Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bakrie the next Indonesian President?

Indonesia's notorious businessman appears to be the front-runner

The mid-November announcement that banking scion Nathaniel Rothschild had acquired 25 percent of Bumi Resources, controlled by Aburizal Bakrie, has largely been met with astonishment by those familiar with the operations of Indonesia's most famous and notorious businessman.

That is because what Bakrie has done to minority shareholders over the last couple of decades is the stuff of legend. The Bakrie family empire has nearly capsized twice since the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis, the first time bobbing back to the surface only because a thoroughly corrupt Indonesian government bailed Bakrie out. The second time, amid allegations of massive share manipulation, Bakrie shares fell by 30 percent and resulted in the closure for three days of the Indonesian Stock Exchange at the onset of the global credit crisis. That later resulted in a months-long campaign by furious bankers and shareholders to get their money back after the then-Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati blocked another round of bailouts.

Rothschild — a member of one of the world's most respected banking families, and one of te world's most cautious — now has put US$3 billion into Indonesia, metamorphosing Vallar Plc, a mining investment vehicle, into what amounts to an Indonesian coal venture. In addition to the US$1.43 billion to Bakrie, he put another US$1.57 billion in cash and new shares into Berau Coal and Energy, controlled by Indonesia's Roeslani family. Vallar's shareholders retain only a minority stake in the company.

Southeast Asia has not been kind to minority shareholders. They have regularly taken a fearful beating in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines among others. But Bakrie is arguably at the very top of the Asia minority-thumping pantheon. Even the docile Indonesian Stock Exchange, however reluctantly, gave three Bakrie companies a Rp500 million (US$55,550) slap on the wrist for misstating cash reserves. After the shares fell off the cliff in the wake of the global financial crisis, they suddenly caught fire again in May of 2009, with the shares of seven family company stocks tripling in value on average, causing the exchange to suspend trading in some companies because of suspicions they were being manipulated.

So the question has to be asked: did Rothschild know what he was getting into? Several news sources have pointed out that from beginning to end, the transactions only took a few weeks to conclude.

But some market-watchers might not be taking into account Aburizal Bakrie's growing clout. He is hoping to become the country's next president when elections are held in 2014 and improbably appears to be the front-runner – a far cry from July 2009, when the Golkar Party, which he now heads, was drubbed in national elections by what appeared to be a reform movement headed by reelected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Sri Mulyani Indrawati, reappointed finance minister, was clearly out to usher in a new political era in Indonesia.

There was a widespread perception that Bakrie's fortunes would reflect Indonesia's future path. If that is true, it is depressing. Today Sri Mulyani has been banished, quitting the government to join the World Bank as a managing director after charging in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that Bakrie had been behind the manufacture of a scandal over the US$710 million bailout of Bank Century in 2008, which at the time seemed poised to drag the country's banking sector into the muck of the global crisis. The point? To ensnare her and Boediono, the respected former Bank Indonesia head who became Yudhoyono's vice president.

Yudhoyono seems strangely lethargic in the face of Bakrie's resurgence. Golkar was nominally in the opposition after the 2009 national presidential election. The president should have been able to stop the action against the two officials back in October 2009 when he named his cabinet and, at the last minute, Bakrie brought Golkar in from the cold to rejoin the government. Yudhoyono could have extracted a promise that the Golkar leader would keep out of the fray. The president was at the height of his political power and personal popularity as a result of his strong electoral victory.

Instead, Sri Mulyani's resignation in May following months of bitter, highly political and inconclusive hearings in the House of Representatives, appears to have set the stage for five years of paralysis in which reform stops and Bakrie and his fellow businessmen go about business as usual.

Bakrie himself appears to be deeply enmeshed in a scandal involving former tax official Gayus Tambunan, who is charged with amassing vast wealth through taking bribes from corporations to cheat on their taxes. Tambunan has testified in court that companies that paid him off included subsidiaries of the Bakrie conglomerate. One report had Tambunan, whose latest shenanigans involve bribing his way out of detention on a regular basis, meeting Bakrie himself in Bali during a recent tennis tournament. Bakrie's lawyers and numerous Golkar politicians have denied that tale and preliminary criminal libel charges have been brought by Bakrie against five media outlets for running the story.

Bakrie has proven himself an adroit and ambitious politician who occupies a fairly unique place among Indonesia's upper-tier business community because he is a pribumi, or native Indonesian, while the bulk of the country's business establishment is dominated by ethnic Chinese. In May, he was appointed “managing chairman” of a new government joint political secretariat at a closed meeting of coalition parties at Yudhoyono's home, just two days after Sri Mulyani said she was leaving.

It is clear from his close confidants that he has his eye on the presidency, and as Indonesia's most powerful pribumi, he might appeal to the electorate despite his reputation as a corporate pirate. He is a Javanese, the dominant ethnic group, which gives him clout that Jusuf Kalla, a wealthy ethnic Bugis businessman and Golkar politician who served as Yudhoyono's vice president in his first term, was never able to muster. Kalla and Bakrie are fierce rivals.

Yudhoyono's Democratic Party has no one who looks capable of being a successor. Megawati Sukarnoputri, the leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known by its Indonesian language initials PDI-P, appears to be a spent force. Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto, both retired generals, have been sanctioned by international rights organizations for their roles in attempting to suppress the East Timor independence movement, among other nastiness at the end of the Suharto era. Vice President Boediono seems to have no political ambitions, and aside from the tantalizing possible return of Sri Mulyani, whose support is largely limited to intellectuals and commentators, there appear to be few people at this point to challenge Bakrie.

So maybe Rothschild recognized something longtime Indonesia watchers didn't. Even as a minority shareholder, it doesn't hurt to be reflected in the glow of the leading presidential candidate, and one who, despite his reputation, could lead the country – albeit hardly in the direction of reform. Asia Sentinel

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bali Latest Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Read the full report at http://www.balidiscovery.com/update/update742.asp
There may be storm clouds on the horizon as Bali traditionalists are closing frank, vowing a "Puputan" against those trying to prevent implementation of the new, strict zoning law for Bali.

Garuda is blaming human error and a loose cable for the massive crash of a computerized scheduling system that largely grounded the airline for over three days last week. Will heads roll and, more importantly, will Garuda's IPO price plummet?

In other top news stories this week: The State oil company Pertamina has a grounded oil tanker off Sanur Beach; Medical officials are keeping a close watch on a patient, fearing the man may have contracted rabies from a rat bite; Bali police are cash strapped in the fight against crime; and police and prison officials are drafting an agreement to stop the free flow of drugs at Bali's Kerobokan prison.

Bali's governor is predicting that tourist numbers to Bali will double by 2015. Plans to preserve Bali's role as a decorative tropical fish trading center may be threatened by over-harvesting. Jakarta is proposing the building of a slow-rail system round Bali to relieve traffic congestion. And, the provincial government allocates money to create an international standard hospital for Bali.

In hotel news, a Denpasar hotel goes "Halal" and the saga of the Hotel Harrad and its refusal to play by the rules goes on and on.

Air traffic is booming between Bali and Dili, Timor Leste with Batavia Air and Merpati Airlines given the green light to fly this international sector.
Tourism circles are likely to be worried by a new customs regulation intended to enforce strict personal belonging limits for people arriving into Indonesia.

We've have an interview with the lovely Ruth Zukerman, preparing to fondly farewell her adopted home of Bali. The story of how Balinese armed with rakes and pitch forks conquered Naples, Florida after making a beachhead in the U.S.A.. And some lovely pictures of Bali through the kind courtesy of Joe Kennedy Photography.

Feeling gothic? Iron Maiden on board "Ed Force One" is inbound for a Bali with a scheduled landing on February 20, 2011.

Only 25 more shopping day until Christmas. Read our suggestions for an enduring Christmas gift prepared by The John Fawcett Foundation.

Thank you to Virgin Blue Airlines, Gending Kedis and Bali Theatre at the Bali Safari and Marine Park for making this edition of Bali Update possible!

Why not promote your business to or 20,000 subscribers and the hundreds of thousands who visit www.balidiscovery.com each month.

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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

As the Flames of  Intolerance Flare, Indonesians Are Reminded of  Their Nation’s Origins in Diversity

Indonesia. A hundred police officers armed with assault rifles and pistols were not enough to dissuade Tuti (not her real name) from walking barefoot for a kilometer, her 3-year-old son on her back, to the village of Gegerung in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, on Friday.

Once she arrived, the 25-year-old mother joined hundreds of people from her village in ransacking and demolishing dozens of houses belonging to members of the Ahmadiyah minority sect.

“Infidels,” she screamed as she pelted one of the homes with rocks. “Get out of our village.”

