Friday, 31 July 2020

The face of Chinese spying in Singapore

Singaporean Jun Wei Yeo faces prison in US for serving as an illegal Chinese agent targeting American defense contractors and lobbyists


An espionage case involving a Singaporean national who recently pled guilty to spying for Chinese intelligence services in a US federal court has stoked concerns that citizens of the ethnic Chinese majority city-state be regarded with greater US suspicion amid a new Cold War atmosphere.

Tasked with obtaining non-public information about politics, economics, and diplomacy, 39-year-old Singaporean academic and doctoral degree candidate Jun Wei Yeo admitted to establishing a fake consultancy and using social networking site LinkedIn to cultivate ties with US military and government employees holding high-level security clearances.

Yeo, a former PhD student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), an autonomous postgraduate school of the National University of Singapore (NUS) which trains some of Asia’s top civil servants and government officials, now faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison after confessing to acting as an illegal agent for Chinese intelligence.

Though analysts believe the spying case isn’t likely to have a major impact on Singapore’s ties with either the US or China, most agree that the island-state’s efforts to maintain a delicate diplomatic balance between the two major powers will be more difficult as US-China relations deteriorate sharply ahead of US presidential elections in November.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Malaysia’s Najib sentenced to jail for 1MDB scandal

Ex-premier found guilty in landmark ruling on multi-billion-dollar scam while Goldman Sachs escapes criminal sanction for a fee


Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was found guilty and sentenced to prison by a high court judge on Tuesday (July 28) in the first of several trials linked to multi-billion-dollar corruption allegations at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund. The verdict makes the 67-year-old the first and only ex-national leader ever to be criminally convicted.

In a long-sought day of reckoning, the scandal-plagued former premier was ruled guilty on all seven charges that include money laundering, criminal breach of trust and abuse of power in connection with the misappropriation of 42 million ringgit (US$9.8 million) from 1MDB unit SRC International Sdn Bhd, which was funneled into his personal bank accounts.

“After considering all evidence in this trial, I find that the prosecution has successfully proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali said. Najib’s defense lawyers contended that he was a victim of a scam and are applying for a stay of execution pending the hearing of his appeal.

The former prime minister was sentenced to 12 years in jail and handed a fine of 210 million ringgit ($49.3 million). If Najib fails to pay the fine, he will serve an additional five years in prison by default. “The sentence is not only to punish offenders but to deter other people from repeating the offense,” said the high court judge.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 27 July 2020

AirAsia in the eye of a Covid-19 storm

Asia's premier budget airline faces severe financial turbulence that won't easily be course corrected


When Tony Fernandes acquired AirAsia nearly two decades ago, the then- music industry executive paid a mere 1 Malaysian ringgit (23 US cents) to take the bankrupt carrier off a state-owned conglomerate’s hands.

Against the odds, Fernandes lifted AirAsia into Southeast Asia's largest budget carrier on a “Now everyone can fly” motto that pioneered the low-cost aviation industry by leveraging strategically into the region’s rapidly-emerging middle class.

But in a world now ill with Covid-19, the opposite is true: one of Asian aviation’s best-known brands now simply aims to stay aloft at a time when everyone, in fact, cannot fly. “This is by far the biggest challenge we have faced since we began in 2001,” Fernandes, AirAsia’s chief executive, said in a July 6 statement.

Lockdown measures and travel restrictions imposed earlier this year in most of AirAsia's key markets, including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, among others, resulted in the grounding of nearly its entire fleet.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

PAP scores pyrrhic victory at Singapore’s polls

Long-ruling party wins big but not as overwhelmingly as expected, casting doubt on PM Lee’s plan to hand reins to new generation leaders


Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) comfortably won a 15th consecutive term in office and retained its legislative supermajority in Parliament at July 10 elections, prevailing handily over smaller opposition challengers that cast their campaigns as a check and balance on the risks of single-party dominance.

Clinching 83 out of 93 parliamentary seats, a majority that ruling parties in more contested democracies would envy, the results represent by any measure a rousing PAP win. But in the context of the ruling party’s past electoral showings, the polls’ outcome marks one of its worst performances since first taking power in 1959.

On the hustings, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appealed to voters to hand the PAP a “strong mandate” to see through the twin crises of the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst recession in the island nation’s history. With another PAP win a forgone conclusion in the eyes of analysts, the margin of its victory had been the key indicator to watch.

The PAP’s overall vote share fell to 61.2%, a whisker above their record-low general election showing of 60.1% in 2011. Poll results showed a surprise swing for opposition parties, with the Workers’ Party (WP) securing ten seats, the most ever held by non-ruling party’s lawmakers since the city-state gained independence in 1965.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Pandemic poll tests Lee’s mettle in Singapore

PM Lee’s ruling PAP is expected to win again but twin health and economic crises may put his post-election retirement plan on hold


With public health at risk from Covid-19 and job losses mounting amid the worst recession in its history, Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has appealed to voters to not only renew its rule at July 10 elections but to hand it a “strong mandate” to manage the unparalleled twin crises.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appeared to equate national unity with voting for the ruling party in a rally speech this week where he said that strong support for the incumbent would show investors and the world that Singaporeans are “united”, while diminished support for the PAP would reveal the electorate to be “fractious and divided.”

“Do not undermine a system that has served you well,” said the premier, secretary-general of the ruling party that has governed the island-nation since 1959. He cautioned Singaporeans not to be “taken for a ride” by smaller opposition parties that want to deny the PAP a legislative supermajority in Parliament and “blank check” to rule.

