Thursday, 20 September 2018

Najib stares at jail time as 1MDB charges mount

Malaysian ex-premier hit with 25 new criminal charges including receiving, using and transferring illegal proceeds in what may prove to be the world's biggest ever financial scam


New charges were leveled today against Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak in connection with an international corruption scandal at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund, which accumulated billions of dollars in debts while the ex-premier served as its advisory board chairman.

Twenty-five charges were laid against Najib, 64, whose nine-year premiership was repudiated by voters at this year’s May 9 polls, related to a US$681 million transfer made into his personal bank account in 2013. Najib does not dispute the transfer but claims the funds were a “political donation” from a Saudi royal and not subject to regulation under Malaysian law.

Investigators, however, believe the funds were pilfered from 1MDB in one of the world’s biggest ever financial scandals. Charges unveiled today include nine counts of receiving illegal proceeds, five counts of using illegal proceeds, seven counts of transferring the proceeds to other entities and four counts of power abuse.

The former premier, who faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence if convicted, has pleaded not guilty to all charges so far and has denied any wrongdoing. Graft probes are underway in at least six countries and investigators at the US Department of Justice (DoJ) believe Najib’s associates embezzled and laundered US$4.5 billion from the fund from 2009 to 2014.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Chinese buyer beware in Mahathir’s Malaysia

Malaysian leader aims to bar foreign, spelled Chinese, buyers from the US$100 billion Forest City real estate project he has lambasted as a Chinese 'enclave'


A vast real estate development under construction in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor is in the spotlight over a widening political row pitting the country’s wily nonagenarian premier against a large private Chinese property developer backed by the state’s influential ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail.

The ambitious US$100 billion mega-project, known as Forest City, is administered in partnership with an investment entity whose largest shareholder is the sultan. It is designed to span four artificial islands built adjacent to neighboring Singapore and if fully built will alter the area’s map by creating a new private residential township expected to accommodate 700,000 residents by 2050.

Though Forest City is at an early stage of development and barely inhabited, Chinese nationals reportedly make up some 70%, or two-thirds, of apartment buyers so far, with Malaysians accounting for just 20% of sales. Foreign property buyers from 22 other countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea, have also invested in units.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced in late August that foreigners could no longer buy properties there, surprising many – including Johor’s state government – and contradicting Malaysian law, which allows for foreign citizens and companies to acquire land and property subject to the prior approval of state, rather than federal, authorities.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Mahathir driving for a new national dream car

Malaysian premier aims to revive his past ambition to build an indigenous auto despite the loss-making reality of his previous Proton pet project


When Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed a new national car project shortly after his May 9 election win, Malaysians quickly took to social media to question the wisdom of reviving a state-led strategy that had delivered at best mixed results during his previous tenure as premier.

For some, Mahathir’s talk of producing a new national car appeared less about an automobile and more about course-correcting the legacy of his earlier 22-year premiership from 1981-2003, under which industrialization policies and ambitious prestige-boosting projects were deployed to modernize Malaysia’s then-largely agrarian economy.

Proton, Malaysia’s flagship national car, was arguably the main driver of the country’s industrialization push when it launched over three decades ago as a fully state-owned entity. When the first generation Proton Saga rolled off the production line in 1985, Mahathir – a noted car enthusiast – hailed it as “a symbol of Malaysians as a dignified people.”

The state-financed carmaker dominated the Malaysian market in the early 1990s, with a 74% market share at its peak. Protectionist tariffs that made imported cars comparatively expensive drove those local sales. Post-Mahathir governments, however, eased those import levies and precipitated a sharp decline in Proton’s sales. By 2017, only 13.8% of the new cars on Malaysia’s road were Protons.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Mahathir resets the terms for dealing with China

Malaysian premier's bid to maintain close ties despite canceling US$22 billion worth of BRI projects is a litmus test of Beijing's flexibility


Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad welcomed Chinese trade, technology and investment while cautioning against a “new version of colonialism” during his recently concluded first state visit to China since winning the premiership in May.

During a joint news conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who reportedly directly asked Mahathir whether there was consensus on upholding free trade between both sides, the 93-year-old premier replied in the affirmative, while also adding that “free trade should also be fair trade.”

The world’s most senior statesman has made the recalibration of ties with China a key foreign policy priority following months of stinging criticism of his scandal-plagued predecessor Najib Razak, who stands accused of unscrupulous borrowing to fund China-backed mega-projects worth billions of dollars.

