Friday, December 16, 2016

Misuari out to solicit OIC advice

From The Standard (Dec 14): Misuari out to solicit OIC advice

MORO National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari left for Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to seek guidance from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the fate of the organization following the stalled implementation of the Jakarta Final Peace Agreement that was abandoned by the Aquino administration.

MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said Misuari will be attending the four-day OIC Ministerial, Officers and Heads of State meeting to possibly solicit advice for the Bangsamoro people following the two conflicting peace agreements that the Philippine government had signed.

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE. Nur Misuari, the 77-year-old chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front who met up with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang last month, describes his participation in the Eleventh Session of the Islamic Conference of Information Ministers in Saudia Arabia from December 19 to 22 during his departure Wednesday.
Eric Apolonio

“We still don’t know if the OIC is going to take cognizance of the peace agreement,” Cerveza said.
“As far as the OIC is concerned they will only honor the Jakarta peace accord.”

Misuari on Wednesday said he supported the move of the Duterte administration pushing for a federal form of government.

“President Duterte wanted us to have federalism, I said it is okay with me because that is midway between colonialism and independence,” Misuari told reporters before leaving for Jeddah.

The 1996 final peace agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine government, despite previous interventions by the OIC that brokered the deal, failed to take its course after the Aquino administration forged a separate agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The GRP-MNLF talks eventually diminished after the government abrogated the agreement and Misuari declared independence in Mindanao in 2013.

Cerveza said he was still clueless about Misuari’s plan as regards his meeting with the Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia and the agenda he would be proposing involving the MNLF status before the OIC.

In 2015, the OIC proposed the merging of vital provisions of the Jakarta peace accord to Malaysian-sponsored Bangsamoro Basic Law, but Misuari rejected it saying the Jakarta issue was more binding since it is an international treaty.

Misuari flies to Saudi Arabia to iron out government talks

From ABS-CBN (Dec 15): Misuari flies to Saudi Arabia to iron out government talks

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari flew to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to iron out details of peace talks with the Philippine government.

Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Ed Monreal confirmed that Misuari was at Terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and was to leave at about 3:40 p.m. for a flight to Jeddah.

In an interview, Misuari said he will be meeting the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to finalize the details of negotiations with the government.

Misuari said he wants to know who will mediate during the talks and when that person will go to the MNLF camp.

The government agreed that the talks will take place at the group’s camp, similar to how it was done in former president Fidel V. Ramos' time, Misuari said.

According Misuari, he expects negotiations to be short and successful. 

In November, President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted separate talks with the MNLF, after Misuari labeled the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “traitors.”

The MILF, an offshoot of the MNLF, was a signatory to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which were inked in 2012 and 2014, respectively, during the Aquino administration. The MNLF was not a party to these pacts.

How Southeast Asia Is Sizing Up Trump’s Election Victory – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Dec 13): How Southeast Asia Is Sizing Up Trump’s Election Victory – Analysis (By Daljit Singh, Le Hong Hiep, Malcolm Cook, Mustafa Izzuddin, Michael J. Montesano, Ulla Fionna and Ye Htut)

Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia Commons.
Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia Commons.

Every four years, Southeast Asia finds itself spellbound by the US presidential elections. This year’s election, which ended just a few weeks ago, was especially captivating for its political twists and turns. In the wake of the 8 November elections, Southeast Asia’s sights shifted from the intrigues of US political drama to grappling with the uncertainties of policies and strategic outlook of the 45th President of the United States of America.

Going by the adage that “when America sneezes, Asia catches a cold,” the incoming administration will have a big influence in the region’s unfolding story. For starters, the US- led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is in tatters as its 11 signatories scramble to salvage what was once touted as the “gold standard” of free trade agreements.

This has sent shockwaves throughout the region, which has grown accustomed to taking US engagement as a given. For a great many, the prospect of an inward-looking and protectionist America is not only unthinkable but also irrational. It might do irreparable damage to US’ long-standing and deep interests in the region, ranging from trade to security.
To be sure, US engagement in Southeast Asia is not without its detractors, a
nd like all relationships, it does suffer the occasional hiccups. However, on balance, Southeast Asia prefers an engaged partner to a distant and disinterested US as evident in this Special Issue of ISEAS Perspective covering official views and media reports from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. These snapshots which cover the responses in the first two weeks following the US presidential elections also speak to the diverse views and concerns vis-à-vis US’ regional role, ranging from the economy, democratisation, China, Islamophobia, and counter-terrorism.


By Ulla Fionna2

The victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton for the US presidency ignited reactions in Indonesia, which can generally be summarised as concerns over hostility and uncertainty. Both the media and the people voiced the same sentiments, conveying anxieties about what Trump administration would do, and how that would affect Indonesia overall, its economy, and Muslims in general.

At the diplomatic level, efforts were being made to maintain the good relations that the two countries enjoyed during Obama’s presidency. While Indonesia would have preferred Clinton as Obama’s successor, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was quick to congratulate Trump on his victory, saying “On behalf of the Indonesian government and all the people, I convey my congratulations to president-elect Donald J. Trump”. Although Trump’s policies was the lesser-known of the two candidates’, Jokowi added that Indonesia was nonetheless ready to continue mutual cooperation with the US.3 Anxieties over his possibly hostile policies towards Muslims – which featured in his campaign – were quickly addressed by the foreign ministry which hastily encouraged Indonesians living in the US to show respect for the new president.4 US representatives to Indonesia were also swift in reassuring that relationship with Indonesia would be well-maintained.5

Beyond what transpired at the official level, there were concerns over what kind of president he would be, and how his administration would affect Indonesia. In particular, as its third largest export market, Trump’s possibly more protectionist US trade policies would have some effects on Indonesia. While analysts were quick in raising concerns over the decreasing demand for goods from Indonesia if the US were to push its own manufacturing and cut corporate tax,6 others were quick to assuage the alarms, by pointing out that Indonesia would be much less affected compared to its regional peers, particularly as “trade is no longer a main source of growth”.7 Still, others have argued that China will be an important factor, as lower demand for China’s goods will also reduce China’s demand for raw materials from Indonesia.8 Yet overall, there is a consensus that Indonesia’s economy would be affected in some ways if the US implements more inward-focused economic policies.