While Singaporeans are widely expected to return the PAP to power when the city-state’s 2.6 million registered voters cast their ballots on Friday, the challenge brought by the opposition camp over the course of this year’s brief but spirited nine-day campaign period has been unlike any other in the nation’s post-independence history.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Lee vs Lee as Singapore heads to the polls

PM Lee Hsien Loong and his brother Lee Hsien Yang will be on hotly opposed sides at upcoming July 10 elections


When Singaporeans cast their ballots on July 10 in Southeast Asia’s first pandemic era general election, voters will choose between the region’s longest-governing incumbent party and one of ten smaller opposition parties who hope to clinch a toehold in Parliament.

The spirited, gloves-off contest since campaigning officially began on June 30 has so far belied the city-state’s reputation for placid politics owing to the uninterrupted rule of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has won every election since 1959, when Singapore gained self-rule from Britain.

What sets this election apart isn’t just that it is being held amid a public health crisis with altered ground rules for campaigning. No political rallies will be held during the nine-day campaign period due to safe distancing requirements and restrictions on large gatherings, obliging parties to rely on virtual outreach, walkabouts and door-to-door visits.

Still, the entry of a charismatic former PAP stalwart, 80-year-old Tan Cheng Bock, as an opposition challenger under the new, electorally untested Progress Singapore Party (PSP) has enlivened the campaign. But it is the decision of one of the party’s newest members to join the fray that has tongues wagging.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

China drops the gauntlet with new HK security law

US, China on a collision course as Beijing pushes through controversial law for the semi-autonomous city


China’s top legislature formally approved a controversial national security law for Hong Kong on Tuesday (June 30) that will provide Beijing with sweeping enforcement powers to prohibit and punish acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the Chinese-ruled special administration region.

International opprobrium has mounted against Beijing with critics of the far-reaching new law, which was not fully disclosed to the public prior to its unanimous passage by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, saying it will effectively criminalize dissent and stifle the city’s freedoms and semi-autonomous status.

The legislation puts Beijing further at odds with Western governments and will further strain US-China relations, which have already sunk to their lowest point in years. The US announced last month that it would begin removing Hong Kong’s special trade status under US law on grounds of China bypassing the city’s legislature to impose the new law.

China’s lawmakers fast-tracked the bill, passing it on the last day of a special three-day session that began on Sunday. It is expected to come into effect on July 1, marking the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover to China from British colonial rule. The city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam admitted she had not seen a preliminary version of the law prior to its passage.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Why Malaysia’s Mahathir just won’t fade away

Two-time Malaysian leader lays bare his last stand drive for power in an exclusive interview with Asia Times


Four months after his shock resignation, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has his sights set on yet another political comeback. In league with multi-racial opposition parties, the elder statesman hopes to unseat yet another ally-turned-foe successor whose rule he claims threatens a return to corrupt and authoritarian misrule.

Prevailing in an against-all-odds election win in 2018, Mahathir partnered with his estranged protégé and former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, to topple scandal-plagued Najib Razak’s premiership, heralding Malaysia’s first-ever democratic transfer of power and bringing an end to the United Malays National Organization’s (UMNO) 61-year rule.

Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, however, fell less than two years into its mandate, as the leadership of his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), or Bersatu, staged a political coup and formed a new, unelected government propped by UMNO that brought incumbent Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to power in February.

In a wide-ranging interview with Asia Times’ Nile Bowie and Shawn W. Crispin, the nonagenarian politician articulated his plans to recapture the premiership for an unprecedented third term, touching on everything from his relationship with Anwar, his leadership legacy and Malaysia’s place amid intensifying US-China superpower rivalry.

Read the full story at Asia Times here and here

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Anwar-Mahathir countercoup hits a wall in Malaysia

Veteran politicians' plan to overtake PM Muhyiddin's coalition breaking down over who should be leader next


Nearly four months after losing power in a backroom political maneuver, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition’s efforts to reclaim the electoral mandate it won at historic 2018 elections have hit a wall.

An impasse over who should lead a potential new government if PH is able to resume control through defections in parliament has brought the political alliance’s many fault lines into clear view.

Intrigue and ambiguity over a tacit agreement for then-premier Mahathir Mohamad to hand power to his former deputy and rival Anwar Ibrahim pervaded the multi-racial coalition’s 22 months in power, a factor that analysts say contributed to its dramatic collapse in February.

PH’s quest to return to federal power and unseat Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s ethno-nationalist Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition is now in disarray over a failure by its component parties and allies to reach a consensus over their candidate for the premiership.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Beijing-backed security law hangs darkly over Hong Kong

Pending law will punish secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference but many fear will also curb rights and liberties


When Hong Kong authorities attempted to push through amendments to the city’s extradition laws last year, more than a million protesters took to the streets of the Chinese-ruled financial hub to oppose changes that would have allowed criminal suspects to be tried in the mainland’s courts.

While the widely-opposed rendition bill was ultimately withdrawn, critics say newly proposed national security legislation will effectively bring the mainland’s legal system to Hong Kong, with China’s National People’s Congress empowered to write and apply the still pending law without the approval of the territory’s legislature.

Though Beijing has yet to confirm the bill’s relevant clauses, officials have indicated that those in breach of the law, which will punish secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the city’s affairs, could be extradited to the mainland for trial, just as the earlier, now shelved proposal controversially sought.

Many see the precedent set by the central government using exemptions in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the territory’s de facto constitution, to impose the new legislation as an inflection point that could spell the end of the “one country, two systems” framework enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that guarantees the city’s high degree of autonomy.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.