Monday, October 31, 2016

China Turns the East Red

More than 40 years ago, Southeast Asian leaders had a sense of foreboding about China. Even as they moved to normalize relations with China, they knew that there was going to be nothing normal about dealing with China. Nevertheless, they had hoped that they could foster close economic relations with China without being overwhelmed by it. They also felt confident that they could contain Chinese ambitions within a regional balance of power framework.

Clearly they underestimated the Middle Kingdom and the perfidy of their own successors.

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, “The East is Red became the de facto national anthem of the People’s Republic of China. The composer, reportedly a farmer from Shaanxi province, had, of course, no way of knowing that his song was in fact a harbinger of things to come. 

Some 50-something years later, “The East is Red” is more than an old song. It has become a disquieting political and economic reality.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution. Today, it is a massive economic and political behemoth with equally massive regional and global ambitions. Its new leaders have long since abandoned the veneer of modesty and respect for diplomatic niceties it adopted when it was seeking to gain acceptance in the region.

China’s new rulers are now focused on the single-minded pursuit of regional hegemony as the first step in their quest for global supremacy.

Giant economic footprint

Nothing better illustrates China’s ambitions than its frenzied regional investment strategy. When viewed as a whole, the investment projects scattered across the region paint a picture of a country determined to use its wealth and economic influence to decisively dominate the region.

Consider, for example, the ambitious “One Belt, One Road” or New Silk Road initiative, which, among other goals, aims to position China as the hub of the entire region.

Stripped of all the rhubarb, it’s really a neo-mercantilist strategy of opening markets for China’s excess industrial capacity, making the yuan Asia’s international currency of choice, and cementing China’s economic dominance of the region.

In pursuit of its ambitions, Chinese state corporations are currently engaged in a staggering array of infrastructure projects, especially rail projects, in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

China is also building a deep-sea port in Myanmar which will give it direct access to the Indian Ocean. The project involves the construction of an oil pipeline as well that will allow Middle East crude to be offloaded in Myanmar and then transported overland to China, bypassing the Straits of Malacca. A third of all Myanmar’s foreign investments already come from China.

In Laos, Chinese investments already exceed US$S31 billion, a sum larger than the country’s GDP. China also built, financed and launched Laos’s only communications satellite. In neighboring Cambodia, Chinese companies completely dominate the country’s special economic zone.

Singapore, for its part, plays host to more than 7,500 Chinese companies. Its status as a banking and financial center in Southeast Asia is increasingly dependent on China’s regional economic plans.

In Indonesia, China may already be the largest foreign investor if investments through subsidiaries based in other countries are taken into account. Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board expects to secure Chinese investments worth USD30 billion in 2016, doubling to USD60 billion the following year.

Bandar Malaysia – China’s new regional capital

Malaysia, vulnerable, exposed and ripe for exploitation as a consequence of the massive 1MDB scandal, is set to be the jewel in the crown of China’s ambitious regional agenda. In exchange for a Chinese bailout, significant national assets and lucrative contracts are being handed over to China in a series of murky deals.

China Railway has been awarded both the RM7.13 billion (USD1.71 billion) Gemas-Johor Baru electrified double-tracking rail project and the RM55 billion East Coast Railway project and is a shoo-in for the RM60 billion Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Railway project as well.

And this comes after China was awarded the RM43 billion Malacca Gateway Project (deep-sea port and ocean park) and the main contract for the first package of the second Penang Bridge project (the longest bridge in Southeast Asia).

One has to wonder whether someone somewhere is dreaming up these projects just for China’s benefit? Is there some secret agreement giving China a lock on all mega-infrastructure projects in Malaysia?

The biggest catch of all, however, is expected to be the Bandar Malaysia project, a colossal monument to avarice and arrogance. With an expected gross development value of RM160 billion, it will feature the world’s largest underground city, shopping malls, indoor theme parks, a financial center as well as the RM8.3 billion regional headquarters of China Railway. When completed, it will turn the Malaysian capital into the most impressive Chinese railway station along the so-called Iron Silk Route linking Beijing with Singapore.

Malaysians haven’t as yet woken up to the monstrosity that is being foisted upon them.

Bandar Malaysia, which will cost almost four times the reported cost of Putrajaya, the nation’s administrative capital, will distort the property market, add to the city’s already intolerable traffic congestion, reduce the city’s livability and see the introduction of thousands of PRC workers, contractors and staff.

No doubt much of the residential and office space at Bandar Malaysia will also be taken up by PRC nationals, already a growing presence in the local property market.

All in all, it is an outrageous project designed to benefit cronies, both local and foreign, at the expense of ordinary Malaysians. It serves China’s interest far more than it serves Malaysia’s.

And it would be naïve to believe that such massive investments will not translate into significant political and economic control especially given the almost total lack of transparency on most of these projects. At this rate, Malaysia may well find itself reduced to satrapy status within the emerging Chinese order with Bandar Malaysia the new Chinese regional capital.

ASEAN’s dependence on trade with China

China also dominates regional trade; it has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for the last seven consecutive years with trade growing at an annual rate of 18.5 percent. Last year China-ASEAN trade was valued at USD472 billion. It is expected to reach US$1 trillion by 2020. Bilaterally, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Laos all count China as their largest trading partner.