Beyond possible impacts on the economy, Trump personality is viewed in a negative light by Indonesians. In the world’s largest Muslim country, his election as a leader of the free world has created a strong sense of animosity towards Muslims in general. Indeed, what has attracted a lot of attention in Indonesia was some of his campaign rhetoric which included a ban on foreign Muslims entering the US and a sense that Muslims would face hard times under his presidency.9 Already, he has called for Muslims to be registered,10 prompting concerns over other possible policies that would stymie Muslims’ rights and civil liberties, and how the US would deal with Islam and Muslim countries. A leader of Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has stated that “Trump will create new problems” due to his anti-Islam campaign oratory.11

Similar concerns are also apparent amongst Indonesians who are in touch with world politics, as some have voiced anxieties that the US will be suspicious and hostile towards Muslim countries and Muslims. As Indonesia has had a history of animosity with the US over its Middle East policy, Trump’s presidency may see a rise of an anti-US sentiment in the country. Indeed, the warm relationship enjoyed during Obama, who had some personal ties to Indonesia – would seem difficult to replicate. Thus, the US’ overall image amongst Indonesians is also in danger of deteriorating with the new US president. 12

Despite the overall negative perception and alarms, some analysts have also pointed out that Trump’s campaign rhetoric may be just that. His actual policies are still unknown and that he will have certain framework and limitations in which he can build them.13 One thing is for sure, Indonesia will keep a critical watch over him, with particular attention on his economic policies and approaches towards Muslims in general. While officially the two countries may do well with keeping a friendly outlook, Indonesian media and people have already made up their minds that Trump is not Obama.


By Mustafa Izzuddin14

Taking to his Facebook page, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak congratulated Donald Trump on his “extraordinary victory.” Najib also added that “I think the partnership with the US would remain because he too needs the partnership with Malaysia and other countries.”

Najib’s conciliatory message of cautious optimism set the tone for others in government responding to Trump’s win. Deputy Prime Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi followed suit by congratulating Trump on his Twitter with this message: “May your victory mark a new beginning, further strengthening Malaysia-US relations.” Concurrently, the Foreign Ministry, through an official statement, also congratulated Trump and called for the Comprehensive Partnership on a wide range of areas of cooperation including politics, economy, security and defence, signed in 2014 under President Obama, to continue under a Trump presidency.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein believed that existing defence relations between Malaysia and America, such as the purchase of military equipment, joint military exercises, and counter-terrorism cooperation, will remain intact. Hishammuddin cautioned against knee-jerk reactions as it would be more sensible to await Trump’s foreign and defence policy to take shape.

Trade minister Mustapa Mohamed sought to assure businesses that there will not be a radical shift in US-Malaysia economic relations, given that America is now Malaysia’s third largest trading partner. Mustapa felt that the negative perception of Trump has improved of late in Malaysia because he has softened his bigoted rhetoric after winning the elections.

Despite Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Najib has not given up on the TPP as he believes Trump may still change his mind, and feels protectionism can only harm trade and the global economy. He even lobbied Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to persuade the president-elect on the merits and strategic importance of the TPP.

Reactions from Malaysians on the ground towards Trump can be divided to three groups. The first group, fuelled by Islamic conservatism, considers Trump to be an Islamophobe, given his anti-Muslim bigotry. Echoing such sentiments were politicians from the Pan- Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) whose views were captured by the PAS-owned Harakah newspaper. For them, anti-Muslim bigotry was the hallmark of Trump’s presidential campaign, and the antidote was Islamic revivalism, with the key cornerstone being the formation of an Islamic state and the attendant imposition of Islamic law. Many other Malays, not necessarily supporters of PAS may also view Trump unfavourably because of his stances towards Muslims.

The second group, informed by liberal progressive values, views Trump with contempt, not least for his xenophobic and misogynistic remarks. This group transcended race and religion, and even included those Muslims who wanted Islam to be reformed in keeping with the 21st century. This, however, placed them at loggerheads with the more conservative Muslims in Malaysia.

The third group, which wants the Najib government removed from power believe that the one lesson that can be drawn from Trump’s win is that the ‘Trump effect’ could dawn on Malaysia. Their hope is that if enough of downcast and discontented Malaysians came out to vote in droves for the political opposition, Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition would lose a general election.

Not surprisingly, this group has tended to align themselves with the opposition, with several politicians from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) calling for the ‘Trump effect’ to dislodge Najib and his coalition from government.

As for the Malaysian print media, the English and Malay-language mainstream papers took the cue from Najib and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in responding to Trump’s victory. The common thread running through The New Straits Times, The Star, Borneo Post, Berita Harian and Utusan Melayu was that despite Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, the hope is that it will not impede US-Malaysia relations given Malaysia’s status as a Muslim majority country. The Malaysian leadership may be more cautious when dealing with the new US administration if Washington is perceived to take a harder line against Muslims.

However, the Malaysian online media, namely Malaysiakini and Free Malaysia Today as well as many notable blogs and websites critical of Najib and his government such as the Sarawak Report, have been more vociferous in their criticism of not just Donald Trump but also of Najib’s response to a Trump victory. Without exception, the online media centred the criticism of Najib on the 1MDB controversy even when discussing Najib’s response to a Trump victory. Simply put, they saw Najib as downplaying his criticism of Trump in the hope that the Trump administration would end US efforts to investigate the 1MDB scandal.

Good economic growth, based on trade and investment, is crucial for Najib as it enhances his legitimacy to govern the country, and augments the chances of his coalition being returned to power in the next election likely to be in the middle of 2017. The US is a key export market for Malaysia, worth RM73.7 billion in 2015 and a more protectionist trade policy in the US would hurt Malaysia economically and could make it tilt more towards China with which it already has a strong economic relationship. Like other countries, Malaysia would wait and see how the Trump Administration policies evolve, hoping that the US-Malaysia relationship will remain largely unscathed, given the long history of economic and security cooperation and the strategic importance of Malaysia in relation to the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca.


By Ye Htut15

Secretary Hillary Clinton was the darling of the Myanmar media, which covered the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign extensively throughout the recently concluded US presidential elections. Even the National League for Democracy (NLD) party spokesperson Win Htein remarked to the media that his party supports Clinton and her victory would improve bilateral ties. In contrast, all the editorials in the mainstream media were dismissive of Donald Trump’s presidential prospects and reprinted international news articles critical of his policies. Very few people supported Trump’s policy on immigration and radical Islam, but the few that did so conveyed their support using social media, mostly through Facebook. The media and the Myanmar people were caught off-guard by Trump’s unexpected ascendancy.

After Trump’s victory, President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi congratulated President-elect Trump and expressed their desire to promote bilateral relations. Aung San Suu Kyi, who has a close friendship with Clinton, extended her best wishes to Trump “for all success in the discharge of your new responsibilities as the 45th President of the United States.” She also said that she looked forward to “working closely with [Trump] to further strengthen the existing friendship, cooperation and partnership between our two countries.”

Presidential Office spokesperson Zaw Htay expressed his confidence that US policy towards Myanmar will not change much under Trump. He pointed out that the Republicans were historically ardent supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Myanmar. With Republicans controlling both houses in Congress, Trump will not have a free hand to reverse the US’ Myanmar policy. With regards to the prospects of US investment in Myanmar, Zaw Htay said that Myanmar would value the US more for political support than investment, and that South Korea, India and China will play a larger and more active role in the country’s economic development.

