Monday, January 31, 2011

Dateline Jakarta: Welcome to Indonesia — or Not? Xenophobia Rears Its Ugly Head

I didn’t stand in line last week to buy tickets to Justin Bieber’s upcoming concert in Jakarta. I would, however, consider lining up for a chance to slap him across the face. Call me mean, but I simply can’t stand the kid’s wind-swept hair and button nose.

But then again, I should be praising Bieber for wanting to perform here in front of his Indonesian fans. Hopefully it will serve as a catalyst for other big-name acts to play Jakarta, further enhancing the capital and Indonesia’s reputation internationally as a great place to visit.

Of course, the dark forces against such an open-door policy remain alive and well. So does the historic xenophobia that prompts politicians to occasionally blast foreigners and blame them for all of Indonesia’s problems, which helps explain the country’s dismal tourism figures.

The latest such tirade came from Patrialis Akbar, the minister of justice and human rights. Patrialis matter-of-factly declared last week that it was a foreigner’s fault that convicted tax cheat Gayus Tambunan was able to leave Indonesia at will last year on a fake passport while he was supposed to have been in jail awaiting trial for corruption.

Yes, of course, it’s not the fault of the police guards who accepted bribes, or the immigration officials who allowed Gayus to leave the country. No, it was some unknown American’s fault for allegedly helping to get him a fake passport. And this alleged scoundrel, John Jerome Grice, who also allegedly had a bogus foreign residency sponsor, has left the country.

The Indonesian government’s attempts to nab Grice by contacting Interpol and requesting a “red flag” be issued against him are laughable. As if this guy matters in the big picture, which in Gayus’s case is massive collusion and corruption among the National Police, state prosecutors, a court judge and tax-evading big business.

Perhaps if Patrialis focused his energies on getting back all those fugitive Indonesian business tycoons who robbed the country of billions during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and then fled to Singapore, the country’s child malnutrition and poverty rates would be lower. Of course, that would require senior government officials to take responsibility for the mind-boggling corruption, injustices and impunity that are occurring with increasing frequency in Indonesia as its democracy and anticorruption drives flounder.

Instead, Patrialis says he’s going to launch a crackdown on foreigners working in Indonesia — as if expats are the source of everything that ails the country. I’m looking forward to any new regulations, apparently with the minister personally reviewing every one of the tens of thousands of foreign work permits.

Actually, none of them are legitimate. That’s because every foreigner working in Indonesia has to pay "fees" to obtain a visa and work permit. This is one of the worst-kept secrets in Indonesia. Perhaps Patrialis would be better served by continuing to root out the graft within the Directorate General of Immigration than targeting foreigners, which of course will only create more opportunities for government officials to demand bribes.

And what do foreign residents get in return? Well, they get to live in a country where they are publicly blamed for its problems. They get to live in one of the most polluted capital cities in Asia. They get to endure having their wives and girlfriends sexually harassed on the streets and in taxis. They get to tell their children that they can’t play outside because they fear them either getting run over by a motorcycle or kidnapped. And they get to go to shopping malls, hotels and their embassies with a feeling in the back of their minds that they could be blown up by terrorists.

Patrialis also said he would examine all documents submitted by foreigners applying for Indonesian citizenship. Given the stringent requirements, I doubt that will take up much of the minister’s time, but he asserted that he will reject any applicant who doesn’t show a “love for the country.”

Fair enough, but I think that should also apply to people everywhere. So do the tens of thousands of Indonesians living in my country, the United States, love America? While they’re enjoying one of the highest living standards in the world, financed in part by my tax dollars, are they working to make America a better place?

Maybe Patrialis misspoke, or maybe he was misunderstood. Regardless, his comments were widely reported in the media. And while they won’t prompt foreign tourists to cancel their holidays to Indonesia, such targeting is not going to help the tourism industry, while the industry needs all the help it can get.

Indonesia’s neighbor Malaysia received more than 26 million visitors in 2010, while Indonesia received less than seven million. And the clear majority of foreign visitors who come to Indonesia on holiday go to Bali. It should be a source of national chagrin that the most popular tourist attraction in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation is a Hindu island.

So what to do? Indonesia still doesn’t realize the benefits of tourism and foreign labor talent, unlike another of its neighbors, Singapore, which had more than 11 million visitors in 2010. Singapore and Malaysia throw a lot of time, money and effort into promoting themselves internationally, while Indonesia leaves its reputation to the whims of foreign correspondents based here.

India has gotten in on the act with its “Amazing India” campaign. Can we have something, anything, here, like “Awesome Indonesia,” “Intrepid Indonesia” or even “Indonesia: Why Not?” Or does the country, deep down, not want too many tourists here, or does it not see their value beyond squeezing dollars out of them?

If this is the case, there needs to be a complete rethink, starting with the realization that the Ministry of Tourism isn’t doing the job and should be replaced by a tourism authority run by private-sector experts. The last thing Indonesia needs in its tourism industry is politics.

But finally, the country needs to shake its historic xenophobia, which hopefully will come with time as it consolidates its democratic system. And if the result is welcoming more performers like Justin Bieber to Jakarta — silly hair and all — there could be a lot worse things to endure.

By Joe Cochrane contributing editor for the Jakarta Globe.

Aung San Suu Kyi (virtually) at Davos

UNABLE to come herself last week to the annual world business leaders’ knees-up at Davos in Switzerland, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s democracy movement, got to address the assembled grandees by audio link instead (or read the text here). The timing, on Friday January 28th, was significant. It might have been Davos week, but it was also just a few days before the opening of Myanmar’s first parliament in the country’s new purpose-built capital, Naypyidaw.

The country’s military rulers would have people believe that the new parliament, along with November’s general elections—not to mention the release of Miss Suu Kyi herself from house arrest—all signify a democratic transition under way.

Miss Suu Kyi, however, mentioned none of the above to her Davos audience. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), believes that the whole show is a sham, designed to curry support for a repressive military regime that in fact has no intention of fundamentally changing its ways. Indeed, as if to prove the point, that very same day, on January 28th, Myanmar’s highest court threw out an appeal against the government’s dissolution of the NLD as a political party. The NLD had been banned for refusing to take part in what it regarded as the fraudulent elections in November.

Instead, Miss Suu Kyi’s remarks dwelt on the economic hardships that her people have been experiencing, and her own sense of isolation during her years under house arrest. She pointed out how far Myanmar has fallen behind other countries, and how economic integration with the rest of the world is now necessary. Before the junta, when the independent country was still called Burma, its prospects for trade and prosperity looked as rich as any in South-East Asia.

Intriguingly, Miss Suu Kyi asked for more investment in technology and infrastructure, but said that investors “should pay close attention to the costs and collateral damage of our development, whether environmental or social.” Furthermore, she urged “those who have invested or who are thinking of investing in Burma to put a premium on respect for law, on environmental and social factors, on the rights of workers, on job creation and on the promotion of technological skills.”

There is a very lively debate going on among pro-democracy activists as to whether it is yet time to call for the end of sanctions by Western countries; but I don’t think these comments of Miss Suu Kyi’s were aimed at the foreign governments.

Rather, I think she was speaking to Chinese, Thai and other Asian investors who are coming in and, by all accounts, doing great damage to many of Myanmar’s minority communities and to its environmental resources—the Chinese in particular. I don’t expect Miss Suu Kyi’s appeals to change things very much, but I hope it focuses fresh attention on the misdeeds of those investors who are already operating in Myanmar. The Economist

CHINA - Fact-checking Hu Jintao

Hu's counting

DURING his state visit to America last week, President Hu Jintao of China offered some familiar banalities and worthy pieties, as this week’s Banyan remarks. But he also made a couple of hard, quantitative claims. In a speech on January 20th, President Hu said that cheap inexpensive imports from China had saved American consumers $600 billion over the past decade (2001-2010) and that exports to China had created over 14m jobs around the world.

Those figures were probably provided by the Ministry of Commerce, but I’ve no idea how they were calculated. (The figure of 14m jobs made an earlier appearance in a 2009 piece in the People’s Daily.) In this blogpost and a sequel, I’ll see if I can make sense of President Hu’s arithmetic.

