The Islamic State group’s expanding influence, the lack
of progress in Middle East peace talks and the increase in ethnic and religious
conflicts are just some of the signs of greater confusion in the world today.
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at
Princeton University, was asked what is needed to create a new world order to
help deal with these regional issues as well as global issues, such as climate
change and nuclear weapons.
Falk was involved as a peace activist and expert witness
in Congress during the Vietnam War and in human rights issues concerning
Excerpts of the interview follow:
* * *
Question: How do you assess the view that the diplomatic influence of the United
States has been declining in recent years?
Falk: There are several factors. The first factor is that the change in the
domestic political situation within the United States has put foreign policy
under a great deal of what I would call “irrational pressure.” American policy
in the Middle East has been especially distorted by its need to satisfy the
There were many mistakes made by the United States, Iraq being the most
spectacular. Not only the initiation of a war against Iraq, but a very
misguided occupation policy definitely encouraged the rise of sectarianism.
This helped to create the conditions for the emergence of (the Islamic
State) by purging the Sunni officer corps of the Iraqi armed forces.
The United States has spent billions on training the armed forces of Iraq.
(The Islamic State) arrives on the scene with no particular big-power backing,
yet seems to be a very effective force on the ground because they have the
political will to engage effectively in military combat.
Q: About a year ago, the Islamic State issued a declaration calling for the
establishment of a caliphate state and for people to follow the strict form of
Islamic law, or Shariah. How do you view such measures designed to change the
A: Saudi Arabia also is a practitioner of a very harsh form of Shariah. There
are no high-profile international complaints when they routinely behead
criminals and others that they accused of a crime.
There exist a range of governing processes that are not altogether
consistent with Western, liberal values. Self-determination implies different
societies can choose different political systems.
The most severe problem associated with (the Islamic State) is that it has
definitely engaged in genocidal conduct, and that is intolerable.
Q: But isn’t the United States trying to put down the Islamic State through
A: I feel that one of the problems with American foreign policy is that it
has great difficulty thinking outside the “military box.”
The political sensibility has become over the years of World War II, the
Cold War and now the war on terror unduly dominated by hard-power capabilities
The record of deploying hard power is very poor since World War II. I think
Vietnam was the clearest case where the United States had complete military
dominance and yet lost the war. There is a need to couple a military approach
with a continuous exploration of possibilities for a diplomatic solution.
Q: Wasn’t the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan also a mistake?
A: The Afghans have an interesting slogan—“You have the watches and we have
The intervening side makes a cost-benefit calculation, but the target
society has its own destiny that is at stake, so it is more patient. It is far
more reluctant to surrender, and Third World movements have learned if they are
patient, they are likely to prevail even if militarily inferior.
From my conversations with leaders in Hanoi during the Vietnam War, they
had a 50-year plan of resistance.
Q: Are you saying the United States should try to seek out non-military
A: Although it seems difficult to explore diplomatic possibilities, a
military approach to a problem is more likely to create more recruits for the
terrorist adversary than it is to end the challenge.
I heard (former British Prime Minister) John Major talk about his efforts
to find a peaceful solution in Northern Ireland, and he said that he only began
to make progress when he saw the (Irish Republican Army) not as a terrorist
organization, but as a political actor.
I am not saying that this would necessarily happen with (the Islamic State).
Now, (the United States and Afghanistan are) trying to negotiate with the
Q: Could you explain your definition of terrorism?
A: It is used so instrumentally by the geopolitical forces. I think a clearer
understanding of political conflict arises by not using the terminology of
“terrorism.” If it is used, I believe it should be used to encompass both
movements like (the Islamic State), but also governments.
The essence of terrorism is deliberate political violence against those who
are innocent civilians. State terrorism is in my way of thinking more
destructive of people than is the terrorism of the anti-state movements.
Hamas won the election in 2006 (in Palestine), but it has been in Israel’s
interest to keep them in this “terrorist box,” and the United States has
endorsed that approach.
Q: You served as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the
United Nations. Do you see any progress toward the establishment of a
A: Israel has created conditions that make it very hard to imagine how to
create a Palestinian state. In that sense, I don’t have the political
imagination to understand how a two-state solution (for Israel and Palestine)
could emerge given present realities on the ground. People have talked about confederations
and a secular one-state solution. But these solutions do not seem to be on the
I am not smart enough to be pessimistic, but I’m not smart enough to be
optimistic either, so I don’t know what will unfold in the future, but it is
likely to be something that we don’t anticipate at the moment.
There has been a new tactical emphasis on the Palestinian side. A
combination of Palestinian soft-power initiatives coupled with a growing
solidarity gives Europe, and maybe Japan, an opportunity to play a more
There has been the recognition of Palestine as a state against the will of
the United States and Israel, by the United Nations, Sweden and Pope Francis.
Q: How should we understand your criticism of Israel even though you are a
A: I give priority to species identity rather than subspecies identity. My
Jewish identity is a subspecies identity, but my human identity is species
identity. Many of the problems of the world come out of giving too much weight
to subspecies identity, whether it is nationality or ethnicity or religion or
civilization. The world has become too interdependent in this era of
globalization for the subspecies entities to retain their dominance, but the
pressure against it makes it stronger.
It is both a consciousness problem and a structural problem. The world is
organized into territorial sovereign states and so are organizations like the
United Nations or the World Bank.
We will have a very self-defeating future for humanity if we continue on
this path of modernity that comes from the Westphalian peace treaties of the
17th century based on the idea of the nation-state as the only full-fledged
political actor on a global stage.
In the pre-Westphalian Europe, there was a kind of a normative unity that
was provided by the Catholic Church, and so you had a Christian community. It
was a non-territorial community similar to the Islamic “ummah” (community).
