Saturday, March 26, 2016

What Australia’s stance on the South China Sea means for Southeast Asia

In the 190-page long document, Canberra pledges to increase capital investment in defence capabilities from the current AU$9.4 billion (US$7.1 billion) to AU$23 billion (US$17.4 billion) in 2025–26. Most of this investment will be channelled to the maritime domain. But what does this investment means for Southeast Asia and the South China Sea?

The 2016 DWP reflects continuity with the two preceding Defence White Papers in two key ways. First, the 2016 DWP reiterates the primacy of maritime strategy emphasised in previous White Papers, with a focus on the sea–air gap along Australia’s north. Maritime capabilities will be central in this enterprise, especially submarines that can provide what the 2016 DWP describes as ‘a strategic advantage in terms of surveillance and protection of our maritime approaches’. Second, the 2016 DWP echoes the previous two White Papers in highlighting ‘maritime Southeast Asia’ as a region that ‘will always have particular significance to [Australia’s] security’.

This emphasis on Southeast Asia is highlighted in the DWP’s list of Australia’s ‘strategic defence interests’. These interests are the security of Australia’s northern approaches and proximate sea lines of communications, a secure nearer region encompassing Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, and a stable Indo-Pacific region with a rules-based global order.

What differentiates the 2016 DWP from the previous ones is its selective emphasis on the South China Sea. While all the strategic defence interests are critical, the 2016 DWP puts great emphasis on the second. According to the 2016 DWP, ‘Australia’s reliance on maritime trade with and through South East Asia means the security of our maritime approaches and trade routes within South East Asia must be protected, as must freedom of navigation’.

Nowhere is freedom of navigation being challenged so close to Australia than in the South China Sea. Although the 2013 DWP called the South China Sea disputes to Australia’s strategic attention, the blunt emphasis of the 2016 DWP is unparalleled: ‘Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea but we are concerned that land reclamation and construction activity by claimants raises tensions in the region’, particularly ‘the unprecedented pace and scale of China’s land reclamation activities’.

Such a robust statement encapsulates the reactionary assertiveness implicit in the 2016 DWP. This new strategic stance may involve Australia conducting military ‘freedom of navigation operations’ in the South China Sea, as well as anticipatory measures against China’s larger military modernisation drives.

Australia’s concerns about China can partly, if not entirely, explain what Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull describes as ‘an historic modernisation’ of Australia’s naval capabilities, including the acquisition of 12 regionally superior submarines, three additional air warfare destroyers and nine new anti-submarine warfare frigates.

That the 2016 DWP elicited a predictably strong criticism from Beijing is not necessarily bad news. A stronger Australia can give Southeast Asia greater leverage vis-à-vis China in the South China Sea disputes. Australia’s strategic interests in Southeast Asia can also create more opportunities for defence cooperation. Regional countries can selectively draw upon Australia’s unique access to US defence technology and intelligence to complement their own military modernisations.

Australia’s bilateral and multilateral defence operations in the region, such as the Five Power Defence Arrangement, may begin to involve more sophisticated exercise scenarios that will benefit its Southeast Asian partners. Australia’s middle power status arguably makes it a politically less sensitive defence partner for Southeast Asia than major powers, such as the United States.

But despite these opportunities, Southeast Asia should also be aware of the associated risks that accompany Australia’s reactionary assertiveness. Given the region’s sensitivity towards the divisive prospect of major power influence, the 2016 DWP begs the question of whether Australia’s strategic policies are chiefly based on their own raison d’etre or are largely a reflection of those of its principal ally, the United States. While the strategic interests of some ASEAN countries may align more closely with Australia’s, ASEAN should remain cautious of being drawn deeper into Sino–American strategic competition, which could potentially undermine its unity.

At the operational level, Australia’s reactionary assertiveness might affect Southeast Asian maritime security with far reaching effects. Sandwiched between Australia and China, Southeast Asia would likely be the first region affected by a miscalculation involving Chinese and Australian maritime forces in the South China Sea. Controlled or orchestrated escalation during freedom of navigation operations is not foolproof.

Regardless of whether the plans of the 2016 DWP are achievable, they are a bellwether of Australia’s future strategic policy. Australia’s assertiveness is not tantamount to greater instability in Southeast Asia but ASEAN should not react idly to Australia’s new strategic direction. Unless Australia’s reactionary assertiveness takes the interests of Southeast Asian states into account, it will remain part of the problem rather than the solution.

Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto is Indonesian Presidential PhD Scholar with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University. He is a former associate research fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


Managing Indonesia’s imprisoned extremists

Those at the heart of the scheme have insisted the new facility will not be a ‘special prison’ but rather ‘a place for intensive counselling for ex-terrorists’. But given the stated aims include preventing the spread of radical views among general prison populations and easing pressure on overcrowded penitentiaries, the impetus for isolation appears to be broader than simply pre-parole preparation.

The underlying dilemma is one that a number of governments are currently pondering: is it better to segregate extremist prisoners or disperse them among the general inmate population?

The first conscious decision to disperse terrorist prisoners came in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, in response to the Irish Republican Army’s penitentiary power base within the notorious Maze Prison in Belfast. Today, unmanageable inmates — both extremists and otherwise — are routinely shifted between eight dispersal prisons in order to avoid the entrenchment of problems and the development of undesirable relationships.

Preventing the concentration of prisoners with similar extremist worldviews may mitigate the chance of ideologies becoming further internalised. Proponents also argue that interaction with group outsiders can promote social inclusion among extremists. Valuable intelligence may be collected from the close observation of these dynamics.

But there is an obvious problem associated with integrating persuasive radicals and naïve delinquents under the same roof. The unstructured nature of the global jihadist movement, and its combination of anti-establishment rhetoric with an ostensibly pious religious framework, means it is generally open to anyone. The global jihadist movement is potentially attractive to angry young criminals seeking both redemption and the protection of a prison gang.