I’ve received great help in this endeavour from Raphael Auer of the Swiss National Bank and Princeton University. In a paper* last year with Andreas Fischer, also of the Swiss National Bank, Mr Auer estimated the impact of low-wage competition on 325 American manufacturing industries—everything from cat food to artificial funeral wreaths.

Isolating the effect of foreign competition on prices can be tricky. If American demand goes up, for example, it will drive up prices and suck in imports. One might therefore falsely conclude that more imports equals higher prices.

After dealing with this problem, Messrs Auer and Fischer estimate that whenever Chinese imports increase their market share by 1 percentage point, American producer prices fall by 2.5%, a more pronounced effect than many previous studies had found.
According to Mr Auer, China claimed a 3.7% share of the average market in 2001, rising to 8.6% in 2006, when their data end. Imports from the Middle Kingdom have grown by about 28% in the four years since, even as America’s total imports have grown by only 4%. So let’s assume that China has enlarged its share of America’s manufacturing markets to 10.6%.

That would mean that China’s penetration of American markets has increased by 6.9 percentage points from 2001 to 2010 or 0.69 points a year. If each point reduces prices by 2.5%, then this expansion has cut prices by about 1.7% a year.

What does that add up to in dollars and cents? American manufacturing sales averaged $4,512 billion a year in the last decade, according to the Annual Survey of Manufactures, including over $13 billion of cat and dog food in 2005. The calculations above suggest these shipments might have cost $4,590 billion if China had failed to encroach on these markets. This implies savings of about $78 billion a year, or $780 billion over the decade.

This is all heroically back-of-the-envelope stuff. But by this reckoning, President Hu’s estimate looks quite plausible, even conservative. In my next post, I’ll look at his claim that exports to China have created more than 14m jobs around the world.
* "The effect of low-wage import competition on U.S. inflationary pressure," Journal of Monetary Economics, May 2010
The Economist

Myanmar Opens Parliament for First Time Since the ’80s

Myanmar’s ruling generals on Monday convened the first meeting of Parliament in more than two decades, a move they say completes the impoverished country’s transition to a multiparty democracy.

Reporters were barred from the Parliament building when the session was convened Monday morning under tight security in the capital, Naypyidaw, the Associated Press reported.

Officially the opening of the two-chamber Parliament will mean the dissolution of the junta that has ruled Myanmar since 1988, when the country was known as Burma.
But it does not appear to be the dawn of unfettered democracy. A quarter of the seats are reserved for the military, and a military-backed party controls more than 80 percent of the rest, allowing the generals to effectively retain their power, albeit in a less hierarchical system.

“The military is staying in control, but some of them are taking off their uniforms,” said Win Min, a professor at Payap University in Thailand who is on leave in the United States.

One key question is whether Myanmar’s top general, Than Shwe, will become president, the most powerful job under the new Constitution, but one that would require him to resign as commander in chief.

Gen. Than Shwe, who has successfully crushed uprisings and purged potential rivals inside the military during his nearly two decades in power, turns 78 on Wednesday, according to a government booklet published three decades ago. (The military government has been so secretive that even the birthday of the country’s top leader is not known with certainty.)

Myanmar’s new system will resemble a democracy more in form than in substance, analysts say, but with the possibility of more debate and inclusiveness than under the junta’s top-down rule. Myanmar’s news media in exile has reported that questions in Parliament must be submitted by members 10 days in advance and pass a vetting process.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of open, democratic governance during these first five years,” said Priscilla A. Clapp, who was the chief of mission at the United States Embassy in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002. “But with a system that is so much more complex, inevitably competing centers of power will develop.”

The opening of Parliament, which follows elections in November, is only one of a number of changes inside Myanmar.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the country’s leading dissident, was freed from house arrest a week after the elections and is now seeking to rebuild her pro-democracy movement. The military government, meanwhile, is aggressively selling off buildings, factories and state-run companies, mostly to allies and family members of the country’s military leaders. The rush to privatization vaguely resembles the vast sell-off in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Neighboring countries have responded by pushing harder to end Myanmar’s international isolation, including an effort to lift the economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and other Western countries.

The two chambers of Parliament and representatives from the military will nominate three vice presidents, one of whom will be elected president and choose a cabinet. Names of potential cabinet members circulating in Myanmar in recent days included many of the people who held positions of power under the military government.
Parliament last met in Myanmar under the one-party rule of Gen. Ne Win, who formally retired from politics in 1988 during a time of unrest, but the country has not had a genuine multiparty system since 1962, when the military took power in a coup.
New York Times

Can withering Taiwan engage Asean?

The mood in Taipei today is of concerns and anxieties. Why? The Taiwanese lai bai xing (commoners) feel quiet strongly the soon-to-be the world's largest economy would eventually usurp up their island, known as Taiwan.

Indeed, some of them even concurred that growing economic dependency on the mainland is a kiss of death, which they cannot avoid. Tourists, brides, students, agricultural and manufactured products and huge capital are pouring across the Taiwan Straits all at once. China's purchasing power has undeniably pumped up Taiwan's economy.

Talking to these people on downtown streets yielded a deep sense of indignant. Those live in the more prosperous north prefer Taiwan that can engage without upset the mainland all the time. While their fellow citizens in southern part in the south exhibit fiercer desire for independence. They love to challenge Beijing's authorities from time to time. This prevailing mixed sentiment will determine whether the current leader, President Ma Yingjeou, will have another shot at his presidency when a general election is due next year.

The mood was a stark different from the second term of ex-president Chen Suibien a few years back. At the time, the Taiwanese government was a bit gung ho and was very vocal against the mainlanders, bolstered by strong Washington's backing under the Bush administration. Before Ma came to power in 2008, contacts at all levels between the peoples across the straits were moderate. Since then, there have been unprecedented economic cooperation and other forms of exchanges. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), effective this month, is considered the zenith of their bilateral cooperation.

While Taiwan continues to register high economic growth around eight per cent last year, the dividend of new openness with China has not yet filtered down to the lao bai xing's level. They opined that the increased trade flows and tariff reductions just benefit only big corporations with strong links with the government and the ruling party, Kuomingtang (KMT).

Of late, media reports and analysis acknowledged that the uneven distribution of income is a cause of great concern for the Ma government, which can in turn block the KMT's return to power if it is not seriously addressed. The outcome of November's municipality election also showed that the KMT was losing its magic, which bought them to power with a landside. Now, President Ma's popularity has fallen to 30 per cent level, as his government was further beset by corruption charges as well as the impacts of sloppy managements of natural disasters in late 2009, which continues to raise the public angst.

Interestingly, Taiwan seriously hopes to use deeper and broader ties with China to lure in Asean members. The ECFA with China, which is likely to include social and cultural matters in the future, Taipei hopes, would be extended to the grouping. Taipei officials are confident that the current China-Taiwan friendship would make the members less recalcitrant to augment economic cooperation with the island, especially in the area of trade and investment. So far, only Singapore has taken up the challenge by holding talks with Taiwan to conclude a similar agreement. The Philippines and Malaysia are also pursuing the same path. Thailand was also approached but the Thai officials were not in the mood.

Since its departure from the United Nations over three decades ago, Taiwan has witnessed their relations with Asean gradually slipping away. Instead the island looks towards the US and Japan as its main allies. Although Taiwanese investments are far larger than the mainland within the region, one-China policy impeded further contacts and prospects for expansion. For instance, the island's plan to become a dialogue partner of Asean since the middle of 1990's has been repeatedly rejected by Asean albeit with huge economic tolls. However, the last two decades also saw the rapid strengthening of all around Asean-China relations, which served as an automatic breaker for Taiwan's diplomatic assertiveness.

Asean members such as Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam understand the benefits of closer ties with Taiwan would bring even though it could raise eyebrows in Beijing. Quite successfully, they have attracted in their own ways the island's direct investment and increased labor quotas. At present, Indonesia has the largest number of workers of nearly 150,000 working in Taiwan. In the past few years, Vietnam has become the No. 1 investment destination for Taiwanese businessmen and the number of Vietnamese workers now ranks No. 2, just a few ten thousands less than Indonesians.

Thailand, which has faithfully pursued the one China policy, has lost out to both countries. On the surface, political uncertainties in Thailand has been the major attribute for the decline of Thailand-Taiwan ties. At a deeper level, there were not sufficient dialogues between the two governments. Successive Thai governments have expressed disdains whenever there were contact initiatives from Taiwan.

