Wednesday, 26 December 2012

US attempting regime change in Malaysia: Fact or fiction? (Op-Ed)

As the South-East Asian nation of Malaysia prepares for general elections, distrust of the political opposition and accusations of foreign interference have been major talking points in the political frequencies emanating from Kuala Lumpur. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) leads the country’s ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, and has maintained power since Malaysian independence in 1957. One of Malaysia’s most recognizable figures is former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who has been credited with ushering in large-scale economic growth and overseeing the nation’s transition from an exporter of palm oil, tin, and other raw materials, into an industrialized economy that manufactures automobiles and electronic goods. The opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, is headed by Anwar Ibrahim, who once held the post of Deputy Prime Minister in Mahathir’s administration, but was sacked over major disagreements on how to steer Malaysia’s economy during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. 

Today, the political climate in Malaysia is highly polarized and a sense of unpredictability looms over the nation. Malaysia’s current leader, Prime Minister Najib Razak, has pursued a reform-minded agenda by repealing authoritarian legislation of the past and dramatically loosening controls on expression and political pluralism introduced under Mahathir’s tenure. Najib has rolled back Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, which allowed for indefinite detention without trial, and has liberalized rules regarding the publication of books and newspapers. During Malaysia’s 2008 general elections, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition experienced its worst result in decades, with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition winning 82 parliamentary seats. For the first time, the ruling party was deprived of its two-thirds parliamentary majority, which is required to pass amendments to Malaysia’s Federal Constitution. In the run-up to elections scheduled to take place before an April 2013 deadline, figures from all sides of the political spectrum are asking questions about the opposition’s links to foreign-funders in Washington. 

Protestors form a human chain in the city center of Kuala Lumpur during April 2012 protests in support of the Bersih coalition.
The question of foreign-funding

Malaysia’s former PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has long captured the ire of officials from Washington and Tel Aviv, and though he’s retired, he has channeled his energies into the Perdana Global Peace Foundation, which recently hosted an international conference in Kuala Lumpur calling for a new investigation into the events of 9/11 and has sought to investigate war crimes committed in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan. Mahathir has been an ardent critic of Israel and organizations such as AIPAC, and has recently accused US-based organizations the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Open Society Institute (OSI) of holding a concealed intention to influence Malaysia’s domestic politics through the funding of local NGOs and groups directly linked to Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition.

In an article the former prime minister published in the New Straits Times, a leading mainstream newspaper, Mahathir accuses financier George Soros and his organization, the Open Society Institute, of “promoting democracy” in Eastern Europe to pave the way for colonization by global finance capital. Mahathir acknowledges how OSI pumped millions into opposition movements and independent media in Hungary, Ukraine and Georgia under the guise of strengthening civil society, only to have like-minded individuals nominated by Soros’s own foundation come to power in those countries.

The former prime minister has also pointed to how Egypt (prior to Mohamad Morsi taking power) has cracked down on NGOs affiliated with NED, namely groups such as the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and Freedom House, which are all recipients of funding from the US State Department. In Malaysia, high-profile NGOs and media outlets have admittedly received funding from OSI and satellite organizations of NED. Premesh Chandran, the CEO of the nation’s most prominent alternative media outlet, Malaysiakini, is a grantee of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and launched the news organization with a $100,000 grant from the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), another organization with dubious affiliations to the US State Department.