The main opposition party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), formerly led by President Thein Sein who started the rapprochement with US, also congratulated Trump. The new party chairman Than Htay said that Trump’s win was historic and reflects the American people’s confidence in Trump’s strategic leadership. He expressed USDP’s desire to enhance its relationship with the Republican Party.

Another political party delighted by Trump’s victory is the ethnic Rakhine party, the Arakan National Party (ANP). Against the backdrop of the deteriorating state of security in Rakhine State following the 9th October terrorist attacks on police camps, ANP Chairman Aye Maung congratulated Trump in a letter on 9 November and said, “being engulfed in Islamisation and illegal immigration problems, we the Arakanese people look up to you as a new world leader who will change the rigged system being infested with jihadi infiltrators.”

Overall, Myanmar’s media were surprised by Trump’s victory over Clinton. The newspapers did not publish any editorials on US election results. However, the Myanmar politicians, businesspersons and scholars who were interviewed by the media all expressed their concerns about Trump’s nationalist and isolationist tendencies. Some of these opinion leaders hoped Trump will appreciate Myanmar’s strategic dilemma of being sandwiched between the two major powers of China and India.

Coverage of the US elections by the local media were mostly translations of international news items. This limited coverage was selectively biased against Trump, and highlighted the protests against Trump’s victory, the negative impacts on stock markets and the US dollar and the Clinton concession speech. Trump’s victory speech were mentioned only in passing.

The only newspaper which took a different perspective was Eleven daily. Its editorial concluded that Trump’s victory represented the American people’s rejection of its corrupt political elite and “establishment” politics. It even interpreted Trump’s victory as an indirect warning to the NLD. The paper quoted Trump’s speech in New Hampshire: “Do you want America to be ruled by the corrupt political class, or do you want America to be ruled again by the people?” Three days after the US election, the CEO and Chief Editor of the paper was arrested on defamation charges surrounding the paper’s criticism of alleged corruption within NLD government. Their article “Myanmar, one year after the Nov 8 polls” on 5 November was widely reprinted in Asian newspapers, including Singapore’s The Straits Times.

As Myanmar recovers from the initial shock of Trump’s unexpected victory, it now anxiously awaits the new president’s foreign policy. Myanmar would have to build new bridges to connect with the Trump administration. The task is not impossible but it will be more challenging given Myanmar’s close relations with the Obama administration and Clinton.


By Malcolm Cook16

Three emotions capture the predominant Philippine reactions to Donald Trump’s election victory: worry, hope, and vindication.

The Philippine peso has fallen to its lowest against the US dollar since the dark days of the US-centred Global Financial Crisis eight years ago. In the first ten trading days after the Trump victory, the peso fell each session. The Philippine Stock Exchange also fell sharply for the first week, but has since recovered. In a November 10 note, Japanese financial firm Nomura identified Trump’s victory as the “biggest risk to Philippine growth next year.”17 Nomura focusses on three potential negative effects:
  • Lower remittances from the United States due to tightened immigration laws. According to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas statistics, the United States accounted for over $8 billion in remittances to the Philippines in 2015, about a third of total remittances inflows to the Philippines. Approximately four million Filipinos reside in the United States, some unlawfully.
  • Slower growth in the booming Philippine business process outsourcing (BPO) sector due to higher offshoring costs from the United States. The United States’ market accounts for over 70% of BPO exports from the Philippines. The Philippines is the world’s largest BPO hub.
  • Lower total exports. The United States is the Philippines’ second largest export market after Japan. The United States’ market accounts for over 15% of total Philippine exports.
The global property firm Colliers’ Philippine office voiced similar concerns about Trump- related negative effects on remittances and the BPO sector. A ‘wait and see” approach to new investment in the BPO sector could weigh down demand for office space while slower and more uncertain remittances growth could do the same for the private housing market.18

Other market watchers are more sanguine. Cielito Habito, a former head of the National Economic Development Agency and now columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, notes that the Philippines does not have a free trade deal with the United States and is not a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, protecting the country from any Trump presidency moves against free trade deals.19 Like Habito, Credit Suisse warns against overreaction. In a November 17 report, the Swiss bank argues that foreign direct investment decisions by American firms, unlike Chinese ones, are not sensitive to political factors. This and the weakening peso could make the Philippines a more, not less, attractive destination for BPO investment from the United States.20

On the diplomatic front, the surprise Trump victory triggered more positive responses. These responses were largely due to the sharp change in tone in Philippine-US relations since the coming to power of President Rodrigo Duterte at the end of June. President Duterte has launched a number of personal tirades against President Obama, including advising President Obama on October 4 to visit hell.21 This sharp deterioration in bilateral diplomacy underlines the fact that leaders and their views of each other matter. Trump’s victory has provided hope that relations with the United States, the Philippines’ most important security and economic partner, can improve without requiring President Duterte to change. President Duterte was one of the first leaders to congratulate President-elect Trump on his victory and has stated that he does not want to fight with Trump.22

President Duterte has gone further, noting the frequently commented upon similarities between Donald Trump and himself from profane language to “what we share in common is the passion to serve”.23

Ramon Tulfo, one of the best-known journalists in the Philippines, building on this sense that Trump and Duterte are similar, boldly predicts that the two will become friends and that under President Trump, the United States will treat the Philippines as an equal.24 President Duterte has repeatedly criticized the United States and the current Obama administration for not doing so. It is widely expected that a Trump presidency will focus less on human rights concerns overseas. This would help soothe a major irritant for President Duterte, who started lambasting President Obama after the State Department and the president expressed concern over President Duterte’s violent war on drugs. The incoming Trump president offers the opportunity for the Duterte administration to reset diplomatic relations with the United States.

The Trump victory and his revisionist rhetoric on American trade and security policy is being read by many in the Philippines and beyond as vindication for President Duterte’s call for a more independent foreign policy and a more distant relationship with the United States.25 The Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer, in an interview with Nikkei Asian Review, summed this view up:
“I think that you’re going to see more leaders like [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte who went to China and basically said, “We’re going to separate ourselves from the United States.” A lot more countries in Asia are going to do that. I mean, Duterte looks smart now. I think that Duterte got it right. It looks like he made the right call.”26

The Philippines has the deepest, most complex, and most volatile relationship with the United States among Southeast Asian countries. This enduring fact at the core of the Philippine identity is reflected in the Philippine reactions to the impending political change in the United States.