Throughout the 1990's, Thailand was the main recipient of Taiwan's largest direct investment, which reached over 10 billion dollars accumulatively last year.

Throughout the past decade, over one hundreds thousands of Thai construction workers went to the island annually. For a record, the famous Taipei101 Tower, the world's second tallest building, was built by the blood, sweats and tears of Thai workers.
Internationally, Taiwan's diplomatic space has expanded a bit due to China's confidence and acquiescence. Question remains whether the island can expand its ties with Asean under the current circumstance. The Nation, Bangkok

The Karmapa and the Cash

Huge foreign currency seizure from a Dharamsala monastery puts Tibet's 3rd highest lama in question

The discovery of more than US$750,000 in foreign currency equivalents in the administration office of the 17th Karmapa Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's third highest religious leader, threatens to tarnish what heretofore has been a heroic golden story and could put the future leadership of the Tibetan religion in doubt.

Many see the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorjee, as a living Buddha as well as the next world Buddhist leader and political successor to the Dalai Lama. The latter defended the 25-year-old lama, telling reporters in Bangalore that "The Karmapa is an important lama, a spiritual leader. People from different parts of the world including many Chinese, come to seek his blessing and offer money." However, the Tibetan leader said, "The foreign and Indian currency should have been deposited in a bank and not kept in cash at the monastery."

Officials in Dharamsala held a press conference Sunday to say the money, in nearly two dozen different foreign currencies, was given by the Karmapa's followers in connection with a land deal with an Indian businessman. Reportedly a Dharamsala-based businessman is being questioned after Rs10 million (US$217,800) was found in his possession. An official said the money was a payment made by the Karmapa's trust to buy land near Dharamsala. However, even if the money came from followers, there are questions whether the foreign currency violates India's foreign currency laws.

Indian intelligence officials quizzed the Karmapa, for hours, seeking details of the source of the foreign currency. Reports have emerged that he was questioned over whether he has connections with the Chinese government as a large part of the currency seized was in Chinese yuan, in wads of successive serial numbers.

Despite his escape from China in 1999 and his subsequent acceptance by the Dalai Lama as the true Karmapa Lama, Ogyen Trinley Dorjee has always been suspect to a portion of the Tibetan Buddhist community. Another monk, Trinley Thaye Dorje, 28, was enthroned independently as the 17th Karmapa Lama by a minority of the Karma Kagyu monasteries and lamas.

In December 1999 the then-14-year-old Dorjee, who was anointed by the Chinese government as the true Karmapa, pretended to go into seclusion but instead slipped out a window of the Tsurpu Monastery in Tibet with a handful of attendants. He began a daring 1,450-kilometer winter trip across some of the most forbidding terrain on the planet by foot, horseback, train and helicopter to Dharamsala, making world headlines and embarrassing Beijing. He was given refugee status by India in 2001.

Skeptics in India have continued to question whether Dorjee could possibly have managed such a spectacular escape without the help of the Chinese government and have alleged that he is actually a Chinese spy. Thus the allegations of the seizure of the foreign currency have rocked not only Buddhist followers across the globe but also much of India, which in recent months has been hit by a series of black money scandals.

The Indian press has had a field day with the story, with news channels running headlines asking "Karmapa could be a Chinese agent?"

In the two-day search operation led by the Indian state police at the Gyuto Tantric monastery, the temporal base of the Karmapa, his close aide and accountant, Rabjaychojan alias Shakti Lama, was arrested and placed in police custody. Gompu Tsering, his secretary, was also questioned. At the time of the raid, The Karmapa was in the monastery at the time.

"The raid came in connection with the arrest of two Indians on Wednesday at the Una border of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, recovering Rs10 million in cash, said Santosh Patial, a senior district policeman. "Upon investigation the two said they had received the money from the monk, an Indian national, to buy a plot of land near Dharamsala. The cash was allegedly brought to the state to clear some payments in connection with a land deal involving a Tibetan institution,"

The Karmapa's officials, under tight security, were all tightlipped. After 48 hours they officially gave a statement upon consulting the Karmapa's lawyers saying that "We would like to categorically state that the allegations being leveled against the Karmapa and his administration are grossly speculative and without foundation in the truth….We categorically deny having any link whatsoever with any arm of the Chinese government.

"The cash in question under the current investigation by the police is offerings received for charitable purposes from local and international disciples from many different countries wishing to support His Holiness' various charitable activities. Any suggestion that these offerings were to be used for illegal purposes in libelous," the statement added.

The Tibetan government-in exile also appears to be continuing to back the Karmapa amid the rampant media speculation. "There is no basis in media speculation linking the Karmapa Lama with the Chinese government," said Penpa Tsering, the speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in exile. "Both the Tibetan Parliament and the Kashag (the advisory board of the government in exile) stand behind the Karmapa and have been extending all necessary support to come out with the truth about the matter."

At the Gyuto Monastery where the Karmapa resides, large numbers of Tibetan and Indian Buddhists have come to show their solidarity with what they consider to be the future head of their religion. Sonam Tenzing, a young monk who lives in the Gyuto monastery, told Asia Sentinel that "probing the money is very much legitimate if Indian officials think there is some foul play but Indian media blaming the Karmapa as a traitor is simply not acceptable."

The Indian government at New Delhi has for far not reacted. However, some media agencies have reportedly quoted an investigating officer as saying: "Sources say that there are enough indications that the Karmapa was in regular touch with the Chinese authorities to help Beijing control Buddhist monasteries from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. The huge recovery, including 11 lakh (110 million) Chinese yuan, substantiates what we have always suspected. The Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax authorities have been asked to probe this."

That is regarded as specious media hype in Dharamsala. Despite backing from Buddhists across the globe, nonetheless the mystery revolving around the Karmapa is deepening, with both Tibetans and Indians keeping a close watch. Even if he is absolved, however, the question remains over how a living Buddha could have amassed so much temporal cash, and why.

By Saransh Sehgal writer based in Dharamsala, India (Asia Sentinel)

Singapore Cracks down on Online Journalism

Popular website is forced to register as a political group

The Committee to Protect Journalists is protesting an order by the Singapore government to force a journalistic website, The Online Citizen, to register as a political organization, in a move apparently designed to limit political commentary.

"Discussing politics does not make a publication a political organization," said Bob Dietz, the organization's Asia program coordinator. "Forcing The Online Citizen to register as a political association distorts its role and threatens its ability to cover politics. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is clearly trying to tighten control of media outlets before calling elections."

The Online Citizen has been in business since 2006, covering political issues with a smattering of other news. Attempts by Asia Sentinel to contact the staff have been unsuccessful. There are several other Internet news organizations in Singapore, including the Temasek Review, which have so far escaped the same kind of registration process used against The Online Citizen. Temasek Review also did not respond to email messages asking for comment.

On January 10, the Registry of Political Donations, a branch of the prime minister's office, wrote to The Online Citizen ordering it to register as a political association, giving the website 14 days to reveal the identity of its staff. The registry denied the Citizen's written appeal last week "Registered groups are forbidden from receiving funding from overseas, and anonymous donations are capped at S$5,000, according to news reports cited by the CPJ.

["You know they're worried when they go after The Online Citizen, which is just a bunch of mild-mannered, upstanding students," said one Singapore source.

It was unclear from reading the website what The Online Citizen would do next, although it organized a party for last Saturday at which the acting editor and his band played and people brought cupcakes, chocolate and banana muffins and the group played games.

The story on the website said the party "was simply a brave stand by TOC for its supporters: a cheerful statement for the right to speak (responsibly) and a celebration against fear." They also auctioned off a copy of Lee Kuan Yew's latest book, Hard Choices, for S$310. The book was signed by the TOC editors. The group raised $3800 in donations.
"Readers now are welcomed to join to do 'simple things for the disadvantaged,'" the website said.

"CPJ research shows that Lee Hsien Loong's People's Action Party instigated registrations 10 years ago, prior to the November 2001 elections, to prevent online speech from becoming an independent alternative to the regular media, which is largely government-owned and heavily controlled," Deitz wrote. "Lee has not announced the timing of the next elections, which are due to take place before February 2012, according to local news reports."

