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Singapore: A golden treasure of ASEAN

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Inspired by “The theory and requirements of 5 E’s Djawed Sangdel to the global leaders in the world”, it is here to present Singapore to illustrate 5 main pillars of the 5E’s: Esteem, Education, Energy, Entrepreneur, and Economy. For Sangdel a county can’t has the development without the exigency of 5E’s.

Since the independence period from British colonization, Singapore has become stronger and wealthier than any Asia-Pacific region (ranked the second among 43 countries in regards of economic freedom score: 89.4, leading its economy to be the second freest in the 2019 Index). Also, Singapore was the third most globalized economy in the list of 60 world’s largest economies, according to Ernst and Young 2011 Globalization Index).

Certainly, the economy of Singapore is sustainable and keeps growing these days. Also, the Singaporean government has dedicatedly invested in its people for decades. However, this “Asian tiger” has only around 700 kilometers, lacking of both arable and natural resources such as fuels, minerals or metals. Moreover, there is only 1.3% of the labor force working in agriculture, which does not contribute to the majority of the GDP. Thus, it is questionable that does Singapore fulfill the conditions and requirements of the 5 E’s in its developmental process?

Esteem

Charlie Munger once said that Singapore had a better accomplishment compared to the United States in the beginning, and the powerful talented person behind this success was definitely Lee Kuan Yew, the Warren Buffett of Singapore.

It is undoubtedly that Lee Kuan Yew possesses a varied range of wonderful characteristics and personalities since he was born. Growing up in a middle-class Chinese family, and then residing in Singapore since the 19th century. Mr. Lee studied law at Cambridge, United Kingdom, and then coming back to Singapore to study economics, English literature, and mathematics at Raffles College. His education was interrupted by the Japanese conquest. He decided to learn Japanese and became a translator for a news agency. His nationalist pride was strong, which he was aware Singapore has to be independent and free from foreign powers.

Lee Kuan Yew – the founding father of Singapore

Lee Kwan Yew started his political career as an election agent under a pro-British Progressive Party. Then, he co-founded the People’s Action Party (PAP) aiming of ending British colonial rule and reaching to self-governance for Singapore. After that, he became the first Prime Minister of Singapore when winning43 of the 51 seats in the legislative assembly on 30th May 1959.

Taking control of the new nation, Lee Kuan Yew understood Singapore had no natural resources and had to rely on Malaysia to support and distribute fresh water to the people. Along with that, Lee saw that it was vital to have a good relationship with Malaysia for Singapore’s survival. Thus, he initiated the proposal to join Malaysia as one of its member states. However, the merger happened shortly (1963-1965) due to mounting disagreements between the Federal Government of Malaysia and the PAP. Even he was anguish at that time, he had a strong belief in himself and his people for Singapore and continuing to develop a nation that he envisioned it to be, “better and stronger” than Malaysia. Then, Singapore became a sovereign, democratic and independent nation.

Becoming independent from Britain and Malaysia, Lee formed a great team and kept them together as founding fathers of Singapore – Goh Keng Swee, Lim Kim San, S Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye and Devan Nair faced with the survival of the nation and Lee never gave up on his vision and his belief. Lee Kuan Yew was also trying to spread his clear vision for Singapore and shared it to his people in several public speeches.

Moreover, Lee understood the vulnerability of small nations such as Singapore, and believed that “a small country must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation”. He desired being global, learning languages (English, Mandarin and Malay) as a multi-lingual orator, giving him the ability to reach the widest audience of the multi-racial, multi-cultural states. He managed to create close-knitted collaboration and be global influence in different races, states and faiths. Thus, Mr. Lee traveled around 304 official trips to 83 countries between 1959 and 2012. He was striving for Singapore’s future in the international arena.

Certainly, Lee Kuan Yew possessed a strong self-esteem to manage his nation effectively and innovatively through dark times and brighten times to have a success of Singapore these days. From his brilliant style of leadership and quick wit, how did he aspire his esteem to his people? How had he managed to bring the prosperity of Singapore?

Succession planning to Singapore

After the British left and Singapore attained self-government, the country faced a myriad of problems such as poverty, poor public health, a severe housing shortage, an inactive economy and an exploding population. How did Lee Kuan Yew govern and solve these overwhelming problems?

First, Singapore officially applied to join the United Nations on 3rd September 1965, after separation from the Federation of Malaysia. And then received acceptance, becoming the 11th UN member state on 21st September in the same year. Lee Kuan Yew and his team realized United Nations has made a safer place for countries like Singapore because it “restrains middle powers from invading small states”. This action has allowed not only to raise the country’s profile but also achieve a high recognition in the international community. Also, it was ‘natural’ for Singapore to adhere the policy of “resolving differences between nations through peaceful negotiations, not by violent means”, proved by holding several global conferences and committees.

In addition, to compete with global giants, Lee needed to provide Singapore people with its housing and employment opportunities to bring economic stability. Thus, Lee and his colleagues established key initiatives and implemented several important policies that tackled every aspect of Singapore society from economy to housing, healthcare and the environment. For this purpose, he established the Housing Development Board and Economic Development Board. The Government gave public housing as its top priority, transforming inner city slums into carefully planned mixed townships sold at low cost and provided superior living conditions for its citizens. Also, to encourage home ownership, Singaporeans were allowed to use their Central Provident Fund savings to pay for these apartments.