The mob destroyed 22 homes, with one burned to the ground after villagers emptied a canister of kerosene in it and lit it on fire.

As Tuti watched the house burn, she and the other villagers thanked God for the suffering of those they deemed heretics.

Need for a National Strategy

The seemingly never-ending string of attacks on minority religious groups — at least a hundred against Ahmadiyah alone over the past decade, according to one activist — prompted the International Crisis Group in a recent report to call on Indonesia to adopt a comprehensive national strategy to promote religious tolerance and curb rising sectarian violence.

“There needs to be a long-term vision and strategy. Local officials have been addressing the incidents on a case-by-case basis,” said Jim Della-Giacomathe, the ICG Southeast Asia project director.

“And most of the time, they surrender to those with the loudest voice. If this keeps happening, mob rule prevails.”

Della-Giacoma’s statement highlights an important observation regarding the government’s response so far to the apparent increase in religious intolerance in the country: that the core of the problem isn’t being addressed.

In Bekasi, which the ICG report says is a clear example of the tensions brought about by clashing fundamentalisms, 10 people have been arrested for an attack that saw one churchgoer hospitalized with a stab wound and a female reverend badly injured.

Among those arrested was the local leader of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a group that has led calls for Christians to leave the area.

West Lombok Police operations head, Comr. Deky Subagio, has promised that his office will investigate the attack on the Ahmadiyah homes on Friday just like any other case.

Despite local police promises such as these, attacks continue.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice president of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said if the core of the problem was not addressed soon, sectarian conflicts would be unavoidable.

“There are elements within the minorities that are discontented with the government’s inaction and are becoming fed up with continuously playing the victim,” he said. “These elements may even have become radicalized themselves.”

Largely Local?

Bonar notes that the areas prone to religious conflict often have weak law enforcement or government leaders who are easily pressured by majority religious groups.

For instance, in Kuningan, West Java, where mainstream Muslims in July attempted to seal off an Ahmadiyah mosque, the local government has been reluctant to acknowledge marriages involving members of the minority sect.

In West Nusa Tenggara, the local government has also refused to issue mandatory identification cards to followers of the sect, and last month raided homes belonging to Ahmadiyah members, urging them to move out of Gegerung village.

The government announced plans to relocate the remaining members of the community to a remote island in the Sumba Strait, some 40 kilometers off the main island of Lombok, saying it was the will of other religious communities and residen ts.

In Bekasi and Depok, where a string of attacks and forced closures of Protestant churches has taken place, local administrations have defended their position of siding with the demands of hard-line groups against minorities by saying they needed to keep the peace.

“The political support of religious elites is essential even for political parties that are not based in Islam,” Bonar said.

“Religious elites need to expand their political influence; in return politicians enjoy great support from faithful followers of certain religious leaders.”

Decentralized, Disconnected

Analysts trace part of the problem to decentralization.

“Decentralization has brought more autonomy and self-government, but unfortunately the interpretation and implementation of religious freedom and tolerance, in practice, is also left with the local leaders, who sometimes have a narrow view on the subject,” said Siti Zuhro, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Zuhro said that during the iron-fisted rule of former President Suharto there was no tolerance shown for religious frictions, and any statements that had the potential to stir up social, religious and racial tensions were greatly limited.

“Today, the situation is different. Hate speech is protected by the citizens’ constitutional rights of freedom of expression,” she said. “But this is a slippery slope.”

Bonar said that although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had made a number of speeches expressing support for religious freedom and the need to protect minority groups, his words had never been translated into definitive action by local governments.

“There is a discrepancy between the central government’s commitment and the policies and practices at the local level,” he said.

“Decentralization has left the central government to rely heavily on how local officials can translate its directives.

“But while the central government claims that the job of protecting minorities rests with local governments, the local governments tell minority groups that they have to consult with the central government.”

Confusing Commands

Even at the national level, Yudhoyono’s statements on religious freedom sometimes stand in stark contrast to the words and actions of his ministers.

Ulil Abshar Abdalla, a member of the president’s Democratic Party, pointed out that Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali “has made comments that oppose religious freedom and have a dangerous potential to fuel further violence.”

The minister has repeatedly called for Ahmadiyah to disband, and has showed support for the 1965 law on blasphemy that many observers say has legitimized acts of violence against minority sects and groups.

He also supports the 2006 joint ministerial decree on houses of worship, which requires the consent of the surrounding community for building churches, temples and mosques. Critics say the regulation is discriminatory.

Rohadi Abdul Fatah, the director of Islam and Shariah law at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, denied that anyone had turned a blind eye to the problem of intolerance.

“Our officials always work according to the law and official procedure,” he said. “We never harm other groups, for example by prohibiting them from using public facilities or burning their places of worship. That is totally against human rights and the law.”

Regarding Ahmadiyah, he said the ministry did not tolerate the sect, but that did not mean the ministry was failing to provide members protection.

“We keep trying to persuade Ahmadiyah through education and dialogue to return to the right path of Islam,” he said. “We don’t tolerate anyone who harms them even though their belief is not acceptable in Islam.”

Democratic Pitfall

So what should a government that listens to its people do when a number of surveys indicate a worrying increase in religious intolerance among Muslims in the country?

A survey released in September by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society found that among 1,200 adult Muslim men and women surveyed nationwide, 57.8 percent said they were against the construction of churches and other non-Muslim places of worship — the highest rate the study center has recorded since 2001.

More than a quarter, or 27.6 percent, said they minded if non-Muslims taught their children, up from 21.4 percent in 2008.

“The government should not bow down to political pressure from a religious elite that voices intolerance,” Ulil said. “The government should protect minorities and not only cater to the demands of the majority.

“We should re-educate these opportunistic bureaucrats and political parties about ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ [‘Unity in Diversity’], the principle taught by our founding fathers.”

Firdaus Mubarik, an Ahmadiyah activist, said he hoped the government would listen to minority voices as well.

“The government should remain neutral on religious issues and bridge differences between religious groups,” he said.

“If the government continues turning a blind eye to the problem, hard-line Muslim groups will soon target other minorities.”
An Ahmadiyah member holding a burned Koran in Ciampea, West Java, after a mob set fire to a mosque and houses belonging to members of the minority sect. Pluralism advocates are warning of the dangers posed by failing to sufficiently address rising intolerance.  Jakarta Globe


Kabul/Islamabad/Brussels, 28 November 2010: U.S. plans to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 2014 would lead to a collapse of the government in Kabul and serious security risks for the region.

Afghanistan: Exit vs Engagement*, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns of the deep problems that still exist in Afghanistan and of the dire consequences that can ensue unless the foundations of an effective state are put in place. U.S. military operations are now entering their tenth year and policymakers in Washington are looking for a way out. But the key to fighting the insurgency and bringing about the conditions for a political settlement in Afghanistan lies in improving security, justice and governance.

“The exit strategy sounds fairly simple: try to pound the Taliban, build support by protecting civilians, lure disillusioned Taliban over to the government and create resilient security forces”, says Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Afghanistan. “The problem is that none of this is working”.

NATO partners agreed at the Lisbon summit to a gradual withdrawal of combat troops with the goal of transitioning to full Afghan control of security by the end of 2014. In addition, more money will be provided for economic development. The aim is a dignified drawdown of troops as public support wanes, while at the same time ensuring that a post-withdrawal Afghanistan does not become the epicentre of transnational terrorism. An alluring narrative of a successful counter-insurgency campaign has begun to take shape, but the storyline does not match facts on the ground. While success is being measured in numbers of insurgents killed or captured, there is little proof that the operations have disrupted the insurgency’s momentum or increased stability. The Taliban are more active than ever and they still enjoy sanctuary and support in Pakistan. Civilian deaths are rising. Half-hearted counter-insurgency efforts have unsurprisingly failed to produce results.

As violence increases, the Afghan National Security Forces have proven a poor match for the Taliban. Casualties among Afghan and foreign forces have spiked as have civilian casualties. Afghanistan still lacks a cohesive national security strategy and the Afghan military and police remain dangerously fragmented and highly politicised.

The neglect of governance, an anaemic legal system and weak rule of law lie at the root of these problems. Too little effort has been made to develop political institutions, local government and a functioning judiciary. Insurgents and criminal elements within the political elite have as a result been allowed to fill the vacuum left by the weak Afghan state.