Singapore's mainstream press is tightly controlled by the government. The press is governed by the draconian Newspaper and Printing Presses Act of 1972, which says that "No person shall print or publish or assist in the printing or publishing of any newspaper in Singapore unless the chief editor or the proprietor of the newspaper has previously obtained a permit granted by the Minister authorising the publication thereof, which permit the Minister may in his discretion grant, refuse or revoke, or grant subject to conditions to be endorsed thereon."

As an indication of the ties between the directors of Singapore Press Holdings, the republic's dominant media group, and the Singapore Government. The executive chairman of the media group from 1982 to 1988 was S R Nathan, the director of the government's Security and Intelligence Division. Likewise, the first president of SPH was Tjong Yik Min, the former head of Singapore's Internal Security Department. Other officials in the newsroom are widely believed to be members of the government's security units.

The country's relationship with the foreign press is famously prickly. Any reporting that doesn't toe the government line can and often does result in libel suits that the government and the family of Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of the republic and currently minister mentor, have won unanimously. Among those successfully sued are the Asian Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, The Economist, The Financial Times, the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review and AsiaWeek and others.

The government says it requires political registration, known as gazetting, to limit foreign involvement in politics, and that the Citizen is a participant, not an observer. Singapore officials said in response to a magazine article on the registration that the website was gazetted because it "organized polls on political issues and a forum for politicians, and mounted online and offline campaigns to change legislation and government policies."

Asia Sentinel with reporting from the Committee to Protect Journalists

BALI – latest updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Read the full report at
Bromo volcano exploded last week causing 2 days of cancelled flights, flight delays and flight diversions. Fortunately, several days later, the situation now seems to be returning to normal. Also on the subject of Mother Nature: a violent rain and wind storm swept through Bali last week causing damage, injuries and at least one death.In other news: the main hospital in Bali has released some startling casualty figures regarding traffic accidents in Bali; the immigration department is introducing electronic passports for Indonesian travelers; and an obviously disturbed Australian tourist created a hostage incident at a Bali shopping mall.

We received record numbers of email and hits on our editorial condemning Western Australian tourist official Simon Ambrose for his negative comments on Bali. Read Ambrose's response and what readers had to say on the subject in this week's installment of 'We Get Mail.'

In hotel and accommodation news: the Bali Villa Association is creating a directory of "legal" accommodation; hotels and villas are under pressure to purchase more local agricultural products; and police plan to sweep hotels, villas and residences that fail to register foreign guests as required under local law.

We have news of a well-deserved award for humanitarianism won by Australian Helen Flavel for her long service to Bali.

There's also an exclusive look at life behind bars at Bali's biggest prison with our interview with the author of "Hotel Kerobokan" – Kathryn Bonella.

In aviation news: all is not going as expected with Garuda's plans to sell its shares to the public.

Meanwhile, a leading Bali academic sounds an alarms on why building a new airport and railway in Bali may not be good ideas for the island's future.

Mark your calendars. We have an important art exhibition in Jimbaran; a chance to enter a contest and win the 'Best Dive Job in the World" if your act before the deadline of February 28th; and news of the Biznet Bali International Triathlon returning for the 5th years to Bali on June 26, 2011.

Advertise your products with Bali Discovery and Bali Update

All this, and more, in this week's Bali Update

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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Bali Tourists Hit by Legionnaires’ Disease

A total of 14 foreign tourists are now confirmed to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease in Bali since reports of an outbreak emerged earlier this month, health officials said on Saturday. The previous tally of 11 recorded cases was announced on Jan. 21 and involved nine Australians, one Dutch national and a French national, all of whom have since returned to their respective countries.

A joint investigation by the Health Ministry and the World Health Organization following the initial reports in the middle of this month had pinpointed the source of the infection to a hotel in the vicinity of Matahari Square in the tourist hub of Kuta. There are fears that the water vapor-borne bacteria could have spread around the island to popular tourist sites such as Tanah Lot, Ubud, Singaraja and Karangasem.

The director of medicine and nursing at Denpasar’s Sanglah General Hospital, said at the same discussion that cases of Legionnaires’ disease might date back to July 2010, when an Australian tourist died of Legionnaires’-like symptoms at Sanglah.
The following September, Australian authorities confirmed that three of their citizens had tested positive for the disease after returning from trips to Bali. The Jakarta Globe

Bali Police Shooting on Sight to Tackle Crime

Denpasar. Concerned by Bali’s rapidly increasing crime rate and the effect it may have on the island’s tourism, the head of the province’s police on Sunday issued a shoot-on-sight order for criminals targeting foreigners.

“The police have to act firmly, and, if necessary, shoot on sight if perpetrators try to escape arrest,” Insp. Gen. Hadiatmoko said.

He said that the frequency of crimes against foreign tourists and residents alike in Denpasar and the surrounding Badung district had now reached worrying levels.

The police chief lost his patience on Sunday when he received a report of a robbery attempt against Ekoto Philip Mimbimi, 35, that left the American national in the hospital.

Police said Mimbimi had fought two burglars attempting to rob his house in North Kuta, Badung district.

The criminals broke in through the back door of the house wearing ninja masks at around 3:00 a.m. Mimbimi was watching television and resisted the invasion, but was stabbed in the thigh.

“The criminals have been arrested and the victim is still receiving treatment in the hospital,” said I Gede Bambang Wiryawan, Bali Police chief of detectives.

On Tuesday, robbers attacked Christine Cheril, a 57-year-old Australian tourist staying at Villa Mangga in Mengwi, Badung.

Police said the perpetrators, whose numbers remain unclear, gagged and bound the victim and fled with Rp 180 million ($20,000) worth of valuables.

Lusiana Burgess, 46, the wife of a retired British pilot, was found dead at her home in Umalasar in North Kuta on Jan. 19. Police believe she was also the victim of a robbery.

Police are also investigating the daylight armed robbery of three gas stations, one on Jan. 15 and two others in October and November.

Hadiatmoko emphasized that no matter how trivial a crime and regardless of whether locals or foreigners are targeted, the island’s image as a safe tourist destination was at risk.

However, Hadiatmoko also condemned the preference of many tourists to seek privacy over safety.

“Many of the illegal villas are not equipped with adequate security measures and are targets for robbers,” he said.

The Bali Villa Association estimates that there are about 300 illegal villas for rent in Badung district. The association has set up a joint team to educate the managers of hotels and other accommodations on their obligation to report the details of their guests to authorities. Jakarta Globe

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Indonesia's uncertain future

NOTHING could be more symbolic of the rise in Indonesia's status in the world: Garuda, the national airline named after the sacred, mythical bird that is its national emblem, is being marketed to global investors.

It has been reaching out to global investors as the government seeks to raise at least US$1 billion (RM3 billion) by selling a large stake in what was long an accident-prone carrier shunned by passengers and airports alike.

This caps a year in which Indonesia's international stock rose faster than probably any other Asian country.

Foreign perception of the nation's progress had long lagged behind its actual, quietly impressive political and economic development in the dozen years since the Asian financial crisis and the overthrow of the Suharto regime.
But the now bullish perception may have run ahead of reality, perhaps setting both foreigners and newly confident locals up for disappointment.

First, it's worth reviewing the good news. The stock market was Asia's top performer last year. The economy grew about six per cent, and the same is expected this year.

The budget position is strong; debt is low; trade in surplus and foreign reserves is high.

Foreign commentators have suggested that it be classed with China, India and Brazil as one of the group of large, fast-expanding economies identified as the spearhead of global growth.

Internationally, Indonesia is now viewed as stable and strategically important. It is a member of the Group of 20 and, like Brazil, beginning to play a role beyond its immediate neighbourhood.

United States President Barack Obama has underlined its achievements, as a Muslim-majority country with a secular constitution, democracy, pluralism and religious tolerance.

It is now making an effort to reduce forest destruction and carbon emissions. Yet the sustainability of these positive developments is questionable.

Economic success owes a great deal to the near record prices fetched by most of its export commodities -- coal, palm oil, copper, rubber and others.

These, in turn, have underpinned strong growth in consumption without pushing trade into a deficit. How long this cycle will last is anyone's guess, but a sustained retreat of prices is going come with a sharp downgrading of Indonesia's growth prospects.

