Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thailand facing acid test of its democratic principles

We have the chance to break a historic cycle of violent protest and usher in a new era of peaceful and principled politics

The newspaper images from Sunday's massive rally in Bangkok spoke loud and clear. People from all walks of life and every political hue shared one goal: to exercise their right to protest against an "unjust" government. The massive rally was one of the largest in Thai history, but the tens of thousands who gathered proved they could do so in peace, regardless of numbers. It was an especially impressive moment in Thai politics, proving that mass protests against the government don't have to end in violence.

Yet any admiration for Sunday's controlled demonstration is fading fast following protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban's announcement of escalation in the goals. A day after the so-called "million-man march", the former Democrat Party Cabinet minister led protesters to government ministries in a bid to topple the Yingluck Shinawatra administration. The demonstrators stormed parts of the Finance and Foreign ministries, a move that dismayed many observers, including their supporters and some in the Democrat Party. The seizure of government offices tarnished the image of the until-then restrained protest.

Even though Suthep has stressed that protesters occupied the ministries without causing any damage, their actions are unlawful. Preventing government officials from working is a bad move. Veteran journalist Somkiat Onwimon, a critic of the government and the "Thaksin regime", has called Suthep impatient and questioned his ability as a leader. "A man who wants to achieve victory by civil disobedience must be very patient," he said. Social critic Sulak Sivaraksa questioned whether Suthep genuinely understands the history of civil disobedience as a passive and principled resistance. Suthep seems to be deaf to the criticism, though, hearing only the roar of a crowd bent on "victory". "I do this for the people, not for the Democrat Party," he said after the seizure of the ministries.

It was also puzzling when Suthep said he would continue the protest even if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra resigned or dissolved the House. His only goal now is to get rid of the "Thaksin regime", though the rallies started as a campaign solely against the amnesty bill. Suthep should know better than to force the issue in this way, having experienced first-hand the violent political protests by red shirts in 2010.

These latest protests are taking a typical direction for anyone familiar with Thai history. An unjust and corrupt government brings protesters out on the streets, hoping to bring about change with prolonged rallies. But it ends in bloodshed or a military coup. The people's protest against General Suchinda Kraprayoon ended with "Bloody May", while the People's Alliance for Democracy rallies against the Thaksin Shinawatra government eventually saw democracy struck down by a coup. The latest incident in this cycle of violence saw more than 90 people killed during the 2010 protests by Thaksin's red-shirt supporters in Bangkok.

Not surprisingly, then, there's a feeling of déjà vu among Thais right now. They recognise the pattern: one side is egged on by leaders who want to escalate conflict. The protesters march and seize or destroy property. The government declares a state of emergency and protesters - some perhaps armed - clash with police. The government, finding it difficult to function, charges protest leaders with breaking the law, and events proceed inevitably towards violence.

Adding more fuel to the fire this time is that the two sides are holding parallel rallies. The red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship has vowed to stay put in support of the government, claiming that they too are fighting for democracy and a rightfully elected government.

Our biggest challenge now is to learn from, rather than repeat, history.
The Nation, Bangkok

BURMA and Ceasefire Capitalism

Why Burma's rebels have every reason to be suspicious of government emissaries talking peace

In early November, negotiators from the Burmese government traveled to the northern town of Myitkyina to confer with representatives from a conglomeration of ethnic rebel groups. It was the first time in decades of warfare that government officials sat down with the combined leadership of Burma's rebel movements, inspiring praise from the United Nations. 

But the optimistic news coverage neglected to question the presence of another interest group at the meeting: the Chinese. With billions of dollars invested in energy, mining, and logging projects in Kachin state, China has a lot at stake in the outcome of this conflict, which has threatened its access to the area's abundant resources. Its involvement served as a palpable reminder (as if anyone needed it) that peace talks between the government and ethnic rebels aren't just about political differences. They're also very much about business. 

That's a hard truth that's all too often neglected in coverage of the continuing efforts to find a practical agenda for peace. China is but one of many players in the scramble to capitalize on the fantastically abundant natural resources in Burma's border regions, which run the gamut from teak to minerals to hydropower, not to mention Kachin state's $8 billion jade industry. The Burmese government used past ceasefires as an opportunity to plunder areas inhabited by local ethnic groups, prompting additional armed conflict while complicating efforts to resolve it. 

Indeed, the government's recent reform push may be attempting to do the same thing. All signs suggest that the government is hoping to exploit the bounty of Burma's periphery as it opens to foreign investment. 

This issue is one of the primary irritants underlying the government's fight with the rebels in Kachin state. Among Burma's many ethnic groups, the Kachin have particular experience with the Burmese government's malformed "peace." In 1994, the government managed to broker a peace agreement that ended decades of civil war. But the ceasefire did not mean that the regime began to take the Kachin's interests into consideration. During the 17-year ceasefire period, the Kachin watched as their state was carved up and sold to regime-aligned corporations -- usually with little benefit to the people who lived there. 

Following the 1994 deal, Burmese and Chinese firms moved in to control the local economy, whittling small businesses down to nothing, and bringing in thousands of migrant workers who forced the Kachin out of jobs. The influx of migrant workers and rising poverty rates had a corrosive effect on Kachin society. At the same time, the Kachin's land was cordoned off for corporate exploitation. Nearly 20 percent of the state's land was allocated for mining, while nearly 200,000 acres of land in the Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve were set aside for biofuel crops. Shortly after the 1994 agreement, the government rolled out plans to build seven dams along the N'Mai and Mali Rivers to be financed by China. When they are completed, most of the output will go to China, ignoring local energy needs. This will only ramp up anti-business feelings among the Kachin. 

And in 1994, the exploitation of the ceasefire didn't stop at business. The Burmese army used the ceasefire period to bolster its presence in Kachin state. This meant that when the Burmese troops launched an assault on Kachin rebels in June 2011 -- intentionally rekindling the war -- they had a strategic advantage. Battalions were already stationed en masse across the state, ready to widen the conflict. Moreover, because the ceasefire had blurred territorial boundaries, government troops were able to block fleeing civilians reentering rebel-controlled areas. In the face of violent conflict, these civilians could not get home. This nightmare scenario continues today, as evidenced by the thousands of civilians who fled after fresh clashes broke out less than a fortnight ago. Conversely then, the ceasefire period allowed greater militarization of the region, and eroded the security of its people. 

It's no coincidence then that the Kachin faction is reluctant to sign a deal before knowing what the Burmese government plans for the state's resources. Doing so may presage a repeat of the destructive business practices that have steadily eaten away at the state. The Kachin have noted the eerie parallels between this round of talks and those in 1994. The presence of Chinese observers at this week's ceasefire talks suggests that Beijing's interests in the outcome of the conflict are as pressing as they were 20 years ago. Despite various rounds of talks this year where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) pressed the government to come clean on its plans for the state after the proposed ceasefire, the two sides have continually failed to cement a political deal that would demarcate territory and delegate rights to resources. 

For an ethnic group that has long called for autonomy, the prospect of another ceasefire without a political resolution to these chronic problems is unthinkable. In that respect, foreign governments who used the Myanmar Peace Center -- widely considered a mascot for the government's reformist agenda -- to hurry ethnic armies into laying down their arms either do not understand the source of the Kachin's reluctance, or are practicing willful, perhaps even strategic, denial. Burma's border regions have a reputation as a final untapped energy market, and that is a tough incentive to ignore. 

If the Kachin had any doubts that the government is prioritizing business, last year's talks in Karen state would dispel them. In early 2012, the government was able to hammer out a ceasefire agreement with the Karen National Union (KNU) following decades of conflict -- but only by encouraging pro-business Karen officials to deviate from the more hard-line faction. These pro-business officials agreed to open a liaison office in exchange for development assistance that would open the door to large-scale investment in the region, which is rich in gold, hydropower, and possibly even shale gas

This same pro-business group participated in ceasefire talks with the government in 2011 that included delegates from Dawei Princess, a local partner in a massive deep-sea port project under construction close to the Karen's territory. The delegates were invited despite resistance from the KNU. The make-up of these early meetings offered an early indication of the business dimension to the ceasefire talks. 

Opening the doors for foreign development has had serious consequences for the people of Karen state. A 2012 report by Physicians for Human Rights spotlighted the link between extractive projects and rights abuses in the region. It warned that people who lived near a dam, pipeline, or mine were "almost eight times more likely to have been forced to work for the army and over six times more likely to have been uprooted or had restrictions placed on their travel." (A useful National Geographic map offers visual evidence for this.) The half a million people displaced by war in eastern Burma hope to return to their land soon, but as the Kachin who returned after the 1994 ceasefire found, this land may now belong to someone else. 

Rather than working to compromise with the KNU, the government decided to open a fissure in the one entity that commands respect across Karen society. The Burmese government may have won a flimsy ceasefire, but the prospects for lasting peace in a region familiar with the duplicity and abusive tactics of the Burmese army are slim. 

On top of all this, the parliament passed a new foreign investment law earlier this year that offers attractive incentives for business in Burma. It also conveniently places the regulation of harmful practices in the hands of the Burmese government, which has historically shown no inclination toward responsible investment. It is likely that companies will be free to operate in the same way they have for years, and with the same consequences. 

Everyone from corporate clients, to foreign governments, to the Burmese military seems to be entering the fray to advocate for what Kevin Woods calls "ceasefire capitalism" -- that familiar shadowy nexus of military, political, and business elites that has dominated Burma's economy for 50 years, exploiting periods of calm to assert control over land. Everyone, that is, except for the ethnic groups at the center of these talks. It certainly seems that Burma is in danger of repeating history by tainting its peace negotiations with the interests of those who do not prioritize peace. Away from the optimistic talk greeting the ceasefire negotiations lies the ugly side of the reform process. All told, civilians face many of the same dangers they did during wartime.
STR/AFP/Getty Images
- See more at:

Russia and Vietnam taking it to the next level

Vladimir Putin’s visit to Vietnam earlier this month, his third since assuming the Russian presidency, was accompanied by references to the ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ between both countries. This wording has been adopted since last year, clearly indicating that the two countries are getting closer to each other and intend to cultivate a special bond

The intensity of high-profile diplomatic activity seems to confirm this. Since July 2012, the two countries’ presidents have met each other no less than four times, while Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Nguyen Tan Dung have also exchanged visits.

Against this background, bilateral trade statistics look rather modest: according to Russian sources bilateral trade turnover, although increasing by 20 per cent in 2012, reached only US$3.6 billion — a level much lower than Vietnam’s trade with partners such as China and the United States. Even if, according to official projections (and as a result of a free trade agreement currently under negotiation between Vietnam and the countries of the customs union of Russia, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan), trade rises to US$7 billion in 2015 and US$10 billion in 2020, Russia will still be well behind Vietnam’s biggest trade partners.

One may wonder why Vietnam, famous for its pragmatism, is approaching Russia with such a positive attitude. From Vietnam’s point of view, what is so attractive and promising about this partner?

In the Vietnamese psyche Russia is not associated with any kind of existential threat — economic or military. Unlike some other great powers, Russia carries no responsibility for the tragedies of Indochina wars. On the contrary, through Vietnam’s decades of turmoil the USSR proved to be a tested (and generous) friend — including during the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. Much of the positive chemistry between the Russians and the Vietnamese was generated back then, and this mutual sympathy remains a major ingredient in the relationship.

Since so many Vietnamese not just operated Soviet/Russian military equipment but also studied in the Soviet Union/Russia, they are more aware of Russia’s soft power too — its educational, technological, scientific and cultural richness — which has influenced positive attitudes to Russia among Vietnamese.

While much of the world remains skeptical about Russia’s business climate, there are examples of Vietnamese who were educated in Russia and raised considerable fortunes there before making it big at home. One famous case is that of Pham Nhat Vuong: the first tycoon of modern Vietnam to enter the Forbes list of the world’s richest people, worth an estimated US$1.5 billion.

Looking at the set of agreements and memorandums signed during Putin’s latest visit, one will note that it covers a rather wide range of subjects. These include a series of joint ventures and huge projects in the field of hydrocarbon energy, construction of the first nuclear power plant in Indochina, educational and innovative initiatives, and healthcare. A new agreement on military cooperation is also included, and the package looks like a foundation on which the partners intend to construct a more diversified system of linkages.

Judging by the joint statement on the talks, there was quite a substantial discussion on issues of regional and global importance. Along with the new architecture for regional security and cooperation, issues as sensitive as Syria and the South China Sea were also discussed. Consistent with previous negotiations, the leaders of Russia and Vietnam stated that all territorial disputes in the Asia Pacific should be settled only by peaceful means, without the use or the threat of force, in accordance with the UN Charter and UNCLOS 1982. The strong support of a political and diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis by both presidents was quite predictable, as was their common appreciation of ASEAN’s centrality in the emerging regional architecture.

If ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ stands for a relationship with deep historical roots, and growing closeness built on similar regional and global perceptions, then the Russia-Vietnam partnership deserves this definition. Dr Victor Sumsky is Director of the ASEAN Centre at MGIMO University, Moscow.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Indonesia plans to build 30MW nuclear power plant

(Please! Don’t let this happen! Read my book ‘Jakarta’ to see why)
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesias Research and Technology Ministry will construct a nuclear power plant, a ministry official has said.

"We will build a nuclear reactor for generating power," Research and Technology Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta announced here on Friday.

The location of the nuclear power plant, which will have a capacity of approximately 30 MW, has not yet been decided.

"We have one small reactor in Serpong, but it is primarily used for research. It is time to build a reactor that actually generates electricity," the minister noted.

The development of a nuclear power plant will prove to the world that Indonesia has nuclear capabilities, he added.

"We have been managing nuclear reactors for 30 years quite capably. We also have several nuclear experts with international certification," the minister pointed out.

The expectation is that the new nuclear power plant will be located in Bangka Belitung, which is rich in uranium deposits.

"The government is committed to continuously disseminating information about nuclear reactors and their development to the community," Gusti added.

According to a survey conducted by an independent organization for the National Nuclear Energy Agency, BATAN, 76.5 percent of Indonesians approve of nuclear development for scientific and technological purposes, such as energy development, health, animal husbandry and food security.

Another survey in 2013 showed that as much as 60.4 percent of the public approved the construction of a nuclear power plant.

Aussie MEDIA are the Guilty

                                   Australian Labor Party Crooks

Bill Shorten, Federal Labor Opposition leader, is now under police investigation for the rape of a 16 yo girl. Julia Gillard is currently (and during her Prime Ministership) under police investigation for fraud. Michael Williamson, National President of the ALP, has pled guilty to having defrauded his HSU members of $1 million. Eddie Obied, Craig Thomson... oh, forget the rest, the list is far too long. 

Last week, after receiving reliable information that the prominent Labor Party figure accused of rape was none other than Bill Shorten, I wrote the following: 

{The name of the testosterone-infused accused is now known widely within the Victorian legal fraternity.}

“But why would someone wait this long to report a rape?” I asked.

The explanation given was that she has lived with the traumatic experience for 27 years with the emotional support of her girlfriend who was with her at the time but not a witness to the alleged rape. 

Now she can’t switch on the TV without hearing his name and seeing his contorted face. She has to relive the cowardly attack over and over again.

The treacherously ambitious Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, has urged a full investigation. Hmmm, I’ll say no more.] 

Well allow me, in anger, to say a little bit more now.

As a commentator I have always been politically agnostic. I have no affiliation with any party and nor do I want to have. If I believe either side is wrong I say so. I value my independence, I have been equally hated by both sides and defamed by those of the Left who fear my influence... and I don’t care.

I am, and always have been, a newspaperman first. I was brought up on the smell of ink and hot metal and the deafening rumbling of presses. 

I have worked for them all, from David Syme to Fairfax and Murdoch and I treasure those dim memories of Press propriety. 

Frenetic urgency, but never at the expense of accuracy, was our statement of faith never to be violated. Fairness and impartiality were bywords prominent in my “style” book.

My anger is not directed at the accused. Labor’s well-documented record of fraud, paedophilia and racketeering is known to all. It’s in their DNA and it always has been. It has not changed in the half century since I worked for Labor unions and it will not change in future. 

Bill Shorten, Federal Labor Opposition leader, is now under police investigation for the rape of a 16 yo girl. Julia Gillard is currently (and during her Prime Ministership) under police investigation for fraud. Michael Williamson, National President of the ALP, has pled guilty to having defrauded his HSU members of $1 million. Eddie Obied, Craig Thomson... oh, forget the rest, the list is far too long. 

My anger is reserved for our disintegrating media... and it really doesn’t know why it is disintegrating. It is lost in a vacuum between old intrepid reporting and a new digital age.

People have stopped listening to it. They no longer believe it. The radical Left has infiltrated every corner of it, destroying its moral ethic of impartiality and truth. 

Blogs have mushroomed to fill the void but battle to be heard.

No better example of the Left’s destructive bias was Fairfax’s and the ABC’s gay vanguard, David Marr’s reporting of an accusation that a wall may have been punched by Abbott 30 years ago. 

Although there was no witness, it was the Left's grand expose of Abbott’s possible hatred of women and his possible violent nature.

And the media’s Left spent ten days of excited hyperventilation covering that possibility.
Now that Bill Shorten has been accused of raping a young girl, the silence from the Left of the media is sickeningly deafening. 

No suggestion that he stand down while the investigation is in progress. No, nothing, not one word, not one question. Only the inaudible mumblings of "a presumption of innocence" apply to Labor's accused.

Documented evidence shows Gillard, Shorten and others were complicit in the massive AWU WRA fraud. Still not a left-handed pen is lifted in anger! 

Move on readers, there’s nothing to see here.
‘The Pickering Post’