By Daljit Singh27

Singapore, a small open economy for which trade is its life-blood, naturally showed much concern about Donald Trump’s trade protectionist stance during his presidential campaign. This has been clear from the speeches of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Peru. Even before the US election, he warned of the dangers of protectionism and of failure to ratify the TPP, which is also valued for strategic reasons since it is an important component of the US rebalance to Asia. There were hopes that the experience of office and the realities would help moderate Trump’s attitude to the TPP, especially since the Republican party leadership is close to American businesses and essentially supports free trade.

However, Trump poured cold water on such notions by his pronouncement that he would scrap the TPP on his first day in office. Still, Singapore and some like-minded countries would ratify the TPP and may try to have an 11-country arrangement without the US in the hope that the US might be able to join later on when it is ready.

In his congratulatory message to President-elect Trump on 9 November 2016, Prime Minister Lee highlighted both the shared strategic interests and the extensive economic and commercial ties of the two countries. He said the relationship has long benefited both Singapore and the US, implying that Singapore was no free rider, and that the US had also greatly benefited from the relationship.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the US had consistently maintained a trade surplus with Singapore, which now stands at US$20 billion a year, while Singapore investments in the US together with US exports to Singapore have created 240,000 jobs for American workers. Singapore, he added, has also long supported US presence in the region as essential for peace and stability. Though the Prime Minister did not say so, in fact, Singapore has gone out on a limb for many years to publicly support the US military presence in the region and to facilitate it through use of facilities in Singapore. In doing so, Singapore incurred the displeasure of neighbouring countries in the earlier years and of the contending great power more recently.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen made a similar point. In response to a question by a journalist on 13 November 2016 whether Singapore would have to shoulder a greater burden of defence responsibilities under President Trump, he said Singapore’s relationships with other countries were premised on mutual benefit and Singapore was “doing a lot” with the US and for the US. He cited how American ships and planes, including the P-8 surveillance planes, transit Singapore naval and air bases.

Also, the Singapore Armed Forces had served in Afghanistan, and the two countries were working closely to diminish terrorism. As such, he did not expect the defence relationship with the US, which has a historically “strong institutional” basis, to decline under the Trump Administration.

Nevertheless, there is the sense in Singapore, like in other regional countries, of much more uncertainty following Trump’s election victory. As former Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Bilahari Kausikan said in a commentary published in the South China Morning Post on 13 November, Trump’s victory had enhanced global political and economic uncertainties and “increased the risks for everyone.” He also said that, under Trump, human rights may be put on the back burner, and his approach would be “more business-like” and “highly transactional,” that is, “an immediate reward for an immediate action.” On how Singapore would deal with the Trump presidency, he said “we will deal with it the way we deal with every new development: Pragmatically … we do not waste time wringing our hands in despair over a new reality. You adapt and you deal with it.”

The English language press highlighted the shock of Trump’s victory and its huge implications for Asia and the world. The heading of The Straits Times editorial of 10 November was “When disruption trumps the old order”. It said that America has been the great internationalist – “is that self-perception destined to run smack into a wall…of Mr Trump’s America First worldview?” So much was riding on America’s leadership, it continued, that a drastic change in course “would mean reassessments by many countries that could play out in a number of uncomfortable ways.” The Business Times editorial of 10 November was headlined “America’s political earthquake and the uncertain future of a Trump regime.”

Singaporean public intellectuals like Tommy Koh, Kishore Mahbubani and Chan Heng Chee provided their analyses of the causes of Trump’s victory in the local English language press. Prominent among them were the failure of domestic government policies in the US to address the plight of those left behind economically by globalisation and the backlash on the part of significant sections of the white community against the demographic and social changes in the country, with a nostalgia and yearning for an America of decades past, less complex and predominantly white.

Characteristically, Singapore’s public intellectuals and the media sought to draw lessons for Singapore from the US election results. The three prominent lessons highlighted in The Sunday Times of 13 November were government policies must not leave anyone behind economically; the need to stay clear of racist politics and rhetoric; and the dangers of populism. The Prime Minister has himself highlighted these points.

While the official reaction in Singapore to Trump’s victory was restrained and cautious, there was considerable uncertainty and unease about the sort of policies the new Administration would pursue. Overall, a wait and see attitude seemed to inform official and non-official circles.


By Michael J. Montesano28

General Prayut Chanocha, head of Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, reacted to news of Donald Trump’s election victory promptly and correctly. Noting that Thai-US relations dated back more than 180 years, he offered his congratulations to Mr Trump and emphasised the ability of Thai diplomacy to accommodate change in the international arena.29

Other Thai reactions to Mr Trump’s election were more concrete. Among these reactions, some focused on the protectionist views that the US President-elect had frequently expressed during the campaign and on their implications for Thailand. While affirming Thailand’s interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) if the US ratified it, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak nevertheless said that the death of the proposed agreement would be a net positive for Thailand. He noted that the TPP’s China-backed rival, the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), in any case represented a viable means of fortifying Asia’s position in global trade.30 Other observers noted that Thailand would need to monitor the President-elect’s success in erecting barriers to imports into the US and perhaps to cultivate new export markets for Thai goods. The country also faced the more general risk of international economic instability resulting from the unpredictability of a Trump presidency.31

Commenting on the implications of Donald Trump’s election victory in areas outside those of trade and the economy, some Thai observers noted that his administration was likely to take little interest in their country. On the one hand, this meant that Bangkok’s relations with Washington might no longer provide it with a means of balancing its ties with Beijing. On the other, human rights and the state of Thai democracy would not figure prominently among the new American administration’s concerns.32

This latter view shaded in some reactions into Schadenfreude, giving rise to sentiments that the meddlesome US had now been taught a lesson of its own in what damage a simplistic commitment to electoral democracy might do to a country.33 In other words, Thais on the Yellow end of the spectrum felt some measure of glee in America’s predicament.

A contrasting view found inspiration, notwithstanding the outcome of the Trump-Clinton race, in the election’s openness and competitiveness, in the freedom of expression on display throughout the contest, and in the dignity with which President Barack Obama committed himself to an orderly transition to the presidency of Mr Trump.34 Contrasting Thailand and the US in a similar way were those Thai commentators who stressed that Americans had elected such a polarising figure as Mr Trump without succumbing to the political conflict and chaos in which polarisation over the figure of Thaksin Shinawatra had resulted in their own country. The situation in the US thus underlined, from this point of view, how far Thailand, currently under military rule, had in fact fallen.35 Nevertheless, it was still early days, and Thailand’s divided state ought to serve as a warning to the US, should it fail to heal the wounds that Mr Trump had opened.36

US-Thai relations suffered difficulties during the Obama years. But the election to America’s presidency of a man marked by an outlook diametrically opposed to that of the outgoing president and determined to reverse his predecessor’s achievements has left Thai elites more cautious and uncertain than relieved or reassured. Above all when it comes to economics and trade, the prospect of a Trump presidency confuses them, even as their reactions to it reflect their frustrations with the state of their own politics.


