Friday, April 30, 2010

China's Personal Lake - Beijing delivers new threats over its hegemony in the South China Sea

China's campaign to present its rise as peaceful has made plenty of headway, helped along by actual or promised investment and aid. This is particularly in natural resources which Beijing needs and in heavy infrastructure projects—power stations, roads etc – for which Chinese companies have expertise and being cash rich can offer easy credit terms.

But another prong of China's rise looks increasingly like the application or threat of it of hard power towards its neighbors. In the latest such indication, on April 25, to quote Xinhua, China's fishery administration said it had started regular patrols of the South China Sea, sending two vessels to take over from two others currently escorting Chinese fishing boats in the area of the Spratly islands (known as Nansha in Chinese, Truong Sa in Vietnamese). The Chinese spokesman said the patrol ships, based at Sanya on the southern coast of Hainan island, were sent to escort fishing boats in the South China Sea and reinforce China's fishing rights of the waters around the Nansha Islands.

The wording here is somewhat ominous. The vessels are not simply there to protect fishing boats from possible harassment by ships belonging to other claimants to the islands, or provide medical and other civilian support facilities. They are to "reinforce" Chinese fishing rights, implying that they may be used to prevent fishing by non-Chinese. That remains to be see but there is no doubt that China has been ramping up its actions as well as rhetoric over the South China Sea in ways which appear at odds with earlier promises to settle disputes peacefully and enabling development of resources on a bilateral basis. That promise was anyway always rather hollow as for the Spratlys bilateral deals solve nothing given that all the 200 or islands, banks and shoals comprising this widespread group are the subject of at least three claims. China's claims cover all of them with Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan some of them. The widely scattered Spratlys all lie in the southern part of the sea, a long way from Hainan compared with their proximity to the southern coast of Vietnam, the Philippines' Palawan island, and the Malaysia and Brunei territory on the north coast of Borneo. The Chinese claim stretches close to all those coasts and to the nearby gas-rich Natuna islands group which belongs to Indonesia.

China has already been using force to back up its claims to the Paracels (Xisha to Chinese Huong Sa to Vietnamese) which are only otherwise claimed by Vietnam. (China seized them from then South Vietnam in the dying days of the Thieu regime in Saigon). On March 22 Chinese gunboats seized a Vietnamese fishing vessel reportedly fishing in waters off the Paracels. China has also sought to strengthen its hold on the little sandy islands with plans for tourist development. The Vietnamese however are showing scant sign of being intimidated by Beijing, despite the burgeoning trade between the two countries. When China announced an earlier Nansha patrol on April 1 Vietnam responded with a visit by President Nguyen Minh Triet to Bach Long Vi, an island halfway between the Vietnam coast and China's Hainan island. It is occupied by Vietnam but has been claimed by China. Meanwhile Vietnam appears to have been strengthening its presence on the Spratlys where it occupies more islands and reefs than any other claimant.

Vietnam is buying six submarines from Russia, which retains close relations with Hanoi, and has been gradually developing contacts with the US. Its defense minister visited Washington and Paris earlier this year at the same time the prime minister was visiting Moscow. It has accepted US ships for repair near Cam Ranh Bay, the important naval facility built by the United States during the Vietnam War on the south/central coast. The US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, Kurt Campbell, remarked in Hong Kong April 26 that "no other country in southeast Asia wanted an improved relationship with the US more than its old enemy, Vietnam." Vietnam has also been trying to bring more international attention to the South China Sea issues, last November organizing a workshop in Hanoi of academic experts on the subject. This drew participation not just from China and other claimant states but experts in law and history from other countries including Russia, Britain, France and Indonesia. Vietnam wants to use its chairmanship of Asean to make this more of an Asean issue.

However, not even all claimant states are keen to ruffle China's feathers at present, at least publicly. The Philippines makes occasional nationalistic noises on the subject but patriotism must compete with the power of Chinese money. Malaysia has also attempted to lay claim to three islands and four rock groups. Malaysia was the earliest oil operator in the sea through its national oil company Petronas. As early as 1990, Malaysia announced it had established a submarine base on one of the islets although it didn't take delivery of a submarine until 2010.However, its armed forces have been the center of corruption scandals, particularly over three submarines, which cast doubt on their operational effectiveness. Although the South China Sea's resources – oil, gas, fish – are significant, particularly for the smaller littoral countries, China's main goal is strategic – to give it effective control of the shipping lanes and hence of trade between Japan and Southeast Asia and hence also the main routes to South Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
It is thus ironic that at a time when some Asian nations, not least Indonesia and India, are looking to improve relations with the US to ward off the longer term possibility of the sea becoming a "Chinese lake," Japan is undermining its US links with its attempt to remove its bases from Okinawa. Asia Sentinel

The Asian Financial Crisis Goes West

HONG KONG — The Greek-led debt crisis in Europe is looking ominously similar to the East Asian crisis of 1997-1998, but the comparison also points to how it may eventually be resolved.

Sure, there are differences: The European crisis concerns developed countries while the Asian one devastated nations at varying levels of development — Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia in particular. In the Asian case, the debts were largely in the private sector. In Europe, public debts are the focus.

But key similarities remain. First, afflicted Asian countries were borrowing in foreign currency. Europeans argue that their case is different because most of the debt is in their own currency, the euro. But in practice, the euro is the currency of the rich, northern core of Europe led by Germany. Countries on the periphery joined for prestige and the benefits of low interest rates. Similarly in Asia, countries effectively pegged their currencies to the dollar, with the result that foreign banks came to see little risk in lending dollars to finance local assets.
The second similarity follows from the first. In Asia, so long as it was easy to borrow, no one bothered about whether the exchange rate was appropriate. Many Asian countries’ external deficits ballooned and local inflation rose, but countries like Japan, with surplus savings, kept lending.

In Europe, the influx of capital into fringe countries following the adoption of the euro raised growth rates, but also pushed up wages faster than productivity. These countries thus now find themselves in a crisis that, as in Asia, has two parts: debt and inappropriate exchange rates.

In Asia, exchange rates collapsed under the pressure of the market. That may not happen in Europe — but only if the core countries pay the price.

That price is rising because of the third similarity: contagion. The Asian collapses did not happen simultaneously. Six months separated the first — Thailand — from the Korean and Indonesian crises. Following Greece, conditions have tightened sharply for Portugal; Ireland’s austerity efforts may prove insufficient; and question marks are hovering over Spain.

In Asia, debts were mostly short-term bank loans, so the crisis hit fast. In Europe, the central issue is the rollover of medium-term bonds. so there is more time to address the problem — but also more time for the disease to spread.

When the Asian crisis was eventually resolved, foreign banks had to absorb huge losses. That was relatively easy for Asia because the debts were mostly owed by bankrupt private-sector companies. Europe has a bigger problem because the debt is mostly public.

But debt write-offs will eventually be part of the solution, given that the politics in democratic Europe make it unlikely that austerity can be sustained for long. The Asian crisis induced radical political change that Europe will avoid.
Then the issue will become whether debt reduction is achieved by a moratorium on the debt, or by afflicted countries leaving the euro. In the Asian case, devaluation, produced deep but short recession. Currencies stabilized at lower levels and restored competitiveness, enabling them to run trade surpluses.

Europe’s problems are bigger. The write-offs that Japanese and Western banks had to make on their Asian loans did not imperil them; European banks are still convalescing from the global financial crisis and are in a poor position to write off more billions. Europe’s trade is mostly with itself, while Asia’s was with a wider world, so export-led recovery will be more difficult.

Nonetheless, Europe and the I.M.F. would do well to remember from the Asian crisis that years of fundamental imbalances cannot be massaged out of existence. Knots must be cut.
By PHILIP BOWRING International Herald Tribune

In Burma, a Political Change Like All the Others Before It

Who can argue if I say that Burma is politically stable? I say that half jokingly whenever someone asks about Burma’s politics. Indeed, it’s not incorrect.

Look at its neighbor, Thailand, which is politically and economically several decades ahead of Burma. Political turmoil of different colors — the Red Shirts, the Yellow Shirts, the multi-colored shirts—is sweeping over Thailand and destabilizing the country. It looks like a simmering civil war. The Burmese generals would call it “anarchy.”

Burma is seen as a Banana Republic, but, after 1988, you seldom see coups and volatile political situations — everything goes along in accord with the generals’ will: their rule, their laws and their orders.

The generals have never allowed antigovernment protests to go on for weeks or months, to close airports or shopping centers, to build enough momentum to destabilize “the peace and order.”

