Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The U.S. Senate’s Kopassus Aid Ban Is No Longer Relevant in the Reform Era

For more than a decade, a powerful US senator has had an extraordinary — not to mention disproportionate — negative influence over bilateral relations between Washington and Jakarta.

The person I am referring to, of course, is Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is chairman of the Senate’s appropriations subcommittee. Leahy also happens to be the author of a provision in the 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act that effectively prohibits US military assistance to foreign military units that have a history of human rights abuses. In the case of Indonesia, Leahy’s human rights crusade has been directed against the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) because of past excesses and abuses committed in places such as the former province of East Timor.

That Leahy should have Kopassus in his crosshairs is certainly understandable. During its checkered history on the front lines fighting against separatist forces in far-flung provinces such as Papua and Aceh, in addition to East Timor, Kopassus often found itself in the middle of controversies over its methods and tactics, especially during the long years of former President Suharto’s rule. It has frequently been accused of brutality.

Most Indonesians today — both ordinary citizens and those in positions of power and influence — would not argue against the historical reality: Kopassus was known to have used extreme means during times of conflict, and innocents needlessly suffered and perished. Indonesians of all stripes would, however, also be keen to remind Leahy that US policymakers were for many years willing partners with Suharto in his military policies. Indeed, the consequences of those policies cannot be logically divorced from the former Indonesian strongman and those who supported him abroad.
The most egregious example was when former US President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, fully backed Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor. For decades, this complicity was denied by Washington. More recently, the release of formerly classified US government documents offers compelling and indisputable evidence that the Ford administration and its successors were keen to provide military support to Jakarta for the annexation in the name of anticommunism.

Men like Kissinger must have known perfectly well what the invasion of East Timor implied in terms of the potential cost in civilian lives, yet he and his cohorts persisted because of their belief that the Suharto regime was an indispensable ally in the Cold War. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, there were real fears in US policymaking circles that East Timor, if left to its own devices, might lean toward communist China and therefore end up as a sort of Cuba lying at the doorsteps of both Indonesia and Australia.

Realpolitik, then, not morality, was the driving force behind US foreign policy at the time. Low-level counterinsurgencies outside East Timor, in Papua and Aceh, were also believed to be important and deserving of Washington’s support, if for no other reason than to ensure Indonesia’s territorial integrity and therefore its political stability.

It is also understandable that Leahy believes that human rights should play an important role in US foreign policy, but he should realize that in light of contemporary history, Indonesians have grounds to believe that his moralism smacks of hypocrisy. As one retired Indonesian general told me, “When Indonesia was ruled by Suharto, Kopassus was the darling of the US defense establishment; they could do no wrong. Then we got rid of Suharto and became a democracy, and suddenly the politicians in Washington felt they had the right to criticize and punish us for our past. How can you explain that?”

If Leahy were to meet this Indonesian general, he might tell him that although history matters, human rights now plays an important and central role in US foreign policy. Leahy might further defend his current stance against Kopassus as a forward-looking policy instrument with the intention of providing the Indonesian government with incentives for deeper military reform, therefore resulting in fewer human rights abuses in the future.

Leahy’s carrot-and-stick approach might resonate with human rights advocates inside some corridors of the US government and with NGO communities, but Leahy should understand that while his focus might assuage the moral sensibilities of Human Rights Watch, it does not play well in Indonesia. This is not to say that Indonesians don’t care about human rights. They do care, and this is not only the case with Indonesian civil society, but with the majority of Indonesian politicians. Since Indonesia became a democracy in 1998, great improvements have been made in human rights. Indonesians are perfectly aware that more progress needs to be made. On the other hand, Indonesians don’t want to be lectured by foreigners on how they should be conducting their affairs.

Indonesians admire the United States for its democracy, but they are also critical of what they perceive to be a double standard being applied in foreign policy. At present, there are numerous governments in the world whose policies frequently result in human rights abuses against their citizens — abuses which, by any standard, are far more reprehensible than Indonesia’s track record since its democratic transformation. Leahy should know that Indonesians are not oblivious to the fact that Washington, obviously more concerned about its geopolitical interests than human rights when it comes to a serial human rights abuser like Israel, often turns a blind eye when it suits a grander purpose.

With Barack Obama now sitting in the Oval Office, there is a chance that a waiver to the Leahy provision will be granted by his administration. This could happen not because of Obama’s childhood ties to Indonesia, but due to the fact that he appreciates and understands how far and wide democratic reforms have spread in the country. Obama also surely appreciates the strategic significance of Indonesia in the Asia-Pacific region and how closer relations with Jakarta serve US interests.
When Obama comes to Jakarta in June to meet with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, it would be an important gesture for the United States to waive restrictions on military relations with the Indonesian Armed Forces, including Kopassus. Before his departure to Jakarta, Obama should call Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with Senator Leahy for a chat in the White House to remind them why the lifting of the ban is symbolically important for the bilateral relationship and how better relations can benefit the United States. Obama should also remind the senator that Xanana Gusmao, East Timor’s current prime minister and the leader of its independence fight, has repeatedly made it clear that his country does not seek retribution from Indonesia for what happened in the past.

Xanana is a man who speaks from the heart and wants his country to look to the future. If he is willing to bury his country’s Indonesian ghosts, then so should the United States be a willing partner in opening a long overdue and new chapter in relations here. By James Van Zorge manager of Van Zorge, Heffernan & Associates, a business consultancy based in Jakarta.

Indonesia's Place in the Global jungle

Its people agree that their democratic country should play a bigger global role; but what?

BY DINT of size, population and potential wealth, Indonesia has long loomed large over its own backyard. The archipelago nation bestrides the world’s busiest sea lanes. Some 231m Indonesians account for two-fifths of the population of ASEAN, the ten-country Association of South-East Asian Nations. A young and reasonably educated population offers perennial promise, as do vast deposits of oil, gas and minerals, forests and palm-oil

plantations. For all that ASEAN operates according to its famed consensus, Indonesia has been its stealth leader.

But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has bolder aspirations. A liberal internationalist, Mr Yudhoyono convincingly won a second term last year, and monopolises the foreign-policy apparatus. He has brought Indonesia closer to Australia, its big southern neighbour with which it has a troubled past. He was supposed to have signed a “comprehensive partnership” with Barack Obama by now, but the American president delayed the trip in order to push his health-care reforms through Congress.

Mr Obama will return in June. He spent four boyhood years in Jakarta and a huge welcome awaits his pulang kampung (homecoming). Before then, Indonesia will mark the fifth anniversary of another (this time “strategic”) partnership, with China, when the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, visits in late April. Indonesia, Mr Yudhoyono likes to say, has “1,000 friends and zero enemies”.

Indonesia now wants to raise its diplomatic game, acting the part of a regional power with a global impact. One sign of this is a desire to be ranked among the BRIC economic club of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Another is to send peacekeepers as far away as to Lebanon and Darfur. A third is Mr Yudhoyono’s admirable wish to make democracy and human rights a plank of foreign policy. But the country’s rising ambitions are best epitomised by more urgent talk about how Indonesia can capitalise on its membership of the G20 group of major economies.

A powerful impetus for all this comes from its Asian neighbourhood. In both economic vitality and security importance, Indonesia pales beside both China and India. China’s rise from regional to global power poses the biggest challenges for Indonesia, as its policymakers see it. But it is India’s élan, both in terms of its economy and a newly polished image, that has got Indonesians worrying about their own image.