By Le Hong Hiep37

Donald Trump’s victory caught many Vietnamese observers by surprise. Prior to the elections, public opinion and the media predicted a victory for Clinton, who was the favoured candidate expected to pursue policies favourable to Vietnam.

The elections were widely covered by Vietnamese media outlets, some of which provided expert analyses and live TV coverage. However, after the results came out, most of the major media official outlets, such as the Nhan Dan (People’s Daily), Vietnam News Agency, and Vietnam Television, remained rather neutral by reporting the election outcomes without commenting on the implications of Trump’s victory.

On 9 November 2016, after it became clear that Donald Trump won the race, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc jointly sent a letter of congratulations to the US President-elect. Part of the letter reads:
Viet Nam has always highly valued the friendly and cooperative relations with the US. We hope that the two countries will keep on deepening the comprehensive partnership in a practical, stable, sustainable and long-standing manner, especially in terms of economic cooperation, trade, investment, science and technology, education and training, defence and security, as well as the cooperation in regional and international issues.38

It is noteworthy that in the letter, the two leaders invited Trump to visit Vietnam during the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting to be hosted by Hanoi in 2017. However, the invitation was not mentioned in media reports or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ press release. This is probably because Vietnamese officials wanted to avoid embarrassment in case the new US President follows through on his isolationist foreign policy platform and fails to show up at the meeting.
In the days following the elections, Vietnamese officials and scholars began to discuss the implications of Trump’s victory for Vietnam. Most of the analyses focused on how the Trump administration will deal with the TPP as well as the rebalancing strategy.

On 17 November 2016, answering a question from a member of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc noted that as the Trump administration is unlikely to have the TPP ratified, there was “not enough basis” for the Vietnamese government to submit the agreement to the National Assembly for ratification yet. However, he mentioned that even without the TPP, Vietnam would be committed to deepening international economic integration through other means, including the twelve free trade agreements (FTA) that Vietnam had concluded. At the same time, Phuc also expressed confidence that Vietnam’s relations with the US would further improve (under the Trump administration).39

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the National Assembly on 10 November 2016, Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh said that it was still too early to assess the impact of the US elections, especially on the fate of the TPP. He also emphasised that even if the TPP fell through, Vietnam’s policy of international economic integration would remain unchanged, and the country would turn to other FTAs to compensate for the loss of the TPP.40

Commenting on the impacts of the TPP’s possible collapse on the Vietnamese economy, economists Ngo Tri Long and Pham Si An acknowledged that Vietnam’s economic performance would suffer, not least because the country’s reform momentum may slow down.41 However, some officials and scholars expressed optimism that, despite Trump’s protectionist rhetoric during his election campaign, the TPP may still have a chance.

For example, the Deputy Chair of the National Assembly Committee on Economic Affairs, Nguyen Duc Kien, believed that there may be a gap between Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his actual policies once he takes over the presidency. Similarly, Nguyen Duc Thanh, Director of the Vietnam Economic and Policy Research Institute (VEPR), opined that it would not be easy for Trump to abandon the TPP as there would be resistance from the bureaucracy as well as the Congress. He added that the TPP “will not depend on Trump or any other US presidents”, because the US still needs the trade deal to support its broader foreign policy goals. He asserted that even if the TPP were dead, another “even stronger arrangement” led by the US would likely emerge to replace it.42

Meanwhile, Tran Viet Thai, the Deputy Director of the Centre for Diplomacy and Strategic Studies of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, commented that the TPP would face major obstacles under the Trump administration, which would negatively impact other member countries, including Vietnam. However, as the TPP is an “important process” for both America and the Asia-Pacific, he believed that Washington would seek to modify the agreement rather than abandon it altogether.43

Commenting on Sino-US relations under Trump, Thai held that the overall framework of bilateral ties would be maintained, but frictions between the two powers may intensify, especially in trade, international law and order, and maritime security. He further posited that Trump’s America would maintain its engagement in the South China Sea disputes as the issue is related to its broader rebalancing strategy and reflects its commitment to the Asia–Pacific as well as its allies. However, he opined that while the US’ principles may remain unchanged, Trump’s approach to the issue might be different from that of the Obama administration. On US-Vietnam relations, he hinted at the possible continuity in US policy towards Hanoi by mentioning that both the Democratic and Republican parties have agreed to further promote bilateral ties.44


Southeast Asia is coming to grips with President-elect Trump as it braces itself for what many fear to be a retreat from Obama’s rebalance strategy.

Not much is known of Trump’s views on Southeast Asia and ASEAN, which heightens uncertainties and anxieties over his administration’s approach and engagement with the region. To be sure, the US can ill-afford to disengage from the region but what is less clear is how Trump’s purported “transactional” approach will play out in the region.

President-elect Trump’s public announcement of US’s withdrawal from the TPP is viewed with disappointment in the region, especially among its Southeast Asian members, as a harbinger of his “America First” approach which may have a negative knock-on effect of regional economies. This sense of trepidation spills over to the political-strategic sphere, with concerns that the rebalance strategy may go the way of the TPP. A scaling down of US presence and engagement in the region will constrain and limit Southeast Asia’s strategic options vis-à-vis China. Can the US continue to be counted at the strategic level to keep China’s regional ambitions in check? This sense of anxiety is heightened in recent weeks with Trump’s nomination of senior Cabinet positions (Secretary of Defence, UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor) with little Asian experience. His controversial views on Islam will also not play well in Muslim majority countries, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Trump’s transactional and less ideological approach may reap the unexpected fruit of improvement of bilateral ties with the Philippines and Thailand.

These are still early days. The full picture of Trump’s Asia policy will only come into view when he completes the full roster of cabinet appointments. He will also have the opportunity to signal continued US engagement with the region with an early commitment to attend the East Asia Summit and hold its first meeting with ASEAN Leaders in November 2017. As the region looks forward to signs of re-assurance, it also hopes that Sino-US relations will not descend into public grandstanding and animosity.

SOURCE: ISEAS published this article as ISEAS Perspective ISSUE: 2016 No. 66 (PDF).

