Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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We have crossed that bridge: PM

April 19, 2006

By Firdaus Abdullah and Sulok Tawie
news@nst.com.my

April 19 2006

KUCHING: Scrapping the building of a bridge to replace the Causeway was a unanimous Cabinet decision and the right thing to do, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday.

However, those who disputed it were free to do so, he added. The decision has received the backing of MPs, including Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang, and Umno Youth, which held its monthly executive committee meeting yesterday.

Abdullah’s predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who mooted the idea in 1996, has emerged as the strongest critic of the decision.

Abdullah said: “It has been decided. As far as the Government is concerned, it was a unanimous decision by the Cabinet. We believe we made the right decision. People are free to dispute.”

The Prime Minister was asked to comment on Dr Mahathir’s lament that the Government had made a mistake in scrapping the construction of the bridge.

Abdullah declined to answer questions on Dr Mahathir’s blistering attack on Monday.

Speaking at a Press Conference after declaring open Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s new campus complex in Kota Samarahan near here, Abdullah said: “(Foreign Minister Datuk Seri) Syed Hamid has already made a statement, I read it this morning. I have nothing to say on that (Dr Mahathir’s comments).”

Syed Hamid said the Government would never sell off the country and that the decision to scrap the project was “unanimously decided” by the Cabinet “after much deliberation, including on legal implications”.

“What the Government did was the best decision in the existing circumstances.

“Dr Mahathir must give a chance to the current leadership to do what is best in the circumstances.”

In disagreeing with Dr Mahathir’s contention that it was Malaysia’s sovereign right to build its own portion of the bridge, Syed Hamid had said: “We had gone through it very carefully and thoroughly. We just cannot act unilaterally.”

Source: Business Times

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Once taboo, Islam turns hot topic in Malaysia

January 5, 2006

 

Islam tops Malaysia‘s long list of “sensitive subjects” forbidden from being raised in public – but things have changed in the past two weeks  
 
 
 
Monday, January 02, 2006
by Baradan Kuppusamy

Islam tops Malaysia’s long list of “sensitive subjects” that are forbidden from being raised in public but, over the last two weeks, it is as if nothing else can be discussed. Two dissimilar events coming one after another, late December, has put religion on notice. One is the passage of an Islamic family law, opposed by feminists and moderate Muslims. The other is the forced burial, according to Muslim rites, of a Hindu soldier by Islamic authorities who insist he had converted to Islam.

Two dissimilar events coming one after another, late December, has put religion on notice. One is the passage of an Islamic family law, opposed by feminists and moderate Muslims. The other is the forced burial, according to Muslim rites, of a Hindu soldier by Islamic authorities who insist he had converted to Islam.Both issues have questioned the role of an increasingly puritanical Islam in a multi-ethnic society that prides itself on tolerance and an easygoing, modern way of life.

Under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s more liberal and less authoritarian administration, long suppressed frustrations are rising to the surface and there are growing calls for fairness and justice.

On one side, the debate is between Islamic fundamentalists who dominate the burgeoning Islamic Affairs Department that administers Shariah law and mostly western educated Muslim feminists who say the department, in it’s overzealous interpretation of the Quran, has gone overboard in making new laws that discriminate against women and children.

Since the 1980s, they say, women’s position vis-à-vis Muslim men have gradually eroded. The latest is a new Islamic family law that makes divorce and polygamy easy and allows husbands to lay claim to the wife’s properties, even to the extent of freezing the bank accounts of former spouses and their children.

“Nowhere is there, in the Islamic world, a law that discriminates so thoroughly against women,” said Zainah Anwar, executive director of Sisters in Islam, a feminist movement that is spearheading a national campaign to repeal the new law.

The campaign has won widespread support, within the government, in academia and among the general public winning. .

Likewise the forced burial of M. Moorthy, a Hindu soldier claimed by the Islamic authorities to have converted to Islam, has sparked a storm among non-Muslims and moderate Muslims alike. They are demanding that the government amend the constitution to make civil law supreme over Islamic Shariah law especially in matters where non-Muslims are involved.

Debate over these issues, Islam, once a taboo subject, is now openly debated by mainstream media, television stations and over the Internet.

Newspapers that are linked to government that normally would not have touched the subject, now freely publish strongly-worded letters and commentaries by their own writers and outside experts, many of whom are Muslims. Letters from the public are bravely aired.

Internet chatrooms are racier and less inhibited in their comments. A coalition of human rights NGOs, including Muslim feminist groups, have also launched a month-long candle light vigil outside the High Court to protest a Muslim judge’s ruling, earlier this month, that the civil court has no jurisdiction over Islamic matters.

Relying on an ex-parte Shariah Court order, Islamic religious authorities gave M. Moorthy a Muslim burial over the protests by his Hindu family, last week. Anger boiled over when Judge Raus Sharif washed his hands off, saying the civil court had no jurisdiction.

“They have been telling lies. Nothing but lies,” said Kaliammal Sinnasamy, Moorthy’s wife. “I was shocked when they told me that they would take the body when he died.”

The court refused to intervene or hear evidence from the family that Moorthy could not have converted, saying it had no jurisdiction over matters under the purview of the Shariah court. Three days later, the same court gave similar arguments while rejecting an application by two formerly Muslim women for a declaration that they have left Islam.

“We cannot allow a small group (of Muslim administrators) who are extreme in their views to dominate the nation’s social and religious life,” said Wong Kim Kong, a spokesman for the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS). “If no action is taken by the government then it might sow disharmony.”

The council launched a campaign to amend the constitution to allow civil law supremacy over Shariah in cases involving non-Muslims i.e conversion, child custody, disposal of property and other family or personal matters.

