Wednesday, November 30, 2016

should indonesians worry? tomorrow, friday’s rally

should indonesians worry? tomorrow, friday’s rally

For Jokowi, it is not a coup attempt that worries him most; it is the racial and religious issues, referred to locally as SARA (ethnicity, religion, race and class), that perhaps send shivers down his spine.

It is without doubt that the race to secure the top job in the Jakarta administration has drained much of the public’s energy, as well as engulfed many with the unabated fear of political and security instability.

Although the violence stemming from the Nov. 4 rally was swiftly contained, the protest apparently served as a springboard for disgruntled elements to turn up the pressure.

Their demand at the time was for incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, to be declared a blasphemy suspect. Probably out of fear of escalating tension, the police acquiesced to their demand on Nov. 16

But still the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesia Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPF-MUI), which initiated the Nov. 4 rally attended by more than 100,000 Muslim organization members, has not backed down.

It has instead promised a bigger protest on Dec. 2, demanding Ahok’s imprisonment at a time when Ahok should be on the campaign trail.

Judging by the group’s aim, as amplified by one of its leaders, Rizieq Shihab of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), it is hard not to conclude that a sinister motive is at play.

It is not implausible that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian may be correct in suspecting that the upcoming rally is politically motivated, similar to the Nov. 4 rally when Jokowi blamed “political actors” for inciting violence and Tito indicated that certain elements used the rally as a precursor to topple the legitimate government.

Perhaps the substantial efforts by the President, as well as by the chiefs of the Indonesia Military (TNI) and the police, to contain the impact of the previous rally and to limit the significance of the upcoming one have raised questions over the possibility of a coup attempt and whether the President is actually in full control to keep any harm at bay.

Speculation over a coup attempt are not only baseless but also a far-fetched assumption. First, since Indonesia’s independence in 1945, plotting a coup has not been a tradition, having occurred only once in 1965 when then president Sukarno handed over the presidency to Soeharto.

Second, there are no strong figures within the TNI capable of uniting the highly fragmented armed forces to lead a coup. Third, negative sentiment against military rule runs deep within the police force, an institution that probably now has the most personnel and the best intelligence infrastructure.

Fourth, there is not the slightest indication that Jokowi has committed severe violations, such as corruption, murder or adultery. And fifth, not only does Jokowi’s popularity remain high, he also enjoys overwhelming legislative support as his coalition controls more than 65 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.

The Nov. 4 rally and the upcoming one merely serve as pressure by several politicians (including from political parties in Jokowi’s ruling coalition), state officials, public figures, religious luminaries and activists who have been starved of resources since Jokowi took office in late 2014.

These people have acted with precise timing and may have forged a union with political elites who are facing difficulties in trying to defeat Ahok merely through programs in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

The escalating racial and religious slurs in the past couple of weeks have apparently undermined Ahok, as indicated by recent surveys suggesting a sharp decline in his electability.

It is the blending of the “hungry” elements and the regional election elites, who may have resorted to any means necessary to win, that have created fear of political instability over the past couple of weeks.

Since the 1998 Reform Era that saw the resignation of president Soeharto, political and security interference to undermine a legitimate government is not without precedent.

In his biography published before his term expired in 2014, then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono mentioned the many attempts to topple his government.

But what differentiates the past with events of today is the infusion of racial and religious provocation. Even Yudhoyono has been accused of toying with such sentiments by using issues related to Ahok to his advantage.

Yudhoyono’s son, Agus Harimurti, is competing with Ahok in the Jakarta gubernatorial election, and Yudhoyono has publicly insisted the prosecution against Ahok in a tone that contained more than a hint of provocation.

For Jokowi, it is not a coup attempt that worries him most; it is the racial and religious issues, referred to locally as SARA (ethnicity, religion, race and class), that perhaps send shivers down his spine.

The Dec. 2 rally is feared by many to be a precursor to violence that may spiral into widespread conflict. The violent Nov. 4 rally in front of the Presidential Palace triggered a minor riot in a Chinese residential area in North Jakarta and opened old wounds from the traumatic 1998 riots that saw heavy casualties among the Chinese-Indonesian community.

Home to more 1,300 tribes that practice six different religions and speak 740 different languages but are unified under one language, Indonesia is demographically prone to SARA conflicts.

However, the authorities have swiftly moved to reduce the potential for conflict by diminishing the significance of the rally from the very top.

Not only will the authorities prohibit protesters from out of town to enter Jakarta to participate in the upcoming rally, officers have also visited leaders of many boarding schools and discouraged them from allowing their students to participate in the rally.

Campaigns to promote unity have resonated not only in Jakarta but also across the archipelago as local military and police chiefs have held numerous interfaith functions attended by prominent religious leaders from several different religions.

A number of people who were at the forefront in demanding that Ahok be prosecuted are now also facing legal charges for SARA-related incitement.

Police chief Tito has issued a stern warning to clerics grouped in the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), demanding that they not mix religion with politics as it could cause sectarian conflict. The MUI, whose leader Ma’aruf Amin is an ally of Yudhoyono, has soften its stance on participating in the rally.

The MUI and FPI struck a deal with Tito on Monday that the Friday protest would be conducted wholly within the confines of the National Monument (Monas) Park. Stern action will be taken if the MUI, the FPI and the GNPF-MUI violate the agreement.

With the authorities now better prepared and having learned a lesson from the previous rally, any negative impact of the upcoming rally is likely to be minimal.