Again, such a commanding economic position coupled with critical control of national infrastructure assets across the region by state companies of a single nation will undoubtedly translate into unparalleled influence, power and control.

ASEAN nations are already so dependent upon China for their economic prosperity that they have no wriggle room left on most issues affecting China. The same can be said of many of the region’s corporations and business enterprises. Even the region’s academic institutions and think tanks have largely shied away from critical commentary on China for fear of being locked out of the web of lucrative Chinese-funded academic institutions, exchanges, grants and conferences.

Common cause with autocrats and corrupt politicians

China’s ascendency has also been facilitated by the rise of illiberal leaders in the region who depend upon China for support and cover in the face of international opprobrium and domestic unpopularity.

Beijing has, for example, long supported the military junta in Myanmar while securing for itself privileged economic access. It is also the Thai junta’s staunchest ally while Malaysia’s leader, faced with a scandal that is being investigated by several international jurisdictions for corruption and money laundering, is regularly feted in Beijing as a special friend.

Indeed, Najib is set to make yet another visit to Beijing next week, his sixth since becoming prime minister in 2009. The visit will decisively shift Malaysia into China’s orbit.

Unsurprisingly, as well, Beijing has also endorsed President Duterte’s murderous campaign against drug pushers at a time when he is facing international condemnation for his actions.

ASEAN effectively neutralized

Taken together, the growing economic and political reliance on China has also given China the upper hand on the South China Sea file.

Malaysia, for example, is so fearful of offending China that it regularly goes out of its way to play down persistent Chinese incursions into its waters and the harassment of Malaysian fishermen. While the Chinese aggressively press their claims, Malaysia dithers and pretends that its “special relationship” with China will keep it safe from Chinese ambitions.

The Philippines, having won a landmark victory at The Hague, now appears to have recklessly squandered its advantage for the better relations with Beijing (and perhaps to foolishly spite the Americans).

Beijing’s terms for a restoration of relations with Manila, however, might prove costly to the Philippines. In a Xinhua report issued on the eve of Duterte’s recent visit to China, it was stated in no uncertain terms what Duterte would need to do to regain Beijing’s favour: abandon “the farcical South China Sea arbitration case brought by Duterte’s predecessor against China… avoid his predecessor’s idiosyncrasies of colluding with outside meddlers [read the US] and making unnecessary provocations [read challenging China’s claims].”

It went on to add that the Philippines must accept dialogue and negotiations over confrontation, conveniently overlooking the fact that it is China who is the aggressor, not the Philippines.

The implications are clear enough both for the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations: good relations with China must be premised upon an acceptance of Beijing’s maritime claims, an end to close military cooperation with the US and a commitment to engage in meaningless and open- ended dialogue that allows China to pretend that it is a responsible international actor.

ASEAN, which was formed to leverage its strength as a group when dealing with bigger powers, is now proving itself to be hopelessly dysfunctional in dealing with China.

Insisting that territorial disputes must be settled bilaterally (where it is able to exploit its asymmetrical advantage to the fullest), China, with the help of its proxies, Cambodia and Laos, successfully stymied ASEAN efforts to take a firm stand on the issue.

Astonishingly, the Philippines Foreign Secretary called the Vientiane debacle “a victory for ASEAN.” If that was victory, what does defeat look like?

In any case, only the most gullible will believe that China is really interested in negotiations, bilateral or otherwise; it is simply buying time while it changes the facts on the ground and militarizes its positions in the South China Sea.

By keeping silent, waffling and pretending that somehow China is open to negotiations, ASEAN is simply acquiescing in a Chinese takeover of the entire South China Sea. It is also proving the hawks in Beijing right that strong-arm tactics work, that ASEAN does not have the courage to stand up to Beijing.

Witness also the timorous silence of ASEAN leaders with regard to the US policy of vigorously challenging China’s threats to impose exclusionary zones in the South China Sea. Though ASEAN leaders are too spineless to admit it, the US navy is now all that stands in the way of de facto Chinese control of the South China Sea.

Instead of backstabbing the only country that can help keep the region open and free, as President Duterte of the Philippines appears to be doing, ASEAN leaders should augment US efforts by insisting that China demonstrate its own sincerity by committing to a meaningful code of conduct, respecting the recent Hague ruling, and ceasing the militarization of disputed islands.

But, of course, China has so thoroughly neutered ASEAN that such a course of action is now unthinkable.

The triumph of the Middle Kingdom

More than 40 years ago, Southeast Asian leaders had a sense of foreboding about China. Even as they moved to normalize relations with China, they knew that there was going to be nothing normal about dealing with China. Nevertheless, they had hoped that they could foster close economic relations with China without being overwhelmed by it. They also felt confident that they could contain Chinese ambitions within a regional balance of power framework.

Clearly they underestimated the Middle Kingdom and the perfidy of their own successors.

Overdependence on China for investments and trade and the treachery of corrupt politicians have now rendered ASEAN completely vulnerable to Chinese hegemony.

The East is Red! ASEAN might as well hang its logo on the Chinese flag to reflect this new reality.

Dennis Ignatius served in London, Beijing and Washington and was Malaysian ambassador to Chile, Argentina and Canada


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Are Indonesia and Australia Mulling South China Sea Joint Patrols?