Compared with Indonesia, India has even more atrocious infrastructure, more intractable insurgencies, more terrorist attacks, and often awful relations with neighbours. Yet investment and tourists pour unfairly in, Indonesians complain.

Meanwhile their country, a largely peaceable place with few terrorist attacks since the Bali bombing of 2002, is deemed unstable—and with a negative Muslim identity to boot. Australia, for all the improvement in relations in recent years, nevertheless advises nationals to “reconsider your need to travel to Indonesia”. Total Australian investment in Indonesia is less than it was in 1996. An Indonesian cabinet minister says that his country needs to change perceptions by aping India’s “Incredible India” promotion that took Davos and the business world by storm in 2006.

Foreign perceptions are unhelpful in other areas too. The commonest description you hear when Indonesia is praised by Americans—that it is the world’s most populous Muslim democracy—is a tag that thinking Indonesians chafe at. They think it limiting and certainly misleading. Indonesia prides itself on being a secular state that happens to have a Muslim majority. Moreover, they say, America is fooling itself if it thinks that Indonesia’s brand of Islam can help the superpower with its problems in the Middle East, Iran or Afghanistan, where faraway Indonesia’s syncretic practice is as likely to be abhorred as admired.

As for the elevation of the G20 to global prominence, Indonesians sometimes appear hardly able to believe their luck. The question is what they can do with it. On the one hand, Indonesia weathered the global financial crisis that gave the G20 its sense of purpose. On the other, it did so because Indonesia is still shockingly ill-integrated into the global economy. Besides shoddy infrastructure, it has an economy distorted by subsidies, a business climate hostile to foreign investment and a bureaucracy and legal system shot through with corruption. With a bit of joined-up reform, which after six years of stops and starts Mr Yudhoyono may be on the point of beginning in earnest, Indonesia’s annual growth would surge from the present (admittedly respectable) 4.5-5.5% to rates closer to India’s or China’s.

Leadership begins at home

More than most admit, Indonesia’s international ambitions rest on shaky domestic foundations. Mr Yudhoyono has committed Indonesia to sweeping cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, risking unpopularity among other developing nations. But thanks to widespread deforestation, much of it illegal, the country remains among the world’s biggest emitters.

And despite the admirable advances of democracy and of sound fiscal management, prosperity is not entrenched. One in seven Indonesians still lives below the poverty line, and many more perch perilously just above it. By several measures of development—life expectancy, health care, sanitation—Indonesia scores well below the middle-income country it is.

Poor governance at home has a bearing on soft-power aspirations abroad. A reputation mainly for having resources to plunder colours the views of Indonesia by India and China, huge buyers of Indonesian commodities. In countless areas, from illegal logging and fishing, to climate change, people-smuggling and extremism: a failure to prosper at home would turn the spotlight away from Indonesia’s desire to solve global problems, and towards its capacity to generate them. Banyan Blog The Economist

The Lancang-Mekong: An Asean-China-MRC Shared Challenge

THE EXTENSIVE drought situation experienced in most of mainland Southeast Asia, as well as a good part of southwestern China, in recent weeks is exacerbating the extremely low flow situation of the Mekong River, and this is starting to strain relationships among the riparian countries. Though such dry periods are nothing new, what is unusual this time is the severity of the drought occurring in this region, resulting in a water shortage in the river basin.

Some people have pointed the finger at China - which has already constructed several dams along the upper mainstream reaches of the Mekong, known as the Lancang - for causing the low levels of water in the downstream sections of the river. This is becoming a hot issue, slated for discussion at the first ever Mekong River Summit to be held in Hua Hin on April 4-5, which also coincides with the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

The MRC was set up in April 1995 to promote and coordinate sustainable management and development of water and related resources of the four lower riparian countries of the Mekong River Basin, namely Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The two upper riparian states, China and Burma, are MRC dialogue partners. There is thus a wealth of technical information and practical experience on the Mekong riverine system, accumulated over 50 years. The strength of the MRC therefore lies in this technical competence.

The MRC is however relatively weaker in terms of its diplomatic influence and negotiating power vis-a-vis its dialogue partners compared with the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) which groups the five lower riparian states of the Mekong Basin plus Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Interestingly, China is also a dialogue partner of Asean and an active participant of several Asean-China frameworks such as the China-Asean Free Trade Area (CAFTA), the Asean Mekong Basin Development Cooperation (AMBDC) as well as the Plan of Action (POA) to implement the Joint Declaration on the Asean-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2005-2010).

CAFTA officially came into effect this year for China and the six older members of Asean, while the new members (Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam) have up to 2015 to fulfill their commitments. Ironically, while CAFTA is supposed to facilitate an increase of trade in goods between Asean and China, and the Mekong is intended to be one such transport route, the shallow water levels recently have prevented cargo ships from plying the route, thus effectively impeding trade. This is in spite of the four upper riparian countries (China, Laos, Burma and Thailand) having signed a navigation agreement in April 2000 with the aim of utilising the river for transport of goods and people to enhance trade and tourism.

AMBDC was created in 1996 by the ten Asean member states plus China to foster economically sound and sustainable development of the Mekong Basin through the establishment of economic partnerships and linkages between riparian and non-riparian members. The latest AMBDC ministerial level meeting in August 2009 agreed to give priority to cooperation in trade and investment, human resources development and transport infrastructure.

Most significantly, the Asean-China POA mentioned earlier included a section on Mekong Basin Development Cooperation, which had several stipulations addressing environmental and social aspects of the sustainable use of water and other natural resources. These uses included navigation, power generation, water supply and forestry-related activities to be carried out on an equitable access and benefit-sharing basis with regular consultations and exchange of information among all riparian countries.

It would appear that Asean and China as well as the MRC had already committed to having dialogues and sharing information concerning the utilisation of water and related resources in the Mekong Basin. It is therefore just a matter of putting in place the necessary follow-up measures to ensure compliance with the stated aims. Asean also has an Integrated Water Resources Management initiative and is planning to enter into an agreement with the MRC to cooperate on several areas of common interest. With the forthcoming MRC-initiated Mekong Summit, the stage is set for hopefully a constructive and open discussion on some of the critical development challenges facing the Mekong.

Trans-boundary shared water and other resources can only be managed in an effective, equitable and sustainable manner through close consultation and in a spirit of mutual trust and cooperation. In this regard, Asean's experience in the South China Sea (SCS) negotiations with China could serve as a good guidance on how to address a shared natural resource in an agreeable multilateral fashion. In this particular case, Asean managed to convince China on behalf of the four Asean claimant states in the SCS to jointly issue a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002 after many years of negotiations. If it is possible to do so for a common marine resource like the SCS, it is worthwhile to try the same on a shared freshwater resource like the Mekong, which is so important to the livelihoods of at least 60 million people living within the river basin.

Interestingly, the former Chinese foreign minister Marshal Chen Yi, during a visit to Burma in 1957, wrote a poem in dedication to the mutual friendship between the peoples of the two countries:

I live in the upstream and you live in the downstream,

Our friendship flows with the river we both drink.

In a way, one could interpret that the Lancang-Mekong cooperation spirit was expressed five decades ago in both the lower and upper basins - the four lower riparian countries taking a more legal and institutional approach while the two upper riparian nations choosing a more diplomatic and political approach. Perhaps it is now time to attempt to merge the two approaches into one comprehensive and cohesive framework arrangement since the Lancang-Mekong is, after all, one shared river basin. By APICHAI SUNCHINDAH SPECIAL TO THE NATION policy advisor at German Technical Cooperation based in Thailand.