Indonesia’s politics will remain heated, as Jokowi recently said, up until the simultaneous regional elections on Feb. 15. Indonesia has seen its worst, and if history is any indication, the upcoming rally may well be just another hiccup in the country’s democracy

Rendi A. Witular The Jakarta Post


This Could Be the Surprising Spark for Asia’s Next Big Mega War

Tensions over water are rising in Asia—and not only because of conflicting maritime claims. While territorial disputes, such as in the South China Sea, attract the most attention—after all, they threaten the safety of sea lanes and freedom of navigation, which affects outside powers as well—the strategic ramifications of competition over transnationally shared freshwater resources are just as ominous.

Asia has less fresh water per capita than any other continent, and it is already facing a water crisis that, according to an MIT study, will continue to intensify, with severe water shortages expected by 2050. At a time of widespread geopolitical discord, competition over freshwater resources could emerge as a serious threat to long-term peace and stability in Asia.

Already, the battle is underway, with China as the main aggressor. Indeed, China’s territorial grab in the South China Sea has been accompanied by a quieter grab of resources in transnational river basins. Reengineering cross-border riparian flows is integral to China’s strategy to assert greater control and influence over Asia.

China is certainly in a strong position to carry out this strategy. The country enjoys unmatched riparian dominance, with 110 transnational rivers and lakes flowing into 18 downstream countries. China also has the world’s most dams, which it has never hesitated to use to curb cross-border flows. In fact, China’s dam builders are targeting most of the international rivers that flow out of Chinese territory.

Most of China’s internationally shared water resources are located on the Tibetan Plateau, which it annexed in the early 1950s. Unsurprisingly, the plateau is the new hub of Chinese dam building. Indeed, China’s 13th five-year plan, released this year, calls for a new wave of dam projects on the Plateau.

Moreover, China recently cut off the flow of a tributary of the Brahmaputra River, the lifeline of Bangladesh and northern India, to build a dam as part of a major hydroelectric project in Tibet. And the country is working to dam another Brahmaputra tributary, in order to create a series of artificial lakes.

China has also built six mega-dams on the Mekong River, which flows into Southeast Asia, where the downstream impact is already visible. Yet, instead of curbing its dam-building, China is hard at work building several more Mekong dams.

Likewise, water supplies in largely arid Central Asia are coming under further pressure as China appropriates a growing volume of water from the Illy River. Kazakhstan’s Lake Balkhash is now at risk of shrinking substantially, much like the Aral Sea—located on the border with Uzbekistan—which has virtually dried up in less than 40 years. China is also diverting water from the Irtysh, which supplies drinking water to Kazakhstan’s capital Astana and feeds Russia’s Ob River.

For Central Asia, the diminished transboundary flows are just one part of the problem. China’s energy, manufacturing, and agricultural activities in sprawling Xinjiang are having an even greater impact, as they contaminate the waters of the region’s transnational rivers with hazardous chemicals and fertilizers, just as China has done to the rivers in its Han heartland.

Of course, China is not the only country stoking conflict over water. As if to underscore that the festering territorial dispute in Kashmir is as much about water as it is about land, Pakistan has, for the second time this decade, initiated international arbitral tribunal proceedings against India under the terms of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. The paradox here is that downstream Pakistan has used that treaty—the world’s most generous water-sharing deal, reserving for Pakistan more than 80% of the waters of the six-river Indus system—to sustain its conflict with India.

Meanwhile, landlocked Laos—aiming to export hydropower, especially to China, the mainstay of its economy—has just notified its neighbors of its decision to move ahead with a third controversial project, the 912-megawatt Pak Beng dam. It previously brushed aside regional concerns about the alteration of natural-flow patterns to push ahead with the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dam projects. There is no reason to expect a different outcome this time.

The consequences of growing water competition in Asia will reverberate beyond the region. Already, some Asian states, concerned about their capacity to grow enough food, have leased large tracts of farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa, triggering a backlash in some areas. In 2009, when South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics Corporation negotiated a deal to lease as much as half of Madagascar’s arable land to produce cereals and palm oil for the South Korean market, the ensuing protests and military intervention toppled a democratically elected president.

The race to appropriate water resources in Asia is straining agriculture and fisheries, damaging ecosystems, and fostering dangerous distrust and discord across the region. It must be brought to an end. Asian countries need to clarify the region’s increasingly murky hydropolitics. The key will be effective dispute-resolution mechanisms and agreement on more transparent water-sharing arrangements.

Asia can build a harmonious, rules-based water management system. But it needs China to get on board. At least for now, that does not seem likely.

This first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist


Central Asia’s tortured Chinese love affair

This attack raises a few questions. Is there a growing resentment of China among Central Asian populations? Is this resentment a threat to Chinese interests in Central Asia? And could this change China’s approach in Central Asia or make its presence in the region questionable?

Over the past two decades, Beijing has become one of the most influential actors in Central Asia, surpassing Russia in economic terms. Hydrocarbons — mainly gas from Turkmenistan and oil from Kazakhstan — are at the forefront of Chinese activity in the region. But it also has its sights on a multitude of other sectors, in particular those linked to infrastructure and communication.

Central Asia’s proximity to China has proven useful for the region’s development. For a poor country like Kyrgyzstan, the re-export of Chinese products throughout Central Asia and Russia has generated new trade dynamics. From 2002 to 2015, trade grew by more than US$43 billion. In 2013, Sino–Central Asian relations developed further with the launch of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) program, which calls for regional economic integration through infrastructure projects and trade. The Chinese government has planned to invest some US$40 billion in the project.

But China’s influence in Central Asia is controversial.

To date, all Central Asian governments have spoken positively about their ‘excellent relations’ with Beijing. But they are not Sinophile by conviction.  They are driven by a logic that has a Sinophobe dimension — the idea that it is better to maintain a healthy relationship with a large and feared neighbour. The ‘China question’ is becoming increasingly central to political debate in Central Asia and most believe that increased Chinese influence is a challenge for the region.

The topics of trade and economic relations are highly sensitive. Central Asian states are generally grateful for China’s help with infrastructure and with the provision of consumer products that are appropriate to the low standard of living in the region. But the energy issue raises concerns that an increased dependency on China could jeopardise national sovereignty.

In Kazakhstan, where Beijing’s investment in oil is strong, experts argue that Kazakh authorities have transferred too many energy resources into Chinese hands. This reflects a trend among many Central Asian experts who argue that Beijing is trying to co-opt the economies of Central Asia. The key accusation concerns the restriction of Central Asian economies to the roles of producers and exporters of primary resources.

Between 80 and 90 per cent of Chinese exports to Central Asia consist of finished, diversified goods, while about three-quarters of Central Asian exports to China comprises raw materials, petrol and ferrous and nonferrous metals. China is transforming these local economies into raw material support bases and is destroying, through mechanisms of competition, the already fragile post-Soviet industries that are key employers in Central Asia.

Views of China are still stamped by old clich├ęs perpetuated by the Soviet propaganda machine which cast China as an enemy. Discourses on the Chinese ‘soft expansion’ (tikhaia ekspansiia) into Central Asia have become frequent in Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik newspapers. The ideas that China has not evolved and that the Chinese authorities in principle conceal their imperialist objectives are very widespread. Many Central Asian countries share the feeling that there exists a ‘civilisational difference’ between China and Central Asia — some conceive it in terms of Islam, others in terms of Russo–Soviet acculturation.

Sinophobia is increasingly prominent in Central Asia, a phenomenon that may have long-term social consequences. There have been violent incidents over the last several years targeting Chinese traders in Central Asian markets. This growing averseness is being used more and more by some nationalist political circles.

But it is very unlikely that Chinese presence in the region will deteriorate.

For Central Asian governments, despite some apprehensions, China is an essential partner to counterbalance the influence of Russia. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and policy towards Ukraine has made the governments of Central Asia uneasy. The people and governments of Central Asia are also aware of the economic opportunities provided by the relationship with Beijing.

Moreover, Sinophobe circles are presently unable to acquire institutional standing because such views directly bear on pro-Chinese policies. In authoritarian Central Asian regimes, Sinophobia may induce state organs to work against anti-China groups through legal pressures and extralegal activities. These groups also have divided motivations and social affiliations. They are comprised of political opponents, Uyghur associations, worker’s unions, small businesspeople and entrepreneurs, all of whom would have a difficult time formulating common viewpoints for the purpose of building genuine cooperation.

As the attack on its embassy in Bishkek has shown, Beijing’s interests in the region are subject to threats. An unfavourable economic environment, particularly an economic slowdown, could lead China to lessen its involvement in Central Asia. But with tens of billions of dollars of investment already in Central Asia and with vital political and strategic interests in preserving stability in the region, Beijing is very unlikely to do so. Instead it is more likely to remain Central Asia’s main economic partner over the coming years.

Sebastien Peyrouse is Research Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University.


Thai democracy is dead, strangled by the massive fortune accumulated by King Bhumibol

For the foreseeable future, at least, Thai democracy is dead, strangled by the massive fortune accumulated by King Bhumibol in tandem with Thailand’s ever-shifting military elite, or vice versa

As Thailand mourns the passing of its late king and prepares to crown a new one, let’s examine the impact of royal image and untold wealth on its prospects for democracy.

As should now be apparent to the entire world, Thailand is engaged in a full-blown ritual convulsion as the citizenry, shepherded by the junta with the delicately calibrated support of “micro-fascist” mobs, collectively mourns their late great king Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The Ninth Reign of the Chakri Dynasty, portrayed as a modern version of the ancient Siamese monarchy, was in large part a creation of US public relations monies and expertise together with massive flows of military aid in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Buddhist monarchy, master of the grand spectacle, reinvented itself as a bulwark against communism, real or imagined, with King Bhumibol as its head.

Based on such an incredible, virtually infallible Hollywood assist, royal “magic” was supported by the accumulated millions and then billions of dollars of the Crown Property Bureau, hidden for decades from public sight.

The accumulation of said funds – His Majesty’s personal wealth or perhaps the property of the Crown, “held in trust for the nation” – was aided by the fact that it was a taboo topic, at least for the press and others of the hoi polloi. Not so for the select royals, even more select military leaders, and Sino-Thai business tycoons who partnered with royal business deals and benefited from the royal favour (phraratchathan).

Thus an initial weakling king, a youthful aficionado of guns and fast cars, was propelled out of his 1950s “dilettante” stage into the acquisition and exercise of formidable moral influence (itthiphon) and carefully disguised power (amnat).

The King’s dilettante stage featured royal hobbies like “le jazz hot,” photography, painting (modern art), and short-wave radio, seemingly innocuous, apolitical activities that functioned as “Janus rituals”. Like all great royal performances of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, they were exquisite, doubled-edged cultural performances that appear to embody the ideals of vastly different societies with vastly different idioms of power, while doing the exact opposite.

By demonstrating the extraordinary range of His Majesty’s skill, the royal hobbies, for instance, indexed His Majesty’s extraordinary virtue (barami) to the native audience, while simultaneously presenting His Majesty’s warm and unassuming human side in terms relatable to Western audiences.

Such a carefully calibrated performance, in tandem with the King’s patent monogamy and heart-warming photographic glimpses into his private family life, mediated near insurmountable antinomies of Siamese “absolutism” and Western democracy, and dispelled popular stereotypes of Siamese kings ingrained in the Western colonial imagination.

The King, under American tutelage, began his rise to power through the creation and melding of hegemonic images that remain viable to the present day.

Royal activities attracted the attention of widespread, critical audiences and overshadowed and overwhelmed less fragrant political allies and business partners – army generals sprung from the narcotics-dealing lineages of the Army of the North. Structured around the Tenfold Virtues of the Buddhist king, these activities embodied His Majesty’s progression on the Path of Purification of the Buddha and Buddhist saints.

Casting an ironclad circle of silence around the business dealings of the Crown Property Bureau, these activities at the same time satisfied his American audiences as to his commitment to capitalist development cum democracy.

As the king’s health began to fail and insouciant Sino-Thai telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra launched his challenge, the core of the sacred, official Thai state was reduced to a tottering regime of images supported by a flailing “network monarchy.” The so-called network monarchy was directed by senior statesman Prem Tinsulanonda, now 96 and President of the Privy Council, assisted by other of His Majesty’s ageing associates. It functioned with the seemingly stilted if not sullen participation of the Crown Prince, an occasional player who chose mainly to absent himself from the kingdom.

The crux of network monarchy was careful management of the King’s image, all else being subject to charges of lese-majeste.

The kingdom subsequently segued into a faux constitutional phase run by the invisible hand of the ‘deep state’: some hidden combination of alliances among the military, the police, politicians and select royals, operating via the faux Parliament, the courts and the equally faux justice system in the idiom of constitutionalism.

The Buddhist citizenry and most likely their non-Buddhist counterparts, however, understand the world in terms of vast cycles of cosmic expansion and decline, not some linear movement towards democracy or any other political form.

Perfectly embodying Buddhist truths of anicca or impermanence, King Bhumibol, as is natural, has been afflicted by sickness, old age and death, three of the four “sights” that inspired Prince Gautama in his quest for the great universal truths.

During the first intense 15 days of his funerary rites, close family members, led by the Crown Prince, made merit, propelling King Bhumibol into the lower-level Dusit/Tusita heaven of sensory delights, the abode of future buddhas.

The junta, for the year of mourning, decreed Thailand a “no politics” zone, instead flooding the nation with images, documentaries and photos of the king in his prime.

The Crown Prince, backed by the authority of his pure blood (leuat kasat), his considerable billions and his known propensity for authoritarianism, if not violence by proxy, made taboo any public mention of the royal succession.

Securing the transmission of lineage via meticulous performance of ancient funerary rites in the days immediately following his father’s “passing into heaven” (sawankhot), the prince neatly eliminated any potential rivals to the throne along with any doubts as to the succession. As intended, he made a joke of his supposed proxy, General Prayuth, who stepped all over himself trying to please. More important, he rendered his arch-enemy Prem impotent, “regent” of a kingless state.

Renouncing the lowly interim Parliament’s “naming” of him as king in order to mourn alongside his people, the prince, who resides in Germany, is capable of irony. Coming and going as he pleases, he is also a master of ambiguity.

The king will be cremated next year, his ashes stored at Wat Bowonniwet, the Thammayut temple of the royal family and anywhere else the Crown Prince decides. The royal bones or relics (that) will be raked and collected, distributed by the Crown Prince to a select few.

Over time, His Majesty’s relics, like those of the Buddha, will become ever more saksit (sacred) acquiring magical powers, one assumes, in proportion to the late king’s boundless wisdom and kindness as demonstrated in the vast hail of images flooding the nation and the world, courtesy of the international press.

The government has decreed such displays, along with a newly-invented national dress code evoking mourning customs in the United States, if not Victorian England, as the proper mode of remembrance and thought, the proper way to mourn.

A month after the King’s death, junta chairman Prayuth Chan-o-cha, veering dangerously close to usurping the prerogatives of royalty, provisionally declared the era of King Bhumibol the Great.

After decades awaiting the throne in eye-popping decadence, exercising the absolute powers of “ancient” Siamese kings to the max, Maha Vajiralongkorn, should he survive his own infirmities, will segue into the kingship in its fullest expression. He will use the year of mourning and beyond to “latch on to ” or “borrow” (pheung) the “virtue” (barami) of his father in much the same way that Rama IX and his handlers, over time, systematically conflated his own reign with that of King Rama V, Chulalongkorn the Great, jettisoning inconvenient forebears along the way.

The possibilities are near limitless, constrained only by the prince’s health, his ability to produce heirs, his temperament, and his willingness to cover up his tattoos and maintain a modicum of discretion in his sex life.

The prince will use his royal authority, backed by his billions (or his authority over such), to order compliance among top royals, re-ordering the Royal Family at will and terrifying its members into submission. He will likewise create or cement alliances with the military and police, building a personal security force from the inside out, in the manner of Ramas V and IX, from the inside out.

Even as untold millions in “donations” (borichak) stream into the Palace – the price of participation in the Thai kingdom’s greatest ritual feat to date – the prince now known as Rama X will presumably be the recipient of an invisible stream of contributions from Thailand’s amazing Sino-Thai billionaires, whose empires, under his father’s steadfast rule, rose to the same unimaginable heights as the Crown Properties, in the identical, somewhat mysterious way. That is, if the billionaires wish to remain “Thai” and patriotic as currently defined by the junta.

Far less visibly, the prince will secure the cooperation of influential Buddhist monks, purification of the Sangha, the organisation of Buddhist monks, being a primary duty and prerogative of the Dhammaraja.  Should the abbots of the kingdom’s foremost temples somehow offend the new king, they, like recalcitrant royals, uncooperative generals, or too-stingy businessmen, could find themselves without an invitation to the nation’s most auspicious funerary rites, or seated off in a corner.

Thai citizenship in its fullest is a function of ritual participation.

And as the Crown Prince learned from his father, there is only one of him, while greedy military generals like Prayuth, near comic in their efforts to secure royal favour, come and go.

Spectacles require an audience.

Performing as he does the rituals of the Buddhist state, the prince remains at its sacred (soteriological) centre.

He improves his subjects’ rebirth chances by magnanimously allowing them to participate in the kingdom’s great merit ceremonies, mourning alongside him (as audience), performing activities that demonstrate, in the manner of his father, detachment, steadfastness, renunciation and almsgiving.

No mean feat for such a supposed loser and womaniser.

Should the situation displease him, he can always walk off, destroying the kingdom’s ritual centre and taking a substantial chunk of the royal billions with him.

Royalist democracy under King Bhumibol, soon to be proclaimed the Great, is exposed for the great farce it was – a “show” for farang (foreigners) in order to secure military aid in the great Fight Against Communism that defined the early to mid-Ninth Reign. It was a carefully constructed mirror and performance supporting the United States’ own farcical beliefs about itself and its foreign policy.

For the foreseeable future, at least, Thai democracy is dead, strangled by the massive fortune accumulated by King Bhumibol in tandem with Thailand’s ever-shifting military elite, or vice versa

We should have followed the money all along.

Christine Gray, PhD, is a cultural anthropologist who writes about monarchy, ritual, gender and power.


China’s spies gain valuable US defense technology

China has gained military benefits in recent years from stealing defense secrets through industrial and cyber espionage carried out by its intelligence services, according to a US congressional report.

“In recent years, Chinese agents have extracted data on some of the most advanced weapons and weapons systems in the US arsenal, such as jet fighters and unmanned submersible vehicles,” states the annual report of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, released on November 16.

“The loss of these and other sensitive defense technologies undermines US military superiority by accelerating China’s military modernization and giving China insight into the capabilities and operation of US weapons and weapons systems,” the report adds.

The espionage operations are not limited to direct spying activities against the United States and include intelligence collection against US allies and friends in Asia, including Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand.

“The United States shares weapons, weapons systems, and operational plans with its allies and partners, many of whom China has targeted with espionage operations,” the report says. “These infiltrations also threaten US alliance stability.”

US intelligence agencies determined that China stole secrets relating to the F-35 jet fighter from a US contractor. The design secrets were detected in China’s new J-20 stealth fighter.

The stolen secrets included details of the F-35’s electro-optical targeting system, radar-absorbing coatings and engine nozzles.

Taiwan remains a major spying target of China and, since 2002, 56 Chinese agents have been arrested there after being caught obtaining sensitive information, including about US technology shared with Taipei.

In recent years, Chinese agents have extracted data on some of the most advanced weapons and weapons systems in the US arsenal

The United States is committed to defending Taiwan from a Chinese military takeover and as a result shares sensitive defense information.

“Taiwan’s strategic position in the Western Pacific makes its defensibility an important aspect of the US alliance system and strategy for the region,” the report says.

Recent Chinese cyber intelligence operations include the July 2016 infiltration by China of networks at the Philippines Department of Justice which were involved in organizing the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Chinese hackers also broke into a law firm involved with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, the court that ruled against China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea.

In Australia, Chinese cyber spies were behind a massive intrusion into networks of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which provides data to the Australian Defense Department, an American treaty ally.

“China-based actors have conducted extensive cyber operations targeting Japan,” the report says.

Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology reported that China was behind 40 percent of approximately 26 billion attempts to compromise Japanese information systems in 2014.

Chinese intelligence services have also recruited agents in Thailand and the Philippines, prompting the commission to warn that “China’s apparent shift toward more overseas recruitment and handling operations could create a greater espionage threat environment in these and other US partner countries.”

The spying activities could undermine US support for allies. For example, if Washington believes sharing information and equipment with its Asian partners comes with significant risk, the nation could hesitate to provide support in a future crisis or conflict.

Growing threat

The commission report for the first time devoted an entire chapter to Chinese intelligence services, which were outlined as including the Ministry of State Security — the country’s civilian spy agency — and several military intelligence services.

The report concludes that the Chinese intelligence threat is increasing as China reforms and centralizes its intelligence apparatus and gains experience conducting spying operations.

In particular, Chinese human spying, or HUMINT, activities, “already appear to be growing more aggressive and extensive,” the commission says.

“China’s intelligence processing and communication to decision makers is likely to become more effective and efficient as the moves toward joint, integrated intelligence operations,” the report says.

The military spy agencies were the subject of a major reform effort in late 2015 that moved them from the General Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army to a new military service-level group called the Strategic Support Force.

