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.