The idea of the nation-state served the international consciousness of
avoiding religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. That was a rational
solution in the 17th century, but it is not a rational solution in the 21st
Q: Do you believe the nation-state is incapable of dealing with the global
issues of today?
A: In connection with climate change negotiations, governments correctly feel
that their primary responsibility is to pursue their national interests. In a
situation like this, you can’t achieve an agreement that is good for everyone.
Nuclear weapons and climate change are problems that are not solvable merely by
cooperation among states.
You need some mechanism to protect global interests or the human interest,
and the United Nations is too weak to do that. If one wants it to serve the
interests of humanity, world order needs to either be reformed or transformed
in such a way as to allow the global interests to be protected.
There are really two sets of issues, one is containing the geopolitical
actors within an agreed legal framework, and the other is overcoming the
primacy of national interests.
Q: Has a vision emerged of a new world order?
A: (The pope) more than any other global figure seems to go beyond his
subspecies identity and seems to be speaking a universal language. I think
religion has the potentiality of contributing to this sentiment of being part
of the human family.
My own political imagination doesn’t depend on “waiting for the Messiah.”
Changes in political consciousness are somewhat mysterious. They come from
underneath the surface, and so they are very hard to anticipate, like
earthquakes. There is a situation that may give rise to something completely
different, but you don’t know quite how it emerges.
Tolstoy, at the end of “War and Peace,” writes an epilogue in which he
asks: Why do historians always get history wrong? He says: “Though the surface
of the sea of history seemed motionless, the movement of humanity went on as
unceasingly as the flow of time. ... . The sea of history was not driven
spasmodically from shore to shore as previously. It was seething in its
By TSUTOMU ISHIAI/ Foreign News Editor
Moscow is hurrying to
secure new markets as China emerges as a competing supplier.
As China enters the market for nuclear power plant construction in
post-sanctions Iran, Moscow is racing across the Middle East to develop new
export markets for Russian nuclear technology. On July 22, the head of Atomic
Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced that
Beijing and Tehran have agreed to China’s construction of two nuclear power
plants on Iran’s southern coast. However the loss to Beijing of some of its
market share in nuclear technology exports to Iran has not caught Moscow
flatfooted. While world attention was focused on the negotiations between Iran
and the P5+1 nations during the first half of 2015, one of those P5 nations –
Russia – was scrambling across the Middle
East to sign nuclear plant construction contracts with Iran’s Sunni
rivals. In addition to seizing upon a good business opportunity among Iran’s
regional rivals, Russia was also attempting to outflank another P5 nation,
China, before Beijing emerges as Moscow’s rival in the Middle East market for
civil nuclear technology.
Expanding Russia’s global market share in nuclear reactor construction
is a policy priority for Moscow. Russia itself is the world’s third-largest
generator of nuclear power. During his first tenure as president of Russia,
Vladimir Putin set a national goal of generating 25 percent of Russia’s
electricity from nuclear energy by 2030. Moscow has the second largest number
of reactors under construction in the world. Preserving its premier position in
the global market for civil nuclear technology is also essential for
maintaining Moscow’s own nuclear industry. Yet that position is now threatened
by Beijing’s entrance into the global market with a Chinese-designed reactor.
To build its brand, China is muscling Russia out of the market in a
post-sanctions Iran. China’s emergence as a competing supplier of civil nuclear
technology in Iran is one of the principal reasons Russia is hurrying to secure
new markets across the Middle East.
Russia’s first and only project in the Middle Eastern market outside of
Iran is Turkey’s Akkuyu nuclear power plant that will feature four
Russian-designed VVER reactors. Turkey and Russia held the groundbreaking ceremonies for
the project less than two weeks after Iran and the P5+1 nations
announced the April 2, 2015 Framework Agreement. The plant is being financed by
Russia under a Build-Own-Operate model. A two months earlier Putin and Egyptian
president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi signed a memorandum of understanding
(MOU)for Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company ROSATOM to build Egypt’s
first commercial nuclear power plant. A month after the Russian-Egyptian MOU,
Russia signed a $10 billion agreement with Jordan to construct the country’s
first nuclear power plant, with ROSATOM as 49 percent stakeholder. In June, a
few weeks before Iran and the P5+1 concluded a deal over Iran’s nuclear
program, Russia signed an agreement with Iran’s Sunni arch-rival Saudi Arabia
that creates the legal framework
for bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear development. The agreement was
followed by a Saudi commitment to invest
$10 billion in Russia.
During the sanctions regime, Russia had a near monopoly as a supplier of
materials to Iran’s nuclear program, most notably ROSATOM supplies fuel for
Iran’s nuclear facility in Bushehr. To prevent Russia from losing its dominant
position in Iran’s nuclear energy sector, ROSATOM signed an agreement with Tehran
to construct two new VVER reactors at Bushehr in the short term as well as two
more reactors in the medium term. Additionally, the agreement provides for the
Russian construction of an entirely new nuclear power plant in Iran with
another four of the same Russian-designed, pressurized water reactors.
However, a few weeks after the April 2015 Framework Agreement, Iranian
officials met with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing to discuss China’s
construction of a near equivalent number of reactors in Iran after sanctions
have been lifted. On April 25, 2015, the deputy head of Iran’s
Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Behrouz Kamalvandi met with his Chinese
counterparts in Tehran to advance negotiations over China’s
construction of a number of nuclear plants in Iran. Earlier in the month,
Kamalvandi had announced that China would construct an unspecified number of
nuclear power reactors, intimating that Russia’s ROSATOM would be limited in
the future to the six reactors it had already be contracted to build .
In 2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approved China’s Hualong One
reactor. It was the first time the IAEA approved a Chinese-designed reactor.
