The government holds that the city state needs an ethnically Chinese
leader, but citizens may not agree
The move on
Wednesday by Singapore’s popular deputy premier to emphatically quash
suggestions he wants to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong exposes
the conservative ethnic consensus in the country’s leadership, despite a public
clamour for greater political openness, observers say.
Public speculation about Tharman
Shanmugaratnam’s fit as Lee’s successor has been swirling in recent years, and
resurfaced on Monday after an independent survey showed nearly 69 per cent of
Singaporeans would support the 59-year-old ethnic Tamil as the country’s next
“Just to be absolutely clear, because
I know there’s this talk going around… I’m not the man for PM, I say that
categorically. It’s not me,” Tharman told local media late on Wednesday.
Tharman said the top job was not his
He is one of two deputy prime
ministers and oversees financial and social issues. The former central bank
chief took the job in 2011, having entered politics in 2001. He was finance
minister from 2007 to 2015, and an education minister before that.
“I’m good at policymaking, good at advising my
younger colleagues and supporting the PM, not being the PM,” he was quoted as
Political observers told This
Week in Asia Tharman’s comments revealed his tacit acceptance of the
long-ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) belief that the Chinese-majority
country was not yet ready for an ethnic minority leader.
“It may be that he genuinely does not
want the job but it is also possible that the results of that survey have
exposed the gulf between popular thinking and many of Tharman’s senior PAP
colleagues on ethnicity and politics,” said Garry Rodan, professor of Southeast
Asian politics at Australia’s Murdoch University.
“The PAP orthodoxy…emphasises that
most Singaporeans are reluctant to support candidates from outside their own
ethnic group for top leadership posts,” Rodan said.
Singapore’s resident population of
3.9 million is made up of 74.3 per cent Chinese, 13.3 per cent Malays and 9.1
per cent Indians, with others making up the remaining 3.2 per cent.
Alex Au, a prominent political
blogger, said Tharman was “being a very loyal colleague”.
“He does not wish pressure to build on his
cabinet colleagues to choose certain options when it comes to leadership
succession,” he said.
Singaporean leaders – including
current premier Lee and his father, the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan
Yew – have said the country’s conservative majority Chinese electorate had some
time to go before it would accept a non-Chinese leader.
But the survey of 897 Singaporeans,
commissioned by Yahoo Singapore and conducted by independent polling firm
Blackbox Research, showed 73 per cent of people disagreeing that the race of
the premier is an important factor.
“The poll results confirm data from
other Blackbox surveys that race is not the primary criterion as a basis for
choosing a preferred candidate among the Singapore public,” the polling firm
said in the report.
Long-time Singapore political
observer Bridget Welsh said Tharman’s popularity “stems from his support of
spending for social welfare and services, and management of the economy, as
well as his ability to bridge groups as a more liberal and open leader compared
to his peers”.
But “as an elite-orientated party,
the PAP categorically rejects selection by popular opinion,” said Welsh, a
Southeast Asian politics expert at the National Taiwan University.
“Tharman is too liberal, too popular,
and an ethnic minority – all features that do not fit with today’s hardline
PAP,” she added.
Tharman, who concurrently served as
the chief of the International Monetary Fund’s powerful policy-steering body
from 2011 to 2015 while in government, grabbed the limelight at last year’s
general election as he used his avuncular speaking style to take apart the
opposition’s economic policies and explain the government’s position.
Video clips of his speeches at the
hustings went viral on social media, spurring the hashtag “#TharmanforPM”.
Tharman led a team of legislators to
sweep the five-seat Jurong district with 79 per cent of the vote in the
country’s unique system of bloc voting. It was the highest winning margin in
the country. The PAP won the election with 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.
But the economics-trained Tharman,
with degrees from the London School of Economics, Cambridge University and
Harvard University, has repeatedly denied having designs on the top job. In
July last year he used a sporting analogy to describe his aversion to being
“I was always, in sports, a
centre-half rather than centre forward. I enjoy playing half-back and making
the long passes, but I am not the striker,” Tharman told CNN anchor Fareed
Zakaria in a forum.
“Unless I am forced to be, and I
don’t think I will be forced to it, because I think we have got choices,” he
was quoted as saying.
Au, the blogger, said Tharman’s
popularity signalled that the “public is hungry for a different style of
There is a perception that he is more
“approachable and intellectually flexible than some of the ministers in cabinet
who perhaps because of their military background come across as rigid or
inarticulate,” Au said.
Former army chief Chan Chun Sing, the
current PAP whip and leader of the powerful National Trades Union Congress, is
seen as one of the ruling party’s preferred candidates to be the next prime
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who
returned to work in August after suffering a stroke earlier this year, is also
seen as a contender.
In the Yahoo poll, Chan scored 24 per
cent support to be a prime ministerial candidate, while Heng got 25 per cent.
Au said the current public debate on
leadership succession is “a function of the moment”.
In past leadership changeovers, prime
ministers’ successors were named early and had lengthy understudy.
