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.