Mahathir has claimed that Najib’s willingness to assume huge foreign debts and agree to lopsided contracts risked eroding Malaysia’s sovereignty. Malaysian officials also have suspicions that Chinese companies were involved in the multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) graft scandal, of which Najib stands personally accused of foul play. The ex-premier has denied the accusations.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Kim Jong-nam murder suspects one step closer to death

Malaysian court moves ahead with death penalty case against two foreign female suspects widely viewed as scapegoats for a North Korean state sponsored crime


Two Southeast Asian women on trial for the February 2017 murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, were ordered today by a High Court in Malaysia to mount a defense against prosecution claims, dashing certain hopes that the accused would be acquitted and released on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Trial judge Azmi Ariffin ruled that the prosecution had proven a prima facie case against Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 26, and Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong, 29, both of whom had pleaded “not guilty” when their trial opened last October. The pair, who are the only suspects in custody in connection with the killing by poison, face a mandatory death sentence if convicted.

The Malaysian judge could not rule out the possibility of a “well-planned conspiracy” between the two women and several North Korean operatives still at large, suggesting the accused had a common intention to carry out the killing. The order will extend the closely watched trial, which is set to resume in November with Siti as its first witness.

“We are deeply disappointed with the ruling,” said Gooi Soon Seng, Siti’s lawyer, in remarks to reporters. “It doesn’t mean the court has found them guilty. The court wants to hear their version,” he said. Doan also intends to testify in court, though it is unclear when she will do so.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Looking to Malaysia, Singapore’s opposition comes together

Ex-MP Tan Cheng Bock's new alliance aims to replicate Malaysia's opposition election win to depose Singapore's long-ruling People's Action Party


The May 9 election triumph of Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition, marking the country’s first-ever transition of power since achieving independence in 1957, was perhaps most closely watched in neighboring Singapore, where the People’s Action Party (PAP) has ruled uninterrupted since 1959.

With the fall of Malaysia’s long-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, the PAP is now the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia. But the BN’s unexpected loss has caused many in Singapore to ponder the possibility of the PAP one day losing power, a prospect local opposition parties hope to realize at the next polls.

“The people of Singapore, like the people in Malaysia, must be tired of having the same government, the same party since independence,” newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad remarked in an interview after returning to office. He is remembered in Singapore for acerbic remarks that frequently needled the rich city-state during his previous 22-year tenure.

Though political conditions in the two neighbors differ in important ways, the parallels are apparently close enough for the leaders of Singapore’s disparate opposition parties to look to Pakatan Harapan’s strategy and tactics as a roadmap, in spite of the PAP’s asymmetric dominance in parliament and ironclad control over the state bureaucracy.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Sunday, 5 August 2018

‘Indo-Pacific’ pitch gets lukewarm reception in SE Asia

US envoy Mike Pompeo failed to make a meaningful economic counter to China's rich initiatives during a highly anticipated five-day tour of the strategic region


Days after announcing a big new investment pitch for Southeast Asia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began a five-day trip with visits to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia to ramp up regional support for America’s new “Indo-Pacific” strategy aimed at counterbalancing China.

The trip came amid mounting trade tensions between the US and China as both powers compete for regional influence. Most of Southeast Asia’s trade-reliant economies are skeptical of the Donald Trump administration’s trade policies, fearing a sustained trade war between the world’s two biggest economies will negatively impact on regional growth.

Though Southeast Asian nations are cool to Trump’s lurch towards protectionism, the alternative of China’s economic dominance also stirs unease. US officials say they do not intend to compete directly with Beijing’s initiatives, including the US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative, but Pompeo’s remarks clearly framed the strategy as a counter to China.

“Like so many of our Asian allies and friends, our country fought for its own independence from an empire that expected deference,” Pompeo told the US Chamber of Commerce during a policy speech last week in an apparent reference to China. “We thus have never and will never seek domination in the Indo-Pacific, and we will oppose any country that does.”

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Can Mahathir solve Malaysia Airlines’ riddle?

New investigation into Flight MH370's tragic disappearance offers few new answers, but hopes are rising the new premier can lift the sunken carrier's fortunes


An investigative report by the Malaysian government into the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS) Flight MH370 – which went missing shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014 – offered few new conclusions on the Beijing-bound flight.