The units believed to be placed under the new force are 2PLA, the military’s espionage branch; the 3PLA — the group responsible for electronic spying and cyber attacks; and 4PLA, which is responsible for electronic warfare.

Chinese military technical intelligence capabilities also are growing. They include beefed up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment and platforms that will bolster China’s ability to fight regional conflicts and to monitor and target US military forces.

“Chinese intelligence services have demonstrated broad capabilities to infiltrate a range of US national security (as well as commercial) actors with cyber operations”

Regarding cyber attacks, Chinese intelligence have repeatedly gained access to email accounts of senior US government officials — infiltrations that provide Beijing with insights into highly sensitive US national security decision making, the report says.

The commission recommends that Congress direct the US State Department to develop educational material to alert people living and traveling abroad to Chinese intelligence activities.

The Pentagon is also directed to set up special counter-intelligence education to help US students studying in China under a Defense Department National Security Education Program to avoid Chinese intelligence recruitment efforts.

In addition, the commission calls for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to provide a secret report to Congress outlining the risks and threats posed by foreign information systems purchased by the US government.

“This report should identify information systems or components that were produced, manufactured, or assembled by Chinese-owned or -controlled entities,” the report says.

Chinese telecommunications companies, including Huawei Technologies and ZTE, have been identified by the US government as working with Chinese intelligence to provide equipment that can be accessed remotely and clandestinely.

China’s cyber espionage appears to be the most serious espionage threat, described by the commission as a major problem.

“China has a large, professionalized cyber espionage community,” the report says. “Chinese intelligence services have demonstrated broad capabilities to infiltrate a range of US national security (as well as commercial) actors with cyber operations.”


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

India Took 35 Years to Make Its First Tank (And It Was a Total Disaster)

In the mid-1970s, India began development on a totally new, advanced main battle tank that would satisfy the needs of the country’s Armored Corps. An impressive combination of firepower, armor protection and mobility, the tank was to be India’s first indigenously produced tank—and one of the best in the world. The service date for the tank, known as Arjun, was confidently set for 1985.

Instead, the Arjun suffered a tortuously long development period spanning two centuries. The final result, introduced into the army twenty-six years later than originally planned, is a mess of a tank that not even the Indian Army wants.

The Indian Army’s Armored Corps has been in existence for seventy-four years, tracing its roots to the Second World War, and has fought in every one of India’s wars with neighbor and rival Pakistan. The Corps has across has sixty-three armored regiments (the equivalent of battalions), spread across eight armored and mechanized divisions and another seven armored and mechanized brigades.

The decision to produce an indigenous Indian tank was made in 1972, shortly after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. In 1974, the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was tasked with developing the tank. It was to be a forty-ton vehicle, armed with a 105-millimeter gun. It would be small enough to be strategically mobile, capable of being shuttled on internal lines (roads and railroads) to vital sectors along the long border with Pakistan.

DRDO decided to make the tank, called Arjun, a mostly Indian design. The Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment, part of DRDO, was to design the hull, armor, turret, gun and running gear. The main gun and engine would be imported. Unfortunately, India’s defense-industrial base was nowhere near capable of creating such a vehicle. As if that weren’t enough of an obstacle, India’s world-famous bureaucracy and red-tape machine was another enemy to progress.


Today, the Arjun Mk 1 is a sixty-two-ton tank, complete with a 120-millimeter gun, advanced composite armor, a 1,400-horsepower turbocharged engine, and advanced fire control and thermal sights. Although the tank’s specifications are impressive, the actual product leaves a lot to be desired.

By 2009, thirty-five years after it was originally conceived, Arjun was “ready” for production. Despite shortcomings revealed in testing, the Indian Army was forced to buy 124 Arjuns—enough to equip just two armored regiments—to keep state tank production facilities open. By mid-2015, two years after the purchase was complete, nearly 75 percent of the Arjun force was inoperable due to technical problems.

Arjun’s armored protection evolved significantly over thirty-five years. The tank is fitted with Kanchan armor, a locally designed composite blend that is allegedly similar to British Chobham armor. Kanchan is rumored to be capable of shrugging off point-blank shots from the 125-millimeter gun of Indian T-72 tanks. Arjun is so well protected that its weight ballooned from the original forty-ton specification to sixty-two tons.

This increase in protection came at a cost—decreased tactical and operational mobility. As originally specified, a forty-ton tank with a 1,400-horsepower engine would have an impressive 35-to-1 horsepower-to-weight ratio. Unfortunately, Arjun’s weight ballooned from forty to sixty-two tons, with no corresponding increase in engine power. DRDO finally settled on a German-made MTU 1,400-horsepower water-cooled diesel engine, complemented with an Indian supercharger. Arjun’s horsepower-to-weight ratio sank to a mediocre 22.5 to 1. The vehicle’s weight also means it cannot be used in Punjab and the northern deserts of India in India’s “Cold Start” offensive strategy against Pakistan.

The Arjun’s development period was so long that major design decisions became completely obsolete. The 105-millimeter gun, perfectly adequate in the 1970s when stacked up against the NATO-standard 105-millimeter L7 gun (the M68 in U.S. Army service), and the 115-millimeter gun of the Soviet T-62 tank, were obsolete by the early 1990s.

In the end, the Arjun ended up with a 120-millimeter rifled barrel gun, capable of firing High Explosive, Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot rounds, High Explosive Anti-Tank rounds and, perhaps not unusually for a former British colony, High Explosive, Squash Head rounds. DRDO conducted test firings of the Israeli-made LAHAT long-range antitank missile, which offered a high probability of kill against armored vehicles out to six thousand meters, but the round was dropped in 2014. DRDO claims it will develop an indigenous equivalent.

