid financial centre where savings can be kept safely and discreetly. But critics say some of the money comes from unsavoury sources. Officials in neighbouring Indonesia are trying to recover tens of millions of dollars allegedly stashed in Singapore during the rule of the late dictator Suharto.

And rival Philippine groups are suing to gain control over more than 25 million US dollars that formerly belonged to the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and is currently frozen in an offshore bank in Singapore.

In 2007, the last year for when official figures are available, assets under management in Singapore totalled 814 billion US dollars, up 32 percent from 2006. About 86 percent is from foreign sources.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

The biggest news of the week is the decision by Indonesia’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, Jero Wacik, to resign his ministerial post. Read the whys and wherefores in this week’s update.

Other news includes a decision to delay enhanced air traffic rights between Malaysia and Indonesia. Another sign of worsening relations between Malaysia and Indonesia? Bali’s police chief calls for identity and background checks on everyone working at Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport. A national tourism official outlines tourist arrival targets for 2009 and 2010. Bali has been declared an infectious area for the spread of rabies with confirmed cases now in three districts of the island. A pregnant woman’s death at Denpasar's General Hospital has been officially linked to the H1N1 virus. And, police arrest two men in connection with a well-organized ring selling turtle meat to Bali restaurants.

Good news this week with the report of the birth of the 3rd baby elephant in six months at Bali’s Elephant Safari Park and a record-setting flight of 90 paragliders over Bali’s southern peninsula on September 9, 2009.

Spice Diver respond to deny last week’s press reports that they are operating their business without the required licenses.

Feeling hungry? The Sanur Paradise Plaza Hotel re-opens its refurbished and relocated Sanur Harum Chinese Restaurant. On the other side of the island, InterContinental Bali Resort begins weekly seafood preparation and cooking lessons.

Mark your calendar for the BIWA Christmas Bazaar on November 1, 2009 and the performance of a Balinese version of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” coming to Ubud October 7-11, 2009.

I’ll be traveling in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong September 20-26th. Members of the travel industry in those cities who’d like to learn about Bali and the services of Bali Discovery Tours can drop me an email.

Bali News as it happens: Follow me on Twitter.com at BaliUpdateEd

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...
J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours
For the full report go to: http://www.balidiscovery.com/update/update679.asp

China’s Myanmar Dilemma


Beijing/Jakarta/Brussels, 14 September 2009: After two decades of failed international approaches to Myanmar, Western countries and China must find better ways to work together to push for change in the military-ruled nation.

China’s Myanmar Dilemma*, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines Chinese national and provincial policy towards Myanmar and its implications for international approaches toward the country. While many believe that China is the key to pushing Myanmar toward political reform, its influence is overstated.

The Myanmar army’s recent raid against the Kokang ceasefire group, resulting in the flight of 37,000 refugees to China, highlights the complexity of China’s relationship with Myanmar. China was unable to dissuade the generals from launching their bloody campaign. Tensions along the border remain the highest in 20 years.

“The insular and nationalistic generals do not take orders from anyone, including Beijing”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “By continuing to simply expect China to take the lead in solving the problem, a workable international approach to Myanmar will remain elusive”.

While China shares the aspiration for a stable and prosperous Myanmar, it differs from the West on how to achieve these goals. China will not engage with Myanmar on terms dictated by the West. To bring Beijing on board, the wider international community will need to pursue a plausible strategy that takes advantage of areas of common interest as well as China’s actual level of influence.

The West should emphasise to China the unsustainable nature of its current policies and continue to apply pressure in the Security Council and other fora. At the same time, China is just one among many countries courting Myanmar. International pressure should not exclude other regional states pursuing their own narrowly defined self interests in Myanmar.

“Both Chinese and international policies towards Myanmar deserve careful reassessment,” explains Donald Steinberg, Crisis Group’s Deputy President for Policy. “An effective international approach also requires a united front by regional actors as well as multilateral institutions such as ASEAN and the UN.”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

If now is not a good time to subject war criminals to justice, when is?