“As the saying goes, nature hates a
vacuum,” Au said. “This is causing public speculation to circulate but the
window will close soon when the successor is anointed.”
Pandora’s Box. US
widow sues Saudi Arabia over 9/11 terror attack
A woman widowed when her husband was killed at the
Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 sued the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia just two days after
Congress enacted legislation allowing Americans to sue foreign governments for
allegedly playing a role in terrorist attacks on US soil.
Stephanie Ross DeSimone alleged the kingdom provided material support to
al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, in a complaint filed Friday at a US
court in Washington. Her suit is also filed on behalf of the couple’s daughter.
DeSimone was pregnant when Navy Commander Patrick Dunn was killed.
Fifteen of the 19 men who hijacked airliners used in the attack were
Saudi nationals. One jet struck the Pentagon, seat of the US military, two
destroyed the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York while another
crashed in a Pennsylvania field as its passengers fought back against the
A US commission that investigated the 2001 attacks said in a 2004 report
that it “found no evidence that the Saudi government, as an institution, or
senior officials within the Saudi government funded al-Qaeda.” Long-classified
portions of a congressional inquiry that were released in July found the
hijackers may have had help from some Saudi officials.
The kingdom has previously denied culpability. Its embassy didn’t
immediately reply to an e-mailed message seeking comment on the suit.
An official at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the
state-run Saudi Press Agency on September 29 that the US Congress must correct
the 9/11 bill to avoid “serious unintended consequences,” adding the law is of
“great concern” to the Kingdom.
DeSimone, who is suing for wrongful death and intentional infliction of
emotional distress, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
China’s yuan joins an elite group of reserve currencies created by the
International Monetary Fund
From tomorrow, the yuan, also known as the renminbi,
will become the fifth member of the IMF’s prestigious Special Drawing Rights
(SDR) basket of currencies, alongside the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen and
Analysts say it marks the beginning of a new era for the yuan, paving
the way for its wider adoption in international trade and bolstering China’s
status as a key player in the global financial system.
However, they also say that Beijing would need to carry out more reforms
in the years ahead to push the internationalisation of the yuan, as it is now
the only SDR reserve currency that cannot be fully traded. International
investors still face a lot of restrictions in trading in yuan-denominated bonds
[It is] a landmark moment in
the renminbi’s journey towards becoming a truly international currency
Peter Wong Tung-shun, chief
executive Asia-Pacific, HSBC
Peter Wong Tung-shun, chief executive of the Asia-Pacific region for
HSBC, described the inclusion of the yuan in the SDR basket as “a landmark
moment in the renminbi’s journey towards becoming a truly international
The SDR is an international currency reserve created by the IMF in 1969
to promote trade, increase liquidity and supplement member countries’ official
reserves during financial crises.
Beijing first started to allow use of the yuan outside the mainland in
2003 when it let Hong Kong banks conduct certain designated business in the
currency. In 2009, it started to push the currency harder, permitting
international companies and businessmen to settle trade in yuan, and a year
later allowing the yuan to be used in investment.
The IMF’s elite SDR basket was
created in 1969 to promote trade. Photo: Reuters
In November last year IMF
managing director Christine Lagarde declared that the yuan satisfied the two
main criteria for inclusion in the basket, namely that it was “widely used” and
“freely usable”. The IMF announced the yuan was to become its fifth reserve
currency in December.
“The SDR inclusion now formally catapults it into the ranks of the
world’s most important reserve currencies, and will give greater confidence to
companies and institutions around the world to settle trade in yuan and invest
in yuan-denominated assets,” Wong said.
“Going forward, we believe the Chinese authorities will continue to
deliver financial and capital market reforms, gradually opening the door to
more cross-border flows, and ensuring that China and the renminbi become
increasingly integrated into the global financial system.”
Wong said Hong Kong, as an offshore yuan trading centre and a key
financial and asset management market, would play a pivotal role in the
internationalisation of the yuan in the future.
China is likely to let the
yuan become fully convertible only when its economy recovers
Marc Chandler, Brown Brothers
Harriman Investor Services
Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy of Brown Brothers
Harriman Investor Services, described the yuan’s induction into the SDR basket
as “an acknowledgement of the immense strides China has made since the 1970s,
and especially since its entry in to the World Trade Organization in 2001.”
The World Bank last month sold US$700 million in bonds denominated in
SDR, the first such issue in more than 30 years.
“In the bigger picture, the role of the yuan as a reserve currency can
only go up. The IMF has estimated that the yuan accounts for about 1 per cent
of global reserves,” Chandler said.
King International chief executive Jasper Lo believes it may need five
years for the yuan to become fully convertible.
He said: “The mainland economy is weak and a fully convertible yuan now
would lead to capital outflow. China is likely to let the yuan become fully
convertible only when its economy recovers. This may need about five years
On the eve of its including in the SDR basket, the yuan remained weak,
trading at 6.6698 per US dollar, down almost 7 per cent in the past year.