Indonesia and Australia could soon move towards joint patrols in the South China Sea, Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu suggested Friday.

On Friday, following a meeting with Australia’s foreign and defense ministers, Ryamizard said he had proposed that the two countries conduct joint patrols in the eastern South China Sea in the near future to ensure safer waters.

“We have already suggested to Australia the possibility of conducting joint patrols in the eastern part of the South China Sea. We are sure that we will soon create a plan on how to realize it. They have more or less agreed,” he told reporters according to The Jakarta Post.

Few specifics were provided as to the nature of these patrols, which would be important in determining their significance. The Post noted that Australia’s foreign and defense ministers were unavailable for comment, as was the Indonesian foreign ministry’s director for Asia-Pacific and African affairs Desra Percaya. Desra was standing in for Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in her absence after the death of her father.

The comment was also made in addition to some other vague statements by Ryamizard that also raise more questions than answers. For example, he said that Indonesia had already proposed similar patrols with other ASEAN countries, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, and that Jakarta had already “coordinated and established commitments” on how to secure the South China Sea, with at least a third of the region – surrounding Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore – already being secured.

Though there have been conversations among Southeast Asian states about patrols in surrounding waters, Cambodia would be a curious choice in the case of the South China Sea given its obstructionism on that question (See: “Cambodia: A New Mediator Between China and ASEAN?“).

It is also unclear what, if anything, this means for Indonesia’s South China Sea approach. While Indonesia is not officially a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, Jakarta is an interested party because China’s nine-dash line overlaps with the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the resource-rich Natuna Islands. As I’ve written previously, Indonesia’s approach to the issue might be described as a “delicate equilibrium,” where it has sought to both engage actors diplomatically and emphasize the sanctity of regional institutions and international law (a softer edge) while also pursuing a range of security, legal and economic measures designed to protect its own interests (a harder edge) (See: “Indonesia’s South China Sea Policy: A Delicate Equilibrium”).

China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea in recent years – which included run-ins with Indonesian vessels – have made it difficult for Indonesia to maintain this ‘delicate equilibrium,’ and Jakarta has moved to recalibrate though not abandon it entirely. Indonesia been accelerating and publicizing its ongoing balancing initiatives more on the harder edge even though its engagement of China on the softer edge has not only endured but accelerated, with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo seeing alignment between his own domestic economic goals for Indonesia and China’s regional ambitions.

It will be interesting to watch if anything comes of this arrangement between Indonesia and Australia and, if so, how it affects the broader South China Sea situation. Even though developments like these often grab the headlines and could indeed be operationalized, they exist alongside stubborn realities such as the capabilities of various actors, their longstanding policies, and the interests of those institutions that formulate them.

By for The Diplomat

That One Time Nazi Germany Helped China Fight Japan

Most people who stayed awake for at least half of their high school history class knows that the Axis Powers in World War II consisted of Germany, Italy and Japan. But few know that German tactics and weapons—not to mention some actual Germans—helped the Chinese Nationalists stall Imperial Japan’s conquest of China.

For about a decade, German soldiers advised Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek in his campaigns against Chinese Communists … and also against Germany’s future allies, the Japanese.

It’s one of history’s most unexpected—and frankly unknown—wartime partnerships. It all began in the aftermath of the Chinese revolution of 1911, as warlords carved up the country and battled each other for power.

European and American arms dealers, unable to find customers in the war-weary countries of the West in the years after World War I, found enthusiastic buyers in the Chinese. The warlords imported firearms and heavy weaponry and, in some cases, manufactured their own copies.

One of the most powerful, the Manchurian warlord Zhang Zuolin had his own private air force of almost 100 of the latest aircraft, including light bombers. He also maintained close ties with Japan, in particular courting investment from the Japanese South Manchuria Railroad Company.

Some warlords hired foreign military instructors, many of them World War I veterans. The advisers made their way to China in both official and unofficial capacities. The influx of foreign soldiers would soon include Germans.

Rise of the Nationalists: 

The greatest threat to the warlords were not each other, but revolutionaries under the banner of the Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang. Led by Sun Yat-Sen, a republican and educated medical doctor, the Kuomintang sought to unify China and transform it into a modern state.

The Kuomintang, aligned with the Chinese Communist Party and backed by Soviet advisers under the command of Vasily Blyukher, launched the Northern Expedition to defeat the warlords.

Under the military leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek, the Nationalist army scored victory after victory against the warlords. With the death of Sun Yat-Sen of liver failure, Chiang began to consolidate control of the movement. That put him at odds with the Communists, several of whom were themselves plotting to take control of the revolution.

When the army reached Shanghai in 1927, Chiang enlisted local crime syndicates, notably the powerful Green Gang, to crack down on labor unions and violently purge Communists from the ranks. He then expelled Blyukher and the other Soviet advisers, unceremoniously sending them back to Moscow.

The last major warlord was Marshal Zhang Zuolin. Failing to protect Japanese investments, Zhang had fallen out of favor with his backers in Tokyo.

On June 4, 1928, while traveling an SMR rail line, a bomb detonated underneath Zhang’s armored train, killing him. Most believe the Japanese Kwantung Army planted the explosive device.

Zhang was succeeded by his son Zhang Xueling, the Young Marshal. The Young Marshal, whom the Japanese expected to be a spineless puppet they could easily control, surprised everyone by quickly aligning himself with the Nationalists. The warlord era was fast ending.