Furthermore, the Government installed a strict quota system in public housing to ensure that ethnic groups did not create their own monolithic areas. This action preserved racial harmony and disruption in religious. Enacting the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Government implemented a comprehensive anti-corruption framework that manages laws, enforcement, public service and public outreach. Any unexplained wealth unbalance to known sources of income would be investigated to the Government. During against corruption, Lee and his PAP colleagues usually wore white shirts and white trousers, symbolizing their determination to keep the Government clean and incorruptible. The anti-corruption agency, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), is well-resourced and independent. Its purpose is to investigate anybody from the highest position level to the lowest one to raise public awareness and form social norms.

Another essential action by Lee Kuan Yew, establishing internal rules; for example, banning chewing gum since 1992.There was a report showed that train cabin doors could not close in a proper way because the passengers stuck gums on the doors causing malfunction. Therefore, he and his team were concerned this negative habit was a noticeable enemy of progress on Singapore’s success. Even it was rumored as a nanny state, Mr. Lee said Singaporeans are better behaved and live in a more satisfied place than 20 years ago. He once made a joke, if one cannot think because one cannot chew, try a banana.

There was an aggressive method of avoiding rapid population growth and threaten economic progress, Minister Lee designed the Stop at Two Family Planning Campaign. It was urging families that already had two children to undergo sterilization. It worked effectively during that time. Until now, Singaporeans are simply not reproducing, with a fertility rate of 1.29 and mostly Singapore population growth depends on immigration. The misguided family planning policies have led to a low birthrate even the Government currently encourage married women have three or four children.

Although Lee Kuan Yew passed away at the age of 91, his contributions, strategies and determination with his colleagues respectfully transformed a small port into global trading hub as these days, remarkably receiving hundreds of admirations from world leaders. Lee Hsien Loong, his son, replacing his position to develop and manage as the third President of Singapore, whether he will make great as his father and maintaining its success in a long-lasting sustainable period?

Lee Hsien Loong – continuing stable success and development

Son of Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong, became the third Prime Minister of Singapore. Growing up with the admiration of his father, Lee Hsien Loong passionately follows the instructions and leans in politics, economics in the early ages as Deputy Prime Minister (1991-2004), Minister of Finance, and Minister of Trade & Industry.

This man has been a shadow of the political and intellectual giant, his father, Lee Kuan Yew since he becomes Prime Minister of Singapore. While senior Lee usually tries to implement what he promises in his speech during his term, junior Lee tends to use too many facts and figures to the audiences, which sometimes made them get lost, and did not do what he said.

Moreover, junior Lee is struggling with his inner circle – core colleagues inside the government. His general managers are quite weak to assist him with serious problems and lack of will to tackle the solutions. Thus, Lee Hsien Loong probably needs more talented people from private sectors with hands-on experience to work with him.

Junior Lee also seems to be a soft leader and rarely makes hard decisions. He was working in his first five years as Prime Minister with invisible presence, due to the dependence of his team of ministers. However, after losing Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (Aljunied GRC) and receiving the lowest majority votes in any election, he has become more realized to be in action. For example, he said the locals committed more crimes than foreigners when the crime rate rose up, which made the locals scared and be careful with current situations.

In addition, senior Lee usually made a trip to the U.S once a year to have a close relationship unlike his son who only visited the U.S during President Obama’s tenure.  Compared to his father, Lee Hsien Loong does not prefer interacting with international arena but being a domestic position during his 10-year tenure.

Some people has judged Lee Hsien Loong as someone who climbs the politic ladder through his father’s influence. However, they could not know junior Lee wants to prove himself with greater effort to govern and develop Singapore more than what his father did in the past. Certainly, what Lee Kuan Yew did and Lee Hsien Loong is doing now is a different era with different aspirations. Thus, Singaporeans and foreigners should trust in him and what Lee Hsien Loong runs the government to see what will happen.

And what if junior Lee is a failure when the result of upcoming election – whether he will lose some seats or reclaim back Aljunied GRC? And what if he loses his seats, who will govern Singapore more effectively and successfully than Lee Kuan Yew?

Education

Stepping out from 140-year Singapore’s British colonial past, Lee Kuan Yew and his PAP colleagues decided to have an investment in education first, as “to develop Singapore’s only available natural resource, its people”.

Mr. Lee was willing to inherit useful educational models from his enemy as solid foundations to apply in Singaporean education. For example, primary, secondary and pre-university levels operate in four different languages: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, as well as its focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Also, the curriculum for secondary education is modeled on the British O-level and A-level qualifications.

Major education policies since 1959

Being a political independence in 1965, the Singaporean government designed two key goals for education in a new nation: supporting national economic growth and fostering social cohesion in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious population. Besides that, the PAP began classifying curricula, examinations, and teacher qualifications and salaries, as its main target is teachers and students.