Beijing hopes that a big splash in the Iranian market will build up the brand
for the Hualong One, a third generation reactor. Iran’s cooperation seems
likely to help China muscle in on some of Russia’s share in the global market
for civil nuclear reactor construction. Given Beijing’s success in the Iranian
market, China can be expected to follow close behind Russia as a major nuclear
exporter to other Middle Eastern markets. Sino-Russian competition for market
share as well as for political influence in the Middle East will facilitate the
further nuclearization of the region.
Micha’el Tanchum is a Senior Fellow with the Eurasian Energy Futures
Initiative at the Atlantic Council
(An earlier version of this article appeared in Policy
Forum sponsored the Asia & the Pacific Policy Society.)
Japan's Xenophobia Problem
recent efforts, hate speech and racial discrimination continues to plague
While hate speech rallies
in Japan may have faded from the headlines compared to a year or two ago, xenophobia is
unfortunately still prevalent in Japan – as demonstrated by a recent rush of
Japanese citizens eager to turn in their “illegal” Korean neighbors. It is not
clear yet whether the source of this frenzy, an Internet rumor, was started by
an innocent error or the willful intent to do harm, but what is clear is that
it has yet again exposed the ugly side of Japanese exceptionalism.
The rumor that Zainichi ethnic Koreans with “special permanent resident”
status are subject to deportation as of July 9 led to a surge in calls,
letters, and emails from ordinary Japanese turning in ethnic Koreans who
actually have – and will continue to have – legal residency in Japan. The rumor
seems to come, in part, from confusion over the July 8 deadline for permanent
residents to switch from alien registration cards to new residence cards.
Though a penalty could be imposed for missing the deadline, it does not lead to
a loss of one’s special permanent resident status.
The situation had become “serious” enough for the Justice Ministry’s
Immigration Bureau to post an “important advisory” on its website on July 16
that missing the July 8 deadline for making the switch would not lead to
deportation of such special permanent residents.
However, Yasuko Morooka, a lawyer focused on human rights of foreigners,
believes more needs to be done by the government to clarify that the rumors are
groundless. As she told Asahi Shimbun,
“The ongoing problem of hate speech [against Koreans in Japan] appears to have
moved into a new dimension since many people did take the action of reporting
people to the Immigration Bureau. The incident shows that it could escalate
into a crime or hate crime against specific racial or ethnic groups.”
Racial discrimination against Korean and Chinese residents in Japan has
a long history, beginning with the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.
After the earthquake, incensed by rumors that “Koreans are poisoning the wells”
and “Koreans will attack us,” Japanese vigilantes murdered thousands of Koreans
and hundreds of Chinese. Social media makes the spread of such rumors even more
pernicious in the modern day – as exemplified by the reaction to the deadly mudslides in Hiroshima
prefecture last August.
In response to increasing activities by the right-wing groups such as
Zaitokukai (“citizens against special privileges for Zainichi Koreans”),
international pressure has been building against the Japanese government’s
feeble response. The UN Human Rights Committee
released a report last July that called on the Japanese government to ban hate
speech. The report expressed concern about remarks hostile to Korean, Chinese,
and other foreign residents in Japan that could foster hatred and
discrimination. This February, Amnesty International
criticized Japan for not introducing legislation that bans hate speech in
accordance with international standards. The U.S. State Department’s Country
Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 noted “entrenched
societal discrimination” against “the country’s Chinese, Korean, Brazilian, and
Filipino permanent residents and discussed recent hate speech incidents in
Japan. (Also read Freedom House’s 2014 Report on Japan here.)
While much more needs to be done, there have been some positive
developments that should also be noted, with the court system leading the way
in recognizing the suffering of victims. Last December, the Supreme Court
upheld lower court rulings that ordered Zaitokukai to pay compensation for
racist “hate speech” directed towards ethnic Koreans, including children, in
Kyoto. The Kyoto District Court
found in October 2013 that Zaitokukai’s speech contravened the International
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and in
upholding that decision, the Osaka High Court stated: “The innocent students at
the school were exposed to vulgar attack based solely on their ethnic origin
and suffered major psychological damage through the irrational acts of racial
Civil society is also beginning to take a stand. For example, Ryang Yong Song and
his Korean and Japanese allies have created the Anti Racism Information Center – a website
where ethnic Koreans suffering racial abuse can report their grievances and
receive help. The information gathered from the site is intended to help craft
legislation to address such racism.
The government is also launching its own nationwide investigation
into the problem of hate speech. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga
announced at a news conference on July 2, “We should carry out a full-scale
investigation to find out how many cases of hate speech occurred and what is at
With Japan hosting the Group of Seven (G7) summit next year and the 2020
Summer Olympics, the national government needs to get its act together – but as
usual, it seems that local units will be leading the way. This spring, Osaka
Mayor Toru Hashimoto
declared that he hopes to have an ordinance passed to crack down on hate speech
within the year. Osaka could become a role model for other Japanese cities.
While a genuine change of heart by the 10,000 or so
members of Zaitokukai would be ideal, it’s more realistic to hope that
international pressure can change the most egregious instances of their
discriminatory behavior. All humans deserve to be treated with dignity and
respect, regardless of their legal status or racial/ethnic background. If Japan
wants to maintain its standing in the world, it ought to ensure that such
dignity is afforded to every individual that resides within its borders. The
Diplomat By Mina Pollmann for The Diplomat
documents suggest Korea’s NIS was trying to spy on its own citizens via the
Kakao Talk app.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) is once again the
object of unwanted attention. It is alleged, based on leaked information, that
in 2012 the NIS purchased spyware from the Italian firm Hacking Team with the
intent to spy on its own citizens by hacking Kakao Talk, an messaging app that
allows users to text or call each other. Hacking Team, a Milan-based ICT
company, sells “offensive intrusion and surveillance capabilities to
governments, law enforcement agencies, and corporations,” according to one description.
