Sunday, February 28, 2010

Malaysian Women on top

THERE is an old German phrase, "Kinder, Kuche, Kirche" to describe the role and place of women in society in the 19th century. "Children, kitchen, church" were all women were good for. But times have changed, and the use of such a phrase would be anathema to the 21st century. So, when concern was expressed about there being more women than men in the civil service, one wondered whether Malaysia had fallen into a time-tunnel going backwards.

Cuepacs secretary-general Ahmad Shah Mohd Zin was worried the "dominance" of women in the civil service would have long-term implications on the development of the country. He even went so far as to redefine the government's 30 per cent policy on women in the civil service, saying that women were only supposed to make up that amount, and not more. But he mistook this quota for a maximum allotment. The policy is meant as an enabling and positive discrimination, to encourage the participation of more women. It was never meant to be a disabling policy to put a limit on how many women can be involved in government.

Such blinkeredness can blind leaders to the real gender-gap problems in this country. For the truth is that women are far behind in being equal to men. Women are seriously under-represented in leadership and policy-making positions. True, there may be a swarm of female clerks and secretaries and teachers, but there are only two female secretary-generals out of 24 ministries, 12 female director-generals out of 70 departments, and 11 female chief executives out of 71 federal statutory bodies.

In the judiciary, none of the top-four positions is held by a female. Out of seven Federal Court judges, only one is female. Out of 21 Court of Appeal judges, only two are female. And out of 44 High Court judges, only 15 are female. There are as yet no female judges in the syariah courts. And in the Executive, there are only two female federal cabinet ministers out of 29 positions, and only eight female deputy ministers out of 40 positions. In the Legislature, there are only 22 female members of parliament out of 222. Women make up half of this country's population. Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution may say women and men are equal in law, but this should be reflected in real life, too. Editorial, New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

Yes, Mr Thaksin, you were too stubborn

The fugitive ex-premier's post-verdict speech carries some truth
In his post-verdict address to his family and supporters, Thaksin Shinawatra attacked everyone and everything he thought had conspired against him. But he was right on one thing - rich businessmen should never play politics. Even though his warning to his fellow businessmen sounded sarcastic, the punch line was spot on.

"Let me be the last victim," he said via a video link, which brought more tears to many supporters' eyes. And how we wish the same. Let him be the last victim. Whether or not Thai politics was "mean" as claimed by the ousted leader, his entry into politics had made things too complicated for a nascent democracy. Thailand simply can't take anymore of the kind of troubles that followed Thaksin's bid to wear two hats at the same time.

The Supreme Court spelled out how Thaksin's actions as prime minister helped his corporate empire. It doesn't matter if he intended to abuse his power or not. His government's policies and actions and his telecom empire's frequent moves to seek state leniency or assistance were too intertwined to be ignored. It would have helped a lot had Thaksin chosen to stay purely on the business side, or really given up the empire instead of superficially transferring ownership to his children.

The ambiguous share transfers and Shin Corp's repeated adjustments of concession terms, either through its own initiatives or the government's, set Thaksin up for the misery that he bemoans. If Thaksin was right about Thailand's political "immaturity", he himself contributed immensely to the unhealthy atmosphere. The more undeveloped Thailand is politically, with the elite and military opportunists allegedly always lurking in the shadows, the more we need politicians to behave themselves, and business tycoons like Thaksin to provide "help" strictly from the sidelines.

There are other ways to "help" the nation. By paying taxes to begin with. Billions of baht in taxes can go a long way in improving many poor people's lives. Rich businessmen don't need to get too ambitious or too patriotic. Just paying all the taxes due will do.

Thaksin said sorry to his family, but he didn't say sorry to the nation, apparently because he didn't think he had done anything wrong except to be too stubborn in his "ambition" to serve the country. He must have known the law as well as the 1997 constitution, which sought to prevent company magnates like him from getting into politics, but he had chosen to sneak in - and the rest is history.

Thaksin, after the court ruling, complained that Thailand's justice system was picking on him. That has been the excuse he and his apologists have been using all along. Everyone cheats on taxes, they say. Everyone hides something illegally somewhere, more or less. Everyone tries to find legal loopholes and exploit them.
That's true. Many people have been doing what Thaksin and his family did, albeit on a different scale altogether. There is one big difference, though. "Everyone" is not the prime minister. Thaksin was. "Everyone" is cheating on taxes as a businessman or office worker and the law is probably discriminatory when it comes to dealing with them.

Of course, Thaksin was picked on, but he was "picked on" because he was prime minister. And he has been unable to give us a convincing reason why prime ministers should not be singled out when it comes to this kind of legal and moral maelstrom.

Why is zeroing in on prime ministers over matters like this bad for Thailand? One may say look around and see what has been happening to this country ever since Thaksin was picked on. Again, it's true that the past few years have been miserable, but the question to ask is whether it was miserable because Thaksin was picked on, or because he chose to be in the wrong place and so stubbornly refused to admit it. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

Friday, February 26, 2010

Giants of Asia-Pacific locked in a complicated relationship

NOTHING so vexes strategic analysts, not only in Asia but all over the world, as the confusing nature of the relationship between the US and China.

The US is having a rough recession, but it is not only the biggest and strongest economy in the world, it is uniquely placed to remain so. It has a little over 300 million people now. By 2050 it will have 400 million people. That makes the US absolutely unique among Western nations, with its nearest analogue being Australia,but on so much smaller a scale that it doesn't really matter (except to us Australians). Meanwhile, China, with its 1.3 billion people, is continuing to sustain economic growth of near 10 per cent a year. It will be a long, long time before it catches up to the US, if ever, but it is the only nation in the world which could credibly challenge the US across a significant number of national power indicators.

What is especially hard to work out, though, is the long-term trend in the relationship. Too much attention is given to US policy towards China and not enough to Chinese policy towards the US. George W. Bush once said he thought China was a strategic competitor to the US. Later he worked very hard to engage China as a partner.

His then deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, now the World Bank president and one of the smartest guys in Washington, said that Washington wanted China to be a "responsible stakeholder". By any normal measure the Obama administration has done everything it could possibly do to engage China positively and the Pentagon refers to Beijing as a "leading stakeholder".

And yet the peaceable, sweet tempered Barack Obama has mortally offended Beijing, by offering to sell $6 billion ($6.75bn) of arms to Taiwan, arms which had been approved long ago but whose sale had been held up by Taiwanese politics, and by meeting the Dalai Lama. Beijing decided to make a big fuss out of both of those issues. This was entirely Beijing's decision. Obama had refused an earlier meeting with the Dalai Lama, and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had gone soft on criticising Chinese human rights violations during her first visit to China.

So why did China decide to make such a fuss? It was a much bigger fuss than usual, with Beijing threatening trade sanctions against US companies involved in the arms sales to Taiwan, something it hasn't done before.

There is too little serious analysis of what Beijing is thinking and why, and what the different power groups are within the government.

Two recent documents are useful on this score, without being definitive.

One is the International Crisis Group's report, The Iran Nuclear Issue: The View from Beijing. The other is a report from the Rand Corporation, entitled A Question of Balance, Political Context and Military Aspects of the China-Taiwan Dispute.
Before coming to those reports, let me give you the net assessment first. I agree with those analysts who see China as having a divided strategic mind in relation to the US. The US makes China rich by buying so many of its exports. The US also keeps the peace in the Asia-Pacific, but this involves a big US military presence which China finds inhibiting, or potentially inhibiting, especially in relation to its freedom of action towards Taiwan.

So Beijing wants the US to keep making it rich, which means maintaining a certain level of amity in the relationship, and broadly it wants the Asia-Pacific to remain peaceful. However, it also wants US strategic influence to decline, especially in Asia, and it wants the prestige of the values that the US promotes, especially democracy and human rights, to decline also.

Without wishing to verbal the authors of either of the two reports I cite, I believe their analysis broadly supports this view.

The ICG report on Beijing's policy on Iran concludes that Beijing will try to weaken and delay any sanctions against Iran. It just doesn't take the Iranian nuclear threat seriously. The ICG authors don't judge this attitude on Beijing's part, but I think it shows at the very least Beijing's immaturity as a global power. It is not a responsible stakeholder in the global system if it's happy to let Iran go on and acquire nukes. The ICG authors describe how Chinese interlocutors simply want to avoid any Chinese responsibility for Iran. If Iran really is a problem, the Chinese argue, it's all America's fault and Beijing has no responsibility to fix it. China would not want to be isolated at the UN, and therefore may not veto sanctions, if it comes to that, but it will make sure sanctions are ineffective.