But certain hopes are rising that new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad can manufacture a turnaround of the beleaguered national flag carrier. The new report, released earlier this week, said that the Boeing 777-200ER plane was deliberately manipulated off course, but stopped short of apportioning specific blame.

The aircraft’s transponders were shut off without a mayday call less than an hour into the ill-fated flight carrying 239 people. As the plane left Malaysian airspace, it was soon thereafter manually turned away from its flight path, veering thousands of miles off course where it is believed to have plunged into the Indian Ocean.

“We are not of the opinion it could have been an event committed by the pilots,” said Kok Soo Chon, head of the MH370 safety investigation team. Psychiatrists assisted investigators in conducting background checks into Zaharie and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, who concluded they were “quite satisfied” with the pilots’ training and mental health.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

How far will Mahathir push China?

Malaysian leader's government has frozen China-invested projects and raided Chinese companies in a complex and high-risk negotiation to reset relations


When Malaysia’s opposition alliance notched a historic upset election win on May 9, attention quickly turned to the prospects for various multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects outgoing premier Najib Razak entered into with China.

As the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate, Mahathir Mohamad vowed greater scrutiny of China-linked projects, which on the hustings he frequently criticized for their overreliance on Chinese manpower and materials. This month, Mahathir’s new government issued a stop-work order on major China-linked projects, stalling over US$20 billion worth of contracts in a bid to renegotiate in the name of fairness and viability.

Mahathir, who maintains he wants “good relations” with China, will travel to Beijing next month in a visit that will be closely watched as Malaysia shifts away from the Najib-era transactional model of foreign policy in favor of a more non-aligned stance reflective of the nation’s emerging stature as a regional middle power.

Daim Zainuddin, the premier’s trusted trouble-shooter and head of the country’s Council of Eminent Persons advisory body, was recently dispatched to Beijing to lay the groundwork for Mahathir’s follow-up visit in August and establish a scope for the renegotiation of suspended projects.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Friday, 20 July 2018

Malaysia’s Najib sought CIA support before election defeat

Exposed secret letter sent by then premier's office to US spy agency painted soon-to-be election winner Mahathir Mohamad as a threat to US interests


Malaysia’s previous Najib Razak-led government appealed to the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seeking American support to form his country’s next government ahead of a closely fought election on May 9, according to a recent expose published by local news portal Malaysiakini.

Five days before the historic general election, an intelligence unit in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Department penned an official letter to then-CIA director-designate Gina Haspel acknowledging the competitiveness of the contest, while noting that Najib was expected to “win the election adequately to form the next government.”

The letter, signed by the division’s director general Hasanah Ab Hamid, underscored “the need to have US support for the present government even if we are to win the election by a simple majority or just one seat,” and requested that the CIA relay “the complexity of managing this election” to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Najib’s long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition was roundly defeated at the May 9 polls after garnering just over one-third of the national vote. Pakatan Harapan, Malaysia’s former opposition coalition, now leads the federal government under the premiership of Mahathir Mohamad, who was previously prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

How fugitive financier Jho Low stays above the law

Malaysian businessman is wanted in the multi-billion dollar 1MDB money laundering scam but has so far managed to evade arrest and stay in business


Police and immigration authorities in Malaysia and Singapore are on the lookout for fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, a reputed billionaire tycoon who is wanted in connection with a global corruption probe into 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state development fund created and overseen by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Investigators believe the 37-year-old, better known as Jho Low, helped to orchestrate one of the world’s biggest ever financial scandals now under investigation by at least six countries including Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. Malaysia’s newly-elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reopened a domestic probe into 1MDB as one of his first acts as premier.

Past bids to investigate 1MDB’s dealings were reportedly obstructed by Najib, who removed Malaysia’s then attorney general and sacked critics within his own party in 2015. The former premier was arrested and charged this month with abuse of power and criminal breach of trust for dealings at SRC International, a former 1MDB unit. Najib has since been released on bail.

The government’s renewed 1MDB pursuit recently saw a Malaysian police dragnet closing in on Low, who had until recently occupied multiple upscale Hong Kong apartments with his entourage, according to reports. He reportedly fled to Macau earlier this month before police could apprehend him in Hong Kong.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Moon looks to SE Asia for peace and prosperity

South Korean leader's visit to Singapore aimed to leverage Asean's fast growth and willingness to integrate North Korea into the global community


One month after the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, matchmaker South Korean President Moon Jae-in dispatched on a peace in tour to Southeast Asia.