States instinctively want to know more, because, as students learn in Foucault 101, there is immense power in
knowledge. Through various state apparatuses, typically an intelligence or
security organization, information is gathered under the guise of keeping
citizens safe and free. Seen from the perspective of the state, it is both
reasonable and expected that information will be culled, curated, and analyzed.
But there is a line, and many feel the NIS has crossed it, again.
Recently leaked files, released following — ironically — a hack of
Hacking Team, shows that South Korea’s “5163 Army Division” was among its
foreign clients who had purchased Remote Control System (RCS) spyware. It is
suspected the 5163 Army Division (no such division actually exists in South
Korea’s army) is a name used by the NIS; the mailing address for the South
Korea-based client “matches the address of the NIS civil service department,” according to the Korea Times.
According to Hacking Team’s own
description found in a document hosted by WikiLeaks, RCS is used as
“a stealth, spyware-based system for attacking, infecting, and monitoring
computers and smartphones. Full intelligence on target users for encrypted
communications (Skype, PGP, secure web mail, etc.).”
One particularly troubling
document, an email exchange from March 2014 between employees of
Hacking Team, shows that the South Korean client, referred to as “SKA” (re:
South Korean Army), was interested in “the progress of Kakao Talk,” implying an
intention to use RCS to spy on Kakao Talk users. The document also shows SKA
was, at the time, considering “the possibility of relocating their deployment
overseas to prevent any future linkage between RCS and their country.”
Hacking Team has come under scrutiny after reports from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab accused
the firm of selling spyware to illiberal governments. Specifically, Citizen Lab
has discovered RCS spyware being used by, they suspect, the Ethiopian Information
Network Security Agency to spy on journalists at the Ethiopian Satellite
Television Service (ESAT) in the United States. This accusation, and more
general concerns, are outlined in an open letter
penned by Professor Ronald Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, to Hacking Team.
The NIS has denied using RCS to spy on its own citizens, according to sources, but refuses, on
security grounds, to release the relevant log files. The relevant files were
maintained by a now-deceased NIS agent, surnamed Lim. The agent took his own
life earlier this month, apparently overcome by the brewing controversy. The
suicide note left by Lim rejects the claim
that South Korea was spying on its own citizens. The agent also indicated that
he had deleted materials, acquired using the RCS spyware, related to North
Korea. The NIS has since recovered the deleted files and claims that only
“North Korean targets or terrorist suspects” were targeted.
In the meantime, the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy
(NPAD) and ruling Saenuri Party have drawn battle lines. NPAD has taken to the
offensive, with party members calling for the NIS to disclose its log files. On
Thursday, NPAD co-hosted a seminar
to discuss illegal surveillance and the allegations leveled at the NIS; Citizen
Lab participated in the seminar via webcast.
The ruling party, meanwhile, has been providing cover for the NIS,
insisting that its own internal review, which concluded that the agency never
intended to spy on South Korean citizens, is sufficient. Saenuri’s position on
the matter is in line with NIS: forcing South Korea’s intelligence organization
to open relevant logs may reveal sensitive information about North Korea, ergo
dealing a blow to South Korea’s national and cyber security. Opposition
members, likening Saenuri’s position to
religious belief, want a panel of civilian experts to join
legislators in a more thorough investigation of the NIS’s spying activities.The
Diplomat By Steven Denney for The Diplomat
Schrank about Myanmar’s trajectory.
Delphine Schrank is a contributing editor to the Virginia Quarterly
Review and a co-founder of DECA Stories, a pioneering writers’ cooperative for
deeply reported, global journalism. She was The Washington Post’s
correspondent in Myanmar and is the recent author of The Rebel of Rangoon:
A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance (Nation Books, 2015), a narrative,
nonfiction account about dissidents in Myanmar and their multi-generational
fight for democracy.
She recently spoke with The Diplomat’s associate editor Prashanth
Parameswaran about the future of democracy and human rights in Myanmar ahead of
upcoming historic elections expected this November. An edited version of that
You had a chance to
interact with the people who resisted the regime politically, which forms the
basis of your book. Has that experience made you more optimistic or pessimistic
regarding the trajectory of reform in the country?
Optimistic! Burma/Myanmar presents a rare case of a country with a
social movement whose members have had decades of experience pursuing their
goal of democracy and attendant freedoms under one of the world’s most repressive
and whimsically cruel regimes. People across the years died or fled into exile
or broke under the pressure. It wasn’t a story of victory – they failed time
and again, or felt themselves fail. But they studied their mistakes and lessons
from their history, or sought inspiration from outside, and they evolved. So
they’ve developed an unparalleled sophistication, at least relative to other
people’s struggles for freedom – and we are seeing this now, very visibly, as
they take full advantage of the political space that has opened since 2011 to
expand the reforms – beyond whatever limits the military-dominated government
had intended. And that’s across all sectors – the media, in commerce, in
education – people working to build civil society, or adapting to the flawed
parameters of the parliamentary system. Very creatively, they’ll find ways to
make sure the clocks don’t turn back.
You experienced the
media environment in Myanmar first hand as a foreign journalist from 2008 to
2012. How was the environment and how do you think that has changed over time?
What are the challenges that remain?
In 2008 to about 2011, Myanmar’s press censorship was among the worst in
the world. Everything for print had to pass through the Press Scrutiny Board
and the junta had complete control over the Internet – although people employed
proxies to get around firewalls. But everything was licensed and regulated,
from acquiring flash-drives to copy paper. It was nearly impossible to publish
anything even vaguely subversive. The consequences for defying the censors, or
laws such as the notorious Electronic Transactions Act, could be years in
prison. For credible local news, people were forced to depend on the illicit
broadcasts of the Burmese services of the British Broadcasting Corporation,
Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, or the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma.