The main opposition Democratic Action Party has called for a major review of Article 121(1A), which states that the civil courts shall have no jurisdiction in respect of “any matter” within the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts.

The clause was inserted into the constitution by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1988 after he had jailed over 100 parliamentarians and democracy activists and closed down three newspapers including the influential, mass-circulated ‘The Star’ daily.

Mahathir’s government had given a truncated parliament a day’s notice of the constitutional change which was carried with overwhelming support by government backbenchers.

In the case of the Islamic family law a little more time was given but arms were twisted to ensure its passage in parliament, earlier this month, only to face an avalanche of protest from civil society groups and Muslim feminists.

The law affects only Muslims who make up about 60 percent of the population of 26 million people. Restrictions against Malaysian Muslim men taking four wives under Islamic law have been eased and they no longer have to prove financial capacity or the ability to treat all wives fairly.

Women’s groups are planning petitions, letter-writing campaigns and other strategies to put pressure on the government not to gazette the bill into law.

>From the numerous letters in mainstream newspapers and in internet chatrooms, most Malaysians are outraged and feel that injustice has been done to minorities and moderate Muslims alike.

“This entire episode has painted a negative image of Islam not just to Malaysians of other faiths but to the rest of the world,” Ezam Mohamad, a senior leader of the National Justice Party, told IPS.

“More must be done to enhance mutual trust and harmony among the different communities and the manner in which the present authorities are doing it represents a step backwards in inter-racial and inter-religious relations,” said Ezam.

Badawi’s brand of tolerant Islam or ‘Islam Hadhari’ took a beating as people question the wide gulf between his moderate leanings and the fanaticism of the Islamic authorities that, gained strength under Mahathir’s 22-year rule.

Abdullah, who is equally respected by Muslims and non-Muslims, has the difficult and unenviable task of reigning in the runaway horses or see his popularity rating plunge.

If he fails to contain excesses, his grand vision of all the races living together happily under a caring and tolerant multi-culturalism stands to be stillborn.

Experts say success for Badawi lies in tackling and resolving the racial and discriminatory policies that form the bedrock of Malaysia’s so-called “happy” society.

“Unless the deep seated issues of racism and religious freedom are openly discussed and resolved Malaysians would continue to live in fear and suspicious of one another,” said S. Arulchelvam, secretary general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia.

“Malaysian unity is a farce unless these issues are met head on and adequately resolved,” he told IPS.

“All discriminatory policies based on race and religion must be outlawed. It is impossible to build unity based merely on slogans and propaganda,” he said.
IPS News
Source: http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?idCategory=33&idsub=122&id=2350

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Cabinet changes on the cards

January 4, 2006

By WONG CHUN WAI
newsdesk@thestar.com.my

PUTRAJAYA: The Prime Minister flew back quietly to Kuala Lumpur on New Year’s Day after a short break in Perth. He has since kept himself busy meeting small groups of people at his official residence here. 

One top item is the Cabinet reshuffle, which Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has kept his options only to himself, ahead of the changes coming up. 

He is still on leave, taking time to reflect on the important changes he is making. He will chair his first Cabinet meeting for the year on Jan 11, one day after Hari Raya Haji. 

Abdullah is expected to make numerous changes to the Cabinet line-up as well as those at the deputy ministers’ level to strengthen his two-year-old administration. 

For sure, a decision is expected on the Federal Territories Minister’s post following the resignation of Tan Sri Mohamed Isa Samad after he was suspended from Umno for money politics. 

Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil is the current acting minister. The Lembah Pantai MP is the Women, Family and Community Development Minister.  

Abdullah would also make known his stand on the fate of Information Minister Datuk Seri Kadir Sheikh Fadzir and Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid, who failed to get elected into the Umno supreme council. 

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad is tipped to move to another portfolio. He is also the Umno secretary-general. 

The spotlight will also be on Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, the longest serving International Trade and Industries Minister, who was embroiled in the Approved Permit issue last year. It is likely that she would remain in the Cabinet but the position remains to be seen. 

There have been suggestions that Abdullah should abolish various ministries in a move to reduce the size of the administration but it is not clear whether he would fill up the various positions or abolish them.  

While most of the Barisan leaders are likely to maintain the status quo for their respective ministerial positions in the Cabinet, some are expected to make changes to their deputy ministers’ line-up. 

It is understood that MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting has already submitted the party’s proposals, including changes of deputy ministers, to Abdullah. 

Ka Ting and his deputy Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy are almost certain to keep their posts at the Housing and Local Government and Transport Ministries respectively. 

“The other two Cabinet members are Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek and Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn. The status quo is expected,” one source said. 

Abdullah, however, is expected to make changes to the positions of the party’s various deputies. They are Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow, Deputy Information Minister Datuk Donald Lim, and Deputy Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Wong Kam Hoong. 

The MCA’s recommendations are based on the results of the party elections in June, which saw Lim and Tee Keat being elected as two of the four vice-presidents. 

Then, there is also Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, who was elected as the MCA Youth chief. Traditionally, the Youth chief gets a deputy minister’s post, and one vacancy which the MCA is eyeing is the deputy tourism minister’s post.  

Gerakan president Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik said the central working committee had given him the authority to draw up the party’s list of names and submit it to the Prime Minister if there was a reshuffle. 

Looking dicey is the position of Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Kerk Choo Ting, who lost his deputy president’s post in last year’s party polls. 

MIC sources said party president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who is the only Cabinet minister from the party, is not expected to propose changes at the deputy ministers’ level. The MIC has three deputy ministers. 