“The current rush to cement deals with the insurgents will not help Afghans nor will it address the very real regional and global security concerns posed by the breakdown of the Afghan state”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “Instead, the key to fighting the insurgency and bringing about the conditions for an inclusive, sustainable political settlement lies in improving security, justice and governance and there are few quick fixes in these areas”.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Let's hope Laos hangs on to its identity

Raising King Anouvong's statue in the Laotian capital Vientiane could either be seen as a direct challenge to Thailand's superior status or a strong message calling on its citizens to be brave and its ruling regime to stand firm in the face of dominance from all directions.

It is interesting that the Marxist-Leninist regime chose to use ancient kings instead of communist icons and contemporary heroes for its state-building endeavour. This could possibly be because the Laotians worship kingly spirits - they would never bow to a commoner.

Before King Anouvong, Laotian authorities put up King Fa Ngum's statue in January 2003 as a memorial to the great unifier of the Lan Xang Kingdom in the 14th century.
Statues of old kings are not new to Vientiane. There's already one of King Xetthathirat, who moved the capital city from Luang Prabang to Vientiane 450 years ago, and King Sisavang Vong, who played a part in the country gaining independence from the French.

The newest statue of King Anouvong, meanwhile, tells the story of a brave struggle against Siamese conquerors during his reign from 1805 to 1828.

King Anouvong took the throne when the Lan Xang kingdom was a part of the Siamese kingdom and he decided to shake off the yoke when, on a visit to Bangkok, he saw the harshness meted out to Lao prisoners. History has it that he personally was treated badly while attending King Rama II's funeral.

Though he lost the battle against Siam, King Anouvong became a national hero and legend for the Lao people, even though in the Thai point of view, he was a mere rebel. The Siamese army ransacked the Lao capital, causing the downfall of the Lan Xang kingdom.

The ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party put up the statue as a memorial to the great king 182 years later and to mark the capital city's 450 years.

The 8-metre statue faces the west, gazing across the mekong River at Thailand. His left hand holds up a sword, as his right hand points forward.

The Laotian government explained that the statue is meant to look like the king is mobilising his troops, but the costume is that of peaceful times. The king's belt features the Naga, which is a Buddhist symbol of peace.

Government officials said the statue depicted King Anouvong as a brave king who never surrendered to Siamese dominance and is meant to remind the citizens that the country needs a leader like him.

Laos is a tiny country surrounded by big ones - Thailand is in the west, Vietnam in the east and the giant China in the north.

A balance of power among the major powerhouses is the only key for its survival.

These days, China is pouring a lot of resources into Laos in terms of grants, financial aid, soft loans and investment. It is difficult to resist an influx of Chinese people and cultural influence into Laos.

Meanwhile, Vietnam's influence over the ruling party is also difficult to resist because they share a common history of struggling for independence. As for Thailand, it is practically a blood brother and has influenced Laos economically, socially and culturally for a long time.

Let's hope that King Anouvong helps the brave Laotians protect their tiny nation from being taken over by others. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

Friday, November 26, 2010

China Confronts the World

After he launched China onto a market-led course in 1978, Deng Xiaoping counseled caution in international relations. China should, he advised, keep a low profile while enriching itself and not alarm the countries whose markets for its exports would replace deficient domestic demand.

Hu Jintao and his leadership colleagues must have decided that the time has come to shed such caution. China not only adopts a higher global profile, but is increasingly ready to take positions that earn the world's disapproval, be it on the valuation of its currency or its support for regimes in Sudan, Iran and Burma. And now that more muscular approach by Beijing confronts the Obama administration's drive to reassert Washington's interest in Asia.

This could provide a testing experience for both sides of the so-called G2, a concept that has never really taken off if only because of the rocky path of Sino-US relations since President Barack Obama's visit to the People's Republic a year ago. The flashpoints are evident. Hillary Clinton's assertion that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea runs straight up against China's claim to sovereignty over the waters to its south. Washington's growing closeness to India, including backing New Delhi's claim to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council is not to Beijing's taste. The US-Japan relationship remains a constant source of concern for China. The same goes for US–South Korean links. US arms sales to Taiwan rile Chinese leaders who insist that the island is part of the People's Republic.

During three months just spent in Beijing, I was struck repeatedly by the sharp tone adopted towards the US not only by ideologues and media propagandists, but by senior economists who insist that failure of American economic policy is responsible for the world's ills. The fact that the US Federal Reserve's new bout of quantitative easing, or QE2, went down like a lead balloon at the G20 summit in Seoul showed that China is not short of allies.

A researcher with a think tank attached to the Commerce Ministry, Mei Xinyu, summed up the dismissive Chinese view of the US in China Daily this month: "The US' top financial officials need to shift their people's attention from the country's struggling economy to cover up their incompetence and blame China for everything that is going wrong in their country."

Moving into conspiracy theory, the op-ed article concluded that, by attacking China, finance officials in Washington foster speculative opportunities for Wall Street firms which then offer them big jobs after they leave government office.

Ahead of the G20 meeting, China rejected the US plan as harking back to the days of planned economies – nice irony coming from the last major state ruled by a Communist Party, one that just unveiled its latest Five-Year Plan. At a Beijing conference, the governor of China's Central Bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, spoke of being ready to deal with the wash of money unleashed by QE2 as if he were a doctor preparing for a troublesome affliction.

Vice-Minister of Finance Zhu Guangyao used a pre-G20 briefing to say that China would query renewed US quantitative easing in Seoul, adding, "We hope the US can realize its responsibility and duty on the revival of the global economy."

China's line of currency defense goes as follows: If one adds the 3 percent appreciation China is ready to allow and its consumer price index, exceeding 4 percent at a time of zero inflation in the West, the real appreciation is significant and as much as can be expected while the nation faces manifold domestic challenges.

Cooperation over global warming seems at a dead end. China still values investments by companies such as Intel, yet promotion of domestic companies in its stimulus package and an increasingly tough regulatory climate for foreign firms complicate a business relationship that has flourished since the 1980s. As the mainland moves up the technological and value chain under its next Five-Year Plan, trade tensions are set to rise.

China trade was once all about cheap exports. But if Chinese development goes to plan, import substitution for big-ticket items will become the order of the day. In a little noticed development this month, China unveiled a prototype of a 150-seat airliner due to go into service by 2016, complicating Boeing's sales to the world's second biggest market for commercial aircraft, not to mention the impact on Airbus.

On the other side of the Pacific, tougher rhetoric from the White House and Treasury as the US finds itself under political pressure at home and increasingly bereft of economic allies abroad does not point to a benign future with Washington and Beijing working together for the benefit of the world at large. Speaking at a European Central bank conference in Frankfurt on November 19, US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke hit back at Chinese criticism, noting that "currency undervaluation by surplus countries is inhibiting needed international adjustment and creating spillover effects that would not exist if exchange rates better reflected market fundamentals."

Hu's visit to Washington in January will be the touchstone. In an interview with The Australian newspaper, Secretary of State Clinton said that China's current policies in the region were designed to test other nations and insisted that Beijing should abide by international law. The problem is that the law is extremely vague on key points of conflict, notably the sovereignty of rocky islands that may sit on top of large energy reserves.

The US-China spat has greater resonance because of the way Washington backed Japan in the row over the detained Chinese trawler and the flurry over China's decision to halt exports of rare-earth minerals to Japan. A survey by the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun published in mid-November found that 87 percent considered China to be untrustworthy and that 90 percent thought relations between the two countries were bad. A simultaneous poll by China's Oriental Outlook Weekly, run by the state news agency, found similar figures on views of Japan held by Chinese. On top of this Vietnam, with US approval, declared its port at Cam Ranh Bay open for foreign naval ships and, to Beijing's displeasure, hosted the US aircraft carrier George Washington.

If the relationship continues its downward spiral, Hu's visit risks turning into a confrontation. If only for domestic political reasons, Obama may well feel he must show that he can stand up to China for instance, by slapping duties on selected imports, resisting Beijing's maritime claims goods or holding China to account on its environmental record. Hu, due to stand down as Chinese leader in late 2012, has no wish to leave office remembered as the man who caved in to the US.

Such a stand-off is dangerous for both countries – and the world. It could lead to damaging protectionism. Depicting China as an enemy may be an attractive electoral gambit for an administration that feels need to display its muscles. Beijing will respond in kind. High-level and dispassionate statesmanship is required, with each party giving some ground and trying to scale down the currency rhetoric while engaging in serious discussion on common approaches to environmental measures. Whether either party has the wherewithal remains in question. On their performances so far, one can only remain pessimistic.
By Jonathan Fenby is China director of the research service Trusted Sources and author of the Penguin History of Modern China. Rights: This is reprinted withe the permission of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. Asia Sentinel

Thursday, November 25, 2010

China lashes out through fear of failure

It must be galling for the Chinese government to keep seeing Nobel Prizes go to the wrong Chinese

The first wrong Chinese was Gao Xingjian, a critical playwright, artist and novelist, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, while living in exile in Paris. The latest is Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic and political writer, who was awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Peace while serving a prison sentence for "subversion" of the communist regime. Since the Dalai Lama is not a Chinese citizen, I will leave out his Nobel Peace Prize, though to China's rulers it was perhaps the most irritating of all.