This article appeared in the
South China Morning Post print edition as:
yuan joins imf’s elite reserve
Can fiction ever be an alternative to history? Indonesian history textbooks used to justify the evil of the Suharto regime and served as a tool to ascribe
onto others all wickedness that it did not wish to recognize in itself
A dark time --
Then Maj. Gen. Soeharto briefs members of the Army’s Special Forces (RPKAD, now
Kopassus) prior to the removal of the bodies of the Army generals who were
murdered during an alleged coup attempt on Sept. 30, 1965, which was blamed on
the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). As the most senior military
officer available at the time, Soeharto led all the operations to restore
security and impose order in the aftermath of the alleged coup attempt. (JP/30
Tahun Indonesia Merdeka)
In the preface to the textbook Sejarah
Nasional Indonesia (Indonesian National History, 1990), historian and
former education minister Nugroho Notosusanto draws a comparison between the
coming into being of Indonesian standardized history and the growth of a single
He argues that it is deep rooted in the past and can gradually provide a shade
of truth for the nation’s future. Furthermore, its objective and scientific
nature will create nothing but balance and harmony in the process of national
His analogy, however, is knotty (pun intended). It is knotty especially at the
notion that history is singular, which could imply that other versions of
narratives must not chime in and disrupt the telling of the great national
Mind you, that proud Sundanese would object to and feel saddened by Mohammad
Yamin’s historical narrative of Gajah Mada, the prime minister of the Majapahit
Empire, who he constantly glorified as a national hero, peacemaker and unifier
of the Nusantara archipelago.
Sang Mokteng Bubat, a historical roman dubbed factual by many
Sundanese, deals with this issue of singularity, mainly in the constantly
avoided history about relations between Sunda and the Majapahit kingdom.
It argues that Gajah Mada’s unification was actually the origin of colonial
rule imposed by non-Europeans in the archipelago. But no matter how historicalSang
Mokteng Bubat might be, this tale disrupts the official written
history and is, thus, skipped over.
Similarly, the bleakest moment in our history is passed by in silence.
Almost all Indonesian written history in Indonesia skips over the mass killings
of the communists and left-wing sympathizers after the aborted coup blamed on
the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965.
Take the obligatory read, Pendidikan Sejarah Perjuangan Bangsa (the
History of the National Struggle) for example. We were so accustomed to this
that we thought the historical events presented in the book were all thorough,
truthful and, most importantly, heroic.
I can clearly recall when my fifth grade teacher had my classmates and I role
play, assuming the roles of heroes in an ongoing plot to crush the villainous
We were instructed to show admiration for the Army and the people for their
outstanding success in crushing the September movement of the PKI and to
believe that the anti-communist purge was the right thing to do in order to
support the national struggle and to march toward a just and prosperous society
We were also instructed to believe that Soeharto was a hero who had so much
love and respect for his people and his country.
This was all clearly stated in the book. As for the massacre, the book remains
Never did we learn from history books that the purge meant the butchering of
more than half a million of our brothers and sisters.
Had I known that crushing the communists could mean plucking out their nails
with pliers, slitting their throats and guts, like what happened to Adi Rukun’s
brother in the movie Look of Silence, I would not have taken the role of the
Clearly, I was misinformed about this, and about many other things. And
clearly, I was not alone.
It was only years later, when I resorted to reading fiction, that I found our
history textbook was principally used to justify the evil of the regime and
served as a tool to ascribe onto others all wickedness that it did not wish to
recognize in itself.
The history book was so cleverly crafted that readers were in constant denial
about the genocide.
Furthermore, readers even became nostalgic about the regime’s heroism and never
found it necessary to unearth the atrocities that it had buried.
This could be one of the many reasons that reconciliation among us is never
within easy reach.
In fiction, however, the killings are made clear. Ahmad Tohari in the Ronggeng
Dukuh Paruk (Dancer of Paruk Hamlet) trilogy narrates a description
of the mass killings in Central Java and the close cooperation between the army
and paramilitary groups.
I personally never knew about this political cooperation until years after
Mencoba Tidak Menyerah (Trying not to Surrender) by Yudhistira
ANM Masardi vividly portrays the systematic massacre and politics of fear
through the eyes of a small boy who is searching for his father after he was
made to disappear due to his affiliation with the communists.
This too was a piece of information that actually took place but was never
widely studied in schools.
Ashadi Siregar centers his novel on students who were annihilated by the army
after the aborted coup, while Umar Kayam questions how society has been
dehumanized for not having the courage to address the issue.
There seems to be a little bit more freedom in literature to speak about these
topics that must not be spoken of. I am now more than interested in finding the
reason that Indonesian fictional works could actually do this.
But in the beginning, upon finding out things that I had not known before, I
was in some sort of denial.
I thought there was no way that that fiction could speak the truth and be
historical. But as I read more and more narratives other than the standardized
history, I finally came to the realization that fiction, to some extent,
Literature, according to Hoadley ( 2005 ), can reveal the coercion and violence
exercised by the state over its citizens that has been denied in the nation’s
written history. Fiction replaces the role of history.
But this does not suggest that the official history, which is dubbed central,
objective and scientific, be sidelined.