Two weeks ago, East Timor's Government, without judicial authority, released a man who has been charged by a UN panel with crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enforced disappearance, torture, rape, deportation and persecution. His alleged crimes include taking part in the slaughter of up to 200 men, women and children in Suai, East Timor, on September 6, 1999.

None of this was far away, long ago. Next Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the landing of an Australian-led force to end massacres, like the one at Suai, unleashed by Indonesian officers after East Timor voted for independence. In a speech on the August 30 anniversary of the vote, President Jose Ramos Horta ruled out an international war crimes tribunal. ''We must put the past behind us,'' he said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Indonesian leaders last week after Australian Federal Police launched a formal investigation into the murders of five Australian-based journalists in Balibo, East Timor, in October 1975.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said it was a backwards step that could damage relations between Jakarta and Canberra. Jakarta's response was echoed by respected, well-informed commentators in Australia, including Hugh White, a former senior
Defence Department official. Australia's ''obsession'' with Balibo was, he said, a distraction that risked harming relations with modern, democratic Indonesia.

The Age's Michelle Grattan agreed, asking if it was wise to ''pick at'' a tragedy from decades ago. She pointed out Indonesia is now a democracy and argued: ''Our national interest won't be particularly served by going down a path that could put our two countries at odds.''
Implicit in this line of argument is that ''national interest'' should take precedence over the independent functions of police and courts. It assumes countries can't atone for events of the past while focusing on the future. And it implies Indonesian democracy is so fragile that powerful men accused of atrocities can't be called to account.

And it prompts the question: if now is not a good time to subject war criminals to justice, when is?

Excerpt from SMH.Tom Hyland is international editor.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

'Gains and gaps' in Philippine’s Magna Carta of Women

The recent alleged beating of Rachel Tiongson, former live-in partner of Deputy National Security Adviser Luis Chavit Singson, hammers home the gains and gaps in the newly enacted Magna Carta of Women (MCW). Feminists now ask: Will the state really use its legal powers and force to punish the rich and powerful, including political cronies and state functionaries, who commit crimes against women?

This question cuts more sharply in the case of the battered Tiongson, and Gabriela Womens party-list Rep. Liza Maza is strongly criticizing Malacañangs soft handling of her alleged battering done by the deputy national security adviser. Malaca–angs soft handling of Tiongsons case itself violates Republic Act 9262, or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act and the newly passed Magna Carta of Women, charged Maza. She decried that Malacañangs statement that the issue is a domestic problem and it is up for Singson, a former Ilocos Sur governor, who is closely associated with the Arroyo administration, if he wants to take a leave of absence from his post feigns ignorance of the law that says any form of violence against women in a sexual relationship is a public crime under the MCW.

Singsons boss, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, has refused to fire or force Singson to take a leave, a stance Filipino feminists see as a bad message for women. Malacañangs statement urging Deputy National Security Adviser Luis Chavit Singson to take a leave of absence condones the act of violence against women. It is clear the Magna Carta of Women, Chapter 3, Section 5, says that the state as the primary duty-bearer shall protect women against discrimination and from violation of their rights, Maza said.

Malaca–ang had said it could not just slap Singson with a preventive suspension because the case had nothing to do with his job in the Cabinet, and this is tantamount to washing its hands clean of responsibility, contrary to the MCW, asserted Maza. She noted that the MCW, and local and international laws mandate the government to fulfill these duties through law, policy, regulatory instruments, administrative guidelines and other appropriate measure including temporary special measures.

Signed on August 14, the MCW is meant to be a comprehensive law on womens human rights that is expected to strengthen existing laws on violence against women and children, rape, labor migration and many others.

Said National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women Chairman Myrna Yao, [It] is a landmark law because the Philippines will now have a national framework for the implementation of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW], considered as the international bill of rights for women.

One prominent provision is Section 13 on equal access and elimination of discrimination in education, scholarships and training. The provision prohibits any school from dismissing and expelling students who became pregnant out of wedlock. Part of Section13 (c) reads: No school on the account of her having contrasted pregnancy outside of marriage during her term in school. It also provides a special leave that may extend up to two months for women who had to undergo surgery because of gynecological orders.

