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Seeking a new vision for Malaysia

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Authors: Murray Hunter, Azly Rahman

“ … I am indeed proud that on this, the greatest day in Malaya’s history it falls to my lot to proclaim the formal independence of this country.

Today as new page is turned, and Malaya steps forward to take her rightful place as a free and independent partner in the great community of Nations-a new nation is born and though we fully realise that difficulties and problems lie ahead, we are confident that, with the blessing of God, these difficulties will be overcome and that today’s events, down the avenues of history, will be our inspiration and our guide …” – Tunku Abdul Rahman, first prime minister of Malaysia, Proclamation of Independence, 31 August, 1957

Today’s debate in Malaysia has gone down to the lowest ebb. Discourse on democracy is dead; bludgeoned by the caretakers of the cult of secrecy of the ruling regime. The dream of a progressive Malaysia conceived by her freedom fighters and founding fathers and mothers such as Burhanuddin Al-Helmy, Ibrahim Yaakob, Onn Jaafar, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Chen Lock, V. T. Sambanthan, and even the much contested heroic figures such as Chin Peng, Rashid Maidin, Mokhtaruddin LassoIbrahim Lasso, and Shamsiah Fakeh has turned into a nightmare in broad daylight. If there is a period of decay in destruction of the democratic institutions yearning to grow well this is the time of chaos and anarchy: of Malaysia in the Age of Corrupt Systems.

The challenges of a nation-state today, seem insurmountable not because the idea of a “nation” of many, hybridizing with the singularity, sovereignty, and sensibility of the modern state is an impossibility, but because there is no political will to make Malaysia that nation-state be realized in its entirety. In other words, Malaysia has been made to become a neo-colonialist divide-and-rule hyper-modern polity. The apartheidization of society is deliberate and necessary a design in order for the political-economic elite to rule. Herein lies our intention to explore the theme of the “Malaysian Dream,” and propose explanations to the reasons for the rotting of this neo-colonialist construct and offer ideas towards a remedy. In doing so, we are guided by these questions: What are the ills of this country? What remedies does she need? How do we Malaysians chart a new world of possibilities? What are our visions? — these are the questions we are exploring in this brief essay on the future of Malaysia.

Malaysia’s predicament

Malaysia’s current situation and social condition is one characterized by violence; from a spectrum of hidden and subtle to blatant and outright display of it. Talks of a possible racially-motivated riot in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur and a US terror alert warning for that area, a massive rally calling for the end of corruption and a call for free and fair elections, the immense complexity of the ENRON-like case of the Malaysian investment project, the 1MDB and its story which read like a Watergate and a pulp fiction of global money-laundering combined, the resurfacing of the call to investigate the gruesome murder of a Mongolian model-cum- Russian interpreter of a governmental French-submarine deal, the ugly spillovers of the current war of political survival and relevancy between the camps of Najib Tun Razak and former prime minster of 22-years, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad – all these happenings within the last few months are symptoms of this Malaysian socio-political cancer, or a noli me tangere as the Filipino nationalist of the 50s Jose’ Rizal would call it.

How do we get to this seemingly point of no-return? Malaysians may now be reflecting on the spiritual aspect of the predicament. As Jesus/Isa said in The Sermon on the Mount, on “The Beatitudes,” one cannot serve god and money at the same time; as Thich Nach Han preached of the path of peace and moderation; as Muhammad spoke of Humanity as one and transcends race and tribalism, and that an Arab is no superior than any other race.

The remedy of these predicaments is what we ought to work on, gradually but surely through a long deliberate process of inner and outer change, one simply called “Education” — that gentle profession that will ensure personal and social progress.

Today there is a talk of crafting a peace-making and peace-building plan by parties interested in reconciliation. Our view is that any “common framework of nation-building” must incorporate the voices of those marginalized, and the aspirations of the diverse peoples, and the intelligent design of social change that puts people first and at the center. This is what ought to be done rather than erect materials and vainglorious infrastructure architectured to oppress and alienate human beings – those pentagons of power build with the blood, sweat, tears, and fears of the poor the rich enslaved through crude as well as sophisticated means.

In Malaysia, it might be a futile effort for political parties craft elegant common frameworks of a new-Malaysian when not enough social-philosophical dialogue is done through mass and frequent meaningful intellectual engagements that include the hopes and aspirations of the people rather that exclude them; dialogue that sought their opinion and suggestions on what matters rather than teach them to chants slogans of change to be shouted in unison at rallies. In short, we need to bring big ideas down to the level of language and meaningfulness of the class of people we wish to develop.

Each party attempting to work together must command the language of participatory social change, of social justice, of culturally-tailored socialism, or capitalism with a moral conscience. Party members must learn to view religion as separate from the state and be the champions of that man-made laws that are collectively crafted by living, breathing and thinking human souls. That document called “The Constitution”, that embody the spirit of a nation with common dream and aspirations and future must be the made to be the bedrock of nationhood.

Oftentimes development and the institutionalization of national policies are stylized as top-down, commanding, and of late draconian and punishing practices. For one familiar with the process of creating shared vision in an organization, this kind of transmittance of developmental philosophy is not only unacceptable but in due course will be a reason for a revolt of the masses.

We must examine and scrutinize our “commanding heights,” as the Russian leader Vladimir Lenin would say about our economic model and our ideology and our base and superstructure. We must align these with the question of human nature: as human beings what do we want and what do we need, and how do we differentiate between what we want and what we need, so that we will not be confused and our society will not be evolving catastrophically.

Malaysia – is at a historical juncture of suicide; a bipolar nation breaking down into pieces. We had a dream. That dream is destroyed by the Pied Piper who is projecting himself to serve god and fellow men but in reality, is now having money serve him; that pied piper leading us to Armageddon of our own nation-state.