Malaysiakini has come under pressure from local journalists for the lack of transparency in its financial management and hesitance in revealing the value of its shares. Additionally, Suaram, an NGO promoting human rights, has borne heavy criticism over its funding and organizational structure. The Companies Commission of Malaysia launched investigations into Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd, a private company linked to Suaram, and found it to be a conduit for money being used to channel funds from NED. Suaram has been instrumental in legitimizing allegations of a possible cover-up of the murder of a Mongolian fashion model, Altantuya Shaaribuu, who was living in Malaysia in 2006 and associated with government officials that have been linked to a kickback scandal involving the government’s purchase of submarines from France. Senator Ezam Mohd Nor, himself a recipient of Suaram’s Human Rights Award, has accused the organization of employing poor research methods and attempting to disparage the government:

“Malaysians have the right to feel suspicious about them. They have been making personal allegations against the Prime Minister [Najib Razak] on the murder of Altantuya and many other cases without proof… their motive is very questionable especially when they are more inclined towards ridiculing and belittling the ruling government.”
The German Embassy in KL has reportedly admitted that it has provided funds to Suaram's project in 2010. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman followed by making strong statements to the German Ambassador and declared that Germany’s actions could be viewed as interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

Since 2007, Bersih, an association of NGOs calling itself the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, staged three street protests in which thousands of yellow-clad demonstrators took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur demanding electoral reform. After coming under heavy scrutiny for obfuscating funding sources, Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenevasan admitted that her organization receives funding from the National Democratic Institute and the Open Society Institute. Sreenevasan herself has been the recipient of the US State Department’s Award for International Women of Courage, and was present in Washington DC in 2009 to receive the award directly from the hands of Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While Sreenevasan’s organization claimed to be non-partisan and apolitical, members of Malaysia’s political opposition openly endorsed the movement, and some were even present at the demonstrations.

Anatomy of Malaysia’s political opposition

Malaysia is a multi-cultural and multi-religious state, and both the ruling and opposition parties attempt to represent the nation’s three largest ethnic groups. Approximately 60 per cent of Malaysians are either ethnic Malay or other indigenous groups and are mostly listed as Muslim, while another 25 per cent are ethnic Chinese who are predominantly Buddhist, with 7 per cent mostly Hindu Indian-Malaysians. The United Malays National Organization, the Malaysian Chinese Association, and the Malaysian Indian Congress head Barisan Nasional. The opposition, Pakatan Rakyat, currently controls four state governments and is led by Anwar Ibrahim’s Keadilan Rakyat, the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP), and staunchly Islamist Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

While a large percentage of urbanites with legitimate grievances are quick to acknowledge the government’s shortcomings, many are hesitant to back Anwar Ibrahim due to his connections with neo-conservative thinkers in Washington and general disunity within the opposition. Ibrahim maintains close ties with senior US officials and organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy. In 2005, Ibrahim chaired the Washington-based Foundation for the Future, established and funded by the US Department of State at the behest of Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, thanks in large part to his cozy relationship with Paul Wolfowitz.

While Ibrahim was on trial for allegedly engaging in sodomy with a male aide (something he was later acquitted of), Wolfowitz and former US Vice-President Al Gore authored a joint opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in support of Ibrahim, while the Washington Post published an editorial calling for consequences that would affect Malaysia’s relations with Washington if Ibrahim was to be found guilty. Ibrahim enraged many when he stated that he would support policy to protect the security of Israel in an interview with the Wall Street Journal; this is particularly controversial in Malaysia, where support for Palestine is largely unanimous. Malaysian political scientist Dr. Chandra Muzaffar writes:

“It is obvious that by acknowledging the primacy of Israeli security, Anwar was sending a clear message to the deep state and to Tel Aviv and Washington that he is someone that they could trust. In contrast, the Najib government, in spite of its attempts to get closer to Washington, remains critical of Israeli aggression and intransigence. Najib has described the Israeli government as a ‘serial killer’ and a ‘gangster’”.
Members of Barisan Nasional have addressed Ibrahim’s connections to the National Endowment for Democracy in the Malaysian Parliament, including his participation in NED’s ‘Democracy Award’ event held in Washington DC in 2007. Independent journalists have uncovered letters written by Anwar Ibrahim, two of which were sent to NED President Carl Gershman in Washington DC that discussed sending an international election observer team to Malaysia and general issues related to electoral reform. A third letter was sent to George Soros, expressing interest in collaborating with an accountability firm headed by Ibrahim. Pakatan Rakyat’s Communications Director, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, verified the authenticity of the documents. This should come as little surprise, as Ibrahim’s economic policies have historically aligned with institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, in contrast to Mahathir, whose protectionist economic policies opposed international financial institutions and allowed Malaysia to navigate and largely resurface from the 1997 Asian financial crisis unscathed.