Abdullah would, however, have to decide on the position of Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Joseph Salang. He was the Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak secretary-general but since the deregistration of PBDS, he has been left without a party. 

“He is in an awkward position but his attempt to join Parti Bumiputra Bersatu seems to be fruitless. He could well lose his post because of the political uncertainty,” one analyst said. 

Another PBDS leader Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun, who is a Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, has joined Parti Rakyat Sarawak.  

Source: The Star

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Islam becomes hot topic in Malaysia

January 4, 2006

04-01-2006

By Baradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR – Islam tops Malaysia’s long list of “sensitive subjects” that are forbidden from being raised in public. However, it was as if nothing else could be discussed over the past two weeks.

Two dissimilar events coming one after the other in late December have put religion on notice. One was passage of an Islamic family law, opposed by feminists and moderate Muslims. The other was the forced burial, according to Muslim rites, of a Hindu soldier by Islamic authorities who insisted he had converted to Islam.

Both issues have questioned the role of an increasingly puritanical Islam in a multi-ethnic society that prides itself on tolerance and an easygoing, modern way of life.

Under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s more liberal and less authoritarian administration, long-suppressed frustrations are rising to the surface and there are growing calls for fairness and justice.

On one side, the debate is between Islamic fundamentalists who dominate the burgeoning Islamic Affairs Department that administers Sharia (Islamic) law and mostly Western-educated Muslim feminists who say the department, in its overzealous interpretation of the Koran, has gone overboard in making new laws that discriminate against women and children.

Since the 1980s, they say, women’s position vis-a-vis Muslim men has gradually eroded. The latest is a new Islamic family law that makes divorce and polygamy easy and allows husbands to lay claim to a wife’s property, even to the extent of freezing bank accounts of former spouses and their children.

“Nowhere is there, in the Islamic world, a law that discriminates so thoroughly against women,” said Zainah Anwar, executive director of Sisters in Islam, a feminist movement that is spearheading a national campaign to repeal the new law.

The campaign has won widespread support within the government, in academia and among the general public.

Likewise the forced burial of M Moorthy, a Hindu soldier claimed by the Islamic authorities to have converted to Islam, has sparked a storm among non-Muslims and moderate Muslims alike. They are demanding that the government amend the constitution to make civil law supreme over Sharia law especially in matters where non-Muslims are involved.

Islam, once a taboo subject, is now openly debated by mainstream media, on television and over the Internet.

Newspapers that are linked to government and normally would not have touched the subject now freely publish strongly worded letters and commentaries by their own writers and outside experts, many of whom are Muslims. Letters from the public are published.

Internet chat rooms are racier and less inhibited in their comments. A coalition of human-rights non-governmental organizations, including Muslim feminist groups, has also launched a month-long candlelight vigil outside the High Court to protest a Muslim judge’s ruling last month that the civil court has no jurisdiction over Islamic matters.

Relying on an ex parte Sharia court order, Islamic religious authorities last week gave Moorthy a Muslim burial over the protests of his Hindu family. Anger boiled over when Judge Raus Sharif washed his hands of the case, saying the civil court had no jurisdiction.

“They have been telling lies. Nothing but lies,” said Kaliammal Sinnasamy, Moorthy’s wife. “I was shocked when they told me that they would take the body when he died.”

The court refused to intervene or hear evidence from the family that Moorthy could not have converted, saying it had no jurisdiction over matters under the purview of the Sharia court. Three days later, the same court gave similar arguments while rejecting an application by two formerly Muslim women for a declaration that they had left Islam.

“We cannot allow a small group [of Muslim administrators] who are extreme in their views to dominate the nation’s social and religious life,” said Wong Kim Kong, a spokesman for the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS). “If no action is taken by the government then it might sow disharmony.”

The council launched a campaign to amend the constitution to allow civil-law supremacy over Sharia in cases involving non-Muslims, ie conversion, child custody, disposal of property and other family or personal matters.

The main opposition Democratic Action Party has called for a major review of Article 121(1A), which states that the civil courts have no jurisdiction in respect of “any matter” within the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts.

The clause was inserted into the constitution by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1988 after he had jailed more than 100 parliamentarians and democracy activists and closed down three newspapers, including the influential mass-circulated Star daily.

Mahathir’s government had given a truncated parliament a day’s notice of the constitutional change, which was carried with overwhelming support by government backbenchers.

In the case of the Islamic family law, a little more time was given but arms were twisted to ensure its passage in parliament last month, only to face an avalanche of protest from civil-society groups and Muslim feminists.

The law affects only Muslims, who make up about 60% of the population of 26 million people. Restrictions against Malaysian Muslim men taking four wives under Islamic law have been eased and they no longer have to prove financial capacity or the ability to treat all wives fairly.

Women’s groups are planning petitions, letter-writing campaigns and other strategies to put pressure on the government not to gazette the bill into law.

Judging from the numerous letters in mainstream newspapers and in Internet chat rooms, most Malaysians are outraged and feel that injustice has been done to minorities and moderate Muslims alike.

“This entire episode has painted a negative image of Islam not just to Malaysians of other faiths, but to the rest of the world,” said Ezam Mohamad, a senior leader of the National Justice Party.

“More must be done to enhance mutual trust and harmony among the different communities, and the manner in which the present authorities are doing it represents a step backwards in interracial and interreligious relations.”

Abdullah’s brand of tolerant Islam, or Islam Hadhari, is taking a beating as people question the wide gulf between his moderate leanings and the fanaticism of the Islamic authorities, which gained strength under Mahathir’s 22-year rule.