Spain has recognised the danger of inmate recruitment. While the government maintains a dispersal policy for imprisoned ethno-nationalist Basque separatists, jihadi extremists are largely segregated from the general prison population. The UK is also revisiting the utility of dispersal. Is the strategic separation of imprisoned extremists a better option?

The United States houses the majority of its extremist prisoners in two relatively new maximum security facilities called Communication Management Units. As the name suggests, these specialised prisons allow for total control and surveillance of inmates’ interactions. Security is the absolute priority and the reportedly repressive environments are not ideally conducive to rehabilitation initiatives. Although the US approach does not involve total segregation of extremist prisoners, the two facilities are often referred to as ‘Guantanamo North’.

Obstacles to rehabilitation are a key problem with the segregation model. US Vice President Joe Biden once called the Guantanamo Bay prison complex ‘the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting terrorists around the world’. While other cases of extremist prisoners being segregated are not logically equivalent, memories of Guantanamo scandals and the Abu Ghraib atrocity mean that any remotely comparable facility risks being painted with the same brush.

France appears to be seeking to avoid this problem by creating designated wings for extremists in established prisons. Two were completed in January 2016 and the government plans to have five up and running by the end of March. The specialised wings will differ from the US model in that rehabilitation — or so-called de-radicalisation efforts — will be the focus, with dozens of counsellors and psychologists recruited to work towards positive change.

An interesting example of a mixed approach is Denmark. Instead of opting for outright segregation, the Danish authorities have decided to remove prisoners they believe are vulnerable to influence while maintaining interactions between extremists and inmates deemed resistant. Given the right conditions and context, this could well be a promising strategy.

So how do Indonesia’s proposed changes measure up?

Authorities in Indonesia are well aware of the dispersal–segregation dilemma. The head of the BNPT’s de-radicalisation division, Dr Irfan Idris, has been quoted in the media summarising the drawbacks of each approach. There have been reported cases of prisoners and even guards succumbing to the influence of charismatic extremists behind bars in Indonesia. Yet authorities are concerned that a segregation model would allow militants to close ranks, as witnessed in Belfast’s Maze Prison.

The specialised centre in Sentul was close to realisation in 2014, when a memorandum of understanding was signed between the BNPT and the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to begin transferring prisoners. But a subsequent visit by the then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono scuppered the plans, as the former leader expressed apprehension about the facility’s proximity to the capital.

Yudhoyono also warned that the centre ‘must not be like Guantanamo’. The fact that proponents have claimed the current scheme merely amounts to a counselling facility for ‘ex-terrorists’ appears to be aimed at extenuating this type of attribution. The newly appointed head of the BNPT, Inspector General Tito Karnavian, has stated that prevention and rehabilitation are the agency’s primary functions.

If the Sentul plan goes ahead and is well managed, it could provide a long-awaited opportunity to establish a robust disengagement program in Indonesia, while avoiding the problem of general inmate radicalisation. The de-radicalisation facility needs to balance the internal challenge of preventing undesired unity among extremists and the external one of placating public perceptions. But the potential benefits outweigh the possible risks.

Cameron Sumpter is a Senior Analyst at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

This article was first published by RSIS.


Dictator’s Family - The return of the Marcoses

            A myriad of Marcoses; from left, Imelda, Bongbong and Imee; all politicians.

The Philippines is known for dismissing despots. But ahead of this year’s presidential election Mong Palatino asks why there is still so much love for the family of a former dictator. 

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines like a dictator for two decades until he was ousted by the ‘People Power’ uprising in 1986. Three decades later, his wife and children hold elected positions in government. Now, his eldest son and namesake is running for vice president.

Many people ask, especially international observers, how did the Marcoses achieve a political comeback in a nation known for deposing corrupt despots?

The Marcos family went into exile in Hawaii in 1986, but their friends, allies, cronies, and subordinates remained in the Philippines and weren’t held accountable for their criminal complicity in implementing the brutal policies of the martial law regime.

Joker Arroyo, the executive secretary of President Cory Aquino who replaced Marcos, noted that the persons who visited the presidential palace to lobby and socialise with the stalwarts of the new ruling party were also Marcos minions. As he told Sunday Inquirer Magazine in 1992

When I was still in the Guest House, I asked for the logs which listed those who had visited President Marcos. I compared them with those visiting President Aquino. They were the same people – they came from the same companies, shared the same business views, the same mindset, and they went to the same parties.

That the Marcoses were able to run for public office again reflects the failure of successive post-1986 regimes to decisively prosecute and arrest those responsible for committing atrocious human rights violations and the plundering of the nation’s wealth. Compared to other notorious dictators of the 1970s, such as Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina, Marcos was never indicted with criminal charges and his heirs didn’t spend a single day in prison.

Five presidents (including two Aquinos; the incumbent president is the son of Cory Aquino) were unable to recover most of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth. Imelda, wife of the late dictator and she of the shoes, is one of the richest members of Congress.

If Filipinos mistakenly assume that life during Martial Law was better then part of the blame goes to the post-Marcos governments that restored democratic institutions on one hand but refused to dismantle the rule of oligarchs on the other. Cory, whose family owns one of the largest agricultural estates in the country, passed a land reform law which has several loopholes that allowed landlords to retain control of their vast landholdings.

There were high expectations that People Power would lead to the improvement of the lives of most Filipinos. But post-Marcos governments have fundamentally failed to address poverty, inequality, and corruption. A mere 15 years after the uprising, another president was ousted from power because of corruption.

With post-Marcos leaders turning out to be inferior copies of the original dictator, the Marcoses started winning elections. Imelda became a congresswoman in 1995, and her two children won as governor and congresswoman in 1998. Twelve years later, Bongbong Marcos became a senator of the Republic.