Why the silence over Bangkok’s daily grenade attacks?

The security situation is worsening in Bangkok; how much longer before people are killed?

Daily bomb or grenade attacks in Bangkok have now become the norm rather than the exception. On Tuesday, an explosive was thrown into a building on U-Thong Nok Road that houses the Foundation of statesman General Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the Privy Council. The foundation is about 500 metres from Prem's official residence. The explosion damaged some tree jars in front of the building.

Pro-Thaksin red-shirt protesters have criticised Prem for being behind the ousting of Thaksin.

Since February 27, there have been more than 30 violent incidents involving bomb attacks in Bangkok and upcountry, with suspected political motivations. The situation looks as if it could develop like the violence in the Deep South, where guerrilla ambushes and bombings have become a routine occurrence, with the death toll rising daily.

It is sad that most Thais are now treating the bomb attacks as if they are business as usual. The police and the authorities have not been able to trace the culprits, their investigations leading nowhere so far. Normally the Thai police are quick in resolving such matters. But this time, they act as if nothing in the world is happening. If the violence continues, law and order could soon break down. Bangkok could become like the deep South.

Absent from the two rounds of talks between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and representatives of the red shirts was a serious discussion about the bomb attacks, which are escalating the level of political violence.
Both sides have good ideas about who the masterminds behind the bomb attacks are. But they wore poker faces and concealed their thoughts as if the attacks did not matter or were not a factor at all.

Yet these attacks, instigated by invisible hands, have been the catalyst in forcing Abhisit to come to the negotiating table. For Bangkok Bank, it is more worrisome. Several of the bank's branches have been shot at. It is widely known that General Prem is the honorary chairman of Bangkok Bank. If the attacks continue, the bank's business will be hurt. Financial stability is also national security. But the bank's executives have also kept their silence, fearing that any comment might incite further hatred from the instigators.

It seems that most of the attacks so far have not aimed at taking lives. They are meant as a threat, a political message or signal. But it was not until yesterday that the government began to react. Suthep Thaugsuban, the deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs, said the bombings are the work of old soldiers and police officers. There are three groups among them. The first group use M70 grenade launders and rocket propelled grenades. The targets are government agencies, military premises and TV stations. The second group relies on guns or explosives. The third group uses giant firecrackers or tiny bombs to create turmoil, without aiming for life.

With two rounds of negotiations so far completed, Abhisit has made it clear that he is ready to dissolve Parliament in nine months. The red shirts' position is more hardline. They want Abhisit to dissolve Parliament in 15 days. There remains a big gap to bridge between the two sides.

Suthep has drawn up a roadmap for the Abhisit government to dissolve Parliament in the nine-month timeframe. This is the most the Democrats can offer at this juncture.
The red shirts' response is likely to be muted. Abhisit said in Bahrain that he would be willing to hold a third round of talks with the red shirts to end the political impasse. The red shirts have vowed to rally more supporters this Saturday as they shift into high gear to overthrow the Abhisit government.

In the meantime, we can expect to witness more violence as political interests do not fall into place. Sadly, few Thai commentators have come out to condemn the attacks. Most prefer to play it safe.

We should not allow this kind of violent threat to silence us or curb our expression of what is right and what is wrong. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

Myanmar's democrats face some tough choices

THE only thing certain about the Myanmar elections due this year is that they will not be free and fair.

The generals in charge of one of the world's darkest corners have written a Constitution and election laws that pre-empt the participation of the surefire winners if a proper ballot is held -- Aung San Suu Kyi and the vanguard of her National League for Democracy (NLD), who have been outlawed by imprisonment or contact with foreigners.

With Stalinist precision, the Constitution was approved in May 2008 by referendum with 98 per cent voting and 92 per cent saying yes, a mere days after Cyclone Nargis caused the country's worst natural disaster in decades.

Among some sensible regulations for the registration of political parties, the election laws decreed this month require the NLD to sack Suu Kyi if it wants to remain a legal entity.

In case the deck was not sufficiently stacked, an election commission has been set up with reliable junta members to veto any hint of a repeat of the 1990 vote -- which the NLD unexpectedly won while the soldiers were not looking, and thus had to be quickly reneged on by a return to 20 more years of military misrule.

The slow denouement of the election process has been observed by Myanmar-watchers with predictable groans of disappointment.

"The election laws are totally unacceptable to anyone with an aspiration to even appear to be democratic," said Roshan Jason, executive director of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus.

Measured against any respectable yardstick, the steps taken towards representative government are a flop. They do not go far enough to persuade anyone, inside or outside the country, that the generals of the State Peace and Development Council mean to kick themselves out of power in favour of a popularly elected civilian leadership.

But this is Myanmar -- like the proverbial dog walking on its hind legs, the surprise is less that the elections will somehow be rigged but that they are taking place at all.

That is why in the deluge of criticism on the heels of the regime's "roadmap to democracy" -- including by the United States, which has switched to a policy of engagement -- lies an undercurrent of realism.

The temptation to look through a glass brightly is exemplified by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) and others who have maintained a difficult objectivity on the highly emotive subject.

In a report last August, the ICG advised against a rush to pre-judgement. "For all the control that the regime intends to wield over the electoral process and subsequent appointment to key executive and legislative posts, Myanmar will still have a new bicameral national legislature in which representatives from different parties will sit; regional legislatures that allow for more ethnic representation than in the past; and some scope for increased interaction between civilian and military leaders, all in the context of a major generational transition at the top ranks of the military," it said.

"The Constitution may inadvertently provide the tools to open up a little space as the post-Than Shwe era grows closer."

Aging, superstitious and xenophobic, the senior general warned at the Army Day parade on Saturday against "divisive" campaigning and outside interference as armed forces personnel swap uniforms for civvies to become establishment politicians.

Many among Myanmar's diaspora intelligentsia, who have eluded the regime's paranoia and been allowed to return home regularly, are hard-headed, cautiously holding out the prospect of a despotism inching away from the shadows.

Under the new dispensation "ordinary people do not have to worry too much about transgressing rules which are not known. They will now have to contend with rules that are known", said one.

"For most of them, who are very worried about the economic situation, they might find some sort of reprieve."

That glimmer of hope has been enough to throw the NLD into a dilemma. Suu Kyi, from the sainthood of her house arrest (no TV, phone or much in the way of company), has stood firm in not wanting to have anything to do with the elections. A faction in the NLD, however, aims to take part, and prevent a slide into irrelevancy as the political vacuum is filled by surrogates less hidebound by years of unbending opposition to the regime.

If the party stays reasonably united, it could even win a majority, although that would be hobbled by the military's guarantee of a quarter of seats in Parliament. A crisis conclave of party representatives on Monday chose Suu Kyi's moral high ground, refusing to register under what they considered "unjust" laws.

Last week, at the Puchong, Selangor, premises of the NLD foreign affairs committee, whose reception room is draped with posters of Suu Kyi, chairman Kyaw Kyaw awaited the decision with trepidation.

He and most of the estimated 5,000 political exiles in Malaysia believe that the vote is being foisted on an electorate whose aptitude for political choices has been maimed by ignorance, poverty and despair. Few are thought to understand the Constitution, to which so many had allegedly assented.