Yet the Chinese government's response to Liu's Nobel Prize has been extraordinary. Instead of a show of lofty disdain, or official silence, it made a colossal fuss, protesting fiercely about plots to undermine China, and putting dozens of prominent Chinese intellectuals, including Liu's wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest. As a result, the utterly powerless, hitherto quite obscure Liu Xiaobo, has become not only world famous, but much better known inside China, too.

Combine this with China's bullying of Japan, by blocking the export of rare-earth metals vital for Japanese industry, over a few uninhabited islands between Taiwan and Okinawa, and its refusal to let the yuan appreciate, and one must wonder why China is being so heavy-handed in its foreign relations.

These strong-arm tactics stand out even more against the deftness of Chinese diplomacy over the last few decades. Japan, the old wartime enemy, has been outmaneouvered repeatedly, and a soft touch made South Koreans and Southeast Asians feel relatively comfortable with China's increasing power.

But China's recent thuggish behaviour is changing Asian opinions. As the warm welcome given to Hillary Clinton on her recent swing through Asia - even in communist Vietnam - appears to show, Southeast Asians are more than happy to hang on to Pax Americana for a bit longer, out of fear of China. Other Asian countries might even be drawn closer to Japan, the only alternative to the US as a counterbalance to the Middle Kingdom. This cannot be what China wants.

So why is China being so severe? One possible explanation is that China is a little drunk on its new great-power status. For the first time in almost 200 years, China can really throw its weight around, and it will do what it wants, regardless of what other countries may think. A few decades ago, it was Japan that thought it was going to be Number One, and its businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats were not shy about letting the rest of the world know. Call China's recent actions revenge for a century of humiliation by stronger powers.

But this may not be the best explanation for China's behaviour. In fact, the reason may be just the opposite: a sense among China's rulers of weakness at home. At least since 1989, the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly on power has been fragile. Communist ideology is a spent force. Using the People's Liberation Army to murder civilian protesters, not only in Beijing, but all over China, in June 1989, further undermined the one-party system's legitimacy.

The way to regain the support of the burgeoning Chinese middle class was to promise a quick leap to greater prosperity through high-speed economic growth. The ideological vacuum left by the death of Marxist orthodoxy was filled with nationalism. And nationalism in China, promoted through schools, mass media and "patriotic" monuments and museums, means one thing: Only the firm rule of the CCP will prevent foreigners, especially Westerners and the Japanese, from humiliating the Chinese ever again.

This is why anyone, even a relatively unknown intellectual like Liu Xiaobo, who challenges the legitimacy of Communist Party rule by demanding multi-party elections, must be crushed. It is why the government does not dare to let the yuan appreciate too fast, lest economic growth slow, causing the Party to lose face and legitimacy. And it is why bullying Japan is always a good option: China's rulers do not necessarily hate Japan, but they are afraid to look weak in the eyes of their citizens, who are taught from kindergarten that foreign powers want to humiliate China.

This suggests that if Liu Xiaobo and like-minded dissidents ever got their wish, and democracy came to China, the problem of Chinese nationalism would not go away. After all, if the people feel persecuted by Japan or the United States, then the people will demand chauvinistic policies. Democracy has not tempered South Korean chauvinism much, either, since the demise of the military dictatorship in the 1980s.
But nationalism may not be a political constant. Nationalism is often fed by a sense of impotence. When citizens feel disempowered by an authoritarian government, the next best thing is to feel empowered by national prowess.

In a multi-party democracy, on the other hand, citizens are concerned with other interests - material, social, even cultural ones - and thus less likely to be drawn into aggressive chauvinism. Or so we must hope. The state of many democracies today is not the best advertisement for political freedom. But the Chinese should have the right to decide about that themselves. And Liu Xiaobo should be honoured for saying so.

By Ian Buruma is professor of democracy and human rights at Bard College. His latest book is "Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents." Project Syndicate.

North Korea's Latest Insanity

The artillery barrage may be flashy, but it's what's happening at Yongbyon that's scary

North Korea has once again caught the world's attention, firing hundreds of artillery rounds into Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea off the Korean Peninsula on Nov. 23, killing two South Korean soldiers and two civilians. That and the US nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker's Nov. 12 report on the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, North Korea, was enough to badly rattle the international community, except of course for China.

The North has introduced a new paradigm. While the shelling was distressing, the fact that the North has attained the capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons through its own centrifuges will shake the existing security structure of Northeast Asia. Now that the ability to stage a nuclear attack is at the core of the regime's survival, possession of nuclear weapons will inevitably upset the asymmetrical security environment of South Korea and Japan, both nuclear have-nots, while sharply igniting the possibility of new tensions and military clashes among the US, China, and Russia, all nuclear haves.

That is because the North's displaying its sophisticated centrifuges to the world plays into its continued emphasis in securing a "strong self-defense power." On top of this, the North has so far successfully put the marketing of nuclear proliferation fear at the center of the US administration, while attempting to break public morale in the South with spectacular, live TV displays that at once expose the South's widespread confusion.

After all, the nuclear threat draws a straight line toward the ontological question for numerous people in the South -- how to live together with a troubled and unpredictable nuke-armed North which has already lost currency with most of the world except for China, its protector.

It remains unclear whether China's lukewarm response will to dissuade the North from any further hostile activity. But with the North's third nuclear test, the now-nuclearized peninsula is severely exposed to high risk of disaster. South Korea now has more urgent concerns than exchanging a massive artillery barrage. They are worried about nuclear bombs going off in Seoul.

Hecker made four trips to the Yongbyon site out of his six visits to the North and he reportedly came away "stunned" at the size and technological progress of the North's home-made centrifuges. Nor is it just Hecker who was in shock. The US intelligence agencies also failed to find the operation with their state-of-art satellite technologies, nor did the South Korean ones.

Unlike plutonium-used weapons made through reprocessing after burning up rods containing filtered natural uranium, nuclear weapons development via enrichment does not need huge space or facilities. It is relatively easy to develop and operate the centrifuges clandestinely in the mountainous territories. It can be thus inferred that the North may have moved the centrifuges to the Yongbyon facility, a target of US intelligence agencies, after secretly completing them somewhere, since they were not evident when Hecker visited there last year.

It appears that the North began reprocessing the plutonium at the Yongbyon facilities as early as the 1970s and already has a significant amount of plutonium through reprocessing several times. According to the North's report conveyed to China in 2008, the regime developed 26 kg of plutonium for nuclear weapons development after extracting it from 36 kg. The North mistakenly admitted the existence of its enrichment program when James Kelly, then US Assistant Secretary of State, visited the communist regime in October, 2002.

Some US analysts on North Korea that I recently met in Washington, DC privately suggested that it's time that the South should consider discreetly and wisely how to come to terms with the violent regime in the North. No doubt that the best time to invest is when there is still uncertainty in the future of the regime, given that the South's liberal and market-oriented economy would obviously face a crisis in the face of never-ending threats by Kim Jong-Il based on the North's nuclear edge.

Needless to say, the very existence of nuclear weapons packs a psychological wallop, with the possibility that any use of them could bring about uncontrollable chaos in the wake of political, economic and social unrest imposed on the South. It appears that firm believers in the nuclear shock doctrine in the North still judge, wrongly, that they can nullify the South completely by means of military advantage. In their logic, the results could be announced as a done deal in the long run, not in months or weeks but in one to two days.

Thus, because the blood-poor North would be unable to maintain its military performance for long in a conventional confrontation, the nuclear option must be taken into serious consideration as one of the top military alternatives -- an early termination of war against the South by using nuclear weapons well before allied forces lands on the peninsula. This could be a factor in making the US reluctant to interfere, for fear of creating additional American deaths when the war front is unexpectedly expanded. If so, an unthinkable disaster on the peninsula would follow inevitably, although the North's military strikes on Yeonpyeong Island Tuesday are not the first sign of another Korean War in the making.

My sense is that the sinking of the Cheonan corvette on March 26, with the loss of 46 South Korean sailors' lives, was a success for the North but that the recent shelling has been a failure in view of the North's voracious appetite for confrontation. It's too stupid to ask for the possibility of the denuclearization in the regime. At the same time, the Kim regime demands people's wrath and so North Korea's nuclear weapons are the one issue that every Korean can agree on.