But Chang realized he had a problem. Severing ties with the Soviets had left him without any significant foreign backer. There were still a few warlord holdouts—who often did have foreign backing—plus a growing Communist insurrection. Japan also loomed just across the China Seas.

On the advice of a German-educated friend, Chiang looked to Berlin to fill the void the Soviets had left. Germany was an attractive partner to Chiang. Berlin had lost all of its holdings in China after World War I and would be less likely to interfere in China’s politics than comparable Western powers.

And the forced downsizing of Germany’s once-mighty army also resulted in a wealth of highly experienced but unemployed German soldiers who’d be eager for work in China.

Here Come the Germans!: 

Chiang sent an invitation to Gen. Erich Ludendorff to bring military and civil experts to China. Ludendorff declined the invitation, fearing his high profile would attract unwanted attention. Still, he saw potential in the offer, and recommended retired Col. Max Bauer—a logistics specialist with war experience—to lead a proposed German Advisory Group.

After a quick tour of China, Bauer returned to Berlin and handpicked a team of 25 advisers. Immediately upon arriving in November 1928, the advisers set to work training young Chinese officers.

Despite most of the advisers being retired—and technically civilians—in the employ of the Chinese government, the activities of German military men abroad was a touchy subject due to post-war limitations on what Germany could legally do.

As a result, Bauer gave strict orders to the group to avoid diplomats and journalists. Despite this, American military observers in 1929 reported seeing Chinese troops undergoing close-order drill under German supervision.

Bauer worked to standardize the acquisition of equipment and weapons, urging Chiang to cut out expensive middlemen and buy directly from manufacturers.

Unsurprisingly, many of these manufacturers were German, resulting in increased business for German companies. But the retail boom was cut short by Bauer’s unexpected death in May 1929.

Bauer was succeeded by Col. Hermann Kriebel, a Nazi fanatic. He had been a member of the paramilitary Freikorps and had a long record of putschist activity with Hitler in Bavaria. One rumor has it that as a member of the German 1919 Armistice delegation, his parting words were, “See you again in 20 years.”

Kriebel was arrogant, contemptuous of the Chinese and clashed with Bauer’s selected officers. His attitude almost doomed the mission, and Chiang demanded he be replaced.

Kriebel was succeeded by Gen. Georg Wetzell. He helped plan anti-Communist operations and advised Gen. Ling during the 1932 Shanghai War against the Japanese. He also convinced Chiang to set up an artillery school. Chinese artillery would play a huge role years later against Japanese invaders.

Gen. Hans von Seeckt, an influential German army staff officer and Wetzell’s successor, built Chinese capacity further. Seeckt, vividly recalling the bloody cost of static trench warfare, believed in a war of movement.

He used his connections with German industrialists to bring in a huge influx of modern German equipment, ranging from helmets to artillery. One journalist suggested that as much as 60 percent of Chinese war material at this time was imported from Germany.

The last and arguably best chief adviser was Gen. Alexander von Falkenhausen. He had been military attaché in Tokyo from 1910 to 1914 and traveled to China to observe the revolution in 1911. During World War I, he served in France, East Prussia and Turkey and as a commander was credited with two victories over the British in East Jordan in 1918.

As a world traveler and professional soldier who’d worked in a variety of cultures, Falkenhausen was immune to the extremism that drove many of his predecessors. He also had little love for the Nazis, having lost his brother to a violent internal struggle in the party that solidified Hitler’s control.

As a result, he was better able to develop close personal and professional ties with the Chinese.

Chinese in Germany: 

With Germans increasingly entrenched in China, some of their Chinese counterparts found themselves in Germany. Chinese businessmen, government officials and students hoped to learn from Germany’s rapid rebound from an economically crippled failed state into a world power. German industry was of particular interest.

The Nazis were split on their opinion of the Chinese. Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering in particular were in bitter disagreement. Goebbels was decidedly pro-China and favored continuing German business interests—he also viewed Chiang as a burgeoning fascist.

Goering, however, saw the Japanese as the stronger and most worthy power in Asia—especially considering their disdain for the Soviets—and pushed for the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan.

One of the most notable Chinese in Germany at the time was Chiang Kai-Shek’s adopted son Chiang Wei-Kuo. He went to study military tactics with the German army, training in military schools and taking part in military operations.

He even commanded troops during the annexation of the Austria.

As Falkenhausen took over the group in 1936, tensions between Japan and China were escalating. Around the same time, The Young Marshal Zhang Xueling, tasked by Chiang to eradicate the communists, was fed up with battling fellow Chinese while the Japanese only grew stronger.

Zhang conspired with Communist leader Zhou Enlai and proceeded to kidnap Chiang and force him into a truce with the Communists. Upon his release, he promptly had Zhang imprisoned. Falkenhausen set to work advising Chiang on how best to resist Japanese aggression. One of the great ironies of this episode is that Falkenhausen and Chiang’s interactions were always in Japanese, their only common language.

Japan Invades: 

The July 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident marked the beginning of Japan’s full-scale invasion of China. The poorly-trained Chinese troops in the north were quickly routed. When the fighting broke out in Shanghai, Tokyo expected a quick victory.