The man whose personal diplomacy played an indispensable role in bringing together the two longtime adversaries spent three days in Singapore, the wealthy Asian city-state that played host to the landmark summit, for a high-profile state visit.

“One cannot talk of peace without speaking of Singapore,” he said in the highlight lecture of his visit, where he conveyed a message of gratitude and praise while underscoring the important role that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can play in integrating North Korea into the international community.

Moon’s visit showcased his administration’s “New Southern Policy,” a key strategy that seeks to diversify and enhance Seoul’s political and economic relations with ASEAN’s 10 member states, as well as India, where the South Korean leader embarked from prior to arriving in Singapore.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Mahathir picks a water fight with Singapore

Malaysian premier says a decades-old, fixed rate supply contract is 'too costly' and 'ridiculous' while the rich city-state maintains that a deal is a deal


In resource-scarce Singapore, water is sacrosanct. Water security has long been a perennial concern for the otherwise rich city-state, which for decades has relied on water imports from neighboring Malaysia to meet demand.

Now, a contentious dispute over those contractual water sales that previously stoked bilateral tensions has resurfaced under newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who recently described the decades-old deal as “too costly” and “manifestly ridiculous.”

Under the 1962 agreement, Singapore can import up to 250 million gallons of raw water per day from the Johor River at the low cost of 0.03 Malaysian ringgit per 1,000 gallons.

The legally binding agreement was guaranteed by both governments and registered with the United Nations when Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent state in 1965. The deal is not due to expire until 2061.

Malaysia sought a price revision during Mahathir’s previous term as premier, a dispute that severely strained ties in the early 2000’s, but talks stalled and were ultimately abandoned.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Saturday, 7 July 2018

70 years later, Malayan Emergency’s legacy lives on

Political compact that emerged from the conflict and defined post-colonial Malaysia's governance and race relations is now under review


This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Malayan Emergency, an undeclared war fought between the Communist Party of Malaya’s (CPM) guerrilla army and the former British colonial government of Malaya. Modern-day independent Malaysia would emerge from the tumult.

Over the course of the 1948-60 conflict, ethnic minorities were granted citizenship for the first time and Malaya’s first municipal and district elections were held, developments that fostered the political alliance that would define Malaysia’s post-colonial landscape.

While the period saw an ideological division widen in relation to Malaya’s place among the rival blocs of the Cold War, another struggle with links to the present also manifested: the tussle for a viable political compact capable of effectively governing Malaya’s complex multiracial society. Seven decades on, after historic elections on May 9 this year, that long-held compact is now under review.

Leading the armed communist revolt for Malayan independence was Ong Boon Hua, an ethnic Chinese political activist better known by his alias Chin Peng. Years before becoming the British Empire’s most wanted man, he was one of Britain’s most dependable wartime allies, helping to drive invading Japanese forces out of Malaya during World War II.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Najib arrested and charged in stunning fall from grace

Former Malaysian premier is held for his alleged role in pilfering billions from 1MDB fund. But is this the dawn of a 'New Malaysia' or old-fashioned political vengeance?


Anti-corruption officers arrested Malaysia’s former premier Najib Razak at his residence on Tuesday, a stunning reversal of fortunes and the latest in a string of dramatic political developments that have unfolded since May 9 polls toppled the long-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition for the first time in the nation’s history.

Since returning to office, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations into an international corruption scandal at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund, which accumulated billions in debts following its 2009 launch with Najib as its advisory board chairman.

Money laundering probes into 1MDB dealings are ongoing in at least six countries. Graft investigators at the US Department of Justice (DoJ) believe Najib’s associates embezzled and laundered US$4.5 billion from the fund from 2009 to 2014, some of which landed in the ex-premier’s bank account. Najib staunchly denies any wrongdoing.

Najib’s arrest yesterday was in relation to dealings at SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB which pursued overseas investments in energy resources. Investigators questioned the former premier in May over US$10.6 million from SRC International that was discovered to have been channeled into Najib’s personal bank account.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

While skeptical of China, Mahathir embraces Jack Ma

Malaysian PM regularly blasts Chinese projects for neglecting his people, but he approves of Alibaba's initiatives in his country


Since his surprise electoral win on May 9, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has taken hard aim at several China-backed investment projects initiated by his predecessor, ex-premier Najib Razak.