We could interpret Filipinos’ nostalgia for the martial law years as an expression of disgust against those who succeeded Marcos. When some praise the strongman tactics of Marcos, it is commonly described as a desperate longing for peace, stability, and discipline in society. It could also be an indirect condemnation of the incompetent governance of the post-Marcos regimes.

That Bongbong Marcos is leading in some polls, despite the anti-Marcos rhetoric of no less than the incumbent president, is a sign that a segment of the population is seeking to hit back at the ruling party by voting against its sworn enemy. Amid the deteriorating quality of life in the country, despite contrary claims of the government, the high rating of Bongbong should be linked to the growing frustration of many voters to the callousness of some government leaders.

It doesn’t help that the present generation of first- time voters have little or no knowledge of the dark days of Martial Law. Young Filipinos didn’t experience the loss of democracy and civil liberties during the Marcos years. The Philippines doesn’t have a law which makes it a crime to deny that human rights violations were rampant during the reign of Marcos.

It is not simply enough to ask why the Marcoses are back in the political limelight. Equally important is to probe the shameful lack of political will of the post-Marcos governments when it comes to seeking justice, and accountability for the horrors of Martial Law.

The truth is that even if Marcos is the epitome of an evil leader, his sins are not that much different from those committed by his successors in government. Both Marcos and regimes that followed him are liable for perpetuating a deeply flawed, elitist and corrupt political system. Bongbong continues to be unrepentant about the excesses of Martial Law in the same way politicians today are unapologetic for administering an inefficient and unjust political system.

Forgetting the sins of Marcos is unpardonable; but the greater crime is the refusal to put an end to a system of governance designed for the exclusive benefit of big landlords, political dynasties, and business cronies of political parties in power.

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the Southeast Asia editor of Global Voices, a social media platform. 


Philippines – General MacArthur said they would return. Now they have. Again

Twenty-five years after the United States pulled its military out of the huge Subic Bay naval base and Clark Air Force Base amid anti-American sentiment, the US has returned to the Philippines with the biggest presence for decades as it seeks to counter Chinese influence and to defend a Filipino military that is clearly not capable of defending itself against the Chinese.

Rearming under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is being hurried along in the wake of the Philippine Supreme Court’s ratification in mid-January because of the need to get the bases operational before President Benigno S. Aquino leaves office at the end of June.  All of the presidential candidates except perhaps for Manuel A. Roxas are considered unknown quantities in terms of continuation of the Aquino government’s policies.  

EDCA, as the pact is known, is vulnerable to changes and cancellation, partly because Aquino bypassed the Senate to complete the agreement through executive order. Since the pact was created by executive order, it could be undone by executive agreement on the part of the incoming president.  

That may well be unlikely, given the current state of affairs, with the Chinese encroaching almost to the Philippine doorstep with the bases it is creating in the South China Sea. Nonetheless, the prevailing wisdom is that if the US-Filipino bases are operational, it would be unlikely for the incoming president to decommission them.

Accordingly, on March 19, officials of both countries told the media five Philippine bases are to be developed for dual-country use under EDCA, which was signed in April of 2014 but was held up by opponents in the courts.

China immediately objected to the announcement of the enhanced military presence, charging it was unnecessarily provocative and aimed at undermining China’s rightful ownership to the entire sea. “By collaborating to confront China politically and militarily, the United States and its allies may be thinking they can undermine the external environment of Chin and slow down its peaceful development,” Beijing charged in an editorial in the state-owned Xinhua news agency.

The bases include four Air Force facilities and the country’s largest army base, Fort Magsaysay, primarily a training area whose facilities include airborne and amphibious training, jungle survival and guerrilla warfare. US forces already use a small part of the reservation to store weaponry and equipment needed for annual Balikatan exercises with the Philippine military.  

Others are the Lumbia airport in Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao Island, which will be converted into a US storage depot for disaster relief equipment, the Mactan-Benito Ebuen air base, which shares a 10,000-foot runway with the Mactan-Cebu international airport, and bases on Palawan, near where the Chinese military has continued its construction activities around Scarborough Shoal.

The US left the Philippines in 1992 over a rent agreement, ending a military presence that began when Spain ceded the islands to the United States in 1898 although it was interrupted by World War II. The US re-landed with General Douglas MacArthur and remained there for decades. It was from the Philippines that the US ran much of its military operations during the Cold War and the hot one in Vietnam as well.  The 60,000 acre Subic Naval Base – as big as the entire island of Singapore – was the Navy’s principal supply and ship-repair installation in the region, most of which was shifted to Guam and Singapore. Asia Times


Friday, March 25, 2016

How Indonesia should settle the score with China

Alarmist is when you overestimate a strategic risk. Conversely, underestimating that risk is naïve. A sound strategic analysis always falls between these two extremes. It’s about maintaining a delicate balance between appreciating and courting danger.

The latest incident between China and Indonesia near Natuna Islands incurs the risk of underestimating Indonesia’s strategic impotence against Beijing’s growing maritime assertiveness.

When China published its so-called nine-dash or U-shaped line map of the South China Sea in August 1993 (and again in 2009), Jakarta might have assumed that Beijing would somehow compromise for the sake of bilateral relations by excluding Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The fact that China has never clarified what the U-shaped line means led Indonesia to easily dismiss China’s claims. Indeed, Indonesia has consistently rejected the U-shaped line map since; in the words of former foreign minister Ali Alatas, it’s only “an illustrative and not a real map” and thus rightly insists that Indonesia is a “non-claimant” state in the South China Sea disputes. Beijing, on the other hand, reassures Jakarta that it has no claims over Natuna Islands, yet remains ambiguous on the purported overlap between the U-shaped line and Indonesia’s EEZ.