However, among the Chinese troops dispatched to Shanghai was the German trained — and equipped — 88th Division. Against all expectations, the division’s infantry inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese in vicious urban combat. The Japanese responded by shelling and bombing the Chinese troops—and by sending in tanks.

During this time, German advisers including Falkenhausen were often near or in the fight in Shanghai, despite Berlin’s preference that they not get directly involved.

“We all agreed,” Falkenhausen wrote, “that as private citizens in Chinese employment there could be no question of leaving our Chinese friends to their fate. Therefore I assigned German advisers wherever they were needed and that was often in the front lines.”

Despite being present for some heavy combat, no Germans advisers are known to have died.

The Chinese held out until November, but eventually retreated in the face of Japanese armor, air and naval attacks. Tokyo was badly bruised by the Chinese defensive and livid at being defied by an “inferior” race.

Particularly embarrassing was the showdown at Sihang Warehouse, in which a lone battalion from the 88th Division held out against Japanese attacks in full view of the international district.

But now the Japanese were ready to strike at the Chinese capital of Nanjing. En route they took out their frustration on Chinese civilians, killing and looting wantonly. Even Kriebel, who had been so contemptuous of the Chinese before and was back in China as the German consul general in Shanghai, expressed his disgust at the atrocities.

But the march on Nanjing was just a preview of how ugly things were to become.

Fall of Nanjing: 

Chiang called a meeting of his generals with Falkenhausen to plan their next move. Generals Li Zongren and Bai Chongxi—the latter a favorite of Falkenhausen—advocated withdrawing forces from Nanjing to regroup.

Next, the generals proposed declaring Nanjing to be an undefended city so that the Japanese wouldn’t have any excuse to slaughter civilians.

Falkenhausen backed Li and Bai. The only dissenter was Gen. Tang Shengzhi, who demanded a last stand against Japan in the capital. Chiang, wanting to preserve his prestige and at least make an effort to defend Nanjing, deferred to Tang.

John Rabe, a German businessman and prominent Nazi living in Nanjing, was aghast “[Nanjing] cannot be effectively defended,” he wrote. “Sitting in this crook in the Yangtze is like sitting in a mousetrap.”

“I continue to hope that Hitler will help us,” Rabe continued. “A man of firm will and steady eye — the same as you and I — has deep sympathy not only for the distress of his own people, but for the anguish of the Chinese, as well.”

Rabe speculated that if Hitler were to demand a stop to the Japanese advance, it would halt immediately.

The consequences of this last stand were disastrous. The Chinese defenders were obliterated. Many of the remnants of the elite 88th Division were destroyed in the fighting, though some were able to rejoin the army in the west or blend into guerrilla bands in the countryside.

However, the worst consequence was one of history’s bloodiest massacres, today known as the Rape of Nanjing. Japanese troops entered the city in December 1937 and indulged in an orgy of rape of pillage that lasted until late January.

Although exact numbers are disputed, most historians agree that thousands of women and girls were raped by Japanese troops—and somewhere between 180,000 and 300,000 civilians died.

Rabe, along with other Western residents of the city, labored hard to aid the refugees and was instrumental in setting up the International Safety Zone. He was known for wearing his Swastika armband as he escorted Chinese nationals around, standing up to Japanese soldiers and officials.

Despite the initial hesitance of other American and European expats to work with an avowed Nazi, Rabe earned the respect of both westerners and the residents of Nanjing.

Unfortunately for Rabe’s faith in Hitler and in Germany’s commitment to China, the defeat at Nanjing led Hitler to believe that China was a lost cause. It was the beginning of the end for Sino-German ties. To Hitler, the Japanese had proven to be a superior race to the Chinese.

But one more battle was to take place before Germany quit China for good.

In the Battle of Taierzhuang in early 1938, Chinese troops under Generals Li and Bai engaged Japanese troops in the small town of Shantung. The Chinese troops, led by German-trained battalion commanders, maneuvered at night to avoid Japan’s superior air assets and used German-built howitzers to smash Japanese entrenchments.

German Legacy:

The Chinese prevailed at Taierzhuang. After the battle, the Japanese demanded that the Germans withdraw the advisory group. Hitler complied without reservation. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop told Falkenhausen to withdraw, which he did only under extreme pressure.

Falkenhausen and his staff reluctantly returned to Germany. Unlike former Italian advisers who profited by selling detailed aerial surveys of China to Japan, many of the Germans refused to divulge Chinese secrets to Japan, even under pressure from the Nazis. Chiang Wei-Kuo, by that time commanding a panzer on the border with Poland, was recalled back to China.

Westerners were horrified by the devastation in China. Urban warfare up to this point had been a fairly rare occurrence in modern warfare. Certainly the scale of death and destruction, particularly among non-combatants, seemed new. In a few years, such bloodshed would all too common all over the world.

After the German Blitzkrieg tore through Western Europe beginning in late 1939, Falkenhausen was appointed to serve as the German military governor of Belgium—a position in which he took neither joy nor pride. Among his tasks were the suppression of Belgian resistance and the rounding up of Jews and other undesirables.

Throughout much of his tenure in Belgium, Falkenhausen was secretly in touch with anti-Nazi conspirators and those helping to rescue Jews.