Where did we go wrong? Why are we living this nightmare? How do we craft a new Malaysian dream?

Hard Times for the nation-state

In spite of exposure to the world via internet, news, social media, and travel, the vision of what could be in Malaysia has become a dark and gloomy one. Visions are hopeful and positive aspirations that can be shared as a national narrative, an encapsulated version of what could be called “The Malaysian Dream”.

However any dream has been suppressed with healthy political debate muzzled, academic freedom muzzled, criticism muzzled, where those who dare to dream or criticize the neo-feudal establishment are caste away through various means and neutralized.

The ideological apparatuses are now unashamedly used by the power elite to control, cajole, and coerce the rakyat not only into cultural subservience and political submission but also to instil fear of governmental wrath should citizens speak up truth to power to raise consciousness of injustices. The power elite, those that are ruling the country and whose power is derived not only from elections, arguably dubious in its recent outcome, are those whose hegemony is derived from a massive control of wealth through this convenient system of the Constitutional Monarch; a system that works in symbiosis in the overall framework of “Malay Hegemonic and Trumpeted Superiority,” as leit motif.

This is not just a one sided affair. The opposition forces in Malaysia have also become intellectually bankrupt, have lost any passion for Malaysia, and are locked into their own introspection. Of late, especially after the 13th General Elections and after the incarceration of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and since the beginning of the Mahathir-Najib mahabharatta and vendetta in one, the Opposition itself has gone through as series of implosions breaking it into pieces leading not only to the inability for the coalition to come to terms with issues to be championed for the next elections, but also the implosion in its member party itself, PAS. The birth of Parti Amanah Negara (PAN), formed by those who no longer have the faith of the progressiveness of the Islam in PAS, signify the new forms of implosion leading to “new politics” in the coalition. Still, the Opposition has successfully been broken up rendering it difficult to play the role of contender of Barisan Nasional. The rakyat has lost faith in the Opposition, especially with the loss of DS Anwar as its mover and shaker as well as a Malaysian “prime-minister-in-waiting”.

This has come to the point where people may not even turn out to vote for the opposition just to protest against the government because of the ‘hopelessness’ they are displaying in terms of providing any alternative national narratives, dreams, and aspirations for a modern Malaysian society. Political analysts and social commentators these days are having difficult time writing about the possible triumph of the Opposition coalition in the coming elections. Internal politics in PKR especially since the much-criticized “Kajang Move,” and the plan hatched as a dawn raid for the Selangor Chief Minister’s position, the ongoing and perhaps no-exit-to-an agreement over the implementation of the “hudud” and the open secret of the hardliners in Pas wishing to make Talibanistic Islam as a model of Malaysia’s Islamic state – these two major factors add to the internal political combustion of the Opposition, rendering it now too weak for the disillusioned rakyat to have faith in a much-needed change. Even the crumbling ruling party, especially the one plaguing UMNO as a consequence of Najib Razak’s escapades, fiascos, and the metastasizing effect of the 1MDB, is benefitting from the implosion of the Opposition.

Global exposure, technology, and education have been wasted on Malaysians who are locked within a Malay-centric psychic dome that is completely opaque to what could be. Whilst globalization as a phenomena of movement of peoples, ideas, technology, and goods demand citizens of the world to adapt and prepare for the challenges of a multipolar, multi-cultural, and multi-perspectived world the Malay mind is still caged by its educational leaders to remain monocultural and to defend the rights to be exclusive and sheltered from the prospects and challenges of the world. This is designed and manufactured so that the incomprehensibility of the war cry and white noise of “Ketuanan Melayu,” or “Self-Ascribed and Trumped Notion of Malay Superiority,” can be maintained as a reason to live, work, and play.

No one today dare talk about what could be the best way to realize a society based on the simple principle of unity in diversity. Those calling for the need to remove the veil of racism, cast aside the garment of prejudice and suspicion, and embrace the idea of multiculturalism are made public enemies. These speaking up for the idea that all those born and breed in the country – Malays Chinese, Indians, etc. — are now Bumipteras or sons and daughters of the soil, are shunned against almost to the point of being charged as seditious people that do not know anything about the history of Tanah Melayu and ought to be charged for sedition. This is the dilemma of speaking up against the self-imprisonment of Malaysians caught in a historical time-warp and not able to see the prospects and possibilities of an emerging Malaysian and cosmopolitan society.

That is the discourse on a true Malaysian identity and a good society that has become a new haram, or a taboo, and displeasing to the power elite.

For this trade, the right to think and express, the Rakyat get in return a vision of introspection that makes the dark Middle Ages look like the Renaissance period in Europe.

More sadly while the rest of the region is moving forward, the Malaysian elite are content with holding Malaysia back to the risk where what we know today could and will implode and bring a brave new world of misery and disappear.

Imploding Questions

The big questions of nation building and bangsa are imploding.

Malaysia has no structured and streamlined operational government any more. It is run by kleptomaniac leaders who are purely concerned with getting what they can for themselves and demanding that they be condoned for it.

The states are failing, many not financially viable anymore, run by more morally bankrupt leaders who take their ques from their feudal lords who they pay alms to for the right to rob the country morally.

There is no such thing as proper federal state relations operating in Malaysia; UMNO tore up the constitution long ago and just ad lib as they go along.

The young of the country are bypassed for the old guard whose “Use by” dates have long gone.

Sabah and Sarawak have been raped and put into subservient position vis the federal government which is run by a crony elite.

Islam is now a political tool of persuasion and control. It’s a tool of the government, of which PAS hand delivered to the government with their insistence on HUDUD without Tawhid.

Education is another handy political tool of subservience. It seems to produce new graduates who cannot t think for themselves in fear of offending. People are being programmed to obey in Malaysia’s higher education institutions, after being taught how to go through life without questioning the status quo in the secondary system.