Downplaying the significance of the U-shaped line has thus been Indonesia’s main approach toward China, while offering the self-proclaimed role of an “honest broker” among the claimants. As a result, the U-shaped line did not prevent Indonesia and China from developing their ties into a strategic partnership in 2005, which was elevated into a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2013.Closer ties with China might have given Indonesia a false hope in China’s “peaceful rise” narrative, sweetened by promises of economic and other cooperation, including the recent China-funded high-speed railway project. In return, China might have hoped Indonesia would become more lenient in its rejection of the U-shaped line. China has asked Indonesia not to make their whole bilateral ties hostage to the latest incident. But any amicable inter-state relationship is founded on one sacrosanct principle that everything else stems from: respect for sovereignty.

True, Indonesia has maritime disputes with other countries as well, but the intimidating and coercive nature by which China imposes its claims is unparalleled. Without such respect, there’s no relationship, but a subjugation of one country by another. No sovereign country will accept this. Nor will China.

Indeed, closer bilateral ties haven’t amounted to a softening in China’s attitude on enforcing the U-shaped line in Natuna Islands. On the contrary, maritime incidents involving China in the area have been recurring, with the last one being the most escalatory.

Clearly, China’s ambiguity on the U-shaped line is more declaratory than actual. Notwithstanding this ambiguity, the latest incident suggests that the line could stretch as far south as Beijing wishes. Indonesia should see this as a tipping point, where it must recalibrate its approach toward China. The first step to solving a problem is to admit there is one. Perhaps to the chagrin of maritime lawyers, the latest incident demonstrates that the South China Sea dispute isn’t just a legal question. Rather, it’s a strategic question at heart and will remain so for the foreseeable future, which demands a strategic answer. No longer can Indonesia downplay the U-shaped line and assume it’s bereft of strategic risks. Indonesia must craft alternative ways to check Beijing’s maritime assertiveness beyond the usual bilateral diplomatic protests. First, escalate Indonesia’s rhetoric by demanding from China a formal public apology for the recent incident and a promise it won’t recur. If need be, make this apology a requirement for the release of the eight Chinese fishermen of the Kway Fey.

China would predictably reject issuing such an apology, which implies that similar incidents will happen again. But, no worries, this will build an even stronger case for Indonesia to accelerate expanding naval and maritime law enforcement in Natuna Islands. Second, be more vocal in rejecting the U-shaped line whenever and wherever circumstances allow. Indonesia can use a harsher diplomatic tone against China in ASEAN forums and endorse the views of ASEAN claimants with much less hesitation insofar as they’re aligned with Indonesia’s. Convince Beijing that ASEAN is where Indonesian diplomacy can hurt China the most. Third, don’t back off when China threatens to blackmail Indonesia economically (such as cancelling and postponing investment pledges, or downgrading trade). Play other cards, such as Japan, India, Australia and the US, to convince China that it has more to lose when downgrading economic relations with Indonesia. Remember, Indonesia’s isn’t alone in this predicament.

Fourth, deepen cooperation with like-minded partners equally wary of China’s intentions in the South China Sea. Enhance regular maritime military exercises with the US and include the Air Force participation; invite military officers from Australia, Japan and ASEAN countries as observers, and if need be, involve them selectively as third parties; and increase civilian maritime law enforcement patrols in Natuna Islands, such as by the fisheries ministry and the new Maritime Security Board (Bakamla).In the meantime, review all bilateral security and maritime agreements with China and make their implementation contingent on China’s unqualified recognition over Indonesia’s maritime boundary and sovereign rights in Natuna Islands. Fifth, accelerate the upgrading of Natuna’s Ranai airbase and naval bases to accommodate greater naval and air force presence for combat and surveillance purposes and their supporting infrastructure, particularly radars. When money is scarce, explore opportunities for international assistance. An expanded version of the US-funded Integrated Maritime Surveillance System (IMSS) along the Malacca and Makassar Straits could be a model.Finally, make sure when doing the above steps it remains on Indonesian terms.

Prove that Indonesia isn’t strategically inept a nation.

The writer is a presidential PhD scholar with the Strategic and Defense Studies Center, Australian National University


The “Great Mosque of Brussels” near to the blasts that rocked Brussels and the EU Parliament was owned outright by the Saudis but gifted to Belgium, and designed to be an Islamic stronghold in Europe, in return for cheap oil... with a few very nasty strings attached.

It came with a 99 year lease and the Saudis were to have complete carte blanche of the operation of the mosque and all Imams were to be supplied by the Saudis who preached a hard line form of Sunni Shariah law known as Salafism, a form of Jihadist teaching involving the worst of all Sunni extreme principles.

Last summer brought a dark chapter of the mosque's history to light -- one that strongly contradicted the official version of mosque leaders who claimed, as they always do, that they were engaged in fostering peace and understanding among all peoples.

In April of 2012, the Saudi ambassador was informed that the Belgian Government had a serious problem with the teachings of mosque director, Khalid Alabri.

"His sermons were Salafist, anti-Israel and anti-West. The guiding principle was the teaching of Salafism above all else," said a witness who spoke with Belgian television station RTBF. “Alabri's sermons were so extreme that they even crossed the Belgians' generously drawn conditions”.

Alabri was quietly removed from his post. All too late for the citizens of cosmopolitan Brussels.

The Belgian Government has been at pains not to upset the House of Saud because of the financial benefit of cheap oil, so still the Saudi Imams are free to preach extremes of Jihad and Shariah law against the West.

While the Belgian Government has been reluctant to take on the Saudi landlords, the radical Muslims in Brussels have all the while been encouraged via The Great Mosque’s preachers to conduct the most radical of Islamic extremism against the West, similar to that witnessed recently in Brussels and Paris.