Some provisions under Section 32 on the protection of the girl-child also mandate the equal access of Moro and indigenous girl-children in madaris (plural of madrasa, Muslim schools), schools of living culture and traditions, and the regular schools as well as the development of gender-sensitive curriculum, including legal literacy and books in any educational centers.

Yet, many feminists remain unhappy with the process behind the MCW.
Ana Maria Nemenzo of Task Force Magna Carta admits being disgusted and frustrated with the intervention of the church in corrupting a secular and credible legislative process, alleging that the Catholic hierarchy inserted terms not in the reconciled bill of the two houses of congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. After a reconciled bill, which should have been the final version was produced, a cardinal is said to have insisted the inclusion of the word ethical in the section on reproductive health. Section 17 (b) (3), pertaining to Comprehensive Health Information and Education, now reads: The State shall provide women in all sectors with appropriate, timely, complete and accurate information and education on . . . womens health . . . with due regard . . . to ethical, legal, safe and effective family planning.

Said feminist nongovernment organization, Isis International, It is for this reason that some feminists have opted to disengage with the process that it believes resulted in the omission of a definition of gender, now regarded as a weakness in the law, especially in appreciating gender-based violence and discrimination. Nemenzo did not attend the signing of R.A. 9710 in the presidential palace, though she reportedly considers the MCW a good framework bill.
She is also known for her opposition to the President who is touted to be unsupportive of the more crucial reproductive health bill that remains pending in Congress. Still, many feminists remain keen in participating in the drafting of the laws implementing rules and regulations, or implementing mechanisms and in pursuing other equally important womens issues.

Citing the Task Forces contribution of important provisions to the Magna Carta of Women, Nemenzo has remarked, One can still do something [in enriching the law].
The MCW is expected to promote the economic rights and well-being of women, especially those in the marginalized sectors, it ensures they will be given equal rights in food security and resources for food production that include the titling of land and issuance of stewardship contracts and patents.
It mandates that women will also be given equal opportunities for employment, livelihood, credit, capital and technology as well as in skills training and scholarships including those for women migrant workers.

Marginalized sectors are those who belong to the disadvantaged or vulnerable groups who live in poverty and have no access to basic social and economic services such as health care, education, water and sanitation, employment, housing, physical infrastructure and the justice system.

The law now mandates government financing and credit agencies to step up their micro-finance programs so that they can lend more money to women, especially those in the rural areas, who want to go into small businesses or livelihood projects. Filipino women are known for their entrepreneurial ways, and the womens sector is one of the heralded pillars of the economy.

MCW also provides an opportunity for a stronger state agency, since the NCRFW, to be renamed as the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), is now coordinating with the Commission on Human Rights and other concerned departments and agencies, nongovernment organizations, civil society groups and representatives from both houses of Congress in formulating the MCWs implementing rules and regulations.
The enactment into law of MCW is just a step in the legislative mill concerning women. There remains important tasks for advocates, like ensuring that other laws like the Family Code, the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code would now be revised to ensure womens fullest protection under the law.

This was the main gist of the review conducted in 2006 by a committee of the United Nations (UN) on the Philippines compliance with the CEDAW.

For one, many have pointed out that there are existing discriminatory provisions of the Code of Muslim Personal Laws, permitting marriage of girls under 18, polygamy and arranged marriages. These are accepted cultural practices that have been decried as subverting womens rights, based on local and international legal standards.
Feminists have long decried that the Philippine government had long been remiss in its mandated task under the CEDAW to undertake a systematic review of all legislation and their loopholes and weaknesses, and initiate all necessary revisions to achieve full compliance with CEDAWs provisions.

The country still needs to increase awareness of all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, marital rape and incest, and the unacceptability of all such violence. The CEDAW Review Committee recommended that the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 be reassessed, and its provision pertaining to the extinguishing of the criminal action be repealed.

The government should enhance data collection on various forms of violence against women, especially domestic violence. It should also conduct research on the prevalence, causes and consequences of domestic violence to serve as basis for its targeted interventions.

The last-mentioned is now a particularly sour point for both Filipino women and the Philippine government, as shown in the dramatic case of the brutalized Rachel Tiongson.