Today in Malaysia, the rakyat have not experienced good governance with any big picture vision. Rather they have been subjected to a government that is ad hoc and acts on whims. Nobody talks policy in Putrajaya. Policy makers only talk greed. Mega projects are mega bucks, and everyone wants a slice.

Government is a winner takes all mechanism, where those outside can eat the crumbs that the elite don’t want (or more rightly cannot handle).

So let us ponder about what could be past the introspection of UMNO, the leadership of today’s neo-fuel elite, corporate cronies, and opposition forces.

A vision for a new Malaysia

Amidst the chaos engulfing the country circa the 58th. Malaysia Day, what is left is hope, although hopelessness lie in the inability to remove those corrupted sectors – individuals, institutions, and ideology. Malaysia needs a vision, a new national narrative that all can debate and get behind to rebuild the country to the potential it really has. That vision was there before Mahathir took power and transformed it into total power over the course of his 22-years in power. The challenge indeed is to liquidate Mahathirism and start this nation-state at Ground Zero with the following changes to be made:

1.            A debate on Malaysia: A national debate on what Malaysia could and should become a national priority. There is an imperative urgency to this. This dialogue must be done openly through the media, schools, universities and all possible forums. It must begin with a true retrospective local of our history, so that it is appreciated, with a ‘no holds barred’ situational audit undertaken publicly on the nation’s political, social, and economic on the present situation today. One when the past and present is honestly reflected up can a future direction be chartered for all and sundry of what we should all call ‘the great nation of Malaysia’. Given the dire state Malaysia is in, with the institutions crumbling and critical consciousness needed for progress disappearing, it is imperative that systematic effort be engineered and architectured to make the citizens be able to think critically and morally. The ‘hang-up’ on the current narratives of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ and ‘Hudud’, and the acceptance of corruption of the highest order, is keeping Malaysia locking into the past, without hope of ever seeing a bright future where we can be proud of the nation we should be calling ‘great’.

2.            A clear separation of powers: A return to a national unity government with checks balances and power sharing until the country is out of crisis is mandatory if the country is going to be free of the past. This requires political parties to set aside their differences temporarily, come together and work on an agreement to save the nation from further descending into chaos. Each party owes its voters the willingness to see through a country that stops bleeding from years of conflict, corruption, and cultural degeneration.

3.            A transcultural-philosophical Islam: A return of the path of a progressive interpretation of Islam that would be an asset to the country. Focus should be given on the big Islamic issues in economy, business, corruption, and work towards the creation of universal set of morals that society will be proud to live within. Malaysia has travelled the mistaken path of Arabization since the days of “Islamization Project” at the onset of the Mahathir Era. Decades of success of the institutionalization of a spectrum of Islamic concept s and applications have yield what is today a process of inching towards Talibanism. This is particularly evident in this administration of Najib Abdul Razak in which there seems to be a loss of control of the political will to monitor the spread of “intolerant-Salafist” version of Islam. Absent is the flourishing of Islam that promotes critical inquiry and philosophical discourse reminiscent of the rigour and splendour of Islam in Cordoba, Spain at the height of the Age of Transcultural-Philosophical” Islam if there is a designation to that period.

4.            A responsive educational system: Innovative education models like the Switzerland system where students are able to master multiple languages should be considered as models to be adopted in multilingual Malaysia. In many places of Europe students are able to attend universities and undertake their work in one of possibly two or three languages. In addition students need encouragement to question what is, and this must start in the classrooms of the nation. No longer should asking questions be considered disrespectful, but rather praised as the ability to think critically. In addition, if Malaysian universities are to excel, they must be de-politicized. VCs must be selected on their ability as professional educators rather than loyalty to the BN Government. No more should BTN connections ever be the qualification needed for a person to hold the highest offices within universities. Reform of Malaysia’s universities must start at the top and be allowed to filter down through autonomy and true meritocracy. Without any changes at the top, Malaysia’s higher institutions of education are doomed to continue their spectacular fall in international rankings.

5.            A new federalism: This is required in Malaysia where there is a genuine respect and acceptance for the division of powers between states and the federal government. This is all laid out within the Constitution of Malaysia but has been abused and ignored by successive BN Governments who have acted to centralize power spurred on by the motivation of greed. State Governments need to be nurtured where good leaders need to be found and developed to look after state interests, independently of any Federal Government. This would be a completely new political paradigm for Malaysia and help bring Malaysia’s leaders closer to the rakyat. National development and management needs to be a cooperative area, free of party politics. Governments must respect the will of the people and work within those wills, whether a State Government be BN, DAP, PAS, or PKR. In addition, BN state Governments must learn to operate independently from the will of the Federal Government leadership, and act on what they have been elected for, the protection of state rights, and development.

6.            A new deal for Sabah and Sarawak: This urgent development is needed; one that follows on in the spirit of federal-state relations, where the 18 and 20 point agreements must be honoured by all, as part of the history and heritage of the formation of Malaysia. New talks about autonomy within the federation must be undertaken within the wide framework of federal-state relations to get the countries bureaucracy working in coexistence and cooperation.

7.            An all-our war on corruption: Malaysians must attack corruption fearlessly and take a lesson from China. Corruption is an Achilles heel of Malaysian Government and is drawing the nation down to a failed state syndrome. A country where corruption prevails has no morals whatsoever. The news of corruption and the nation’s leaders being able to get away with it is not the examples the young generation of Malaysia should be taking their leads from. Radical shock treatment is needed here and it may have to be a death penalty, even though this is an abhorrent punishment. What must be made clearly understood to all is that corruption is not acceptable anymore in the nation of Malaysia.