Kyaw has been on the lam since 1996, not long after he was jailed in Yangon's notorious Insein prison at the age of 16 for student agitation. He and the 11 dissidents of the committee, which is headquartered in Bangkok and has offices in eight other countries, face arrest in Myanmar. With the NLD confronting dissolution and the generals ascendent, their chances of going back to the families they left behind are vanishingly remote.

Many in Asean blame Myanmar for bringing Africa to Southeast Asia, the latest manifestation of which is United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur Tomas Quintana's allegation of gross abuses and crimes against humanity. But they also know that the 10-member grouping's leverage is limited.

As long as there is movement towards elections, no matter how crabbed or crooked, the generals can count on the international community not treating them worse than it does now. KAMRUL IDRIS for the New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

Monday, March 29, 2010

Indonesia Caught in Middle of US, China Power Struggle

Amid cries of “God is Great,” the former chief of staff of the Indonesian Army joined hard-line Muslim activists in a Jakarta ballroom last week to denounce the United States — and praise China as a model of how to stand up to Washington.

“We should do what China has done; America must follow our rules,” declared retired Gen. Tyasno Sudarto. Veiled women and bearded men, seated separately to avoid mingling of the sexes, shouted praise for Allah and jabbed their fists in the air. Another speaker hailed China for defying Washington’s “neoliberal” economic creed.

The boisterous event, organized by Hizbut Tahrir, brought together two groups that don’t usually mix — fervent champions of an Islamic state and zealous secular nationalists. What united them was a shared fury at Washington and the hope that Beijing can put America in its place. Their take on China — a country ruled by an atheistic Communist Party — marks a curious shift in thinking by Islamists and hard-core nationalists who have traditionally viewed Beijing, as well as each other, with deep distrust. The new thinking is a sign of how Beijing’s growing economic and diplomatic power is scrambling old assumptions and alliances, sometimes in volatile and unlikely ways.

For more than four decades — ever since Beijing armed and financed Indonesian communists plotting to seize power in 1965 — China has been viewed by many here as a menace. Fear of China was reinforced by a widespread suspicion, and also jealousy, of Indonesia’s economically-powerful ethnic Chinese minority. In 1998, pro-democracy protests that toppled Suharto degenerated into an anti-Chinese pogrom. It used to be illegal in Indonesia to publicly display Chinese writing and Chinese New Year lion dances were banned.

Such wariness of China has far from vanished but is now balanced by esteem for its economic achievements and its role in shifting the balance of power in world affairs in Asia’s favor. “Lingering suspicion of China is still present but this is offset by admiration for China’s successes,” said Juwono Sudarsono, a former defense minister and professor of international relations at the University of Indonesia.

The fervently anti-American speakers in the Jakarta ballroom don’t represent the mainstream here but their view of China tracks with a broader shift in attitudes. China has won a particularly strong following among those upset with the free-market policy prescriptions of the so-called “Washington consensus,” which many Indonesians blame for a severe economic crisis in the late 1990s.

The rival policy, the so-called “Beijing consensus,” which puts the state at the center of economic development, is seen as a promising alternative “even among some educated Indonesians,” Sudarsono said. But, he added, many realize “it is very hard to imitate the Communist Party of China” in Indonesia, which has spent the last decade building a vibrant democracy on the ruins of Suharto’s authoritarian system.

While China enjoys emotional appeal as an alternative to American power and “neoliberal” economics, it has struggled to win over constituencies more concerned with reality than ideology. For example, Indonesian industrialists and farmers, worried by the prospect of a surge in Chinese imports, have complained about a new free trade agreement that creates a huge free-trade zone comprising China, Indonesia and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. They want the agreement, which went into force Jan. 1, renegotiated.

Washington, for its part, has worked to strengthen already close ties with Jakarta and lift the United States’ reputation with the general public, which plummeted during George W. Bush’s administration. This effort hasn’t been helped by President Barack Obama’s decision to twice postpone visits to Jakarta, where he lived for four years as a boy. But, unlike his predecessor, the president is hugely popular among many Indonesians.

While China has emphasized economics in its ties with Jakarta, Obama has focused on Indonesia’s credentials as a democracy — the third biggest after India and the United States. Washington doesn’t say so publicly, but Indonesia — along with India and Japan — is seen by US officials as a bulwark against the rising influence of authoritarian China.

Indonesia, wary of upsetting China, insists it is not going to gang up on anyone and will pursue a foreign policy guided by what President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono described as the principle of a “million friends and zero enemy.”

A few hours after the White House announced that Obama would put off a March trip to Jakarta until at least June, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa held a press conference and said his government had no hard feelings. And anyway, he added, Jakarta had its hands full preparing for the arrival of another important visitor — the prime minister of China.

Andrew Higgins senior editor at The Washington Post.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Bali Update notes with sadness the death of Professor Dr. I Nyoman Erawan, an esteemed professor of economics at Udayana University. The subject of many articles in Bali Update over the past 12 years, Professor Erawan was a champion of "tourism for the people" and an undisputed expert on Bali tourism-based economy.

Bali is seeking US$243 million in investments in 2010; Badung, in Bali's south, is leading the way in the continuing war on rabies; two Malaysians caught smuggling drugs into Bali last January may face the death penalty; donations to Bali's Peace Park are now tax-deductible for Australian tax payers; and the governor tells Jakarta its anti-pornography legislation does not apply in Bali.

It's enough to drive you to drink. No sooner was the luxury tax on imported alcohol abolished than a new excise tax on booze was introduced. The net effect: expect to soon pay up to 40% more for your favorite libation.

Bars of a different sort are the focus of plans to move Bali's overcrowded Kerobokan prison. Details in this week's Bali Update.

New rules liberalizing foreign property ownership are in the pipeline. Be sure to read the fine print as "conditions will apply."

Police are reportedly searching for a young man, distinguishable by the chip on his shoulder. Read about the continuing troubled saga of Ibnu, the man who angered the island of Bali via his Facebook postings.

Tax relief is promised for Bali's silver jewelry business; Merpati prepares to fly twice daily to Dili; and find out why the Bali's "safety riding program" is anything but.

Those stories and more in this week's Bali Update.

Full report at

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...
J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Chinese Google Decision Allows All to Save Face

The Chinese government’s decision to switch the Google search engine from China to Hong Kong is actually a carefully nuanced solution that allows both sides to save face, as Asia Sentinel forecast on Jan. 27. When Google announced last week that it would no longer voluntarily censor its China content, as it had done previously under agreement with Beijing, China seemingly shut off the country’s access.

The decision allows China to preserve its tough image of never backing down against protest, especially protest from outside the country, while actually allowing almost all of Google’s functions to continue. While it probably will continue to deliver outraged statements about Google’s treachery, most observers expect it to quiet down and let the current situation stand.

In a March 22 press statement, Google officials announced that cyber attacks, surveillance of human rights activists, phishing scams and malware “had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services — Google Search, Google News and Google Images — on Users visiting are now being redirected to, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.

“Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.”

But the decision actually allows the search engine to proclaim its dedication to human rights and freedom of speech at the same time as it continues its access to the world’s biggest Internet market, with 384 million users, and one that is continuing to grow seemingly without limitation. Users increased by 28.9 percent in 2009 from a year earlier, according to CNNIC, a Chinese government-backed research institute. Only 29 percent of China’s population is online.

With Internet users able to go instead of, Google can continue to operate outside of China and is not censoring its content. Ordinary Chinese users can still use the search engine for normal use. The censorship is not heavy-handed — although there is still plenty to protest about Beijing’s decision to deprive its citizens of the free flow of information.