But in the decade before 2011, a core of serious journalists managed to
keep alive about 100-150 private journals, weekly or monthly publications. They
could only obliquely or metaphorically pass messages about the economy, or
political issues and many filled their pages with horoscopes and sports news.
But there was a thirst for more substantive information.
So it’s no surprise to me that with the easing of censorship since 2011,
there’s been a burst of new publications and a very vocal and combative
journalism—some of it ready to take on the most sensitive political taboos such
as corruption within the ranks or state-led crackdowns on protesters. The
battle’s ongoing right now for freedom of the press. But journalists are
covering it, and a whole slew of new journalists, not always abiding by the
best editorial or ethical standards. So—there’s a long road ahead. And
publications will be born and die as fast. But the fourth estate is very much
alive, and with a little time, it’ll grow up.
Within Myanmar’s fight
for democracy, democracy icon and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has loomed
large. How was she perceived in the dissident underground in Myanmar, and how
should we think about her role?
Aung San Suu Kyi remained the unchallenged leader of the democracy
movement for members of the dissident underground– but largely without the cult
of personality that wider society built around her. There was a strategic
reason for this: dissidents saw her as the only public figure who could
cultivate widespread trust, and bring together Burma/Myanmar’s different
stakeholders in the interests of national reconciliation. No one else, they’d
say, not even the iconic student leaders who had led the 1988 uprising, had her
broad reach. At a personal level, dissidents who had worked beside her or were
directly inspired by her to join her party, the National League for Democracy
or the movement beyond, repeatedly told me anecdotes illustrating her qualities
of leadership – her intelligence and strength of character. And even if they
disagreed with some of her positions, they saw the need for her as a unifying
force – as a focal point for the opposition.
But I think the reality now is more complex—and even as she remains the
single greatest source of inspiration and the most eloquent defender of their
rights and aspirations, there are multiple actors within the pro-democratic
opposition who have begun to earn people’s trust and who are making their
voices heard more independently, because now they can. Until now, few of them
wanted to break rank, in that sense. They understood that even if they had
their differences, working under the kinds of constraints of authoritarian rule
meant keeping quiet and standing behind Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar is expected to
hold historic elections in November 2015. How do you think this will impact the
Among the 75 percent of parliamentary seats that will be up for
election, it seems clear that the military-backed Union Solidarity Democratic
Party (USDP) will lose its absolute majority – which it had secured in the last
general elections in 2010 largely by rigging the vote. With the world watching,
and if the elections are relatively clean (and that’s a big if), there
will likely be a surge of new seats for the pro-democratic parties and
representatives of the ethnic minorities. People are speculating the largest
win for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
And I think that can only be a good thing – because these are parties
with clear and explicit mandates that have less to do with holding onto power
than delivering on promises to the people on whose behalf they’ve been
advocating for years. That might sound naïve, but these are politicians who
couldn’t talk aloud for years, many of them jailed, and now they’ll be able
speak openly in parliament and legislate on a raft of issues that deeply affect
Before the last general elections, I heard people say that every five
years they’d get a few more seats, and in that way, nibble away at the in-built
undemocratic flaws within the parliamentary system. So even though the
constitution still reserves a 25 percent bloc of seats for the military, and
other clauses remain offensive to pro-democracy activists, it’ll be interesting
to watch how forcefully they’ll push for aggressive changes within the
parameters of the legal system.
So in sum: fewer military men or former military officers in parliament;
a break-up of the old centers of power; and more reform, incrementally. And
there’s also a slow, deep cultural change that comes of people learning to
articulate their grievances through public discourse, and legislating
accordingly, as opposed to resisting orders from men in uniform.
That’s a very optimistic reading, which is not to say it won’t be a
battle at every turn, with spoilers who retain a lot of power looking for ways
to trip up the reform process. But that’s the definition of politics!
The Rohingya migrant
crisis has made the headlines the world over this year and focused global
attention on a heavily persecuted group. How should we think about the Rohingya
issue within Myanmar’s struggle towards democracy and freedom?
Since the violence escalated in 2012, the government has seemed either
unable or unwilling to prevent attacks on the Rohingya, who are concentrated in
eastern Arakan state. People have been quick to point out that security forces
have no trouble cracking down on activists who are protesting for land or
education rights, but meanwhile those same forces have done next to nothing to
contain the ultra-nationalist movement that invokes the name of Buddhism and
the Buddhist character of the country to spew invective and fan longstanding
anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim sentiment, despite the fact that those
populations have lived for generations in the country. Why there is such
visceral hatred of the Rohingya – and official refusal to acknowledge their
rights as citizens or their historical presence – remains a mystery in a
country that recognizes 135 other ethnic groups.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized heavily, particularly outside the
country, for not coming out explicitly to denounce persecution of the Rohingya,
and the NLD has likewise been muted. And that seems indefensible – they are the
best placed voices to stand up forcefully for the lofty goals and expansive
rights that they’ve been fighting for – and those were never intended for
exclusive enjoyment by the country’s Buddhist majority. So I think there’s a
real challenge here that’s symptomatic of a country in which the question of national
identity has always been fraught, complex and unresolved. But also it’s
important to remember that the NLD and the democracy movement have yet to fully
achieve their goals. Burma isn’t yet a democracy. The country is still run
under a military-dominated system. There’s still a very delicate line to tread
for the NLD and other pro-democracy forces—and they are well aware of this. The
creativity I wrote of above, that’s in part a necessity because they still
can’t always be direct—they have to be devious. History has shown them that
head-on confrontation against the military can result in genuine setbacks.