Abdullah, who is equally respected by Muslims and non-Muslims, has the difficult and unenviable task of reining in the runaway horses or see his popularity rating plunge.

If he fails to contain excesses, his grand vision of all the races living together happily under a caring and tolerant multiculturalism stands to be stillborn.

Experts say success for Abdullah lies in tackling and resolving the racial and discriminatory policies that form the bedrock of Malaysia’s so-called “happy” society.

“Unless the deep-seated issues of racism and religious freedom are openly discussed and resolved, Malaysians would continue to live in fear and suspicious of one another,” said S Arulchelvam, secretary general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia. “Malaysian unity is a farce unless these issues are met head-on and adequately resolved.

“All discriminatory policies based on race and religion must be outlawed. It is impossible to build unity based merely on slogans and propaganda.”

Source: Inter Press Service

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Nationalism drives China, Japan apart

December 29, 2005

Only 32 percent of Japanese polled have a friendly feeling toward China, a new survey found. 

By Robert Marquand 

Christian Science Monitor

BEIJING  The growing trade between Japan and China in 2005 has been matched by rising symbolic and verbal provocations and a steady decline in public opinion and diplomatic ties – marking a new nadir in relations between the most important competitors for Asia’s future. 

And the year is ending on a sour note. Last week, China formally declared a policy of “peaceful development” as it rises economically in Asia. But within 24 hours, Japan’s new foreign minister, Taro Aso, warned that China’s nuclear program and secretive military development “pose a considerable threat,” the first time a Japanese foreign minister has made such a bald statement of concern. 

“This could possibly be the worst period of Sino-Japanese relations since World War II,” says James Mulvenon, Asia specialist at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis in Washington. 

Few analysts predict violent conflict between Japan and China. Both nations are regarded as practical and pragmatic. Yet the negative dynamics of rising nationalism, fear, historical animosity – and China’s rapid economic expansion in Asia – are at work with no mediating structures or nations. Diplomats and even some Chinese and Japanese officials say privately that Washington has yet to show it is paying much attention, apparently preoccupied with other priorities such as Iraq. 

Relations between the historic Pacific rivals immediately plummeted at the start of this calendar year. Japan surprised China in February, on the first day of its biggest national holiday, Spring Festival, by saying it claimed formal control of the disputed Senkaku (or Diaoyu) islands in the oil-rich East China Sea. The year has now ended with rhetorical salvos, with Beijing describing the Japanese foreign minister’s comments about China’s military last week as “highly irresponsible.” 

Two days after Mr. Aso’s warning, Tokyo announced it would jointly develop a naval SM-3 missile interceptor with the US, part of a “nuclear missile shield,” for use on Japan’s advanced Aegis-system destroyers that are expected to be launched in 2008. The US and Japan have been developing closer formal military ties since early this year. 

In between the 2005 bookends has been a quiet, intense game of diplomatic snubs, protests, and cat-and-mouse maneuvers in the East China Sea over drilling rights and borders. China has systematically worked to keep Japan off the UN Security Council in proposed reforms of that body. This spring, carefully controlled Chinese “mobs” threw bottles and rocks at the Japanese Embassy here, and smashed up some Japanese businesses in brief rampages in Shanghai, frightening Japanese expatriates. 

China blocks Japan’s UN bid 

After a Dec. 26 meeting with Japan on UN reform, China stated it would support greater participation by African countries in the UN rather than an expansion of the Security Council, and reiterated its concern that until Japan is properly repentant for its war-time past, China will block Japan’s effort. 

No plans now exist for leaders or even foreign ministers of the two most powerful states in Asia to meet. At the first “East Asian summit” this month in Kuala Lumpur, designed to enhance intra-Asian ties (and exclude the US), no “sideline” talks took place. Summit host Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi publicly stated, “We are concerned about the developing dichotomy in Japan-China relations … one of the main pillars of East Asia cooperation.” 

Meanwhile, the general public opinion in both China and Japan about each other continues to slide, despite many instances of good business and professional working relationships. In fact, China is now Japan’s No. 1 trade and export partner, replacing the US. But only 32 percent of Japanese have a friendly feeling toward China, a new government-sponsored poll shows. The figure has been dropping since 1995, when nearly 50 percent of Japanese said they felt positively toward their huge neighbor. 

“Such a major drop in friendly feelings, or … a rise in feelings of dislike, is not good for both countries,” said former foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura in Tokyo Friday, after the poll was released. 

Since visiting the Yasukuni shrine in October, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has come under pressure from the Japanese business community to curb his provocations with such an important business partner. On Tuesday Aso the foreign minister stated that Japan should not view China as an “economic threat” but that “competition is a good thing in nature.” 

Both China and Japan have strong domestic reasons for allowing, and even carefully feeding and managing, the chill between the two. 

Cohesion through a new nationalism 

China is a communist state whose ideology no longer inspires most of its people, experts point out, but whose communist structures of control still are relied on for authority and legitimacy. Within that system, hatred for the Japanese occupation in World War II is one substitute for ideology, and building a proud China capable of becoming the No. 1 power in Asia is one way of creating national cohesion. When Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visits the Yasukuni Shrine, a place where more than a dozen top Japanese war criminals were secretly placed for burial in the early 1970s, it gives China plenty of fuel to stoke the flames of nationalism. 

“Try to imagine [German] Chancellor Angela Merkel going repeatedly to pay her public respects at a cemetery where a dozen high ranking Nazis and members of Hitler’s inner circle were buried,” Mr. Mulvenon points out. “Do you think that might be upsetting?” 