The rescuers included Qian Xiuling, a Chinese woman who had married a Belgian man she’d met while studying chemistry at the Catholic University of Louvain. Qian’s cousin was an officer in the Chinese army and had been trained by Falkenhausen. He told her through correspondence that if she needed anything, she should go to Falkenhausen.

The general helped Qian save the lives of many Jews and dissidents. After an attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944, Falkenhausen was imprisoned and spent the remainder of the war in concentration camps, at one point being interned in Dachau.

He was eventually liberated, but then subsequently arrested by U.S. troops. He was sent back to Belgium to be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Qian and others he had aided came to his defense, but he was nevertheless sentenced to 12 years hard labor.

He was pardoned after only three years and moved back to Germany. Chiang, having heard of his fate, began sending money and gifts to his old comrade. But Faulkenhausen was so embittered by his experiences that he lived out the rest of his life a jaded, reclusive old man. He died in 1966 at the age of 88.

In 2001, when a journalist asked an aging Qian how she saw Falkenhausen, she replied simply, “A man with morals.”

Rabe fared little better after the war. Living in Germany again by then he was arrested first by the Soviets and then by the British. Although never directly implicated in any crimes, his history as a high profile party member meant he had to be declared “de-Nazified.”

Unable to find work, he sold off his collection of Eastern art to buy food and quickly became destitute. According to some accounts, he received aid from prominent citizens of Nanjing who had heard of his plight. This help ceased after the Communists took Nanjing from the nationalists.

Rabe died of a stroke in 1950. His headstone has since been moved to Nanjing and his house made into a museum.

The strange tale of the Germans in China’s wars demonstrates how quickly loyalty and national interest can shift—and alliances with them. It also reveals that personal ties formed in the crucible of combat can transcend these shifts and last a lifetime.

Unfortunately for men like Falkenhausen, the saga also shows how steep the price of integrity can be.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring by Kevin Knodell


What does Jokowi want for the Indonesian economy?

The question now is not whether Jokowi can consolidate political power, but what he wants to do with it.

Over the past 12 months, a Jokowi-styled developmentalism begun to emerge. The president has settled on a narrow set of economic priorities, in the service of which he has promoted a state-led, pragmatic policy execution. He wants to oversee an infrastructure boom and leave a tangible economic legacy. Other political and economic problems — corruption, good governance, human rights — are subordinate to this singular goal and clearly expendable in the eyes of the president.

Most of the administration’s major policy innovations are geared towards realising ambitious infrastructure goals. Jokowi is cultivating the image of a can-do president, one willing to don a hardhat, roll up his sleeves, and get things done quickly. In a bid to attract desperately needed infrastructure investment, Jokowi is telling the world that Indonesia is open for business.

But does this amount to an identifiable philosophy of economic leadership?

There is nothing transformative about Jokowi’s economic agenda. He simply wants a fast and no-frills implementation of an old statist development strategy that has loomed large throughout Indonesia’s history.

Indeed, there are uncanny echoes of the past in this new developmentalism. In recent months we’ve seen in the media a stream of comparisons between Jokowi and Suharto, the New Order autocrat who governed Indonesia for 32 years. Known as the ‘Father of Development’, Suharto oversaw a long period of economic transformation during which the idea of modernisation — symbolised by infrastructure development — was a fundamental part of the regime’s ideology and the autocrat’s political legitimacy.

Of course, the similarities should not be overstated. New Order developmentalism was repressive, whereas Jokowi has no anti-democratic designs. Today Indonesia is the most stable democratic country in Southeast Asia.

Still, the reaction from Indonesia’s commentariat is telling. It appears that Jokowi has tapped into a ‘widespread — though diffuse — mood of nostalgia for the certainties of the New Order’ and those golden years of economic achievement. The public have embraced Jokowi’s narrow developmental agenda. An October 2016 poll shows 69 per cent of Indonesians are satisfied with the president’s performance — Jokowi’s highest ratings since coming to office. For many Indonesians, Jokowi may be the kind of president to resurrect the developmental success of Indonesia’s recent past.

But is he?

Jokowi’s developmentalism is marked by contradiction. His promise of liberal reform is accompanied by a renewed commitment to the statist-nationalist economic model. To the private sector and foreign investors, the president casts his economic reform packages as a ‘big bang’ deregulation program. But these reforms are highly circumscribed. And to the Indonesian public, the administration is careful to emphasise that deregulation is not a turn toward liberalisation.

Jokowi sees the state sector as a locomotive for fast development, and he has injected millions of dollars into state-owned companies and handed them strategic infrastructure contracts. There are plans afoot to establish giant state-owned holding companies – an innovation designed to give SOEs greater leverage to borrow more money. Meanwhile, interventionist policies persist, often in the name of downstream industrialisation and food self-sufficiency.

Foreign analysts constantly lament the administration’s ‘mixed messages’. But what are the sources of this contradiction?

The president is not an ideologue; most refer to him as a pragmatist. It seems, though, that Jokowi is embracing the tailwinds of an economic nationalism he inherited. He took the reins of power at a time of rising protectionism and anti-foreign mobilisation. Nationalist policies are popular among Indonesia’s political class and the broader public too, and scholars of Indonesia’s economic history argue that all governments have oscillated between liberalism and nationalism. In many ways, Jokowi is simply acting out the ideological tensions that have long characterised Indonesia’s economic landscape.