1 This special issue was edited by Daljit Singh, Coordinator, Regional Strategic and Political Studies Programme, and compiled by Tang Siew Mun, Senior Fellow, Regional Strategic and Political Studies Programme at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
2 Ulla Fionna is Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
3 “Jokowi congratulates Trump”, The Jakarta Post, 9 November 2016, (, accessed 18 November 2016.
4 Safrin La Batu, “Indonesians in US told to honor next US president”, The Jakarta Post, 10 November 2016, ( honor-next-us-president.html), accessed 18 November 2016.
5 “US pledges to maintain relations with Indonesia”, The Jakarta Post, 9 November 2016, ( indonesia.html), accessed 18 November 2016.
6 Fiki Ariyanti, “Donald Trump Jadi Presiden, Ekspor ke AS Bakal Suram”,, 9 November 2016, ( as-bakal-suram), accessed 21 November 2016.
7 Anton Hermansyah, “Trump’s protectionism will have limited effect on Indonesia: UOB”, The Jakarta Post, 10 November 2016, ( protectionism-will-have-limited-effect-on-indonesia-uob.html), accessed 18 November 2016.
8 “Trump Menang, China Kena Imbas Pertama, Indonesia berikutnya”,, 10 November 2016, (, accessed 21 November 2016.
9 Safrin La Batu, op. cit.
10 See for example “Donald Trump Says He’d ‘Absolutely’ Require Muslims to Register”, NY Times, 20 November 2016, ( trump-says-hed-absolutely-require-muslims-to-register/?_r=0), accessed 21 November 2016. It should be noted that the same initiative was in place during George W. Bush’s presidency.
11 “MUI: Trump Bakal Menimbulkan Masalah Baru”,, 10 November 2016, (, accessed 21 November 2016.
12 Personal e-mail communication with international relations specialists in Indonesia, November 2016.
13 “Indonesia Diharap Tak Reaktif Sikapi Terpilihnya Donald Trump”,,
Jumat, 11 November 2016, ( ihnya.donald.trump), and I Gede Wahyu Wicaksana, “Indonesia shouldn’t worry about Trump leadership”, The Jakarta Post, 15 November 2016, ( leadership.html), accessed 21 November 2016.
14 Mustafa Izzuddin is Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
15 Ye Htut is Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
16 Malcolm Cook is Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
17 “Trump ‘biggest risk’ to PH growth,”, 14 November 2016, (, accessed 14 November 2016.
18 “Trump win a threat to BPO industry,”, 10 November 2016, (, accessed 11 November 2016.
19 “President Trump and our economy,”, 11 November 2016 (, accessed 11 November 2016.
20 “Philippines’ China ‘pivot’ seen to add fuel to growth,” Business World Online, 21 November 2016 ( china-&lsquopivot&rsquo-seen-to-add-fuel-to-growth&id=136654), accessed 21 November 2016.
21 “Duterte to Obama: Go to hell,”, 04 October 2016, updated 10 October 2016, (, accessed 14 November 2016.
22 “Duterte to Trump: Mabuhay ka!,” ABS-CBN News, 09 November 2016, (http://news.abs-, accessed 11 November 2016.
23 “Duterte on Trump: We share common passion to serve,” ABS-CBN News, 11 November 2016, (, accessed 11 November 2016.
24 “My bold prediction about Trump and Duterte,”, 12 November 2016 (, accessed 21 November 2016.
25 “Digong, Donald seen hitting it off,”, 11 November 2016, (, accessed 21 November 2016.
26 “So long, Pax Americana, you’ve been Trumped,” Nikkei Asian Review, 13 November 2016, ( Trumped), accessed 14 November 2016.
27 Daljit Singh is Coordinator, Regional Strategic and Political Studies Programme at ISEAS- Yusof Ishak Institute.
28 Michael J. Montesano is Co-Coordinator, Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. The author acknowledges the research assistance of Mark Heng and Gerard Wong.
29 “นายกฯ ยินดีผชู้ นะเลือกต้งั ประธานาธิบดีสหรัฐ” [Prime minister welcomes winner of United States presidential election], Thai News Agency, 11 November 2016 (, downloaded 19 November 2016), and “Press Releases: Prime Minister Sent a Congratulatory Message to the President-elect of the United States, Mr. Donald J. Trump”. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thailand, 15 November 2016 ( Prime-Minister-sent-a-congratulatory-message–to-t.html), accessed 17 November 2016.
30 “Scrapping of TPP May Help Thailand”, Bangkok Post, 17 November 2016 (, accessed 21 November 2016.
31 Trump Policy Predictions Divide Thai Business Opinion, Bangkok Post, 10 November 2016 ( business-opinion) and “Markets Dip After Trump Victory”, The Nation, 10 November 2016 (, accessed 17 November 2016.
32 Pravit Rojanaphruk, “Thailand Can Expect Less Interest from President Trump, Academics Say”, Khaosod English, 9 November 2016 ( trump-academics-say, downloaded 17 November 2016), and “The End of the Liberal Democracy Project?”, The Conversation, 9 November 2016 ( us-election-scholars-from-around-the-world-react-68282), accessed 17 November 2016.
33 Kong Rithdee,“Exactly Who is Funnier, Us or The Donald?”, Bangkok Post, 12 November 2016 ( donald), accessed 17 November 2016.
34 Anchalee Kongrut, “The Valuable Lessons from US Election”, Bangkok Post, 14 November 2016 ( election), accessed 17 November 2016.
35 Kong Rithdee, op. cit.
36 Umesh Pandey,“Time for All Americans to Come Together”, Bangkok Post, 11 November 2016 ( together), accessed 17 November 2016.
37 Le Hong Hiep is Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
38 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Viet Nam’s comment on the fact that Mr. Donald Trump has become the United States President-elect”, undated, (, accessed 16 November 2016.
39 “Thủ tướng: ‘Tôi tin chắc quan hệ Việt – Mỹ sẽ tốt hơn’” [I’m confident Vietnam – US relations will improve: PM”, VnExpress, 17 November 2016, ( tuong-toi-tin-tuong-quan-he-voi-my-se-tot-hon-3500149.html), accessed 18 November 2016.
40 “Bộ trưởng Công Thương: ‘Ông Donald Trump trúng cử, còn quá sớm để nói về TPP’” [Mr. elected, but still too early to talk about the TPP: Minister of Industry and Trade], VnExpress, 10 November 2016, ( donald-trump-trung-cu-con-qua-som-de-noi-ve-tpp-3497235.html), accessed 10 November 2016.
41 “Cải cách sẽ chậm lại nếu TPP trắc trở” [Reform will slow down if TPP stalled], Radio Free Asia, 10 November 2016, ( affect-reform-process-in-vn-nn-11092016203641.html); and “Thị trường tài chính Việt Nam sẽ ổn định” [Vietnam’s financial market will remain stable”, Thời báo Ngân hàng [Banking Times], 14 November 2016, ( 55933.html), 14 November 2016.
42 Ibid.
43 “Bằng hữu Mỹ – Trung dưới thời Tổng thống Donald Trump” [US-China relations under President Donald Trump”, Vietnamnet, 9 November 2016, ( 338797.html), accessed 10 November 2016.
44 Ibid.