Said Emmi de Jesus, Gabriela Womens Alliance secretary-general, Ultimately, womens collective action to be vigilant on guarding the governments implementation of the law will determine its success in advancing and uplifting womens rights and welfare
Manila Time By Nora O. Gamolo, Former Senior Desk Editor and Columnist

Is the Suharto clan making a comeback?

GOLKAR Party deputy chairman Agung Laksono surely must have been joking when he suggested that Tommy Suharto, the former president's son and the man who ordered the murder of a Supreme Court judge, is not 'mature enough' to contest the party chairmanship.

'Tommy is a young man with a long future,' the House of Representatives Speaker told a press conference last month. 'I believe he should gain more experience in the party's organisational structure. 'However, if he wants to go ahead with his plan, then by all means, go ahead,' he continued. 'Our party allows any member to run for the chairmanship. But when we talk about his chance to win, it's a whole different story.'

What was he thinking? No mention of Tommy's criminal past, which under party rules should forbid him from running for dog-catcher, let alone the leadership of the country's best organised and, in the past at least, best- financed party.
Tommy Suharto, 47, whose father turned Golkar into an all-powerful political machine, caused widespread public incredulity when he announced his intended candidacy early last month. But instead of questioning whether a convicted murderer should be fit for the post, most senior Golkar executives focused on the fact that he had not served the necessary five years working in the party structure.

Many of the years Tommy could have done so were, of course, spent in prison for ordering the assassination of the judge who had found him guilty of corruption. Not just any judge, mind you, but a member of the country's highest, if somewhat tainted court. In many countries, he would have been given the death sentence, but in his case, he served only a third of a 15-year sentence. Now this piece of absurd political theatre, which casts serious doubt on whether Golkar's old guard has even the slightest clue about what has happened in Indonesia over the past decade.

'This is so Javanese,' a long-time Indonesian observer noted. 'Using indirect and convoluted logic to make a point that if made too directly would offend and make a lot of other people associated with Tommy feel uncomfortable.' Not to mention all those Golkar members who used to embrace the late president's money and patronage and even today are reluctant to share the responsibility for the New Order regime's excesses. Outgoing Chief Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie has far more support among the provincial branches than his closest rival, Mr Surya Paloh, to replace vice-president and party chairman Jusuf Kalla at next month's convention. Mr Paloh, a newspaper publisher and owner of the Metro television news channel, is head of the board of patrons and has been more actively engaged in Golkar's organisational affairs over the past decade than Mr Bakrie ever has.

But Mr Bakrie has paid his dues where it counts - in the party coffers, which he has helped refurbish since the collapse of the Suharto regime dried up many of Golkar's previous sources of revenue.

Tommy's initial enthusiasm appears to have waned, with insiders claiming he was throwing his support behind Mr Paloh. He also met Mr Yuddy Chrisnandi, 41, a first-term legislator and the third candidate in the race for the top Golkar post. It is not clear why MrChrisnandi would publicly flaunt his association with the Suharto family, given a second meeting he had recently with Tommy's older sister, Siti Hardiyanti 'Tutut' Rukmana. Commentators assume he needs money for his campaign, but it was strange behaviour nevertheless for a new-generation politician who says he wants to reform the party.

In any event, Tommy reiterated his candidacy on Thursday, saying it was 'impossible for me to remain silent'. Again, there was little initial party comment on whether he would be permitted to run.

Bakrie wants to take Golkar back into President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's new coalition, albeit with a smaller representation, while Mr Paloh favours going into the opposition. The uncertainty this has created may be one reason why Dr Yudhoyono's Democratic Party has been talking with the Indonesian Democrat Party - Struggle (PDI-P).

Though PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri still harbours bitter feelings towards Dr Yudhoyono for toppling her from the presidency in 2004, PDI-P has money problems that will not be solved by spending another term in the opposition.

The Democrats indicate they will support Ms Megawati's husband Taufik Kiemas in his bid to head the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country's highest law-making body. But whether this would extend to a coalition partnership, conceivably leaving Parliament without a genuine opposition, may well depend on how long Ms Megawati continues to influence PDI-P decision-making.

Golkar has financial problems of its own, which is why Bakrie remains the odds-on favourite to win the chairmanship.