Google will continue to operate its two other lines of business in China —, for Chinese advertisers who want to reach the global market, and Google’s Adsense network, with more than 200,000 Chinese sites, for global advertisers who want to reach Chinese users. It is the largest affiliated network in China and includes the leading Chinese portal, Sina. In addition, will continue to provide links to global advertisers who want to reach Chinese users as Chinese traffic is diverted to the Hong Kong site.

While on the surface Google may be dead, in fact it will probably continue to thrive off of small and medium enterprise exporters who want to continue to market themselves globally. A senior executive of PayPal in China said in an interview that eBay, also thought to be dead in China after its formal retreat in 2007, is also doing well, with SME exporters using eBay to sell globally and using PayPal to collect the money. PayPal China now employs more than 1,000 people to handle their business there. Google should be able to do the same. It is also uncertain whether Baidu, Google’s main competitor in China, will benefit from the decision. Revenue is rather likely to migrate to other online sites. Google had already begun to make considerable inroads into Baidu’s market, with its fourth-quarter 2009 share growing to 35.6 percent against 31.3 percent in the third quarter. Google developed a mobile search function much earlier than Baidu, starting in 2007 in partnership with China Mobile, the country’s biggest cellular operator according to Google’s former China president, Lee Kaifu. Baidu only began developing mobile search last year, and last May partnered with the smallest of the three operators, China Telecom. As 3G rolls out, more and more people will search the internet with their cellphones, making Google’s advantage even more apparent if it stays.

A further 5 percent gain on Baidu would bring Google to 40 percent against Baidu’s 50-55 percent and it would no longer be just a small rival but rather be a serious competitor to Baidu and a powerful player in China’s Internet space. If Google can continue to navigate the troubled waters and continue to find areas for compromise, it might have even more room to maneuver in the future. By Sherman So co-author of “Red Wired: China’s Internet Revolution”

Indonesia's Broadcast Freedom Must Be Safe From China’s Meddling

Earlier this week, government authorities closed down Radio Era Baru, a radio station in Batam. The official reason: shortage of radio frequencies. Another view is that the closure is related to China’s opposition of the radio station’s links to and funding by the Falun Gong movement. In a letter addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China warned of damage to Indonesia-China relations should the radio station not be shut down.

Whether or not a shortage of frequencies was merely a pretext remains to be investigated, but there is ample reason to be skeptical. The station was denied a license in 2007. If the shortage was real, why was it allowed to broadcast for the last three years? When its license was denied, why wasn’t a reason provided and why did claims of a shortage appear after public uproar? Many stations operate without a license. Why single one station out? Why not reorganize the frequencies during those three years, as was done in Jakarta a few years back? The radio station’s legal appeal has reached the Supreme Court and a decision is expected soon. Why deploy police to clamp down on broadcast freedom on the eve of a decision that might render such an extreme intervention unnecessary?

If the allegation against China is true, China’s intervention is offensive and the decision from Indonesian authorities is shameful. This is a critical issue and needs to be addressed using legal and quasi-legal remedies. Legal remedies can address the issue domestically, but to sanction China, more creative quasi-legal remedies are needed.

Allow me to explain.

Legal Remedies

The argument is that the government’s closing of the radio station for reasons related to its links with Falun Gong violates Indonesia’s constitutional right to expression (Article 28) and is thus unconstitutional. A potential problem is that since Article 28 has not been litigated much, it is unclear what the boundaries of this freedom of expression are.

To solve this, the courts should look to international law for guidance, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia has ratified. Given the near universal acceptance of the declaration, at least some of its provisions have reached the status of “customary international law.” This means that all countries, even those not members of the UN, can now be bound by those provisions.

The ICCPR’s guarantee of the right to expression is broad enough to be used in this case. Article 19 states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds…through any other media of his choice.”

While the ICCPR does allow the limiting of expression when necessary for the protection of “national security,” it was held that it does not allow nations to prohibit speech just because it advocates the ideology of a political enemy. China should take note.

The treaty’s operative principles imply that countries have positive and negative obligations — this would include having in place licensing procedures that are consistent with the principle of free expression and that prohibit the use of police to crack down on violations. These two legal remedies — our Constitution and the ICCPR—should provide generous grounds for the protection of Era Baru’s rights. However, these measures do not facilitate possible Indonesian sanctions against China. Domestic courts and ICCPR remedies have no teeth against other countries. For this, we turn to quasi-legal measures.


The idea here is to use trade sanctions to compel trading partners to adhere to principles that they have agreed to in nontrade agreements, in this case the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This would require framing freedom of press and censorship not as an issue of free press but rather a violation of WTO rules on free trade of “market access” and “national treatment.”

In a case where China censored its press by prohibiting foreign media companies from operating in China, the WTO panel concluded that these measures were inconsistent with China’s obligation under the national treatment and market access clause of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs.

The idea of framing violations of free press in terms of violations of trade law has gained more and more acceptance. The European Union passed a proposal that would require member countries to classify any Internet censorship as a barrier to trade, and would require that the issue be raised in any trade negotiations. Linking trade with press law is similar to the way in which trade is linked to environmental and labor standards — we do this all the time.

In light of the Asean-China Free Trade Agreement, this is a crucial point. Even though this trade agreement is separate from the WTO, there are significant parallels. China has much to gain from the establishment of a free trade area. If it is to reap the benefits of trade, it must not be allowed to pick and chose. Free trade comes in a package. With access to an enlarged market to which China is able to export its goods, it must also eliminate barriers to trade, which includes censorship and violation of free press.

Many in Indonesia complain that its domestic industries are not ready to compete with China. Proponents of trade argue that only when they are forced to compete will they then be ready. Now it is China’s turn to complain that they are not ready for free speech. To this we should say: sink or swim. We need a thorough investigation to determine the real reasons for the radio station’s closing. If it turns out to be true that the closure was related to pressure from China, a strong stance needs to be taken. A free press at home can be protected using legal remedies. As for getting our point across with China, we need to resort to trade law. Jakarta Globe

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Indonesia - The vanishing minorities

This week has been nothing but bad news for minorities of all kinds in Indonesia. First, the petition to repeal the pornography law because of its discriminatory nature was rejected by the Constitutional Court. And then the plan for an Asian conference of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (ILGA) in Surabaya had to be canceled at the last minute on police orders after pressure from radical Islamic groups.

Another petition by religious minorities to repeal the blasphemy law is also running into trouble. This week, a radical Islamic group even assaulted supporters of the petition who came to the hearing at the Constitutional Court, with the police not lifting a finger to stop the attack. The same group has been going around threatening to attack the ILGA conference, and again the police have kept silent.

All of this is sending the wrong signals that Indonesia, a country that once prided itself on its diversity, so much so that it is carved in the state motto Unity in Diversity, is increasingly becoming intolerant. Minorities are finding they are being treated as second- class citizens, misfits, discriminated against or even persecuted.

The tragic part of the story is that some of this is institutionalized discrimination, either written into our laws, or as in the case of the ban on the ILGA, the police becoming part of the conspiracy to deprive the constitutionally guaranteed rights of association of the people.

In all these instances, the state has failed in its job to protect the rights of the minorities. Today it is the gays and lesbians, next the religious minorities, and tomorrow the ethnic and racial minorities.

Indonesia's nascent democracy is heading in the wrong direction, a democracy where the majority not only rules, but a democracy where the minorities are struggling to even make their voices heard.