Now the realities of the North's nuclear weapons program have become more specific. The focus of the nuclear threat will come clearer over time. That is why the South and the US alike should hasten to make all effort to objectively analyze Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons from the whole perspective of the military, economic, political and social effects, instead of making out-of-focus plans over the die-hard regime.

Unless decision-makers in Washington can turn the North into a politically symbolic model state
in the heart of a denuclearized peninsula, they should instead begin to listen to those in favor of ending the life of Kim, who has mistaken himself for a feudal king, as a seminal example of achieving a nuclear-free world.

By Byong-Chul Lee Senior Fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul. Asia Sentinel

The Cold War Origin of Asia's Troubled Waters

It all goes back to the end of WWII

It is ironic that the prosperity and economic interdependence of East Asia are littered with territorial disputes stretching from the northeast to southwest. Just as recent tensions caused by territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the Diaoyu/ Senkaku Islands appeared to be receding, on Nov. 1, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the Kurile Islands, which both Russia and Japan claim, the first ever for a Russian leader.

Added to that, in July, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton proclaimed in the Asean Regional Forum that the US “has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” which is viewed by China as its 'core interest' and a purely bilateral matter with its Asean disputants. In September, Japan released a Chinese fishing boat captain operating around the Senkakus after 17 days of detention.

In her 2007 book Cold War Frontiers in the Asia-Pacific, Kimie Hara pointed out that all of these disputes could be traced to the peace arrangement at the end of the Pacific War. Japan renounced territories acquired under its vast empire, but did not specify to which country it renounced these territories. These problems were unacknowledged in the 1951 San Francisco Treaty, as the US purposely lined up these wedges between communist regimes and regional allies in its containment strategy, forming the so-called Acheson Line.

Sixty years on, now that the Cold War has become history, the Acheson Line still divides regional states. Hara reminded us of the common Cold War origin of these problems. Recent actions by states demonstrate that so long as these issues are addressed within frameworks limited to states directly involved in the disputes, they are unlikely to be resolved.

The complicated maritime geography of East Asia, when combined with the self-interests of each state to create the most favorable outcome for itself, means that these disputes are truly related and can breed distrust from non-involved states.

Inter-connectedness of the disputes
The potential of spillover is demonstrated by the fact that when Japan was perceived as 'softening' by releasing the Chinese captain, Russian president Medvedev soon after decided to visit the Northern Territories. Russia's exploitation of Japan's diplomatic weaknesses raised political tension with Japan, which viewed China and Russia as teaming up on territorial claims.

It is also noteworthy how Japan, driven by self-interest, employs inconsistent rhetoric towards disputes in the Senkakus and Kuriles. The Kurile Islands are under Russian control. To have any hope of claiming the islands back, they must first be established internationally as disputed territories. Hence the continued Japanese protests against Russia's occupation. By contrast, Japan practically administers the Senkaku Islands, and it does not even recognize the islands as disputed territories.

The longer it can maintain the status quo, the more likely its control will be internationally recognized through the principle of 'acquisitive prescription.'

China's claims in the South and East China Seas are equally inconsistent. It applies the principle of natural prolongation in the East China Sea to claim the entire continental shelf up to the Okinawa Trough, while opposing the application of the same principle by Malaysia and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

As seen in their Cold War origins and contemporary developments, these disputes are mutually related. If we are to stop this trend of stiffening postures and rising political tensions, a multilateral solution would be the way forward. The US reaffirmation of its position in the South China Sea, namely the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce, may well serve as a starting point to pressure China to make the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea legally binding, and eventually expand it to the whole of East Asia.

In 2011, the US and Russia, on invitation from Asean, are expected to attend the East Asia Summit as members. With all key disputant states included in this regional dialogue, it would be the ideal opportunity of preventive diplomacy for regional maritime stability.

The role of the US
Doubts remain, however, over real US intentions to mediate these disputes. Just as the Acheson Line was constructed for the purpose of containing communist regimes, its contemporary significance is for the US to constrain the rise of China. Recall Henry Kissinger's comments on Nixon's US-China-USSR triangular diplomacy: In the analysis of Nixon and his advisers, so long as China had more to fear from the Soviet Union than it did from the United States, China's self-interest would impel it to cooperate with the United States… America's bargaining position would be stronger when America was closer to both communist giants than either was to the other.

Substitute the Soviet Union for China, and China for its neighbors such as Japan and Asean, and you get to where we are today. If the risk to the US was an ideological one in the past, then today it is Beijing's 'calculative security strategy:' one that combines economic growth and good international relations with continued military modernization. For the US, these disputes could be played up from time to time to counter China's charm offensive.

However, while US power has declined, Chinese power still falls short. If these disputes are viewed as zero-sum game in bilateral contexts, then linking them with other agendas might lead to possibilities that have not been explored, and the US is uniquely well placed to lead the process. Its political and military power is the last resort for ensuring that disputes do not escalate to alarming levels. Asean states rush to bandwagon with China economically while wanting the US to play the role of security guarantor.

China meanwhile needs the US to prevent Japanese remilitarization. In turn, China's naval modernization is used to justify continued the US military presence in Okinawa. US attitudes towards security issues with Russia, such as NATO expansion and US presence in Central Asia, could also affect Russian posture in Asia.

The chain of disputes, as a Cold War legacy, is like a chronic disease that might shadow the region for the foreseeable future. The US, as its primary architect, could either use its influence as an offshore balancer to help achieve mutual concessions through a multilateral context, or go down the path of Kissinger's realpolitik and use them for political bargaining, risking unpredictable escalating feedback between these disputes.

Asia Sentinel by Andy Yee Hong Kong-based writer and a former researcher for the political section of the European Union Delegation to China in Beijing. He blogs at Global Voices Online

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Indonesia: “Christianisation” and Intolerance


Untuk membaca Media Release ini di bahasa Indonesia, silakan klik di sini.
Jakarta/Brussels, 24 November 2010: The Indonesian government needs a strategy to address growing religious intolerance, particularly in areas where hardline Islamists and Christian evangelicals are competing for the same ground.

Indonesia: “Christianisation” and Intolerance,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the impact of clashing fundamentalisms, using a series of incidents in Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta, as a case study. Islamists fear “Christianisation” - a term that generally refers both to Christian efforts to convert Muslims and the alleged growing influence of Christianity in Muslim-majority Indonesia - and use it as a justification for mass mobilisation and vigilante attacks. Aggressive proselytising by Protestant evangelical groups in Muslim strongholds has exacerbated the problem.

“Without a clear strategy, mob rule prevails”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser. “All too frequently officials capitulate to the group that makes the most noise, and the victors are then emboldened to raise the stakes for the next confrontation”.

The briefing looks at the growth of Protestant evangelicalism in West Java and the Islamist backlash. It examines how activities of one organisation in Bekasi, accused by Islamists of luring the Muslim poor into conversion, fuelled the rise of an “anti-apostasy” coalition that since 2008 has tried to force its will on the local government with occasional success. It has been particularly active in trying to prevent the construction of churches.

A violent clash in Bekasi in September ignited a debate over whether in the interests of freedom of religion, a national regulation requiring community support for the construction of houses of worship should be abolished. While many Muslims, Islamist and mainstream alike, back the decree, so do many Balinese Hindus, Protestant Papuans and other groups worried about Muslim migration to traditionally non-Muslim areas.

“Officials and legislators talk of the need for ‘religious harmony’, but there is a sense that this can be legislated or even imposed”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “Instead it will require some of the wisest heads in Indonesia to understand the sources of tension and come up with policies that can change attitudes and decrease confrontation”.

“Christianisation” also has the potential to become a driver of violent extremism. In 2008, members of a non-violent anti-apostasy group in Palembang, South Sumatra, were radicalised after a fugitive terrorist persuaded them to try to kill pastors aiming to convert Muslims rather than just railing against them. Several men currently on trial for participating in a terrorist training camp broken up in February 2010 have said that one factor that led them to join was concern about “Christianisation” in Aceh.

“The potential of the ‘Christianisation’ issue to bring non-violent and violent Islamists together is just one more reason why the problem of growing intolerance should not be allowed to fester”, says Della-Giacoma.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Philippines Maguindanao Massacre Revisited

A year ago, the biggest massacre of journalists anywhere occurred in the Philippines.

One year ago today, 57 people including 32 journalists and other media professionals were murdered in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao. It was the biggest massacre of journalists anywhere, at any time in history, according to press organizations.

It is questionable, however, if anybody will actually end up being punished for an astonishingly brutal action in which the journalists and others belonging to a convoy carrying the wife and two sisters of a local political candidate were marched out onto a hillside and shot down.