With reviews of infrastructure deals and multilateral trade and security pacts now underway, many have wondered whether recent initiatives by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, could face similar tough scrutiny.

But Mahathir’s meeting this week with Chinese business magnate Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder and executive chairman, signaled the Chinese e-commerce giant’s grand plans for Malaysia will likely continue unperturbed.

Alibaba is in the midst of a massive investment push into Southeast Asia, including the establishment of a so-called “Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ)” based in Malaysia. Launched last November and heavily promoted by former premier Najib, the DFTZ aims to position Malaysia as a regional e-commerce and logistics hub designed to promote small and medium-sized enterprises’ (SMEs) exports.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Mahathir looks beyond China to Japan

Malaysia's new premier has hit the ground running, reaching out to Japan to ease reliance on China, and seeking new multilateral fora to boost the region's bargaining power


Malaysia’s newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is back on the world stage – and is not shy about stating his opinions. Following a historic election victory last month that returned the nonagenarian to the political apex as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister, Mahathir’s first overseas trip to Tokyo was both symbolic and indicative of a return to a non-aligned foreign policy.

Mahathir’s stunning comeback was a welcome surprise for Japan, which has seen its own influence in Southeast Asia diminish relative to an increasingly assertive and economically ambitious China. Prior to his ouster, scandal-tainted former premier Najib Razak had developed robust economic and security ties with Beijing.

By contrast, Mahathir pursued a “Look East” policy in the early 1980s that aimed to imbue Malaysians with the cultural strengths and work ethic of East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea. The policy sought to acquire the skills and knowledge that made Northeast Asia’s development models a success.

Mahathir’s new government, cash-strapped from the endemic corruption and mismanagement of the Najib era, now appears set to revive “Look East,” through which low-cost capital and investments from Japan could ease recent dependence on China, a strategic re-balancing rife with geopolitical implications.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Asia widely welcomes Kim-Trump detente

The first high-profile glimpse of a new Asian geopolitical landscape may be taking shape


US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s historic meeting in Singapore yesterday and the budding relationship between the two men represent the most significant shift in US policy toward the region in decades. Indeed, the first high-profile glimpse of a new Asian geopolitical landscape may be taking shape.

While media pundits in the West were skeptical and even cynical of the aspirational declaration signed between the two leaders – who were until recently adversaries exchanging barbs and threats of war – opinions in Asia, including those of world leaders in the region, generally welcomed and praised the unprecedented d├ętente.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, whose role as an interlocutor between Trump and Kim helped to bring the summit to fruition, praised both leaders for taking a “daring step towards change” and hailed the outcome as ending the world’s last remaining Cold War conflict.

Moon and South Korean premier Lee Nak-yeon reacted to a live stream of Trump and Kim’s first-ever handshake with beaming smiles, with the former saying during a Cabinet meeting that he “hardly slept last night” in anticipation of the momentous meeting. Still, questions remain about what a new friendship between Washington and Pyongyang will mean for the wider region.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Monday, 11 June 2018

Countdown to historic Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore

US President and North Korean leader both met with Singaporean PM, while working-level talks continued between both sides


The leaders of the United States and North Korea arrived have in Singapore ahead of a historic summit that could pave the way for wider negotiations to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, potentially laying aside historic bitterness and enmity between Washington and Pyongyang that has persisted for nearly seven decades since the 1950-53 Korean War.

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are expected to meet on June 12 at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa. It will be the first time a sitting American president has met with a North Korean leader, a stunning turnaround from the saber-rattling and threats of destruction exchanged by the two sides only months ago.

The two leaders and their delegations are staying in luxury hotels in downtown Singapore, Trump at the Shangri-La Hotel and Kim at the St. Regis. Singapore, a wealthy Asian city-state, one of the few countries with ties to both the US and North Korea, is regarded as capable of ensuring the two leaders security while providing a neutral meeting ground.

Kim arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport on Sunday, marking the start of the longest overseas trip taken by a recent North Korean leader. His aircraft, a Boeing 747 provided by Air China, appeared to maximize the amount of time it spent in Chinese airspace, taking an inland route over four Chinese provinces, according to flight trackers.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Kim-Trump summit a brand boost for Singapore

Wealthy island-state sees the historic summit as 'magnificent' opportunity to both promote world peace and sell itself as a world-class meeting venue


When US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un exchange their first-ever handshake at a resort hotel in Singapore, the city-state playing host to the historic meeting will be hoping for a breakthrough. Whatever the outcome of this week’s high-stakes summit, Singapore is pulling out all the stops to ensure its success.