If we keep harassing the minorities, or if the state keeps failing to protect their rights, we will surely be pushing them to the edge, perhaps to the point of extinction. When the minorities vanish, so will Indonesia as we know it. Editorial: The Jakarta Post

Filipino Political Scion Set to Assume the Mantle

QUEZON CITY, the Philippines

THE couple’s only son, he had never shown his father’s raw political ambition or his sense of a predestined place in this country’s history. He had, more like his mother, occupied the low-key, public role expected of him until circumstances forced him to act.

Benigno S. Aquino III, 50, despite being the only son of the Philippines’ two democracy icons, had a quiet, unremarkable career as a lawmaker, overshadowed by countless politicians of his generation. By his own admission, he had never imagined himself leading this country. But he now finds himself the front-runner in the May 10 presidential election.

The nation’s emotional reaction to the death of his mother, former President Corazon C. Aquino, last August led to calls for his candidacy. After some public waffling, Mr. Aquino, known as Noynoy, accepted, though not before spending half a day inside a convent for guidance.

A quarter of a century earlier, his mother also visited a convent before agreeing to run against Ferdinand E. Marcos, the American-backed autocrat whose soldiers had gunned down her husband, Benigno S. Aquino Jr., the opposition leader known as Ninoy, at the airport in Manila. After Mr. Marcos tried to steal the election, Mrs. Aquino was thrust into the presidency on the strength of “people power,” a large-scale, nonviolent protest in the capital.

Asked whether he harbored doubts, Mr. Aquino, who is single, said: “Well, you know, my friends who have gotten married tell me that they’ve resolved so many issues before they go to the altar. But at the altar itself there are still some doubts that flash in their minds.”

With less than two months left before election day, though, some of the popular emotion surrounding his mother’s death has lost its intensity and Mr. Aquino’s lead in the polls has started to shrink, perhaps as a result. Criticism that he offers little besides lineage has been sharpened by the fact that his closest rival, Manuel Villar, a senator, rose from poverty to become one of the Philippines’ richest businessmen.

ON a recent morning, in a middle-class neighborhood, Mr. Aquino sat down for nearly 90 minutes at the family home, a modest, one-story house that has belonged to the Aquinos since 1961. It is where Mrs. Aquino lived until her death, and where the son now lives alone. In a living room dominated by portraits of his parents, Mr. Aquino spoke of channeling his mother’s people power movement to victory. He promised to break with the Philippines’ corrupt political culture, trying to capitalize on widespread disillusionment with the deeply unpopular President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is prevented from running again by term limits.

“We believe if it is the people’s campaign, then our bosses are very clearly defined,” he said in a voice made raspy from campaigning and smoking.
Without referring to notes or consulting any aides, Mr. Aquino spoke at length about his priorities for the Philippines: creating jobs and strengthening education, health care and the judicial system. He would seek to recalibrate his country’s relations with the United States, a former colonial power here.

Since 2002, American Special Forces have been operating in the southern Philippines, training the Philippine military to hunt for Islamic extremists. While Mr. Aquino credits the Americans with increasing the Philippine military’s “capability,” he said the United States force should not become “semi-permanent or permanent.” He also said that the Visiting Forces Agreement, the bilateral pact that allows the United States military to hold its servicemen in its custody during criminal proceedings here, “will have to be reviewed.”

“I get the impression at times that in our relation with America, they seem to follow the mold of a corporation that has to report to its stockholders every year, as opposed to thinking about generating a long-term relationship,” he said. Policy debates and party loyalty have little influence on campaign outcomes in the Philippines, where families dominate.

So his campaign rallies are punctuated by the color, symbolism and music that evoke, in his mostly middle-class supporters, the martyrdom of his father and the promise of his mother’s people power uprising — leaving aside Mrs. Aquino’s more mixed record as president.

Inside a sports stadium here, Mr. Aquino walked onto the stage to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” the song that was the theme of his parents’ movement and recalled his mother’s trademark yellow dresses. The event ended with “The Impossible Dream,” the favorite song of his father, a precociously successful politician who came to embody the democratic opposition to Marcos. Before he was killed, the father had extended his ambitions to his only son, in a letter whose contents were highlighted at the rally: “Son, the ball is now in your hands.” Mr. Aquino, who has four sisters, said his father had great expectations of him because he was the only son.

“When I was younger, I think at one point, I was top three in my class. I was really, really proud of being in the top three because the other two were really nerdy individuals I couldn’t see myself being,” he recalled. “And my dad said, ‘Why only top three?’ ” BUT Mr. Aquino’s reliance on his parents’ legacy, coupled with a modest legislative record, has begun to draw increasing criticism. “He can’t forever depend on his name and hisparents,” said Bobby Tuazon, director of the University of the Philippines’ Center for People Empowerment in Governance. “It’s becoming too obvious.”

Supporters say Mr. Aquino was unable to propose laws simply because he was in the political opposition. More than anything, supporters point to Mr. Aquino’s probity, though some wonder whether he will be tough enough to rein in the kind of corruption that flourished in the government of his mother, who was also considered personally honest.

Critics say that Mr. Aquino, like his mother, will be unable to push through policies, like land reform, that go against his extended family’s interests. “All the major candidates have similar economic programs,” said Alberto Lim, executive director of the Makati Business Club, an influential organization. “The reason we support Noynoy is that he hasn’t used his post in government to enrich his business.”

Other backers also express their support of Mr. Aquino, though, tellingly, in sometimes defensive terms. He is widely regarded as a tepid campaigner who, despite improving his public speaking, rarely electrifies crowds.

Mr. Aquino says he has enjoyed meeting people at rallies but recoils at what he describes as the “circus aspects” of campaigning. He has allowed his sister Kris, one of the country’s most famous entertainers, to pick out new clothes for him. But he has rejected advice to work on his thinning hair or get Botox injections. He said he was comfortable being himself, though he was keenly aware voters would invariably compare him to his parents.

“I never sought to compete with them because I believe that was a test that was not possible,” he said. “Early on after my dad died, these ardent supporters would say I’m very far from my dad.

“How does one compete with an idea?” he added, alluding to his parents’ struggle for democracy. “So that would be a useless venture on my part. I concentrated on making sure that their sacrifices were not squandered.” By NORIMITSU ONISHI forThe New York Times

Friday, March 26, 2010

Terrorism Still a Clear and Present Danger to Indonesia

The arrest of more terrorist suspects indicates not only that the country has the potential to develop into a extremist haven but that the threat of terrorism is still very much present, despite the string of recent success in battling them. The arrests show that there could be more sleeper cells in the country or that new networks are being built, and the police must not lower their guard.

Another telltale sign is that terror cells are no longer confined to particular regions and are slowly spreading across the archipelago like gangrene. The latest arrests were made in Jakarta and Bekasi in Java, although all three were allegedly involved in an armed group of suspected terrorists discovered in Aceh on the westernmost tip of Sumatra.

The group had been hunted in the forested hills of Aceh since their training camp was raided on Feb. 22. Seven terrorist suspects have since been killed, while 33 others were captured alive. A key figure, Dulmatin, who topped the region’s most-wanted terrorist list, was also slain during a raid in Tangerang near Jakarta this month, far from Aceh where the group he allegedly built and ran was operating.

Terrorism analysts have said Indonesia was sorely lacking in monitoring convicted terrorists it has released from prison, leading to fears that they have been able to form new groups that were much more active than Jemaah Islamiyah, the regional terrorist network blamed for a string of fatal bomb attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings that left 202 dead. This is a serious concern if true.