In order to support its economic development, the education adopted bilingualism with English (along with the mother tongue of Mandarin, Malay or Tamil), brought a multi-ethnic society’s need for a common language. At the same time, a variety of daily rituals was implemented in schools in order to promote social cohesion and national identity, such as national pledge, awareness of national flag, and singing national anthem.

These two purposes of educational policies have remained over the past six decades. According to 5 E’s, education ranks as the second important element to evaluate the success of the country, this nation has also focused on education to invest on people. Its desired outcomes of education are to “loving Singapore”, and “being enterprising and innovative”.

Key features of Singapore’s education system

One of the most remarkable features is meritocracy, which the PAP has preserved as a founding myth. Its expression is to offer everyone fair educational opportunities and select talent based on individual hard work and merit (individual performance in a series of competitive national examinations).

Secondly, Singaporean education focuses on ability-based streaming, considered as individual differences in ability require unequal curricula. Based on student’s performance in national exams, students would have different courses, levels of complexity in subject curriculum, and different terminal examinations.

Last but not least, the balance between independent schools and the centralization of policymaking of the government established. There are more autonomous schools at secondary level evolving to have freedom in terms of staff deployment and curricula offerings.

Emerging concerns in Singapore education

Successfully, Singapore gradually ranks among top performers in educational attainment measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developments’ Program International Student Assessment. In addition, its two famous universities are the top 75 in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, as China, Japan, and Germany. However, there still some contradictions in its education system to worry about. The meritocracy has brought several disadvantages as its focus on identifying and nurturing the very best talent and directing it to public service. Moreover, the quick marketization of education (such as promotion of school choice and competition) has created interschool inequalities and social inequalities since the 1980s. Another problematic feature of Singaporean education is the influence of these inequalities on social cohesion.

Energy

Located as a disadvantage position with its neighbor – Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore barely has natural resources, with not much land area. There is only a tiny fraction of the land area is categorized as agricultural, and production contributes a portion to the overall economy. Locals focus on cultivation intensively, growing vegetables and fruits and poultry for their daily consumptions. Also, the local fishing industry supplies a small portion of the total fresh fish requirement, and a tiny aquaculture industry raising groupers, sea bass, and prawns. Thus, Singapore is a key exporter of both orchids and aquarium fish.

As illustrated below, the energy in Singapore from 2004 to 2013 is classified as population, primary energy, production, import, electricity, and CO2 emission. Singapore does not produce any natural resources, and mostly importing from Malaysia and other countries.

Energy in Singapore
Population
(million)
Prim. energy
(TWh)
Production
(TWh)
Import
(TWh)
Electricity
(TWh)
CO2-emission
(Mt)
2004 4.24 298 0 548 34.6 38.1
2007 4.59 311 0 628 39.1 45.0
2008 4.84 215 0 650 39.6 44.3
2009 5.0 215 0 685 39.7 44.8
2012 5.31 291 7.0 823 46.2 49.8
2013 5.40 304 7.4 855 47.7 46.6
Mtoe = 11.63 TWh, Prim. energy includes energy losses

(Source: International Energy Agency – https://www.iea.org)

In details, natural resources in Singapore can be classified into nonrenewable resources, renewable resources, and water resources.

Nonrenewable resources

Singapore has very limited nonrenewable resources. Therefore, the Government chooses to be dependent on oil and natural gas imports. Also, they took a serious decision to move from fuel oil to natural gas since 2001 to reduce high carbon content and energy of the country. Currently, natural gas accounts for 80 percent of the electricity generation.

Renewable resources

As the limited supply of fossil fuels (nonrenewable resources) spread out the country, Singapore government has taken other alternatives for using renewable energy such as the use of bio mass. Biomass energy origins from organic matters including wood, leaves, animal waste, crops, bones, etc. In another way, biomass can be led to solar energy which could produce electricity or fuel. However, this country seems to have a shortage of land, and the government has to find another solution to manage its solar energy potentially.

Water resource

A big challenge for Singapore is the conservation and management of water resource. Its land usage to conserve water has to integrate with the use of land for socio economic growth. Therefore, water itself is a scarce resource, used limitedly. In the past years, the Government of Singapore had to make a deal with Malaysia to transfer a huge amount of fresh water for Singaporean residents.

Until now, there are still five challenges for Singapore government to deal with: safeguarding water resources, managing cost effective and safe drinking water, reducing the system of water supply to a minimum, water conservation, and finishing the water loop. Due to its drawbacks, Singapore has to initiate an efficient water management policy, guaranteeing its sustainability of water resources in a long run, especially infrastructure investment, technology upgrade, and water management strategies to manage water resource.

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is an essential factor, staying as the fourth in 5 E’s to develop the country successfully. It creates jobs, expanding economic health, and sustaining growth and prosperity of the nation development.

According to a report from research firm Compass, Singapore ranks as top ten hottest startup ecosystems in the world. This city-state opens to 3,600 startups in a wide range of sectors such as e-commerce, social media, gaming, etc. One of the advantaged reasons to start up in Singapore is its strategic location and connectedness to foreign markets. The 190 kilometers of coastline with natural deep-water ports, and island is located with key shipping routes in Southeast Asia.