8.            A civics-minded populace: Malaysians must also play a role in everyday government and this is why local government should be democratized. Local people should stand for local elections for local government and learn the role of authority and responsibility. Local government is the third tier of government which has had little transparency. Local government is actually more relevant to the everyday lives of the rakyat and it’s time for the rakyat to take this responsibility. People with political party affiliations should not be allowed to run public office, so that city councils can remain independent.

9.            A new breed of leaders: It’s time to bring forward the young leaders of this nation into the political arena. No more should politicians whose ‘use by’ dates have long gone take up all the positions of power. It’s time for the younger generation to take over. Within this, the gender balance of national leadership needs a drastic tilt towards more female representation.

10.          A major political paradigm shift: Malaysian politics needs a massive paradigm change away from personality, race, and nepotism and move towards policy. The same stories and narratives about race and privilege are getting Malaysia nowhere. In fact it’s going backwards relative to the rest of the region and becoming deeply introspective. All political discussions should be in terms of policy within the framework of Malaysia’s institutions. That is true constitutional Government at work.

11.          A powerful senate: This means revamping the National Senate to become a true house of review instead of a house of reward and convenience it has become. The Senate should be a true state house where the interests of each state and territory is looked after by members directly elected by proportional representation, rather than the appointment system currently in place. In, addition the Senate should have the power to call inquiries into issues of national interest, and the power to block budget Bills, as a check and balance on the Government of the day.

12.          A passage to decentralization: As Malaysia is a complex country, its time through federal-state relations and local government to decentralise government operations within the country. Malaysia is not a communist country, but insists on operating as one through centralized planning and centralized decision making. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has become enormously powerful and this power and authority, as well as responsibility should be channelled back to local areas where decisions affect the people living there.

13.          A people-first economic philosophy: It’s time for massive market and economic reforms to take place to modernize the Malaysian economy to one that is influenced through market forces rather than regulation protecting the power elite and their cronies. Import permits (APs) must be done away with to allow a level playing field develop in the Malaysian business world today. The current heavy regulation and artificial monopolies that exist in Malaysia just go to keep a small section of society wealthy in the name of the New Economic Policy (NEP). There must be transparency, along with the emphasis on sustainability when land is handed out to corporations. The national land bank is held in trust for all Malaysians and should not be a mechanism to make a favored few ultra-rich. Rather than build luxury resorts where the local economies see little benefit, true community projects should be planned and developed. The gap between those who have and those who have not is widening. Market reforms are urgently needed.

14.          A shared decision-making: Consultants must be stopped from being the instrument that is making so much policy within the Malaysian Government today. Pemandu and the corridor authorities are on a gravy train racking up massive consultancies to develop policy for implementation. The policy making process must bring in public processes that involve the public into the process of determining their own destinies and develop more consultative government.

15.          A broader choice of political parties: On the political front, parties should be broken up and reorganized into strong grassroots state organizations that pick their own state leaders. State members should select their own parliamentary candidates and political leaders, so that states can operate government independently. National party offices should operate only as peak bodies and facilitators. Such a move will distribute political power back to the grassroots within the parties and prevent any one group dominating the political organization. This means that there may be a much larger number of political parties representing Malaysians much better than the narrow choices available today.

16.          A thinking-feeling-doing civil service: Malaysia once had one of the best civil services within the region. However, Mahathirism whittled away at the independence of the civil service until today it is a zest pit of political cronies there to serve those in power. The civil service needs to become independent again and made more efficient where the spending wastages are eliminated. Meritocracy must be brought into the civil service as a major uncompromising principle if the service is going to become independent and professional.

17.          A new paradigm in economic planning: There is a need for Malaysia to find new industries to invest in. The current portfolio of Malaysia’s earners is very narrow. The country is now suffering from low petroleum and commodity prices, and needs to be urgently diversified so the country can be brought to new levels of prosperity for the next generation of Malaysians.

18.          A return to cottage-based industries: However it is not just large industries that must be sought as winners. The country must focus on developing community based industries across the country. These small scale rural industries must not only be compatible with but act as a means to enhance the nation’s various indigenous cultures. This should include food production and be centred around local trade so that local communities can be self sufficient. Self sufficiency in food production may assist Malaysia withstand the coming ‘Euro’ type economic calamities that are occurring today in countries like Greece.

19.          A new peg for the national currency: With the reputation of the Ringgit partly destroyed by the Kleptocractic elite and massive capital flight from the country, the Dinar and Dirham should be encouraged as an alternative local currency arrangement. Not only would the Dinar hold value (being based on the value of gold), but it would serve as alternative medium of exchange, that is not subject to the forces that have caused the Ringgit to sink in value. This could be supplemented by encouraging local savings cooperatives that are run by the local people, for the local people and are owned by the local people, as alternatives to the large Malaysian Banking Corporations owned by the elite. This will help curb speculation within the Malaysian economy.

20.          A newer vision of a foreign policy: Malaysia’s future relies upon being a contributor and hard worker within the region the nation is domiciled within. Current foreign and economic policy towards the region is ad hoc and requires an intellectual revamp to place the nation within the region as a cultural and economic power once again. A new thought out foreign policy is needed so Malaysia can play a leading role within ASEAN and its entry into the AEC at the end of this year.

21.          A new Malaysian citizenship spirit: The nation must be made to be Malaysian once and for all. Malaysia is one country and cannot be considered in part. There can be no such thing as first and second class citizens anymore. This Malaysian brand of apartheid is morally reprehensible and must be abolished once and for all.

Essentially, below is a grand plan or the big picture of change that need to respectively be created and painted in order for Malaysia to offer a pathway to the realization of the ‘Malaysian Dream,” preceded by key premises.

We cannot escape from the idea that there ought to be winners and losers, whether it is in the way we give grades to students, design economic policies, organise the political system or, ironically, even in the way we understand religion and God and how these relate to what Mohandas Gandhi would call the harijan (children of God).