Although officials said they were making efforts to reform convicted terrorists, the results are questionable. As a leading terrorism expert pointed out, several freed militants are believed to have resumed their former lives after being released, including Enceng Kurnia, alias Arham, who was convicted in 2004 for his involvement in a bomb attack outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta; and Deni Suramto, alias Toriq, and Abdullah Sonata, who were arrested in 2005 for sheltering terror mastermind Noordin M Top.

Battling terrorism is not a mere question of taking the terrorists dead or alive. It is not a mere question of preventing their attack plans from being carried out. The root causes of terrorism are many and complex, but everyone agrees that poverty and injustice, including the lack of economic opportunities, are among them.

The longer-term solution to this problem must be greater and more equitable economic growth. Terrorism attracts people, especially the young, who are economically disadvantaged and are thus susceptible to extreme ideology. But this is not something that can be remedied within a short time. In the interim, everyone, not just the police, must remain alert to the threat. Editorial Jakarta Globe

Philippines: Arroyo’s Frantic Power Grab is Post-Presidential Insurance

To an extraordinary degree, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is seeking to lock up the House of Representatives by packing it with former members of her administration, family members and other allies, according to a new report, clearing the path for her to become a powerful House speaker.

“If there was ever any doubt, it is now clear that Arroyo is absolutely intent on consolidating and perpetuating her power by shifting it from the executive to the legislative branch,” the Manila-based Pacific Strategies and Assessments said. “Brazen and shameless are the two words that come to mind.”

The extent to which Arroyo is agglomerating power in the House and extending her tentacles through her allies into government itself may well set up a monumental power struggle with the next president, whoever that may be. It is difficult to believe any of the top four candidates for the presidency — Benigno Aquino III, Manuel Villar, Joseph Estrada or her ally, Gilbert Teodoro, would allow the presidency to be neutered from the House of Representatives.

However, as the report points out, a 9-1 Supreme Court decision on March 17 empowers Arroyo to name a new chief justice when the sitting one retires in June after the election — despite a constitutional ban on appointments before and after elections. She is likely to appoint her former chief of staff and spokesman, Renato Corona, skipping over the next in line, Antonio Carpio, who in the past has gone against her in the court. She has also been naming a wide range of other allies and cronies to permanent government posts as well, including the country’s defense chief. Dogged by a long series of political scandals and allegations of outright corruption on her own part and that of her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, Gloria Arroyo remains singularly unpopular to Filipinos. She is reportedly terrified of being indicted when she leaves office. A December opinion poll by the respected Pulse Asia found that only 21 percent of Filipinos approved of her nationwide and 51 percent outright disapproved of her. She is barred by the constitution from running again for the presidency.

Instead, she has filed to run in the 2nd Congressional District in her home state of Pampanga. She has made plain her plan to move from the presidency to the house and to consolidate state power in the speakership, which she fully intends to occupy. Last year she vainly attempted to engineer a constitutional convention to switch the Philippines government from a presidential system to a parliamentary one in which the president would be a figurehead and the prime minister — head of the House of Representatives — would wield governmental power.

The report details 16 members of Arroyo’s government, including eight cabinet secretaries, two senators, two governors, four mayors and four family members who are running for the House in the May 10 national election.

Under the House’s complicated and unwieldy system, 229 single-member constituencies elect one member each in a so-called first-past-the-post arrangement in which the candidate with the highest number of votes wins. Another 57 seats are held by so-called party lists that are made up of representatives of various interest groups elected at large.

Arroyo’s Lakas Kampi-CMD now controls 141 of the 286 House seats. With only 144 required for a simple majority, Arroyo is easily within striking distance and, according to numerous sources in Manila, she is using her vast fortune to make sure she controls the House.

In addition to the cabinet and other government officials who have joined her in running for house seats, the report names another 11 palace-backed party list groups seeking seats. The PSA report says that, of the 187 party-list groups accredited to run in the May 11 polls, at least 30 to40 are backed by the administration. It cites a 2006 memo from the Office of External Affairs requesting funding for five more party-list groups that would help the administration garner more support in the house and rid the Congress of so-called “left-leaning” groups that are there now.

While there is considerable alarm in Manila over Arroyo’s plans to build a massive force in the house to change the system of government, many others are skeptical that she could pull off such a change. They point out that several times she sought to get constitutional change off the ground during her presidency and was thwarted, partly by public antagonism, and partly because both the Supreme Court and the Senate refused to go along with the plan. At one point, she attempted to push through a constitutional convention in the House alone without the Senate’s approval, but she was forced to back off.

If she was unable to pull it off during her presidency, the skeptics say, it is unlikely she could do so from a position of diminished power in the House. Asia Sentinel

"Terrorism: What have we learned from Aceh?"

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"Indonesia's Papua: Of roads and road maps"

It seems to be unpleasant for some to digest that the Free Papua Movement (OPM) was most likely involved in the string of attacks near the Freeport mine road in Indonesia's easternmost province. But by their very nature, armed groups are committed to violence and killing people.

It causes further discomfort to learn that political activists from one militant group, the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), were active in getting out the message for OPM.

OPM acknowledged responsibility for some of the shootings and other attacks between July 2009 and January 2010 along the main road that links the mountain-top mine with its sea port, although it denied shooting dead an Australian mine worker. The evidence is not conclusive, although the case for the involvement of the late guerrilla leader Kelly Kwalik and his men is stronger than for any of the alternatives on offer.

As indicated by group of Jayapura-based students who spoke to ICG for our recent report on Papua, foreign NGOs might be sceptical but Papuan activists are open to the possibility that OPM staged these attacks: 'The OPM is the military wing, right? Their job is to shoot the enemy. Freeport and the security forces are the enemy. So it fits that OPM would attack them.' Military strategists would probably agree — the lone road that links the mine with the sea is also a good place for an ambush.

The mining road attacks have attracted the most international attention, because so many, inside and outside Papua, are convinced the Indonesian military is responsible, largely on the basis of the arms and the ammunition used and the alleged professionalism of the shooters. In fact, it is well known that from Sabang in the west to Merauke in the east, criminal activities in Indonesia often involve government-made weapons and munitions.

If it were true that the military is the culprit, the case on the Papuan side for rejecting dialogue with the Indonesian Government because of the abusive nature of one of its key institutions would be strengthened. But if the Papuan guerrillas are responsible, the attacks could be seen as a way of raising the stakes in any future negotiations.

Finding the truth is thus critical, but no one should lose sight of the larger issue, which is finding a just, practical and non-violent solution to the conflict. Those who want to help Papua need to focus on the political calculus at work in Indonesia. The so-called 'Papua Road Map' dialogue offers the best chance to address political and historical grievances (not just economic inequities) in a comprehensive way.

President Yudhoyono has reportedly expressed interest in opening a dialogue with Papuan representatives but he has to do more than passively back it – he has to get out front and preempt some of the paranoid nationalists in government ranks who equate dialogue with capitulation to separatists. No one is suggesting that following the Road Map will be easy, and it also carries risks: a poorly prepared dialogue that breaks down amid recriminations of bad faith could be worse than no dialogue at all.