In Japan, China’s rise has become a major political topic. Japanese politicians, even the head of the liberal Democratic Party of Japan, now are shifting to the right, looking for votes in a prouder “stand tall” rhetoric. Japan has sought to become a “normal nation” not so reliant on the US. Japanese used to point to dictator Kim Jong Il in North Korea as an example of dangers in their neighborhood. 

But today the talk is of the enormity of the Chinese threat, a country of 1.3 billion people that Japanese say is controlled by a government whose workings are secret and is less than forthcoming about the size and intentions of its military, and could one day shut down Japan’s oil supply. 

Just $25.6 billion for defense? 

After Aso’s comment about China’s hefty military spending increases, Beijing vehemently and publicly repeated the official Chinese annual defense spending figure of $25.6 billion. Yet few China experts believe that figure. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies this fall argued that China now spends nearly $25 billion purchasing Russian armaments alone. 

“If you are sitting in Japan, an island nation, and you are watching a huge neighboring country many times larger than you, start to develop a modern military, you are going to get worried,” notes one European scholar in Beijing. “It is a fairly basic thing.” 

What many analysts worry about in the developing chill between China and Japan is the potential for a miscalculation. Japan’s inability to offer a convincing apology for its wartime past, and the use of the Yasukuni shrine to score subtle ethnic put-downs in Asia (and get domestic applause) is one possible miscalculation. 

Another is Beijing’s apparent inability to apprehend how its growing muscularity looks in Asia, and its apparent inability to believably reassure other nations about its peaceful intentions. As Mulvenon points out, “When my Chinese friends ask me why Japan is so worried, I tell them the Chinese have no one to blame but themselves. They created this schism with their military modernization program…. [and] lack of transparency in their strategic intentions.” 

So far, the US has not actively engaged in trying to reduce the chill. “The US is better positioned than any of the regional powers to take the lead in changing the geopolitical context in Northeast Asia,” notes James Goodby, a former US ambassador, speaking of a range of animosities and schisms in the Pacific. 

“Until very recently the Bush administration has not seen fit to exercise this unique role…,” he says. But Mr. Goodby adds that in recent weeks the White House may have gained a greater “awareness” of its potential for helping with stability. 

www.csmonitor.com | Copyright © 2005 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved. 

Source: http://abcnews.go.com/International/CSM/story?id=1450572 

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2006: Asians To Watch

December 28, 2005
Updated:2005-12-27 12:49:19 MYT

As part of a series on top Asian newsmakers, The Straits Times correspondents in Malaysia profile 10 people to watch in the country next year. This is the fourth in the series. Next week, the team in Indonesia will file its reports.

All Eyes On PM Abdullah As He Fulfills Election Vows

2006 could well be the year that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi comes into his own.

After two years of tidying up the excesses inherited from Tun Mahathir Mohamad’s administration, the Malaysian leader recently acknowledged that he needed to start delivering on some of his promises.

Those made during last year’s general election, when his ruling party won by a landslide, are at the top of his list. Thus, all eyes will be on the Ninth Malaysia Plan, the blueprint for the country’s development for the next five years. It will be unveiled early next year.

Besides the usual programmes aimed at eradicating poverty and improving infrastructure, the plan is likely to map out the country’s direction, especially in how it balances the interests of Malays and non-Malays.

While Malaysia is not likely to turn into a freewheeling democracy, more political freedoms are expected.

Datuk Seri Abdullah has been more willing than his predecessor to listen to opposing views. He has also allowed debate over a host of sensitive issues, from religion to Malay rights, to help shape government policy.

He has also done what was impossible under Tun Mahathir’s administration: He has improved ties with Singapore, the United States and Australia.

But perhaps the most overlooked achievement of his administration so far has been its management of political and economic reforms.

The Premier has spent the past two years addressing all that is wrong with the country, from corruption to abuses of power and the lack of political freedom.

Criticism and dissenting views have crept into local newspapers, which had been kept under a tight rein by Tun Mahathir.

At times, even some ministers seemed to have been publicly at loggerheads with one another.

Some political analysts see recent events as evidence that Datuk Seri Abdullah could be losing his grip on power.

“There is a certain sense of messiness in the country,” a senior editor of one major newspaper told The Straits Times.

Critics point to the continuing controversy over police abuse of powers in subjecting female detainees to doing squats in the nude.

They see the public debate over human rights as unnecessary, with suggestions that it could lead to racial tension.

But Datuk Seri Abdullah has been adamant that he would wait for a report from an independent inquiry to be delivered next year before the government decides what to do over the issue.

Notwithstanding the critics, Malaysians seem convinced that the Prime Minister’s Mr Clean image is genuine.

At the recent Pengkalan Pasir by-election in opposition-held Kelantan, it was clear that he made the difference in a close contest.

UMNO candidate Hanafi Mamat was initially seen as trailing the opposition, but he went on to win by 134 votes after Datuk Seri Abdullah turned up to support him.

Mahathir The Mouth Or Mouse Next Year?

If there is one thing this year has shown about former premier Tun Mahathir Mohamad, it is that his biting wit is still very much intact.

When he retired in 2003, he had promised to keep his peace. But that ended as soon as he suspected his legacy was being questioned.

Tun Mahathir, 80, broke his silence, loudly, when his cherished Proton, the national car company, was made to face what he saw as unfair competition from foreign cars.

The drama kept Malaysians glued to the news for months as accusations and counter-accusations flew.

By then, it was also no secret that Tun Mahathir had plenty of other grouses about the new administration, besides that over Proton. He spoke frequently about his grievances in private conversations that soon became public.

In particular, he was said to be upset about the snide remarks that rampant corruption and over-spending during his tenure had created problems for the new administration.