But the ICG report indicates many other fascinating aspects of Beijing's view of Iran. Beijing sees the Iran issue as part of its bilateral relationship with the US, and something it can use to obtain concessions from the US. This compares with Beijing's similar use of the North Korea issue. But the ICG makes clear that Beijing also supports Iran in principle, as a fellow dictatorship as it were.

The ICG report argues: "China's support for Iran's government is also linked with its worries about the `colour revolutions' in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It has officially stated its preference for a `harmonious world' with a diversity of social and political systems and would consider the disappearance of Iran's conservative government a loss." In other words, Beijing would much rather see Iran ruled by the dictatorship of the mullahs, than by any system of democracy. The ICG report further notes: "The two countries (China and Iran) also share important historical and political affinities, shaped by suspicion towards the West and reinforced by an experience of sanctions and a perception of US interference in their domestic politics."

Moreover, the ICG argues that: "As noted, China and Iran share an interest in balancing American influence in the Middle East and Central Asia."

Thus Beijing doesn't really see anything which constitutes a global order, it merely sees American power which it automatically wants to cut down. This is even though China relies on the US Navy securing the sea lanes around the Persian Gulf for trade. The ICG describes the extensive economic integration between China and Iran. And here Iran has been a canny player, inviting Chinese companies into its energy sector in order to keep up Beijing's motivation to protect Iran.

This leads to two other important insights from the ICG. One is that China's huge state-owned energy companies are a powerful political factor within China itself. Another is that China has benefited enormously from Western sanctions against Iran. It has used the absence of Western companies to invest and trade in Iran virtually without competition.

Too much Western analysis of Beijing's position on Iran has focused exclusively on the energy question, whereas the ICG demonstrates convincingly that strategic and political considerations are also hugely important to Beijing. It wants to weaken or even neuter sanctions against Iran, and it wants to hurt the US strategically, but it wants to do so without provoking outright conflict with the US.

The Rand Corporation study on the China-Taiwan dispute offers a starker vision of Beijing's intentions and capabilities. It quotes a Pentagon publication to the effect that by the end of 2007 China had deployed 1000 short-range ballistic missiles to garrisons opposite Taiwan, and that this number was increasing by more than 100 missiles per year.

The Rand Corporation examines what the Chinese could do with these missiles and it doesn't make pretty reading. Beijing could, with these missiles, "cut every runway at Taiwan's half-dozen main fighter bases and destroy essentially all of the aircraft parked on ramps in the open at those installations". This would allow Beijing to achieve air superiority to the extent that it could destroy the rest of the Taiwanese air force. Worse, "the missile threat to the US Air Force base at Kadena (in Japan) and the US Marine Corps base at Iwakuni on Okinawa poses the same kind of danger as that faced by Taiwan's air bases".

It's not all military doom for the US in this scenario. The Rand study proposes ways Taiwan could still defeat any amphibious invasion from China and makes the point that if Beijing understands that any attack on US air bases would result in massive retaliation, it would be less likely to mount such attacks. Naturally every sane person on the planet hopes that no such scenario ever comes to pass.

But the Chinese are not building these missiles idly. At the very least, and on the most benign possible interpretation, they are building these missiles in order to have the ability to intimidate, psychologically and politically, both Taiwan and the US in the event of any future Taiwan Straits crisis. The US Navy and Air Force are hardly idle themselves in the face of all this, and have more than a few tricks up their sleeve, although in this context the cancellation of the US program to build the F-22, the most advanced air superiority fighter the US has ever built, is worrying. But the prodigious Chinese program of arms aimed at Taiwan indicates something about China's strategic intentions. This is not that China is planning to go to war with the US, but that it is planning to compromise and degrade US
strategic supremacy in the Asia-Pacific. That, certainly, is a long-term trend in the US-China relationship.

As these trends mature, it is unclear if the US will decide that continuing to make China rich is in its own national interests. The US-China relationship is going to become more complicated. Those many pro-China voices in the Australian debate, especially those at the Australian National University, have no answer to why accommodating China on all points, which seems to be their policy, would produce a good outcome for Australia. by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor The Australian

Japan's frustrating politics

Nagasaki fallout

Japan’s prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, should jettison his Svengali, Ichiro Ozawa

WHEN the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) swept a mildewed 55-year-old regime from power last year, nowhere epitomised the sense of energy and enthusiasm better than Nagasaki in south-western Japan. There, a bob-haired 28-year-old drove from office a grizzly 68-year-old, known as “the Bear”, who had won nine consecutive elections for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Less than six months later, an electoral defeat in the same city has shown how quickly Yukio Hatoyama’s government has dimmed those hopes. He needs to act boldly and decisively to stop his administration sinking into the very swamp of financial scandal and policy paralysis that it was elected to drain. And that requires him to rid himself of Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ’s secretary-general, electoral wizard—and, now, its biggest handicap.

This week’s defeat of the DPJ’s candidate for governor of Nagasaki was an indictment of Mr Hatoyama and of Mr Ozawa, both of whom have been immersed in financial scandals. The setback was compounded by the loss of a mayoral election in a quarter of Tokyo where Mr Ozawa had stooped to campaign. “My lack of virtue is to blame,” Mr Ozawa said afterwards, in the sort of half-baked apology that Japan has heard so often lately—not least from the boss of Toyota, the fault-prone carmaker that has added to the national malaise.

In politics grovelling is no longer enough. As Nagasaki shows, the Japanese have learned to exact summary justice at the ballot-box. If Mr Hatoyama does not make greater amends for his own and Mr Ozawa’s follies, the DPJ could well pay for it in upper-house elections this July. That would leave the party’s two maverick coalition partners in a strong position, which would not only damage the DPJ, but also bring further division and disillusionment to a deflation-sapped country that is crying out for good leadership.

Were this not Japan, Mr Hatoyama might have stepped down by now. To plead ignorance of the ¥15m ($167,000) a month with which his heiress mother had for years topped up his campaign funds looks, at best, clueless. Worse, it led to tax evasion, deliberate or not, and the indictment of a former aide. His record in power has not helped, and opinion polls suggest his popularity has collapsed. His government has squabbled with America over a marine base, and internally over fiscal stimulus and the budget. In all these fights Mr Hatoyama has come across as quirky rather than authoritative. At least prosecutors have not pressed charges over the funding scandal. Japan has endured four prime ministers between 2007 and 2009; another truncated premiership is a wearying prospect.

Mr Hatoyama’s minimum act of contrition should be ensuring that Mr Ozawa steps down as the DPJ’s secretary-general. Prosecutors may have found nothing to pin on Mr Ozawa, but three current or former aides have been indicted for the misuse of political funds, and the influence he exerts over Mr Hatoyama and the ruling party is unhealthy.

Mr Ozawa may have helped win the DPJ’s thumping majority in last August’s lower-house contest. But since then, he has thrown his weight around over cabinet appointments, budgetary matters and affairs of state (he recently demanded to meet Barack Obama on a forthcoming visit to Washington). His swagger risks dividing the party, and he has become an electoral liability. He is probably shrewd enough to realise this; most opinion polls indicate he should go. But the longer he takes, the more disenchanted voters are likely to become.

The Seven Samurai to the rescue?

Mr Hatoyama will have to find salvation elsewhere in his party—and thankfully there is some hope of this. Some ministers are learning quickly on the job. For instance, Naoto Kan, the new finance minister, has called for debate on raising the consumption tax. That is no vote-winner, but it is vital for sorting out Japan’s precarious public finances. Other cabinet members distant from Mr Ozawa—some call them the “Seven Samurai”—appear refreshingly eager to get on with making policy, rather than playing politics.

Mr Hatoyama should take a bold gamble and turn to these people to revive his party’s chances in July. Even if he jettisons Mr Ozawa, the chances are that he will rely on the man’s Svengali-like influence from behind the scenes. For the good of Japan he should not. He needs to show that his party can coalesce around principles and policies, not just power. Rarely in the past half-century has Japan managed that. Mr Hatoyama has an historic opportunity to try. If he cannot take it, he too should think about going. The Economist

It is time India got serious about the Maoist insurgency in its eastern states

Ending the red terror

SINCE 2006, when Manmohan Singh described the Maoist insurgency as the “single biggest internal-security challenge” India had ever faced, it has spread rapidly.

Maoist guerrillas are now active in over a third of India’s 626 districts, with 90 seeing “consistent violence”. Last year the conflict claimed 998 lives. This month alone the Maoists—or Naxalites, as they are known—slaughtered 24 policemen in West Bengal and 12 villagers in Bihar (see article). Yet neither official concern at the highest level nor continuing horrific violence have prompted a concerted and coherent strategy for dealing with the insurgency. It is time for the government to devise one.

Mr Singh may have overstated the security threat to the Indian state; but not the damage to Indian society. The government has faced bloodier threats, on its borders: from separatists in Punjab in the 1980s and in Kashmir and the north-east still. But the Kashmir valley has only 5m people, Manipur, most troubled of the north-eastern states, only 2.5m; Naxalites are scattered among 450m of India’s poorest people, feeding on the grievances of tribal inhabitants of eastern and central India against what is all too often a cruel, neglectful and corrupt administration. This makes the Naxalites hard to treat in the way that India has treated its other insurrections: as military threats to be dealt with by force—often brutally so.

Even recognising that, the official response to Mr Singh’s wake-up call from the governments of the affected Indian states has been dismal. None has much improved its overstretched, ineffectual police force. Besides bureaucratic incompetence and inertia, there are three main reasons for this inaction. First, state-level politics can play a pernicious role. The government in Jharkhand, for example, owed its election last year partly to Maoist support, and has been loth to fight them.

Second, the central government, a coalition run by the Congress party, must share the blame. It is not enough for Mr Singh, guru-like, to point the way. The strong leadership required to mobilise resources, public opinion and state governments for a long and difficult campaign has been lacking. Little has been done to bolster the central government’s own paramilitary force, an important back-up to the state police. Nor has the government done much to badger the states into adopting whole-heartedly a scheme to devolve power to local councils. Yet where this has been tried it has weakened the Maoists’ grip.

Encouragingly, Palaniappan Chidambaram, India’s home minister, does seem ready to get to grip with the issue, giving it a new priority in the central government’s policies. But he has not enunciated a clear strategy either—perhaps for good reason. The third big obstacle to dealing with the Naxalites is that no one is really sure how to. A minority, citing the success of strong-arm tactics in, for example, Punjab, wants a massive counter-Naxalite onslaught. This would be politically unimaginable and probably futile. A bigger group argues that development, to salve tribal hurts, is the only solution. Yet that, in the most undeveloped parts of India, will take years.
Wars without end
The right approach is to focus on improving both policing and general administration. Better policing would protect poor people from Naxalite bandits and extortionists. Better local administration, providing roads, water, schools and health care, would give a stake in the Indian state to people who at present have none. It would be a huge task anywhere in India, and especially in areas plagued by Naxalites. Yet the alternative is a potentially endless conflict that causes untold human suffering, further marginalises millions of India’s poorest citizens and deters investment in some of its most mineral-rich areas.

India has a remarkable ability to wage long-running low-intensity wars without their causing a sense of national outrage or panic. Outrage and action—if not panic—are now overdue. Naxalism is already more than four decades old, and India’s recent rapid economic growth, concentrated in urban, western and southern areas, is spawning new grievances to sustain it. If not tackled urgently, the insurgency could stunt the prospects for millions of people for a generation. From The Economist print edition

Thursday, February 25, 2010

China's hardline policy towards Tibet must stop

PRESIDENT Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama provoked fury in Beijing, even though the American leader had informed President Hu Jintao when he visited China last November that this would happen.

A statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared: "The United States' act grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, gravely hurt the Chinese people's national sentiments and seriously damaged Sino-US ties."

The Chinese reaction was slightly less violent than that to Washington's recent announcement of a US$6.4 billion arms (RM20 billion) sales package to Taiwan. This time, there was no threat of reprisals.

Still, the Chinese reaction was totally out of proportion to what had occurred. After all, Obama had gone out of his way to placate Chinese feelings by not meeting with the Dalai Lama last October when the Tibetan spiritual leader was in town. (In fact, it was the first time since 1991 that he was not received by a sitting American president while in Washington.)

The US leader wanted to ensure a good atmosphere for his state visit to China the following month, at which time he informed Chinese leaders of both the pending arms sales package for Taiwan and the meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Chinese propaganda is heavily laced with accusations that the US is still imbued with a "cold war" mindset and is attempting to play the "Tibet card" against China. Nowhere does China acknowledge that Beijing itself created this issue by sending tanks against defenceless students in June 1989.

It was no coincidence that six months after the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his policy of "peaceful resolution instead of using violence" in Tibet.

At the time, Beijing was so angered that it withdrew its ambassador from Oslo to protest against the Nobel committee's decision.

In his acceptance speech, the Dalai Lama focused on the importance of peaceful means to maintain a dialogue with China and criticised Beijing for having used force against student protesters.

It was only after the Dalai Lama became a Nobel peace laureate that he was regularly received by Western leaders. In 1991, George H.W. Bush, who saw himself as a friend of China, became the first American president to receive him.

Since then, the Dalai Lama has been received by the president, regardless of political party, virtually each time he visited Washington.

This is the background to the reception given to the Dalai Lama. To the extent that it was an expression of revulsion to the bloody actions in China of 1989, yes, it can be called the playing of a card. But it is a stretch from that to saying that the intention is to dismember China or to prevent its rise into a global power.

In fact, with very few exceptions, American presidents have gone to great lengths to meet with the Dalai Lama in a low-profile manner so as not to provoke China. Former president Bill Clinton, for example, used to see the Tibetan spiritual leader when he was in the White House ostensibly to meet another official, and the president would happen to drop by.

This time, for example, Obama met him not in the Oval Office but in the Map Room, and no press was allowed to cover the meeting.

But efforts to placate Beijing seem to have no effect. That being the case, the US may decide in future that there is little point making such gestures as they are not appreciated.

But the crux of the Tibet issue is that Chinese policy in the region over the last half-century has been a dismal failure, despite a policy of pumping money into the region by building infrastructure.

If Chinese governance of Tibet had been really successful, there would be no Tibet problem today. Tibetans in China would no longer try to flee the country and those in exile would return from India.

In this, the Hong Kong issue is instructive. The exodus from Hong Kong before 1997 ended after the resumption of Chinese sovereignty, and many of the hundreds of thousands of people who left have returned.

China should abandon its hard-line policy towards Tibet and instead work to attract Tibetan exiles to return to their homeland. It must begin by stopping the ridiculous caricature of the Dalai Lama as a terrorist and a separatist.

Castigating the Dalai Lama, who continues to enjoy the respect, indeed the reverence, of most Tibetans will simply perpetuate Chinese policy failures. Frank Ching, New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

With Thailand Bombings on the Rise, the GT200 Detector Is Under Scrutiny

Three attacks follow weeks of debate by government officials, rights groups, military officials and the scientific community over the effectiveness of the British-made GT200 device.

More violence this week in Thailand's restive southern provinces has intensified the controversy in the country over a bomb detector that critics call ineffective. Seven soldiers were injured Tuesday in two bombings, one involving a unit protecting teachers, the other targeting a truck on patrol. These attacks followed a roadside bomb blast Monday that wounded two soldiers.

The attacks in a region with a long-running Muslim insurgency follow weeks of debate by government officials, human rights groups, army brass and scientific experts over the effectiveness of the British-made GT200 wand after a BBC expose last month found it wanting. The controversy has left many Muslims in this hard-hit area wondering whether justice was miscarried -- the device's findings have prompted hundreds of detentions over the last three years -- even as some Buddhists worry that the lack of a reliable detector could leave them vulnerable.

Thousands of people have been killed by bombs, shootings and knife attacks in recent years in three primarily Muslim provinces in the south that were once part of an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate. In 1902, the area was annexed by majority Buddhist Thailand and tensions have continued since. In its January report, the BBC found that some bomb-detection devices, including the GT200 made by Britain's Global Technical Ltd., weren't much more effective than guesswork. An explosives expert who disassembled the GT200 said it contained little more than an "empty plastic case" lined with a bit of cheap circuitry of the sort used by retailers to deter shoplifting.

After the report aired, Britain banned the export to Iraq and Afghanistan of the ADE651, a similar device that works on the same principle, which the U.S. military had already concluded was unreliable. British authorities arrested the president of that company, and the Iraqi government has launched its own investigation.

Even as foreign governments condemn such devices, the Thai military -- which spent more than $20 million on them and has deployed them widely in southern Thailand since 2007 -- defends their use. It has done so despite a Thai government test that found they failed 16 of 20 times.

Another concern is that continued use of the device risks further injustice in a part of the country that is already deeply suspicious of government rule. 500 people have been arrested or detained based on evidence linked to the GT200. For many Muslims in southern Thailand, the device has become a
symbol of injustice.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora after the LTTE


Colombo/Brussels, 23 February 2010: Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora groups should move away, once and for all, from the failed agenda of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and instead put their energies into the quest for a sustainable and just peace in a united Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora after the LTTE,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines political dynamics within the Tamil diaspora since May 2009, as Tamils abroad adapt to the LTTE’s defeat. It also looks at the potential for new forms of militancy within the diaspora, especially among the younger generations, radicalised by the deaths of thousands of Tamil civilians in the final months of the war. While there is little chance of the Tamil Tigers regrouping in the diaspora, most Tamils abroad remain profoundly committed to a separate state of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

“New diaspora initiatives attempt to carry forward the struggle for an independent state in more transparent and democratic ways, but they must repudiate the LTTE’s violent methods”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “And they must also recognise that the LTTE’s separatist agenda is out of step with the wishes and needs of Tamils in Sri Lanka”.

The gap between the diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka has widened. Most in the country are exhausted by decades of war and are more concerned with rebuilding their lives under difficult circumstances than in continuing the fight for an independent state. Without the LTTE to enforce a common political line, Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka are proposing substantial reforms within a united Sri Lanka. While Tamils have the democratic right to espouse separatism non-violently, Tamil Eelam has virtually no domestic or international backing. With the Sri Lankan government assuming Tamils abroad remain committed to violent means, the diaspora’s continued calls for a separate state feed the fears of the Rajapaksa administration and provid e excuses for maintaining destructive anti-terrorism and emergency laws.

The Sri Lankan government must address the legitimate grievances at the root of the conflict: the political marginalisation and physical insecurity of most Tamils in Sri Lanka. The international community needs to press Colombo much more strongly for political and constitutional reforms. Donors should insist that money given to redevelop the north and east is tied closely to the demilitarisation and democratisation of the region. This should include giving Tamils and Muslims a meaningful role in determining the future of the areas where they have long been the majority. Donor governments and the United Nations must also insist on an independent investigation into the thousands of Tamil civilians killed in the final months of 20fighting in 2009.

“Tamils in Sri Lanka currently have little appetite for a return to armed struggle”, says Robert Templer. “But should the Sri Lankan state continue to fail to respond to their collective aspirations, some may eventually seek a solution through violence and could find willing partners in the diaspora”.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Lots of interesting news to share this week. The Blue Bird Taxi controversy continues to heat up with 1,500 local jobs hanging in the balance. Hard battle lines are being drawn between Bali and Jakarta over Bali's opposition to a Jakarta plan to permit the importation of 59 new elephants to various parks and zoos across the island. And, the governor cuts the local tourism promotion budget, labeling visits aboard by cultural art troupes as a waste of money.

Land and land use are back in the news as the Bali Villa Association calls on the government to close commercial villas built under residential building permits; experts estimate that 750 hectares of Bali's agricultural land are lost each year to development; and Gianyar officials stop a villa project being built too close to the shoreline.

There's three article connected to Bali's Ngurah Rai airport: Travel and Leisure Magazine name Bali to an unenviable list of the 12 ugliest airports; changes are being called for in how visas are issued as visitors are spending up to two hours standing in visa lines; and a new book traces the history of aviation in Bali.

Indonesia's tourism minister announces that 90% of the country's museums are unfit for visits while, somewhat incongruously, announcing that 2010 is Visit Museum Year. Meanwhile, a seminar of tourism leader in Bali reviews the many ways in which Bali's tourism industry is mismanaged.

Read why Bali's Governor is in the market to buy a large hotell.

Mark your calendars. May 22nd WBA Welterweight champion Chris Johns is scheduled to defend his title in Bali. And, on June 22nd the MRA Bali International Triathlon returns with the new feature of a half-triathlon for those only 50% prepared to swim for 1.5 km, cycles for 42 km and run for 10 km.

Full report at:

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...
J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Monkeys, butterflies, turtles… how the pet trade's greed is emptying south-east Asia's forests

Whole species disappear from the wild as millions of animals are illegally exported round the world in a business with profit margins that rival the drugs trade
Countries across south-east Asia are being systematically drained of wildlife to meet a booming demand for exotic pets in Europe and Japan and traditional medicine in China – posing a greater threat to many species than habitat loss or global warming.

More than 35 million animals were legally exported from the region over the past decade, official figures show, and hundreds of millions more could have been taken illegally. Almost half of those traded were seahorses and more than 17 million were reptiles. About 1 million birds and 400,000 mammals were traded, along with 18 million pieces of coral. The situation is so serious that experts have invented a new term – empty forest syndrome – to describe the gaping holes in biodiversity left behind.

Seahorses, butterflies, turtles, lizards, snakes, macaques, birds and corals are among the most common species exported from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Much of the business is controlled by criminal gangs, and many of the animals end up in Europe as pets. The rarer the species, the greater the demand and the higher the price. Collectors will happily pay several thousand pounds for a single live turtle.

Research offers the first glimpse of the size of this widespread trade. While most people are aware of illegal sales of rhino horn and ivory, he says it is the scale of the movement of lesser-known species that is most disturbing.
53,000 records of imports and exports from countries under Cites, the international convention that regulates the sale of wildlife. Most common species are not listed under Cites, so do not appear in the records. Trade in the most endangered, such as rhino and tiger, is banned. Species considered vulnerable enough that trade is allowed, but controlled.

Cites records between 1998 and 2007 showed that of more than 35 million animals exported during that period, some 30 million were taken from the wild. The EU and Japan were among the most significant importers. For some mammal species, the proportion sourced from the wild dropped significantly over the decade, and traders were forced to rely increasingly on captive-bred animals. Official trade in birds virtually disappeared by 2007, probably because of bird flu restrictions. The bulk of seahorses traded were in the form of dried specimens for Chinese medicine. China is the biggest challenge, because they can use everything and they will use everything.

Trade in the Asian pangolin, a scaly anteater, illustrates the problem. Officially, countries do not allow their commercial sale and agreed a zero quota under Cites in 2000, though regular seizures show widespread trade, for medicine and meat. The countries closest to China get emptied [of pangolin] first. Vietnam and Laos have been drained. Myanmar has been drained and they are working south, so now Indonesia is being emptied of pangolins. Prices are very high and in the next few years we will see pangolins being sucked out of Africa to supply the demand.

Every¬one who has been to Indonesia or Malaysia will know them because they are the ones that sit in your hotel room. You have them everywhere." Although not listed by Cites, Indonesia has set a limit of 45,000 of the lizards exported each year as pets. Such geckos can be typically bought in rural villages for a few cents each, and sold for $10 – a profit margin that rivals the drugs trade. The situation is acute in south-east Asia, but the trade, both legal and illegal, is global, often using the internet and courier delivery. For $4,000, an illegal trader based in Indonesia will send a three- year-old ploughshare tortoise from Madagascar, one of the most endangered animals in the world.


130,000 butterflies, mostly from Malaysia to US, EU and Canada (such as the Birdwing)
16 million seahorses, mostly from Thailand to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China
73,000 exotic fish, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia to Hong Kong (such as the Napoleon Wrasse)
17 million reptiles, mostly from Indonesia and Malaysia, to Singapore, EU and Japan; includes 1.3 million softshell turtles, 1.8 million cobras, 8.1 million monitor lizards, 400,000 crocodiles
400,000 mammals, mostly from China and Malaysia to the EU and Singapore; includes 270,000 macaques, 91,000 leopard cats
1 million birds, mainly from China, Vietnam and Malaysia, to the EU,
Japan and Malaysia (such as leiothrix babblers)
18 million pieces of coral and 2,000 tonnes of live coral, mainly from Indonesia to the US and EU . The Observer [UK] * CITES TRADE DATA 1998-2007, INCLUDING THOSE WILD AND CAPTIVE-BRED

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Indonesia's Dangerous Love Affair With Facebook

Indonesians really love Facebook, even though all it seems to do is land them in trouble. This week a teenage girl narrowly avoided jail for posting insulting comments on another girl's profile page. Farah Nur Arafah was convicted of defaming her Facebook friend Felly Fandini after calling her a slutty, overweight pig on the popular social networking site.

Arafah's outburst, which was sparked by fears Fandini was trying to steal her boyfriend, led to a 75-day suspended jail sentence. Arafah's was the latest in a string of Facebook-related cases that have fallen foul of Indonesia's notoriously draconian defamation laws.

Jakarta mother of two Prita Mulyasari became a national hero last year after she was charged for complaining about a hospital's misdiagnosis in an email to friends that was later posted on Facebook. After an incredible ordeal that saw Prita jailed for three weeks a court in December finally ruled her innocent.

The court found what all fair-minded Indonesians could plainly see: criticising a hospital for poor service was not defamation. But prosecutors - who want Prita jailed for six months - have vowed to appeal. And the hospital is continuing with a civil lawsuit against her.

Facebook is landing Indonesians in hot water in other ways too.

There were the four school kids who were expelled for posting murder and mutilation threats against their teacher. There was the guy who was arrested for posting a nude photo of his girlfriend and thereby falling foul of Indonesia's anti-porn laws. And there was the guy who was arrested for adultery after a tryst with a married woman he met on Facebook. Her profile reportedly said she was single and "looking for love".

More concerning, two men were arrested this month for allegedly using Facebook and Yahoo Messenger to find recruits for their underage child trafficking and prostitution ring.

Of course, it's not all bad.

Indonesians have also used Facebook as a powerful tool to support anti- corruption efforts and the wrongly accused. Indeed, when Prita was locked up, tens of thousands of Indonesians joined a Facebook group to voice anger that quickly forced authorities to release her. By Adam Gartrell, South-East Asia Correspondent

Friday, February 19, 2010

Burma's continued tricks: the same old story

The junta will delay and rig its proposed election once international observers are out of the way

No country in the world today spends more time hatching new political ploys, on a day to day basis, to fool the world, as much as the current military regime in Burma. The recent release of senior leader U Tin Oo, of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), was good news amid a more opaque political situation.

The opposition senior has spent too long since 2003 under house arrest, along with the NLD's figurehead and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. It is strange that, every time the junta releases a prisoner, it becomes headline news around the world. In the case of Tin Oo, he should not have been under house arrest in the first place.
It is obvious to all that the Rangoon junta continues to manipulate international public opinion, especially the influential Western media, on the situation in Burma.

After all these years, the game of cat and mouse continues unabated. Despite the initial goodwill encounters between US and Burmese senior officials, both in the US and Burma, in the last quarter of last year, the prospect of moving toward national reconciliation and free and fair elections is now as distant as ever.

Washington has learned firsthand that by bending a bit in favour of a broader dialogue with the regime, it has been used and manipulated to the utmost by Rangoon. This should hardly come as a surprise after decades of Burmese manipulation. Now the US has learned the hard way that when dealing with the regime, one needs more than just goodwill and good rationales. Washington's hope that Asean - of which Burma is a member - would do more to help with the Burmese crisis, has also been dashed for the time being. Indeed, with Vietnam as the new Asean chair, Burma is no longer under its peers' microscope or pressure.

It was almost a hellish experience for Rangoon under the Thai chair because Bangkok constantly put the regime under pressure to free political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei refused to back the Thai initiatives, which should highlight the concerns of all Asean members. So, this year, under this chair, Asean is not expected to call upon its members to ponder possible joint statements pressing for Suu Kyi's freedom, or advocating free and far elections, or national reconciliation, as the regional grouping has done since 2007.

From now on, the Burmese junta will be free to continue with its own propaganda, using its membership of Asean for publicity. Vietnam will not want to get involved in this mess - or, for that matter, allow Asean to do so - as Hanoi has its own skeletons in the closet. The arrest recently of Vietnamese human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, and other activists, has greatly tarnished Hanoi's once excellent image and its reservoir of goodwill in Washington and the rest of the world. In the remaining months of 2010, Vietnam wants to steer clear of any controversy among the Asean members.

Doubtless, Rangoon will continue with its intransigence. It is currently not willing to reveal the date of its proposed election this year. It will probably be a surprise to all when the generals do finally make an announcement. The trick, for them, is to ensure that the poll date will benefit the regime and its candidates the most. At the moment, the election timeframe is a lethal weapon in the junta's armoury. Obviously, the poll will be held in the second half of the year, when the international relief organisations and their representatives have left the country, with the post-Cyclone Nargis relief and rehabilitation plans supposedly to end by June. There will thus be no local or international scrutiny of the poll.

It is a win-win situation for the Rangoon generals. Again. Editorial in The Nation, Bangkok

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Outrage Over Caning of Women in Malaysia

The caning of three Muslim women for having illicit sex, the first time the penalty has been carried out under Islamic law in Malaysia, drew outrage from rights activists on Thursday.

The case has fuelled concerns over rising “Islamisation” in Malaysia, where religious courts have been clamping down on rarely enforced religious laws that ban alcohol and sex out of wedlock for Muslim Malays. The women were caned earlier this month at a women’s prison outside Kuala Lumpur, the home minister revealed Wednesday, saying they received the punishment
while they were fully clothed and were not injured.
Amnesty International said there has been an “epidemic” of caning in the Muslim-majority country, where many more people have been whipped under civil laws.
Legal commentators said that the Islamic courts — which operate in parallel to the civil system in Malaysia — were becoming increasingly confident, threatening Malaysia’s status as a secular nation.

Islamic scholars have said the punishment would have been carried out with a cane that is smaller and lighter then the heavy length of rattan used in the civil justice system for rapists and murderers.

Islamic authorities triggered uproar last year when they sentenced mother-of-two Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno to six strokes of the cane after she was caught drinking beer in a hotel nightclub. Her case, which was to have been the first time a woman was caned under Islamic law in Malaysia, is still under review after she was given a last-minute reprieve amid intense media coverage.

Observers say that the dynamic of “political Islam” has escalated since 2008 elections that saw the long-serving Barisan Nasional coalition lose unprecedented ground to the three-member opposition alliance. After minority voters deserted the coalition, its lead party the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is now vying with the conservative Islamic party PAS, an opposition member, for the votes of Malays.

India and Myanmar: Reluctant Brothers in Arms

Myanmar's up and down relationship with neighboring India is on the up again with a new commitment for coordinated counter-insurgency operations along their mutual border. While previous promises to tackle armed groups failed in the actual implementation, analysts suggest there could be new impetus for strategic cooperation.

India's Home Secretary G K Pillai led a delegation to Naypyidaw in January for three days of secretarial-level talks with Myanmar officials led by Brigadier General Phone Swe. The elimination of insurgent camps in Myanmar across the border from India's violence-plagued northeastern region, featured in discussions. India also reportedly requested progress on demarcating the 1,643 kilometer shared border and a crackdown on the cross border smuggling of narcotics, Chinese-made weapons and other goods. Pillai's meetings followed a visit to Myanmar in October by Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor to discuss "enhanced military cooperation''.

Northeastern India has been wracked by insurgency since the 1950s with various groups demanding independence, autonomy, or a halt to migration into their areas. The Naga went underground in 1956 seeking the formation of a Greater Nagaland encompassing areas of both India and Myanmar.

In the early 1970s, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland began setting up camps in Myanmar's northwestern Sagaing Division. Links were also forged with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), then fighting the Myanmar government, through which it obtained weapons and training from China. Other northeastern Indian groups followed suit. By the 1980s, the Assamese United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), various Manipuri rebel groups and other smaller ethnic-based groups had also set up camps in Sagaing Division as well as Kachin and Chin States.

Although China ended its assistance to the groups nearly 30 years ago, and the KIA also stopped as a result of its ceasefire with the government in 1994, by 2005 there were still at least 27 full-time camps in western Myanmar. ULFA, which is seeking an independent state for the Assamese, has by different estimates between 3,000 and 6,000 fighters and at least four major camps in Myanmar, including the headquarters of its 28th Battalion.
The Manipuri People's Liberation Front (MPLF), an umbrella organization of several Manipuri groups with a combined strength of up to 7,000 also has camps in Myanmar. Other smaller forces representing ethnic groups such as the Kukis and the Zomis, are
also believed to maintain operations in Myanmar.

Despite this large number of armed insurgents on its western border, Myanmar's military has paid much less attention to this area compared to its eastern and northern borders with Thailand and China. Analysts and diplomats believe that this is because the groups represent little immediate threat to Myanmar's territorial integrity and unity.

ULFA, the Manipuris and other groups confine their attacks to targets across the border in India and use Myanmar for rest and training. Some opposition groups have alleged that local Myanmar military officers receive monthly payments from the Indian groups to ignore their cadre and camps.

Myanmar's own insurgent groups in the area are small and not viewed by the generals as posing as big a security threat as the much larger ceasefire and non-ceasefire armies in eastern and northern Myanmar. Groups such as the Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) and the Chin National Front (CNF), which operate in northern Arakan State and Chin State, each number only 100 or 200 men. Operations against these groups usually take the form of periodic sweeps and the occasional ambush.

The exception is the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) faction led by S S Khaplang in Sagaing. The group, which is linked to Naga nationalists on the Indian side of the border, may have as many as several thousand fighters, according to some estimates. The Myanmar Army has pursued the NSCN more determinedly, attacking it was recently as November 2009.

This, however, reflects the general's view that the NSCN's aim of an independent Nagaland is a direct threat to Naypyidaw's unity and national integrity rather than any determination to assist India, analysts say. India, on the other hand, has made the elimination of the insurgent camps a key component of its foreign policy with Myanmar.