An issue that concerns secular and non-Muslim Malaysian voters is the role of the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) as part of the opposition. In sharp contrast to the moderate brand of Islam preached by UMNO, the organization’s primary objective is the founding of an Islamic state. The PAS has spoken of working within the framework of Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy, but holds steadfast to implementing sharia law on a national scale, which would lead to confusing implications for Malaysia’s sizable non-Muslim population. The debate around the implementation of Islamic hudud penal code is something that other Pakatan Rakyat coalition members, such as figures in the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party, have been unable to agree on. The PAS enjoys support from rural Malay Muslims in conservative states such as Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu in northern Malaysia, though they have very limited appeal to urbanites. While certain individuals in PAS have raised questions about NGOs receiving foreign funding, Mahathir has insinuated that PAS’s leadership has been largely complicit:

“They [foreign interests] want to topple the government through the demonstration and Nik Aziz [Spiritual leader of PAS] said it is permissible to bring down the government in this manner. They want to make Malaysia like Egypt, Tunisia, which were brought down through riots and now Syria…. when the government does not fall, they [Pakatan Rakyat] can appeal to the foreign power to help and bring down, even if it means using fire power.”

Despite claims of being non-partisan and unaffiliated with any political party, the country’s main opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, fully endorsed the Bersih movement.  
Feasibility of ‘regime change’ narrative 

It must be acknowledged that the current administration led by Prime Minister Najib Razak has made great strides toward improving relations with Washington. At a meeting with President Barack Obama in 2010, Najib offered Malaysia’s assistance to cooperate with the United States to engage the Muslim world; Najib also expressed willingness to deploy Malaysian aid personnel to Afghanistan, and allegedly agreed on the need to maintain a unified front on Iran's nuclear program. Najib has employed a Washington-based public relations firm, APCO, to improve Malaysia’s image in the US and has seemingly embraced American economic leadership of the region through his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Some would argue that Najib is perhaps the most pro-American leader Malaysia has ever had – a stark contrast to the boldness of Mahathir. Despite Najib having good rapport with formal Western leaders, it is clear with whom the thank-tank policy architects, Zionist lobbies, and foundation fellows have placed their loyalties.

Sentiment among Malaysia’s youth and “pro-democracy” activists, who constitute a small but vocal minority, tend be entirely dismissive of the ‘regime change’ narrative, viewing it as pre-election diversionary rhetoric of the ruling party. While bogeymen of the Zionist variety are often invoked in Malaysian political discourse, it would be negligent to ignore the effects of Washington-sponsored ‘democracy promotion’ in the global context, which have in recent times cloaked mercenary elements and insurgents in the colors of freedom fighting, and successfully masked geopolitical restructuring and the ushering in of neo-liberal capitalism with the hip and fashionable vigor of ‘people power’ coups. As the United States continues to militarily increase its presence in the Pacific region in line with its strategic policy-shift to East Asia, policy makers in Washington would like to see compliant heads of state who will act to further American interests in the ASEAN region.

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room; the real purpose of America’s resurgence of interest in the ASEAN bloc is to fortify the region as a counterweight against Beijing. The defense ministries of Malaysia and China held a landmark defense and security consultation in September 2012, in addition to frequent bilateral state visits and enhanced economic cooperation. It was the father of the current leader, Malaysia's second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, who made the landmark visit to Beijing to normalize relations in 1974, and under his son Najib, Sino-Malaysian relations and cooperation have never been better. Following the global economic crisis of 2008, Najib looked to Beijing to revive Malaysia's export oriented economy, emphasizing increased Chinese investment into Malaysia and expanding the base of Sino-Malaysian trade in areas like education and student exchange, finance, infrastructure development, science and technology, yielding lucrative and mutually beneficial results. China has been Malaysia's largest trade partner, with trade figures reaching US$90 billion in 2011; Malaysia is China’s largest trading partner among ASEAN nations.