Belgian journalist and terrorism expert Claude Moniquet wrote that Belgium's particularly liberal interpretation of freedom of speech has led the State to be overly tolerant of radical teachings for decades.

The French language daily newspaper "Libération" quoted Islam expert Michel Privot of the European Network Against Racism: "Salafist sentiments are now solidly anchored in the minds of Muslims in the Belgian capital." The phenomenon, he says, can be traced back to Saudi Arabia's missionary zeal in Brussels. "Belgian authorities have been playing with fire for 30 years."

The House of Saud has accelerated its spread of extreme Wahaabism wherever it has been allowed to build mosques on foreign soil. It has had a financial hand in most mosques proposed, or mosques already operating, in Australia and Northern Pakistan where suicide bombers kill hundreds regularly.  

The Taliban were educated and given scholarships in mosque/schools by the same Imams of the Great Mosque of Brussels and they spread over to Afghanistan with devastating results.

Saudi finance for foreign mosques is raised primarily through the halal certification scam which it boasts is a trillion dollar business and growing.

The Taliban's Pashtun “culture”, straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan was said to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia Islamic law, once in power.

Both countries support ISIS and Islamic punishments such as public executions of murderers and adulterers, amputations of those found guilty of theft and it forbids girls aged ten and over from going to school, replicating the Saudi’s own infamous Chop Chop Square on each Friday after prayers.

The Saudis, who manage and manipulate OPEC, have lately been softening up the West with low oil prices caused by overproduction designed to make US exploration uneconomic. It has been hugely successful. During this time the House of Saud has been contributing tens of millions to the Clinton Foundation in the same way that Julia Gillard did.

Inexplicably President Obama still claims the Saudis to be allies of the West and that Israel should not be trusted.

Each time we suffer the scourge of extreme Islamic Jihadism it’s difficult not to believe we thoroughly deserve it.  

The Pickering Post Four-time Walkley Award winning political commentator and Churchill Fellow, has returned to the fray over concern that the integrity of news dissemination is continually being threatened by a partisan media.

A delicate Philippines dice roll, slow dancing in Thailand

Philippines stocks, down 5% on the MSCI index through February, were further roiled by the alleged involvement of casino operators in the Bangladesh central bank hacking caper. Investors also are hedging bets as they try to handicap the roller-coaster May presidential race to succeed the anti-corruption incumbent Benigno Aquino.

Aquino’s favored candidate, Manuel “Mar” Rojas, is another scion of a family dynasty and has vowed to follow Aquino’s “straight path,” but remains aloof from average voters. The other contestants include the former Mayors of Makati, the business district which houses the stock exchange, and Davao in the southern islands which fought a Muslim insurgency.

A crowd favorite has been independent Senator Grace Poe, the adopted daughter of a film star initially disqualified on citizenship and residency grounds before the Supreme Court reversed the decision. She supported the outgoing administration’s economic direction, which has paced ASEAN with steady 5-6% growth, but detailed anti-poverty and competitiveness platforms have yet to be outlined by the campaigns as the race again hinges predominantly on personality. The silence comes at a sensitive juncture when domestic demand and remittances that served as bulwarks of good performance may be slipping, and future infrastructure development and transparency are open to question as continuing administration priorities.

Consumer sentiment wavering

Despite an oversubscribed $2 billion 25-year external bond yielding just over 3.5% in February for the investment-grade rated country, election-related uncertainty may be taking a toll on consumer sentiment, as reflected in slowing car sales. Inflation has been below the 2% target, but food prices have picked up and the central bank is on alert and may tighten monetary policy, especially if energy costs also rise.

The current account surplus may decline 1% to 1.5% of GDP this year on weaker remittance and business process outsourcing earnings. Overseas worker funds, which account for 8.5% of GDP, were flat through end-2015 with China-related regional tumult and the elimination of low-wage services employment in the oil-pressured Persian Gulf. Information technology may have plateaued at $15 billion in revenue as companies look for cheaper Indochina destinations despite the Philippines’ English-language advantage. Current account inflows have recently offset direct and portfolio investment outflows on the capital account, which has further deteriorated with estimated resident money flight over $500 million in 2015. Peso depreciation was not as severe as neighboring currencies against the dollar last year, but could re-accelerate with this backdrop.

The stock market has been expensive at a 15 price-earnings ratio, and casino listings were shunned before the Bangladesh Bank episode with Beijing’s corruption crackdown deterring Chinese visitors. Banks are another important category and have been hurt by the reports on lax money laundering practice which allowed the stolen funds to move through branches.

A regulatory framework does not yet exist for Islamic-style sukuk financing, even though agriculture and property companies based in Mindanao especially issue such bonds inviting borrower and investor disputes. Public-private partnerships, as the Aquino government’s chief infrastructure-building technique, have also been unclear, and resulted in sponsor misunderstanding and pullout. Big spending plans by the current presidential contenders may also endanger the fiscal space needed for project support, and again worsen deficit and public debt levels that the IMF described as under control in its February Article IV report.


Thailand has pursued this route under the army regime, with government outlays up 20% in the last quarter of 2015 for construction and tax incentives, and the stock market sizzled in the aftermath with an MSCI Index gain of almost 10% through February. However, underlying economic growth is only half the Philippines at 3%, with sluggish exports and capital outflows despite a 2016 jump in tourist arrivals to strengthen the baht. With consumer debt at 90% of GDP, bank non-performing loans may spike as the junta tackles the legacy of the Yingluck administration’s auto and housing credit binge. The former prime minister still faces criminal prosecution for abuse of office, and another constitutional draft was floated with elections not on the short-term horizon, as both countries gamble on new leadership with high fiscal stakes with foreign investors mostly sidelined as spectators.