The trial, involving 196 defendants who allegedly were ordered to intercept a convoy carrying the wife and sisters of Esmael Mangagudadatu to register him as a political opponent of Governor Andal Ampatuan and kill everybody in it, is expected to last for years. At least 700 people are to be called to testify, including 200 prosecution witnesses and 300 defense witnesses.

The lead defendant is the Ampatuans' son and the former mayor of Datu Unsay, Andal Ampatuan Jr. The trial has been called "a major test for the rule of law and the fight against impunity in the Philippines" by Reporters Without Borders. Indeed. After Iraq, the Philippines remains the second-most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 68 have been killed in the Philippines. Of those, 63 have never been solved. Two more – Joselito Agustin of DZJZ and Desidario Camangyan of Sunrise FM – two radio stations – have been killed so far in 2010. Thus if history is any guide, the Ampatuans and their fellow defendants may well walk free. The government in Manila has been roundly criticized for allowing Andal Jr. the luxury of an air-conditioned cell with many comforts.

Despite the shocking nature of the Maguindanao massacre, a year later, " the Ampatuans remain a powerful and dangerous force with which to be reckoned. For more than two decades, the Ampatuans operated unchecked by the national police, the military, and the Department of Justice," according to a report titled "They Own the People" which was released last week by Human Rights Watch.

According to the report, the Ampatuan private army is one of as many as 100 scattered around the Philippines. The armies have been condoned by successive national governments as a method of perpetuating themselves in power. However, the report notes, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allowed them to flourish as never before. Other reports have noted that in particular that voter fraud in Maguindanao played a major role in her second victory as president.

"Despite an initial flurry of activity after the November 23 killings, including some arrests, 126 suspects remain at large and the government's prosecution remains woefully slow and limited," the report continued. "Senior police and military officers who failed to act upon knowledge of Ampatuan crimes have not been investigated; investigations into the source of the family's weapons have lacked transparency and independence; and the national institutions responsible for accountability—the Justice Department, the Ombudsman's Office, and the Commission on Human Rights—have done nothing significant to address the situation. "What can we do?" asked one police officer. "This is an influential family."

Indeed, according to the report, the Ampatuan family and the private army they controlled have continued to kill almost with impunity. One member of the family's militia told Human Rights Watch he had killed a witness to the shootings with a grenade launcher. After he gave is statement, the militiaman was shot and killed on June 14, while awaiting inclusion in the government witness program.

"Amidst fears the perpetrators of this atrocity may escape justice, family, colleagues and media and human rights groups both in the Philippines and around the world are mobilizing to ensure the world remembers what happened," wrote Elisabeth Witchell, an impunity campaign consultant for the Committee to protect Journalists.

In an investigation titled Impunity On Trial in the Philippines and written by Shawn A. Crispin, the CPJ "has uncovered a disturbing repetition of the pattern seen in previous cases, one that has allowed the killers of Philippine journalists to go free time and again. Even as the Maguindanao case is being described by a top government official as a "litmus test" for the judicial system, CPJ has found that victims' families have been approached with bribes, witnesses have been intimidated and subjected to deadly violence, law enforcement officials have failed to coordinate activities, and forensic investigations have been deeply flawed."

President Benigno Aquino III, who was elected to replace Arroyo in June, has asked the court to allow live media coverage of the trial, saying that live media coverage of the Maguindanao massacre hearing would "be educational for the rest of the people to find out what actually transpired, the reasons behind the atrocity, and what steps should be done to prevent the same from happening again." Aquino also issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 23 as a National Day of Remembrance for the victims.

"I call on the Filipino people to solemnly bear the departed in their thoughts, and for all the citizens from all walks of life to commit, in solidarity, to the quest for justice for the victims," Aquino said. Asia Sentinel

Monday, November 22, 2010

India's Kashmir Quagmire

Kashmir reaps the whirlwind after the Indian state sows the wind

The imposition of draconian laws in the Kashmir Valley since 1991, like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Security Act, has enlarged the writ of security forces at the cost of civilian administration.

Under the cover of these laws, which give security personnel wide powers to to fire indiscriminately, arrest and search on mere suspicion, they have committed murder, torture and rape. The present impasse, where women and even children chant the slogan, "Go India Go" and pelting security forces with stones, is the result of crimes committed by the Indian security establishment since their deployment in the valley. In other words, it is an outburst of long-awaited anger of an oppressed people against their oppressors.

The impasse has proved profitable for separatists and secessionists. Although leaders like Syed Ali Shah Gilani and Mirwaiz Farookh had been losing ground, the current situation has provided them much-needed oxygen to politically reactivate themselves. Syed Ali Shah Gilani has acted as a spokesman of the Kashmiri people, calling the shots and dictating every plan of action through a self-drafted "protest calendar." He has managed to internationalize the Kashmir issue through his acts.

The loser in this whole saga is the Indian government, which has failed to contain what the Kashmiris call "uprising". The government's faulty policies have resulted in the failure to psychologically integrate the Kashmiris with India. Instead of using political methods to resolve the problems, its insistence on the use of coercive power has aggravated them.

Two dominant views which persist in the valley around which the separatists and secessionists leaders plan their political activities are first, to become a sovereign country by including the Pakistani side of Kashmir and also the part which had been ceded to China by Pakistan, and second, to merge with Pakistan. But both views are wrong. It would not be possible for Kashmiris to get justice, for which they are struggling, in either circumstance.

Hypothetically, if Kashmir were to win independence and become a sovereign nation, it would become a sandwich state between India, China and Pakistan. The Kashmiris may give examples of many states which have been carved out of big countries and are doing well. But they must acknowledge the fact that those countries had not found themselves surrounded by three powerful polities, each of which seeks to exercise territorial claims over it. Two of them have an extremely tense relationship with India and vice-versa. The Kashmir valley provides a strategic edge for Pakistan and China against India and vice-versa. In such a situation it would seem impossible for them to not interfere in "sovereign" Kashmir and establish their influence. In any case, neither Pakistan nor China is willing to agree to give up their side of Kashmir to fulfill the wishes of those who want to have an independent state.

The second hypothesis is for Kashmir to become a part of Pakistan. It would also lose badly. The Pakistani side of Kashmir is the most neglected part of the country. Many sub-national movements since 1950s have fought for independence from Pakistan. People from Gilgit-Baltistan and Mirpur are fighting a silent battle against the Pakistani political and military establishments. The so called Azad (independent) Kashmir is not azad. Rather it has been the victim of deliberate negligence due to a callous attitude towards this region on the part of Islamabad. The region today is governed by a minister in charge of Kashmir affairs from Islamabad. It continues to suffer despite the fact that the Pakistani government earns considerable foreign remittances sent by Mirpuris abroad to their relatives. Their resources are being exploited and used by the Punjabi elites.

Thus the best option for the Kashmiris is to fight for their rights and justice within India. They must realize that there are many sympathetic people in India who are ready to fight for their cause. They must not support the causes of separatists, whose leadership has given them nothing except problems.

As an ostensibly modern, civilized and responsible institution, the Indian government's best course would be to try seriously to end the ongoing impasse through political means. That requires addressing the grievances of the common people and psychologically integrating them into India.

To proceed towards this, the government must call on all sections of the political and non-political leadership, including the separatists, to hold a constructive dialogue. Second, the draconian laws like the armed forces special powers and public security acts must be revoked and the security forces must be sent back to their barracks. Third, all political prisoners must be unconditionally released. Fourth, whoever has committed or indulged in crimes under the cover of the two acts must be tried and, if found guilty, severely punished. Fifth, setting up a committee to hold dialogue with every segment of the Kashmiri population would be a good move although it must be given teeth. Without the presence of a major political figure, its report is certain to be inconsequential like the many other committees set up prior to it. Finally, engaging Pakistan is a must for a permanent solution. Most important, Indian civil society, as a responsible organ of democracy, must come out in support of the Kashmiri people and pressure the government to change its coercive policies. Asia Sentinel

China perspective - A river flows through here

THE word “Dickensian” is often bandied about in descriptions of China’s hell-for-leather modernisation. The back-breaking labour; the social dislocation; the throat-rasping air pollution: much that China has experienced in the past three decades was chronicled in the 19th century by Charles Dickens, writing about Britain’s own industrial revolution.

But seldom can the term have had such a direct parallel as in the extraordinary story, reported by the BBC, of Wei Xinping, a man who makes his living plying the Yellow River in search of corpses. In seven years, he has found 500 dead bodies. Some he has turned to a profit, by charging families for a chance to identify their dead loved ones, or for taking them home. They were, according to the report, suicides, murder victims or accidental deaths—those “swept away” in the rush for growth.