Controversial exchanges

India was previously a strong supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar following the military crackdown of peaceful protestors in 1988. That changed, however, when New Delhi launched its new "Look East" foreign policy in 1991 aimed at counteracting growing Chinese influence in Southeast Asia. Military and diplomatic exchanges were stepped up and new economic and development initiatives put forward.
Considerable effort has been placed on convincing Myanmar's junta to participate in counter-insurgency campaigns along the border. India has offered the regime artillery, radar and radio systems, and Myanmar military officers have attended Indian military academies.

In 2006, apparently as part of a deal to conduct military operations, India said it was planning to transfer an unspecified number of T-55 tanks, armored personnel carriers, 105mm artillery pieces, mortars and helicopters. In October of that year, Indian Army Vice-Chief Lieutenant General S Pattabhiraman told Force magazine, an Indian defense and security monthly, that the transfer of artillery pieces had already begun.

In November 2006, J J Singh, the Indian army's chief of staff pledged to provide training in special warfare tactics to Myanmar soldiers. This was followed by an offer of a multi-million dollar military aid package by Indian Air Force head S P Tyagi during a visit to Naypyidaw that same month. Included in the deal were helicopters, avionics upgrades for Myanmar's Chinese and Russian-made fighters and naval surveillance aircraft. The extensive package may have been granted after Myanmar began limited operations against insurgents in the northwest.

The arms transfers were heavily criticized by foreign governments and human-rights organizations. The British government protested in particular the transfer of two BN-2 Islander maritime surveillance aircraft in August 2006. Heavy international pressure was also placed on India for a plan to transfer light helicopters produced by Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) that included European parts covered under a European Union arms embargo against Myanmar. By December 2007, India had quietly halted the arms transfers.

Myanmar's generals have since shown little determination to carry out military campaigns along the western border. In 1995, a joint operation known as Operation Golden Bird, aimed at flushing out ULFA, NSCN and Manipuri fighters in camps along the border, ended abruptly when Myanmar withdrew its troops after New Delhi presented the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding to pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since then there have been few military operations against insurgent groups based in Myanmar's western regions. Although Myanmar agreed in 2000 to conduct joint operations in exchange for military equipment, few military actions actually took place. An exception was a 2001 raid on four Manipuri camps that resulted in the capture of 192 insurgents and the seizure of 1,600 weapons. Seven insurgent leaders were arrested including UNLF chairman Rajkumar Meghen and Khaidem Hamedou, its general secretary.

All were inexplicably released the following year, much to the chagrin of the Indian government, which expected them to be handed over. Assurances from Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe in 2004 that Myanmar would not allow Indian insurgent groups to use its territory were similarly followed with inaction. Again agreeing to joint operations with their Indian counterparts in 2007, Myanmar's army did very little on the ground.

Shrinking safe havens

The loss of northwestern Myanmar as a safe area would represent a major setback to Indian insurgents. Not only would they lose areas for training and regroupment, they would also yield an up-to-now reliable conduit for weapons. In January, Arunachal
Pradesh home minister Tako Dabi voiced concerns over the smuggling of Chinese-made weapons through Myanmar into India. He accused India's Naga rebels of colluding with the KIA in moving the illicit weapons.

Chinese weapons were sent to the northeastern groups through the KIA in the 1970s, but this route was known to have dried up by the early 1980s as Beijing shifted policy away from backing insurgent movements and withdrew support for the Burmese Communist Party. Black market operators in China's southwestern Yunnan province filled the gap and began making weapons available to Indian groups in the 1990s.

Although the arms were produced by Chinese state-owned weapons factories, they are believed to have been trafficked by unscrupulous factory managers. While the KIA claims to have severed ties to Indian insurgents, they are still believed to have some relations and could be a possible conduit for weapons. A clearer source is the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The group has acted as a broker for Chinese-produced arms as well as selling weapons from their own arms factory near Panghsang on the China border. A Jane's Intelligence Review report in 2008 detailed the UWSA's involvement in trafficking weapons to Myanmar and Indian insurgent groups.

The loss of sanctuary in northwestern Myanmar would be profound considering that the groups have already lost safe havens in Bhutan and Bangladesh. A successful joint military operation in 2003 pushed the groups out of border areas in Bhutan. Last year, a firmer line against Indian insurgent groups sheltering in Bangladesh was taken by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Insurgent bank accounts were frozen and the ULFA lost its political leader Arabinda Rajkhowa and deputy commander Raju Baruah when they were arrested by Bangladeshi authorities in Cox's Bazaar in November. The crackdown is believed to have forced the ULFA to shift its camps and cadre to Myanmar. Seizures in Bangladesh of Chinese-made weapons brought in by boat and believed destined for northeastern insurgents suggested that the country's ports had become major gateways for weapons.

Insurgent's weapons supplied from China may also be in jeopardy if the UWSA and the KIA are forced to join the junta's Border Guard Force scheme, which would place them under the direct control of Naypyidaw's War Office. India's lack of influence with China means strategic engagement with Naypyidaw is its only pressure point in putting a stop to the arms trafficking.

Encouraged by these successes, New Delhi is now pushing again for joint operations with Myanmar. Myanmar vowed after the January talks that it plans to carry out coordinated operations with the Indian army against insurgent camps along their mutual border.

As part of these operations, the Myanmar army says it will make efforts to track down and arrest insurgent leaders, especially ULFA commander Paresh Barua. Following the January talks, an Indian home ministry official announced: "Security forces of India and Myanmar will conduct coordinated operations in their respective territories in the next two to three months. The objective of the operation is that no militant can escape to the other side after facing the heat on one side."

No date has been set for the commencement of the operations and coordination between the two forces, including intelligence sharing, has not yet been worked out.

India is already beefing up its forces in the area, recently deploying a field intelligence unit of its Assam Rifles battalion. The government also said it will raise another 26 battalions of Assam Rifles, at the rate of two to three per year, to secure border areas in Nagaland and Manipur states and support counterinsurgency operations.

For its part, Naypyidaw has said it still needs to build up its forces in its remote northwestern regions. They will likely be hard-pressed to launch an offensive in the area while engaged in a war of nerves with former ceasefire groups in the north over a scheme to transform them into military-led border guard forces.
Other forces are needed to contain still-active insurgencies in the eastern part of the country. More forces will presumably be needed to ensure control of central portions of the country in the lead up to general elections planned for the later half of this year.

It would likely be an unpopular move to carry out military operations while voters are going to the polls. However the generals have used the existence of the Indian groups as leverage with New Delhi in the past, and could conceivably use them as bargaining chips to gain legitimacy for the elections from the world's largest democracy.

The junta needs all the international support it can muster for elections which most observers and analysts believe is a forgone conclusion in favor of military-backed candidates. By offering support for an outcome that will likely further consolidate the military's hold on power, New Delhi could yet move the generals towards action in tackling insurgents along the border. Brian McCartan for the Asia Times.

Malaysia's Brain Drain

It's Not Just Politics and Racial Discrimination.

Malaysia's brain drain appears to be picking up speed. According to a recent parliamentary report, 140,000 left the country, probably for good, in 2007. Between March 2008 and August 2009, that figure more than doubled to 305,000 as talented people pulled up stakes, apparently disillusioned by rising crime, a tainted judiciary, human rights abuses, an outmoded education system and other concerns.

The general assumption is that Chinese and Indians form the majority of those abandoning the country of their birth because ethnic Malays consider them pendatang – aliens in a Malay land, regardless of how long they have been in the country.

However, increasing numbers of Malays have already emigrated as well, or are seriously thinking it, dismayed by corrupt practices as well as the rigid confines of Islam and the rise of fundamentalism embodied in the revelation on Wednesday by Home Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein that three women had been caned in Kajang Prison in Selangor on Feb. 9 for having had illicit sex under shariah law.

In 2000, according to figures compiled in 2007, 40 percent of Malaysian emigrants headed for Singapore – at the same time Singaporeans are headed somewhere else. By one estimate, (Singaporeans Seek Asylum Elsewhere, Asia Sentinel, Jan. 7) the number who put the Lion City behind them is as high as 15 percent of annual births. In 2006, the Transport Minister, Raymond Lim, expressed concern that 53 percent of Singaporean teens would consider emigration. One website survey put Singapore's average outflow at 26.11 migrants per 1,000 citizens, the second highest in the world - next only to East Timor (51.07).

Of the other émigrés, 30 percent go to OECD countries (Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Britain) 20 percent to Asian countries (Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia) and the rest of the world (10 percent). Malaysian Employers Federation executive director, Shamsuddin Bardan, said in an interview that 785,000 Malaysians are working overseas. Unofficially, the figure is well over 1 million.

Nor are people all that is leaving. Asia Sentinel reported on Jan.11 (Malaysia's Disastrous Capital Flight) that there has been an exodus of money from Malaysia on a scale which surpasses that which occurred during the Asian crisis. The decline is also reflected in a sudden decline in base money supply – even while, thanks to Bank Negara, broader M2 has continued to grow modestly.