In asking the question of regime change in Malaysia, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar reflects on Washington’s moves to bolster its military muscle and dominance over the Asia-Pacific region:

“Establishing a military base in Darwin [Australia], resurrecting the US’ military alliance with the Philippines, coaxing Japan to play a more overt military role in the region, instigating Vietnam to confront China over the Spratly Islands, and encouraging India to counterbalance Chinese power, are all part and parcel of the larger US agenda of encircling and containing China. In pursuing this agenda, the US wants reliable allies – not just friends – in Asia. In this regard, Malaysia is important because of its position as a littoral state with sovereign rights over the Straits of Malacca, which is one of China’s most critical supply routes that transports much of the oil and other materials vital for its economic development. Will the containment of China lead to a situation where the hegemon, determined to perpetuate its dominant power, seek to exercise control over the Straits in order to curb China’s ascendancy? Would a trusted ally in Kuala Lumpur facilitate such control? The current Malaysian leadership does not fit the bill.”
'Backwards' and forwards

Pakatan Rakyat, the main opposition coalition pitted against the ruling party, has yet to offer a fully coherent organizational program, and if the coalition ever came to power, the disunity of its component parties and their inability to agree on fundamental policies would be enough to conjure angrier, disenchanted youth back on to the streets, in larger numbers perhaps. What is ticklishly ironic about reading op-eds penned by the likes of Wolfowitz and Al Gore, and how they laud Malaysia as a progressive and moderate model Islamic state, is that they concurrently demonize its leadership and dismiss them authoritarian thugs. Surely, the ruling coalition has its shortcomings; the politicization of race and religion, noted cases of corrupt officials squandering funds, etc. – but far too few, especially those of the middle-class who benefit most from energy subsidies, acknowledge the tremendous economic growth achieved under the current leadership and the success of their populist policies. Najib’s administration would do well to place greater emphasis on addressing the concerns of Malaysia’s minorities who view affirmative action policies given to Malay ethnicities as disproportionate; income status, not ethnicity, should be a deciding factor in who receives assistance. The current administration appears set to widen populist policies that make necessities affordable through subsidies and continue to assist low-income earners with cash handouts.

Najib has acknowledged the need for broad reforms of Malaysia’s state-owned enterprises over concerns that crony capitalism may deter foreign investment; this should be rolled out concurrently with programs to foster more local entrepreneurship. To put it bluntly, the opposition lacks confidence from the business community and foreign investors; even the likes of JP Morgan have issued statements of concern over an opposition win. It should be noted that if Islamists ever wielded greater influence in Malaysia under an opposition coalition, one could imagine a sizable exodus of non-Muslim minorities and a subsequent flight of foreign capital, putting the nation’s economy in a fragile and fractured state. And yet, the United States has poured millions into ‘democracy promotion’ efforts to strengthen the influence of NGOs that distort realities and cast doubt over the government’s ability to be a coherent actor.

Malaysia does not have the kind of instability that warrants overt external intervention; backing regime-change efforts may only go so far as supporting dissidents and groups affiliated with Anwar Ibrahim. No matter the result of the upcoming elections, Najib appears to have played ball enough for Washington to remain more or less neutral. According to Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenevasan, Malaysia’s electoral process is so restrictive that a mass movement like Bersih is required to purge the system of its backwardness. These are curious statements, considering that the opposition gained control of four out of 13 states in 2008, including Selangor, a key economic state with the highest GDP and most developed infrastructure. In response, Najib has adhered to Bersih’s demands and has called for electoral reform, forming a parliamentary select committee comprising members from both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional. As elections loom, Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenavasan is already dubbing them “the dirtiest elections ever seen” – unsurprising rhetoric from a woman being handed her talking points by the US embassy.