On that score, the party doesn't need Tommy. But perhaps sensing a leadership vacuum after Dr Yudhoyono completes his second term in 2014, the Suharto clan may well be making a political comeback. But Tommy, with all his baggage, is not the one to lead it.
John McBeth, The Straits Times (Singapore)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The real murderers of Indonesian activist Munir Said Thalib go unpunished

Five Years On, Impunity Reigns in Indonesia

On September 7, 2004 human rights defender, reformer and leading civil society activist Munir Said Thalib was murdered with a poisoned dinner aboard a Garuda Indonesia flight to Amsterdam for his critical views of the government and military in Indonesia.

One of Munir's main achievements was the elucidation of crimes committed by the military in both Indonesia and East Timor. More than 10 years after Suharto's regime came down and five years after Munir's murder none of the reforms in Indonesia have made it possible to hold military officials accountable. Instead, the re-elected President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently called for an increased territorial command structure in the military to address the problem of terrorism. Was Munir's lifework in vain?

Before and after the end of Suharto's rule in 1998 the military was notorious for human rights atrocities such as killings and disappearances. It was only in 2002 that the police became a separate body, independent of the military as part of the country's security sector reform. In some areas of Indonesia, this separation has not yet resulted in a stabilized co-existence of the two bodies, the police and the military. In Papua, for example, confrontations and even shootings between the police and the army have been reported. The military, which is strongly affected by corruption, especially in the outlying regions, often protects private mining companies or even run their own mining businesses.

Killings of civilians by the army, as happens repeatedly, cannot be brought to a justice process that would hold the perpetrators adequately accountable. This immunity of the military has seriously damaged the image of the Indonesian military forces (TNI) as a whole.

When the founder of the Indonesian Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) helped in making military crimes public and called for reforms, the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) sent Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, then a Garuda captain, to poison Munir by lacing his dinner with arsenic. While Pollycarpus has been sentenced for the murder, the instigators of the killing have not yet been brought to justice.

The evidence points at Major General Muchdi Purwoprandjono, deputy director at the National Intelligence Agency at that time. However, the Supreme Court acquitted him in June, neglecting vital evidence. The trial has been criticised for being flawed. This acquittal is of course a slap in the face for all victims who Munir was supporting and for his family and friends. Indonesia has a National Human Rights Commission, a Human Rights Court Law, an Anti-Corruption Commission and has undergone many other political reforms, but none of them has led to accountability of the military criminals of the past. In fact, the very same people – Generals Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto, both of whom were accused of murder by human rights groups -- were even running with their parties in the 2009 elections.

President Yudhoyono himself is a retired general of the TNI and promised, upon his first election in 2004, to make Munir's case the test case for Indonesia's reform process. However, key reforms such as the final establishment of a Witness Protection Agency have been delayed. While the law for this crucial institution was passed years ago, no budget has been allocated by the government to facilitate its long overdue start.

Civil societies, both local and international, have been pushing for progress in Munir's case. However, hopes that President Yudhoyono would sincerely fulfil his promise to bring the perpetrators to justice have faded. More and more voices are pointing at his stake in a military elite that continues to hold Indonesia in a vice-like grip. What we see instead are continued reports of military and police encounters that destabilize the social climate and undermine acceptance of the oversized role of the TNI in the Indonesian state and territory.

Instead of containment, the reign of the military in civil areas is further consolidated. The response to the recent bomb attacks that shook Jakarta was not a further professionalization of investigations of the police but rather the introduction of draconian anti-terrorism laws that allow for detention of up to two years. This in turn helped to foster the role of the military as a key power holder in the country.

What was it that Munir has been fighting for? Munir wanted an Indonesia based on justice, rule of law and human rights, where all victims would have access to remedies. Munir was fighting for a democratic society that would be able to hold any public officer accountable for corruption and other crimes and that would take the military out of the civil aspects of life.

Munir risked his life for this dream and he has paid for it with his life. But not even the very least that Indonesia owes him has been done – to bring his murderers to justice. The fifth year after Munir's death is a moment of disappointment. It is also disillusionment for the reform process in Indonesia. Asia Sentinel by Norman Voss. Norman Voss works at the Asian Human Rights Commission/Asian Legal Resources Center.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

U.S. Hypocrisy and Kretek

Kretek are ousted from the US while American tobacco interests merrily peddle their wares overseas.