So, without defending their failings, I think it’s important to
recognize the inherent complexities of a democracy struggle that operates in a
muddy and complex reality, particularly as the black-and-white struggle of
junta-vs-people cedes space in people’s perceptions to Burma/Myanmar’s other
emergencies. There’s still a long way to go.
By Prashanth Parameswaran
Asia’s ‘Unruly’ Children
hegemony in Asia highlights the difficulties faced by young progressives
fighting for change.
Singapore’s sons was freed earlier this month after spending a total of fifty
days in detention for his irreverent comments about the city state’s founding
father Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away in March at the age of 91.
Ostensibly, 16-year-old Amos Yee was charged with
“wounding the religious feelings of Christians” in a YouTube video that
lambasted Lee Kuan Yew and compared him to Jesus, whom the young blogger
described as ‘power hungry and malicious’. Amos was also found guilty of
posting obscene material on the Internet, reference to a crude illustration of
Lee and former British premier Margaret Thatcher in an acrobatic sex maneuver.
However, the ferocity with which the Singaporean authorities pursued the
boy suggests that religious sensitivity and obscenity were secondary concerns –
his real crime was having the impudence to attack the revered elder statesman,
particularly at the time of his passing and in such a vulgar way.
Expletives aside, Amos’ video offered a convincing critique of
Singapore’s illiberal democracy, in which the People’s Action Party formed by
Lee Kuan Yew has completely dominated politics since 1959. He also drew
attention to the country’s long working hours, income inequality, high tax
rates, and poor social security – issues increasingly vexing to the lower and
“squeezed middle” sectors of Singaporean society. Although the PAP won its usual
supermajority in 2011 elections, it did so with the lowest ever share of the
popular vote. With an election imminent, Amos’ comments would have caused
disquiet amongst the ruling elites, who hastened to arrest him on the day of
Elsewhere, the video may have fallen outside the boundaries of good
taste but would nonetheless be protected as free speech. Not in Singapore,
which the Press Freedom Index ranks a miserable 150th in the world. Public
criticism of the government is treacherous terrain to navigate and has often
landed people in court, including two infamous defamation suits filed against Far
Eastern Economic Review and International Herald Tribune by Lee Kuan
Yew himself. His son Lee Hsien Loong, who became prime minister in 2004, has
recently won another controversial case which seems set to financially cripple
blogger and activist Roy Ngerng.
The treatment of Amos Yee seemed “disproportionate and inappropriate”
according to the UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia. Other group such
as Human Rights Watch called for Yee’s release and when the boy was strapped to
a bed for a day and a half, his lawyers expressed concern that he was receiving
“special treatment.” Much of Yee’s detention focused on psychiatric assessment
– an attempt to medical’s as abnormal what was in fact perfectly rational
political opinion, delivered with a cocky iconoclasm few in the country seemed
able to comprehend.
Amos started proceedings in March with defiance, nonchalantly eating
bananas and giving the finger to media on his way to court. Out on bail before
his remand period, he wrote in his blog: “I have not ‘learnt my lesson’, nor do
I see any ‘lesson’ that needs to be learnt.”
However, the boy who was released this month was not the impish rebel we
had grown accustomed to. Head bowed and defensively clutching a tote bag to his
stomach as his mother led him through the media scrum, he seemed for once not
to relish the attention. Unsteady on his feet, disheveled and thinner than
before, he looked sadly defeated. Amos is clearly an independent thinker, able
to shrug off social pressure to conform; but when the full power of the state
bore heavily down on his narrow shoulders, it proved too much.
Aside from a smattering of civil society activists, Singaporeans seemed
largely unsympathetic to Amos’ plight. His video was roundly condemned, often
in no uncertain terms. One middle-aged man was so affronted by the disrespect
shown to Lee Kuan Yew that he gave the sixteen year old a painful slap on his
way to court, which he claimed would “instill fear in the teenager, let him
know what the ways of the world are and teach him a lesson.”
Had the assailant taught this “lesson” less violently, he might have
chosen the Analects of Confucius as the assigned text, for this is the cultural
lens that helps us understand the story more clearly. Deeply conservative,
Confucianism emphasizes filial piety, or respect and obedience to parents,
elders and ancestors. This is then extended to rulers – with the state representing
the family writ large – as a way of maintaining social harmony. It is a model
that serves authoritarian regimes well.
The concept was a cornerstone of the “Asian values” extolled by Lee Kwan
Yew and other regional patriarchs such as Mahathir Mohamad and Suharto in the
nineties. While the idea may have lost some of its swagger in the ruins of the
1997 Asian financial crisis, it was too deeply engrained to disappear
completely and may well flourish once more as Asia plays an increasingly
important role in world affairs. Understanding this cultural hegemony explains
the popular backlash against Amos Yee in Singapore and highlights the
difficulties faced by young progressives fighting for change all over the
Hong Kong’s chief executive C. Y. Leung is no Lee Kuan Yew – a fact
lamented in Beijing, where the Chinese government must feel that a stronger,
more capable leader is needed to guide the Special Administrative Region
through its current crisis and towards integration with the mainland. Prone to
gaffes and deeply unpopular with large sections of society, Leung falls
considerably short of the archetypal Asian patriarch. Most troubling perhaps –
from the Confusion perspective of seeing the family as the microcosm of the
state – is that he seems unable to manage his own wayward daughter, who often
makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Fittingly then, it is with the youth
of Hong Kong that he has the biggest discord.
The most public face of Hong Kong’s new generation of activists is a
slight, bespectacled boy called Joshua Wong, who became a household name at the
age of just 15 when he founded the group Scholarism to protest against the
“moral and national” education reforms aimed at primary and secondary schools.