In the Asia Pacific region, Singapore ranks the ninth in terms of venture capital funding in the Compass report. Also, it has usually ranked No.1 for its ease of doing business (World Bank, accordingly) while the U.S ranked 7th in 2013 and 2014. It can be seen as hundreds of multinational corporations have decided to locate their Asia Pacific headquarters in this lion city, such as Google, Uber, and Facebook.

In general, the entrepreneurial environment maintains one of the world’s most transparent and efficient. The start-up process is straightforward, with no minimum capital required. Additionally, the labor market with flexible labor regulations is vibrant and functional.

The support of local government

Ranked as the 3rd wealthiest country worldwide by Forbes magazine, No.1 as the best labor force in the world, No.1 as the most politically stable country and No.1 for quality of life in Asia, Singaporeans and international businesses receive hundreds of supports from Singapore’s policy makers.

Back in 1999, the local government launched a $1 billion “Technopreneurship Fund” which support for local startups, and about $2 million can go to invest any individual company. Moreover, the deputy prime minister added an extra $50 million investment to this fund in 2013 to present the large attention to startup ecosystem. Also, after China and Japan, Singapore has become the third largest venture capital investments in the APAC region, seems the “easy” gateway to Southeast Asia market.

Open market and high opportunity for start-ups

There are no dividend or capital gains taxes, no estate/death/inheritance tax in Singapore. Additionally, the personal tax rates start at 0% and maximum of 20% above $320K, and corporate tax rates are about 8.5% up to $300K. Many free trade agreements and the Investment Guarantee Agreements are open in Singapore. Last but not least, thanks to Singapore’s strict enforcement of its strong intellectual property laws, Singapore protects the ideas and innovations confidentially.

In 2014, the road density in Singapore was only after urban centers in London, New York, and Tokyo, accordingly the data from the Land Transport Authority. Thus, for example, GrabTaxi, a ride-hailing service, first launched in Malaysia, and rapidly expanded to locate Singapore as its headquarter, which purposes to reduce transport headaches across the region. Its idea has raised $680 million over five funding rounds, from high-profile investors in Singapore.

Economy

Singapore has growing successfully with its free-market economy, open and corruption-free business environment, along with transparent monetary and fiscal policies, and clear legal framework. It also ranked as the third highest per-capita GDP in the world in terms of Purchasing Power Parity and its unemployment rate is only 2.1 percent in 2018.

The significance of manufacturing

Agriculture barely contributes to the Singaporean economy whereas the manufacturing sector plays a significant role with about 20-25 percent of annual Singapore’s GDP, and the services sector with around 70 percent in 2017. In details, key industry elements in its manufacturing include electronics, biomedical sciences, chemicals, transport engineering, and logistics. Especially, the petrochemical industry is crucial for local economy when Singapore imports lots of crude oil for purified petroleum products.

Besides, the government has focuses on high-end manufacturing which includes consumer electronics, semi-conductors, machinery, transport equipment, and ships. They additionally have been trying to foster future potential sectors such as precision engineering, aerospace, and life sciences. 

Globalization and free trade

Singapore’s business-friendly environment has encouraged investment not only in manufacturing but also service sector to the economy growth. Service sector has provided jobs to 80 percent of workers, and creates more than 75 percent of the GDP.

Situating as one of the most perfect and busiest cargo ports in the world, Singapore’s port contains hundreds of import/export trade, shipping, and logistics with China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, etc. in global. Furthermore, globalization and free trade are favorably welcomed by the government. This tiny nation allows low import tariffs and is an active member of NATO, ASEAN, and other multinational trade organizations. It has become the first ASEAN country to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union in 2016 and many other free trade agreements.

Sometimes, Singapore is called as “the Switzerland of Asia” as banking, finance, and insurance also contributes a large part to the development of Singaporean economy, as well as wealth management.

When Singaporean government opens a free trade environment and commitment to others, it has created an efficient and easy workplace to do business. Moreover, it provides more opportunities with large investments in infrastructure projects, industrial parks as well as high-tech research and development hub. Nevertheless, there is an urging financial inequality among Singaporean population when many expats have worked and been attracted to the city-state for its safe environment and high living standard.

Conclusion

Reflected from “The theory and requirements of 5E’s Djawd Sangdel for global leaders”, Singapore has become “a mission possible” when its nation owns rare energy but still being a healthy developing country compared to developing and developed countries these days. The esteem of Singapore was truly great during Lee Kuan Yew era but it seems pretty moderate with the power of his son, Lee Hsien Loong. Along with that, policy makers always invest on its people for decades, which led to an ambitious education and then entrepreneurship. Undoubtedly, the growth of economy has run efficiently and fast as named “Asian tiger” with its emerging strategies.

Therefore, personally I would think that Singapore can be a wonderful example to apply the 5E to understand its developmental process. Also, we could realize that education is always important to be invested to build the esteem in every country, even without natural resources.

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Southeast Asia

Biden administration’s policy towards Vietnam, and the South China Sea

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Image credit: Todd Jacobucci/ flickr

The one big question loomed large about Biden administration and it was whether there be a change in Biden administration with regard to its policy towards South China Sea in comparison to Trump? The question became irrelevant when the new US administration buttressed the statement made by Mike Pompeo in July 2020.