At a talk organised by a private think tank on Dec 10, the eve of the ASEAN Summit, Tun Mahathir openly criticised several policies of the government, albeit in fairly temperate language.

Singapore was not spared. Raising the issue of a proposed bridge to replace the Causeway, he said sarcastically that “the present government plays golf and pats each other on the back. But after two years, the bridge is still not built.”

So far, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has not reacted to his predecessor’s constant needling.

But that may be changing.

When Tun Mahathir criticised government policy at the thinktank talk, the New Straits Times carried a quick rebuttal.

Each major point made by the former premier was countered by a minister or official. The report was also prefaced by a preamble that recalled the former prime minister’s pledge not to interfere in the new administration.

That was seen as a direct challenge to Tun Mahathir and prompted speculation that he was skating on thin ice.

Some observers believe he runs the risk of an open attack by his former colleagues, and even the media, if he continues to take on the present administration.

Thus all eyes–and ears–are on Tun Mahathir, for signs of whether he will become even more vocal next year, or retreat into silence once and for all.

His Own Name Is Perfectly Bankable

His father, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, was the second prime minister. His elder brother is Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Fortunately, Malaysians respect Datuk Nazir Razak not because of those ties but because he became the country’s top investment banker without relying on the family name.

“There is some pressure when (I am) linked to my father, but I just keep on working,” he told an interviewer in September. “People’s expectations are high but I have proven I could work.”

At 39, Datuk Nazir is already chief executive and managing director of Southeast Asia’s largest investment bank, CIMB Bhd, but he is hungry for more.

By next month, CIMB will be merged with Malaysia’s second biggest lender by assets, Bumiputra Commerce Bank.

Sometime in the new year, the banker who crafts deals for others hopes to seal his own deal by bringing the 9th largest bank, Southern Bank, into the group. A tough fight is on the cards; not all major Southern Bank shareholders are agreeable.

Regionally, Datuk Nazir has not been idle. CIMB has a deal to buy Singapore’s No. 2 broker, GK Goh, and a tie-up with Indonesia’s 7th largest bank, PT Bank Niaga Tbk.

CIMB has a research unit in Bangkok which plans to offer stockbroking services. It also recently launched an operating office in Brunei.

Datuk Nazir joined CIMB 16 years ago after receiving his master’s degree from Pembroke College, Cambridge. CIMB was then the 7th biggest of 12 Malaysian investment banks.

Today, his name is whispered when the country needs a Mr Fix-It. There has been recent speculation that he might be heading to the finance ministry. But he has laughed off speculation that he would enter politics any time soon.

In October, he had said: “This is the life I know. This is the life I love. This is the life I want to enjoy.”

Pint-Sized Smash Hit

In a country where the three sports that really matter are football, badminton and hockey, the biggest star is a squash player.

That is not surprising. Nicol David, the pint-sized 22-year-old from Penang, is the World No. 1 women’s squash player.

She is also the first woman to win the British Open, the World Open and earn the top ranking in the same year. She achieved all that in just six weeks in October and November.

Not only has she made squash more popular than ever, she is now being held up as a role model for young Malaysians.

Colonel Wong Ah Jit, the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) executive director, told The Malay Mail tabloid: “She is an inspiration to new players. Nicol has raised the bar so high and we hope the other national players will try to emulate her.”

David is tipped to dominate women’s squash for some time, because of her age and abilities. Her role as a unifier in Malaysia cannot be overstated.

Malaysia has always loved its sports heroes. More importantly, the country has always come together despite racial and religious differences to celebrate its champions.

When Malaysia’s badminton team finally beat Indonesia and China to wrest the coveted Thomas Cup in the early 1990s, the country erupted with singular joy.

Thus, political leaders have been quick to recognise the importance of sports heroes.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi made a personal call on David and her parents in Penang when she was crowned the world’s best player.

She was given a grand welcome back in Penang and has been handsomely rewarded.

David has also given Malaysians something new to cheer about.

When she turned professional, at the age of 18, few people were interested in squash. Now Malaysians everywhere have become instant experts on the sport.

Is Anwar Really Poised For A Comeback?

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s upscale home in Kuala Lumpur’s Damansara Heights is beginning to look a bit worn, having doubled as his political base since he was ousted from the government in 1998.

The former deputy prime minister himself, however, has never looked better.

Late last month, he hosted a Hari Raya open house. Gone was the gaunt man who had aged tremendously when he was first released from prison last year after the Federal Court set aside his conviction for sodomy.

At the open house, a rejuvenated Datuk Seri Anwar greeted supporters and a sprinkling of politicians, businessmen and diplomats, making it the highlight of one of his few trips back in Malaysia.

Datuk Seri Anwar has spent most of this year abroad, teaching in the United States and Britain. This kept him out of the news and, as the year wore on, the euphoria over his release from prison also died down. Even a number of startling court judgments that bolstered his long-held protest of innocence failed to stir up excitement.

Talk of his rejoining UMNO–the only way that he can return to government–also dwindled away.

It would be tempting to write off Datuk Seri Anwar as a spent political force, but he has plans to turn things around next year.

To start, he will be spending more time in Malaysia after February, when his stints as a visiting professor at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins universities in the US and Oxford in Britain end.

“He will be in Kuala Lumpur permanently, although there will still be a lot of travel as he has many speaking engagements abroad,” said his aide Azmin Ali.

He also said Parti Keadilan Rakyat, led by Datuk Seri Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Ismail, was set to give the former deputy prime minister a platform to build a higher domestic profile.