The continuing issues of succession plaguing the leadership of the major components of all the ruling parties, for example, reflects a virtue-less leadership. It even reflects the system of dictatorship and authoritarianism that we have allowed to take root in all parties. We are seeing the development of another dangerous excess of authoritarianism – the development of political dynasties. We continue to see this culture in the Malay and Chinese political parties as well.

If all that energy is used to design a better system of participatory democracy and philanthropy, and to reach out to other ethnic groups to collaborate in solving the issue of poverty, we, as Malaysians, will become a miracle nation. Poverty is not the problem of Indians or Malays or Chinese – it is the problem of Humanity.

How can the rich be saved if the poor are multiplying in large numbers? We will have a society that will need more sophisticated surveillance system in order to reduce robbery, kidnapping, etc.

The poor look at rich and ask themselves: “Am I poor because I am lazy? Or is he rich because he works a hundred times better? Or is it the system we build that will continue to make the rich richer and the poor poorer?”

What resources do the rich have à-vis the poor to compete in a world that is increasingly technological and technicist and informational? We have created a system of ethically-based structural violence. It is a complex problem but one can certainly make sense of it all.

We need to bring back ‘virtue’ to the forefront of our political philosophies and into our economic paradigm, and next use it to design a virtuous foundation of our economic system. From a virtuous foundation we will then see a healthier characterisation of how we design and reorganise our lives as economic beings.

Education, and education alone, though slow and tedious as a process of transformation, will be the most powerful tool of cognitive restructuring and the teaching of virtue. Education for peace, social justice, co-operation, tolerance and spiritual advancement will be the best foundation of this mode of operation.

How do we even begin creating a republic of virtue if we do not yet have the tools of analysing what a corrupt society is and how corrupt leaders are a product of the economic system created to reproduce more sophisticated forms of corruption?

We must engineer a revolution of our very own consciousness. From the revolution in our minds, we move on to the revolution of our consciousness, and next to our collective consciousness. Gradually, as we realise that a better collective consciousness can be created, we will be aware of the oppositional forces that are making real human progress disabling.

We must now become makers of our own history and help others do the same. We must first learn to deconstruct ourselves and draw out the virtue within ourselves, even if the process can be terrifying. We must then each create a manifesto of our own self and de-evolve from then, until we tear down the structures within and outside of ourselves and reconstruct the foundations of a new republic.

Our first move

In conclusion, here is the essential question: Where do we go from here — from the premises of change and considerations we outline above, to a course of action framed thematically? What ideas do we need to move in order for our nation to progress the way our common dream pictured? Here are our concluding thoughts on a new Malaysia one which needs the following:

“ … a brand new political will, radical political change, an overhaul of the system, a fresh new and different mandate, a prison complex big enough to incarcerate the long-time corrupt ones, a plan to redistribute wealth, to dismantle educational apartheid, a rewriting of Malay and Malaysian history, a re-threading of the moral fibre of the armed personnel, a massive arrest of political tyrants of past doings, a restructuring of the casino capitalist economy, a stronger local government established, a clampdown of racist and hate-groups, a return to the rule of law, a return to agricultural society, an experimentation with a radically new form of communal-styled living, a dismantling of systems that allow global corporate giants to continue to prey upon the natives, a return to the cooperative system, strengthening of labour, a re-education of political official on management, ethics, and political philosophy, the separation of religion and state, the dismantling of useless cultural and religious rituals, a restructuring of society based on the principles of radical multiculturalism and the celebration of transcultural philosophies, the reduction of TV time and TV channels, the introduction of the reading of the great works of arts, humanities, and literature from the cradle to the grave, the curbing of rhetoric on Islamic or any religious state, the compulsory teaching of philosophy from the cradle to the grave — all these and more to overturn the system on its ugly head.

As Malaysia’s most revered founding father said in 1957, proclaim in the country’s independence:

“ … But while we think of the past, we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility: Let no one think we have reached the end of the road: Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour-the creation of a new and sovereign State. At this solemn moment therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya: to work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty-a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world. … “

Indeed, when people believe in the future of their nation, it will be strong. That belief in Malaysia must be rekindled and recreated.

Innovator and entrepreneur. Notable author, thinker and prof. Hat Yai University, Thailand Contact: murrayhunter58(at)gmail.com

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Southeast Asia

Vietnam-US relations and the US-ASEAN Summit

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Photo credit: VGP

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh visit to US should be seen from the point of view of the engagement between Vietnam and US. At the same time US has been making extra efforts to engage the ASEAN countries in the larger geopolitical dynamics. During the visit of prime minister Chinh discussions were on security issues and the scourge of COVID-19 pandemic. Vietnamese PM Chinh met President Joe Biden and informed that Vietnam is on its way to recovery and the unemployment rate within Vietnam has dropped to nearly 3.6 per cent. US has been involved in Vietnam in a number of initiatives which includes infrastructure projects, providing medical aid to the victims of Agent Orange, trade and investment in Vietnam and also working towards developing Vietnam as the Centre for a medicine research and diagnostics.

In the past six years the last two presidents of US visited Vietnam including President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump. President Biden has stated that he has a special place for Vietnam and Vietnam has all the potential to emerge as an important country in areas such as digital economy, resilient supply chains, research in energy efficiency, climate change mitigation, and vocational training. In the last two years Vietnam economy has gained a number of foreign direct investors primarily of its latent economic potential and also the anti-corruption measures which have been undertaken by the Vietnamese Communist party general secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng.

During his interaction with Prime Minister Chinh, President Biden stated that under the democrats the US politicians have tried to promote cordial relationship with Vietnam. He also stated that Vietnam as a middle power country has a lot of potential in areas such as investment, trade, development, disease prevention and control, and working on developing health infrastructure. During the ASEAN summit meeting in the year 2021 President Biden has stated that U.S. Congress would allocate USD $ 21 billion so as to support infrastructure development and institutional networks to counter pandemic and develop COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. US has also provided diagnostics and medical equipment so that the developing countries should respond to future pandemics and protect their citizens in Southeast Asia because the epicentre of economic growth is likely to shift to the Indo-Pacific region.