As an example, look at the 2007 monk-led demonstrations. Within a week or so, the ruling military regime had shot, beat up and arrested hundreds of monks and citizens, including journalists. The protest was quickly over; “tranquility” was restored.

Look at Burma’s modern history. The country has been ruled by one government since 1962. Today’s government is “the great grandson” of the military regime which staged the 1962 coup led by Gen Ne Win. Since then, there have been six governments, really in name only:

Ne Win called his regime the Revolutionary Council and in 1974, it was transformed into the “Burmese Way to Socialism,” officially called the Burma Socialist Program Party. The socialist regime was toppled by the 1988 people uprising, Ne Win handed over power to former Brig-Gen Sein Lwin who was known as the “Butcher” for his brutal suppression of successive student-led demonstrations since 1962. He ruled the country only for 17 days. The power then went to Dr Maung Maung, the only civilian president, who was loyal to Ne Win. He lasted only a few weeks. In September 1988, the current regime assumed (not really a coup) power under the name of the State Law and Order Restoration Council. In 1997, the regime was renamed the State Peace and Development Council.

That’s a lot of different names, but in essence it’s just a string of like-minded military generals in charge of the government.

How about Burma’s future, especially after the upcoming election?

There are hints. In Parliament, 25 percent of the seats will be given to military appointees by the junta, according to the 2008 constitution. To block real democracy in Parliament, there are the recent electoral laws and regulations, which are designed to keep political parties under tight control.

That’s why the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, unanimously decided not to register the party to contest the election. One positive consequence for the generals is that they don’t have to worry that the NLD will sweep the elections like in 1990.

The NLD decision by detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was a blow to the credibility of the junta’s election, but beyond triggering international criticism it won’t have much impact on Burma’s politics.

Let’s look at another authoritarian state, Sudan. The United States recognized the recent election victory by the party of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The United States said it would engage with the new government even though the electoral process was not judged to be free or fair.

State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley said this week, “It did not, broadly speaking, meet international standards,” but “I think we recognize that the election is a very important step.”

Maybe the United States sees a flawed election as better than no election. If so, how about its stand on Burma and its statements regarding the junta’s election — calling for it to be inclusive, free and fair and for the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners prior to the election?

We all know those demands will not be met. And like in the Sudan, will Burma’s election be recognized, no matter how rigged or corrupt? Even without Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party participating along with the other main ethnic opposition parties, the election winners are likely to be recognized by the United States and other Western countries.

So, Burma’s future government will be No. 7, which — again — will be a child of all the military governments formed since 1962. The newest government is expected to be a puppet of the current regime. The number will probably be the biggest change.
By Kyaw Zwa Moe managing editor of The Irrawaddy magazine.

Conflict Risk Alert: Thailand


Bangkok/Brussels, 30 April 2010: The Thai political system has broken down and seems incapable of pulling the country back from the brink of widespread conflict. The stand-off in the streets of Bangkok between the government and Red Shirt protesters is worsening and could deteriorate into an undeclared civil war. The country's polarisation demands immediate action in the form of assistance from neutral figures from outside. It is time for Thailand to consider help from international friends to avoid a slide into wider violence. Even the most advanced democracies have accepted this.

Situation on the Ground

So far, at least 26 people have died in clashes between the military and the Red Shirts, a group of mostly rural and urban poor more formally known as the "United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD)". That number could rise sharply if the military moves to dislodge thousands of protesters camped in the centre of the capital. The Red Shirts demand the immediate dissolution of parliament and quick new elections; Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has refused and handed control of security to the military.

Bangkok is tense. The Red Shirts have ground the capital's bustling commercial hub to a halt. Businesses in the area have been shuttered for weeks and residents have voluntarily relocated to avoid being caught in clashes between soldiers and protesters positioned only metres from their doors. The city has been hit by dozens of explosions by unidentified assailants while many nervously await an expected army operation to "remove" the Red Shirts from the streets.

Local efforts at mediation have failed. Civil society groups brought the government and the protesters together but the talks faltered over when to dissolve parliament. The Red Shirts offered a 30-day deadline; Abhisit was only willing to agree to go to the polls within nine months. The fault lines are widening between the establishment - an amalgam of elderly courtiers, powerful generals and many middle class supporters - and the protesters, many of whom support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

While some blame Thaksin for the stand-off, the protests have moved far beyond his control. Many Thais are deeply disillusioned by an elite that denied them the fruits of development for decades and then ousted a government elected mostly by the rural poor. Thailand is a country prone to violence, with a history of bloody insurgencies and authoritarianism - an uncomfortable reality for most Thais to accept. Violence in Bangkok could spread if there is a crackdown.

This crisis comes as the country is facing its first prospect of royal succession in more than six decades. The monarch may no longer be in a position to resolve disputes, and even if he is willing, the current crisis is more complex than previous ones where he stepped in. An unsuccessful intervention could damage royal prestige and the throne's moral authority.

The government must recognise that a violent crackdown would severely damage them and likely lead to more conflict. The UDD leadership must also accept that further provocations or violence will only do more damage to their democratic credentials, as well as undercut the credibility of their entire campaign for change.

What Should Be Done

The following steps should be taken urgently:

• The creation of a high-level facilitation group of international figures. Nobel Laureate and Timor Leste President Jose Ramos Horta is already in Bangkok at his own initiative and could be joined by other figures, perhaps drawn from The Elders or from the ranks of former top senior government officials with experience in Thailand.

• This group, which should be joined by independent Thai figures, should bring together the government and Red Shirts to encourage immediate steps to prevent violence, such as ending the military operation; the self-limitation of protests to a small, more symbolic number of people who do not disrupt life in Bangkok; and the formation of a national unity committee that pulls together people from all walks of life.

• This committee should begin negotiations, facilitated by the international group, on an interim government of national unity and preparations for elections, although these will be controversial and should not be rushed into as quickly as demanded. The government must be led by someone from parliament but should be made up mostly of neutral, respected individuals from across society.

• The committee should also facilitate the formation of an independent body to investigate the 10 April clashes between the security forces and Red Shirt protesters at Democracy Monument, as well as other violent incidents related to the current demonstrations.

Once the immediate crisis is defused, with a rapid return to the rule of law, political negotiations may require some time as they will involve confidence-building measures, including accountability on both sides for the violence. Politics needs to return to parliament. Thai political life will have to be refreshed with new elections and, perhaps, a new constitution to replace the country's military-influenced charter.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thai Govt, PM not looking at the big picture

The fact that the red-shirted protest is being labelled by the government as an anti-monarchy movement is an indicator that the ruling Democrat Party and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva merely want to play a political game to disperse the protesters.

They are not, however, looking at the whole picture with a view to solving the country's crisis.

The government is consistently campaigning on the monarchy issue against the anti-government group, and has urged coalition parties as well as provincial governors to help spread the word across the country.

Abhisit is under pressure from all directions to take tougher action to end the red-shirts' protest in the capital, a protest which has gone on since March 12 to the drastic detriment of the economy as well as people's lives.

The internal pressure within the Democrats is no less than that being faced from outside the party. Chen Thaugsuban, a brother of Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, said in a party meeting this week that people in his constituency in Surat Thani province were urging Abhisit to do something concrete, otherwise he should step down and allow someone else to do the job.

Politicians in the Democrat Party are not, however, looking at the big picture and just want the prime minister to get rid of the red-shirt protesters. The party rejected a proposal from coalition partners Bhum Jai Thai and Chart Thai Pattana to amend the Constitution to adjust the electoral system. The Democrats benefit from the current system and resist any idea for changing it.

Democrat MPs and key members of the party want the premier to take a hard-line stance to maintain order in the country. They blame Abhisit for paying less attention to the party line than associating only with the "ice-cream gang" of Sirichok Sopha, Satit Wongnongtaey and Korn Chatikavanij. "If Abhisit cannot handle the situation, the party will lose in the next election," a party member said.

However, many Democrat members are not taking a realistic stance and have acted selfishly for the party's benefit and have never given others a chance. They rejected the proposal to amend the Constitution and threw away an offer to resume political talks with the red shirts. They understand that the government has the upper hand and expects to win the struggle against the protesters simply through the use of tear gas and guns.

Despite associating only with the ice-cream gang, Abhisit is no different from other members of the party. He is treating the situation as a game that he will likely eventually win. He endorsed the release early this week by the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation of the anti-monarchy network's plans, in order to smear many people - including academics with no connection to the red shirts. The tactic is aimed at painting the red-shirt group as a national security threat, rather than a normal political movement.