In the end, though, there is a serious political bottom line for Jakarta to consider: if Indonesia wants to keep Papua a domestic issue, it needs to back this homegrown initiative. To ignore it or allow it to get lost along the way will see the real problems of Papua unresolved and give undesirable, and possibly violent, radicalism the right of way, with more international attention to follow.
In the meantime, it would be better for all if Papua were opened up for proper investigations and this province treated less like it contains something to hide.

The Lowy Interpreter
Jim Della-Giacoma is the South East Asia Project Director of International Crisis Group.

Aussie Govt Warns About new Indonesia Terror Threat

The Australian federal government has warned Australians travelling to Indonesia's Aceh province to be extremely careful due to the threat of terrorism. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's (DFAT) updated travel advisory for Indonesia warns the security situation in Aceh remains "unsettled" and advising Aussies to exercise extreme caution citing Police have stated publicly that a number of suspects remain at large and may seek to attack international targets in Aceh.

Indonesian police last month raided a terrorist training facility in Aceh and are continuing to search for suspects.

DFAT's overall level of advice for Indonesia remains "reconsider your need to travel".

It also warns of the continued possibility of terrorist attacks elsewhere in the country, including Jakarta and Bali.

"Ask yourself whether, given your own personal circumstances, you're comfortable travelling to Indonesia knowing there is a very high threat from terrorism and you may be caught up in a terrorist attack."

Three Australians were among the nine people killed in the suicide bombings at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta last July.

Indonesia's Anti-Porn Law is Sexist and Discriminatory

Anti-pornography laws judged women’s bodies according to religious and moral values, which was not only sexist but also designed to target them, activists claimed on Friday.

They were speaking a day after the Constitutional Court rejected an appeal against the controversial 2008 law despite claims that its definition of pornography was vague, misleading and open to multiple interpretations.

“Women are the target, according to this law. Women who are victims of exploitation are addressed as perpetrators,” said Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan). Yuniyanti pointed out that the law had been used to jail at least eight people, mostly female erotic dancers.
“The law has similar characteristics to some 154 regional bylaws across the country, which we believe reduce the security and safety of women in Indonesia,” she said. “The law legalizes discrimination against women and opposes their rights to legal certainty.”

Yuniyanti was referring to bylaws such as those in Aceh, which call for adulterers to be stoned to death and those who engage in premarital or homosexual sex to receive 100 lashes. Many critics of the anti-pornography law said it endangers pluralism because many clauses are open to interpretation. Komnas Perempuan’s deputy chairwoman, Masruchah, said the law was passed after pressure from groups that believed they had control over women’s bodies.

“What if erotic dancers are male? Will we use the law on them, too?” she said.
Masruchah said the government must act to regulate the law, which should provide a clearer definition of pornography and the limitations. “A regulation could help stop officials arresting the wrong people,” Masruchah said.

The Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization, has also demanded the government act to ensure the correct implementation of the law. It said at its congress on Thursday that aside from a clearer definition of pornography, the law should not be related to religious practices, educational activities or artistic expressions.

Authorities in Papua and Bali have said they will not enforce the 2008 law because it stifles traditional Balinese and Papuan cultures. Legislators in Papua, a largely tribal region where women customarily go topless, said the law had never been implemented because it could not be effectively enforced. Deputy House speaker Komarudin Watubun said it would be impractical to impose the law in Papua. “The people here in Papua have never bothered with the law. It’s like other laws in Indonesia where many people just realize that it cannot be enforced so why should we bother with it,’’ he said.

Bali governor Made Mangku Pastika said he had long objected to the anti-pornography law because it contradicted the norms of Balinese society. “We reject porn crimes, but this law also does not suit the sociological and psychological aspect of Balinese society,’’ he said.

The legislation passed with strong support from conservative Islamist parties, though more than 100 legislators walked out in protest. It outlaws overtly sexual images, gestures and even conversations. Violators can be jailed for up to 12 years and fined $795,000.
Nurfika Osman, Anita Rachman & AP for The Jakarta Globe

Southeast Asia won't take corruption lying down

A CHORUS against corruption seems to be the common battle cry in all four major Southeast Asian democracies at this moment.
In Bangkok, the "Red Shirt" protesters are again out in force, in support of their leader, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup, allegedly for massive corruption.

In Manila, national elections will take place on May 10 and strong popular opinions against President Gloria Arroyo's allegedly corruption-riddled administration are ensuring that a candidate with little to commend him but a reputation for being clean is leading the crowded pack of aspirants to succeed her.

In Jakarta, a president newly re-elected on a clean, reformist record quickly finds himself greatly compromised by allegations of corruption -- what else? -- against key members of his administration in a bank-bailout scandal.

In Kuala Lumpur, corruption remains almost an unvaried staple in the opposition's arsenal as it relentlessly attacks the government both inside Parliament and out.

What does all this corruption-themed politics tell us?

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was re-elected on his promise of continued reforms.
First, it shows that public concerns about corruption are easily at the top of issues common to almost any country one can think of.

Second, it shows that corruption is almost an eternal political battle, such that it recurs unfailingly as a public issue, almost everywhere and every time.

We, therefore, need to be eternally vigilant against such a scourge in our public life while being healthily sceptical that a silver bullet exists or glib and ready answers abound to tackle a problem such as corruption.

Yes, of course, a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption sounds brilliant and seems like a no-brainer. Except that in real life and real countries rather than cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, things can and often do get complicated. Politics, after all, is the art of the possible, not the ideal. And politics is often the common denominator that does a great complicating job in the otherwise unambiguously noble job of fighting corruption.

In Thailand, Thaksin unquestionably made politically expedient choices to consolidate his hold on power and in the process, came to be regarded -- until today -- as a hero of the rural-dwelling poor and dispossessed even as he simultaneously gained the unforgiving enmity of the urban middle class.

Democracy was again upended in a coup that won support from the middle class and some semblance of it was restored later with a prime minister acceptable to this class, Abhisit Vejjajiva. The latter was hoisted onto power but only after political compromises were secured with the same unprincipled and corrupt characters and parties that once shared power with Thaksin.

Ironically, if Thaksin had succeeded in permanently empowering his rural political base, Thai democracy might have stood a better chance of surviving and with it, the eradication of corruption as almost a way of political life.

In the Philippines, Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III looks on course to condemning his country anew, as his mother, former president Corazon Aquino, did, to a six-year stint of good intentions in place of governing competence. The intervening years of mostly self-torment between the first Aquino and likely second Aquino presidencies could have been avoided had Filipinos held their noses and gave a clean and competent president Fidel Ramos a constitutionally denied second term instead of placing blind and mostly unrewarded faith in institutions.

In Indonesia, what to make of voters enthusiastically re-electing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his promise of continued reforms and clean government while at the same time electing members to a Parliament regarded as one of Indonesia's most corrupt public institutions is simply beyond my comprehension, especially as that same Parliament rather swiftly stymied the president by turning corruption investigations into personal vendettas against two of his star reformers.

In Malaysia, I keep hearing self-congratulations that we are a cut above the regional lot. We certainly enjoy corruption rates significantly less dire than all the above three countries. But given what has been happening here politically in the past two years, I won't dare bet we are a cut above them in terms of our maturity.

Senator Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III is one of the ‘clean’ candidates running for the Philippine presidential race.

What seems clear to me is that in all four of these countries, corruption, political contention and, most importantly, economic development all hold fairly constant over the years despite public obsessions and exertions. The real trick is perhaps to adequately manage and balance these so endemic poverty can end sooner and with it better chances for both democracy and corruption eradication may really prosper. John Teo for the New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur