Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Inside the West Papua Resistance-In the jungles of West Papua with the military wing of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka.

In the jungles of West Papua with the military wing of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka.for The Diplomat

The Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) was first created in the 1960s by a group of comrades who called themselves West Papuan Freedom fighters. The organization was created to fight the Indonesian Army, which had occupied large parts of West Papua after the Dutch colonialists withdrew.

The movement grew rapidly in the late 1970s with fighters joining its ranks in all major provinces of West Papua. Their operations mainly consisted of attacking Indonesian patrols. Over the years it started to carry out more sophisticated  attacks on foreign mining companies, such as blowing up pipelines in the Grasberg mine in Freeport.

It carried out assaults on civilian aircrafts in Timika, targeted foreign migrant workers, and kidnapped foreigners and journalists during the infamous Mapenduma incident.

The militant wing of the OPM allegedly had ties to former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddaffi, who had also supplied weapons to the group. Some senior OPM Commanders underwent training in Libya in the 1990s.

The diplomatic wing of the OPM also received support from the government of Senegal in the 1990s and were permitted to open a mission in Dakar.

Today, the military wing has many splinter groups who operate independently.

Some factions have agreed to a truce with the Indonesian government; others continue to wage their guerrilla campaign. By Rohan Radheya

The Diplomat offers full photo coverage on their site.


Explaining Kazakhstan’s Mysterious Sleeping Sickness

The latest theories look to carbon monoxide poisoning to explain Kalachi’s bizarre sleeping sickness.

The villagers of Kalachi say it all began in the spring of 2013. People, seemingly at random, began dozing off, slipping into comas–sometimes for weeks–experiencing dizziness, headaches and nausea. Over 150 cases have been reported, with some people experiencing the illness more than once. The Moscow Times reported a surge in cases through the winter and in January, the government began working to relocate the villagers.

Kalachi is a village in northern Kazakhstan’s Akmola region, roughly 230 miles northwest of the capital, Astana. Its population is between 582 (a figure cited by Interfax and the BBC) and 680 (the number used by the Moscow Times and RFE/RL). Not all of them are willing to relocate.

Viktor Kazachenko, who has lived in Kalachi for more than 40 years, told Eurasianet in March: “I’m not going anywhere…Why should I go? I’ve been here for 40 years. I’m going to die here.”

In January, the governor of the northern Akmola region, Sergey Kulagin, said that all the villagers would be relocated by May. But the Astana Times reported today that as of June 19, only 176 people have been relocated–65 families, including 54 children.

Neighboring districts have offered to take in the people of Kalachi. The heads of nine nearby districts visited the village in January–offering places to live and new jobs. Interfax reported that Saule Agymbayeva, the deputy head of the Esil district where Kalachi is located, said that it is older people who are the most worried about relocating “since jobs are being offered at farms.”

The village’s mayor, Asel Sadvokasova, said the relocations were voluntary but that scientists are still baffled by the sickness. “On this sleeping sickness, we don’t have the results of the studies in our hands yet,” he told Eurasianet.

One theory ties Kalachi’s ailment to the defunct Soviet uranium mine nearby. But the Krasnogorskiy mine closed over two decades ago. A television crew from RT claimed it found radiation levels almost 17 times higher than normal at one filled-in mine shaft, but they found normal levels in other sites closer to the village and quoted a former miner as saying “People worked in mines for so many years, and no one fell asleep.” The Astana Times cited scientists as saying the radiation levels in the area are normal.

The Astana Times reported that preliminary reports from the current investigation point to slightly abnormal levels of carbon monoxide  and hydrocarbon in Kalachi’s air. Sergey Lukashenko, Deputy Director General of Kazakhstan’s National Nuclear Center, gave an overview of the authorities’ present theory which still contains the mine, but not because of the uranium. After the mine, which contained a number of wooden structures underground, was shut, it was filled with water and “wood in contact with water created carbon monoxide. Then, it started to leak outside the mine gradually to the surface.”

This theory is similar to that of Leonid Rivkhanov, a professor of geological and mineralogical sciences at Tomsk Polytechnic University, who told Siberia Times in February that “the mines left open spaces underground which were slowly filled with water that has risen upwards, driving pockets of gas inside them to the surface.”

Kalachi’s mysterious sleeping sickness and its periodic resurfacing in the international media has led to both global curiosity and wild rumors. Most accounts mention the uranium mine, understandably. The local water and soil, or an illness like meningitis, have been suspected but generally ruled out. At one point in time rumors pointed to bad vodka as the culprit, but doctors dismissed the idea in 2013 when none, out of six people affected at the time, had had any. The Diplomat


Indonesia’s Deadly Air Force Plane Crash

Over a hundred people are dead in the country’s latest air tragedy.

An Indonesian military transport plane crashed into a hotel and residential area in the country’s third largest city of Medan on Tuesday, killing dozens of people in one of the deadliest accidents for the country’s air force.

The C-130 B Hercules aircraft crashed just two minutes after it took off from an air force base, hitting a busy road. The death toll has been climbing and is now over 50. Though cause of the crash is still unknown, Air Force chief Air Marshal Agus Suprianta revealed that the pilot had told the control tower that the plane needed to turn back because of engine trouble and was in the process of returning back to the airport.

“The plane crashed while it was turning right to return to the airport,” he said.

Supriatna said there were 12 crew and more than 100 passengers on board the plane, which took off from the capital Jakarta. However, it was not clear how many people were on board when the plane crashed, since it made two stops along the way in Pekanbaru and Dumai.

Indonesian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya confirmed that the aircraft had been inspected and cleared to fly before taking off. Nonetheless, in response to the incident, Indonesia’s air force has temporarily grounded its remaining eight Hercules aircraft, which were received from the United States.

This is not the first time a C-130 Hercules plane has been involved in a deadly crash. In May 2009, a plane crashed into homes, skidded into a rice paddy and erupted in flames, killing nearly 100 people. As was the case then, the crash is likely to raise questions about the aging plane’s record and the air force’s underfunded capabilities more generally.

Beyond the immediate incident, Indonesia has had a chronic problem with aviation safety. In April, as The Diplomat reported, an F-16 fighter jet malfunctioned and caught fire during a ceremony to honor President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (See: “Will Indonesia’s Fighter Jet Malfunction Affect its Defense Policy?”). In response, Suprianta ordered the temporary grounding of the F-16 fleet for evaluation due to safety reasons. Last December, in a more high-profile civilian incident, AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea with 162 passengers on board en route from Surabaya – Indonesia’s second most populous city – to Singapore.
By Prashanth Parameswaran

Vietnam Gets Fourth Submarine from Russia amid South China Sea Tensions

                                       Another one of Hanoi’s Kilo-class subs arrives.

The fourth of six Kilo-class submarines Vietnam bought from Russia arrived on Tuesday amid continued tensions in the South China Sea, local media sources reported.

According to Thanh Nien News, the submarine, codenamed HQ-185 Da Nang, arrived at Cam Ranh Port in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa on Tuesday morning transported by the Dutch-registered cargo ship Rolldock Storm. It was part of a deal Vietnam reached with Russia’s Admiralty Shipyards for six Project 636 Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines for $2 billion back in 2009. Under the agreement, signed during Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to Moscow, Russia agreed to provide the submarines, train Vietnamese crews and supply necessary spare parts.

The HQ-185 was reportedly launched on March 28, 2014 at the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg, Russia, and had a trial run on the Baltic Sea. It set sail for Vietnam in the middle of May this year.

The remaining two submarines are expected to be delivered to Vietnam by 2016. The fifth, codenamed HQ-186 Khanh Hoa, underwent a trial run in the Baltic Sea on June 8.

The latest delivery comes amidst simmering disputes in the South China Sea, where both Vietnam and China are claimants alongside the Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. In just this month alone, Vietnamese fishing craft have clashed with Chinese boats near the disputed Paracel Islands, while reports last week indicated that Beijing had redeployed an oil rig near contested waters. On Tuesday, China also announced that its some of its land reclamation projects had been completed, and that the focus would now shift to the construction of facilities on these features, which, as I emphasized previously, would also include military equipment (See: “The Truth About China’s South China Sea Land Reclamation Announcement“).

The Kilo-class submarines are some considered to be one of the quietest diesel submarines in the world, and are designed for anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface-ship warfare. Several analysts, including Carlyle Thayer at The Diplomat, have explored how Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) may use them to counter Chinese naval capabilities in the South China Sea. By Prashanth Parameswaran for The Diplomat

This is the way the world ends, not from a nuke but from a court ruling (The same-sex marriage debate)


In the race for global dominance, the world is being drawn closer every day to the brink of war. The rivalry casts Russia and China on the one side, and the United States, Japan and the NATO members on the other. War could start in Europe or in Asia either by design or by mistake.

But wherever it starts, should it ever start, it could be an unlimited war. With nuclear weapons sufficient to kill the entire human race 20 times over, perhaps not even the denizens on the deepest ocean floor would survive.

It could be a war to end all wars. Civilization, and the world itself as we know it, would end. Such therefore is the need for all men and all nations to work together to prevent it.

Yet without exploding a single nuclear device on any nation, the United States, through its Supreme Court, has sought to render meaningless the most important element that had held human society together from the very beginning of time–the natural family founded on the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman for the purpose of propagating the human race. This is matrimony or marriage.

In legalizing “homosexual marriage” all over the United States, regardless of any American state law prohibiting it, Justice Anthony Kennedy and four others of the nine SC justices air-brushed the truth first revealed in Genesis, that God created man and woman–male and female He created them–so that from the marital bond of one man and one woman may spring forth children.

The justices based their ruling on the so-called “right to marry,” but they failed to examine the issue at depth. Without question, this is a sacred and inviolable right. But the right to marry exists only in relation to marriage, properly understood. Marriage is a natural human institution, created at the beginning of time, for the preservation and propagation of human life. “Same-sex union” totally excludes new life .

To the various faiths, matrimony is a sacred rite; to the Catholic Church, it is one of the seven sacraments. No Congress or court of law has the right or authority to fiddle with it. Although nothing and no one can prevent a male from being sexually attracted to another male, or a female from being sexually attracted to another female, or prevent any two males or any two females from living together as same-sex “partners,” neither the State nor the Church can call that partnership a marriage, just because a male who has the “right to marry” wants to “marry” another male, and a female wants to “marry” another female.

Were we to accept the ruling as morally and legally valid, what would prevent the next fellow from insisting that he be allowed to marry his own brother or sister or widowed mother or aunt, or even his own pussy cat, dog, python or parrot? “Same-sex marriage” means a formal approval of disordered sex, which sodomy is. For a very long time, sodomy was criminally punishable in many places. Now the crime has been abolished, and the only punishable crime now is to talk irreverently about sodomy and sodomists. This is the sexual revolution, and as in all revolutions, what begins as a crime soon dictates the rules as soon as it believes it has prevailed. Apparently,the dictatorship of relativism believes it has.

HOW WILL “same-sex marriage” affect the whole fabric of American society? How will it affect those who follow the lead of the US? How will it affect what the Church teaches? In Chapter 18 of Leviticus, the third book of the Pentateuch, which contains ritual laws for the priests of the tribe of Levi, built around the central command, “You shall be holy because I, the Lord, am holy,” the Lord says the following to Moses, in continuation of their conversation on Mount Sinai:

“6 None of you shall approach a close relative to have sexual intercourse with her… 7 You shall not disgrace your father by having sexual intercourse with your mother… 8 You shall not have sexual intercourse with your father’s wife, for that would be a disgrace to your father. 9 You shall not have sexual intercourse with your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, for that would be a disgrace to your own family… 10 You shall not have intercourse with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, for that would be a disgrace to your family. …12 You shall not have intercourse with your father’s sister, since she is your father’s relative. 13 You shall not have intercourse with your mother’s sister, since she is your mother’s relative. 14 You shall not disgrace your father’s brother by being intimate with his wife, since she, too, is your aunt. 15 You should not have intercourse with your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, and therefore you shall not disgrace her. 16 You shall not have intercourse with your brother’s wife, for that would be a disgrace to your brother. 17 You shall not have intercourse with a woman and also with her daughter, nor shall you marry and have intercourse with her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter; this would be shameful because they are related to her. 18 While your wife is still living you shall not marry her sister as her rival; for thus you would disgrace your first wife… 20 You shall not have carnal relations with your neighbor’s wife, defiling yourself with her…22 YOU SHALL NOT LIE WITH A MALE AS WITH A WOMAN, SUCH A THING IS AN ABOMINATION. 23 You shall not have carnal relations with an animal, defiling yourself with it; nor shall a woman set herself in front of an animal to mate with it; such things are abhorrent.

How much of this, after the same-sex ruling, could still withstand the justices’ appreciation of an individual’s “human and constitutional right” to satisfy his disordered sexual appetite?

With the US judicial “legislation” on same-sex “marriage,” are we now seeing the same corrupted sexual morality which, in a distant age, had foreshadowed the decline and fall of the Roman empire? Are we? While remaining the lone political and military superpower in the world, have America’s morals not sunk to the level of its troubled economy?

In its declaration of independence on July 4, 1776, America proclaimed its loyalty and allegiance to a Creator who has endowed its people with certain inalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. So impressed was the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of “Democracy in America,” with the depth and fervor of its religious vocation that he described religion as America’s “first political institution.” Until the US banned public prayer and every sign of religious practice and expression outside the churches, America was proud to proclaim as its national motto, “In God We Trust.”

What happened to all that? Does same-sex “marriage” make America “a more perfect union,” as Barack Obama claims it does, or does it make it simply a more dangerous place? Some of my best friends are Americans. I have young grandchildren who are Americans. And Filipinos, according to a Pew Research study, are more pro-American than any other nationality. I am not ready to give up on the US as a lost paradise. But, as in my own country, I grieve over the kind of moral, political and judicial leadership that is in charge.

During the Cold War, we identified moral and political goodness with America and the West and moral and political evil with the Soviet Union and the communist bloc. The first Cold War is over, and the second may have already begun. Has the paradigm shifted? In 1821, Connecticut became the first state to pass an anti-abortion law to supersede the inherited English Common Law, which had forbidden abortion, as my dear friends Dr. John and Barbara Willke of happy memory record in their excellent book, “Abortion and the Pro-Life Movement.” On the other hand, Russia under Lenin became the first country to legalize abortion in November 1920, three years after the Russian revolution. This was temporarily forbidden during World War II, then legalized again in 1955.

But today the once officially atheist Russia has turned pro-life, pro-family and pro-God while the once strongly Christian and Protestant USA has officially turned anti-life, anti-family and apostate. In 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the US Supreme Court struck down America’s first state law against contraceptives, by invoking an unwritten “right to marital privacy.” A US Family Research Council paper quotes Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote the decision, as saying he had discovered the right to privacy in “penumbras formed by emanations” of a panoply of Bill of Rights guarantees under the Constitution.

In 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the court invoked the same right to privacy to legalize the destruction of the unborn fetus inside the mother’s womb. Since then America has killed more innocent and unborn babies in their mothers’ wombs than all the men and women it had lost in all its wars. And now, this same-sex ruling promises to remove children completely and forever from the vocabulary of “same-sex” couples.

Thus even Vladimir Putin has found the courage to wonder why the Obama government has forsaken God and the family while the rest of humanity is trying to embrace them. Such a reversal of roles.

Russia knows whereof it speaks. For it has paid the price for its folly as far as its population policies are concerned. Its birthrates have been the lowest in the nation’s history, and as Steven Mosher says in his book, “Population Control,” its population has been decreasing by three-quarters of a million people each year; Ukraine’s by a quarter million. The country’s population is projected to decrease from 143 million in 2005 to 112 million in 2050.

So while stupid Filipino policymakers and lawmakers break their bones trying to implement the discredited directives of the foreign population controllers, the whole of Russian society, beginning with Putin, is trying to reenergize family life everywhere. Since 2011, I have been invited to Moscow, first to participate in the world demographic summit that sought to address the global demographic winter that has spread ageing and dying without new life in all of Europe as well as in some parts of Asia, like Singapore and Japan.

The year after, I helped to launch the Russia Parents Association, a coalition of parents’ organizations across the Russian Federation, to encourage families to beget more children. In September last year, I was a plenary speaker at a huge family conference at the Kremlin, which looked to “large families” as a key to the future. My participation at the Humanum colloquium in Rome in November prevented me from attending the Stavropol Family Forum of the Russian People’s Assembly that same month, but one topic that caught my eye in that proposed forum was “Training Boys to Become Men.” This telegraphed Russia’s position on the same-sex question.

My heart goes out to the American people. I do not believe they are marked for destruction like Sodom, just because of the same-sex ruling. But like the Filipinos, they are victims of a Godless regime. We must find common cause with them. by FRANCISCO S. TATAD

Context Is Key to Australia-Indonesia Ties


Hardly had the dust of the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran settled than there was a new spat between Indonesia and Australia. Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry is now hard on Canberra’s heels for an official “explanation” of the alleged bribery of human traffickers turned back by Australian border officials. Relations between the two neighbors have long been prone to crisis and the current standoff represents another nadir.

Indonesia’s very bullish, public demand for an explanation is unusual in its directness. It is almost as if Jakarta is trying to give Canberra a taste of its own medicine, given the latter’s “megaphone” diplomacy in the lead up of the executions of the “Bali Nine” duo sometime ago.

The perennially fragile relationship between the two countries can also be understood through the concept of “high-context culture” and its opposite “low-context culture,” first introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his 1976 book “Beyond Culture.”

In general, a low-context culture is more individualistic, allowing differences and diversity in opinions among its members which in turn force them to develop better communications skills to avoid conflict. It follows that a low-context culture tends to see vigorous dialog as a means of problem solving.

By contrast, members of a high-context culture tend to avoid explicit discussions, preferring symbols and subtle gestures to convey meaning. A high-context culture likes to preserve harmony and peace among its members through complex social etiquette. This is an understandable ploy when arguments are often personalized.

However, no culture is wholly high-context or its opposite; any culture can produce both high-context and low-context behavior. Indonesia is predominantly high-context but, as its recent badgering of Australia  shows, it can also act in a low-context mode. On the other hand, Australia is largely a low-context culture, as most English-speaking countries are.

As a rule, a high-context culture can turn out low-context behavior when extraordinary intimacy between two parties develops or, more ominously, when sufficient offense is perceived to have been committed by one party. Unfortunately, in the context of Indonesia-Australia relations, the latter seems to be the case this time. Jakarta acts as if all the necessary niceties have been deployed, but to no avail, and hence it no longer troubles to observe the usual elaborate etiquette with its southern neighbor.

Indonesia is currently bent on showing its displeasure with Australia more openly. No longer  burdened by having to rationalize its behavior, Jakarta for example deliberately excluded Australia from the recently approved list of 45 countries whose passport-bearers can now enter the country without a visa.

Throughout the furor over the alleged bribery of human traffickers, Indonesian officials have been anything but diplomatic. Arrmanatha Nasir, the spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, couldn’t refrain from a jibe aimed at Australia, saying “My point is this: countries that are parties to the convention on refugees have a responsibility to ensure they believe in what they sign.” Though Arrmanatha correctly denied he had specifically referred to Australia, it was difficult to avoid such a conclusion since Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, while Indonesia isn’t.

The divide between high-context Indonesia and low-context Australia couldn’t be more evident than throughout the row over the death penalty earlier this year. Both the Australian government and media  conducted a public campaign to have the death sentences for Chan and Sukumaran commuted, which didn’t sit well at all with Indonesia.

The options Australia proposed of paying for their upkeep or alternatively carrying out an exchange of prisoners were also openly discussed, much to Jakarta’s apparent consternation. Indeed, Canberra’s offers  might have been more palatable to Jakarta if they had been made using less explicit language or not announced publicly at all.

It is definitely time that Canberra restructured  its strategy towards Jakarta. Yet this needn’t mean that everything has to be on Jakarta’s terms. While the delivery should certainly be more suited to a high-context culture, total acquiescence to Indonesia at the expense of Australian values hasn’t always yielded satisfactory results.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s meeting with president Suharto in 1974, during which he reportedly lent support for the latter’s belief that Timor Leste should join Indonesia, was a high-context act of appeasement, in the sense Whitlam placed the relations between the two countries above other considerations. However, it put Australia on the wrong side of history; and when Timor Leste seceded from Indonesia in 1999, Indonesian nationalists conveniently forgot the 1974 tacit support and even went as far as suggesting that Australia had vested interests in seeing an independent Timor Leste.

An example of engagement between two low-context cultures was perhaps Whitlam’s 1972 cable to US president Richard Nixon, protesting against the “Christmas bombings” by US forces of Hanoi and Haiphong, in Vietnam. The letter did strain relations between Australia and the United States but it also produced some of the most intense two-way discussions between the two allies.

One thing is clear: a high-context culture such as Indonesia’s shouldn’t be treated as if it were low-context, even with a seemingly down-to-earth informal president like Joko Widodo.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya.


Australia: a haven for Chinese sinners?


In 2008, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that up to 18,000 Communist Party cadres suspected of corruption had fled China since 1990. The US-based Global Financial Integrity group calculated in 2013 that US$1.08 trillion was illegally transferred out of China in the years 2002–11.

Since coming to power in November 2012, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping has instigated one of the most extensive anti-corruption campaigns in the Party’s history. A high-profile aspect of Xi’s corruption crackdown is the unprecedented extent to which China is trying to repatriate and prosecute corrupt officials who have left the country.

The Chinese state media describe Australia as a ‘haven for escaping sin’. Along with the US and Canada, Australia is one of the top three destinations for Chinese bureaucrats escaping abroad. Even ‘China’s biggest fugitive’ — former power grid boss Gao Yan, charged with awarding government contracts worth hundreds of millions of renminbi to family and friends — still calls Australia home, probably because of its high quality-of-life, robust economy and lack of an extradition treaty with China.

China is now pressuring Australia to repatriate ex-officials that it accuses of corruption. In July 2014, the Party launched Operation Fox Hunt to ‘pursue fugitives and pursue stolen money’ abroad. By the end of 2014, Operation Fox Hunt had led to the arrest of 680 cadres hiding in 69 countries and had recovered over 3 billion renminbi (US$480 million).

In October 2014, the Australian Federal Police confirmed that they were participating in Operation Fox Hunt by helping China freeze and seize the assets of corruption suspects on a jointly-agreed ‘priority list’. But the operation has yet to see a single person repatriated from Australia.

China is pressuring Australia to revive a bilateral extradition treaty that was signed by the Howard government in 2007 but never ratified by the Australian parliament. During Xi Jinping’s state visit in November 2014, a Chinese diplomat said that the Abbott government had promised to ‘speed up the ratification process’. In April 2015, China increased the pressure on Australia and other countries to extradite corruption suspects by publishing the details of 100 bureaucrats for whom China has issued Interpol arrest warrants. It claims that ten of them reside in Australia.

Both Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the Attorney-General’s Department have confirmed that they are considering a bilateral extradition treaty that dovetails with Operation Fox Hunt. Yet the Australian authorities have made no comment on whether China has already made extradition requests under co-signed United Nations anti-corruption treaties.

Perhaps Australian officials are reticent because extraditions to China could be politically sensitive. Australia cannot guarantee that returnees will enjoy due legal process or have their rights respected. In China, corruption can be punished by death, confessions are often extracted under duress, judges are party functionaries and the conviction rate is an impressive 99 per cent. Moreover, Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption purge is overseen by the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, itself an unaccountable party organ.

The extradition of corrupt cadres to China therefore contradicts Australia’s commitment to upholding human rights and the rule of law, both of which are ‘underlying principle[s] of Australia’s engagement with the international community’. Such extraditions would represent an Australian government endorsement of a Chinese justice system that has routinely denied basic legal protections to such Australian defendants as Stern Hu, Charlotte Chou and Matthew Ng.

This does not mean that Australia must remain a haven for corrupt communist cadres. The prosecution of Kai Cheung Li is a case in point.

As a state-employed property developer in Guangdong province, Li redirected AU$2.8 million (US$2.14 million) of public funds allocated for low-income housing to his wife in Brisbane. He was put under investigation in September 2003, and absconded to Australia shortly thereafter. In October 2005, China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate authorised the Guangdong authorities to request that the Australian police scrutinise Li’s assets.

The Guangdong authorities supplied the Australians with voluminous evidence of Li’s malfeasance. The Australian and the Chinese authorities agreed to indict Li for money laundering and dealing in the proceeds of crime. In 2007, the Australian police seized the Li family’s assets and the Brisbane Supreme Court sentenced Li to 14 years’ jail in 2011.

While Australia should by all means cooperate with China to investigate corrupt Chinese officials, it must insist that they are prosecuted on Australian soil. This will guarantee the legal rights of defendants and ensure that the evidence collected by the Chinese authorities is evaluated by an independent judicial system.

The Communist Party’s Central Committee for Discipline Inspection has recently declared that ‘prosecution abroad’ is a legitimate way to pursue its aims. This is part of an expanded anti-corruption campaign called Operation Sky Net that was launched in March 2015. China is now willing to ‘provide evidential material’ so that charges can be laid ‘according to the laws of [another] country’.

China’s wily ‘foxes’ might be fair game, but — like the crooked Kai Cheung Li — they also deserve a fair go in court. Prosecuting corrupt Chinese cadres in Australia is how the Australian government can support China’s anti-corruption campaign without compromising its fundamental values.

Neil Thomas is a Morrison Scholar at the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW), ANU. This article is based on his research for The Australia–China Story Archive, a CIW project on bilateral relations.


Indonesia Stuck in the mud in the shadow of Bakrie

The effigy of Bakrie at the protest marking nine years since the Lapindo mudflow disaster

The ninth anniversary of the Lapindo mudflow eruption shows Indonesia needs to urgently change its thinking on disaster management.

On 29 May protesters gathered in Sidoarjo, East Java, to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the Lapindo eruption; the world’s largest mudflow, and which is attributed by some to natural gas drilling.

At the protest, local victims and human rights activists paraded a giant effigy of prominent Indonesian politician and businessman Aburizal Bakrie. The oversized oligarch wound through the streets towards its final destination atop a section of the levees containing the mud, which continues to flow today. As it moved up the levee, the effigy began to collapse on itself and its carriers.

As the procession stalled for several minutes, it was hard not to view the moment symbolically: the weight of Bakrie’s power and influence overwhelming ordinary people. While this interpretation is perhaps apt, Bakrie is not the source of all the trouble in Sidoarjo.

The history of the Lapindo case is well known. Nine years ago, a geyser of hot mud suddenly burst from the ground next to a gas exploration well owned by Lapindo Brantas, a subsidiary of the Bakrie Group, a conglomerate controlled by the Bakrie family. The mud accelerated in the months that followed, eventually displacing over 40,000  residents, killing dozens, and causing numerous cases of illness, and extensive environmental, economic, and infrastructural destruction.

As head of the Bakrie family and a prominent, and controversial, political and economic figure in Indonesia, many observers suspect that Bakrie’s influence is behind many of the controversies related to this disaster. Most famous is the dispute over what triggered the mudflow, drilling by Lapindo Brantas or the Yogyakarta earthquake that occurred two days before the eruption, over 200 kilometers away.

Scientists with connections to Lapindo Brantas uniformly blame the earthquake, while independent scientists tend to point to the drilling. Other Bakrie-related controversies include media manipulation, a contentious land-purchase program meant to function as a compensation scheme, the  program’s underfundung, and attempts to sell and dismantle Lapindo Brantas to protect investors.

Despite widespread concern over Bakrie’s influence, I think it is more important to focus on questions of disaster governance. Of course, Bakrie’s role should not be ignored, but his spectacular figure tends to distract from considerable mistakes in the national government’s handling of the mudflow.

In 2007, then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) issued a decree that established the BPLS (the Sidoarjo Mudflow Agency) to oversee disaster management operations, from handling the mudflow  to providing aid to victims, with funding support from Lapindo Brantas. This two-headed disaster management apparatus suffered from bureaucratic inefficiencies that slowed the implementation of response projects, caused confusion between different governing bodies, facilitated corruption, and led to the dissemination of misinformation, all of which alienated victims.