In July 2020, Mike Pompeo the then Secretary of State has clearly outlined the US position on Chinese maritime claims related to South China Sea. It clearly stated that US intends to preserve peace and stability as well as reinforce ‘freedom of the seas’ in accordance with the international law and assist in unimpeded flow of commerce, and protect the interests of the ASEAN claimant countries. It also stated that the ‘PRCs predatory world view has no place in the 21st century’.

With the coming of Joe Biden as the new president of the US, the US state department during the press briefing conducted on February 19th clearly stated that the US has serious concerns with regard to the China’s Coast Guard law which allows the use of force by the Chinese Coast Guard against other countries. This language was seen as intimidatory and also enforces China’s claims in the territorial and maritime disputes of East China Sea and South China Sea by force.

During the press briefing it was clearly stated that the language which is enshrined in the new Coast Guard law allows Chinese Coast Guard to destroy the economic structures of other countries. Its projected apprehensions that this would legalize use of force from Chinese perspective in order to enforce its claims in disputed areas. In this press briefing the US buttressed the fact that it stands by its statement which was made on July 13, 2020 by the then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo which was related to the maritime claims of China in South China Sea. It also stated that it is adherent to the alliance commitments that it has made towards the Philippines and Japan.

The US policy towards South China Sea particularly in the context of the US economic and strategic interests in the region can be seen from the fact that the US deployed its one of the advanced submarines USS Ohio (guided missile nuclear submarine) in the contested waters. This clearly means that there is no digression from the Trump policy towards China, and Joe Biden is keen to pressurise China to desist from threatening its neighbours with regard to its claim in the region. The State Department spokesperson Edward Price has stated “We remind the PRC and all those forces operate in the South China Sea that responsible maritime act with professionalism and restraint in the exercise of their authorities.”

In fact, developments in South China Sea have also been discussed during the recent Quad meeting held on February 18th between the foreign ministers of the four countries- the US, Japan, Australia and India, and also reflected during the meeting of the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi. Antony Blinken has bolstered the fact that the Senkaku islands located in the sovereign territory of Japan falls under the security treaty obligations of the US.

Following the telephonic meeting of the Quad, it has been seen that countries such as Australia, Japan and the US would continue their patrolling in South China Sea. In the January 2020,the US aircraft carrier group had also sailed through the South China Sea for promoting freedom of the seas. Australia has also taken strong stance following its fall out with China, and Australian defence minister during its interactions with his US counterpartLloyd J. Austin in late January 2020 stated that the US and Australia would continue to work with alliance partners to maintain security, and enforce inclusive and rules-based order in South China Sea. Earlier also the Pentagon had issued a statement that maintaining ‘a free and open Indo-Pacific based on contemporary international law and norms should be free from malign behaviour’. Even Australia has stated the fact that Chinese activities in South China Sea in a ‘disturbing manner’ has complicated Australia security environment.

It has been seen that Joe Biden is also towing the line of its predecessor Donald Trump, and has been deploying ships and submarines to the contested region. As per the news reports the USS Ohio deployment in South China Sea shows that the US is willing to take more aggressive stance to protect its allies and also maintain security of Taiwan. In that context the Washington has dispatched guided missile destroyer USS McCain to Taiwan straits and the same destroyer had sailed through Paracel islands to challenge illegal maritime claims of China. The more deployment of submarines clearly shows that the US wants to undercut the deterrence capabilities that China usually displays by deploying its submarines in South China Sea. While China proclaims that it has effective carrier killer missile and anti-ship capabilities but it has not has upgraded its anti-submarine warfare in that context. The US Ohio can carry nearly 154 tomahawk cruise missiles and these cruise missiles can deliver effective impact given the fact that each missile can carry nearly 453 kilos of highly explosive warhead. 

The stealth capabilities of a large nuclear submarine with that kind of a punch are an enigma for a country like China. In terms of technological superiority, particularly in underwater operations, and lethality the US is far ahead of Chinese capabilities. Chinese anti-submarine capabilities are developed to operate closer to the shores rather than in the open seas. Given the fact that Ohio has a stealth advantage therefore it will be difficult for China to detect it even closer to its shores. It is believed that the US will be deploying more of its aircraft carriers and submarines so as to deter China and monitor its assertive activities. It has been seen that China has become too much intimidating to the Taiwan and also is closely guarding the approach route to Taiwan through the South China Sea.

During the opening weeks of the Biden administration, it has clearly indicated that many of the Trump administration policies towards China will continue unimpeded. The US Navy would conduct regular ‘freedom of navigation operations’ and in early February the US Navy had remarked that two aircraft carriers have been operating together in the South China Sea disputed waters. The destroyer John S McCain passed through the Taiwan Strait in the first week of February and conducted freedom of navigation operations in the disputed Paracel islands. The new Secretary of State had made a call to his counterparts in Vietnam and the Philippines, and assured that the US was not retreating from its stance on South China Sea and completely dispelling the excessive Chinese claims of maritime rights. He has assured that the US was committed to enforcing a rules-based order in the contested waters. The statement which was released subsequently stated that Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised that the US stands with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of PRC pressure. The US approach is reassuring and critical during these trying times in South China Sea.