This article originally appeared on Russia Today

Nile Bowie is an independent political commentator and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Buy & Spy: Pentagon to sell $1.2bn in surveillance drones to S. Korea

The Pentagon has informed Congress of its plans to sell four Global Hawk high-altitude spy drones to South Korea. Under the deal Seoul’s surveillance capabilities would be greatly improved, even though the US DoD itself wanted to retire the aircraft.

The US Department of Defense wants to sell four of the Block 30 version of the RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft to Seoul under the Foreign Military Sales program. It formally notified Congress of the proposed deal, which is estimated to worth $1.2 billion, reports the Pentagon-affiliated Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The deal would include “associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support”. The military says it would go in line with the transition of intelligence gathering mission from the US-led Combined Forces Command to South Korea’s own troops in 2015. South Korea hosts almost 30,000 American troops, which take on many tasks requiring use of advanced technology.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk is Northrop Grumman’s unmanned reconnaissance aircraft currently operated by the US and Germany. It fills in the same role as Cold War era Lockheed U-2 all-weather intelligence gathering.

Congress may block the deal, but diplomatic sources told the Korean news agency Yonhap that American lawmakers are likely not to oppose the sale.

Previously the US was apparently reluctant to provide Seoul with the advanced spying capabilities of the Global Hawk, the agency says. The drones can survey landscape with its radar and optical sensors through clouds while flying up to 20km high.

The Block 30 model however may not be the best value for the Korean money. The US Air Force announced in January that it wanted to retire its fleet in 2013 and instead buy more advanced Block 40s.

The military said that Block 30 version was more costly to operate that the manned U-2 spy plane, while inferior in terms of sensor capabilities. Retiring the drones would save $2.5 billion over five years, the Pentagon said, which would come in handy in the times of budgetary restraints.

The notion however was blocked by the legislators. Under the final version of this year’s defense authorization bill Block 30 models will remain in operation until at least 2014.

Political analyst Nile Bowie says the pending deal between Washington and Seoul could escalate the conflict with neighboring North Korea – which fiercely guards its territory.

We have to remember that North Korea has warned many times about its territorial integrity. If South Korean drones penetrate North Korean airspace it could potentially start a huge conflict,” he told RT.

This article originally appeared on Russia Today

Nile Bowie is an independent political commentator and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at

Friday, 21 December 2012

South Korea’s Elections: Hardline Conservatism with a Liberal Smile (Op-Ed)

The ever-changing political landscapes of the Korean Peninsula never fail to offer stark contrasts. To the north, a somber December is spent mourning the forefathers of the communist dynasty under the helm of a boy-king and his advisers. To the south, voters have elected the nation’s first female president, the daughter of South Korea’s iconic former leader, Park Chung-hee. While their circumstances and rise to power cannot be more dissimilar, both Kim Jong-un and Park Geun-hye both derive some degree of public support through channeling the nostalgia of their parent’s legacies. In South Korea, one of the world’s most rapidly ageing societies, Park relied heavily on the elderly for her support base, who associate her with the economic prosperity brought in under her father’s rule, in much the same way as northerners regard the times of Kim il-Sung. As the new president prepares to take office in February 2013, many among South Korea’s left leaning youth see Park Geun-hye as an enabler of status quo conservatism veiled behind a thin liberal facade. 

Controversial artwork by Hong Sung-dam depicting president elect Park Geun-hye giving birth to her father, the late president Park Chung-hee, signifying a revival of his conservative leadership in her administration.  