Subsequent revisions to the decree eventually phased out Lapindo Brantas’s financing role, except for requiring that the company satisfy its debt to victims: the remaining payments from the land-purchase program that were supposed to be delivered in 2008.

To this day, the national government continues to oversee disaster management projects in Sidoarjo via the BPLS, but the conceptualisation and execution of its policies have shown little evolution since 2008. Thus, while the BPLS has been fairly successful in handling the physical mudflow (maintaining the levees and pumping excess mud into nearby waterways) and regional infrastructure (developing new roads and buildings), it has done little to address environmental concerns (like pollution to air, land, and water systems) and rifts with victims (even adopting Lapindo Brantas’s land purchase program to administer aid as the expanding mudflow has displaced additional victims).

In recent months, much of the news related to the mudflow has focused on President Joko Widodo’s plan to use federal funds to cover Lapindo Brantas’s debt to victims. While  payments are expected to begin rolling out on 26 June, and should be completed before Idul Fitri (Indonesia’s festival marking the end of Ramadan taking place in mid-July this year), the nine-year anniversary is an opportune time to rethink the entire disaster management apparatus in Sidoarjo.

Experts estimate that the mud will continue to flow for years to come. Rather than repeating mistakes that not only continue to alienate ordinary residents in the surrounding neighborhoods and ignore the environmental effects of the mud, but also have proven to be financially inefficient, it is time to integrate lessons from the past and develop a new disaster management strategy in Sidoarjo.

In disaster studies, it is well known that top-down, centralised disaster management strategies tend to be inefficient at best. When victims are excluded from the planning and administration of disaster management policy, when they are not provided with clear information about the causes and effects of a disaster, when they are not informed of their legal rights, and when there are no clear lines of accountability through which victims may act on these rights, a disaster management institution  can actually intensify victims’ hardship and vulnerability to hazards. Beyond occurring in Sidoarjo, similar problems with top-down, technocrat-led disaster governance have occurred in New Orleans and Haiti, to name some infamous examples.

Decentralising disaster management operations in Sidoarjo would not only  benefit mudflow victims, but would also  provide disaster management experts with ground-level knowledge about inefficiencies, victims in need, and environmental impacts.

By opening up disaster management operations to be inclusive of local residents, whether through civil society groups or via local governing institutions, to freely share both “technical” and “informal” information, to establish clear roles and responsibilities and a means of evaluating performance, and to move beyond the spectacle of Bakrie and media stunts by victims, all sides should benefit.

 “Lapindo says it has spent 2.7 trillion [rupiah] to help victims,” a displaced resident explained between photographing the effigy, “but no one saw where it went.” This man, who now lives in central Sidoarjo, said he brought his wife and daughter to the anniversary protest to remember their lives before the disaster.

But after nine years, as a new generation of children grow up in the region with no memories of life before the mudflow, many current and former residents fear that nothing will change, regardless of the government’s planned delivery of land-purchase payments.

Atop the levee, an activist with JATAM (the Mining Advocacy Network), which organised the parade, explained that the event is crucial for countering the sense of hopelessness that frequently arises. Beyond the parade, victims read poetry, fell into trances, danced, and sang, all for the sake of demanding justice.

Given these feelings and the ongoing problems with disaster management in Sidoarjo, there is no reason to proceed along the current course, unless the weight of Bakrie or other figures masked in his shadow are truly as great as the symbol of the collapsing effigy would suggest.

Then again, after a few minutes, which included some minor adjustments and the addition of many new hands, the effigy was on the move again, eventually finding its place on the wall. Perhaps this is a sign that Bakrie’s influence can be overcome.

Regardless of my divergent readings of the effigy’s symbolism, there is now an opportunity to focus on capacity building, and on empowering local communities both in Sidoarjo and those vulnerable to social and environmental disasters elsewhere. History teaches that empowerment and capacity building is always cheaper and more effective than response and reconstruction projects.

In a region famous for its political and environmental turbulence, it would be wise for Indonesia’s government to apply these lessons as various other social and natural hazards loom.

Phillip Drake is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Kansas. His research and teaching focuses on environmental literature, political ecology, and disaster studies.

The myth of Thailand’s bureaucratic state

Thailand’s latest coup was meant to replace greedy, inept politicians with benevolent bureaucrats better able to lead the country. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

It is no secret that Thailand has never been short of bad policies.

The administration has often produced policies devastating to people’s livelihoods and natural resources. One of the most popular explanations among supporters of the latest coup is the narrative of greedy and incompetent politicians. As uneducated local mafias, politicians are short-sighted because they are too concerned with the next election. That same concern forces politicians to support the wishes of their financial patrons, mostly business corporations, over those of the public.