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Myanmar: Exploiting lessons learnt in the Middle East

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Demonstrating for the third week their determination to force the country’s military to return to its barracks, protesters in Myanmar appear to be learning lessons from a decade of protest in the Middle East and North Africa.

By the same token, Myanmar’s protesters, in stark contrast to public silence about the military’s brutal repression of the Rohingya minority in recent years, seem to want to forge a national identity that supersedes past emphasis on ethnicity and/or religion.

In doing so, they, like their counterparts in Lebanon and Iraq, reject sectarian policies that allowed elites to divide and rule and distract attention from economic and social grievances held by all segments of the population.

As they resist the military’s February 1 coup that nullified a democratic election won in November in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) because of alleged electoral fraud, protesters confront many of the same obstacles that demonstrators in  Thailand, Turkey, Sudan, and Algeria face.

The ability to address desperately needed reforms with a buy-in from the military will shape a return to democracy and the sustainability of the transition. Taking military concerns into account reforms will have to include civilian control of the military, defining the military’s mission in national defence rather than ideological terms, and regulating the armed forces’ vast economic interests.

The Middle East and North Africa provide cautionary tales like Egypt that eight years after a coup has become a brutal dictatorship and Libya, Syria and Yemen that are wracked by war, as well as potential models, that would serve Myanmar’s democratization well.

Tunisia, the one Arab country to have pushed political transition relatively successful, was able to do so because Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian autocrat who was overthrown in 2011, had ensured that the military had no vested interest in the country’s political system.

Mr. Ben Ali decimated the military leadership, severely cut the budget of the armed forces early on in his 24-year rule and sidelined the military, relying instead on security forces and law enforcement. As a result, the military effectively stood aside when protesters staged mass anti-government demonstrations.

The positioning of Tunisia’s armed forces may not offer Myanmar immediate options, but it highlights the need for a military that understands itself as a national institution rather than a party with vested political and economic interests.

Of more immediate importance to Myanmar is the fact that Mr. Ben Ali as well as the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Yemen were toppled by an informal alliance between civil society and either factions of the military or the armed forces as a whole. They shared a short-term interest in removing the incumbent from power.

The same is true for Southeast Asia’s people power revolts in the Philippines and Indonesia in the 1980s and 1990s. In Myanmar, it was the military that opted for a degree of political liberalization following decades of intermittent mass protest.

It took Tunisian civil society’s engagement with the security forces as well as other segments of society and the existing power structure to nurture the democratization process. By contrast, the process was derailed in much of the Middle East by a post-revolt breakdown of the alliance, often aggravated and/or manipulated by external forces.

The Tunisian approach enabled all parties to manage the inevitable divergence of interests once Mr. Ben Ali had been toppled, juxtaposing civil society’s quest for wholesale political and economic reform with the security forces’ insistence on the preservation of their economic and political interests and rescue of as much of the ancien regime as possible.

In Tunisia, like in other post-revolt countries, the divergence kicked in the moment the incumbent was removed. The Middle East and Southeast Asia’s experience demonstrates that the pitfalls are embedded in the compromises made to establish a transitionary government.

Inevitably, the military and/or security forces either constitute the transition government or are a powerful part of it. Their track record is one of taking liberties in protecting their interests.

Like in Myanmar this month, the military crosses red lines when the transition endangers those prerogatives. Learning how to counter the pitfalls of perilous but inevitable cooperation with at least segments of the military and/or security forces is a work in progress.

Turkey provides a different set of lessons. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s turn towards repression and authoritarianism in the wake of a failed military coup in 2016 suggests that civilian control does not offer a magic wand even if the takeover was foiled by protesters who set aside their social, ideological, and political differences.

If this is a cautionary tale, Turkey also offers solutions to at least one of the issues: the military’s economic interests. Turkey’s military, even before the imposition of civilian control, put its economic house in order by creating a conglomerate, one of the country’s largest, that is owned by the military pension fund and subject to regulation, civic and commercial law, and markets like any other privately held institution.

As civil obedience in Myanmar persists, protesters have certain advantages.

Rather than being on their own, the protesters benefit from being at the forefront of a wave of defiance and dissent that for the past decade and no doubt the next is fueled by a breakdown in confidence in political systems and leadership.

With the pandemic, the widespread mismanagement of public health responses, the global economic downturn and dislocation, and technological change, the coming decade promises to be perhaps even more turbulent.

In addition, Myanmar protesters’ may be beneficiaries of the electoral defeat of US President Donald Trump and the rise of Joe Biden, who has pledged to make human rights a central plank of his foreign policy.

Granted, US adherence in its foreign policy to its human rights values has at the best of times been checkered.

Nonetheless, Mr. Biden’s approach, even if imperfectly applied, erases the permissive environment that autocrats enjoyed during the Trump years.

There is, moreover, a reason to believe that Mr. Biden will be truer to his pledge because it is key to US efforts to repair the credibility and reputational damage suffered by the United States because of Mr. Trump’s America First policy; disdain for multilateralism, international institutions, and international law; empathy with autocrats; and disregard for human rights.