Casting Singapore as a prestige venue for high-security events, its top diplomat at the center of recent shuttle diplomacy suggests the city-state is also playing an important role as a neutral arbitrator. Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has led delegations both to Washington and Pyongyang in recent days in preparation for the June 12 summit.

Singapore, a wealthy Asian financial center, is one of the few countries in the world to maintain business links and relatively cordial ties with both the United States and North Korea. It was chosen as the venue for the first-ever meeting between the two adversarial countries’ leaders because it could ensure their security and provide a neutral meeting ground.

Balakrishnan told local media that North Korea regards the summit as a “magnificent opportunity” to deal with an “intractable problem” and that playing host was Singapore’s “contribution to world peace.” Other top ministers in the city-state have emphasized the high degree of trust and confidence placed in Singapore by all sides.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The changing face of Malaysian justice

Muslim resistance to ethnic Indian Tommy Thomas' appointment as attorney general points to future race and religion-based resistance to new government's reform agenda


An impasse between Malaysia’s newly elected Pakatan Harapan ruling coalition and the country’s influential ethnic Malay royals over the appointment of a new attorney general has underscored the potential for resistance to the new government’s reform agenda.

Tommy Thomas, a veteran lawyer and constitutional law expert, was the unanimous choice of Harapan’s leaders and component parties for the post. His nomination to be the nation’s top lawyer, however, was opposed by some because the candidate, an ethnic Indian Christian, is not from the Malay Muslim majority.

Thousands signed an online petition opposing his appointment on ethnic and religious grounds, a stance supported by the opposition Islamist party Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), which argued that a non-Muslim would not be capable of advising the government on matters pertaining to Islam.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sent a letter last month to Sultan Muhammad V, the country’s constitutional monarch, or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, advising the ruler to dismiss Mohamed Apandi Ali, the attorney general appointed by scandal-plagued former premier Najib Razak, and to appoint Thomas as his replacement.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Could Mahathir’s clean-up spark a financial crisis?

Revelations that Malaysia's public debt is closer to 80% of GDP than previously disclosed 50% is pushing down shares and driving capital outflows


Though few expected the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition to win Malaysia’s May 9 polls, markets were mainly calm following Mahathir Mohamad’s spectacular return to the premiership.

His appointment of well-respected ministers to economic and finance related portfolios, as well as creation of a council of experienced advisors including a former central bank chief, meanwhile, aimed to reassure investors that his government would remain business-friendly.

But three weeks into Mahathir’s course-shifting term, market skepticism is already starting to creep in. The coalition campaigned on promises to scrap an unpopular goods and services tax (GST), reintroduce petrol subsidies and review toll road concessions. Mahathir has also called for the review of large-scale investment projects awarded during the predecessor Najib Razak’s administration.

Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have weighed in with a shared view that GST abolishment could raise government deficits if not offset by other revenue-raising measures. Fitch has forecasted short-term “headwinds” while noting that current economic growth momentum is still strong.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Monday, 28 May 2018

What Singapore could learn from Malaysia

Cross-straits relations will be tested as newly elected Malaysian government aims to review bilateral deals and projects in the name of reform


When then Malaysian premier Najib Razak met his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong at their annual leaders’ retreat in January, it wasn’t readily apparent at the time that it would be their last bilateral meeting.

Najib, grinning ear-to-ear, told a press conference that he didn’t expect upcoming elections in his country would “change the nature” of bilateral ties between the two neighbors. “Because you have confidence in the results,” quipped Lee, giving way to chummy laughter.

Both men share a personal chemistry, rapport and common vision that had eluded often prickly cross-straits ties in previous decades. The off-the-cuff exchange between the two leaders’ went viral on social media at the time.

Mahathir Mohamad’s return to the premiership has thus stirred certain anxieties in Singapore in light of his past antagonism towards the city-state. Some commentators felt that Lee had “bet on the wrong horse” at the May 9 polls Najib lost and Mahathir won, and that Lee had failed to nurture meaningful ties with the pre-election opposition.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Malaysians agog as tables turn on Najib

Expedited probes into ex-premier's alleged corruption could reach beyond 1MDB scandal to a dodgy submarine deal to the murder of a Mongolian model


Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is under heavy fire as new premier Mahathir Mohamad’s government quickly launches and widens investigations into alleged corruption at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund that may have cost the nation billions of dollars in pilfered losses.