I just find it compulsory that the peripheral, subjective and fictional be
taken into account and analyzed accordingly, because that was the only access
that most Indonesians living under the New Order regime had.
It could be true that fiction did not serve as a reliable source of historical
information, but neither did Indonesian historical writings. Our historical
writings and fictional works are, anyway, in so many ways equally
If writing history, as suggested by Nugroho Notosusanto, is similar to growing
trees, then let there be more trees and let people learn to choose which tree
gives better shade.
The writer Taufiq Hanafi lectures at the School of Arts, Padjadjaran University in Bandung and
works as a researcher at the Graduate School of Humanities, Leiden University
in the Netherlands.
In 2008, the Malaysian cities of Melaka and George Town were jointly listed as UNESCO World
Heritage Sites. As often happens
in World Heritage Sites, a label meant to highlight and safeguard heritage has
also opened the floodgates of tourism. The subsequent wave of
gentrification and speculative development has caused mass-evictions
and damage to both social and urban fabric.
Now, these cities risk losing their World Heritage status.
The mounting urban crisis in these historic cities highlights a couple
of issues. Firstly, the weak enforcement of building codes – especially to
protect heritage. Secondly, the need for careful planning to mitigate the
unintended social and spatial consequences that accompany rapid development.
These issues are structural, not partisan. Melaka is governed by
Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional, while Penang – whose state capital is
George Town – is an opposition state led by the Democratic Action Party. Yet
the two cities share many of the same problems, and are therefore good case
studies in urban governance in Malaysia.
While in theory there are rules to protect the built fabric of these
historic cities, the reality is a little more complicated. For example, the
George Town Special Area Plan – a set of guidelines required by UNESCO as part of its
listing process – was only gazetted on 1 September this year, a full
eight years after the city was listed.
Patchy enforcement of guidelines has been an even greater challenge for these
cities. Illegal construction, renovation and demolitions
have plagued both Melaka and George Town. NGOs like George Town Heritage Action (GTHA) have sprung up to
address the perceived gaps left by city officials.
GTHA has been vocal about the lack of heritage monitoring and
enforcement in George Town, but illegal works continue to chip away
at historic buildings. Meanwhile, Melaka’s World Heritage Office quietly shut
its doors in July this year, absorbed into larger municipal structures. It is unclear
what this means for future monitoring of the site..
If both states have been slow to enact and enforce heritage legislation,
they haven’t been shy in courting development. Land reclamation is a
substantial part of growth plans in both states. Melaka is now the focus of a RM30 billion deal with China which will
see three reclaimed islands rise from the waters of the Malacca Strait.
Residents, however, have raised concerns about the impact this
development will have on the old town.
Penang also has a number of major land reclamation projects planned – some
postponed and others in progress – though these are further away
from George Town’s World Heritage Site. While money from this sort of
development has helped keep budgets in the black, there
are concerns about the social and ecological consequences.
If authorities are struggling to manage built heritage, intangible cultural heritage is an even
more complex challenge. The explosion in tourism has had a resounding echo in
local real estate values, and rising rents have pushed century-old trades and businesses out of these historic centres. This
undermines the very traditions for which the two port cities were listed as
World Heritage Sites.
In George Town, one Singaporean developer alone has purchased over 200 historic shophouses just outside
the boundaries of George Town’s World Heritage Site. Each of these land
purchases has been accompanied by a flurry of eviction notices.
The dwindling population of these historic
towns is a social crisis as much as a cultural one. Increasingly, the
historically working class population of these port towns is being pushed into
more affordable housing further out of the city centre. The problem has become
so severe in George Town that Penang’s state government is now considering re-introducing rent control.
The question now is who has the rights to the city?
In June, things came to head when a group of NGOs, Penang Forum, wrote to UNESCO to raise concerns about a
proposed transport hub at the edge of George Town’s World Heritage Site. Penang
Forum argues it was ‘duty-bound‘ to alert UNESCO before the state committed itself to any construction
work, particularly at the archaeologically rich area called Sia Boey.
UNESCO subsequently contacted Malaysia’s federal heritage body
for a report. The state hit back, with Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng describing
the letter as ‘a stab in the back‘. The letter sparked a war of words, with politicians
and even the Consumer Association chiming in.
Malaysia’s twin heritage cities are contested spaces. There are
conflicting ideas about how they should develop, and what development means for
them. With their rich history and human scale, Melaka and George Town have the
potential to be Malaysia’s most liveable cities.
But sensitive planning is needed to protect
both built heritage and local residents from gentrification.
As it stands, however, they seem well on their way to becoming ‘Disneyfied’ ghosts of their former selves.
is a research assistant at the Singapore University of Technology and Design
(SUTD)’s Architectural Conservation Lab. He has written for numerous
publications in Malaysia, Australia and the Netherlands, including Penang
Monthly and Failed Architecture. He has also edited a number of books on
Malaysian architecture and history.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains entrapped in his self-cultivated image of
being a muscular Hindu nationalist leader. The contradiction needs to be
resolved. The starting point lies in diligently addressing the Kashmir problem
with a view to find an enduring solution.