The effect of this explanation is two-fold. First, it justifies anti-democratic sentiment because it claims that elections are the source of Thailand’s administrative failures. Second, it gives rise to the bureaucratic state because this explanation blames all mistakes on politicians while giving legitimacy to bureaucrats. Thai bureaucrats then portray themselves as benevolent experts who have to succumb to the ill-wishes of their elected superiors. If the assumption that the cause of Thailand’s evil is simply politicians is correct, then the military government of General Prayuth Chan-ocha should have produced numerous smart policies that will help Thailand leap forward.

Prayuth removed elected politicians from the administration which is now being run by retired and active senior bureaucrats. The executive and the administrative agencies are speaking the same language. A year and a month after the coup, this is the time to review Prayuth’s performance and test the hypothesis.

Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration was no different from others. Several of her policies were criticised for not only being detrimental to people’s livelihood and the environment, but also economically un-feasible.  The example of dam construction in the northwest triggered public outcry and massive rallies. It seemed that she was driving the country into the ground. This perception help shatter her regime’s legitimacy. During the six-month protest that ended in the coup d’├ętat, one high-profile bureaucrat publicly encouraged his colleagues and counterparts to “serve the people, not your politicians’ bosses”.

Yet since the coup  in May 2014, there has been no significant change in the government’s policy direction. Prayuth has copied many of Yingluck’s unfinished projects. Prayuth is signing deals with foreign investors to a build high-speed railway. He is also pushing for  Pak Bara Deepwater Seaport in the south as well as coal power plants.

To handle this year’s drought, he mentioned the idea of digging a giant tunnel to pump water from the Thai-Myanmar border to the central plain. But above all, he is carrying on the water management scheme. The scheme includes networks of dams and waterways all over the country and was Yingluck’s most controversial project. These policies focus intensively on stimulating national economic growth while ignoring the social, economic, and health impacts on locals.

It is obvious that bureaucratic Thailand is not performing well. Bureaucrats are neither knowledgeable nor public-minded. They have failed to produce smarter policies than those of Yingluck. It is even more violent and there is a total lack of accountability. Why does the administration without representation fail?

Politicians and bureaucrats often rely on different sources of legitimacy. While politicians claim themselves to be representatives of the people, bureaucrats portray themselves as experts. Because of their training and experience, they know best and can make better decisions.

Unfortunately this might not be true.

The obsolete Thai bureaucracy has weeded out talented and able individuals. Those remaining lack the vision to offer an alternative to Shinawatra-style policies. Besides, when policy-makers don’t rely  on the ballot box to assume power, they need not care about the public’s concern.

Reliance on expertise also means input from laypeople is not valued in the bureaucratic state. Public participation is only a mere rubberstamp that will be conducted in the least meaningful manner. Without elections, the term “people” is reduced to a small band of elites that these senior bureaucrats personally associate with. Thus, the saying that a civil servant should serve only the people, not politicians, is misleading.

This could explain why Prayuth’s policies still prioritise economic growth while overlooking the cost on the grass-root majority. It also explains why the current administration is willing to use force against protesters. An elected government would hesitate to order the use of force for fear of losing the next election. It could even reconsider a policy if it believes that its popularity is at stake.

For the bureaucrat-politicians, this concern is dismissible. The authoritarian characteristic of the government fuels this problem because agencies are aware that they will not be held accountable for following the junta’s order.

Prayuth’s personality only exacerbates the problem. He is paranoid. As he holds the positions of both coup leader and  Prime Minister, the distrustful general regards criticism of his policies as an objection to the coup. Thus, dissidents of all kinds are indiscriminately dealt with.

Consequently, the administration has become more brutal in dealing with conflicts. Demonstrations were strictly prohibited. Violators would be invited for a “talk” to readjust their attitude before signing a vow not to repeat their actions. Soldiers stopped and detained energy-reform activists  marching from the south to Bangkok.  They also stopped and detained land-reform activists  marching from the north to the capital.

The junta evacuated villagers from protected forest areas, despite the fact that many communities claimed the government had mistakenly demarcated the area on their original land. In Loey, where a gold mine company was accused of pollution and human rights violations, armed soldiers escorted the company’s men to transport ore out of the area. Uniformed men also came back to warn locals not to be defiant to the state.

To minimise dissent, the government now operates in secrecy and haste. Little information is given to the public. Controversial statutes such as the new national park bill and the new mining bill are being promulgated without public participation. Numerous mining concessions have been granted. Environmental impact studies for several projects were exempted. Construction contracts are given away without public scrutiny. Worst of all, given the overall atmosphere at present, it is unlikely that victims of Prayuth’s mistakes will be able to find recourse.

Blaming policy mistakes on elected politicians is partly true. Politicians do not always consider the best choice for the public. They are dictated by the concern about the next election. But a bureaucratic Thailand does not solve the problem. The myth should be debunked. An administration without popular representation is a ridiculous, and dangerous, idea.

The most crucial question is whether Thais will learn this lesson. In a country where Prayuth’s coup is the 13th, the answer is not promising at all.

Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang is a constitutional law scholar in Thailand.