The proposed curriculum was criticized as an attempt to brainwash
schoolchildren with pro-Beijing propaganda and tens of thousands marched
against it in the summer of 2012. The government’s response was sly; by making
adoption of the curriculum non-compulsory, the students were handed a
face-saving victory, only to find that many schools endorsed the syllabus
Wong then played a role in the unprecedented mass civil
disobedience of 2014 which came to be known as the Umbrella
Movement. Objecting to regressive reforms to Hong Kong’s electoral system, the
predominantly student-led movement demanded full universal suffrage and
occupied key areas in Hong Kong for several months. At times the police
responded heavily with pepper spray and tear gas. As in Singapore, Wong and the
other students faced considerable pushback,
not just from the state but from society at large. A Chinese University of Hong
Kong poll showed considerably less support for the protests amongst older
people than those aged under twenty-four. Many of the students went home from
the barricades at night only to face antagonism from their disapproving
parents. At times, the generational friction turned violent, with countless
attacks on the protesting students, usually by middle-aged “uncles” irritated
by all the upheaval. Just last month, Wong and his girlfriend were left with
injuries after being attacked by a member of the public as they returned home
from the cinema.
However, it is in Thailand where young activists face the gravest
danger. There, Confucian values such as respect for authority and filial piety
have merged with something close to a devaraja cult, in which the country’s 87
year old monarch, King Bhumipol, is considered by some to be God-like. Known
colloquially as “father,” he is central to the orthodoxy
of “nation, religion and king.” According to this brand of royal-nationalism,
all Thais love the king – anyone perceived not to is dismissed as “unthai” and
will face severe social sanctioning, if not the harsh lèse-majesté law. During the Red Shirt
protests of 2010, a well-known actor gave an emotional speech at an awards show
in which he likened Thailand to a household with the king as the father. He
admonished anyone who “didn’t love father” and advised them to “leave the house
immediately.” His speech brought the star-studded, blue-blooded audience to
their feet, wiping tears as they applauded loudly. This highly emotional
ultra-royalism can be dangerous. In 1976, when a spirited student movement was
wrongly accused of anti-monarchy activities, police and right-wing vigilante
mobs descended on Thammasat University campus, killing more than one hundred
students and mutilating their corpses.
The origins of this virulent form of royalism can be traced back to the
late 50s-early 60s dictatorship of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, a staunch
royalist who gave the then beleaguered monarchy the political space to
re-assert itself in Thai life. Sarit’s traditionalist and highly authoritarian
style of rule has been dubbed “despotic paternalism” by Thai scholar Thak
Chaloemtiarana. It is a style of governance that has now
sadly returned to the kingdom. Thailand’s new dictator Prayut
Chan-o-cha, who seized power in a 2014 coup, is cut from the same khaki-cloth
as Sarit. As a general, he was known as a royalist hardliner who led military
operations against Red Shirt protestors in 2010, which saw 96 killed. Since he
traded his green uniform for a grey suit, he has maintained a firm grip on
With his 50s hairstyle and mentality to match, Prayut is an anachronism.
There is a sense that falling back on such an old-style strongman was an
embarrassing last resort for the Thai elites. However, it was deemed necessary
to ensure victory in their decade-long battle to suppress the electoral appeal
of politicians associated with the former Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra,
ousted in a prior coup in 2006. The general’s mandate is to oversee a “freeze”
on democracy, during which time the Thaksin political machine can be dismantled
and the constitution rejigged to weaken the role of elected politicians.
Prayuth will likely hold on to power until the sensitive royal succession is
completed, with the aim of preserving the predominance of the monarchy into the
next reign. It is in this difficult cultural and political context that young
Thai activists must operate.
Schoolboy Netiwit Junrasal has much in common with Joshua Wong.
Bespectacled and unassuming, yet earnest beyond his years, he began his
activism by protesting issues directly affecting his life at school, such as
the imposition of military-style haircuts on students and the tradition of
prostrating to teachers on Teacher’s Day. Around the same time, trans-female
university student Aum Neko caused a stir with her raunchy poster campaign
denouncing university uniforms as a form of thought control. Both students
raised important points about an education system that often seems more intent
on controlling and conditioning than educating. However, they faced an
aggressive backlash from conservative sections of society. Aum was later
charged with lèse-majesté for
statements she made on a talk show and fled to France, where she was granted
The Red Shirt movement, most of whom supported the ousted regime, have
been silent since the coup – the current climate is just too risky for them.
However small groups of students have come bravely forward to fill the void.
One Bangkok-based group known as the Thai Student Center for Democracy have
been holding sporadic protests for the past year. Meanwhile, in the
northeastern city of Khon Kaen, a group called Dao Din have emerged to call for
a return to democracy. The two came together in Bangkok this May to stage a
heated protest on the first anniversary of the coup. Fourteen were arrested and
held by the junta. They have since been released but still face charges.
The young activists mentioned here have all shown bravery in speaking
out when the dominant ideologies of their culture dictate that they be seen and
not heard. When world leaders rushed to join Singaporeans in canonizing Lee
Kuan Yew as the man who single-handedly built modern Singapore, Amos Yee, in
all his youthful tenacity, threw himself on the wheel of history as a reminder
of the founding father’s other, less laudable legacies. With the specter of
Tiananmen looming in background, the youth of Hong Kong fought a grueling four
month battle against their government and its backers in Beijing. They did so
with an impressive discipline and maturity. And whilst other opposition groups
in Thailand are cowed by the most repressive regime the kingdom has seen in
decades, a small handful of students have stood up as a lone voice for democracy.
Despite cultural constraints, young people will always try to right the
societal wrongs of their elders. It seems almost a natural cycle of life – an
evolutionary process perhaps – which ultimately no construct or regime can
James Buchanan is a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Department of
Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong.