Park is widely credited with resuscitating legitimacy back into the ruling Saenuri party, which has garnered record-setting disapproval ratings under incumbent President Lee Myung-bak. Money laundering scandals, tax evasion, and accusations of embezzlement have followed the outgoing President Lee, who has come down hard on dissenters by jailing activists and artists who have criticized his rule. Lee is most responsible for dismantling Seoul’s liberal approach to North Korea as seen through the “Sunshine Policy” of previous administrations, at the cost of nearly reigniting the Korean war after a series of provocative live fire exchanges in disputed territorial waters in 2010 that saw the North shell the South’s Yeonpyeong island, and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel. Despite running on the conservative ticket, Park has steered clear of openly advocating Lee’s hardline policies toward Pyongyang in her campaign rhetoric. Although an unpredictable North Korea looms just 70km from Seoul, domestic economic issues are the most immediate focus of the South Korean voter.

Leading a “Chaebol Republic”

An odious brand of crony-corporatism has prevailed in the South Korean economy, spearheaded by the chaebol, large-scale conglomerates like Hyundai, LG, and Samsung. While these recognizable brands have indeed brought much wealth and opportunity to the southern half of the peninsula, Koreans on the lower end of the economic food chain feel neglected by the nation’s mega-corporations and the wealthy political elite behind these companies. Prior to taking office, President Lee ran the Hyundai Engineering and Construction conglomerate, and has pardoned the chairs of Samsung and Hyundai Motors from jail time over convictions of fraud. Park’s opponent, the liberal Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party, has accused the country’s conglomerate-dominated economic model of being the main contributing factor to economic inequality, in addition to crediting Park’s father with developing the corporatist economic model still prevalent today.

The defeated Moon Jae-in spoke of increasing taxation on the wealthy and providing small businesses with economic protection from the chaebol. President Lee’s passing of a free-trade agreement with the United States enraged many working class people and farmers who fear the flooding of Korean markets with cheap foreign agricultural products. Moon publicly voiced his disapproval of the trade regime and vowed to re-negotiate it; this position resonated well with young leftists, but popular disdain for establishment parties like Moon’s Democratic United Party proved to be a major obstacle for the left. Park, on the other hand, has toed the party line of President Lee by championing economic and diplomatic ties with Washington, while resisting calls for taxing the chaebol in fear of hampering their growth. Park has played more of a centrist role than one would expect from a conservative ticket by advocating college tuition cuts, maternity assistance, free school lunches, and other social welfare programs, but has come under fire for being unable to answer basic questions about minimum wage figures during a debate, prompting tough statements from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions:

“It is terribly discouraging when a person who wants to become president does not even know the country’s minimum wage, which is a minimal right for survival and the first step toward a welfare state.”
Park’s "Trustpolitik" & Inter-Korean relations

The failures of Lee Myung-bak’s loathed tenure are none more apparent than in the field of inter-Korean relations. As Kim Jong-un consolidates power in Pyongyang and toys with introducing seedlings of economic reform, it is high time for a change in frequency from the Blue House in Seoul toward more amenable relations between the two Koreas. Although Park has publically stood clear of Lee’s tough stance, a closer look at her foreign policy signifies more acquiesce than divergence from the status quo. In a 2011 article published by Park in the Council on Foreign Relation’s Foreign Affairs website titled, “A New Kind of Korea,” the incoming president talks of adopting a policy of "trustpolitik," aimed at developing a minimum level of trust between the two Koreas. Just as it exists under the current leadership of President Lee, the cornerstone of Park’s policy revolves around Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear program and de-weaponizing, or suffering the consequences.