The morning after India’s ‘surgical strikes’ across the Line of Control
(LOC) at Pakistan appears to augur a brave new world for the government led by
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yet, the gains are almost entirely in India’s
domestic politics on Day 1. The world at large remains indifferent.
This works in three ways. One, Modi has addressed the widespread outrage
and anger in India over the cross-border terrorist attack on the Indian army
base in Uri on September 18.
Two, his government has rallied the domestic opinion, which in turn puts
pressure on even the raucous opposition parties to voice support for Modi –
reluctantly, cautiously and temporarily though.
Three, Modi salvaged his reputation among the ruling Bharatiya Janata
Party’s (BJP) core constituency, which believes he will be Pakistan’s nemesis.
Indian “surgical strikes” across the LOC are not taking place for the
first time. The difference today is that Thursday’s are multiple strikes and,
second, they have been publicized.
The decision to publicize the covert action underscores the tremendous
political importance the leadership attaches to the optics in domestic opinion.
Simply put, Modi’s aura of being a forceful leader was threatened with
dissipation, and he has taken care to preserve it. The overnight surge of the
morale of his acolytes in the social network sites is self-evident.
The president of the ruling BJP Amit Shah claimed in a statement, “It is
for the first time (that) in this frontal fight against terrorism, India, under
the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Modi is feeling secure… Today’s strikes
signal the rise of a new India…”
It is a clarion call of Hindu nationalist credo with one eye on the
upcoming crucial state election in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab next year, which
could set the tone for Modi’s prospects of a renewed mandate in the 2019
In the long game, Shah gave a push to the ‘Hindutva’ ideology as the
manifesto of the ‘New Indian’. Equally, there’s a Hindu-Muslim dimension to
India’s electoral politics.
As days and weeks pass and the autumn gives way to winter, as adrenaline
flow slows down, the ramifications of the surgical strikes of September 29 are
bound to seep into the Indian consciousness.
For a start, the surgical strikes have caused what a leading Indian
security expert and senior editor, Praveen Swamy calls the “meltdown of the
long-standing ceasefire on Line of Control in an year that has until now been
the most peaceful in a decade”.
Ironically, the agreement on a ceasefire on the Line of Control in 2003
was the finest foreign-policy achievement of the previous BJP government led by
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, because it helped reduce clashes along LOC – and
cross-border infiltration too – which immensely helped Delhi to finesse the
insurgency in Kashmir.
According to published official data, incidents of exchange of fire
across LOC significantly dropped and fatalities actually dropped to zero.
Things are going to change now with the breakdown of the 2003
understanding. This would demand pushing forward troops from their base camps
and a new norm of action across LOC by both militaries.
The ‘known known’ will be Pakistan’s reaction. That Pakistan will react
to the surgical strikes cannot be doubted. It is a matter of time.
The Pakistani military leadership will not accept the Indian surgical
strikes as the ‘new normal’. Nor will Pakistan be dissuaded from the culture of
deploying ‘strategic assets’ – non-state actors – in its asymmetric war with
The Pakistani behavior across Durand Line for decades testifies to its
tenacity to pursue strategic objectives no matter what it takes. Pakistan has
continued to project power into Afghanistan in open defiance of US entreaties
for the past decade and a half.
When it comes to India, which is regarded as an existential threat,
Pakistani military will not countenance any amount of pressure from the
international community to detract it from its chosen path.
On the other hand, US is also not in a position to pressure Pakistan
because of the crucial importance of the latter’s cooperation in the fight
against terrorist groups in Afghanistan and for the upkeep of American military
If Pakistan redeploys forces to the eastern border, it would hurt US’
priorities vis-à-vis Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which Pakistani military is
conducting against terrorist organizations ensconced in North Waziristan in the
lawless tribal areas adjoining Afghanistan.
The Zarb-e-Azb’s principal target, Tehreek-e-Taliban, not only threatens
Pakistan’s internal security but also provides recruits for the Islamic State,
which is trying to get established in the region. In sum, the success of the
military operation in North Waziristan impacts international security.
Therefore, when the balance sheet is drawn, it is debatable what India’s
surgical strikes hope to achieve. Paradoxically, Indian Army is being called
upon to live up to the ‘new normal’.
This would mean not only heavy focus on India’s border with Pakistan
(aside fastening internal security), but also means taking the eye off the
disputed border with China. Besides, India gets stuck in the groove of a
‘Pakistan-centric’ foreign policy.
The pretensions of the Delhi elite that India’s main foreign-policy
challenge lies in matching China’s rise are withering away. Kashmir
becomes the Albatross tying India down, and there is no light at the end of the
This has profound geopolitical implications.
The bottom line: The denouement of the present course to browbeat and
confront Pakistan is beyond Delhi’s ability to calibrate.
The ruling circles claim bombastically that Modi is asserting to
Pakistan that he is a ‘different leader’ and Pakistan can no longer ‘take India
for granted’, that he is showing that the rules of the game are changing and
henceforth it’s going to be ‘jaw for tooth’, et al.