The discovery of plane debris washed up on a remote island in the
southern Indian Ocean has rekindled efforts by family members of passengers on
board a missing Malaysia Airlines flight to seek greater compensation.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared in March last year en route
from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board. No trace of
the plane has been found yet but the appearance of an object, identified by
aviation experts as part of a wing, on Reunion island east of Madagascar could
offer the first real clue.
Most of those on board were Chinese. Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer representing
the families, told Reuters more than 30 family members in China have already
agreed to sue if the debris is confirmed to be a part of the missing plane.
Joseph Wheeler, special counsel at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers in the
Australian city of Melbourne, also said he had started fresh talks with more
families in Malaysia since Wednesday’s discovery.
“It’s triggering renewed monitoring and recommendations to families,”
Wheeler told Reuters.
“If there is evidence that the aircraft has failed, that very well may
trigger a wave of lawsuits from around the world, predominantly Malaysia and
China,” he said.
Zhang said the families had discussed filing lawsuits in China, Malaysia
or the United States.
A Malaysian official and aviation experts have said the piece of debris,
a 2-2.5 metres (6.5-8 feet) long wing surface known as flaperon, is almost
certainly part of a Boeing 777, the same type of aircraft as MH370.
In January, Malaysia Airlines declared the plane’s disappearance an
accident, clearing the way for it to pay compensation to victims’ relatives
while the search for the missing plane goes on in a vast area 1,600 km (1,000
miles) west of Australia.
“Regardless of whether our loved ones return or not, I will definitely
sue Malaysian Airlines ... they have put us through so much pain and suffering,
they must be held responsible,” Li Zhen, whose husband was on the plane, told
Reuters by telephone.
Under the Montreal Convention, which governs such accidents, families
have until March 2016 to either resolve their claim or file legal action.
The piece of debris, covered by barnacles but otherwise in reasonable
condition, raised hopes that other useful debris could also turn up.
Investigators could then examine such components for “patterns of destruction”
to see if they had failed, Wheeler said.
“When we find things like that we are able to investigate whether
similar parts or similar manufacturers of parts have come under scrutiny in the
past,” he said.
If Boeing Co was found by expert evidence to be the cause of the
accident, families might seek to sue the aircraft manufacturer in the United
States, helping them claim millions of dollars in compensation, Wheeler said.
Boeing has declined to comment on widely circulated photos of the
However, Daniel Rose, a partner at Kreindler & Kreindler LLP in New
York, which represents more than 50 victims’ families, said the discovery was
unlikely to trigger a wave of lawsuits.
Families are pursuing a settlement with insurer Allianz through
Kreindler, he said, but the firm could sue before the two-year statute of
limitations runs out. --Reuters
Kalimantan. The bushes shook violently and the female orangutan froze. Her baby
clutched her tightly before the two quickly disappeared into the Borneo
undergrowth. As the bushes parted, a broad-shouldered male orangutan strutted
to the feeding platform.
Dominating the fruit on offer, the male great ape
dared the other orangutans in the trees to challenge him for the food.
The endangered orangutan is a solitary animal and
it is rare to sight these great apes in groups, but this is Camp Leakey in
Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesia and home to around 6,000 rescued
The park in Central Kalimantan province has been protecting great apes
for 38 years, but its success is now a problem as the reserve does not have
sufficient space and resources to sustain any more apes.
Yet Dr. Birute Galdikas, 69, who heads the Orangutan Foundation
International (OFI), has some 300 more rescued orangutans in her care waiting
for a release back into the wild.
Galdikas’s OFI is desperately trying to buy 6,367 hectares of land
opposite the park, which includes a vital stretch of land along the Sekonyer
River, to accommodate the extra apes – price tag $2.5 million.
But the OFI, which relies on donations and money from ecotourism, has
only been able to raise a third of that amount.
“We have to protect this stretch of land,” Galdikas told Reuters
following an eco-trip to Camp Leakey to visit some of the rehabilitated great
apes returned to the wild.
“If we lose this river edge, where are all the proboscis monkeys going
to go? Where are all the  orangutans going to go?”
Protecting the forest habitat of the orangutan has become as important
as rescuing the great apes if the species is to survive, says Galdikas, who
came to the Tanjung forest when she was 25 years old and has spent 44 years
trekking through forests and wading up to her armpits in swamps to protect
Global demand for palm oil, which is found in supermarket products from
margarine to lipstick and shampoo, and is also used as a biofuel, has helped
Oil palm plantations now surround Tanjung Puting National Park, cutting
corridors through which orangutans and other wildlife use to cross from one
large forest to another.
Indonesia, which is ranked fifth in countries with the most annual tree
cover loss, imposed a 2011 moratorium on clearing primary natural forests and
President Joko Widodo in April extended the moratorium for two years and
expanded it to cover 1 million hectares. The government also increased
penalties for illegal logging.
But the moratorium applies only to new areas of forest. Forests in
existing commercial concessions are not protected and as a result oil palm
plantations have expanded.
Palm oil production in Indonesia rose from 10.5 million hectares in 2013
to an estimated 11.44 million hectares in 2015, according to the Agriculture
Togar Sitanggang, secretary general of the Indonesian Palm Oil
Association, put expansion this year at about 300,000 hectares, and said it was
limited to areas already given permits a few years ago. He said a pledge on
sustainable development, new forest laws and a soft market were slowing
Indonesia says palm oil is important for development because it reduces
poverty by bringing roads, schools and other infrastructure to rural
communities and generates five million jobs that benefit 15 million people.
And a government biofuels policy, which aims to cut fossil fuel imports
and save $1.3 billion, is encouraging small landholders to turn to palm oil
production. Under the policy, each liter of diesel must contain 15 percent
“The problem is allowing landholders in Indonesia taking part of the
forest for palm oil plantations – what is good for the economy may not
ultimately be good for the forests,” Galdikas said.