Park is setting herself up to fail, and having herself visited Pyongyang to negotiate with Kim Jong il, one would assume she would be less na├»ve on the issue of Pyongyang’s nuclear program and the importance it holds to North Koreans. After the death of Kim il-Sung in 1994, his son oversaw general economic mismanagement and a series of natural disasters that led to widespread starvation. To legitimize his tenure, Kim Jong-il introduced Songun politics, a military-first policy aimed at appeasing the military and building up national defenses. The attainment of a “nuclear deterrent” has been trumpeted as a major accomplishment in domestic North Korean propaganda, despite very little concrete evidence known about these weapons, their capability, or the status of Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

It is unrealistic to expect Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program, primarily because achieving the status of a nuclear state (despite whether or not they actually have achieved that status) is Kim Jong-il’s main “accomplishment.” The upper echelons of leadership in the Korean Worker’s Party surely hold dear the lessons of Gaddafi after dismantling Libya’s nuclear program. Pyongyang continues to pursue provocative missile tests and belligerent rhetoric because they view this as a means of ensuring their security, the fact that the Pyongyang power-dynasty has moved into a third generation is proof enough that this policy has worked for them. Park has spoke of taking a middle-of-the-road approach, and buttressed an inter-Korean dialogue with Kim Jong-un. These are goals that represent a more practical shift, but if Park’s policy rests solely on being open to Pyongyang only if they disarm, the incoming administration will find itself mired in President Lee’s legacy of tension. In line with the militarism of her conservative party, Park has spoken of plans to create an East Asian military alliance and appears willing to continue the hardline against Pyongyang:

“Asian states must slow down their accelerating arms buildup, reduce military tensions, and establish a cooperative security regime that would complement existing bilateral agreements and help resolve persistent tensions in the region.”
“South Korea must first demonstrate, through a robust and credible deterrent posture, that it will no longer tolerate North Korea's increasingly violent provocations. It must show Pyongyang that the North will pay a heavy price for its military and nuclear threats. This approach is not new, but in order to change the current situation, it must be enforced more vigorously than in the past.”
In contrast to Park, Moon Jae-in’s Democratic United Party has touted a return to the “Sunshine Policy,” and has advocated restarting unconditional aid to Pyongyang. The conservative political elite in Seoul fails to realize that relations with North Korea can more effectively be cooled not by pursuing hardline policies and provocative military drills, but by bolstering inter-Korean economic ties, tourism, and exchange. Kim Jong-un can only begin to dismantle the military-first policy by offering some alternative whereby he maintains his legitimacy – that could potentially be by increasing economic opportunity, raising standards of living, and developing North Korea’s economy. Seoul would be in a much better position to negotiate if they had a hand in mutually beneficial economic development with the North. Park’s ambitions of creating a “cooperative security regime” with Asian states (presuming North Korea is excluded) will certainly not help convince Pyongyang to disarm. An “Asian NATO” is counterproductive and would only make Pyongyang more unpredictable – as long as Seoul’s ballistic missiles are capable of hitting any part of North Korea, expecting Pyongyang to commit political suicide by disarming is simply not realistic.


The incoming South Korean administration has lots of problems on its hands; managing an ageing population with some of the world’s lowest birth rates, tackling increasing prostitution rates, high suicide rates and other social ills, and coping with an economic slowdown in China, the nation’s biggest export market. South Korea’s economic development has lifted millions out of poverty and into the economic space of high-income earners in the span of a few decades. It would be foolish for Park to pursue the foreign policy of her predecessor and risk bringing about a reignited Korean war and all that would come with it; enormous civilian casualty rates, an unprecedented refugee crisis, and a major handicap on the South Korean economy. All signs point to Park Geun-hye continuing along the same economic trajectory as the incumbent President Lee, perhaps with a greater emphasis on social welfare programs. The next five years will be critical for inter-Korean relations. In attempting to emerge from her father’s shadow, one would hope that she could address the faults in the economic system her father helped create by reducing the income disparity, and also learn from his mistakes by allowing free and open political dissent and total freedom of expression.

This article originally appeared on Russia Today

Nile Bowie is an independent political commentator and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Corbett Report - Middle East Update

The Corbett Report

Nile Bowie of joins us tonight to go over some news headlines from across the Middle East, including the UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood, western double standards in the “Arab Spring” and the American-ization of Saudi Arabia. We also talk about the recent 9/11 conference in Kuala Lumpur and Nile’s upcoming trip to China and North Korea.