If economic worries are for the future, governance worries are here now. Investors may like stories like the success of Garuda, the national airline, but local media have been focused on a very different tale -- an amazing saga that has stunned even Indonesians accustomed to graft -- involving a corrupt tax inspector and his deals with senior judges and firms linked to senior politicians.

Some of the blame for a lack of government reform lies with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

He has failed to use his 2008 electoral mandate to press on with administrative reforms or act decisively against the corruption.

By putting his instinct for political compromise ahead of the law, Susilo risks the governance reform vital for sustained development.

Corruption among parliamentarians is rife so little legislation is passed as members jostle for favours.

Susilo set a poor example last year when finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati was forced out after clashing with vested interests, including one of the nation's richest men and the head of a major party in Susilo's coalition.

Media freedom and diversity thrives so the populace knows about a lot of the sleaze.

But without leadership from the top, little cleaning is possible.

The government vigorously pursues Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Southeast Asian terrorist network, but Indonesia's traditions of religious tolerance have been damaged by failure, for political reasons, to confront localised harassment of Christians and Ahmadis (an Islamic sect regarded by some as heretical).

These problems do not suggest that Indonesia should once more be ignored.

But foreign awareness of its problems, as well as opportunities, is needed and could help Indonesia achieve sustained reform rather than copy the Philippines' record of democracy marred by weak, corrupt governance. -- IHT

Friday, January 28, 2011

What hope is there left for the betterment of Papua?

From a content-analysis perspective, the amount of coverage a particular issue gets in the media often determines how a country prioritizes that issue, and reflects the degree of urgency with which this issue is addressed.

The tax corruption cases focusing on former tax official Gayus H. Tambunan have dominated Indonesian media headlines lately, as has the torture of Indonesian migrant worker Sumiyati in Saudi Arabia.

But, a different treatment appears to have been given to Papua. While the issue of Papua continues to be regarded as “a pebble in the shoe for Indonesia,” no proper attention from its government, civil society or media has been paid to remedy these problems.

This could be interpreted as “a degree of complacency and exhaustion” on the part of the Indonesian public, as poverty, conflict and atrocities in Papua seem to dominate the stories it sees about this region.

The government is also apparently overwhelmed by the complexity of problems in Papua, with no effective solutions identified yet.

Hardly any achievements have been made in Papua worth acknowledging. An American diplomat in Jakarta described this situation as a “web”, where one problem or issue is related to the other.

A foreign donor staff also said it was extremely difficult to work with people in Papua. I sense he was also frustrated in handling issues in Papua.

It is somehow ironic that the rallies initiated by the Papua People’s Assembly (MRP) and attended by thousands of people in Jayapura in June-July 2010, which resulted in 11 recommendations, were not seen by the government as a “serious warning” that more serious and concrete approaches were needed.

Two alarming messages came out of these recommendations.

First, the people proposed international parties mediate in the settlement of Papua’s problems, which signaled deepening distrust in the central government.
Second, they said Papua’s “special autonomy” had been a failure, despite the fact this policy was deemed the only hope and means available for the central government to win the hearts and minds of the Papuan people.

“Without any progress, instability and the internationalization of Papua will continue to pose threats.”

A well-implemented special autonomy should serve as a trump card for the Indonesian government to win diplomacy, amid the internationalization of Papua, which has intensified lately.

Most foreign countries have stipulated that they will only support Papua’s integration with Indonesia if its “special autonomy” is implemented effectively.
After the long march last year, another problem arose when several Papuan elites and members of the Papuan Independence Front met US Congressmen in Washington in September 2010.

The meeting focused on Papua’s “special autonomy” and human rights violations issues. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono responded by sending three coordinating ministers to Papua and West Papua for talks with local government officials to collect information on the region.

The meeting resulted in a decision to establish a special board to supervise the acceleration of development in Papua.

However, until today, no concrete measures have been taken by the board. The meeting itself was criticized by local NGOs as being centralistic, lacking participation from the grassroots, and oversimplifying Papua’s problems.

The Yudhoyono administration also ordered an audit of trillions of rupiah worth of special autonomy funds that have been poured into Papua and West Papua.

It is ironic, however, that before the audit has been completed, the President has already made a new commitment to increase the budget for the two provinces in 2011.
I share Neles Tebay’s concerns (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 16, 2010) of a possible backlash to this policy, because the absence of a thorough audit of past funding will only breed further corruption.

Without any tangible improvement to the government’s initiatives to resolve Papua’s problems, people in the province will continue to face their own additional domestic affairs that will potentially trigger further conflicts and social instability.

One of the divisive issues centers around the provincial legislative council (DPRP) demanding the Constitutional Court revoke the direct gubernatorial election, which contradicts the original law on special autonomy for Papua.

Members of the DPRP insist that the central government’s decision to amend Article 7 of the 2001 law and introduce a direct election was a result of “intervention and political maneuvering”.

Another domestic affair is related to public grievances on the result of the recent trial of three Army soldiers who were convicted for torturing civilians in the strife-torn regency of Puncak Jaya.

They were only sentenced to between eight and 10 months in prison and escaped human rights violation charges.

Finally, the election of MRP members has come under the spotlight after the head of church synods demanded a postponement to the process, citing the cultural body’s failure to help promote special autonomy.

The election process has been criticized for allegedly being dominated by security and political interests rather than those of native Papuans (the Post, Jan. 19, 2011). Before the election takes place, church leaders demanded talks with President Yudhoyono concerning the failure of Papua’s “special autonomy”.

The central government is racing against the clock to take concrete actions to deal with Papua. Empty promises will only extend the list of “government lies”.

Without any progress, instability and the internationalization of Papua will continue to pose threats with a higher degree of complexity.

Finally, it is also crucial for civil society groups to keep pushing the government to put Papua at the top of their agenda and for the media to give extensive coverage to Papua to help restore hope for betterment in the province.

By Vidhyandika D Perkasa researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta. From Jakarta Post

The Great Deflation - In Japan, Young Face Generational Roadblocks

TOKYO — Kenichi Horie was a promising auto engineer, exactly the sort of youthful talent Japan needs to maintain its edge over hungry Korean and Chinese rivals. As a worker in his early 30s at a major carmaker, Mr. Horie won praise for his design work on advanced biofuel systems.

But like many young Japanese, he was a so-called irregular worker, kept on a temporary staff contract with little of the job security and half the salary of the “regular” employees, most of them workers in their late 40s or older. After more than a decade of trying to gain regular status, Mr. Horie finally quit — not just the temporary jobs, but Japan altogether.

He moved to Taiwan two years ago to study Chinese.

“Japanese companies are wasting the young generations to protect older workers,” said Mr. Horie, now 36. “In Japan, they closed the doors on me. In Taiwan, they tell me I have a perfect résumé.”

As this fading economic superpower rapidly grays, it desperately needs to increase productivity and unleash the entrepreneurial energies of its shrinking number of younger people. But Japan seems to be doing just the opposite. This has contributed to weak growth and mounting pension obligations, major reasons Standard & Poor’s downgraded Japan’s sovereign debt rating on Thursday.

“There is a feeling among young generations that no matter how hard we try, we can’t get ahead,” said Shigeyuki Jo, 36, co-author of “The Truth of Generational Inequalities.” “Every avenue seems to be blocked, like we’re butting our heads against a wall.”

An aging population is clogging the nation’s economy with the vested interests of older generations, young people and social experts warn, making an already hierarchical society even more rigid and conservative. The result is that Japan is holding back and marginalizing its youth at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.

A nation that produced Sony, Toyota and Honda has failed in recent decades to nurture young entrepreneurs, and the game-changing companies that they can create, like Google or Apple — each started by entrepreneurs in their 20s.

Employment figures underscore the second-class status of many younger Japanese. While Japan’s decades of stagnation have increased the number of irregular jobs across all age groups, the young have been hit the hardest.

Last year, 45 percent of those ages 15 to 24 in the work force held irregular jobs, up from 17.2 percent in 1988 and as much as twice the rate among workers in older age groups, who cling tenaciously to the old ways. Japan’s news media are now filled with grim accounts of how university seniors face a second “ice age” in the job market, with just 56.7 percent receiving job offers before graduation as of October 2010 — an all-time low.