The government will not negotiate with them and says it can use force to get rid of the threat to the monarchy and national security. "The situation has gone far beyond negotiation," Abhisit said.
His thinking is no different from what other members of his party want. He has in mind a plan to use force to end the game, but has no plan to solve the broader problems facing the country. By doing so, the government might be able to remove the red shirts from the business and tourist centre of Rajprasong, but it will not put a permanent end to the movement.

The government cannot anticipate how big the red-shirt movement is, or how big it will grow. As long as the red shirts' problems remain and their demands are not met, the movement will be reborn and come back to challenge the government again in no time at all. The Nation, Bangkok

IMF warns Asia of overheating, asset bubbles

SHANGHAI: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Thursday that Asian economies were at risk of overheating as strong capital inflows fan inflationary pressures and raise the risk of damaging bubbles.

The IMF urged regional leaders to return to “more normal” monetary policies after the global financial crisis, and increase the flexibility of their exchange rates to counter speculative funds flowing into their economies.

“For China, like in other economies in the region, the risk is to ensure that the boom we see in asset flows does not, like in the past, lead to a cycle of boom and bust,” Anoop Singh, director of the IMF’s Asia-Pacific department, told a news conference.

In its latest report on the regional outlook, the IMF said brighter economic growth prospects and widening interest rate differentials with developed economies “are likely to attract more capital to the region.”

“This could lead to overheating in some economies and increase their vulnerability to credit and asset price booms with the risk of subsequent abrupt reversals,” the report said.

The IMF raised its growth forecasts for Asia to 7.1 percent for both 2010 and 2011, higher than its prediction last week when it estimated regional economies would expand an average 6.9 percent this year and 7 percent next.

But the Fund warned export-driven Asia remained vulnerable to a slower-than-expected recovery in the West, and urged governments to reduce their reliance on overseas shipments and boost domestic consumption.

“It will be important to implement reforms that boost the productivity and the competitiveness of the services sector,” IMF senior economist Olaf Unteroberdoerster told reporters.

The IMF said Asian policymakers need to safeguard against the build-up of imbalances in asset and housing markets caused by “excess liquidity”, and one way to do this was to adopt more flexible exchange rates.

“Letting the exchange rate appreciate can forestall short-term inflows,” the Fund said, without specifically referring to China.

“Without more currency appreciation, the pressure to sterilize the impact on money supply will continue.”
But stronger currencies alone were not going to rebalance the economies in China and other countries in the region, Singh said.

Governments needed to reduce household “precautionary savings” and very high corporate savings in China and elsewhere.

“It’s very important that this package of measures is not viewed as based on one policy, which is the exchange rate,” Singh said.

The IMF said last week a stronger yuan was “essential” for both the Chinese and world economies, heaping more pressure on Beijing to revalue the currency, which has been effectively pegged at 6.8 to the dollar since mid-2008.

Critics say the policy has given Chinese manufacturers an unfair advantage by making their exports cheaper.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Public opinion on China undergoes sharp decline

DESPITE widespread talk of a rising China and an America in decline, the latest BBC World Service poll shows not just strong residual American soft power but actually an increase. At the same time, the data depicts a China whose influence is viewed as more negative than positive in an increasing number of countries.

A year-and-a-half after the election of Barack Obama, views of the United States around the world have improved, according to a poll of about 30,000 adults interviewed either in person or by telephone in 28 countries asked to consider the influence of various countries.

The surveys found that the US is viewed positively on balance in 20 of the 28 countries surveyed, confirming a trend that was discernible two years ago.

Surveys made public in 2008 by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Pew Global Attitudes Project found signs that America's global image was recovering after having plummeted after its decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

America is now viewed positively in 20 of the 28 countries, with an average of 46 per cent saying the US has a positive influence in the world, while 34 per cent say that it has a negative influence. By contrast, China is viewed positively in 15 of those countries.

Ironically, while America's image overseas is improving, a Pew Research Centre survey shows that almost 80 per cent of Americans say they don't trust Washington, with public confidence in the Federal Government at one of the lowest points in a half-century.
Fifteen of the 28 countries polled by the BBC have been surveyed every year since 2005. They are Australia, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, Britain and the US.

In 2005, 38 per cent of people in those countries regarded American influence as positive, but this number dropped to 28 per cent in 2007. This year, America's popularity has recovered and 40 per cent of those polled see the US' influence in the world as mostly positive.

But views of China have declined sharply. In 2005, 49 per cent of respondents thought that China's influence was mostly positive; 11 points higher than that for the US. However, China's numbers have fallen, reaching 34 per cent this year, trailing the US by six points.

As China's political, economic and military power have grown, global attention has focused on its influence and activities in Asia.

Public sentiment in the region is shifting rather dramatically. Japan, the world's second-largest economy, has for many years had a strained relationship with China. However, while 59 per cent of Japanese had a negative view of China last year, this number has fallen dramatically to 38 per cent.

This warming has taken place at a time when China has replaced the US as Japan's most important trading partner. Also, since Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took office last September, he has emphasised closer relations between Japan and Asia, in particular with China.

But Indians are moving in the other direction. Last year, Indians leaned towards positive views of China, 30 per cent versus 24 per cent, with many declining to state a view. Now, there are more Indians who view China negatively, 38 per cent versus 30 per cent who have positive views.

South Koreans are going even further than Indians, with 61 per cent viewing China negatively, compared with 50 per cent in 2008.

Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesians view China less negatively than before, with 43 per cent holding positive views and 29 per cent negative, compared with 37 per cent negative previously. And in the Philippines, sentiments have shifted sharply, from 52 per cent negative last year to 55 per cent positive today.

The official China Daily, responding to the BBC poll results, said public opinion was shaped by the Western media, which "are unsuitably seasoned with misunderstanding, misinterpretation or even bias and enmity".

However, it concluded optimistically, "as mutual understanding deepens, public opinion will change".

Public opinion is undoubtedly affected by the Western media. But this was true in previous years as well, when China's image was much more positive. So there must be other reasons that account for the deterioration of China's image, possibly including such events as the outbreaks of violence in Tibet in 2008 and in Xinjiang last year, and the way they were put down.

Public opinion, especially views on foreign countries, may be fickle and subject to personal whims but they cannot be dismissed out of hand. They do provide an indication of how well governments are perceived to be doing, not by their own people but by international opinion.
Frank Ching for the New Straits Times

Ex-SAS Man Tipped as Jakarta Envoy

KEVIN Rudd's national security adviser, former SAS commander Duncan Lewis, is the frontrunner to become Australia's next ambassador to Jakarta. Diplomatic sources in Canberra and Jakarta told The Australian yesterday that the Indonesian-speaking Mr Lewis was in line to replace the current ambassador, Bill Farmer, whose term is about to expire. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would neither confirm nor deny the appointment. A spokesman for the Prime Minister referred queries to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith's staff, who also declined to confirm or deny the claims.

But the appointment, if it goes ahead, would be very significant.

Mr Lewis, 54, who has previously served as defence attache in Jakarta and retired from the army as a major-general, is a high-profile special forces officer and intelligence expert. And he had a "formidable" knowledge of Indonesia, said a national security expert and former long-term Jakarta resident. "More broadly he is across a range of high-level security issues on the agenda between Canberra and Jakarta - terrorism, police and military co-operation, people-smuggling, border control and illegal fishing," he said. Mr Lewis retired from the army in 2005 and was recruited by former prime minister John Howard, and appointed first assistant secretary of the national security division in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. In December 2008, he was appointed as national security adviser
to the Rudd government.

A seasoned crisis manager, Mr Lewis was also the commander of Australian troops in East Timor after the departure of then major general Peter Cosgrove - at a time of high tension along the border after the 1999 Australian-led Interfet deployment. Senior diplomatic sources also told The Australian yesterday that Czech-born deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Miles Kupa, would be the next ambassador to Malaysia.

The 64-year-old career diplomat, fluent in Thai, Indonesian and French, has extensive experience of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Mr Kupa served as high commissioner to Singapore from 2005 to 2008, as ambassador to Thailand from 2000 to 2004 and as ambassador to The Philippines from 1996 to 1999. The current high commissioner to Malaysia is Penny Williams, who previously served as first assistant secretary for DFAT's corporate management division. The Australian by Mark Dodd

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

As riots return to Indonesia the Government needs to reflect

Within two weeks, two riots — the worst since the 1998 unrests — occurred in Indonesia. The first one began in the capital Jakarta, when the people of Koja, North Jakarta, clashed with officers of the City Public Order Agency on April 14, claiming three lives and injuring more than 100 people. The clash was triggered by the forced attempted removal of the people and illegal buildings at Muslim historical figure Arif Billah Hasan bin Muhammad Al Haddad or Mbah Priuk memorial complex. The site, which has been subject to a land dispute between state-owned PT Pelindo and heirs of Mbah Priuk, is regarded as sacred by local residents.