During the discussions, the Vietnamese Prime Minister Chinh  stated that US would be very helpful in developing Vietnam’s green circular economy and also help in sustainable energy transition while looking for alternate sources of energy. Vietnamese Prime Minister also made a strong pitch for US to actively intervene to protect territorial integrity and maintain peace in the contested regions. Few countries should refrain from the use of force, and peaceful settlement of disputes through dialogue and discussion should be adopted. This would ensure freedom of navigation and overflight as per the charter of the United Nations Convention on The Law of The Seas 1982(UNCLOS).

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh attended a reception hosted by US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan on May 13. Vietnamese Prime Minister made a strong pitch for the efforts of the US National Security Council and stated that the US administration has a strong commitment for regional peace and security. He added that in recent years the normalised trade relations between Vietnam and US have opened new avenues for growth, exchange of ideas, and regular dialogues at the highest level. He stated that the visit of the party general secretary to US in 2015 was a milestone and offered new avenues for interaction between the two sides. The Vietnamese Prime Minister also confirmed that US is seen as one of the important partners and offered to work jointly on areas which promote peace, stability, corporation and development in the region.

One of the interesting aspects related to the interaction between the two leaders was US offer to help Vietnam in alleviating the consequences of the second Indochina war and supporting Vietnam’s efforts to emerge as a self-reliant economy. The two sides acknowledged that there is a need for technological and digital transformation across the world and also supporting the diversification of supply chains and commitment towards climate change responsibilities. The US President Biden also stated that US acknowledges the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Vietnam. He stated that there are different political systems. Vietnam has been very successful in overcoming challenges related to COVID-19 pandemic and depleting exports which has happened during the pandemic.

In his interaction with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Prime Minister Chinh acknowledged that 40 million vaccine doses which were supplied by the US government were very handy in containing the pandemic and laid the groundwork for protecting the citizens of Vietnam. He acknowledged that Vietnam and US comprehensive partnership is the foundation stone for political interactions, cooperation and development in the region. Antony Blinken openly stated that US supports a strong, independent and prosperous Vietnam. Acknowledging the role that Vietnam has played under the COP 26 climate change initiative, the US side stated that it will be providing technical expertise in implementing the obligations under the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26). Anthony Blinken also buttressed the importance of peace, freedom and security for navigation and aviation in the East Sea, and instead of using South China Sea; the use of the term is itself was a big support to Vietnam.

Under the US-ASEAN summit which outlines the four and a half decades of interactions between the two sides where there is an equal respect for ASEAN centrality and US has clearly stated that ASEAN remains a basis for trust, inclusive regional security architecture, respect for international law and is one of the forums for building an open and inclusive regional multilateral dialogue. US has clearly stated that the Vietnamese Prime Minister has taken strongly buttressed resolution of differences and disputes by peaceful measures as per the provisions of the international law, UN charter, and the signatories of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in South East Asia should acknowledge the role that this treaty has played.


The US ASEAN relationship also needs to work on trade and investment flows in the aftermath of the pandemic. Vietnamese Prime Minister Chinh stated that US should support ASEAN in sustainable development, restructuring of economic architecture technological support and building renewable energy as well as sustainable recovery for these nations. On the issue of non-traditional challenges, there is a need for consensus and acknowledging the statement which was given Vietnamese PM Chinh during the maritime security summit undertaken by India during its chairmanship in UN Security Council. The Vietnamese side has stated that UN should take a leadership role in resolving the regional security issues. Few of the other areas which US and Vietnam has explored is related to regular interactions between the business communities of the two sides and explore opportunities in areas such as education, infrastructure, and administrative reforms. The Prime Minister also stated that Vietnam acknowledges that economic, trade, financial, and investment relationships with US would boost its standing at international level and bring about better avenues for growth and developing Vietnam economy.

During his speech which he made at the Centre for strategic and International Studies Prime Minister Chinh stated that in the last 27 years of the normalization of relations between the two sides four consecutive US presidents have visited Hanoi and showcased that the two countries can work together. He also stated that Vietnam is aspiring to be a middle income industrialised developing country in next five years, and fulfil the aspirations of the people by becoming a modern industrial country with the upper middle income by the year 2030. He also proclaimed that Vietnam consistently adopts an independent and self-reliant foreign policy, and is responsible stakeholder in the international community.

The Prime Minister also stated that on the Ukraine issue Vietnam is willing to join hands with international community to find long term and sustainable solution to resolve the crisis. Vietnam has also provided humanitarian aid of 500,000 U.S. dollars for Ukraine. Vietnam is also one of the financial contributors to the COVAX programme and has supplied mask and medical supplies to more than 50 countries across the world.

US has always supported ASEAN for improving its production and manufacturing capacity, healthcare institution and sharing of best expertise in vaccine production. The issues related to environmental degradation and climate change along with support for blue economy were points of discussion between US and ASEAN nations.
More importantly President Biden has stated that US will be donating US $150 million to the organization so as to promote private sector investment, healthcare, maritime cooperation and infrastructure development along with other sectors of importance. The two sides also discussed synergies which can be explored between Asian centrality and the ASEAN outlook on the Indo Pacific. The relationship between the two sides have opened up in the last 45 years and it is expected that on issues such as maritime security, and developing coordinated response mechanism to non-traditional security challenges the two sides can work more often.