“Japan has the worst generational inequality in the world,” said Manabu Shimasawa, a professor of social policy at Akita University who has written extensively on such inequalities. “Japan has lost its vitality because the older generations don’t step aside, allowing the young generations a chance to take new challenges and grow.”
Disparities and Dangers

While many nations have aging populations, Japan’s demographic crisis is truly dire, with forecasts showing that 40 percent of the population will be 65 and over by 2055. Some of the consequences have been long foreseen, like deflation: as more Japanese retire and live off their savings, they spend less, further depressing Japan’s anemic levels of domestic consumption. But a less anticipated outcome has been the appearance of generational inequalities.

These disparities manifest themselves in many ways. As Mr. Horie discovered, there are corporations that hire all too many young people for low-paying, dead-end jobs — in effect, forcing them to shoulder the costs of preserving cushier jobs for older employees. Others point to an underfinanced pension system so skewed in favor of older Japanese that many younger workers simply refuse to pay; a “silver democracy” that spends far more on the elderly than on education and child care — an issue that is familiar to Americans; and outdated hiring practices that have created a new “lost generation” of disenfranchised youth.

Nagisa Inoue, a senior at Tokyo’s Meiji University, said she was considering paying for a fifth year at her university rather than graduating without a job, an outcome that in Japan’s rigid job market might permanently taint her chances of ever getting a higher-paying corporate job. That is because Japanese companies, even when they do offer stable, regular jobs, prefer to give them only to new graduates, who are seen as the more malleable candidates for molding into Japan’s corporate culture. New York Times

US, South Korea: Dangerous Policy Toward the North

Sunset for South Korea's Sunshine Policy

The Obama administration of the US and the Lee Myung-bak government of South Korea alike have strategically distanced themselves from engaging with North Korea. As a result, North Korea stands at one of the most dangerous intersections in history, witness the torpedo attack that sank the gunboat Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

By placing the regime on a strikingly different path from what the previous administrations – the Bush and Clinton and Kim Dae-jung governments – had pursued, Washington and Seoul are seemingly seeking to push the regime to the point of collapse.

While North Korea's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 obviously served as an excuse to prompt a radical rethinking about the goal of the denuclearization on the Korean peninsula, liberal pundits in favor of negotiations with the North assert that the conservative Lee government is, figuratively speaking, seeking to break the camel's back. Policymakers in the US and South Korea appear to have agreed between them that any economic engagement with Pyongyang eventually would only serve to prolong the life of the Stalinist regime, with its increasingly powerful nuclear arsenal.

But they didn't know that the box they were thinking outside of needed fixing. They mistakenly regarded the Sunshine Policy, formulated by the late President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace with it, as a failed legacy. The path they chose, which does not appear to include a coherent policy, proved that it was no way to resolve the fundamental problems of the North's denuclearization, let alone regime change via collapse, a big seller in the minds of decision-makers in Seoul and Washington.

The fact is, however, that the Sunshine policy produced considerable political contact between the two including two summit meetings in Pyongyang that ultimately resulted in several high-profile business ventures, and brought about highly emotional meetings between families who had been separated for decades by the onset of the Korean War in 1950.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration appears to favor the value of alliances between Washington and Seoul rather than direct contact with North Korea. By standing with the hawkish South, the Obama administration has become a valued partner of the right-wing government of President Lee. As always, the US was more a source of comfort in South Korea than elsewhere.

Having more often than not been dubious about Kim Dae-Jung landmark policy negotiation policy, President Lee has aggressively challenged the realistic values and unrevealed authenticity of the 'unsightly' sunshine policy. It's not because he didn't believe that it was the optimal strategy but because he believed that it implacably wrecked any chance at a normal relationship between the two Koreas. The former mayor of Seoul does not now feel the necessity of inter-Korean dialogue unless the North expresses its deepest sincerity over the recent provocations. Instead he likes to portray the desperate situation of North Korea as being totally beyond repair, reform, or improvement.

Lee's tough attitudes toward the North have not been choreographed well. A novice in both inter-Korean and foreign affairs, Lee was given fluctuating instructions as to where to breathe, pause, gesticulate, pick up his pace, lower or raise his voice. His pointy-headed policy aides on the North also emerged as skeptics in the real sense of the word. They started saying boldly that the disputed sunshine policy was focused on buying off the Kim families with a weighty past and a wobbly future rather than the absolute number of people in poverty and disease.

They joked that the engagement policy paradoxically widened the economic gap between the Kims' cohorts and their hardscrabble people, eventually slowing the collapse of the hopeless regime. From the perspective of today, it seems to go without saying that the fruits of the sunshine policy helped to minimize the economic sufferings in the wake of a series of the UN's rounds of sanctions over the North's refusal to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.

Withholding the carrots must look like a smart strategy to Lee and his supporters, who think it's appropriate that Seoul deflated the overpriced engagement policy. They claim that it was the sunshine policy that ruined the growing relationship between the two Koreas, as if the much-debated policy were a major source of obfuscating the denuclearization of the North.

Tolerance is thus treated as a kind of forbidden word to those who work in the Lee government. The phrase 'sunshine policy' is now virtually absent from official documents within the government. I know why. As the sunshine policy's biggest opponents, Lee and his strategists made their own judgment that the Kim regime could be driven to negotiating over its military provocations. It's because the foreign currency-strapped North is in desperate need of economic assistance from the South.

The repeal of the sunshine policy was no doubt painful to the North and energized to some extent the South's conservative base. The Lee government is, however, unaware of the fact that old wounds do not heal overnight. Over the past few decades, liberal and moderate North Korea-watchers and analysts have assumed that the engagement policies were premised on the assumption that the North would shift its focus from isolation to reform and openness in rationally calculating and maximizing its national interests.

Inevitably, the North's denuclearization should be made in the course of a combination of tough talks and cooperation other than military coercion and economic sanctions, as long as a stable North Korea is in China's best interests.

Unlike the much-ballyhooed 'collapse scenarios,' the sunshine engagement policy is neither a messianic idea nor a page-turner. Even though the policy became a politically obstreperous issue, it is, in this observer's view, a clear-cut piece of evidence in common people's beliefs about the reconciliation between the South and North Koreas.

No policies are perfect. So probably they need to be renewed in a more elaborate manner. Diplomacy is a hard process of seeking a better policy through a long and difficult journey of negotiations. Seoul and Washington need to out-excel the ossified sunshine policy, not drop it. They need to feel more responsibilities for shaping the half-baked policy of yesterday into a far better one that everyone can agreeably accept. That is the easiest way to win the denuclearization of the dangerous regime

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

Burma: End of an Era or a Dynasty's Beginning ?

The Burmese Road to Socialism it isn't…

When Burma's new Parliament convenes in Naypyidaw at the end of this month, some say it will be a political transition marking the end of decades of military rule—at least symbolically.

However, the majority of Burmese people view the event as nothing more than an attempt by junta chief Than Shwe to maintain his hold on power and secure the wealth and influence of his close family members and loyalists in the name of "disciplined democracy."

Speculation has been rife that the new government will be headed by Than Shwe himself or one of his core loyalists, including Thura Shwe Mann, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Prime Minister Thein Sein.

Whoever becomes either president or vice-president, however, he will be required to declare all of his family assets, including land, houses, businesses, savings and other valuables, to the Parliament, according to the Constitution.

It is doubtful, however, that Than Shwe or his loyalists will ever disclose the full extent of the wealth they have acquired over the past two decades. But as Parliament prepares to convene on Jan. 31, it may be worthwhile to examine some of the evidence of their ill-gotten gains.

In this first in a series of reports, we look at the fortunes of the first family of military-ruled Burma, the Than Shwe clan.

Burma's Ali Baba and his Family

It is said that Than Shwe believes himself to be a reincarnation of an ancient Burmese monarch. Whether this rumor is true or not, the junta chief has certainly styled himself in that way, for example by having his wife, children and his favorite grandchild take the most important seats at official ceremonies.

In keeping with this status, Than Shwe and his family have amassed enormous wealth. In part he has done this by treating Burma's revenues from the sale of oil and natural gas as his own personal fortune. By recording these revenues at the official exchange rate (six kyat to the US dollar, in contrast to the real rate of 815 kyat to the dollar), he and his closest loyalists have been able to keep most of the money earned from the sale of Burma's resources for themselves.

