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 Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah 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.