On April 22, another riot of a different nature broke out at a shipyard in Batam Island, Riau. Angered by racist remarks that “Indonesians are stupid” allegedly made by an Indian expatriate, thousands of dock workers ran amok and set fire to 20 cars and three buildings.

The two riots might have been triggered by a different set of problems. However, the manifest outbursts pointed to one particular situation. They constituted an expression of anger by the “little people” (orang kecil) against those who asserted their “superiority” in an acceptable way. They also reflected public frustration at those who imposed their “authority” with little or no regard for the orang kecil.
The two incidents should be taken by the government as an early warning sign that social tension remains a challenge that requires serious attention. The two unrests over the last weeks clearly indicate the susceptibility of Indonesia’s society to violent means in addressing problems at hand.

Indeed, when the people and state apparatus begin to clash violently, the government should start wondering about what is going wrong in a country that boils people’s emotions. We are often told that Indonesians are generally able to exercise patience and restraint, and they do not easily resort to violence. They often prefer musyawarah (dialogue) over physical confrontation. However, the last two riots, and many other incidents of violence over the last 14 years, seem to suggest the contrary.

In this regard, when elements of society begin to resort to violence in expressing their grievances, the government should start looking at itself before blaming the people. Many instances of wrongdoings by state apparatus are abundant. Corruption, for one, continues to insult the public sense of justice. The recent corruption cases within the tax office, for example, clearly demonstrate the magnitude of the problem in Indonesia.

It would be hard to explain to the dock workers in Batam, or to the people of Koja in North Jakarta, why some state officials can live a luxurious life. It would be even harder to explain to them what is happening with our law enforcement agencies and justice institutions. In such a context, it is hard to blame the people if their trust of state institutions begins to diminish, and be replaced by a sense of frustration.

Growing public frustration often constitutes a recipe for unrest. Within a society where public trust on law enforcement agencies is low, it is only a matter of time before the people begin to resort to their own sense of justice. If and when that happens, public order, and indeed the foundation of the state, will encounter an alarming situation.

It is not too late for the government to address the situation and improve the people’s trust again. The first step toward that direction requires a serious effort at reforming the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Court. The government needs to ensure that the public can rely on these three institutions whenever they seek justice.

The government needs also to re-educate state apparatus about the nature of their work. They are there to serve the people. It is true that the state has the authority to use force in order to carry out its function.
However, the use of force must be the last resort after all other non-violent means are exhausted. Within a democratic society, state apparatus should understand that public consultation, respect of the people and people’s involvement in the policy process, must prevail.

President Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono has made it clear that greater anticorruption efforts are the promise of his second term. For that, he has also ordered state institutions be “cleaned” of corrupt people. Now the people are waiting for the President to carry out his promise in a more forceful manner.

By Rizal Sukma executive director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.

Japan’s Democratic Party Failing to Live Up to Promise

Enthusiasm for the Democratic Party of Japan ran high when it came to power last autumn. People were stunned by cabinet ministers speaking their own words rather than reading from scripts prepared by bureaucrats. They believed it when DPJ leaders said the prime minister and cabinet would decide policy rather than continue the practice of mostly rubber-stamping decisions made by civil servants. It seemed to many that Japan was going to have a new kind of politics — more open and responsive to citizens than to the special interests that had captured the Liberal Democratic Party.

Eight months later, hope has turned to disappointment. Public support for the DPJ is in free fall, down from a high of more than 70 percent when the DPJ took over to less than 25 percent today. While Yukio Hatoyama, the prime minister, vacillates, members of his cabinet have become increasingly vocal in staking out competing positions on important policy issues. The government is in disarray.

Though he is the party president as well as head of the government, Hatoyama has ceded power over the DPJ to Ichiro Ozawa, the party’s secretary general who rules with an iron fist. Ozawa’s strategy for winning a majority for the DPJ in this summer’s upper house election is drawn from an old LDP playbook. He has sought the support of interest groups that long backed the LDP, and is recruiting television personalities, good-looking female announcers and other political amateurs with high name recognition to run on the DPJ ticket. He exerts his influence over Hatoyama and the government mostly from the shadows so no one is quite sure who is in charge. So much for openness, newness and cabinet-centered decision-making.

Japan’s political situation might not be so dire were there an opposition party with a chance to secure broad public support. But there is not. As unhappy as people are with the DPJ, they are loath to see the LDP back in power. Having recently suffered some high-profile defections, the LDP’s very ability to survive is in doubt.

The big guessing game in Tokyo is how much longer Hatoyama is going to last as prime minister. Replacing him will not solve much whenever it happens. The basic problem is that Japan lacks political leaders who either understand or are willing to tell the public what needs to be done to get the nation’s fiscal house in order, break free of the drag that deflation exerts on the economy and promote growth. An increase in the consumption tax earmarked for social security expenditures is gaining support across the political spectrum. But, in the absence of an overall package of tax and regulatory reform, that will only make matters worse.

One does not run into many people in Japan who rue the LDP’s demise. Nor are there many with a kind word to say about how Hatoyama and the DPJ have run the country. But it is not inconceivable that the DPJ may yet turn things around.

To do so, it must find the courage to level with the people about the severity of Japan’s fiscal crisis. Ministers need to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths about eliminating highway tolls and scuttling postal system reform. Saying they are sticking to the “principle” of free highways while increasing tolls for 80 percent of the drivers who use them fools no one and exposes the government to ridicule.

Doubling the ceiling on deposits in the postal system bank will cause funds to shift from private, especially regional, banks. The postal system invests nearly all its money in Japanese government bonds. Given more money, it will buy more bonds, relaxing pressure on the government to exercise any kind of fiscal restraint.

Moreover, Hatoyama has to figure out how to climb out of the deep hole he dug for himself when he decided to abandon a US-Japan agreement on where to relocate a US air base in Okinawa. He has failed to come up with a feasible alternative or even a coherent process for arriving at one.

For a party that came to power only months ago to press the restart button is risky. But if it sticks to its current course, this government will soon collapse and an extended period of political turmoil and ineffective government will follow.

East Asia Forum

By Gerald Curtis Burgess professor of political science at Columbia University, and a visiting professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University.

Talking to the Taliban

THE idea that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan might join the Taliban was always going to be highly unlikely, though he apparently threatened to do so early this month. It was more than likely that he was merely flipping his lid at the mounting pressures on his administration. As far as "flipping" the Taliban is concerned, while "integrating reconcilable insurgents" has been a key component of the new American strategy in Afghanistan, this merely involves persuading Taliban foot soldiers to put down their arms and cross over to the government side with promises of protection, jobs, vocational training and even money. Last month, United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates expressed the view that it was too early to begin what he called "reconciliation", as the "shift of momentum" had not been strong enough to convince the Taliban leaders they were going to lose and make them willing to make a deal.

But though the Taliban believe they are winning, they have indicated a willingness to hold "sincere and honest talks" in an interview with the Sunday Times of London. And though the Taliban ruling council remains committed to establishing syariah law and expelling foreigners, it did not lay down preconditions for negotiations. Until now, only Karzai and the United Nations seem willing to try to establish contact with the Taliban -- a development that was refuted in the interview, however -- without much support from Washington. But that may be about to change now that the Taliban appears to be willing to come to the table and US President Barack Obama has been reported to have said last month that it might be time to start talking to the Taliban.

However much Obama may say, as he did on Australian television recently, that there has been "a blunting of the momentum of the Taliban", even victories on the battlefield may not be enough when hearts and minds have not been won. And whatever it may say about being able to negotiate from a "position of strength", even the Taliban may have had to rethink its strategy after Mullah Omar's second-in-command was arrested by the Pakistani security agencies. As Obama reiterated, international forces cannot be in Afghanistan in "perpetuity", and responsibility needs to be transferred to the Afghan people. And that cannot mean just to Karzai and the "reconcilable" Talibans, but also to all the stakeholders on all sides of the country's divides. Now that the Taliban has offered to talk, it is to be hoped that it opens up the search for a negotiated settlement and a durable political accord. New Straits Times editorial

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Test of Obama’s Commitment to Asia

Put yourself in the shoes of the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, Kurt Campbell — the moccasins of Jeff Bader, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asia, would work too — and think about this November. It’s not quite a horror movie — more like “Gallipoli.”