Despite the summit meeting between ASEAN and the US being postponed earlier, the final summit meeting provided good outcomes particularly in relations to US acknowledged ASEAN position on Ukraine and also accepted that the political institutions within ASEAN have worked wonders in terms of providing support to their citizens during the pandemic. Vietnam has been actively promoting the role of ASEAN in the regional setup and Prime Minister Chinh also outlined that Vietnam’s foreign policy is independent and sincere.


 Vietnam and India relations are also going to grow given the fact that Vietnam and US are working on the comprehensive partnership and also might be seen the strategic partnership agreement between the two in future. However, in terms of peace and stability in East Sea as well as adjoining areas Vietnam has made a strong pitch with regard to getting the international community on board and abhorring any kind of threats or use of threat in the contested waters.

The visit of Vietnam’s Prime Minister Chinh to the US has been very successful after the visit of party general secretary in 2015, and it clearly shows that the Vietnamese Prime Minister has been making extra efforts to help Vietnam recover from pandemic after effects and build a middle-sized income country with a higher income by the year 2030. The aspirations of Vietnam to become an industrial economy by 2045 would require support from the European nations and the US so that better avenues for exports technology upgradation investment and development of entrepreneurial capacity would help the country to reach its goal.

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Southeast Asia

ASEAN as the Key Ground of Competition in U.S.-China’s Indo-Pacific Strategies

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Photo credit: The White House

With U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Asia scheduled for later this month, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S., Koji Tomita, stated on May 9 that the latter may officially launch a new American economic strategy for the Indo-Pacific region when he shuttles in Japan during his tour. The new economic strategy referred to here is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework proposed by the Biden administration on October 27 last year at the 16th East Asia Summit.

Biden had claimed that it will define the “shared objectives around trade facilitation, standards for the digital economy and technology, supply chain resiliency, decarbonization and clean energy, infrastructure, worker standards, and other areas of shared interest”. The framework is extremely broad, covering multiple emerging and non-traditional economic sectors.

In the past, the United States focused on security and defense capacity building in its strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, with the establishment of security alliances like the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS), the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), and the Five Eyes alliance. In addition, it carried out frequent military exercises with countries like the Philippines and Singapore. Comparatively, the U.S. strategy in the economic field is relatively weaker. This is especially true given its 2017 withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Its economic strategy in the region appears to have vanished since then. If the new framework is used as a geo-economic tool to increase its influence in the region in order to contain and weaken China’s influence, it is consistent with the United States’ Indo-Pacific and global strategies.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework includes Japan and South Korea in East Asia as American allies. They are part of Washington’s spheres of influence. India, a major South Asian country with global ambitions, is also the largest ally the United States seeks in Asia. For the U.S., India is one of the important support bases in this strategy. The other key area for the U.S. in its push to achieve a large strategic alliance is the ten ASEAN countries located in the Western Pacific. It is even possible to argue that the attitude and participation of ASEAN countries in this plan will determine, to a large extent, the United States’ success or failure in promoting this Indo-Pacific economic strategy.

When speaking at the CSDS-CSIS Transatlantic Dialogue on the Indo-Pacific on May 9, National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell stated that the most important message from Biden’s visit to Asia in late May will be that this is an urgent task to be accomplished in the wake of the current crisis in Ukraine. He insisted that the greater fundamental challenges of the twenty-first century lie in the Indo-Pacific region.

Campbell said that at the beginning of the Biden administration, the Indo-Pacific strategy mainly focused on cooperation with partners in the region. Now the U.S. and European partners also have intensified contacts and dialogues on Indo-Pacific affairs. With the crisis in Ukraine, the U.S. was widely expected to turn its attention to Europe, leaving little attention to the Indo-Pacific, but the opposite is true, said Campbell. He noted that the Indo-Pacific region’s unprecedented broad commitment to Ukraine reflects the fact that some of these countries see Ukraine as a “cautionary tale” and do not want similar military operations to take place in the region. This, in turn, prompts a great deal of strategic thinking.

Notably, Campbell declared that his most important responsibility as the Indo-Pacific Coordinator is to ensure that the framework is more synergistic among leaders in Asia, Europe, and the U.S., that they will consider the action plan for implementation. He hopes the U.S. and Europe will “seize this opportunity, probably the next couple of years, because we do not know how long it will last”. Now the U.S. intends to work with Europe on matters with global consequences, not only on the Ukraine issue but also on future Indo-Pacific strategies and tactics.

Researchers at ANBOUND point out that the war in Ukraine has expanded the U.S. definition of the Indo-Pacific strategy and economic framework, and that it is utilizing the war to strengthen the window period for U.S.-European relations. Simultaneously, the U.S. is also leading its European allies that geographically belong to the Atlantic partnership to support the Indo-Pacific strategy. With such an effort, the United States hopes it will be able to unite as many allies and partner countries as possible, impose its influence and even dictate the international political and economic affairs in the region. This should allow it to effectively restrain China, its perceived major strategic competitor.

According to ANBOUND’s researchers, the framework is an attempt by the U.S. to establish a more diverse communication and cooperation with the Western Pacific region through economic collaboration. ASEAN nations are expected to play a crucial role under such a mechanism. What is certain is that China and the U.S. will center their game around ASEAN as the U.S. promotes its Indo-Pacific economic strategy. We believe that in the future, the key to the broader game between China and the U.S. in the region lies in ASEAN. For China, ASEAN is not only geographically close, with some of these countries being neighbors, but it is also China’s largest global trading partner, with increasingly closer ties. If the U.S. does not include ASEAN in its Indo-Pacific strategy and economic framework, there will be a huge gap. The same is true for China. If China cannot maintain close economic ties and stable geopolitical relations with ASEAN, China will become rather a passive onlooker in the global geopolitical game in the future.