It had spent the year building up its membership and machinery to enable Datuk Seri Anwar “to move on in his political career,” although the party has not really been able to find a niche for itself.

Datuk Seri Anwar plans to hold a series of programmes with the businessmen, professionals, religious groups and civil society organisations to explain his vision.

“There is no way for us to reach the people through the media, so we will be holding small workshops rather than large rallies through the year,” said Azmin.

Datuk Seri Anwar is barred from active politics, including running for office, until 2008 as his conviction for corruption remains on the books.

He has refused to seek a royal pardon.

Datuk Seri Abdullah’s future could depend on whether he is able to light a spark under the current lacklustre efforts to bring the opposition parties into a cohesive pact.

AirAsia Boss Clips Sceptics’ Wings

For a good story on the Malaysia Boleh spirit, look no further than Datuk Tony Fernandes.

Four years ago, he ignored scepticism over starting a low-cost air carrier so soon after the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Today, he is the boss of Asia’s largest low-cost carrier, AirAsia.

Few then had thought his ideas would fly–make money on local Malaysian routes with low fares–Herd passengers aboard with no seat numbers and no drinks?

Impossible, said the naysayers, pointing to giant Malaysian Airlines (MAS), which had for years complained that no one can make money flying to Terengganu or Kedah.

Today, Datuk Fernandes, 41, is feted as the kind of entrepreneur Malaysia needs more of.

He got his start at Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines as an auditor before becoming financial controller for Virgin Records in London from 1987 to 1989.

He moved on to Warner Music International London in 1989, before being transferred Malaysia in 1992.

In 2001, he bought the loss-incurring airline with a RM40m debt and two modest Boeing 737-300s.

In the quarter which ended Sept 30, 2005, AirAsia reported a net profit of RM11.67m despite the sharp spike in global fuel prices, up from RM10.47m during the same period a year ago.

By contrast, MAS reported a loss of RM367.7m for the same July to September quarter.

AirAsia now has a fleet of 22 Boeing 737-300 aircraft, according to its website. It has also taken delivery of the first of 60 Airbus A320s, as part of a total fleet renewal plan.

It serves 60 destinations, having expanded to Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Macau, Xiamen in China and Singapore via Thailand. It hopes to fly to Laos and Myanmar soon.

It also has stakes in other no-frill lines, Thai AirAsia and PT Indonesia AirAsia.

Indeed, there is even speculation that Datuk Fernandes’ AirAsia would soon be given the task of taking over some of the domestic routes flown by MAS.

Pop Star Has Them All Tuned Up

Few Malaysians had even heard of Mawi five months ago, let alone heard him sing.

But today, even the country’s top politicians listen to him.

Mawi’s performance at a Hari Raya celebration at his home village in Johor last month drew a crowd of 15,000 people and created a traffic jam which stretched for 10km.

Born Asmawi Ani, the 24-year-old pop star has reportedly earned RM1m since he won the third edition of Akademi Fantasia reality TV show in August. His first solo album sold 110,000 copies in a matter of weeks–almost unheard of in Malaysia in these days of pirated CDs.

He also endorses Canon cameras and Mamee noodles.

As if that is not enough, both UMNO and opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) are begging him to grace their functions in order to pull in the crowds.

Forget about teeny-boppers. His biggest fans seem to be makciks who see him as the Boy-Next-Door.

Riding the current wave of religiosity, Mawi also wears Islam on his sleeve. He can recite the Quran as well as sing.

In fact, his biography said he was training to be an imam (mosque cleric) before he embarked on a singing career.

Clerics in PAS fought publicly over whether to invite him to the first public concert the party was organising in Kelantan in October.

Those who wanted him to perform, won, but not before a bitter exchange of words as some party clerics felt that a singer could hardly be a model Muslim.

The conservative Islamic party has even published a book in Malay, The Mawi Phenomena–Has PAS Changed? which told of the raging debate over the singer.

A few months ago, a different tussle took place as Malaysia was abuzz that Mawi would join Putera UMNO, a new wing set up for young people below 25. But Mawi apparently declined, saying he wanted to stay out of partisan politics.

“If I am invited to a political function to sing, my presence there is to sing, nothing else,” he said. “I am still the same Mawi, the kampung boy….”

Young Turk To Present The “Softer” Face Of PAS

Malaysia’s biggest opposition party is trying to soften its image and leaders like Husam Musa are leading the way.

The 46-year-old is one of the Young Turks of the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and a leading contender to be the next Menteri Besar of the only state it rules, Kelantan.

In recent years, PAS has veered more towards the radical tenets of the Taleban than the moderate Islam practised by Malaysian Muslims. It has pushed its concept of an Islamic state with strict syariah law which includes chopping off the hands of thieves and caning for adulterers.

But its reality check came in March last year, when it lost control of Terengganu, and nearly Kelantan as well.

It was also decimated everywhere else, with the number of its Parliament seats dropping to six, from 27.

Thus it was that in June, party members voted in a group of urbane young leaders to reduce the influence of the old conservative clerics.

Husam, who loves riding horses on the beach in Kelantan, won one of the three vice-president seats.

Unlike most PAS leaders, who are trained clerics, Musa had read economics.

And as Kelantan’s state finance chief, he is expected to rise higher in the party. His powerful backers include the respected Kelantan Menteri Besar and PAS spiritual leader, Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

PAS raised eyebrows when some of its leaders recently played football with local singers and actors at a stadium. Yet the Young Turks pushed the envelope even further in October by organising a concert in Kelantan starring top singer Mawi, despite stiff opposition from the pool of conservative clerics.

More such gestures towards mainstream Muslims are expected from Husam and company in the new year.