The scene is Bader’s office in the Old Executive Office Building, the camera slowly pans 360 degrees — cabinet spilling over with books on various moments in Asian history, half empty take-out container with braised tofu teasing mold, couch rumpled, looking slept on. Campbell, standing next to Bader seated, both grimacing, brows knit in unison, the camera pans down Campbell’s arm to his hand growing roots into Bader’s desk, next to it is a calendar — the president’s calendar for November 2010. A pink Post-It with Rahm Emanuel’s extension stuck to the upper left corner. Key Tubular Bells music.

November is ugly. It defines the challenge for US policy in Asia. The US president, one of the most capable, articulate and marketable leaders in recent history — a guy who actually grew up in Indonesia for several years — has defined himself as the “Pacific President.” Commitments have been made — “we get it,” “being there is 90 percent of the game in Asia” — and so we look forward to the 2nd Asean-US Summit.

Officials at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs rock back on their davenport smiling as they see the potential for the earlier than expected fruition of their prophecies that the United States can say it is committed to Asia, but it can’t sustain that commitment. Are they right?

Now it’s time to deliver, to show up — or to be marvelously innovative.

A drop of sweat pops onto the calendar below with a pop. They stare:

Nov. 2: US midterm elections. Nov. 11-12: G-20 Summit in Seoul. Nov. 13-14: APEC Leaders meeting in Yokohama.

The heat is on the Democrats in the House and Senate, the Republicans have decided to go completely “no” and rely on historical patterns of anti-incumbency in midterm elections, particularly acute when your party holds the White House and both chambers on the Hill. That makes a trade agenda, the fundamental platform of credible and sustainable Asia policy, untouchable.

The G-20 is the new global architecture and hosted by Obama’s good friend, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak — he’ll be there; the APEC leaders meeting is a must because you can’t no-show, no matter how badly Hatoyama is jangling the alliance, when you are hosting the party in Hawaii next year.

What about the US-Asean Summit? It is core to US engagement in regional trade and security architecture. Secretary Clinton said the centrality of Asean was a core principle for Asian regionalism in her Honolulu speech just three months ago. The president has committed to attend after verily initiating the forum in Singapore last November. Asean has invited the president to Hanoi — but in October, which is the date for the Asean Summit, Asean + 3 and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

Truth be told, Hanoi would make so much sense — a diplomatic hat-trick in the waiting. It is the 15th anniversary of US-Vietnam relations, Hanoi’s 1000th birthday and a chance to promote, without even saying a word, just by being there, economic reformers and pro-engagement Vietnamese leaders who are being challenged by the withered but powerful septa- and octogenarians in the Communist Party in the run-up to the National Party Congress in 2011.

But October is a non-starter. The Chicago Mafia, the president’s political cerebral cortex in the White House, won’t let him out in the world weeks ahead of midterms. They’ve demonstrated their muscle twice before smothering planned Indonesia visits in favor of trips to Ohio to stump for health care reform — and not without results. Yet, Asean has clearly indicated it is not possible to hold a US-Asean Summit on Japanese soil.

Campbell and Bader are experienced, capable officials. But their options are limited. The domestic political forces in the White House are empowered and don’t even consider such conflicts to be a competition. The president will need to step in and make his views known. If he does so, there is a way to lead in Asia. Make no mistake; getting Asean right is fundamental to American strength in dealing with China, Japan, India and the rest of Asia.

The options are:

•Add two days in Hanoi after APEC and convince the Asean leaders to fly from Japan to Hanoi to hold the 2nd Annual US Asean-Summit;

•Add Hanoi to the planned June trip to Indonesia and Australia;

•Invite the Asean leaders to Hawaii or Washington on their way to or from the UN General Assembly meeting in September.

The pressure is on. The stakes are high, but this movie could and should end with a happy ending.

By Ernest Z Bower senior adviser and director of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington , DC.East Asia Forum

Eastern Indonesia and The Moluccan Dream – Still Alive at 60

After 60 years, many Moluccans living in the Netherlands still hope their islands – now part of Indonesia – will be independent one day. How long can you go on believing in a dream? The Moluccans in the Netherlands have been clinging to the dream of an independent homeland for 60 years, although many might deny that.

Younger Moluccans, born and raised here in the Netherlands, seem to have other things on their mind. The Moluccan community in the Netherlands hails from an archipelago that is now part of Indonesia, but just over 60 years ago still formed part of Holland’s colonial empire, the Dutch East Indies. Once a year, the Moluccans hold a ritual flag-raising ceremony,

commemorating the declaration of independence from Indonesia by their islands, the South Moluccas (known within Indonesia as the Province of Maluku), on 25 April 1950 – 60 years ago this month. This independence - officially recognised by one country only - was to be short-lived. Just four months later, Indonesian troops put a violent end to the largely Christian Republic of South Molucca (RMS). A flow of refugees to the Netherlands resulted.


The Moluccan community in the Netherlands numbers some 50,000 people and is ‘led’ by a government in exile. The aspiration for an independent homeland is still passed on from father to son, mother to daughter. Any expression of doubt about the ideal of the RMS is almost regarded as an act of treason by the older generation. Nonetheless, many young people have dropped the whole notion, says Chris Soukotta (37). “There are more and more young people who don’t care much about it. It seems to me that they’ve become Westernised. The ‘French Fries’ generation - that’s what we call them”.


The feeling that they were betrayed by the Dutch unites the Moluccan community almost as much as the struggle for an independent country. After Indonesia won its independence in 1949, many Moluccan soldiers who had fought on the side of the Dutch were sent to the Netherlands for demobilisation, with the promise that they would return very shortly. The Dutch authorities housed them and their families in camps. They believed their stay in the Netherlands would indeed be short, and that they would soon be able to go back home. But Indonesia’s rule took a firm hold, and the Dutch failed to do anything to bring about Moluccan independence or the safe return of its former soldiers. Most South Moluccans were Christian, part of the Dutch-speaking colonial elite who had fought on the losing side. Their islands were subsequently absorbed – although not totally - into a predominantly Muslim Indonesia and the world they had known started to disappear.

The powerlessness of the Moluccan community led to a radicalisation of their young people in the 1970s. The result was a number of terrorist incidents, including the occupation of and taking of hostages at the Indonesian embassy in The Hague. The independence cause made international headlines again when, in December 1975, a group of determined Dutch Moluccan youths seized a train, taking 50 passengers hostage, two of whom were shot and killed in front of television cameras. The Netherlands was thrown into a state of shock by the hijacking. Another train hijack took place in 1977, along with the seizure of toddlers and teachers at a primary school, again causing a wave of disbelief in the country. Since then there have been no more terrorist incidents. As John Wattilete, the newly-appointed president-in-exile of the RMS, points out, violence doesn’t advance your cause at all. “We’re living in different times now. We believe that to achieve our aim – theestablishment of an independent state – we don’t need to use violence. It’s better to choose the path of dialogue, lobbying, and all that. That way we’ll actually achieve more”. Mr Wattilete, a busy lawyer here in the Netherlands, has a more pragmatic approach than his predecessors. While he advocates an independent RMS as his ideal, he hints at a more realistic solution – some degree of autonomy from Indonesia. And he has demonstrated a willingness to talk to the old adversary, unlike the old diehards within the Moluccan community who cling to the image of Indonesia as the bitter enemy.


Josina Soumokil, the widow of one of the men who read out the RMS’ declaration of independence 60 years ago, is part of the old guard. Her husband, Chris Soumokil, died at the hands of Indonesian military forces in 1966. Chris had urged his wife to continue the struggle in the Netherlands. “The way I see it, if the RMS is only a dream, why is the Indonesian government frightened of us? A dream is what you have in the evening, at night, while you’re asleep in your bed. When you wake up in the morning, it’s gone, forgotten. But if you look at what happened on the island of Ambon - why does the army arrest peaceful people who raise the RMS flag? Why are they thrown into prison if the RMS is only a dream in the eyes of the Indonesian government?”

It’s not yet known how the Moluccans plan to commemorate this special 60th anniversary of the short-lived independence of their republic. By Marina Brouwer for Radio Netherlands

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

This edition leads off with the sad news of the death of a young Chinese woman last weekend while rafting on Bali's Ayung River. There's also news of a blaze at Kuta square; an outbreak of street violence, also in Kuta; a death caused by a landslide and heavy rains currently falling in Bali; the seizure of more contraband liquor by police; and the arrest of two men in connection with a series of child-rape cases in Bali's capital of Denpasar.

More local news includes parliamentarians calling for a crackdown on illegally imported luxury cars and large motorcycles. Meanwhile, in a separates story, lawmakers want construction halted on the Pasha Condotel now being built in Kuta for alleged violations of zoning and building codes.