Jokowi’s personality is also to blame. The president’s leadership style and decision-making process are unpredictable. Jokowi surrounds himself with very different kinds of economic thinkers. At times he embraces the ideas of pro-market advisors, but then pursues statist-nationalist policies endorsed by his personal partisans.

Jokowi is defined by ad hockery. He deals with each problem in isolation, and sometimes without wide consultation. Jokowi can be fickle, even erratic, in his management of people and policies. In two years, his administration has had three trade ministers, three coordinating ministers for natural resources, two finance ministers and four energy ministers – all with different approaches to problems of investment, trade and growth. It is, therefore, difficult to predict how he’ll manage an increasingly complex set of budget challenges, attract investors, and realise ambitious infrastructure targets.

Jokowi’s developmentalist agenda also risks crumbling under a host of political and economic hazards. The president’s approval ratings are highly contingent upon inflation and oil prices. The budget is under pressure, and some of Jokowi’s flagship policies — the deregulation packages, the 35,000mw project — face a range of logistical, political and financial challenges. At this stage, if such hazards materialise, Jokowi’s narrow developmentalism will fall flat, and he will have little else to take to the 2019 elections.

Eve Warburton is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political and Social Change in the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University.

This piece is based on longer article that will appear in the November edition of the Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, and which she presented at the ANU’s Indonesia Update in September 2016.


The freak snake with the scorpion sting that could take your pain away

The super-powerful venom of the long-glanded blue coral snake could inspire new pain treatments for humans.

This snake is a freak. It boasts the largest venom glands in the world. It eats king cobras for breakfast. And it has a scorpion's sting. But that's not what has scientists excited.

The Queensland University venomologist is talking about the aptly named long-glanded blue coral snake of south-east Asia – and its unusual venom which takes hold with lightning efficiency.

A reptile with electric blue stripes and neon-red head and tail, it grows up to two metres long. Its venom glands extend to a good 60 centimetres – about one-quarter of its body length.

 "We have found the wildest snake toxin ever, from the venom of the most outrageous snakes," Bryan Fry said. "It does something no other snake has ever done."

"On the scale of weird, this one goes to 11," Dr Fry said. "It's a freaky snake."

Described as "the killer of killers" due to its taste for young king cobras, this snake is unique among snakes because, like scorpions, its venom causes its prey to spasm.

Exactly how it does this has been discovered for the first time. The results, published in the journal Toxins, could lead to improved pain management for humans.

"This venom hits a particular type of sodium channel that is important for the treatment of pain in humans," Dr Fry said.

With colleagues from Australia, China, Singapore and the US, Dr Fry identified six unusual peptides in the venom of the blue coral snake that can switch on all of its prey's nerves at once. This immediately immobilises its victim.

So what does a paralysis-inducing venom have to do with improving the treatment and management of pain in humans?

Dr Fry said the research showed that the venom used receptors which were critical to pain in humans. Learning about how these worked could enable improved pain treatment and management.

"It's also the first vertebrate to do this via sodium channels," Dr Fry said. "So from a drug development perspective, this is interesting as this animal is evolutionarily-speaking closer to us than a scorpion. Which means it might be more amenable to us."

While the length of the long-glanded blue coral snake's venom glands was known, the way the venom worked hadn't been studied. And given there are related species, there could be as many as 200 variations of the peptides in total.

"It's a great example of why studying the really weird animals is a great path for biodiscovery and you can't get any weirder than this snake with the longest venom glands in the world," Dr Fry said.

"You can't predict where the next wonder drug came from so you need to protect what you have."

SMH Photo: Tom Charlton

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Indonesia’s Most Infamous Terrorist the ‘Osama bin Laden of Southeast Asia’

Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, is widely accused of being the operational commander of Jemaah Islamiyah.


For the Past 13 years, al-Qaeda’s most powerful leader in Southeast Asia, Indonesian Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, has been held in Guantanamo Bay prison, out of public sight but still very much in the minds of militants and security agencies across the region. Hambali, 52, has a fearsome reputation. The man, known as the Osama bin Laden of Southeast Asia, is thought to have masterminded the Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people in 2002, the Christmas Eve multi-city church bombings in Indonesia that killed 18 in 2000, and the Jakarta Marriott Hotel car bombing that killed 12 in 2003.

While he has renounced his former ways – telling a review board last August he bore “no ill feelings towards the United States” and “just wanted to move on with life and be peaceful” – that review board this week turned down his application for release, ruling that he continued to be a “significant threat to the security of the United States”.

The board, created by the administration of US President Barack Obama to help winnow down the prison population at Guantanamo as part of a broader effort to close the detention centre, cited Hambali’s “significant role in major terrorist attacks,” as well as a failure to show remorse as factors in its decision.

The decision will be a relief for Asian security agencies, who warn that if he were to be released his enhanced terrorist credentials would only strengthen his ability to revive a dormant Jemaah Islamiah – the group behind the Bali bombings.

But it comes as a blow to his family, who are losing hope he will ever be released, and is the latest signal that Obama may not be able to deliver his seven-year-old pledge to shut the prison before his term ends next month.