Najib, whose once-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition lost resoundingly at May 9 polls, is implicated in an embezzlement racket after suspicious transfers allegedly linked to 1MDB were discovered in his personal bank. He has denied all wrongdoing at the fund he created and oversaw, claiming the US$681 million found in his account was a gift from a Saudi royal.

In recent days, Malaysians have watched agog as Najib’s properties were raided by armed police. Authorities have seized and carted off luxury items, confiscating 284 designer handbags presumably belonging to his wife Rosmah Mansor, and 72 suitcases containing cash in various currencies, watches and jewelry.

Mahathir’s office has quickly established a special taskforce, comprised of members of Malaysia’s anti-graft agency, police and the central bank, to investigate 1MDB. A similar investigative body was established in 2015, but was halted by Najib, who was widely seen as interfering with the domestic probe by removing the attorney general and other probing officials.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Malaysia’s Anwar is free at last

But will the erstwhile opposition leader really be able to co-exist with new premier and former nemesis Mahathir Mohamad?


Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s twice-jailed former opposition leader, walked free on Wednesday afternoon, bringing an end to a tumultuous legal saga that saw the iconic politician incarcerated on sodomy charges that critics and observers have long regarded as politically motivated.

Emerging from a hospital in Kuala Lumpur where he had been receiving treatment following shoulder surgery last November, Anwar smiled and waved to supporters before being whisked away for an audience with Sultan Muhammad V, Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, or Yang di-Pertuang Agong. The sultan gave Anwar a full royal pardon.

Anwar’s expedited release is yet another stunning development in Malaysia’s politics following the shock election victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition earlier this month, ending the uninterrupted six decade rule of the once-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and returning former leader Mahathir Mohamad to the premiership.

Mahathir, who previously governed Malaysia for 22 years as prime minister, was the first to greet Anwar upon his arrival at the national palace. The scene signaled a new chapter in the volatile and dramatic relationship between the two politicians, who have been both political allies and bitter rivals at different intervals of Malaysia’s recent history.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The shape of things to come under Mahathir 2.0

Malaysia's 92-year-old new premier has moved swiftly against his scandal-plagued predecessor Najib Razak, setting the tone for a new political era


A new era has dawned for Malaysian politics with the once opposition, now ruling Pakatan Harapan at the helm of government after a shock May 9 election result few experts foresaw. And it’s first hours in power have already produced a string of dramatic events.

In a stunning reversal of fortunes, the once-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition garnered just over one-third of the national vote, bringing an end to its uninterrupted 61-year rule. Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad – an iconic former prime minister who led the BN coalition for 22-years – was again sworn in as premier, this time as Harapan’s chairman.

Malaysians greeted the extraordinary events with jubilance, celebrating in the streets and waiting with baited breath for Mahathir, 92, to take his oath. Electoral gains by Harapan, an unlikely coalition of former rivals and adversaries who set differences aside to end BN’s scandal-plagued rule, have since turned the country’s political landscape on its head.

As nonagenarian Mahathir began his first non-consecutive term as premier, ousted leader Najib Razak retreated into quiet as the first Malaysian premier to ever lose a general election, a stunning fall from grace that forced his resignation as head of the once-ruling BN and its lynchpin party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Mahathir wins in shock election result in Malaysia

Ex-premier's Harapan alliance decisively ends Prime Minister Najib Razak's Barisan Nasional coalition's 61-year run in power


Voters in Malaysia have elected a new federal government for the first time in history. Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance, led by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad, has claimed a stunning victory, bringing an end to the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s uninterrupted 61-year rule.

Contrary to widely cited expert projections predicting a slim victory for BN, the four-party opposition Harapan pact has handed the long-ruling coalition a devastating defeat, moving Malaysian politics into unchartered territory and raising questions about the fate of repudiated scandal-plagued premier Najib Razak.

Official results trickled in slowly throughout Wednesday evening showing Harapan making stronger-than-expected inroads in battleground state Johor, long regarded as a fortress of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the now-defeated party Mahathir previously led during his 22-year tenure as Malaysia’s fourth prime minister.