Indonesians should turn their attention away from Malaysian theft of their culture to American maltreatment of a rather different national icon – the kretek cigarette.
As of October 1 it will become a criminal offense in the supposedly free United States to sell kretek, the clove-enhanced cigarette dear to most Indonesian smokers and increasingly to foreigners. Indonesia should take this behavior to the World Trade Organisation. The country which in the name of free trade has for decades ensured that its tobacco companies are foisted on the world has the temerity to ban somebody else's exports to the US.

It should be acknowledged that kretek are no picnic, and that the US ban goes well beyond kretek to other tobacco products as well. According to studies, kretek are made up of 60 to 80 percent tobacco, 20 t0 40 percent ground cloves, clove oil and other additives, although the studies point out that they do not contain the thousands of toxic chemicals that conventional cigarettes are packed with.

This ban is not being done to protect domestic commercial interests. Kretek sales in the US are scarcely big enough to worry the big companies. They account for less than 1 percent of US cigarette sales. The ban on kretek is a product of an out-of-control US Food and Drug Administration which has been given authoritarian powers to declare tobacco products illegal, though illogically it cannot ban pure tobacco products, which take in US$1.5 billion in US exports annually according to the latest data.

In this case it is resorting to banning "flavored" cigarettes on the theory that flavoring adds to their appeal to the young. But this being the US, where big companies can buy their way around rules imposed by self-assuming health bureaucrats, menthol is exempted from the US flavoring ban. American tobacco purveyors sell plenty of menthol cigarettes, and they sell more of them to the young. According to US statistics, in 2006 almost 44 percent of smokers aged 12 to 17 years smoked menthol cigarettes, 36 percent aged 18 to 24 reported smoking menthol cigarettes and more than 30 percent of those over 35 reported smoking them.
Perhaps significantly, the small market for kretek in the US is dominated by Djarum, which is still Indonesian-owned and not a US concern. The multinational giants meanwhile have already moved on Indonesia, with Philip Morris acquiring Sampoerna, and British American Tobacco Indonesia, long a local manufacturer of white cigarettes, acquiring Bentoel. Ironically, back in 2004 Philip Morris had not opposed a proposed ban on kretek in the US for the cynical reason that it did not make any.

The hypocrisy of the US is stunning. According to a study by Frank J. Chaloupka and Adit Laixuthai for the National Bureau of Economic Research, the US in the 1980s and 1990s used Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act to force open the cigarette markets of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. "Estimates from fixed-effects models indicate that the market share of US cigarettes in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Thailand increased dramatically after the agreements as consumers switched from the brands produced by domestic monopolies to the brands of US cigarette producers," Chaloupka and Laixuthai wrote. "In addition, simulations based on the regression results indicate that per capita cigarette consumption in 1991 in the four affected countries was nearly 10 percent higher than it would have been had the markets remained closed to U.S. cigarettes."

Sure enough, Japan remains the biggest importer of US manufactured tobacco products, spending US$954 million on US cigarettes annually, followed by Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon and, improbably, Iran at No. 5 despite the restraints on trade between the two countries.

The ban is also a blow, albeit a minor one, to the hand-rolled kretek industry which provides for thousands of poor Indonesians. It suggests a do-gooding zealotry on the part of the anti-smoking lobby worthy if not of the Taliban at least of Malaysia's beer-banning fanatics – and without even a religious text to rely on. In fact smoking disease patterns suggest that American-style flue-cured, Virginia tobacco with chemical additives which are the most dangerous cigarettes – certainly compared with the air-cured black tobacco ones such as France's traditional Gauloises and Gitanes.