In the ultimate analysis, though, Indian Army can take things only thus
far and no further. And Modi faces a Hobson’s choice.
A denouement has to be found on the political and diplomatic track –
either by engaging Pakistan directly or allowing third-party intervention to
bury this ancient quarrel.
India’s diplomatic thrust to ‘isolate’ Pakistan is a road to nowhere in
the prevailing power dynamic in regional politics.
Meanwhile, Modi’s ‘development agenda’, on which he secured the mandate
to rule would take a beating.
The sharp slump in the Indian stock markets on Thursday can be taken as
the writing on the wall if war clouds gather on the horizon.
Just as news broke about surgical strikes along the Line of
Control, Bombay Stock Exchange slid 534.70 points, or 1.84%; India’s National
Stock Exchange slid 1.75%, or 152 points.
Clearly, Modi’s travails do not end with surgical strikes. He remains
entrapped in his self-cultivated image of being a muscular Hindu nationalist
leader. The contradiction needs to be resolved. The starting point lies in
diligently addressing the Kashmir problem with a view to find an enduring
Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar served as a career
diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings
including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey
(1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly
for Asia Times since 2001.
The Indonesian government is
going all-out to promote a tax amnesty program amid jitters from Singaporean
bankers, who are estimated to hold tens of millions in assets spirited
overseas, and by reformers, who say the amnesty gives fugitives too good a deal.
The program is aimed at rich Indonesians who have undeclared assets
overseas, with President “Jokowi” Widodo leading the campaign in several cities
to try and convince prominent businesspeople to take part.
Jokowi held several “meet and greet” with entrepreneurs in Central and
West Java to discuss the government’s flagship program to repatriate Indonesian
assets parked overseas and increase tax revenues.
The program is designed to catch big tax evaders who have massive assets
overseas but who have never declared them in Indonesia. According to the law,
taxpayers who are the object of the tax amnesty program are individuals or
corporations that have taxation rights and obligations in accordance with
existing taxation regulations.
Under the amnesty scheme, the government seeks to bring about the return
of an astonishing Rp1 quadrillion (US$76 billion) worth of Indonesian-owned
assets held overseas and to recoup at least Rp165 trillion in penalty payments
that it plans to use to plug the holes this year’s state budget deficit.
Businesspeople who repatriate their assets will enjoy a redemption rate
ranging from 2 to 5 percent of the assets, while those who declare their assets
will get a 4 to 10 percent rate.
“I am optimistic with this program. I do not talk numbers, but most
importantly public trust in the government is shown. I also saw their
compliance and awareness to pay the taxes. This is a very good movement,”
Jokowi told economists and businesspeople who attended a lunch meeting at the
State Palace recently.
The Indonesia’s House of Representatives agreed to pass the tax amnesty
bill into law during a plenary session bathed in interruptions from lawmakers
back in June. In total, nine party factions agreed to the formation of the Tax
The Jokowi government hopes the first period of the program, which
began on July 1 and runs until the end of September, can attract a
large number of participants. Its second period is scheduled from Oct. 1
to the end of December.
Several conglomerate and prominent business owners in Indonesia are
joining the program. Names such as Murdaya Poo, Hutomo Mandala Putra—better
known as Tommy, son of the late president Suharto – former Indonesian Employers
Association (Apindo) chairman Sofjan Wanandi, property magnate James Riady,
Triputra Group founder TP Rachmat, as well as media mogul Erick Thohir.
“I have been waiting for the amnesty for years. The tax amnesty will
ease the burden of my children who will inherit my fortune and people who work
for our firms,” Murdaya Poo told journalists after filing his tax amnesty.
He then called on fellow businesspeople to follow suit, assuring them
tax officials were helpful. Poo also said that he would repatriate all of his
offshore assets and declare them.
The Finance Ministry’s Directorate General of Taxation said 1,929 new
taxpayers have registered since Jan. 1 to participate in the amnesty
program, contributing Rp 6.86 trillion (US$522 million) of declared assets and
Rp123.24 billion in redemption.
As of Sept. 5, Rp 223.89 trillion in assets have been declared with
redemptions at Rp 4.78 trillion. Of declared assets, Rp175.21 trillion came
from domestic declarations while Rp 35.60 trillion came from overseas.
Meanwhile, repatriated assets were recorded at Rp 13.08 trillion. Asia Times
In an unprecedented move, seven UN member states
from the Pacific raised their concerted voices on Papua during the prestigious
71st session of the UN General Assembly in New York this week.
Nauru started the intervention
by highlighting the issue of human rights violations in Papua, followed by a
newcomer in the discourse of Papua: the Marshall Islands.
Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the
Solomon Islands followed suit and went one step further by specifically
highlighting the issue of the right to self-determination for Papuans. Tonga
emphasised the gravity of the problem and Palau, another novice, called for
constructive dialogue with Indonesia to solve the Papua issue.
This was a historic moment for
us as we have never had such unified high-profile intervention when it comes to
the issue of Papua at the UN. Perhaps the only lone ranger used to be Vanuatu,
which tried to break the silence of the UN fora.