Mitigating Maritime Violence In Sulu Sea: Regional Cooperation Needed – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Dec 15): Mitigating Maritime Violence In Sulu Sea: Regional Cooperation Needed – Analysis (By BA Hamzah)

Location of the Sulu Sea.

Suggestions that kidnappers/extortionists make money from ransom do not explain the root causes of maritime violence in the Sulu Sea. The main solution lies in development of the impoverished region in Mindanao and granting the Muslims self-rule in their homeland, coupled with regional cooperation to enforce law and order at sea.

The recent spate of kidnappings in the Sulu Sea seems to suggest that the sea is now under the control of the notorious bandits-cum-criminals and extortionists with their main sanctuaries/hideouts in southern Philippines. Their modus operandi is very simple. They extort money from families of captives or from their respective governments. It does not matter who pays the ransom so long as the right amount is paid. Very often, if the right amount of ransom is not raised in good time they would decapitate the captives as has happened to John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, both Canadians, in April and June 2016, respectively.

Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian hostage escaped death after a ransom was paid, reportedly around 100 million pesos. He became a “celebrity” overnight after his audience with President Duterte on 18 September 2016. Exactly a year before, the same group that abducted Sekkingstad and the two Canadians, killed Mr Bernard Then, a Malaysian engineer hostage, allegedly when it did not receive its share of the bounty.

Not Likely the Last

In September 2016, 13 Indonesians were kidnapped at sea; six were later released apparently without any ransom. This is the third time that Indonesians were kidnapped this year. In response to the spate of kidnappings, Jakarta has imposed a moratorium on the shipment of coal to the Philippines. The fate of the remaining seven is not known. They are probably held as captives in nearby Islands or on the mainland, waiting for ransom to be paid before they are released. Or, when the right amount cannot be raised in time, their heads will roll.

In an earlier incident (April 2016) four Malaysians were kidnapped and released after two months in captivity. A ransom of RM30 million (US$7.2 million) was reportedly raised for brothers Wong Teck Kang and Wong Teck Chii, their cousins, Johnny Lau Jung Hien and Wong Hung Sing.

Just last week, on 8 December 2016, there was a shootout between a group of armed extortionists, probably members of the outlawed Abu Sayyaf, and the members of the Tiger Platoon, the Royal Malaysian Police. In this incident off Lahad Datu, a coastal town in Sabah, Malaysia the Police claimed they killed the mastermind of several kidnappings of several foreigners from Sabah. Two other extortionists were killed and arrested two others.

The Police claimed the group was responsible for the kidnapping of four Indonesian crewmen in April 2016, as well as the beheading of the Canadians. Going by what happened in the past, this incident will not be the last. Vengeance and retribution in a tribal society that roams the Sulu Sea will be swift, for which the security forces must stay alert. No one knows how many are waiting to be freed and how much more ransom will be paid to the bandits, kidnappers and extortionists; and, by whom. Only time will tell.

Legacy of Lawlessness

According to one authority on Southeast Asian waters, James Warren, lawlessness in the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea is not new. It has existed as long as one could remember dating back to 1521, when the Spaniards colonised and christianised the Philippines. The local Muslims and natives waged a war of insurrection against the colonisers and in the Sulu Zone for occupying their lands as well interfering with their way of life.

Even before the Spaniards took control of the Philippines, the local chieftains in the South Philippines were reportedly trading in slaves. Human trafficking, people smuggling, piracy, sea robberies, and kidnappings were quite common in those days among the Sulu Sea community.

Most of the current problems associated with violence in the Sulu Sea could be traced to domestic politics in the Philippines, especially in Mindanao. The failure of the Manila-based government to give the Muslims (Moros) in South Philippines a real stake in national politics and economy have turned many impoverished to take the law into their hands. Some become bandits, kidnappers, extortionists, gun runners and many other jobless Moros engage in other forms of criminal activities for a living at sea, where enforcement is weak or in certain parts of the Sulu Sea, non-existent.

The most recent attempt to give the Moros an autonomous rule collapsed in June 2016, just before President Duterte took over the government. Since then President Duterte has launched a new initiative. He is now talking to Muslim leaders in Mindanao, most notably Nur Misuari, the former head of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who was disgraced by the previous three presidents.

The challenge to President Duterte is regaining the trust of the Moros who have been betrayed not once or twice but numerous times in their struggles for self-rule.

Way Forward

The suggestions that kidnappers/extortionists make money from ransom do not explain the root causes, which include granting the Muslims self-rule in their homeland and bringing development into Mindanao. Without this, the armed struggles will continue and the spill-over will be felt at sea. The overlapping territorial claims between Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia makes effective administration of the Sulu Sea more challenging.

In August 2016, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines signed a document on standard operating procedures (SOP) for trilateral maritime cooperation, marking the official start of coordinated joint sea patrols in the Sulu Sea.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The example of the coordinated maritime and air operations in the Strait of Malacca could be a useful start. The MOU on avoiding incidents at sea that existed between the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Indonesian Navy inked in 2001 could also be used. The principles of unity of command and intelligence /information sharing adopted by the multinational Combined Task Force 151 in dealing with piracy menace in the Gulf of Eden and Somalia in 2009 are worth revisiting.

Regional cooperation in the Sulu Sea could benefit from the current Brunei-Indonesia- Malaysia-Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) framework signed in 1994 to promote commerce and trade between the three territories in Borneo.

Bringing development to the Moros in the South Philippines, just like the overlapping territorial claims in the Sulu Sea, cannot be resolved overnight. Ensuring order and peace in the Sulu Sea becomes a burning and pressing matter. The maritime enforcement agencies in the three countries responsible for the Sulu Sea must now implement the political decision as a matter of urgency.

[BA Hamzah is a lecturer at the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. He contributed this to RSIS Commentary.]

Sabah Confronts Kidnap-for-ransom Groups Head On

Posted to Berita Wilayah (Dec 15): Sabah Confronts Kidnap-for-ransom Groups Head On

A slew of cross-border kidnap-for-ransom cases gripped Sabah over the past year as security forces were kept on their toes to ensure security for coastal dwellers and others in the state.

Mindful of public concern over the kidnap incidents as well as attempts by Abu Sayyaf terrorists to infiltrate Malaysia, the eastern coast of Sabah has seen its security beefed up to thwart such nefarious activities.

And the extra vigilance paid off when, for the first time, three members of a kidnap gang were killed in a shootout with Malaysian forces in Pulau Gaya waters off Semporna on Dec 9.

The seven-member group had abducted two skippers of fishing vessels in the waters off Bekapit in Lahad Datu and Pulau Gaya.

The swift action against the abductors earned the praise of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who noted that it was not an easy task ensuring security over a large expanse of water.

In 2016, at least seven kidnap cases were reported in Sabah waters, and excluding the Dec 9 incident, all resulted in the abductors eluding the authorities along with their captives.