How did Arjun, which took decades to develop, end up being such a disappointment? The tank took so long to develop that technologies not even invented when Arjun was first proposed had to be added to the tank. GPS navigation, laser warning receivers, non-explosive-reactive armor and other innovations were merely research papers in 1974, but by the early 2000s were must-have inventions that added to the tank’s complexity, weight and cost.

The inability of DRDO to put its foot down and admit that it could not build the tank on time and on schedule doomed the tank. India’s state of the military art was such that a new tank would out of necessity face a prolonged development time. The more the tank project dragged on, the more the tank needed to be redesigned to incorporate new technologies. The tank was trapped for decades in a development death spiral, and the end product is correspondingly mediocre.

DRDO is busy at work designing Arjun Mk II, which will allegedly contain many improvements over the original Mk I. The Indian Army for its part is adamant it wants no part of the Mk II until prototypes perform satisfactorily, and would much rather buy an overseas tank. The army, for now prefers the Russian T-90 tank and may express interest in the brand new T-14 Armata tank. Russian state media has reported that India is interested in the Armata as the basis of a new, localized tank. Whether that’s true remains to be seen.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. Image: An Arjun MBT being test driven. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/Ajai Shukla


VIETNAM Needs to Reform with or without the TPP

As Donald Trump prepares to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade pact is helping to spur the biggest overhaul of Vietnam’s economy in decades.

The Communist government in Hanoi plans to push ahead with more than 30 separate pieces of legislation proposed to comply with the trade deal, including rules on labour, business, foreign trade, and small-and-medium enterprises. Since a new Constitution was adopted in 2013, Vietnam’s lawmakers have passed more than 100 laws – a scale of change unseen since the nation introduced the market-oriented doi moi reforms in the 1980s.

We still have to make sure we are able to compete with foreign rivals because Vietnam is more and more integrating into the global economy

Vu Thi Thuan, chairwoman of Traphaco JSC

“We will continue carrying out what we’ve planned to do,” said Nguyen Duc Kien, deputy head of the Vietnam National Assembly’s economic committee. “It’s the technologies and corporate governance that we need to improve. It’s crucial.”

Vietnam has long been seen as one of the biggest potential winners from the TPP, with increased market access for everything from clothing to electronics to footwear. The deal also stood to complement a growing strategic relationship between the US and Vietnam, which opposes China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Yet all isn’t lost: the TPP also helped serve as an impetus for long-needed structural changes in a nation with 90 million people that’s forecast to grow more than 6 per cent this year – one of the fastest rates in Asia. While Vietnam first announced plans to reform state-owned enterprises in 2011, progress has been slow, with the stakes often too small and many companies pulling back on plans to list on exchanges.

“We wanted to have good preparation, with or without TPP,” said Vu Thi Thuan, chairwoman of Traphaco JSC, Vietnam’s second-largest listed pharmaceutical company. “We still have to make sure we are able to compete with foreign rivals because Vietnam is more and more integrating into the global economy.”

Thuan said Traphaco has spent heavily to increase its competitiveness, including the construction of US$22 million factory to prepare for the expected rise in foreign medicines entering Vietnam if TPP came into effect.

Other companies in export industries such as textiles and garment, footwear, seafood, wood furniture and agricultural products have also made investments, according to Nghia Trong Pham, deputy director general of the Department of Laws at Vietnam’s National Assembly Office.

“This preparation contributes to improve their competitiveness even if the TPP is not taking effect,” Nghia said. “It is reasonable to conclude that the period of 2011-16 is the biggest reforms in Vietnam since Doi Moi. TPP is one of the important actors for this process.”

Nghia said TPP has also helped raise awareness among key stakeholders including state officials, employers, trade unions, workers and the general public on the implications of free trade. Vietnamese business leaders also appear keen to maintain the reform momentum generated by TPP.

Alan Pham, chief economist at Vietnam’s largest fund manager VinaCapital Group, says TPP is a kind of road map for Vietnam as it integrates further into the global economy.

“Whether we have TPP or not, Vietnam will still have to reform,” Pham said. “The trade pact is really useful for the government and for Vietnamese business to know what are the steps they will need to take to really become part of the global economy.”

Last month, the ruling Communist Party adopted a resolution on International Economic Integration that confirmed Vietnam’s commitment to further opening up the economy. The Finance Ministry has recommended moves to support start-up companies, including cutting the corporate income-tax rate for small and medium-sized enterprises to as low as 15 per cent from the current 20 per cent.

The TPP includes Japan, Malaysia, Australia and Canada – but excludes China – and would represent nearly 40 per cent of global economic output worth US$30 trillion if it came into force. The World Bank estimates the pact could raise gross domestic product by an average 1.1 per cent in member countries by 2030.

China is now pushing a separate 16-nation agreement called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. That would include Vietnam along with the rest of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said last month that Vietnam would pursue greater international integration through 12 other free trade agreements it had already signed even if the TPP falls through.

“So it’ll be very good to have TPP, but if not, we still have other integration plans to go with,” Phuc said.

Those agreements, including with the European Union and China, are enough for an economy with nominal gross domestic product of roughly US$200 billion to capture growth opportunities in the years to come, Saigon Securities JSC, the country’s biggest brokerage, said in a November 11 note to investors.