This week’s debate at the UN
General Assembly might remind us of a similar but much more colorful debate on
Papua at the assembly in 1969, when the forum decided to close the chapter on
Papua by accepting the result of the Act of Free Choice.
If in 1969 some African
countries expressed opposition to the assembly’s decision to adopt the result
of the 1969 Act of Free Choice for Papuans, today the Pacific nations are
taking the lead.
Indonesia’s response, however,
was highly predictable. Repeating the slogan of territorial integrity and
sovereignty, the government’s response unfortunately does not provide us with
facts and evidence of the improvement in the human rights situation in Papua.
It may be remembered that
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to solve the killing of four
high-school students in Paniai on Dec. 8, 2014. The investigation into the case
has been delayed for almost two years and we have not seen much progress.
The families of the victims
recall that at least eight government institutions sent their respective
fact-finding team to interview victims on the ground and personnel of the Army,
the Papua Police, the National Police, the Air Force, the Papua Legislative
Council, the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK), the Office of
Coordinating Security, Political and Legal Affairs Minister, the National
Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM). None of these teams, however, has ever
published their report for public consumption.
Similarly, the dossiers on the
Wasior killings of 2001 and the Wamena case of 2003 have been pending for more
than a decade at the Attorney General once Komnas HAM finished its
investigation. These were not ordinary crimes but crimes against humanity, one
of the most serious crimes punishable by Indonesian and international law.
Unfortunately, both Komnas HAM and the Attorney General’s Office have argued
over evidence and procedure for years.
Komnas HAM insists that it has
provided conclusive evidence and has followed proper procedure. On the other
hand, the Attorney General’s Office has argued that Komnas HAM has not met the
requirement of a pro-justice investigation as investigators did not take an
oath as required by the Criminal Law Procedures Code. Both institutions have overlooked
the fact that victims continue to suffer.
Memories are still fresh on
the surge in the arrests of Papuan youth when they took to the streets to
express their opinions in public despite a constitutional guarantee of the
right to do so.
The Jakarta Legal Aid
Institute (LBH Jakarta) documented that at least 4,587 individuals, men and
women, were arrested by the police for expressing their political views in 13
cities, namely Dekai, Fakfak, Jakarta, Jayapura, Kaimana, Makassar, Malang,
Manado Manokwari, Merauke, Sentani, Wamena and Yogyakarta.
While most of the arrestees
were released within 24 hours, the deployment of police in 13 jurisdictions
across the country would not have been possible without the blessing of the
National Police top brass.
While we were grappling with
human rights conditions in Papua, we were shocked by the President’s decision
to appoint Gen. (ret) Wiranto as the coordinating political, legal and security
In February 2003, the
UN-sponsored Special Panels for Serious Crimes of the Dili District Court,
Timor Leste, indicted Gen. Wiranto, then the Indonesian defense and security
minister and Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) commander for crimes against
humanity in connection with the events in Timor Leste in 1999.
As we were yet to recover from
the President’s unfathomable choice, we were presented with another
unprecedented decision when the Indonesian Military TNI chief named Maj. Gen.
Hartomo to lead the military’s Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS).
Hartomo was the commander of
the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) Tribuana X unit assigned to Papua when
Theys Eluay was murdered. Hartomo and six other Kopassus officers were charged
with Theys’ murder on National Heroes Day in 2001. He and his team were found
guilty and sentenced to three years in prison by the Surabaya Military Court
and discharged from the Army.
These all are simple facts
that tell us the way our government commits to human rights in Papua and
elsewhere, which the Indonesian delegation to the UN General Assembly describes
as “robust and active”.
The writer, Budi Hernawan who
obtained his PhD from the Australian National University, lectures in
international relations at the Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy,
The United States does not have a coherent strategy to deal with a rising
People’s Republic of China in the Western Pacific. Nor do foreign policy
experts specializing in the Asia-Pacific region have a concrete set of ideas to
coax an increasingly assertive Beijing into accepting the U.S.-led post-Second
World War liberal-institutional world order or to reassert Washington’s
dominance in the region.
It is becoming increasingly clear that
China hopes to chart its own course independent of the existing Western
frameworks as Beijing reaffirms its claims to the South China Sea and continues
to build artificial islands in the region, but how policymakers in Washington
will deal with the issue is an open question.
But while the Chinese see the United
States as a strategic competitor, experts agree that a military confrontation
is not a foregone conclusion. Beijing hopes that it can force the United States
to de facto accept the South China Sea as its territory. “I don’t
think conflict—naval or otherwise—between the U.S. and China is inevitable,”
Cropsey said. “More likely is that China will continue its effort to turn the
international waters of the East and South China Sea into territorial waters.”
China is using a multipronged approach to
deny U.S. naval and air forces access to the region using a sophistical network
of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons. Additionally, Beijing is actively
working to intimidate and harass U.S. allies in the region in the hopes that
they will acquiesce to Chinese demands. But Beijing is not just using its
military forces in its efforts to force America and its allies from the region,
the China is using paramilitary forces and “maritime militia” to harass
fishermen and other commercial users of those water from other nations in order
to gain de facto control over the East and South China Seas.