Playing into Mr. Biden’s emphasis on human rights is the fact that the protests, like in Lebanon and Iraq, appear to have broken down ethnic and religious fault lines.

Yangon’s usually hidden Rohingya community has openly joined the protests four years after detained democratically elected Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi stood by and later defended the military’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, more than 700,00 of which fled to Bangladesh.

Burmese who in recent years used Twitter to attack and threaten Rohingya activists living in exile have apologized since the February coup, recognizing that military rule poses a threat to all.

Political transition, like reconciliation, is a long-drawn-out process that can take up to half a century to play out. It is a process of two steps forward and steps backwards as Myanmar is discovering now. 

The Myanmar military understands that tacit Russian and Chinese support may not be as much of a lifesaver as it was in the past. That may explain the military’s reluctance to crush the protests even if the likelihood of an imminent crackdown is high.

If the experience of Egypt is anything to go by, the military can brutally suppress and keep a lid on unrest for a period of time. It may preserve the military’s interests for a while, but it cannot provide sustainable economic solutions or ensure stability.

In contrast to Egypt, protesters in Myanmar have the advantage that they are demanding recognition of a current election outcome that could put a new government in a position to redefine the role of the military and regulate its economic interests.

Based on the experience of Egypt, one core bone that the government would likely have to throw the military is immunity against prosecution for past crimes. That may be a bitter pill to swallow and violate principles of truth and accountability as an important pillar of transition.

As Egypt demonstrates, it offers no guarantee of keeping the military in its barracks. But it may be the carrot that helps entice the military to make the concessions needed for a democratic transition.

For now, Myanmar cries out for non-partisan independents capable of helping the military and the protesters to back away from a zero-sum game that seems destined to result in bloodshed.

That is likely to prove a gargantuan task as Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi spearheads efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to mediate a way back from the brink.

In the words of former International Crisis Group Myanmar analyst Morten B. Pedersen “when a military obsessed with order and stability…confronts an essentially leaderless popular movement driven by youthful anger and shattered hopes, compromise is perhaps the hardest thing of all.”

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Southeast Asia

How International Law Sight Towards the Coup D’etat Process in Myanmar

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The Union of Myanmar is a sovereign state, where the Capital City is located in Yangon before moved to the Naypyidaw on November 7th, 2005 by the action of Junta’s Military Governance. As known, in the historical background, Myanmar is a country that has been through the grip of a military dictatorship for over six-decade.

Previously, in the brief story of Myanmar, in the 19th century, (in the Konbaung Dynasty),Burma took control of an area that includes a modern territory of Myanmar, also briefly controlled Manipur and Assam. In that era, Britain dominated Myanmar after three of the Anglo-Burma War and thus this country was colonialized by the British. Myanmar got independence in 1948 to be a democratic state but was being coup d’etat by the military in 1962, which General Ne Win wrested the governmental mandate from Prime Minister U Nu, who was in power since 1948. At that phase, this country got passeda tough regime, which gave an unsavory impact, particularly in economic aspect and various inhuman acts, such as against ethnic, where United Nations and many International Organization always reported a significant case about human rights there. In 2011, Junta’s Military was dissolved after the elections in 2010, but this country is still can not refuse all the criticism in the previous measures of the old government to the towards minority ethnic.

In the general elections 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi Party is the winner of the majority parliament, where this is can be the historical point to Myanmar to get a democratization opportunity. Based on the general election result in November 2020, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD) won 396 of the 476 parliamentary seats, while the military-backed opposition, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), only got 33 seats. However, Myanmar’s Military is still the major force in politic, since The 2008 Constitution (which the controversial rules) is granted the military rights to control the government and that is constitution also reward the Tatmadaw Military to get 25% parliamentary seats in the important aspect in the national security sector, which includes the ministries of interior, border, and security affairs. Specifically, even the NLD dominated parliamentary seats, the military stronghold still controls the government. Hence, the military insists refused the result of the election, and the Press Secretary of the USDP, Doctor Nandar Hla Myint believes there is a fraud of the mass elections, and if this case is not handled in advance, this could make damage or political chaos. The General of Military, Min Aung Hlaing also stipulated, the evaluation of elections is indeed a non-fair and dishonest practice. Thus, before the trial was open by the parliament, the coup d’etat happened by the military. The NLD party led by Aung San Suu Kyi began to gain a political arena until finally today Myanmar falls into the hands of the generals again.

This is the second time the military success to dethrone through democratic governance, previously the coup d’etat itself happened many time, such in 1988 when General Ne Win pension from the military and replaced by Sein Lwin who is well known as a person that brutally to the Pro-Democratic, thus he has been beaten back by the mass action, and Doctor Maung Maung replaced him at that time. But not long after that, there is a coup d’etat internal by the military which takes over by General Jaw Maung who has also established a new party, named State Law and Order Restoration Committee (SLORC).

Various international sanctions have been imposed on Myanmar. In 1996, the European Union decided to ban arms sales to Myanmar. The United States has also imposed sanctions since 1988, prohibiting new investment by its citizens in Myanmar in 1997, then closing the gap for imports of products from Myanmar in 2003.