Hours later, in a stunning 3:00 am press conference declaring Harapan’s victory with a simple parliamentary majority, reality set in that Mahathir would soon be sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Malaysia’s election teeters on a knife edge

While Prime Minister Najib Razak's coalition is favored to prevail, Mahathir Mohamad's opposition alliance appears to have momentum on its side


On the eve of Malaysia’s most hotly ever contested election, conventional wisdom suggests that Prime Minister Najib Razak will emerge the victor, extending the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s six-decade hold on power.

Momentum on the ground, however, appears to be with the Pakatan Harapan opposition pact led by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Massive crowds have greeted urban-based Harapan rallies since campaigning commenced on April 28. Several veteran ex-members of Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have come out in support of Mahathir, who previously led the country for 22 years under UMNO’s banner.

The opposition pact – an unlikely alliance of secular Chinese politicians, pro-democracy reformers, moderate Islamists and ex-UMNO supporters – appears closer than many imagined possible to capturing Putrajaya in what is shaping into a knife-edge contest.

Malaysia’s electoral machinery, critics and observers say, favors the ruling coalition through gerrymandered electoral boundaries. The Election Commission, though statutorily independent, has imposed various restrictions that have hobbled Harapan’s campaigning, raising questions about the legitimacy of the May 9 polls.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Prelude to unfree, unfair elections in Malaysia

State-controlled Election Commission is pulling all stops to hobble the Mahathir Mohamad-led opposition's chances at May 9 polls


Campaigning is off to a controversial start in Malaysia ahead of May 9 elections pitting premier Najib Razak’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition against ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad’s upstart Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance.

Expectations of a tight race abound as opposition parties ramp up their bid to win over voters in key constituencies across the country in an attempt to oust Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has governed the country continuously for over six decades.

Preliminary forecasts predict a victory for the ruling BN, though observers expect a tightly fought race. While recent electoral boundary changes will benefit UMNO and BN, opposition candidates now face a raft of legal hurdles that are significantly hobbling their campaigns.

Arbitrary restrictions on opposition campaigning are already raising questions about the legitimacy of the upcoming polls and stoking concerns of possible instability if opposition supporters become convinced that Harapan is denied a deserved victory.

Candidates submitted nomination papers at their home constituencies on April 28, marking the start of an 11-day campaign period. Several opposition candidates, however, were disqualified from contesting by the Election Commission (EC) on what many see as spurious and potentially unlawful grounds.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Israel drops gauntlet on Malaysia’s help to Hamas

Targeted assassination of researcher in Kuala Lumpur likely part of Israeli campaign to kill overseas Palestinian scientists and engineers


Thousands of mourners gathered in Gaza on Friday for the funeral of Fadi al-Batsh, a respected Palestinian researcher and engineering lecturer who was assassinated by gun-wielding assailants in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on April 21 while heading to a mosque for dawn prayers.

Al-Batsh studied electrical engineering in Gaza and earned a PhD on the subject from the University of Malaya. The slain academic was a member of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007. Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, led the funeral prayers and alleged that Israel was involved in the killing.

Malaysian police have issued facial composite sketches of two men suspected of firing at least 14 shots at al-Batsh from a high-powered motorcycle. Authorities have said that the suspects, who remain at large and are still believed to be in Malaysia, were light-skinned and of European or Middle Eastern descent.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, claimed the perpetrators were Europeans with links to a foreign intelligence agency. He added that al-Batsh was a “liability for a country that is an enemy of Palestine”, a thinly veiled reference to Israel.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Malaysia’s election a de facto vote on China

Premier Najib Razak has built robust relations with Beijing, ties opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad vows to scrutinize and unwind if elected


When Malaysians head to the polls on May 9, their choice will also determine the nation’s future relations with China.

Mahathir Mohamad, the four-party opposition alliance’s nonagenarian prime ministerial candidate and a previous premier, is campaigning in part on resetting Malaysia’s ties to China, a relationship he says has become too one-sided under incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In a recent media interview, Mahathir vowed if elected to put Chinese investments under greater scrutiny, saying that Chinese companies would be welcome to set up operations in Malaysia provided they hire locals while bringing in capital and technology.

The former premier said in the interview that Malaysians currently “gain nothing” from China’s investments in the country. Though Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan alliance pledged in its election manifesto to encourage continued investment from China and other Asian countries, it has also vowed to review all foreign-funded mega-projects.

That includes the China-backed US$13 billion East Coast Rail Line, the US$7.3 billion Melaka Gateway port project, as well as other billions pledged by Beijing toward urban infrastructure, land reclamation and industrial parks.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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