Abdullah’s Influential Son-In-Law Earns His Spurs

Few politicians in Malaysia attract as much respect, fear and venom–all rolled into one–or are watched as closely as Khairy Jamaluddin.

Although he will turn only 30 next year, his influence is considerable.

The son-in-law of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, Khairy’s quick rise in politics has been well-documented: Starting as a special assistant to his father-in-law, he assumed the post of deputy youth chief of the UMNO ruling party last year.

Whenever he is asked about his political ambitions and the accusations that he is manoeuvring himself into a position to become prime minister by the time he turns 40, he shrugs and rolls his eyes in resignation.

“Dynasties are not born out of in-laws but through one’s own children,” he said earlier this year, in response to allegations in a book that he wants to succeed Datuk Seri Abdullah.

Still, there is no doubt about the tremendous influence that Khairy wields, whether with the Prime Minister or in UMNO. But not all of it can be attributed to family ties.

He has worked the ground in UMNO tirelessly, turning the boos he attracted at last year’s party assembly, when he won his seat unopposed, to a much warmer reception at this year’s gathering.

He has helped transform UMNO Youth from a mere pressure group in the party into an effective election campaign force.

A case in point was the recent Pengkalan Pasir by-election, in Kelantan, when a more personal campaign helped convince voters in the hardcore opposition state to vote in the candidate from the ruling party.

So far, family ties have actually kept Khairy from running for Parliament. The ruling party surprisingly omitted him from its list of candidates during last year’s general election.

But he is likely to make a tilt for an elected seat at the next general election.

Staid Chief Shows His Other Side

Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, the Chief Minister of Penang, is hardly an exciting personality. He is staid and a little bland–in short, quite unlike his brash and bold party boss, Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik.

The Gerakan president is an in-your-face politician who rarely minces his words or moderates his strong opinions.

Tan Sri Koh, the party’s deputy president, is the opposite in temperament and political style.

But a few months ago, he surprised many when he threw his trademark caution to the wind and attacked the government’s policy of using English to teach mathematics and science.

He called for a review of the policy that has been in place since 2003, saying it was easier for children to learn these subjects in their mother tongue.

On the surface, that was nothing more than what a number of Malay politicians have been saying, but his words were perceived differently.

Gerakan is a small party, but it is influential in advocating its independent views. It also controls the state government of Penang and has the country’s only Chinese chief minister.

Thus Tan Sri Koh was seen as supporting opposition Chinese politicians and educationists who demand greater government support for Chinese schools.

For that, he felt the wrath of the Malay politicians, and even came under strong attack from fellow Barisan Nasional colleagues.

UMNO politicians criticised his views, with Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein describing them as communal polemics and irresponsible.

The issue died after Tan Sri Koh stepped back. But he had already revealed an unexpected side. Previously, he had been cautious, refusing to run for the party’s deputy presidency despite strong support from Datuk Seri Dr Lim.

When he finally did so this year, he won the post unopposed. He is also slated to take over the presidency when Datuk Seri Dr Lim retires.

The Straits Times/ANN

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Roundup: Flood situation improves in northern Malaysia

December 28, 2005

27-12-2005

The flood situation in four states in northern Malaysia, believed to be the worst in 30 years in some states, significantly improved on Monday as more evacuees were allowed to return home. 

The flood situation in the states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis was improving as local authorities allowed more people at relief centers there to return to their houses. 

In Kelantan, only one river remained above the danger level, while all the others in the state have receded below the danger mark. 

The fine weather in several places there including Kota Baharu reportedly helped improve the situation. As of 3:00 p.m. on Monday, only 157 people remained at relief centers in the state. 

In Terengganu, the situation has almost recovered to normal, with only 142 evacuees staying at local relief centers on Monday. 

Local police said that so far, only two flood relief centers remained open and all the main roads in the state re-opened for normal traffic. 

Meanwhile, the water level of most rivers in Terengganu have receded, except one remaining above the danger mark, but just 0.2 meter higher. 

The water level in the river was receding and expected to return to normal level if there was no heavy rain in days, local hydro officials said. 

In Kedah, most of the evacuees have returned home, while the Sultan Abdul Halim Airport at Kepala Batas, which closed due to the floods, will re-open on Tuesday. 

However, the number of evacuees remaining at flood relief centers in some districts around the state was significant. 

In the Kota Star district, a total of 1,336 victims still stayed at three relief centers on Monday, although 2,178 evacuees went home at noon. 

In the Kubang Pasu district, 1,558 people were still staying at the flood relief centers. Meanwhile, a local flood relief spokesman said there were two areas in the district still affected by the floods. 

In Perlis, the situation has improved, with only 654 people from 149 families still at relief centers as of 5:00 p.m. on Monday. 

A state flood relief spokesman said that only six relief centers remained operating in the state, while at the peak of the floods, more than 50 relief centers were open to accommodate the flood victims. 

Currently, some areas in Perlis were still under water. 

Heavy floods started to hit the four states more than a week ago due to heavy rains. At its peak, about 70 percent of the Perlis state were inundated, most of the electricity and water supplies were cut off, many roads were disrupted and a large tract of crops were destroyed. The total number of evacuees in the four states once soared above 20,000. 

Malaysian government leaders attached great importance to the flood relief work and moved quickly to fight the floods. Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak toured the flooded areas immediately after the floods struck. 

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi recently inspected the flooded areas and instructed agencies concerned to unroll their flood relief work, including providing food, shelters and vaccination to the flood victims. 

Badawi expressed satisfaction with the coordination among all parties involved in flood relief in the country, including the evacuation of flood victims. 

Source: Xinhua