The Dickensian echo is the first chapter of “Our Mutual Friend”, where the novel’s heroine, Lizzie Hexham, helps her father retrieve a corpse from the Thames, London’s river. This, it emerges, is his livelihood. The book is a sort of allegory of the perils of greed; or, at the national level, of the dangers of a race for growth that forgets its purpose is to improve human life.
By banyan, the Economist

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Chinese Learning Deficit

It is widely believed that China is engaged in extensive intelligence operations targeting the United States. And yet, remarkably, it refuses to learn from common knowledge about the United States’ experience as the world’s only super power. This learning deficit has serious consequences for China and the rest of the world.

It is well-known that the US policy of using extremist Islamic regimes as proxies against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan has boomeranged.

China refuses to learn from the United States’ experience in this regard.

In its rush to the global summit, China is destabilizing the international system by supporting regimes it would love to disappear when it reaches the top.

By using Pakistan to tie down India and North Korea to keep Japan and South Korea engaged, China is encouraging regimes that won’t turn law-abiding if and when China achieves global dominance (whatever that means in this age of long-range nuclear missiles). Iran, Burma and Sudan are other instances of myopic Chinese foreign policy.

These countries will prove to be a headache for China in four ways.

First, just as Pakistan is presenting the United States with one of its most important challenges, these countries will divert China’s attention from more important global issues, including the fight against climate change.

Second, these regimes will join China’s opponents once it starts exerting pressure upon them to behave.

Third, almost 65 percent of China’s territory is populated by ethnic minorities. In many cases, these groups have not been completely overwhelmed by Han settlers and tensions continues to simmer.

In this context, an unpredictable Burma that borders upon Tibet could potentially encourage the independence of the Tibetan ethnic minority.

And while Pakistan-based or Iran-sponsored Islamic extremists have not yet launched a major attack on Xinjiang, this does not guarantee a future free from internal violence and unrest.

Fourth, political repression and economic distress makes such states potential sources of humanitarian refugees. China may end up hosting millions of refugees if the situation in North Korea or Burma deteriorates.

More broadly, China’s support of rogue regimes affects the world in at least three ways.

First, it encourages the emergence of such regimes in other countries by reducing the expected impact of international sanctions, which in turn discourages domestic opposition to such regimes.

Muted domestic opposition further limits the options available to the international community, which in turn gives negative feedback to domestic opposition, ultimately, forcing the country into a low-level equilibrium trap.

Second, the neighbors of rogue regimes are compelled to follow a policy of appeasement to limit China’s influence across their borders, which in turn bolsters these regimes and further reduces the expected impact of international sanctions, making domestic dissent costlier.

Look at India’s quiet but unwavering support of Myanmar’s junta to counter Chinese influence.

Third, sooner or later countries at the receiving end of the Chinese policy of encirclement will respond, in kind, in China’s neighbourhood, completing the vicious circle.

The myopia of China’s foreign policy is compounded by an empathy deficit. Here, again, China has missed the lessons the United States has to offer.

Its foreign policy mandarins seem to be effectively operating on the belief that, while the Chinese love to be rich, the North Koreans love to wallow in poverty; the Chinese love to get Fields Medals and Nobel Prizes (in sciences), whereas the Pakistanis love to wallow in medievalism.

China risks engendering a popular backlash in these countries, akin to the backlash stimulated by US foreign policy during the Cold War, which assumed that the West Asians and Pakistanis do not like or need democracy.

It is not yet too late for China to mend its problems.

China can still take heed of the United States’ current problems and reverse its myopic policy of subsidizing perverse regimes in resource-rich, strategically important countries that disregard their own people.

By doing so, it will not only promote global stability by coming to the aid of millions suffering under these regimes but will also make its life as a potential global power easier.

But unfortunately, China seems to be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the United States.

This is because reversing its policy abroad would affect China’s domestic political scene, where the Communist Party is steadfast in the belief that political liberalization can wait.

By Vikas Kumar independent researcher based in Bangalore. East Asia Forum

Malaysia’s Anwar is no Suu Kyi

OPPOSITION leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is in Australia this week, speaking on social justice, democracy and his own legal woes.
He also addressed the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar opposition politician, declaring that her release would mean nothing until she was permitted to take her place as the elected leader of her country.

Anwar used Suu Kyi's release to attract attention to his own political problems, arguing that Australia ought to speak out in the face of atrocities in Myanmar and Malaysia.

"But I think they're ill-advised if they proceed in this way. I'm not suggesting that (the Australian government) should interfere, but they should express their views and promote civil society. As a vibrant democracy, they've a duty.
"But I think the issues of democracy, human rights and rule of law are not something that you can just ignore. But I'm of course appreciative of the fact that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd took time (to meet me), and we had very, very useful discussions on issues affecting both countries, and, of course, my predicament.

"But I always make it a point that they should extend the issue of freedom and human rights. It goes beyond Anwar's personal case."

The problem here is that "Anwar's personal case" is different from Suu Kyi's, and Malaysia's political landscape has little in common with Myanmar's.

Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for "her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights".

Her father, Aung San, who negotiated Myanmar's independence from Britain in 1947, was killed by his political rivals when Suu Kyi was only 2 years old.

When her mother, an ambassador, died in 1989, Suu Kyi dedicated her life to fighting for democracy in Myanmar as her parents had done.

She was active in the country's pro-democracy movement, and, as a result ,was placed under house arrest in 1989; no charges were brought against her and no trial occurred.

Despite her confinement, she won a landslide victory in the 1990 election and would have become prime minister had the military not intervened.

She was released from house arrest on Nov 13. During her confinement, which spanned 15 of the past 21 years, she was usually separated from her family.

She saw her husband, Michael Aris, only five times during the decade that preceded his death. Even former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II could not persuade her captors to allow Aris to join her.

She was also separated from her two sons and lived in less-than-ideal physical conditions, sometimes without access to electricity.

She chose to live under these restraints rather than abandon her pro-democracy work; she was offered freedom in exchange for her leaving her country, but she refused.

If anyone has suffered for the cause of democracy, Suu Kyi has.

Yet Anwar, who has enjoyed the benefits of a trial, a team of lawyers, access to local, national, and international media outlets, his own political party, and the freedom to travel the globe, told Australians this week that "Australia needs to be more pronounced in its support for democracy".

"Otherwise, you have a strong position on Myanmar, but not on the atrocities in Malaysia".

Anwar is no Suu Kyi. Indeed, his actions as the co-founder of a front organisation for the Global Muslim Brotherhood indicate that he is in fact opposed to the democratic ideals she has sacrificed so much for.

In the 1970s and 1980s, while Suu Kyi busied herself with the work that would later imprison her, Anwar served as a trustee for the World Assembly of Asian Youth.

The Pew Forum, which conducts surveys and demographic analyses, describes the assembly as being so intertwined with the Muslim Brotherhood (an Islamist transnational movement and the largest political opposition organisation in many Arab states) that it is difficult to tell them apart.

In 2002, Suu Kyi took advantage of a brief respite from imprisonment to continue her work on behalf of Myanmar freedom.

Anwar's International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) was named in a class-action suit brought on behalf of 9/11 families and survivors against organisations that helped fund radical Islamism.

In 2007, when Suu Kyi made her first state media address in the four years since her then current confinement had begun, the Muslim Brotherhood named Anwar's IIIT in a list of 29 of "our organisations and the organisations of our friends".

Though Anwar clearly equates his own political and legal troubles in Malaysia to the human rights abuses Suu Kyi has worked to end in Myanmar, no one else should.

Anwar and Suu Kyi may both be political opposition leaders in their respective nations, but their similarities end there.

North Korea Report Validates Concern

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that a report by a visiting American scientist that North Korea has built a new plant to enrich uranium lends “very visible life” to his simmering worries about that country’s nuclear ambitions.

He said that American leaders have long assumed that North Korea continued “to head in the direction of additional nuclear weapons,” and a report in The New York Times on Sunday that Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was recently allowed to view a new and sophisticated plant for enriching uranium bolstered that assumption.

“This validates a long-standing concern we’ve had with regard to North Korea and its enrichment of uranium,” he said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour.”

The new plant, whose modernistic technology, rich collection of centrifuges and up-to-date control room astonished Dr. Hecker, did not exist in the spring of 2009, just before international weapons inspectors were thrown out of the country. While North Korea has already tested two atomic bombs and produced other nuclear weapons, those were manufactured from the spent fuel harvested from a nuclear reactor, not from enriched uranium.

North Korea insists the uranium is intended for a reactor that would generate electricity. American officials, however, believe the Communist regime there is focused on building more nuclear weapons and fear that without any capacity to inspect, they cannot know for certain.