“I do think that if U.S. policy continues
largely to overlook increasing Chinese aggression off its international waters
on its south coasts, the prospects for a Chinese hegemony will increase as our
Asian friends and allies seek new accommodations, new trading partners and new
security arrangements,” Cropsey said. “Our willingness to resist China’s
challenge to the international order is not growing.”
Indeed, Cropsey argues that American
seapower is shrinking and that the naval balance in the Western Pacific is
tilting toward China’s favor. The U.S. Congress simply does not understand how
grave the situation is, Cropsey said. The United States must remember its large
economic stake in Asia and the alliance network that girds those interests.
“Instead of encouraging China to become a stakeholder in the international
system, our goal ought to be to use diplomacy, military strength—including
increased presence—to convince China that we will protect the international
order...and ultimately—for this is what is at stake here—the United States’
broad interest in retaining our current position as a great power,” Cropsey
While Cropsey suggested that the United
States shifts towards protecting its power in the Western Pacific, but he did
not suggest any concrete course of action on exactly how Washington might
achieve those aims. Retaining America’s position as the preeminent power in the
Western Pacific likely requires a concerted grand strategy on the scale of President Harry S. Truman’s NSC-68—which
formulated America’s response to the Soviet threat in 1950. However, most of
the discussion focused on lower level policy questions directly relating to
freedom of navigation (F Jeff Smith, director of Asian Security Programs at the
American Foreign Policy Council—who was speaking alongside Cropsey—told the
audience that China has been very clear that it does not believe U.S. military
forces should be operating in the East and South China Seas. Beijing has made
the calculation that it cannot effective prevent the United States from
operating in the region right now, but as Chinese naval capabilities grow that
might change. “There is a lot to suggest one day they may well be in a position
to restrict the navigation of the U.S. military and believe they’re in a
position to do so,” Smith said. “So the prospect for some kind of confrontation
there is very real.”
The United States—despite never having
ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS)—interprets international law as allowing its warships to
operate and conduct surveillance within any nations’ exclusive economic zone
(EEZ) and pass through a nation’s 12-nautical mile territorial waters under
“innocent passage.” That interpretation is widely accepted by the majority of
maritime nations, however Beijing operates under a minority
interpretation—shared by about two dozen countries—where it insists on prior
notice before foreign warships may operate in its EEZ. “Unlike other countries
who may send us a diplomatic protest when we operate, because we do these
freedom of navigation operations—18,19, 20 a year—among friend and foe alike,
Chinese vessels have actually confronted our warships,” Smith said. “This
disagreement is very much out in the open and it’s becoming a test of wills.”
The United States believes that is on solid legal grounds to operate in seas
claimed by China—bolstered by a recent Permanent Court of Arbitration
ruling in The Hague in July. However, international law only goes so
far in the face of hard power—and China is doubling down on its claims—both
with rhetoric and with a combination of naval forces and so-called maritime
militia. Smith didn’t offer any solutions as to how the United States and its
allies should convince the Chinese to accept the status quo as its
Eric Gomez, a defense and foreign policy
analyst with the Cato Institute—who was also presenting alongside Smith and
Cropsey—offered a potential strategy for dealing with a rising China. Gomez
suggests that the United States should moderate its goals to maintain
commercial freedom of navigation and making sure territorial disputes in the
region don’t turn into hot wars. If the United States can’t prevent territorial
disputes from turning hot, it should work to prevent Beijing from gaining
military domination over East Asia.
The United States should reduce the
presence of its ground forces in the region, Gomez said. Those U.S. ground
forces that remain should focus on anti-access/area denial capabilities such as
coastal anti-ship cruise missile batteries and air and missile defense. Naval
presence should remain constant, but the United States should focus less on
aircraft carriers and much more on submarine warfare in order to focus on sea
denial capabilities, Gomez said. Freedom of navigation operations should
continue in response to specific Chinese actions such as the militarization of
the South China Sea.
“Sea-denial with China is more
defensively-oriented and plays into U.S. military advantages in undersea
warfare and surface control,” Gomez said. “I don’t we should be trying to get
in through the A2/AD bubble with China and attack targets on their mainland. I
think that has some very serious escalation risks.”
Such as strategy would create a no man’s
land (or sea in this case) in the region where the two powers could establish a
de facto status quo, Gomez said. It would also make conflict
less likely without forcing the Unites States to abandon the region. Gomez
admits that his plan could effectively create spheres of influence in the
region and might not be politically popular, but America’s relative power
compared to Beijing is on the wane.
“I think we need to admit to ourselves
that the United States is no longer as dominant in East Asia as it sued to be,
and reengaging on questions of military deterrence at the expense of these
legal and normative concerns would be a more productive long-term discussion,”
Gomez said. “I don’t see an easy route to getting China onboard to legal and
normative order unless you can cite some sort of military deterrent.”
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor of The
ON) in the South China
Sea and policing fisheries.