Undaunted by that challenge, the government has implemented plans to build a helicopter forward operating base (FOB) on a 0.48ha site at Lahad Datu airport.

The FOB will improve defence preparedness and security in the areas within the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) which was established in March 2013.

Najib performed the ground-breaking of the project on May 28 besides officially launched the operations of the Tun Sharifah Rodziah sea base in waters off Semporna in efforts to stave off cross-border criminals.

The year 2016 was also marked by the incident of an emergency landing of a Royal Malaysian Air Force helicopter on the roof of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Balung, Tawau, on Oct 4, causing injuries to 22 people including 13 RMAF personnel.

The fight against corruption had also drew people's attention when the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized RM114.5 million in a case related to abuse of power involving infrastructure projects in Sabah valued at RM3.3 billion, which was the biggest in the history of the commission.

The MACC had also seized land titles, luxury cars, branded handbags, watches of various brands and jewellery, and the commission is in the process of preparing the investigation papers before submitting them to the Attorney General's Chambers for further action.

In the economic field, RM3.784 billion was allocated for the 2017 Sabah Budget - a budget surplus for the third year tabled by the state government.

A sum of RM1.188 billion has been proposed as development expenditure for 2017 and consists of the state fund totalling RM828.48 million and federal fund of RM360 million. -- BERNAMA

Families of kidnapped sailors losing hope of safe return

From The Star Online (Dec 16): Families of kidnapped sailors losing hope of safe return

The families of five Malaysian sailors being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf gunmen since July are losing hope of seeing their loved ones again.

Hariyanti Hamsih, 31, whose husband Mohd Ridzuan Ismail is among those held in the southern Philippine island of Jolo, said the families were in no position to meet the ransom demands.

“We are at a loss,” she said when contacted yesterday.

Hariyanti said the families have been kept in the dark over efforts to seek the release of the five hostages from Tawau who are related to each other.
“We seldom get any update from the authorities and the kidnappers keep calling, asking us to pay up. “Sometimes when the kidnappers call, I get to speak with my husband."

“He will ask about our three children and tells me to look after them well."

“He also pleads with me to help raise the ransom, saying all of them are suffering,” she added.

The kidnappers are said to have demanded about 100mil pesos (RM8.8mil) for the release of the hostages.

Hariyanti said the families have managed to raise some RM30,000 from public donations and relatives were trying hard to find ways to get more money.

“I sometimes feel so desperate as there is nothing I can do to bring my husband and the others home. It also seems like no one is trying to fight for their return,” she said.

She said like her, the other family members were still hoping for the best.

Hariyanti hoped that the ongoing military operations in the Philip­pines would help secure the release of the hostages.

Besides Ridzuan, the others held captive are Abd Rahim Summas, 62, Tayudin Anjut, 45, Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23, and Fandy Bakran, 26.

The five were snatched from their tugboat in waters off Lahad Datu by Filipino cross-border gunmen on July 18.

China’s New Spratly Island Defenses

From the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (Dec 13): China’s New Spratly Island Defenses

China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS), at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands. AMTI began tracking the construction of identical, hexagon-shaped structures at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs in June and July. It now seems that these structures are an evolution of point-defense fortifications already constructed at China’s smaller facilities on Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron Reefs.

Gaven Reef





Hughes Reef






China has built nearly identical headquarters buildings at each of its four smaller artificial islands. The two smallest of the islets, Hughes and Gaven Reefs, feature four arms built off of these central structures. The end of each of these arms sports a hexagonal platform, approximately 30 feet wide. The northeastern and southwestern arms host what are most likely anti-aircraft guns (roughly 20 feet long when measured to the tip of the barrel). The other two platforms hold smaller (roughly 10-foot-wide) objects without clearly visible barrels. These cannot be definitively identified, but are likely CIWS to protect against cruise missile strikes, according to the Center for Naval Analyses’ Admiral Michael McDevitt (Ret.) and RAND’s Cortez Cooper in a new podcast.

Johnson Reef





China modified this blueprint for its facility on Johnson Reef. There the central facility has only two arms, with the southern one sporting the same anti-aircraft gun (which is covered by a tarp in recent imagery but was previously visible) and the northern one an apparent CIWS. Another gun and probable CIWS, along with a radar, were constructed on a separate structure, consisting of three hexagonal towers on the eastern side of the artificial island. This structure seems to be a less complex precursor to those built more recently at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs.

Cuarteron Reef




At Cuarteron Reef, the last of the four smaller artificial islands completed, the point-defense systems have been completely separated from the central headquarters building. The northeastern and southwestern ends of the islet each host a structure identical to the one built at Johnson, including an anti-aircraft gun, probable CIWS, and radar.

This model has gone through another evolution at China’s much-larger bases on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs. Each of these sports four structures, consisting of tiered hexagonal towers oriented toward the sea. They are positioned so that any anti-aircraft guns and CIWS installations placed on them would cover all approaches to the base with overlapping fields of fire. Earlier AMTI imagery of the construction of these buildings showed that each included six hexagonal structures in a ring around a central tower. Since then, three of the outer hexagons have been buried, while the others have been built in a tiered pattern, with those in the front (facing outward), built lower than those behind. All of the structures except one at Fiery Cross are also backed by an even taller tower consisting of several terraces. These towers likely contain targeting radar and other systems necessary for the operation of advanced point defenses. The structure at Fiery Cross lacking this tower is built alongside the base’s runway and may be connected to radar and communications systems at the airport.

Fiery Cross Reef






Construction of all four structures has been completed at Fiery Cross Reef, where covers have been placed over the point defenses installed on the central hexagonal tower and the two in front of it. But the size of the platforms (which matches those at the four smaller artificial islands) and covers suggests they boast systems similar to those at Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron Reefs.

Mischief Reef






At Mischief Reef, two of the four structures have been completed, with covers already placed over the systems installed there. Two others are still being finished, with disturbed soil showing where the three buried chambers were placed. One of those has covers over the front two platforms, while the other has space for a system that has not been installed yet. All three platforms at the fourth structure are empty, but it is clear from the spaces left empty on the platforms that the systems to be installed on the front two will be smaller than the one placed on the central platform. This is consistent with the pattern of larger anti-aircraft guns and probable CIWS seen on the smaller islets.

Subi Reef






At Subi Reef, only one of the four structures seems to have its point defenses already installed, while the others sport empty spaces waiting for guns.

These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea. Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases. They would back up the defensive umbrella provided by a future deployment to the Spratlys of mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) platforms, such as the HQ-9 deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands. Such a deployment could happen at any time, and Fox News has reported that components for SAM systems have been spotted at the southeastern Chinese port of Jieyang, possibly destined for the South China Sea.