A major problem is the flight of graduates. As early as 2004, former Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was becoming concerned, pointing out that as many as many as 30,000 thought to be working in foreign countries, many of whom had held scholarships in top universities from the Malaysian government but chose to stay overseas at the end of their studies. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad demanded that other countries pay Malaysia for having seduced them to stay, " since, by right, the graduates' training and knowledge should be called intellectual property."

The typical reasons are well-documented: improved employment and business prospects, higher salaries, better working environments, greater chances of promotion and a relatively superior quality of life.

Three Malay women put a personal face on statistics in conversation with Asia Sentinel, sharing their decisions to emigrate. Two are graduates of overseas universities, the third is from a local school. Their decisions to leave were made, they say, after a lot of soul searching. But for these women, money and economic incentives were not the end-all. Their names have been changed to protect them.

Anita claims to have left because of her sexuality. She graduated from a university in the United Kingdom but continued with a post-graduate degree course. At the end of her studies, she worked in a multinational corporation in London and is now a department head. She was recently married, in a civil ceremony, in the UK. A Malay, Anita is naturally Muslim. Her partner is another woman, Nadia, an Iraqi Jew. They met as undergraduates.

For a decade, the two made the annual pilgrimage to Malaysia to visit Anita's ageing parents, Anita says. When in Kuala Lumpur, they are regular patrons of lesbian joints in Bangsar. After the Malaysian National Fatwa Council issued an edict banning lesbianism in 2008, Anita travelled alone. Nadia dislikes the risk of being 'caught,' The clues to their sexuality are their short cropped hair, Doc Marten shoes, preponderance of masculine clothes and, on closer inspection, their identical wedding rings with each other's names inscribed. Anita is in self-imposed exile because her partner will not be allowed to reside in Malaysia.

Although male homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia and sodomy incurs a punishment of 20 years jail, Malaysia's civil code does not ban lesbianism. Malaysian men are just so big-headed that they cannot imagine any woman not wanting to sleep with a man.
"It is unacceptable to see women who love the male lifestyle including dressing in the clothes men wear," said Abdul Shukor Husin, the Fatwa Council chairman.
Harussani Idris Zakaria, the mufti of Perak, says that the council's ruling was not legally binding as it had not been passed into law. He wants tomboys to be banned because their actions are immoral. "It doesn't matter if it's a law or not," he says,

In 2000, Malaysia had around 80,000 official expatriates. By 2008, this figure had shrunk to 38,000 as the collapsing global economy cut into trade and thus trade and Malaysian exports. When Bibi worked in an electronics factory in north Perak, little did she foresee marrying her expatriate quality control engineer. After his conversion to Islam and their subsequent marriage, he attempted unsuccessfully to gain permanent residence. He claims to have spent a small fortune on lawyers, on 'proof' and photographs for the application process, and several trips to the immigration offices to be 'verified'. He claims that one low ranking government official even offered him a birth certificate for RM60,000, as a pre-cursor to a 'red' identity card, which would help facilitate the PR status.

When Bibi's husband's work permit expired, he attempted to form a trading company. He travelled to the border every few months to renew his immigration-social visit pass, while he explored this avenue. He was ineligible for a sole proprietorship and although he could form a limited company with 51 percent bumiputra ownership, he found that for one reason or another, it was not viable. Local partners wanted maximum profits for little or no work. A Caucasian, he was seen as a cash cow, he says.

In addition, the Perak town they lived in was very provincial. Had he lived in Kuala Lumpur or Penang, he could be anonymous, like the expatriates married to Malay women in these cities. As an expat convert in his local town, the Malays expected him to uphold Malay values and scrutinized his every move, right down to his religious obligations. He was disillusioned with living in a goldfish bowl and both he and Bibi left for Europe.

According to one local daily, the number of Malaysian researchers, scientists and engineers working overseas exceeds 20,000 with 40 percent of them in the United States and 10 percent in Australia. When Ida graduated from Australia with a chemical engineering degree, she worked in a chemical plant in Selangor. Her friendship with a chemist blossomed into love, with talk of marriage. There was one problem - Anthony was a Catholic. He dutifully presented himself at the mosque for agama lessons in preparation for his conversion. The imam never appeared for their pre-arranged appointments. Frustrated with being let down repeatedly, he stopped going. His lucky break came when he was offered a job in a neighboring country. Ida joined him. She was free from parental and family pressures, he from the religious zealots. They married. He retained his faith, she remained a Muslim. They started a family and have since emigrated to New Zealand. Recently, she embraced Catholicism.
Malaysian emigration has critical policy implications. There are questions over what will happen when overseas students receive employment offers in the country where they are studying, when skilled people leave Malaysia, when pensioners retire abroad (the silver economy) and the nation registers an increase in unskilled foreign workers but a decrease in skilled expatriates.

The challenge for policymakers is to harness the economic and political potential of this largely ignored diaspora. There is no point pretending Malaysia does not have a serious problem. The incentives to reverse the brain drain and attract those who
are abroad must be reviewed, as they are currently ineffective. For many like Anita, Bibi and Ida, it is not just politics and racial discrimination but also religious and social pressures that drive them away. by Mariam Mokhtar for the Asia Sentinel

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Iran Nuclear Issue: The View from Beijing


Beijing/Brussels, 17 February 2010: While China resists tougher UN Security Council sanctions on Iran, it is likely to ultimately come on board but will seek to delay and weaken the West’s desired measures.

The Iran Nuclear Issue: The View from Beijing,* the latest International Crisis Group briefing, examines China’s perspective on the nuclear impasse, including why it is so hesitant to support further sanctions and insists that more diplomacy is the key to a peaceful solution. However, if Beijing finds itself facing unanimous support for new sanctions from other Security Council members, it can be expected to avoid a veto and focus instead on ensuring that punitive measures will not harm its interests.

“China lacks the West’s sense of fundamental urgency about the Iran nuclear issue”, explains Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Crisis Group’s China Adviser and North East Asia Project Director. “It is yet to be convinced that Tehran is on the cusp of achieving the capabilities to highly enrich and weaponise its uranium, or that there is an imminent threat of military confrontation in the Middle East”.

China is most likely to pursue a delay-and-weaken strategy with regard to the sanctions the West says are needed to bring Iran into serious negotiations on its controversial nuclear program. While China has stated that it supports a “nuclear-free” Middle East, it does not want to sacrifice its deepening economic ties with Tehran, especially in oil. But Beijing’s approach also reflects its consistent historical opposition to sanctions, doubt about their efficacy and a tactical hedge. By using delaying tactics and giving each side part of what its wants, China maximises benefits from both.

In addition to its need for energy, China’s relationship with Tehran is shaped by broader foreign and domestic policy calculations. Strong bilateral ties strengthen Beijing’s position in the Middle East and Central Asia, China’s “Grand Periphery” which has become a priority focus of its geo-strategy. They also help balance Washington’s influence in the region. China and Iran share a sense of suspicion towards the West – reinforced by common experience of being the target of sanctions and a similar perception of U.S. interference in their internal politics. In China’s eyes, Iran’s regional power will expand in future, meaning that good relations could serve its interests for years to come.

However, “Beijing still values its relations with Washington more than its ties to Tehran”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “If China finds itself isolated on the Security Council, it will not side with Iran at the expense of that relationship but will instead negotiate hard to ensure that sanctions are as weak as possible”.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

U.S. vs. China: A Dangerous Phase Has Begun

China is a formidable adversary whose ultimate strength is not its military hardware but its economic prowess, and whose diplomatic weapon is not saber rattling but great patience.

The spats between the United States and China appear to be getting more numerous and more serious. The Chinese objected in strong terms to Washington’s latest arms deal with Taiwan and threatened to take sanctions against those firms involved. President Obama recently accused the Chinese of currency manipulation. At Davos, Larry Summers, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, made an oblique attack on China by referring to mercantilist policies.

The disagreement between China and the US at December’s Copenhagen climate summit has continued to reverberate. The Chinese government reacted strongly to Google’s claims – supported by the US administration – that cyberattacks against it had originated in China and its statement that it would no longer cooperate with government censorship of the Internet. The US has been increasingly critical of China’s unwillingness to agree to sanctions against Iran. And finally the Chinese government is accusing the US administration of interference in its internal affairs by insisting on the meeting this week between Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama in Washington.

The issues of contention have come thick and fast. For the most part, however, they are hardly new. The Chinese reaction to the Taiwan arms deal was entirely predictable, the only novelty being the threatened sanctions. Taiwan remains the most important priority for Chinese foreign policy. Their response to the Dalai Lama in Washington is equally predictable.