Most of this money has ended up in overseas bank accounts. Than Shwe has even assigned former Lt-Gen Tin Aye, one of his closest military loyalists, to manage these bank accounts. He has also reportedly bought several houses in Beijing and Shanghai with these secret funds.

But the Than Shwe clan's pilfering of wealth is not limited to stealing from the country. Sources in the Ministry of Defense said that when Than Shwe's wife, Kyaing Kyaing, and daughters make trips to other parts of the country unaccompanied by the senior general, the wives of regional military commanders have to present them with "diamonds, gold and valuable jewelery" on a tray.

"They take what they like most from the trays and leave the rest. But they never walk away without taking at least 200,000,000 kyat (US$ 245,000) worth of the precious stones and other items," said a source.

The first family's appetite for the finer things in life was already in evidence five years ago, when Than Shwe's youngest daughter, Thandar Shwe, was showered with diamonds and other expensive gifts at her wedding.
These days, they are more likely to be seen plundering shopping malls. "They just point at any item they desire and the wives of the regional military commanders have to pick up the tab," said the source.

Following in the tradition of Burmese monarchs, Than Shwe's family controls the ownership of lucrative hand-dug oil wells in Magwe and Monywa divisions and also gold mines in Kawlin and Wuntho townships in Sagaing Division.

The licenses for operating those oil wells and gold mines have to be obtained from regional commanders. Since the average license fee for an acre of these gold mines or oil wells is 3,000,000 kyat (US$3,680), those working on those sites have to pay nearly one billion kyat ($1.2 million) annually. It was Honda Tin Maung in Mandalay, a man often associated with the Chinese business group Great Wall in Burma, who bought licenses for those mines and oil wells.

Unsatisfied with ownership of several of the finest houses in Naypyidaw and Maymyo, Than Shwe's family has also controlled state-owned houses and lands in the vicinity of Rangoon's Inya Lake, alongside which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi lives.

A few years ago, a residential compound on Pyay Road and near Inya Lake, whose ownership had been disputed in a legal family feud, was given to Khin Than Nwet, the wife of former Lt-Gen Tin Oo, who was killed in a mysterious helicopter crash in 2001. When Khin Than Nwet refused to accept it, Kyaing Kyaing, Than Shwe's wife, asked Tay Za, Burma's best-known business tycoon, to grab the estate for her.

In Burma's business circle, Tay Za is well known as an agent for the business affairs of Than Shwe's family. Than Shwe's daughters have shares in Tay Za's hotels in the popular beach resort towns of Chaung Tha and Ngwe Saung in Lower Burma. They are also shareholders in a hospital near Inya Lake named Kantharyar, which was sold off to Tay Za as part of the government's recent privatization process.

Even Than Shwe's favorite grandson, Nay Shwe Thwe Aung (nicknamed Pho La Pyae), has recently become a commercial broker. One of his money-making activities is helping companies to clear customs at the country's ports, enabling them to illegally import goods upon receipt of a "tax" payable directly to him.

He is also known as a middleman between government ministers and business owners who wish to open new businesses on Rangoon estates. In one notable case, he helped a group of Indian businessmen, called Naing Group, to win permission to work on a large estate next to the Thai embassy in Rangoon, after they were earlier denied a permit by Rangoon's mayor, Aung Thein Lin. In exchange for Nay Shwe Thwe Aung's assistance, the Indian businessmen paid him 500 million kyat ($610,000).

The children and grandchildren of other members of the military elite are also involved in such shady deals, but Nay Shwe Thwe Aung always makes sure that he remains dominant among them. For example, in 2009, he ordered the closure of a coffee shop in Rangoon called "Seven Lekkers," which was owned by Tay Za Saw Oo, the son of the junta's fourth-ranking official, Tin Aung Myint Oo.

It is also known that he ordered his followers to physically beat Win Hlaing Htwe, the son of Gen Win Hlaing, a former director general in the Ministry of Defense, over a a tussle involving an estate in People's Park near Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.

On another occasion, he ordered police to arrest one of his former friends for writing something bad about him on Facebook while the latter was studying in a foreign country. In a similar incident in 2009, he was unable to order the arrest of another former friend for writing something negative about him on the Internet because he was studying in Singapore, so he had his ex-friend's parents arrested.

"Before those arrests were made, a group of men went and threw stones at his friend's house in Rangoon under orders from Pho La Pyae," said a source.

When the parents of his friend were brought before him, Nay Shwe Thwe Aung ordered them to kneel down and pay respects to him and ask for his pardon for their son's wrongdoing to him. Out of fear for their son's personal safety, the parents did as they were told, sources said.

In another incident last November, a military captain working as the personal assistant of Foreign Minister Nyan Win incurred Nay Shwe Thwe Aung's wrath by inadvertently blocking his car in front of the office of the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, a business conglomerate controlled by the military. Than Shwe's grandchild reportedly responded by ordering the officer to stand at attention while he lectured him about the code of conduct for civil officers.

More recently, Aung Thet Mann, the son of the junta's third-ranking official, Thura Shwe Mann, had to give up an already booked VIP seat on a local Air Bagan flight to Naypyidaw when Nay Shwe Thwe Aung and his followers suddenly appeared on the same plane.

While Than Shwe's daughters hold senior positions in foreign embassies (where they reportedly do little more than collect bags of money at the end of the day), his sons, Kyaing San Shwe and Tun Naing Shwe, own hotel businesses in Naypyidaw and control gas stations which have mushroomed across the country.

Tun Naing Shwe is also the owner the J-Donuts, a popular chain of donut shops, and a business partner of Myanmar VES Joint Venture Co, Ltd, a leading gems company.

"What's really bizarre is that Than Shwe's family believe that they're entitled to everything they've got because of their good karma in the past," said a military source.

Notwithstanding their belief that they are merely enjoying the fruits of their own merit, Than Shwe's family members have also been careful to guard the real source of their privileges. That is why Kyaing Kyaing urged her husband last year not to retire from the military, and even asked Burmese Buddhist monks in India to talk him into staying in power when the couple made a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya last July.

Military sources said that Than Shwe is also wary of stepping aside to make way for a new generation of leaders. They say he doesn't trust top-ranking officials like Tin Aung Myint Oo, and his greatest fear is a fate similar to that of his predecessor, Ne Win, who died under house arrest after his son-in-law and grandsons were accused of plotting against the current regime.

As the author of Ne Win's eventual downfall, Than Shwe knows only too well how quickly trust can turn to treachery once a dictator begins to lose his grip.

The Burmese people will soon know what role Than Shwe intends to play in the future government, which is expected to be formed by the end of next month. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that Than Shwe will always go to great lengths to ensure his own safety and that of his family.

One sign that he is preparing for the worst is a recent report that he has established his own private security company to protect himself and his family. The company, Eagle Security, is headed by Thein Han, a retired colonel who was one of the military officers involved in the junta-orchestrated deadly ambush on Aung San Suu Kyi and her convoy in Depayin, Sagaing Division, in 2003.

In a forthcoming article, The Irrawaddy will reveal the personal secrets of the junta's third-ranking official, Thura Shwe Mann, and the extent of the wealth owned by his family.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Undertones of Political Islam Come With Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt

Some have even speculated that the Muslim world throughout North Africa and the Middle East will now follow the examples of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of communism in Europe — events that nobody predicted until they actually happened — and that Tunisia and Egypt are the beginning of a wave that will sweep away other notoriously autocratic regimes in the region as well.

This week, tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule of the country. Until only very recently, this was considered unimaginable as Mubarak has ruled his country with an iron fist and brutally oppressed even the slightest expression of disenchantment by the people. He has made thousands disappear off the streets and locked them up in prisons where torture was the rule in order to cast fear into the hearts of the general population and keep them far away from even thinking about revolting.

However, much the same could have been said about Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s rule over Tunisia.

His recent removal from power in the Tunisian “Jasmine Revolution” has made the ouster of Mubarak a distinct possibility as well.

What happens next remains to be seen, but it is already clear that we are witness to truly momentous occurrences.

Some have even speculated that the Muslim world throughout North Africa and the Middle East will now follow the examples of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of communism in Europe — events that nobody predicted until they actually happened — and that Tunisia and Egypt are the beginning of a wave that will sweep away other notoriously autocratic regimes in the region as well.