Gary N. Kleiman is an emerging markets specialist who runs Kleiman International in Washington, D.C.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Will Indonesia’s South China Sea Policy Change Amid China’s Assertiveness?

A closer look at how Jakarta’s approach might (and might not) shift.

This week, a Chinese coast guard ship once again attempted to intercept an Indonesian crackdown on a Chinese boat for illegal fishing, sparking unprecedented outrage from Jakarta (See: “China’s Maritime Confrontation With Indonesia Is Not New”).

The incident has predictably led to a chorus of voices calling for a reexamination of Indonesia’s South China Sea policy under its president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. While more leadership from Jakarta on this issue would certainly be desirable and one certainly should not rule out a shift, there are also good reasons to expect that the country will continue to recalibrate its current approach to the South China Sea rather than depart significantly from it.

Though Indonesia is technically not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, it is an interested party. Most obviously, China’s nine-dash line overlaps with the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the resource-rich Natuna Islands, a point that has long miffed Jakarta. But Indonesia has broader interests too, including preserving its much-prized foreign policy autonomy by ensuring the South China Sea issue does not negatively affect its relationship with Washington and Beijing, safeguarding regional stability, as well as upholding international law – including the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the world’s largest archipelagic state.

To preserve these interests, Indonesia has pursued an approach to the South China Sea since 1990 which I’ve termed a ‘delicate equilibrium’ – seeking to both cautiously engage China diplomatically on the issue and enmeshing Beijing and other actors within regional institutions (a softer edge of its approach, if you will) while at the same time pursuing a range of security, legal and economic measures designed to protect its own interests (a harder edge). While growing Chinese assertiveness since 2009 had made it more difficult for Indonesia to continue to walk this tightrope during the second term of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, this approach nonetheless endured. And even though the Jokowi administration has sent confusing signals about its South China Sea policy thus far and has recalibrated it somewhat – most notably in its relative lack of focus on enmeshment within regional institutions – other components of the ‘delicate equilibrium’ including engagement and balancing continue to be pursued, arguably even more intensely.

The incident this week, where a Chinese coast guard vessel rammed a Chinese fishing vessel in tow by an Indonesian law enforcement vessel, is an escalation of similar ones witnessed in the past rather than a new development per se. Yet Indonesia’s unprecedented outrage at the first such high-profile incident under Jokowi – a stark contrast to previous efforts to downplay such incidents – has been quite striking. That in turn has led to another round of speculation as to whether we could see a change in Indonesia’s South China Sea approach. While one should not rule out such a dramatic shift, there are several reasons why we are more likely to see a recalibration of Jakarta’s current policy rather than a radical departure.

First, Indonesia’s approach is rooted in enduring realities that have not changed with the current incident. For instance, though some have been quick to criticize the country’s continued adherence to its role as an ‘honest broker’ as opposed to taking a stronger regional role, this tendency is partly rooted in the country’s foreign policy tradition as well as its complex position on the South China Sea issue. As I have noted before, Indonesia has been reluctant to embroil itself in major power contests, and the case of U.S.-China differences on the South China Sea question – including freedom of navigation operations – is no exception (See: “What’s Behind Indonesia’s South China Sea Rhetoric Amid US-China Tensions?”). Jakarta’s desire to not engage more actively is also partly due to a lingering fear that it would only legitimize Beijing’s claims that would undermine Indonesian interests (as Indonesia’s former foreign minister Ali Alatas famously put it, “the repetition of an untruth will ultimately make it appear as truth”).

And despite Jakarta’s oft-cited geopolitical heft, as I’ve detailed extensively elsewhere, its capabilities in the maritime realm are in fact still quite modest, thereby limiting its options and complicating the adoption of a tougher approach towards Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. In part due to years of underspending on defense, even Indonesian officials admit that the country is unable to perform basic functions such as fully patrolling the world’s second-longest coastline (See: “Between Aspiration and Reality: Indonesian Foreign Policy After the 2014 Elections”). Though notable efforts are underway under Jokowi to boost the country’s capabilities, including the long-delayed creation of a coast guard – they begin from a low base and face significant challenges (See: “Indonesia’s Maritime Ambition: Can Jokowi Realize It?”).

Second, at least thus far, Jokowi’s foreign policy priorities seem to fit well with Indonesia’s current South China Sea approach, thereby making a radical departure improbable. While there is a tendency to overstate Indonesia’s growing engagement of China under Jokowi, there is little question that he has embraced Beijing economically because he senses a role for it to help him achieve his domestic priorities including infrastructure development (See: “China and Indonesia Under Jokowi: Show Me The Money”). If he perceives that this priority would be harmed by further antagonizing Beijing, it would limit his ability to shift Indonesia’s approach.

More fundamentally, from what we have seen so far, the Jokowi’s administration appears to be focusing more narrowly on executing its war against illegal fishing – an issue which involves several of its neighbors in addition to China – rather than pushing the envelope on the broader South China Sea question where its fight is with Beijing alone (See: Explaining Indonesia’s ‘Sink the Vessels’ Policy Under Jokowi”). To be sure, these two concerns do overlap, as they did with this week’s incident as well as the first sinking of a Chinese vessel last year after much deliberation (See: “Indonesia Sinks First Vessel from China Under Jokowi”). But the broader point is that beyond rhetoric, the Jokowi administration has been rather unwilling to take on China unless it is part of a broader problem involving other countries as well, and even so, it has done so with great caution. That does not sound like a government that would suddenly seek to dramatically shift its South China Sea policy in response to a single incident.