North Korea is already being punished for flouting inspections with sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The Obama administration’s new verbal campaign may be intended to pressure China, North Korea’s most important patron.

However, Admiral Mullen did not express confidence that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, would respond to new pressures.

“He blows hot and cold,” Admiral Mullen said, adding later that the North Korean leader was “predictable in his unpredictability.” “He moves in a certain direction and then reverts, and I certainly would see him in his reversion mode at this particular point in time.”

Admiral Mullen also sought to prop up President Obama’s effort to secure ratification of an arms control treaty with Russia — the so-called New Start — by a two-thirds majority of the United States Senate. The prospects of knitting together that majority seemed to collapse last week when Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the chief Republican negotiator in the Senate on the arms issue, said he would block a vote on the pact in the current lame-duck session of Congress.

The treaty would force both countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals and resume inspections that lapsed last year for the first time since the Cold War.

Clearly targeting his remarks to Republican misgivings about a new treaty, Admiral Mullen said he was “completely comfortable with where we are militarily” and feared only that without a treaty the United States cannot verify Russian claims about paring its arsenal. He called ratification of a treaty an urgent “national security issue of great significance.”

“We’re close to one year without any ability to verify what’s going on in Russia,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” reinforced his position, noting that Russia has “thousands of nuclear warheads pointed at the United States,” and that from the Reagan administration on, arms controls treaties “have been overwhelmingly passed.”

Both Admiral Mullen and Mrs. Clinton tried to clarify how long the Obama administration intends to keep American troops in Afghanistan. They said that American units would slowly turn over leadership in combat operations to the Afghan army starting in the spring, but the goal is not to cede that combat role completely until the end of 2014. Afterwards, Americans would continue to advise, equip and train the Afghan army, both said. New York Times

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Donald Friend a self-confessed pederast in Bali and Kerry Negara’s Controversial Film ‘A Loving Friend’

A hot topic: Through her self-funded film entitled A Loving Friend, which was screened recently at the 2010 Brisbane International Film Festival, Kerry Negara wishes to create a national debate in Australia, about the National Library of Australia publishing the names of certain Balinese men who, in their childhood, worked as houseboys in the Sanur home of the famous Australian artist and self-confessed pederast Donald Friend, during the years he lived in Bali. The video-journalist Kerry Negara, presented her self-funded film entitled A Loving Friend at the 2010 Brisbane International Film Festival, which concluded in mid November. She started this long-term project in 2004 using borrowed cameras. Her friend John Doggett-Williams lent a helping hand with editing and script vision.

Through this film Kerry wishes to create a national debate in Australia, about the National Library of Australia publishing the names of certain Balinese men who, in their childhood, worked as houseboys in the Sanur home of the famous Australian artist Donald Friend, during the years he lived in Bali — 1967 until 1979. These years were described by Australian artist, John Olsen at the book launch at the National Library of Australia, as Friend’s “halcyon days”. Friend bequeathed his diaries to the National Library on the condition that they would publish them. He died in 1989 at the age of 74, and his illustrated diaries took eight years to prepare for publication. They were published in four volumes and the fourth volume(2006) contains The Bali Diaries.

The problem for Kerry Negara is that Donald Friend was a self-confessed pederast.

His eloquently written diaries describe, quite openly, his pleasure engaging in sexual activities with boys who he states in his writings, are between the ages of nine and 12 at the time. This was against Balinese law of the time and also Australian law.

Kerry, who is also a mother, is understandably angry. Not only are Friend’s illegal sexual activities a reminder of the behavior of well-known Western artists in Bali in the 1930s and 1940s, but the Australian art establishment’s remarkable silence on this facet of Friend’s personality, comes across as tacit approval. She also wants the National Library to account for its negligence in not having suppressed the boys’ names, as it would have been required by law to do, if the events had taken place in Australia. If and when a second edition is published, she wants them to suppress the names.

The National Library of Australia made no effort to trace the Balinese men involved to ask permission to use their names. Kerry and her producer were able to easily track down several of the men concerned and interview them. One man who is often mentioned in the diaries, was embarrassed and distressed about the fact that no one had asked his permission. “I am the one losing out. I wish that book had never been published and I don’t want it to be published again. I wish it could be destroyed,” he said.

While talking to Kerry on camera, emotional conflict and memories caused another man to sob in a most heartbreaking way. He was a nine-year-old orphan Friend wanted to adopt. Friend invited him to live in his house as a son, without requiring him to work. His schooling was paid for, but he was not spared the sexual advances.
“He was able to do it, because they were poor. For several years I have interviewed many people and I simply cannot understand their attitudes to the sex passages,” said Kerry Negara. “My film is not questioning Donald Friend’s artistic talent. It is about his pedophilia and the failure of the art establishment in Australia to confront this issue.” In the film Kerry Negara interviews people living in Bali, expatriates and Balinese, some of whom knew Friend when he was in Bali, and art world figures in Australia, including the editors and publishers of the diaries. Some attitudes are contradictory or ill-defined, so she
included her questions to her interviewees in the film, as she did not want anyone saying they had been quoted out of context.

Paul Hetherington of the National Library of Australia said, “Donald Friend did not see himself as limited by traditional Judeo-Christian values.” Friend was described by Barry Pearce, the head curator of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as having “an ebullient, artistic personality, daunting, witty, and at times devastatingly sarcastic. He was not a pedophile,” said Pearce. The very famous Australian Barry Humphries, actor, comedian, writer and social commentator (the “Edna Everage” character) described Friend’s way of life as “benevolent pedophilia”. An arts writer Frank Campbell said “he is an untried criminal, guilty according to his own written word,” and points out that Friend wrote in his diary, that he “might end up a scrofulous, despicable old menace to youth, spending his last years in jail.” Warwick Purser, a businessman in Indonesia told Kerry on camera that
Donald liked young men who were 18, 19, or 20 years of age. When asked if he had read the diaries, he said yes. James Murdoch, an art historian who knew Friend during the Bali time, says “The reality is the boys seduced him.”

It’s clear that Friend was a gifted draughtsman with a sensual eye for beauty, which translated into his beautiful artworks, exhibited in respected galleries in Bali and Australia. “The whole body of my work is about enjoyment,” he wrote. “My privately mumbled prayer, half excuse, half manifesto, goes up to the God of inverts: If I resist I am sent mad, and if I indulge, I am still unhappy. Then grant me as much love as possible and I’ll do my best not to harm anyone.”

He was described as “very kind” by some. He assisted the Balinese boys with money to attend school, gave them work, board and lodging, and brought one boy to Australia in 1972 to have surgical treatment. Some of the “boys” (now middle-aged men), spoke of his drinking, and frightening unpredictable behavior, and requests for intimacy. Sometimes there were up to 20 boys living at his Sanur home. A courageous woman: Kerry Negara films in Ubud, Bali.A courageous woman: Kerry Negara films in Ubud, Bali. He returned to Melbourne in 1979, writing “I have no more faith in the place”, but actually according to Negara he was more or less forced to leave. In his last years after returning from Bali, Friend turned to painting fruit in still-life works, and joked wryly that “they gave less trouble, and you can eat them later. Mangophilia!”

Negara says the Art Gallery curators in Australia no longer consent to speak to her. She has tried to sell her film to both ABC, and SBS Television channels in Australia, but so far it has been declined. However it has been screened at the Melbourne and Canberra Film Festivals as well as Brisbane Film Festival, and she is preparing a version for Al Jazeera TV. The film has cost her money, she has unpaid bills, and she has received a lot of hate-mail. “There are a lot of vested interests concerned with Friend’s reputation, both in Bali and Australia,” she says. The National Library of Australia has not commented on the issues she has raised, and no apology has been given to the Balinese men whose names were published in the diaries. When told she was a brave woman, she said, “Well it’s about the
children isn’t it? I don’t know whether I am brave, or crazy, but I just had to do it. Once I start something I have to finish it.”

Kerry’s previous film was called Done Bali, The title is meant to be ironic, because she’d heard so many tourists saying “We’ve done Bali” as if ticking the island’s name off a list of travel destinations. The film was about the creation of the Bali Paradise, Island of the Gods myth, which draws tourists there in the first place. Kerry said that since her film A Loving Friend has been shown in Australia, paradoxically, the price of Friend’s art has gone up.

Kerry first visited Bali in 1980. She married a Balinese, Ida Bagus Sunia Negara, in 1986 and they have two grown up daughters. The Bali diaries of Donald Friend can be found at www.books.google.co.idCynthia Webb, Contributor, Brisbane, Australia