Vu Tu Thanh, chief Vietnam representative of the US-Asean Business Council, said that while the TPP’s collapse isn’t good “it’s also not very bad” because the Southeast Asian nation will have more time to prepare.

“TPP is a game for big players, while most of Vietnamese companies are small- and medium-sized,” he said. “TPP is just part of the reform – if there’s no TPP, the reforming process will still happen in Vietnam.”


Politics, Plurality And Inter-Group Relations: Addressing Religious Intolerance In Indonesia – Analysis


The increasing number of violent incidents against religious minorities in recent years is a growing concern in Indonesia. A workshop was recently held in Jakarta to discuss the challenges of rising religious intolerance in Indonesia and recommended some remedies to address it.

Religious groups in Indonesia have been victims of violent attacks in recent years. Religious minorities in Indonesia, such as Buddhists, Christians, Shiites and Ahmadis have been targeted by Muslim vigilante groups. However, Muslims also have become victims of intolerant acts in provinces when they are not in the majority, for instance, in Tolikara, Papua where Christian mobs attacked a number of mosques in July 2015.

On 25 August 2016, the RSIS Indonesia Programme hosted a workshop entitled “The Rise of Religious Intolerance in Contemporary Indonesia” in Jakarta to discuss the reasons why religious intolerance is becoming a growing problem in post-Reformasi Indonesia. Participants were scholars of religious intolerance in Indonesia and activists, representing mainstream Indonesian Islamic organisations Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, and representatives of Indonesian Ahmadi and Shiite communities.

Causes of Rising Religious Intolerance

Papers presented at the conference discussed a number of causes of rising religious intolerance in Indonesia. Ahmad Najib Burhani, a keynote speaker from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), attributed it to the effect of economic globalisation, which creates economic uncertainty for many religious believers. Furthermore, it creates tensions and mistrust among themselves and other religious communities.

Other speakers noted several trends regarding religious intolerance in Indonesia. For instance, there is an increasing usage of the civilian court system by conservative religious groups to persecute activists representing religious minorities, by accusing them of violating Indonesia’s 1965 blasphemy law. In addition, more local edicts (peraturan daerah or perda) were issued that encourage discrimination against religious minorities.

Examples of such edicts include a decree by the governor of East Java that prohibits Shi’a Islam within his province. In addition, a circular signed by the mayor of Bogor last year prohibits Shiites from celebrating the Ashura holiday within the city.

Ironically, both leaders were initially considered as moderate Muslims with progressive ideas. However, they were forced to issue these edicts to appease conservative Islamic groups which dominated local politics. The growing influence of these groups forced them into an alliance in order to secure their re-election prospects and protect their political power and patronage.

In addition, there is a concern over growing radicalism among Indonesian Muslims, particularly among university-age young adults. This is highlighted by a newly released survey conducted by the NU-affiliated Wahid Foundation stating that 49 percent of its respondents hold intolerant attitudes toward religious minorities and 7.7 percent are willing to commit violent actions against them. Even moderate Islamic groups such as NU also face the threat of increasing radicalism among some of its members, who have openly challenged its promotion of the moderate Islam Nusantara theology in Indonesia.

Representatives of religious minority communities expressed their concerns that they do not receive state protection against attacks from radical groups, despite the religious freedom guarantee enshrined in Indonesia’s national ideology Pancasila. They accused the security apparatus of siding with the perpetrators instead of protecting them. They also pointed out that intolerant incidents against their groups only increased after the 1998 Reformasi with the more democratic and decentralised Indonesian state.

Addressing Intolerance: Some Recommendations

Workshop participants also recommended a number of potential remedies to address the problem. The first is a more inclusive classification of which groups should be considered as religious communities entitled to state protection. Such a definition is included in a bill currently drafted by the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs entitled the Religious Harmony Bill (RUU Kerukunan Beragama).

It defines a religious group to include not just officially recognised religions such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, but also locally based spiritual streams (aliran kepercayaan), which would receive recognition as groups that are entitled to state protection. In the Suharto era, moves to officially recognise aliran kepercayaan was opposed by mainstream Muslims who did not consider it as religion.

The second recommendation is to encourage more interaction between representatives of Muslim community and religious minorities. Opinion surveys have consistently shown that the level of religious tolerance increases as members of a religious group develop friendship networks with other religious groups. Unfortunately, members of different religious groups tend to live separately in Indonesia and do not have regular interactions with each other. To resolve this, the state needs to encourage more interfaith dialogue and cooperation between different religious groups.

The third recommendation is for the national government to reassert its role as a neutral arbiter of religious disputes as directed by the Indonesian constitution. The government should be firm in protecting all religious groups equally and punishing any radical groups irrespective of their religious affiliation.

It should also cancel any local perda that were enacted to promote discrimination against any religious minorities, as the constitution gives the national government the sole authority to regulate religious affairs in Indonesia. Lastly, it should restore the rights of religious minorities that were curtailed under such regulations, for example, by granting them the right to apply for national identity cards (KTP) that would assure them access to public services.

Religious intolerance in Indonesia endangers the country’s pluralist and inclusive foundation as enshrined in the Pancasila. It is perpetuated as consequences of rapid economic globalisation, increased religious radicalism, and the failure of national and local governments to protect religious minorities. The state should commit to protecting all religious groups equally when facing persecution from another group. It needs to assure that all religious groups receive the same protection accorded to them as Indonesian citizens.

*Alexander R Arifianto PhD is a Research Fellow with the Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.