But while we are unlikely to see an abandonment of Indonesia’s ‘delicate equilibrium’ approach in the South China Sea, we may see a recalibration of it or an intensification of certain individual components. For instance, on the harder edge of its South China Sea approach, Indonesia’s deputy navy chief Arie Henrycus Sembiring has already said that the navy would send bigger vessels to back up its patrol boats. We may see other moves as well, including a faster buildup of Indonesian capabilities near the Natunas which has already been ongoing under the Jokowi administration (See: “A New Indonesia Military Boost Near the South China Sea?”). Some of the other suggestions, including one from Indonesia’s fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti that Jakarta may take the issue to an international tribunal, are more curious (that move would only legitimize China’s claim, and with little effect since the Philippines is already challenging Beijing’s claims) (See: “Does the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Really Matter?“).

Indeed, that is arguably the reason why Indonesia’s South China Sea approach has persisted for so long and is more likely to endure than not: its hard and soft edges as well as four components allow for flexibility and recalibration without having to fashion a whole new approach altogether.

Why The Sino-Indian Great Game Extends To Iran – Analysis

Twenty-first century India and China are looking beyond their disputed state frontiers and competing to build road and rail links, or oil and gas pipelines, in foreign countries, and to keep a watchful eye on international sea routes. The lifting of international sanctions against Iran last January raised the curtain over the complex and expanding Sino-Indian great game in Asia.

Home to the world’s second largest gas reserves and one seventh of its oil, Iran, a West Asian power with a population of 80 million, has much to offer energy-hungry India and China. As it recovers from the adverse effects of several years of American-led economic sanctions, Iran welcomes foreign investment, technological support and infrastructure upgrades from India and China to sustain its economic revival.

Why is India thinking west – to Iran?

To counter its archrival China economically and politically, India is already “Acting East” by strengthening economic and defense ties with East Asian countries. A more recent concept, as S. Jaishankar, India’s Foreign Secretary, told a conference in New Delhi in early March, is that of “Thinking West.” ‘Normalization of the situation in Iran is particularly welcome’, he said. That underlined the construction by India of the Chabahar port in south-eastern Iran and strengthening trading ties with Iran.

The significance of the Chabahar project should not be underestimated, for India has not started any comparable ventures in Southeast Asia. Sino-Indian competition in the Arabian Sea has sharpened since 2013, when Pakistan gave China control over Gwadar port. China now has a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf and can monitor Indian and American maritime and naval activity in those international waters.

While India intends to use Chabahar primarily for commercial purposes its interest in constructing the port mirrors its wish to counter China’s strategic vantage point in Gwadar.

Chabahar and Gwadar now symbolize the Sino-Indian rivalry in the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
Wanting to increase Iranian energy imports and involved with several projects in Iran, India hopes to make Chabahar fully operative by the end of this year. In May 2015 India and Iran signed a Memorandum of Understanding for India to construct the strategically important port which would pave the way for India to gain access by land and sea to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

India’s development of Chabahar suits Iran. Tehran’s fears that China’s Gwadar project would weaken Iran’s position as the entrance to Central Asia prompted it to develop Chabahar with India’s help.

The interest in Iranian energy shows why India accords great importance to economic and strategic connectivity. The fully functional Chabahar port would help New Delhi to ignore Islamabad’s refusal to grant India and Afghanistan transit facilities through Pakistan. This absence of transit rights is the main barrier to India’s trade, energy flows and economic ties with Afghanistan and Iran – and more generally to West and Central Asia. To cross this barrier India wants to build a road running from Chabahar via Afghanistan to Central Asia. This Iran-Afghanistan route could help India to improve access to energy-rich Central Asian countries.

Eventually India envisages that Chabahar could be linked through rail and road networks to the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a multinational project started in 2000 by India, Iran and Russia. But the INSTC needs to be developed if it is to fulfill New Delhi’s hope that it will become the shortest and most economical route from India through Iran and Afghanistan to Central Asia and Europe. Transport costs and freight time from India to Central Asia could be cut by about a third via Chabahar. The port would also provide India with a transit route to Afghanistan. And it would give landlocked Afghanistan an outlet to the sea – an outcome that is favored by the U.S., which was once determined to isolate Iran. India sees its Chabahar project as a potential game changer in West and Central Asia, running parallel to China’s East-West Silk Road.

But China has a head start in Iran. Unlike India, China defied US nuclear sanctions on Iran and bought nearly half of its oil exports. Beijing’s courtship of Tehran saved Iran from international pariah status. That courtship enabled Chinese firms to occupy the space vacated by Western companies that had grown nervous about international pressure on Tehran. China gained uncontested access to Iran’s energy resources.

So when the US and other permanent members of the UN Security Council reached, in April 2015, a preliminary agreement to end sanctions on Iran, China was Iran’s largest trading partner. Bilateral Sino-Iranian trade stood at around $ 50 billion. In contrast, trade between Iran and India amounted to a mere $ 13.13 billion in 2014-15.

India faces tough competition from China in Iran. Beijing’s offer to Tehran last November to develop Chabahar – six months after the signing of the Indo-Iranian MOU – shows that China remains keen to outflank India in Iran.

China’s construction of the economic corridor (CPEC) with its ally Pakistan is one reflection of its wish to enhance its strategic and economic competitiveness in Iran. That worries India, partly because CPEC passes through the contested territory of Pakistani Kashmir, which was the launch pad for recent Chinese intrusions into Indian territory. China has invested $ 46 billion in CPEC. Some of this money is being used to build a new pipeline which starts from the South Pars gas field in Iran. When completed, this pipeline would extend to Multan in Pakistan. The pipeline could help Pakistan to reduce its crippling energy shortages. Most of the 1172 km-long pipeline will run through Iran, which has already completed the pipeline on its side of the border with Pakistan. The Pakistani section of the pipeline remains to be built– so China’s investment in the pipeline will enhance its prestige in Tehran. For Iran is interested in extending this pipeline to China.