Nile Bowie is a Kuala Lumpur-based American writer and photographer for the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal, Canada. He explores issues of terrorism, economics and geopolitics.

Pro-Israel groups rooting for the opposition


The same organisations bolstering the opposition in Kuala Lumpur have successfully fomented events that led to the series of uprisings across the Arab World in 2011.

KUALA LUMPUR - Amid news on Malaysian NGOs receiving foreign funds, American blogger Nile Bowie wrote on the involvement of pro-Israeli organisations with Malaysia's opposition coalition.

In an in-depth report the Kuala Lumpur-based blogger wrote on how these foreign funds is a way for the infiltration of the American interests.

Bowie wrote : As the United States continues to militarily increase its presence in the Pacific region inline with its strategic policy shift to East Asia, Washington’s leaders would like to see compliant heads of state who will act to further American interests in the ASEAN region.

While allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement hinder the credibility of ruling Prime Minister Najib Razak, foreign organizations affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and funded by the United States government, have contributed support toward bolstering the influence and status of Malaysia’s opposition groups, in addition to the controversial Bersih coalition for electoral reform, led by Ambiga Sreenevasan.

He said, Ambiga did admit that two American organisations, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Open Society Institute (OSI), funded Bersih but for other projects and were unrelated to the July 9 march.

Hungarian-American philanthropist and financier George Soros founded the Open Society Institute in 1993, whose principle aim sought to “strengthen open society principles and practices against authoritarian regimes and the negative consequences of globalization,” with an emphasis on countries in transition from communism after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright chairs the National Democratic Institute, while its president Kenneth Wollack, served as the legislative director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who is widely considered to be Israel’s most prominent lobbyist organization, one that influences American legislation to exert aggressive Israeli policy and viewpoints.

"Although the organization boasts of “promoting democracy” and “fortifying civil society” around the world, history had proven that these tired euphemisms have been used in numerous countries to mask funding to various political forces opposed to their national governments and aligned with American interests."

"In addition to providing funding to the Bersih coalition through the National Democratic Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy’s Malaysian operation provides $100,000 (RM 317,260) for political news website Malaysiakini, considered to be the nation’s most pro-opposition news outlet."

"NED also provides $90,000 (RM 285,516) to SUARAM, an organization promoting human rights.
The most significant recipient of NED’s Malaysia programs is the International Republican Institute (IRI), who annually receives $802,122 (RM 2,544,670) and is tasked to “work with state leaders in Penang and Selangor to provide them with public opinion research, training and other resources to enable them to be more effective representatives of their constituents.”

Penang is held by the DAP, while Selangor is held by Parti Keadilan Rakyat, two of the three organisations in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, led by (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim. (The third component of Pakatan is PAS).

"It comes as little surprise that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim talks boldly of a “Malaysian Spring,” as the same organizations bolstering the opposition in Kuala Lumpur have successfully fomented events that led to the series of uprisings across the Arab World in 2011."

Exerpt of an article published by the New York Times titled, "U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings," :
"...the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington. The Republican and Democratic institutes are loosely affiliated with the Republican and Democratic Parties.."

In the Malaysian context, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim maintains close ties with senior US officials and organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy.

In July 2006, Ibrahim chaired the Washington-based Foundation for the Future, established and funded by the US Department of State at the behest of Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who was recently convicted in absentia for war crimes for his issuance of torture during the Iraq war by Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, chaired by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed.

In 2007, (Anwar) Ibrahim was a panelist at the National Endowment for Democracy's "Democracy Award" event held in Washington. [24] These questionable affiliations raise strong concerns over the legitimacy of the candidate and the administration he would lead if winning the 13th General Election.

Nile Bowie is a Kuala Lumpur-based American writer and photographer for the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal, Canada. He explores issues of terrorism, economics and geopolitics.