 “Of course as his family, we hope he will be released. But whatever happens, it is the will of God,” his younger brother, Kankan Abdul Qodir, 38, told This Week in Asia, adding that his brother had “never been brought to trial in a court to prove all these allegations”.

Even if the camp were to close and the US authorities to relinquish custody of Hambali – born Encep Nurjaman – both Indonesia (where he was born) and Malaysia (where he has residency) have ruled out letting him enter their borders.

 “He is just an ordinary person who behaved just like anyone else when he was with us,” said Kankan. “Whatever his activities outside, we do not know. Only God knows the truth.”

US authorities allege that Hambali went to fight the Russian occupation in Afghanistan in 1987, meeting Osama bin Laden and becoming the operational chief for al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia chapter, Jemaah Islamiah.

But that narrative does not sit well with Kankan, who grew up with Hambali in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia, an area famous for hosting the Islamist group Darul Islam (House of Islam) and its rebellion that began in the 1940s and was not fully quashed until the 1960s.

Hambali was the second child in a family of 12; Kankan is the ninth. “Hambali is much older than me and I did not see much of him as he left for Malaysia sometime in 1983. The last time I saw him was in 1999,” said Kankan.

According to Kankan, Hambali went to Malaysia in search of work, and settled in Sungai Manggis, Selangor, selling kebabs and medicine; Kankan became a teacher at a madrassa [religious boarding school] and also sells insurance for a living.

Kankan, married with three children, says his mother was shocked when Hambali’s name was linked to terrorism after he was captured in Ayutthaya, Thailand, in 2003 in a joint US-Thai operation.

Hambali was sent to Guantanamo, where he remains today as one of 60 high-value detainees whose future appears in limbo as the US administration grapples over what to do with the facility.

Of the nearly 800 prisoners who have passed through Guantanamo, many have been released without charge, but to close the facility, Obama would have to find a home for the remaining detainees.

Moving them to prisons on US soil might prove politically too tricky, but deporting them would also be problematic, given that many, including Hambali, would not be accepted by their home countries.

According to Human Rights First, 20 of the remaining 60 detainees have been approved for release, a figure that may give the family a sliver of hope beyond the 30-minute Skype calls they are allowed with Hambali once every three months thanks to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Alhamdulillah [thank God] he looks well and healthy. The last time we spoke with him was in August. The next round should be in November,” said Kankan.“My mother has come to accept the situation now. We believe in God and that has helped us to be patient and to carry on with our lives,” he said.

“Our neighbours and the community around us have given us moral support all this while.”

During his appeal, Hambali expressed hopes to “remarry ” and raise children – Kankan revealed that Hambali’s Malaysian wife, Noralwizah Lee Abdullah, an ethnic Chinese who converted to Islam had divorced him in 2014.


“It has been a long time since he was gone. They have no children,” said Kankan.

Another of Kankan’s brothers, Rusman Gunawan, also known as Gun Gun, was a member of Hambali’s militant network. Gun Gun was jailed for four years in 2004 for “aiding and abetting” in the 2003 Mariott Hotel attack, but his detention was cut short for good behaviour and he was released in 2006.

US authorities believe that since his release he has joined Islamic State’s Indonesian network, a charge Kankan strenuously denies.

“These are negative accusations against my brother. Gun Gun has never taken part in any organisation following his release. He now owns a shop which sells electronic goods in Bengkulu, Sumatera, and he is doing well.”

Were Hambali, like Gun Gun, to find his way back to the region, Malaysian and Indonesian security officials warn his return could revive a dormant Jemaah Islamiah, weakened by the arrests of numerous leaders in recent years; and galvanise the latest generation of militants in the region.

Ayub Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of counterterrorism for Special Branch, the intelligence arm of the Malaysian Royal Police, said Malaysia would not accept Hambali as he held only permanent residency and not citizenship.

However, if he were somehow to return, the country would face a problem: it does not have the legal tools to detain him for his alleged militant activities since the Internal Security Act has been abolished and replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012.

“[This act] cannot be used to hold him as Hambali’s wrongdoings were committed from 1985 to 2003. [It] cannot be applied retroactively,” said Ayub.

This fact, together with Hambali’s extensive network of contacts, has left intelligence agencies fearing the potential for disaster if he is ever released.

Ayub warned Hambali would “roam Southeast Asia” and become “active again in terrorist activities” if freed.

“Many of Jemaah Islamiyah’s [leaders] were nurtured by Hambali and [Malaysian] Yazid Sufaat,” said Ayub, referring to the jailed militant who hosted two of the September 11 hijackers at his apartment in 2000.

The entrance to Camp VI, a prison used to house detainees at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo: Reuters

“Hambali has a great capacity to recruit people… he is charismatic, has many contacts with top al-Qaeda leaders, and is very capable of organising large terrorist attacks against US interests in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia.”

A senior Indonesian security official said a freed Hambali would revive Jemaah Islamiah. “It would be a disaster for Indonesia if Hambali returns as he is very dangerous,” said the official.

“He would become a hero in Indonesia and I would expect all radical groups to rally round him. His reputation as a global jihadist has only earned him greater acknowledgement among the radicals.”

The now-closed Camp X-Ray, which was used as the first detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for al Qaeda and Taliban militants who were captured after the September 11 attacks. Photo: AP

Amy Chew is a journalist based in Kuala Lumpur