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Southeast Asia

Visit of Vietnam’s PM Chinh to US for US-ASEAN Summit

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Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh left Hanoi (May 11) to visit US and hold meetings with US President Joe Biden. The meeting between the two leaders is expected to discuss issues related to health, climate change, renewable energy, sustainable development, and Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Over a period of time the relationship between US and Vietnam has improved and US has been taking active interest in developing the ecosystem of health, human security and developing maritime security architecture. Even though US and Vietnam are seen as comprehensive partners but are still short of becoming strategic partners. US has time and again stated that it respects Treaty of Amity and Cooperation as well as ASEAN centrality in the Indo Pacific architecture. Vietnam has been seen as one of the promising economies in South East Asia with GDP growth rate expected to be anywhere between 6 to 8 per cent and Vietnam is also willing to explore possibilities with cooperation on science and technology, artificial intelligence, and research on medicine.

According to the Indo Pacific Strategy document, released by the US in February 2022, the US has made sure that ASEAN as an organization remains a leading regional institution and its centrality in the larger security dynamics is maintained. Given the fact that the two sides United States and ASEAN would be celebrating 45 years of dialogue relationship and the strategic partnership which was signed between the two sides in 2015. The areas of cooperation are bound to expand.

During the last meeting in 2021 which was held online it was clearly stated that US is interested in developing diagnostics, biomedical research, promoting science and technology innovation and connectivity within the Southeast Asian region. Issues related to public health, economic recovery, promoting employment and developing digital infrastructure were discussed in the last meeting between the two sides.

One of the important elements which has seen much attention from Southeast Asian countries is related to the Indo Pacific Economic Framework. Even though Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has been implemented and is being seen as one of the biggest regional economic groupings while on the other hand the Comprehensive and Progressive Transpacific Partnership (CPTPP) which includes Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam is also trying to revive the possibilities of trade and investment between the participating members. In order to offset its withdrawal   from the TPP, the US is trying to develop a wide-ranging agreement related to digital economy and ecommerce. During the COVID-19 pandemic the ecommerce has grown multiple times and he is seen as the future of marketing and investment.

When one looks into Vietnam and US relationship it can be acknowledged that the new Ambassador of US to Vietnam Marc Knapper has been proactively engaging the high-level officials and also looking for ways and means to promote cooperation between the two sides. Vietnam has also seen high level official visits by vice president Kamala Harris Secretary of Défense Lloyd Austin, and also the previous two presidents of US have visited Vietnam particularly President Obama and President Trump. Even though president Trump visited Vietnam to hold bilateral talks with North Korean Kim Jong Un but he did looked into possibilities of exploring better relationship with Vietnam. During the ASEAN chairmanship in 2020, Vietnam has undertaken a major overhaul of the ASEAN structure particularly with regard to integrating the medical research, health institutions, and promoting cooperation within the region for diagnostics and treatment so that the population in Southeast Asia could benefit from latest technology and developments in medical research. Vietnam has also been proactive in supporting ASEAN for the three pillars – politico- security community, economic community and social cultural community, the future community building exercise.

US acknowledges that to harness the potential of the Southeast Asian countries it is important to develop few critical areas such as human resource development, resilient supply chains so that in case there is a disruption in supply chains primarily from China, then the countries from Southeast Asia can offset that deficit and developing infrastructure. Lately with the developments in Cambodia particularly related to Chinese that diplomacy and development of the Ream naval base, US is much interested in developing Vietnam as one of the cornerstones of its Southeast Asia policy. There is huge possibility for development of Mekong River catchment areas and smart agriculture. This will take care of the vagaries of climate change and the rise in global temperature given the fact that the impact will be very huge on the rice fields in the whole of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has also undertaken leadership positions in APEC, ASEAN and had even a very action-oriented strength as non-permanent member in the UN Security Council.

As it has been seen in the past US wants to diversify its supply chain and promote research related to COVID-19 and similar pandemics. US and Vietnam would be discussing issues related to biomedical research vaccines, biotechnology and development of low-cost vaccines for the larger population in the developing countries. Us is also interested in promoting cybersecurity and space research with select countries in South East Asia. President Biden is also expected to discuss issues related to Russia Ukraine war and how Southeast Asian countries can help in developing a free and open Indo-Pacific. The issues which also will be discussed will be related to Myanmar and the forthcoming ASEAN summit later this year. ASEAN as an organization is also required to work and respond to president Joe Biden Indo Pacific strategy end develop necessary structures for comprehensive economic growth, connectivity, people to people linkages and working on futuristic technologies.

Earlier also when the party general secretary Truong through visited US it was seen as a major tectonic shift in the bilateral relationship between the two sides. Over a period of time the ties between the two sides have improved when US lifted economic sanctions and adopted the Permanent Normalization of Trade Relations (PNTR) in the year 2007 and subsequently the visit of the high-level leadership to Vietnam also buttresses the fact that US wants to diversify its investment and promote trade with countries like Vietnam which has a thriving economy and also has potential for growth.

Vietnamese entrepreneurs are also trying to harness the potential and given the liberal measures adopted by the party, Ho Chi Minh City and adjoining areas is likely to become a major real state hub with the development of export processing zones, software technology parks and also establishment of training institutions as well as educational hubs. Vietnamese diaspora in the US is also a prosperous community and they have been supporting the cause of their nation.

Vietnam also looks towards US for investment and also the bilateral trade and investment which can help Vietnam to explore U.S. markets as well as develop defence relationship. Even though Vietnam is very concerned with regard to larger geopolitical imprint of China in the region but it doesn’t want to engage US as an alliance or a treaty partner in defence and strategic domain. This balanced approach adopted by Vietnam has at times help in diffusing the tensions between the China and US in contagious regions. While China has imposed the three month fishing ban starting from May 1st  ,it is expected that Witham along with other countries would ignore this unilateral fishing ban imposed by China. In this context countries like US which can offer group sails as well as select exercises with the interested countries would help in maintaining international order at sea.

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