Another Condotel with a history of zoning rule violations got the boot last week from Best Western who have removed their branding from the New Kuta Kondotel.

Governor Pastika has announced a moratorium on the issuance of new licenses for travel agents together with plans to revoke nearly 500 licenses which are non-active.

Bali's Chamber of Commerce is protesting planned hikes in electrical tariffs, claiming the price increase will cripple the island's manufacturing sector.

The volcanic ash that caused havoc with European aviation for nearly a week also impacted Bali, read this week's edition for details.

Bali's governor is considering the pros and cons of a round-Bali slow railway service. New tourism companies will be obliged by the government to use alternative energy sources.

Read Bali Update to find out why the President of Indonesia visited Bali twice in as many weeks.

Let's get ready to party – the Kuta Karnival returns for the 8th time September 29 –October 3, 2010.

Read the full report at:

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Singapore no longer a safe haven for Indonesian Graft Suspects

Spotlight on Pursuit of Indonesian Graft Suspects Overseas
Mas Achmad Santosa shot a smile when he recalled his “miracle” trip to Singapore last month to pick up Indonesia’s most wanted man, Gayus Tambunan.

Along with Denny Indrayana, a fellow member of the presidentially-appointed Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force, Mas Achmad had been asked by the National Police’s chief detective, Comr. Gen. Ito Sumardi, to join what was essentially a fishing expedition in the hopes of catching the fugitive tax official.

“I rushed back home to pack my bag and grabbed my passport,” Mas Achmad said.

Hours later, despite the fact that Singapore is a well-known safe haven for Indonesian tycoons on the run, Mas Achmad and his law enforcement colleagues came to believe in miracles. The team was walking around Orchard Road, the city-state’s busy shopping district, when they saw Gayus at the Lucky Plaza mall.

“I know it sounds too good to be true, but that’s what really happened,” Mas Achmad told the Jakarta Globe, addressing public skepticism about their coincidental meeting. “We were originally at Lucky Plaza looking for hats to cover up our faces, when Denny said, ‘It would be cool if we ran into Gayus here.’ And I said, ‘Amen to that.’ ”

Their prayers were answered within a few minutes, when they spotted Gayus in the mall’s food court, looking for dinner for his family. The task force members confronted Gayus and the process of persuasion began.

“We called Ito Sumardi and told him that we had found the fugitive,” Mas Achmad said.

“The next few hours were crucial in trying to convince Gayus to return to Indonesia to deal with the legal process,” he added. “We told him it was better to deal with it at home instead of in a foreign country like Singapore.”

An Unusual Success

Gayus burst into the spotlight last month when Comr. Gen. Susno Duadji, the controversial former chief detective at the National Police, accused three senior police officials of taking bribes from the tax official to bury a corruption case against him.

Despite only being a mid-level tax official, Gayus was able to amass a fortune at the Directorate General of Taxation by allegedly serving as a case broker, helping clients win favorable outcomes at the Tax Tribunal.

Despite having Rp 28 billion ($3.1 million) in two bank accounts, Gayus managed to get the police to unfreeze his money and was acquitted by the Tangerang District Court on March 12 on the relatively minor charge of embezzlement, on the grounds of “insufficient evidence.”

The case barely registered with the public until Susno rang the alarm bells shortly after the acquittal. And as if on cue, Gayus fled the country on March 24. Red-faced National Police officials were forced to admit to an angry public two days later that their target had escaped to the island state, which has no extradition treaty with Indonesia.

Other notable fugitive corruption suspects believed to be residing in Singapore, or at least using it as a base, include businessmen Sukanto Tanoto, Sjamsul Nursalim, Joko S Tjandra, Anggoro Widjojo and former Bank Century shareholders Hesyam Al Warraq and Rafat Ali Rizvi.

The prevailing public view is that Indonesian authorities allowed the fugitives to escape and have no real interest in bringing them back. However, the judicial mafia task force was able to locate Gayus and persuade him to return to Indonesia within a week.

The quick turnaround was aided by the fact that the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights was able to revoke Gayus’s passport because it was fraudulently obtained, which would have left him at the mercy of Singapore’s legal system. This has created new hope that other high-profile fugitives could also be persuaded to return from Singapore.

In Need of a Treaty

Bantarto Bandoro, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said the absence of an extradition treaty had allowed Indonesian fugitives to escape arrest by making the short flight to Singapore.

In 2007, Indonesia and Singapore signed a long-awaited extradition agreement, after a series of negotiations dating back to 1979, but the treaty remains in limbo because the Indonesian House of Representatives has refused to ratify. The House opposes several articles in a Defense Cooperation Agreement tied to the extradition treaty. Among other contentious issues is an article in the defense agreement that would allow Singapore to use Indonesian airspace for military training.

“The extradition treaty is important because it provides assurances and shows a commitment between two countries,” said Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “In the future, we can’t depend on individual cases like Gayus to resolve this problem permanently.”

“The ball is in our court now, since the Singaporean government considers the treaty final,” he added.

So are Indonesian lawmakers ready to play ball? Kemal Aziz Stamboel, head of House Commission I, which oversees defense and foreign affairs, said legislators would be willing to re-examine the extradition treaty if the central government made a request. He said the treaty was not on the commission’s agenda because there had been no pressure from the government to push it through since it was signed in Bali in 2007.

However, Gayus’s arrest has resurrected the treaty debate. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) recently told the Globe that it had urged the government to push the House to ratify the agreement with Singapore.

Taking a New Approach?

The arrest has also raised questions about why the “persuasive approach” used on the rogue tax official — or at least the threat to notify Singaporean authorities about his fake passport — has not been used on other fugitives. Is an extradition treaty even needed?

So far there has been little pressure on the Ministry of Justice to start revoking passports of wanted graft suspects living abroad. “Sure, we have the authority to revoke a citizen’s passport, but we should consider its effectiveness,” said Maroloan Barimbing, a spokesman at the ministry’s Directorate General of Immigration.

He said the ministry could only revoke a citizen’s passport if a request was first made by law enforcement authorities. Amazingly, there has never been one.

“For corruption cases, there should be a request by one of the seven authorized government agencies,” Maroloan said, referring to the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance, National Police, Attorney General’s Office, KPK, Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) and the National Narcotics Agency (BNN).

“We can’t just revoke someone’s passport because of public pressure. We are talking about serious human rights violations here,” he said, pointing out that everyone was innocent until proven guilty.

Don’t Blame the Neighbors

The public appetite for new approaches to bring back fugitives and their billions in ill-gotten gains reflects years of failures in the fight against corruption.

In 2004, the central government set up a task force comprised of several government agencies to hunt down fugitive graft suspects, which failed to bring back even a single one. Even the powerful and successful KPK has failed to prevent corruption suspects from skipping the country, let alone persuading them to come back.

“What we need is a breakthrough in our judicial system if we want to win this fight,” said Frans Hendra Winarta, a member of the National Law Commission (KHN). He condemned the kid gloves used with fugitive graft suspects, many of whom have continued to run their Indonesia-based businesses from Singapore by telephone and e-mail.

“Unlike what is happening today, their assets and wealth should be frozen and confiscated by the state, even though they haven’t stood trial or been proven guilty,” he said. “If they are found to be innocent, the state can then return their assets.”

Frans said the KHN over the past 10 years had put forward countless proposals to the government to help with corruption eradication efforts, but “no one listens to our recommendations.”

“It shows how strong the corruption mafia is in this country,” he said. “Considering our current situation, I think we can say that the powers that be in this country are not serious about battling corruption. There is no use having different agencies when they can’t work well together.”

Teuku, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said simple conclusions could be drawn from the country’s poor track record in the fight against corruption.

“We can’t keep blaming our neighbor when there is often poor coordination in handling the problem at home. How did these fugitives flee in the first place?” he said. Dewi KurniawatiFor the Jakarta Globe

The Voice They Cannot Silence: The Freedom Fighter Who Dares to Defy the Burmese Regime

For more than 20 years, the plight of Burma's political prisoners has shocked the world. Now, their struggle for freedom has been documented in a brave new project
For some of the political prisoners held in Burma's wretched jails, the hardest thing to bear is the pain and horror of being physically tortured. For others, held away from fellow inmates, it is the isolation and the creeping sense of despair.

Some think about their families, others about the seemingly hopeless cause for which they fought. For the relatives and friends of those incarcerated, there is the struggle of trying to make regular visits and the constant, aching worry as to whether a loved one will ever be freed.