The ban on kretek is discriminatory. One can be sure that if cloves were grown in the US there would be no such ban. As it is, Indonesians might think a reasonable riposte would be to ban all US-brand name colas until the kretek ban is lifted. After all, who knows what noxious substances are in Coca-Cola? The formula is a secret.

by Philip Bowring Asia Sentinel

East Timor's Big, Dopey Neighbour Needs to Wake Up

Australia often looks north through an intellectual fog so thick our involvement in the region can run the risk of doing more harm than good, and one of the clearest examples is East Timor. Australians have great interest in seeing it become democratic in substance and form, and keen interest in resolving the circumstances around the Balibo five deaths, now subject to an Australian Federal Police investigation.

But the sad truth is many of the differences separating Australia from its near neighbour are growing deeper each day. East Timor is on Australia's northern doorstep, and we have a large presence there. But it is the Chinese and the Cubans who are making the greatest advances - politically, economically and socially - in shaping its future.

This pattern has become pronounced since 2005, when Australia prematurely withdrew its stabilisation forces, a likely factor in the following unrest, which left 30 dead and more than 100,000 displaced. Moreover, had the military advisers remaining been in a position to better detect tensions building within its defence force - and intervened in a timely manner - the country might not have gone to the brink of civil war. That shambolic episode was a sharp reminder of how ignorance and official deception persist, more than 30 years after the Indonesian invasion and the deaths in Balibo.

Australia's peacekeeping, while important, was unfinished in 2005. There was a fundamental lack of understanding about the political and cultural dynamics between the eastern and western factions of the new army being raised from former resistance forces. How much of this was due to poor intelligence-gathering on the ground and how much was due to inadequate political support from Canberra will continue to generate debate.

The way Australia conducts economic relations is not much better. By playing hardball in negotiations over sharing oil and gas in the Timor Sea, Australia has undermined trust and confidence. It is little wonder China has inveigled its way into negotiations over joint operations to develop these resources.

While Australia's attention is diverted daily by dramas in Dili, it seems blissfully ignorant of the steady spread of Chinese capital across the country. This is apparent in lavish new government buildings given by the Chinese, and the sudden rise of a new merchant class throughout the urban areas.

The way this fledgling nation goes about embracing capitalism may be its own business. But, given the problems this same phenomenon is now causing in Papua New Guinea, this issue might at least be raised as a point of discussion, given our supposed role in guiding it to democracy. Perhaps our mentoring role has been little more than a charade to help facilitate oil negotiations. This cynical view is supported by the fact that Australia's aid is being overshadowed by Cuba.

Its success in delivering basic health care and literacy to the rural poor is quite properly winning the hearts and minds of the people. It is a quirk of history that Cubans are providing the basic building blocks of democracy, and their particular brand of humanism may prove vital in helping the eastern Timorese cope with the ravages of global capitalism, mostly being unleashed by the Chinese.

In the meantime, Australia's official response to East Timor's development needs has been part of the international effort, where vast amounts of aid have dissipated into salaries, consulting fees, and reports. Australians flock to Dili to seek high-salaried jobs, through which they can become cocooned within a bubble, separate from the vast majority of the rural poor.

Sadly, East Timor is not an isolated case. Australia's relations with countries throughout the Asia-Pacific are incongruent with its long-term strategic interests. At a time when we are looking at deeper economic integration, when there is the continued threat of terrorism, and growing demand for deeper, more meaningful cultural relations, we should be investing more in our basic intelligence capacity, through education at all levels and through research. Instead, experts in these fields complain of declining resources and diminishing capacities in the study of Asian-Pacific cultures and languages.

This is strange, given that more than $15 billion a year is earned by exporting education, mostly in this region. Clearly, these profits are being poorly reinvested in strategic areas of teaching and research that can help to build cultural awareness. This fact was made painfully obvious in recent months with the outburst of Indian student protests in Sydney and Melbourne. The protests point to an international education industry in turmoil largely because it has been driven by commercial imperatives, rather than those of the students or Australia's broader national interests.

As the strategic landscape of the region changes, with the US playing a less dominant role and the rise of China, Australia can no longer afford to make such mistakes. No longer can it remain aloof, allowing itself to be the ''odd man out'' in Asia. It needs to grasp every opportunity to enhance its role as an intelligent insider, rather than being a hapless bystander.

Peter Quiddington. The Sydney Morning Herald. Dr Peter Quiddington is an adjunct lecturer in politics at the University of New England.