India faces an uphill climb as it tries to outmaneuver China in Iran. But India’s determination to upgrade ties with Iran and develop Chabahar with a view to strengthening its ties/connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asian countries highlights the expanding parameters of the Sino-Indian great game in the rest of Asia.

About the author:
*Anita Inder Singh is a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi.
Anita Inder Singh, a Swedish citizen, is Visiting Professor at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi. Her books include Democracy, Ethnic Diversity and Security in Post-Communist Europe (Praeger, USA, 2001) ; her Oxford doctoral thesis, The Origins of the Partition of India, 1936-1947 (Oxford University Press [OUP], several editions since 1987, published in a special omnibus comprising the four classic works on the Partition by OUP (2002, paperback: 2004) The Limits of British Influence: South Asia and the Anglo-American Relationship 1947-56 (Macmillan, London, and St Martin’s Press, New York, 1993), and The United States, South Asia and the Global Anti-Terrorist Coalition (2006). Her articles have been published in The World Today, (many on nationalism, security and democracy were published in this magazine) International Affairs, (both Chatham House, London) the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Nikkei Asian Review and The Diplomat. She has been a Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC and has taught international relations at Oxford and the LSE.

Anita Inder Singh has written for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Her interests include nationalism/security/diversity/integration in Europe and South Asia, democracy, governance, international organizations, and development and security.

BALI The battle over a controversial land reclamation project in Bali is reaching crisis point


A protest in the Bali capital Denpasar. Initially driven by young people, the anti-reclamation movement has now gone mainstream, with 28 village officially opposing the Benoa Bay tourism development project. Photograph: Putu Sayoga

On Sunday, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered at a major roundabout close to the reclamation site. They represent a protest movement on a scale not seen in Bali for decades. The Bali Forum Against Reclamation (ForBali) unites young people, politicians, rock stars, academic and religious institutions, environmentalists and 28 villages, including all 14 in the area earmarked for reclamation.

The developer, Tirta Wahana Bali International (TWBI), plans to build artificial islands that would take up almost half of Benoa Bay in south Bali – an area that had enjoyed conservation status until former president Susilo Bambang Yudhyono issued a decree in 2014 shortly before leaving office, which turned it into a zone for ‘revitalisation.’ Indonesia’s Minister for Forestry & Environment, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, must now decide whether or not to approve the EIA in the face of escalating opposition.

TWBI’s idea of revitalisation is a $3 billion luxury resort development across four new islands, including villas and apartments, a retail district, a marina and even a cultural theme park. TWBI describes Nusa Benoa as an entirely new destination that will bring additional jobs, clear waste and cause minimal impact to the environment. Yet Benoa Bay sits in the heart of south Bali, sandwiched between the resort districts of Sanur, Kuta and Nusa Dua, where most of the island’s tourism - and wealth - is already concentrated.

An increasing number of critics are calling out TWBI on a range of social, environmental and cultural issues. Ketut Sarjana Putra, Indonesia director of US environmental NGO Conservation International (CI), says the new islands would cause flooding on a massive scale. “We already have issues with flooding – that excess water eventually goes out into Benoa Bay, but what happens if the Bay’s capacity is reduced by 700ha?” he asks. According to CI modelling, the flushing capacity of the bay simply won’t be enough.

This isn’t the first land reclamation project in Bali – back in 1994, then President Suharto’s sons Tommy Suharto and Bambang Trihatmojo quadrupled the size of an offshore island called Serangan for a proposed tourism development that never materialised. Instead, nearby reefs were swamped in sediment, seaweed farms destroyed and wave patterns changed.

“The Serangan project reclaimed 380ha of land and the impacts were felt within a 3km radius,” says Putra. “KWBI claim that their 700ha project will only affect an area 0.5km in radius. That doesn’t make sense.”

KWBI also claims that the Nusa Benoa project will create 150,000 jobs, but the unemployment rate in Bali as of January 2015 was just 33,661.

Meanwhile, rampant development in Bali’s overcrowded south has already led to an oversupply of hotel rooms. A moratorium on new tourism developments in 2011 failed, mainly because local governors or bupati ignored it. It is ironic that the man who established the moratorium in the first place, Bali governor Made Pastika, has been a vocal supporter of the reclamation project.

With a decision on the fate of the bay imminent, protest activities have increased dramatically. Mass demonstrations have been occurring almost weekly in different parts of Bali. On Sunday, thousands of protesters gathered at a roundabout close to Benoa and last month, representatives of 18 villages in the vicinity of the proposed development flew to Jakarta to meet with Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Chief of Staff to argue their case. ForBali want him to revoke the controversial

For its part, TWBI has been running a Google advertisement, which appears when the search term ‘Tolak Reklamasi’ (Reject Reclamation) is entered – the rallying cry for the protest movement. The ad links to a new site for the Nusa Benoa project, where it is described as ‘a pioneer of sustainable, community based development, environmental conservation and tourism growth.’ There was no response to a request for comment on the project’s community and sustainability credentials. But in a statement to the local Tribun Bali newspaper, TWBI director Heru Waseso said the protests were normal in a democracy and that the decision now lay with the government, adding that a revised EIA had been submitted 30 days earlier.

Benoa Bay is home to more than 60 natural sites that are sacred to the island’s predominantly Hindu population, as well as 24 temples, some of them located underwater. This has raised concerns within the islands powerful religious institutions and nearby communities, some of whom have even threatened a puputan - committing mass ritual suicide - should the project go ahead. The last pupatan took place in 1906 during the final days of Dutch rule. A dramatic threat, perhaps, but what seems sure is that if the EIA gets rubber stamped, the demonstrations will only intensify.

“All the protests by the local communities show just how angry the Balinese are about this,” says ForBali coordinator Wayan ‘Gendo’ Suardana. “They won’t stop fighting until the end.”