Win Tin, a senior colleague of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, served more than 19 years in jail - almost all of them in solitary confinement - before being released in 2008. "The hardest thing was the separation from other people," says the lively 80-year-old, speaking from his home in Rangoon. The former journalist was routinely beaten, kept in a dog kennel and on one occasion interrogated for five days straight. And yet it was the separation from other people that he now remembers as causing him the greatest distress. He recalls: "Even when I was in hospital I was put in a different room ... You long to have a discussion with your friends. You feel as if you are losing your mind."

Burma's jails are awash with political prisoners. The military authorities that seized power in 1962 dealt harshly with dissidents, but the current junta, which took power in 1988, has jailed increasing numbers of opponents. It has done so when it felt most threatened, most notably after a pro-democracy uprising in 1988 and a democratic election in 1990 - the results of which the junta ignored - and most recently following the so-called Saffron Revolution of September 2007, when tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and demonstrators filled the streets of Burma's cities to demand change. It is impossible to know how many such prisoners are being held, but activists say they currently have details of 2,186.

The story of the most famous, Aung San Suu Kyi, the enduring 64-year-old Nobel laureate who has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, is of course well known. Some have also heard of Min Ko Naing, the "conqueror of kings", a student leader jailed in 1989 for 15 years only to be sentenced to 65 years after being arrested again in 2007. The jailing of U Gambira, a Buddhist monk sentenced to 68 years for helping organise the Saffron Revolution, likewise received considerable coverage. Yet the stories of the vast majority are rarely told. "The number of political prisoners has almost doubled to 2,200 - the highest in the past 20 years - since the uprising of 2007," says Haider Kikabhoy, a Burma expert with Amnesty International. "But behind every prisoner, there's a story - these brave individuals represent a collective struggle for freedom for the people of Myanmar."

It was this that motivated James Mackay to embark on the extraordinary, ongoing project that is Even Though I'm Free I am Not. The British activist and documentary photographer has set out to photograph and interview scores of former political prisoners from Burma's jails and, in doing so, draw attention to those still behind bars. "The idea first developed in my mind while I was in Burma working undercover several months after the Saffron Revolution," says Mackay. The results of his work are nothing less than remarkable. Travelling across Asia, the US, Canada, Japan and Europe, as well as having made several secret trips inside Burma, Mackay is steadily putting together a compelling collection of portraits and testimonies from those who have suffered in the as-yet-unrealised struggle for political freedom. Some of the portraits are simple, others more complex as a result of their composition or backdrop, such as that of Phone Myint Tun, who spent four years in Rangoon's deadly Insein jail and who Mackay photographed standing in front of a crowd of activists demonstrating outside the Burmese Embassy in Tokyo, where the former political prisoner now lives.

So far he has photographed more than 160 former prisoners. What they all share - and which gives the project its title - is an inability to forget either what happened to them, or what is currently happening to those still in jail. To highlight this, Mackay chooses to photograph each of his subjects holding up their right hand and showing their palm - a gesture known in Buddhism as the Abhaya Mudra and done to symbolise fearlessness. On the palm of their hand, each of Mackay's subjects writes the name of a prisoner still being held. One of the most powerful images - and one which the junta will find incendiary - is that of Win Tin holding up his palm on which has been carefully inscribed the name of Aung San Suu Kyi. The slightly-built, grey-haired man is well aware of the danger he is in for allowing such a photograph to be taken, yet despite spending almost two decades in jail, Win Tin remains the most outspoken critic of the government still at large in Burma. He says he is constantly followed by informers and government agents. For Mackay, slipping into Burma, taking that photograph and evading the security authorities is the high-mark of his career to date.

I first encountered Mackay in January 2009. I was at Bangkok's main bus station catching a ride up to Mae Sot, a town on the border with Burma which has become a centre for many exiled Burmese and activists. It is also the location of many of the refugee camps in which 160,000 Burmese now live. I was going to one of the camps to interview elderly ethnic Karen refugees who had fought for the British against Japan. Initially, I assumed the tall Westerner asleep in the seat next to mine was a backpacker. But on the eight-hour journey up to Mae Sot, stopping off at a roadside canteen to eat bowls of noodle soup, he detailed his activist work, as well as his efforts to photograph former prisoners. "The former prisoners have suffered unimaginably horrendous experiences in jail in Burma, yet their resolve, their will and their beliefs cannot be broken no matter what has been thrown at them or is currently being thrown at their colleagues in jail right now," says Mackay. "My inspiration for much of what I now do in my life comes from meeting each and every one of them."

Among the former prisoners he has photographed is Khun Saing, a 59-year-old who now lives in Sheffield, having fled from Burma in 2006 and secured asylum. A former medical student, Khun Saing was jailed on three different occasions for his political activism, serving a total of 13 years. Working in a bakery to support himself, he is still waiting for his wife (who he met and married in a refugee camp in Thailand) and child to join him. Recalling his seizure, he says, "At the time I was arrested and interrogated I was tortured. That period was very hard. I had to answer so many questions. The problem was that if I said the wrong thing my colleagues on the outside would be in danger. Also, some of the torture was so painful. It's not so much about the pain but some of it was very degrading and inhumane."

Khun Saing says he eventually left Burma at the pleading of his mother, who had struggled to visit him every month in jail. (It is common practice for the Burmese authorities to hold political prisoners in jails far from their homes, making it harder for relatives to visit.) "She said if you cannot stay away from politics, please leave the country. I will at least have peace of mind." Bo Kyi, another former prisoner who now lives in Thailand, was jailed twice - firstly for demonstrating for the release of jailed students and the second time after he refused the junta's "offer" to become an informer. He remembers being shackled in chains. The guards then ordered him to exercise. Barely able to move, he was then beaten for failing to perform their demands. Jailed for a total of seven years, Bo Kyi taught himself to speak and write English, hiding his furtively secured paper and pencil from the guards. After escaping to Thailand, he now runs the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, which helps those who have served time in jail and campaigns for those still behind bars. He remains insistent that Burma cannot have a peaceful future until those prisoners have secured their freedom. He says an election planned for later this year and condemned by campaigners as simply a means of further cementing the military's position will not help. "The election has no credibility without Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of all the political prisoners," he says. "The people in Burma want to choose their own leaders."

The junta has tried to pitch the election to the international community as a step on the path towards full democracy. But the National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi and of which Win Tin is a senior leader, has decided to boycott the polls. There is mounting consensus that no fair election can take place with so many prisoners remaining behind bars. One of those still in jail is Win Htein. An NLD leader, the 70-year-old was first jailed in 1996 for speaking out against torture to foreign journalists. He was released in September 2008, on the same day that Win Tin and six other prisoners were set free. Yet just one day later, Win Htein was re-arrested and taken back to jail. His son, Hsan Htein, who lives in California, believes his father's mistake was to speak to a dissident radio station about the conditions in prison. Speaking from San Francisco, Hsan Htein, who himself fled Burma more than a decade ago at the insistence of his mother, said his father was being held in Katha jail, hundreds of miles from the family home in Rangoon. Every month, his 59-year-old mother, who is not in good health, embarks on a 24-hour journey each way using train, boat and bus, to visit.

Hsan Htein communicates with his father by letter, though they are not able to talk about the conditions in prison. "He is quite aware of what is happening around Burma," he says of his father. "He is getting the news." As to the future, Hsan Htein can simply hopeagainst the odds that something will bring about a change in Burma, something that will secure his father's freedom. For all of the country's political prisoners, someone, somewhere is wishing for the same. By Report by Andrew Buncombe for The Independent (UK)

No Exit Seen from Thailand's Very Un-Thai Crisis

BANGKOK – Whether keeping rapacious colonial powers at bay, averting political violence or settling family squabbles, Thais have earned a reputation for deft diplomacy, thwarting confrontation and achieving compromise, or as they proudly say, "bending with the wind like bamboo."

Until now, it seems.

The latest iteration of Thailand's political crisis, which pits a largely rural movement against the government, is in its seventh week. There is no end in sight and seemingly no one able to break the deadlock that has seen protesters occupying key areas of Bangkok for weeks. Individuals and institutions, including the monarchy, that once played key mediating roles, are either powerless or silent. Confrontations have so far taken the lives of 26 people and paralyzed central Bangkok, where the protesters, known as the Red Shirts, occupy a square-mile (half-kilometer) of some of the capital's most glamorous shopping areas. Almost everyone agrees that old-fashioned give-and-take is the best way out of the stalemate, which has crippled Thailand's golden tourist industry and shaken investor confidence.