Regarding the actions by Myanmar’s Military, several International Community has constituted Myanmar as a breach of international values and some country has banned a few aspects to Myanmar as mention above, however, how the International Law views it?

International Law Perspective

Based on the UN Charter views, under Article 1 (1) affirmed, should take effective measures to prevent and thrown a threat of peace where have a correlate with Resolutions of the UN Security Council which called upon States not to recognize a certain authority or even decided that the Member States should refrain from recognizing a certain authority would hardly have been necessary if recognition had no legal meaning. It concludes, the prohibition to recognize new governance from the coup d’etat result, because in case of the legal commitment to the democratic government of a State, the other States only may continue to recognize the exiled democratically elected government a revival as a measure for the protection and consolidation of democratic government. Other than that, as examine in Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States is has to fulfill 4 qualifications, a permanent population; a defined territory; government; the capacity to enter into relations with the other states. In this convention sight, especially in Government point, it complies with the sovereign government that holds the highest power and is formed to carry out the running of the government of a country. As known, Myanmar is currently being a democratic state as the result in the general elections 2020 where Aung San Suu Kyi has won the vote, thus the state should honor and deem in this democratic regime. However, the military is trying to take over the governance back, this form of breaches the democratic rules, wherein this system did not recognize dualism of leadership, as did by Myanmar’s military. Even Myanmar did not sign and ratified this convention, it still ought to be legally binding, since this is recognized by civilized nations as one of the basic international agreements in international law.

Accordance to the coup of Myanmar’s military is not in line with ASEAN’s Charter which contains many democracy references, wherein in the preamble conduct, “Adhering to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.” Especially Article 1 lists “strengthening democracy, enhancing good governance and the rule of law as among ASEAN’s main purposes.” And also in Article 2 on the organization’s “principles” includes “adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government.” Therefore, Myanmar as a member of this charter since 1997, ought to uphold the purpose of this agreement.

Subsequently, the Coup D’etat action by Myanmar’s military is a tantamount form of treason towards a democratic system, which the legitimate government is defeated by the military without a concrete reason, lack of evidence, and unclear accusations, that is just a prejudice of fraud in the elections by Myanmar’s military to the Aung San Suu Kyi party, and most United Nations officials and diplomats voiced alarm at the February 1, 2021 coup and the brutal response to some of the massive protests unsteady Myanmar because fails to comply with the basic rule of law principles.

Myanmar’s Military action is also indeed not in compliance with customary international law that honor by many countries, where refuse to recognize any government set up under these circumstances or any Government elected as a result of these illegal actions. For instance, in some state practices, firstly, there is a Canada action that declares all the Organizations of the American State (OAS) won’t recognize any governance that is made by the coup d’etat, which is Norway to the Haiti Government. Secondly, British action that did not recognize the governance in Cambodia since the genocidal Pol Pot Government of Cambodia and the Rawlings Government in Ghana by the public and the media, which considered formal recognition as tantamount to moral approval. Thirdly, the Belgian Government refused to recognize Mao Tse-tung instead of Tshiang Kai-shek as the Government of the Chinese State, and so on. Since based on both principle and State practice of recognition of the government in International Law.

Protest also provoke by the International Community, Britain, and the European Union that refuse those action by did not recognize the new governance, because the way the military did is indeed unprocedural, as affirmed in Tobar and Wilson doctrines of formally denying recognition to governments coming to power by unconstitutional means and combining them with the element of continued recognition of the democratically elected governments forced into exile by coup d’état or revolution. Strengthen in Stimson Doctrine, examine about the condemn all recognition of new situations by third States is an important mechanism in international relations, and this doctrine was the start of a process of customary international law formation for a rule prohibiting recognition of situations resulting from unlawful acts that in line with the international legal order, as a coup of Myanmar’s Military did to the Aung San Suu Kyi governance.

ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) role as an international organization has presented in the ASEAN election of Myanmar’s general election in 2020 as a form of election observation that is chasing to get an additional handling a political crisis without a coercive way by ASEAN, which should be more legitimacy to the election process, and this might dilute the Tatmadaw prejudice to justify the coup. Moreover, ASEAN responded to this current issues that represent by Brunei as an ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship stipulated, “dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy” in Myanmar, that statement is indeed a democratic principle in the ASEAN Charter since it implied with a non-coercive form of intervention to the internal affairs that honor by each party. Consider sanctions of a breach of this charter is nonexistent, thus it’s only come with the increased statements of concern regarding Myanmar’s internal affairs from each member in the recent years to condemn the coercive instrument. Even if, there is no significant settlement to Myanmar’s coup, this organization still tried to stands to learn important lessons from its actions for developing regional crisis management and prevention mechanisms to fulfill ASEAN’s aspirations of strengthening democracy.

For the foregoing reason, Myanmar’s Military action is indeed opposed by many sources in International Law, contemplate the democracy is the government of the people and for the people (Hans Kelsen), hence in the democratic system is really honor the freedom of speech and the recognition of fair government, and due to Myanmar’s Military measures to NDL Party that led by Aung San Suu Kyi it ought void because no relevant all on times.

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