And there could be some truth in that. As Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center noted, the “barrier of fear” that so far kept the Muslim masses under the control of their ruling elites has been broken by the Tunisian revolt.

Neighboring countries such as Algeria, Syria, Jordan and Yemen, where people live under similar conditions, are watching events closely.

News reports have made it clear that the events have also caused some uneasiness in the Western world.

Witnessing the people of Tunisia and Egypt revolt against their rulers raises questions, as both Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt have over the years received considerable support from Western countries.

America has been supporting Egypt to the tune of $2 billion a year, making it the second-largest recipient of American foreign aid. Tunisia was the “poster boy” of the IMF.

And even during the revolt, when Tunisian police had already killed 27 protesters, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France still defended Ben Ali, stating on television “To say that Tunisia is a one-man dictatorship seems to me quite exaggerated,” while his minister of foreign affairs, Michele Alliot-Marie, offered Ben Ali the support of the French soldiers to suppress the demonstrations.

Most uneasiness in the West, however, especially initially, was caused by the possibility of an “Islamist” takeover in either of the countries.

At this stage this hasn’t occurred and the fact that in most protests — though not all — the featured slogans were “democracy” and “freedom” and not “Islam,” has calmed this worry down to a large extent.

Yet, it could be argued that an Islamist takeover is still the most likely outcome of the events in Tunisia and Egypt and that the threat exists for regimes in Algeria, Syria, Jordan and Yemen.

For although Islamists might seem largely absent in the protests right now, anyone familiar with the region knows that Islamist sentiments and inclinations are never completely absent in North Africa.

This is proven by the fact that the burial of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian who set himself alight in protest against Ben Ali and thereby started the popular uprising, featured slogans like “The martyr is loved by Allah!”

And also by the fact that the organizers of the demonstration in Egypt on Tuesday felt themselves forced to ask the demonstrators not to show their religious views, and begged the people to bring only Egyptian flags and no religious symbols.

Nevertheless, the protests started off with a mass prayer in the square where the people gathered.

But most important, however, is the fact that most Muslims understand from the words “democracy” and “freedom” something different than how these words are understood in the West.

This has been shown again and again by opinion polls conducted around the Muslim world.

The most recent PEW survey of Muslims showed that majorities view democracy as the most preferable form of government (59 percent in Egypt, 65 percent in Indonesia, 69 percent in Jordan and 81 percent in Lebanon) while even more desire a large role for Islam in politics (Egypt 85 percent and Indonesia 91 percent).

This apparent contradiction results from the fact that most Muslims do not see “democracy” necessarily as a secular system of government.

Most Muslims consider democracy as simply being a system of government that allows the people to hold their rulers to account.

And having lived under autocratic and corrupt rulers for many decades, it is easy to understand why Muslims desire this.

In fact, the concept of secularism is wholly alien to many Muslims, which is also proven by the same opinion polls.

The Pew poll showed that support exists for the introduction of Islamic laws like stoning for adultery (Egypt 82 percent, Jordan 70 percent, Indonesia 42 percent) and the death penalty for apostasy (Egypt 84 percent, Indonesia 30 percent).

Seeing the Muslims on the streets in Tunisia and Egypt calling for “freedom” makes clear, then, that this word also must mean something different to them.

In the West, “freedom” is intrinsically linked to secularism as its essence is that people should be allowed to do whatever they want to do, irrespective of religious teachings.

But many Muslims come from a situation where religious views are systematically persecuted.

For instance, Tunisia banned the Islamic headscarf and threw women in prison for wearing it.

And both Tunisia and Egypt had the practice of throwing into prison any person with the habit of praying in the mosque regularly. So what most Muslims mean when they call for freedom is the right to live according to their religious views.

All this means is that in contrast with what has been the storyline in the media, the revolts in North Africa are intrinsically linked to Islam.

And that although the present attempts at revolution do not (yet) call for an Islamic state, it may be only a matter of time before a revolution comes along that will.

By Idries de Vries an analyst of economic and geopolitical affairs based in Jakarta.

The world’s Muslim population will grow at double the rate of non-Muslims over the next 20 years

Washington. The world’s Muslim population will grow at double the rate of non-Muslims over the next 20 years, and Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, according to a broad new demographic analysis that is likely to spark controversy.

If current trends continue, the study found, the number of Muslims in the United States will more than double, from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030. The percentage of native-born Muslims in the United States is projected to rise from 35 percent today to 45 percent in 2030.

The “Future of the Global Muslim Population” may be the first to attempt to map the Muslim population of most of the world’s countries. The analysis was conducted by two giant nonprofit groups interested in religion: the Pew Research Center and the John Templeton Foundation.

Among its projections:

• Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

• Muslim populations in some parts of Europe will reach the double digits, with France and Belgium at 10.3 percent by 2030.

• Muslim population growth and fertility rates will continue to decline.

The analysis could fuel global critics of Islam, who argue that the religion is at odds with Western values and worry that the number of Muslim extremists is on the rise.

Or it could calm those fears by providing evidence that Muslim populations in the West will remain relatively tiny.

The study — which uses a dizzying mix of public and private data sources — makes it clear that even rapid growth among Muslims will not produce dramatic demographic shifts in most parts of the world.

Eighty-two percent of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and that number is projected to be around 79 percent in 2030.

According to the study’s projections, Muslims make up 23.4 percent of the world’s population of 6.9 billion; in 2030, that percentage will be 26.4. Europe is home to 2.7 percent of the world’s Muslims, a percentage that is predicted to remain stable.

“This will provide a garbage filter for hysterical claims people make about the size and growth of the Muslim population,” said Philip Jenkins, a religious history scholar known for his books on Christianity and Islam.

Yet the report states in its opening pages that the projections “inevitably entail a host of uncertainties, including political ones.

Changes in the political climate in the United States or European nations, for example, could dramatically affect the patterns of Muslim migration.”

“Going into this project, that’s the first question I had: ‘Why are you doing this study? Are you singling out Muslims?’” said Amaney Jamal, a Princeton University political scientist who advised the project.

But Jamal said she put aside those concerns and ended up viewing as “magnificent” the project’s eventual goal — mapping the world’s religious populations.

The Washington Post

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW REPORT China and Inter-Korean Clashes in the Yellow Sea

Beijing/Seoul/Brussels, 27 January 2011: China is undermining its own security interests by downplaying North Korea’s deadly provocations in the Yellow Sea.

China and Inter-Korean Clashes in the Yellow Sea, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines Beijing’s ambivalent responses to the Ch’ŏnan sinking and Yŏnp’yŏng Island shelling and its deepened political, economic and military relationship with North Korea. It warns of increasing tensions in North East Asia as South Korea and Japan strengthen their military alliances with the U.S. and consider expanding their missile defense systems to counter the security threat from North Korea.

“China’s refusal to hold Pyongyang to account for its deadly attacks on South Korea prevents a unified international response”, says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Crisis Group’s North East Asia Project Director. “It invites further North Korean military and nuclear provocations and the increased militarisation of North East Asia”.
Beijing’s concerns about stability in North Korea have deepened since 2009, following reports of Kim Jong-Il’s failing health, a disastrous currency reform and uncertainties surrounding leadership transition. It hopes that its increased support for Pyongyang during the succession process will result in closer political ties and make the next generation of leaders more amenable to Chinese-style economic reform. The approach to the North is also powerfully shaped by rising concern about a perceived U.S. strategic return to Asia and opposition to greater American regional military and political presence.

Initially China downplayed the Yŏnp’yŏng Island shelling and criticised U.S. military deployment and exercises with allies in North East Asia. However, the subsequent spike in inter-Korean tensions altered its threat perception and led it ultimately to tone down criticism of the U.S., send an envoy to Pyongyang and join with Washington in calling for talks between the North and South and expressing concern at North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. The joint statement signed by Presidents Hu and Obama during the Chinese leader’s Washington visit on 19 January was welcome, but its practical effect remains to be seen, since China continues to shield Pyongyang and support it politically and economically.

“Beijing’s responses to the deadly clashes in the Yellow Sea are a test of its willingness to act as a responsible stakeholder in regional security”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “China’s influence in Pyongyang makes it crucial for international efforts to address North Korea, but its policy of supporting the government instead of holding it to account heightens the risk of further military and nuclear provocations”.
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