But three rounds of talks have already failed, and the seemingly intractable standoff even has some worrying publicly about the potential for civil war. "Every night, the country is sitting on a time bomb, waiting for chaos to occur," says Surichai Wun-gaeo, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. The latest talks broke down Saturday after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected a Red Shirt proposal that Parliament be dissolved in 30 days, a softening of earlier demands for immediate dissolution to be followed by elections. The Red Shirts consist mainly of rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006. They believe Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power under military pressure through a parliamentary vote after disputed court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.

But what really fuels the protesters, and makes reconciliation difficult, are not legal decisions and political wrangling, but deep-seated anger at a Bangkok-based elite they say treats the rural poor as second-class citizens while it fails to alleviate their poverty. Compromise is hard even for past masters of the art, given the "intensification of polarization" in Thai society, says Surat Horachaikul, another political scientist at Chulalongkorn University. "This time it involves a change of the system. Never before has the nation been polarized this way," he says. Some protest leaders and academics have called into question past compromises, which they say merely involved the hoodwinking of the have-nots by power brokers who made empty promises, suggesting they underscore exactly what's wrong with the system.

"Different people see history differently. Thai society is made to think that we're a compromising people and the Land of Smiles. That's not true," says Chulalongkorn's Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee. Third parties who in the past have helped pull the country back from the edge of chaos have so far played little role in the
crisis. Someone like Anand Panyarachun, a former prime minister and highly regarded peacemaker who warns that Thailand was on the "verge of catastrophe," is seen by the protesters as too close to the power elite.

The much-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, perhaps the pivotal figure in modern Thai history, has been hospitalized since Sept. 19 and remains silent. Last week, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a former prime minister, petitioned the 82-year-old king, saying "I can see that there is no other institution that can stop this except the monarchy." The U.S.-born Bhumibol, the world's longest reigning monarch, stepped in to stop bloodshed during a student uprising in 1973 and again during antimilitary street protests in 1992. Both events lasted just days. Bhumibol's predecessors are credited with cleverly playing Great Britain and France against each other in the 19th century, insuring that Thailand remained a rare exception, a country in the non-Western world that was never colonized.

But Paul Handley, who authored a biography of the king, says that Bhumibol's "health problems may have left him without the energy to hash out a deal personally." The king, he says, has the constitutional right to order a dissolution, but he has never done so without the agreement of the government in power, so it is still the government that must strike a deal with the protesters. "For the king?or the palace to step in publicly, they have to have first crafted a compromise they know will succeed in defusing the situation. If the king makes a public move and it doesn't work, then everyone will see him as weak," says the author of "The King Never Smiles." Still, Handley and others say it is still not too late for a
peaceful resolution since both sides have already agreed that Parliament would be dissolved and have narrowed their disagreements over when this should occur.

Other crises in the past, they note, have been defused through new elections, although the government and its allies presently fear balloting would simply bring pro-Thaksin leaders. That, in turn, could spark fresh demonstrations and possible violence if the legions of anti-Thaksin "Yellow Shirt" protesters, whose mass rallies preceded the 2006 coup and sought the ouster of subsequent pro-Thaksin administrations, including shutting the capital's airports for a week, take to the streets once again.

Some hold out hope for another round of talks. But for the moment, many echo a recent editorial in the English-language Bangkok Post, warning that the opposing camps have "reached a perfect stalemate where neither side can secure an all-out victory without suffering extensive losses. "A concession has to be made by both sides and soon, or the much-feared specter of civil war could become a new reality." The Associated Press By DENIS D. GRAY

Saturday, April 24, 2010

North Korea Seems to Tap an Enigma

SUNGNAM, South Korea — The black-and-white photographs that were published last month in a North Korean newspaper appear no different from other propaganda coming from North Korea: they show the supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, touring a steel plant in a fur cap and his trademark sunglasses.

It is the pudgy but stern-faced young man next to him, dressed in a snappy Western suit and dutifully scribbling in a notebook, who has spurred intense speculation. Could this unidentified man be just a plant manager? Or could this be the first public appearance of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader’s third son and heir apparent?

“There, see how his face is in focus and illuminated even more than Kim Jong-il himself?” said Cheong Seong-chang, a specialist on North Korean politics at the Sejong Institute. “There is a high possibility that this is Kim Jong-un.”

Little is known about the inner workings of the secretive North Korean government, not even the identity of the heir apparent. But if Mr. Cheong is right, the enigmatic photographs are the latest signs of the desperate push that the North Korean government is making to build a cult of personality around the son, who is believed to be 27, to prepare him to assume control as the current leader’s health declines.

The elder Mr. Kim, 68, appeared to suffer a stroke two years ago, and there have been recent reports that he is suffering from kidney disease.

Analysts say that if Mr. Kim dies too soon, his son could be pushed aside in a scramble for power among political and military elites that would end the family’s dynastic rule and might even bring about the collapse of the impoverished totalitarian state.

While this internal struggle is going on, problems continue to mount. A ham-handed currency revaluation last fall, aimed at reasserting central control over the economy, is reported to have badly backfired, producing unrest and disaffection with the government.

At the same time, the spread of cellphones and DVD players has broken the North’s self-imposed isolation, giving many of its citizens a sense for the first time of how poor and backward their country has become.

Recently, the government is said to have given mass promotions and luxury cars to officers in the nation’s powerful military, in a bid to cement their loyalty. Indeed, the sinking last month of a South Korean warship, which many South Koreans now suspect was the work of a North Korean torpedo, is widely seen in the South as a show of strength by the North aimed at winning the military’s support for the younger Mr. Kim.

Despite the breakdown of communications barriers, reliable information on the political system remains scant. Photographs like those that appeared in last month’s Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party’s newspaper, are among the limited evidence that analysts and intelligence experts must rely on as they try to understand the efforts to shore up the Kim dynasty for a third generation.

“This remains Kremlinology,” said Lee Ki-dong, a researcher on North Korea at the Institute for National Strategy, referring to the cold-war-era study of politics in the former Soviet Union. “We have to scrutinize the Rodong Sinmun as if we were looking for nuggets in a gold mine.”

Not much is known about the man who could become the next leader of the unpredictable, nuclear-armed country, even including what he looks like. The only firsthand account comes from a Japanese chef who once worked for the Kim family and knew Kim Jong-un only as a personable and precocious boy. The only known photograph of him was taken when he was 11 years old.

It is also unknown whether Kim Jong-un has any rivals. For a time, North Korea watchers regarded the leader’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, 39, as the most likely heir — until he was caught by Japanese authorities using a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He now lives in Macao, giving occasional paid interviews to Japanese television.

Reports out of North Korea indicate that the government is trying to build a cult of personality around Kim Jong-un, just as it did during the last succession, when the current leader replaced his father, the North’s founder, Kim Il-sung. But while Kim Jong-il is believed to have had two decades as heir before assuming power after his father’s death in 1994, his son is being rolled out much faster.

Moreover, some experts say, the average North Korean is growing worldly and aware of life outside the country’s borders, making it increasingly unlikely that the government’s often bizarre propaganda efforts will succeed.

On Monday, the Daily NK, a Web site that specializes in information on North Korea, said it had obtained an internal propaganda document that called Kim Jong-un the Youth Captain and quoted his father (who has his own title, Dear Leader) praising his loyalty and good works. The documents also extolled the son for such achievements as managing a fireworks display last year in Pyongyang, the capital, and becoming a proficient driver of military vehicles, the Daily NK reported.
“He is a genius of geniuses,” the document says. “He has been endowed by nature with special abilities. There is nobody on the planet who can defeat him in terms of faith, will and courage.”

Mr. Cheong, the analyst, said that members of local North Korean work units and government employees had been taught a new song titled “Footsteps,” which lauds Kim Jong-un’s fitness to follow his father as leader.

Kim Jong-il has been rushing to prepare the ground for his son in other ways, analysts say. They said that wiretaps of North Korean phones by the South’s intelligence agency revealed that the younger Mr. Kim was appointed to a top post in the ruling party’s internal security apparatus last year and that he now worked in the same building as his father.

The analysts have offered many predictions about what may happen when the current leader does die. One is that his brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek, 64, widely seen as the second most powerful member of the inner circle, could serve as a regent until the younger Mr. Kim is ready to rule — or simply hold onto power for himself.
“The signs are that the elite do not take Kim Jong-un seriously,” said Kim Yeon-su, a professor of North Korean studies at the National Defense University in Seoul. “This is the final stage of the Kim family dictatorship.” International Herald Tribune, by Martin Fackler withSu-Hyun Lee reporting from Seoul, South Korea.