Obama’s and Summers’ statements about currency manipulation and mercantilism, respectively, are a little different. True, they are not entirely new; Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner accused the Chinese of currency manipulation in January 2009. But since Mr. Geithner’s ill-judged remark, the US administration has until now chosen to be more discreet.

Google and climate change are relatively new bones of contention. But we should not be surprised by these disputes. China’s rise means that it is now involved in areas of the world and on issues where previously it had little or no stake. As China increasingly becomes a global power with interests to promote and defend around the world, it is bound to come into conflict with the United States on a growing number of subjects.

It appears that the US-China relationship is entering a markedly different phase. The key question is whether this will lead to growing acrimony between the two countries to the point where the bilateral relationship between them is seriously harmed or whether the generally positive relations of the past three decades can continue.

There is a further underlying change in their relationship, namely China’s rise and America’s decline. While neither is new, the latter has only begun to be recognized since the global financial crisis. The expressions of the shift in power between the two are numerous. China has become more self-confident and, in a mild way, more assertive.

This has been most evident in the way in which China has – understandably – expressed concern about the value of the dollar, raised the question of a new special-drawing-rights-based reserve currency, and blamed the global financial crisis on the behavior of Western, especially US, banks; though it can also be seen in a more general, though subtle, shift in Chinese attitudes.

It would be quite wrong, however, to conclude that there has been a major change in the Chinese approach toward the United States. The fundamental Chinese priorities remain as they were defined by Deng Xiaoping. The overwhelming priority is economic growth and lifting tens of millions out of poverty. Creating the most favorable external environment for the pursuit of this objective continues to mean, above all else, a favorable relationship with the United States.

Although the Chinese may play their hand with a little more self-confidence and with a tad more assertiveness, I see no significant evidence that they have abandoned their tried and trusted position. It has worked well for them and continues to do so. Time is on their side, and they can therefore afford to be patient.

But what of the United States? The fact that the US has only just begun to wake up to the fact that it is in decline is a cause for serious concern. It is completely unprepared for what this might mean: that it can no longer deal with others in the way that it has, that it can no longer assume a relationship of superiority in its dealings with China, and that it has to seek a new understanding of China rather than expect the latter to continue to play second fiddle.

This belated awareness of a weakening America has happened too abruptly and too precipitously for its meaning and implications to be properly digested either by policy elites or the American public. Indeed, most are still in denial of the fact. A classic illustration was the widely expressed anger and frustration in media and political circles against President Obama’s relatively contrite attitude toward the Chinese during his November visit to China. In fact, Obama was right on two counts: First, the US now has to learn to deal with China on equal terms and, second, it must be mindful of China’s role as its creditor.

Put simply: The major concern is not China getting too big for its boots – at least in the short term – but a growing sense of American frustration that its boots are no longer as big as they were or should be, together with an unwillingness or stubborn refusal to understand China on anything other than American terms.

Relations between the two could steadily deteriorate with negative implications for the rest of the world. It will make things more difficult for China and might slow its progress, but the United States could suffer even more.

China must not be confused in the American mind with a Soviet Union Mark 2. It is a very different and far more formidable adversary whose ultimate strength is not its military hardware but its economic prowess, and whose diplomatic weapon is not saber rattling but great patience. By Martin Jacques for The Christian Science Monitor. Martin Jacques is theauthor of “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order.”

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Read the full report at:

Enter the Year of the Tiger together with our greetings for "Kung Hei Fat Choi" over the Chinese New Year. Ang Pao envelopes received with thanks, just in case you've forgotten.

There's top news this week of a possible embezzlement of tourism funds in Bali; a decision to "retire" the Blue Bird Taxi brand from Bali; and a decision to refuse the importation of more elephants to Bali.

The governor has proposed a new law for travel companies operating in Bali; indications that small, locally-owned hotels in Denpasar may be selling hotel rooms by the hour; an order from the Chief of Police directing all banks to install CCTV units on their ATM machines; and a response from Bali businessman Kadek Wiranatha in his continuing management dispute with Mountbatten Resort International.

Meanwhile, the head of the agricultural faculty at Udayana University warns of the ongoing struggle for land between agriculture and tourism; Bali ranks #3 among Australians as an overseas holiday destination; and local hotels and Bali Discovery earn favorable mention from the U.S.-based Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Ready to learn a new word? Here it is: Pechakucha. Find out how it can change lives for the better in this week's update.

Bali's St. Regis Hotel builds an garden of Eden on its grounds making the hotel 5 stars – both inside and out!

And, there's lots of mails from our readers to share in "We Get Mail!" plus a hard hitting editorial asking why two new developments are being allowed to forever scar the pristine cliff face of Bali's southern peninsula.

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Philippines - Gorillas in uniform

Any goodwill that the Philippine military and the police have built up these past couple of years in terms of willingness to respect the human rights even of their New People’s Army enemies went up in smoke on Saturday. We gather that at 6:15 a.m. the other Saturday, February 6, joint elements of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (202nd IBPA), and the Rizal Philippine National Police (PNP) office—under the command of Colonel Aurelio Baladad, commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army based in Tanay, Rizal, and Police Superintendent Marion Balonglong of the Rizal PNP—raided a conference and training facility at a farm in Barangay Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal.

Five days earlier, on February 1, some 40 doctors and health workers began their First Responders Training course at that farm. The farm is a regular venue of health training courses, with participants mostly coming from both the communities and academe. This time, the training course was sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. (COMMED) and the Council for Health and Development (CHD).

The owner of the farm and facility, Dr. Melecia Velmonte, is a renowned and respected infectious disease specialist and a consultant at the Philippine General Hospital.

300 heavily armed raiders
The AFP-PNP raid involved about 300 heavily armed soldiers and policemen. They forced themselves into Dr. Velmonte’s farm. Some of the uniformed men forced the farm’s caretaker to open the gate at gunpoint. Once inside, the soldiers and policemen fanned out to various points. Some kicked the main door to get inside the building.

Dr. Velmonte and her son, Bob, asked for the raiding party’s search warrant, the soldiers brushed them aside and went on to do what they liked.

All the doctors and health workers, were ordered to line up, were frisked and handcuffed. They were interrogated and photographed. One of the raiders took videos of the interrogation. The males were blindfolded with old shirts that the raiding army had with them. The blindfolds were secured with packaging tape. All of the arrested persons’ personal belongings were taken by the raiding army.

The training-course participants were already handcuffed, when Police Superintendent Marion P. Balonglong showed Bob a warrant for a certain Mario Condes whose address was written in the warrant as Barangay Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal. Condes was being charged with illegal possession of firearms. The warrant, dated February 5, 2010, issued by Judge Cesar Mangrobang of Branch 22 of the Imus, Cavite Regional Trial Court, did not have the exact address of the Velmonte compound.

Bob asserted that the warrant did not specify their address, and that the subject of the warrant, Mario Condes, was not the owner of the property. The officers ignored him.

Outside the compound, there were eight vehicles: four 6 x 6 military trucks, two Armored Personnel Carriers, a KIA Pride car, and an ambulance. Some of the vehicles had no plate numbers, others had license plates covered, or smeared, with mud.

Forced into military trucks
The handcuffed health workers were forced into the military trucks, which took them to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, the headquarters of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of Philippine Army.

The military declared that the arrested persons were members of the New People’s Army and were being trained to make explosives. The military also said explosives were found in the compound. Witnesses, however, saw that the raiders only searched the premises after all the training participants and residents had been herded out of the buildings. The raiders were observed also to have brought in with them full plastic bags with the GMA Kapuso logo printed on it.

The raiders alleged that they had found C4 explosives, a pistol with seven bullets, three grenades (one allegedly found under a pillow), and improvised landmines. Bob said he and his mother were not issued a receipt of the firearms and explosives that were supposed to have been found in their property.

Mental and physical torture
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chief Leila de Lima affirmed on Saturday the initial findings that the 43 health workers arrested were all subjected to mental torture and some to physical torture (tight handcuffs and blindfolds).

She told the military to stop the violations of human rights being committed on the alleged Communist rebels or sympathizers.

Supreme Court order defied
The military on Friday also defied the Supreme Court’s writ of habeas corpus for the detainees.

The failure or refusal to produce the 43 detainees at the hearing on Friday “is really a dangerous precedent in our justice system,” de Lima said on Saturday.

The military promised to produce the arrested persons today (Monday February 15).

The soldiers and military officers directly involved in this ugly affair are of the kind that the film, Planet of the Apes, portrayed as gorillas. Even if it is true that the doctors and health workers they arrested were NPA people, they should not have treated them in the barbaric way they did.

The AFP high command must discipline these gorillas in uniform.
Opinion, The Manila Times