Saturday, 30 March 2013

Korean War 2.0: Deescalate Now

Recent warnings of instability on the Korean peninsula by Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov come at a most appropriate time – and indeed, there is a frightening possibility that the situation could spin out of control. Since the North was heavily penalized by UN sanctions following its recent satellite launch and nuclear test, Pyongyang has embarked on a near-daily onslaught of belligerent threats, some of which include its invalidation of the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War, threats to nuke the United States, and threats to occupy South Korea and subsequently take all Americans in the country hostage. Military analysts claim that North Korea is at least several years from building a nuclear warhead or a missile capable of reaching the US mainland – but there is no doubt that if the Kim regime oversteps their approach, it could certainly have severe repercussions for civilians in South Korea and Japan, both in range of North Korea’s rockets.

Despite regular threats of destruction and Pyongyang’s recent proclamation that the two Korean states are officially in a state of war, day-to-day life has retained its normality according to sources on the ground. Needless to say, there is no doubt that civilians on both sides are feeling tense in the current scenario, especially those on disputed South Korean islands in the West sea, just a stones throw away from the North Korean maritime border. The four thousands residents of the South’s Baengnyeong Island, which Kim Jong-un personally threatened to “wipe out” in early March, have been severely hindered from carrying out their day-to-day activities such as fishing due to the joint US-ROK military exercises in the area. Despite inter-Korean relations reaching their lowest point in recent times with the entire South on high alert, most South Koreans are adept at brushing off the North’s rhetoric, but they’re still proceeding with caution.


The question remains, what exactly is Kim Jong-un trying to achieve through this campaign of bellicosity? North Korean state media claims that the US “should clearly know that in the era of Marshal Kim Jong Un, the greatest-ever commander, all things are different from what they used to be in the past.” The current approach being taken by Pyongyang is multifaceted, but its central component is building up Kim’s image domestically and rallying people around the flag – this has been reinforced by daily public appearances and friendly photo-ops of Kim mingling with local people, as well as an internal propaganda campaign likening him to his grandfather Kim il-Sung, the founder and “Eternal President” of North Korea. The central message Pyongyang wants to send both internationally and domestically is that Kim Jong-un’s era is distinctly different from before – many South Korean observers have also noted this change in approach, designed to make the regime’s moves more difficult to predict.

Most analysts are regarding the North’s rhetoric as their familiar brand of psychological warfare whereby it cranks up the tensions and threatens Seoul and Washington with destruction, and is then rewarded with food aid and concessions when it tones things down, which it has previously done in the months of April and May – harvest time. Pyongyang likely views the present scenario as an opportune time to test the water, keeping the new administrations of their neighbors in South Korea, China and Japan on their toes. Despite the muscle flexing and the foolish threats emanating out of Pyongyang, Washington’s recent deployment of two nuclear-capable US B-2 stealth bombers illustrates everything that is wrong with US policy toward the North – this kind of move only serves to raise antagonisms and it in fact legitimizes Pyongyang’s rhetoric of the US coaxing nuclear war on the peninsula.

In addition to joint US-ROK’s endless barrage of war games on North Korea’s doorstep, the brandishing of B-2 bombers, which carry bombs that can blast through 70 meters of reinforced concrete, is an unnecessary stunt that is both bold and needlessly provocative. In fact, the B-2 flyover helps Kim Jong-un in consolidating his political power at home by rallying domestic support behind the US threat and distracting North Koreans from economic problems. These moves beg the question, is the United States prepared to launch a full-scale war against North Korea? Despite the high public disapproval of overt warfare campaigns launched by the Bush administration, the unholy status North Korea enjoys in American mainstream media – coupled with its threats to nuke the United States and the simple fact that is it a communist state – is likely enough to coax the average American into supporting a war of aggression against Pyongyang.


Despite the fact that the war would be relatively easy to sell to the public, the United States is financially strained and in no position to engage North Korea and endure massive causalities within its military, not to mention the risk of pulling China into the fold. Therefore, Washington would likely find nuclear weapons to be the most cost-effective way to quell the North Korean threat, an equally unacceptable scenario. At this point, North Korea is a godsend for the US military industrial complex and the defense industry, and South Korea is set to keep its status as the world’s single biggest importer of US weaponry. As the Obama administration pursues its pivot the Asia-Pacific region, the colorful belligerence of North Korea is exactly what it needs not only to maintain its unpopular military presence in South Korea and Japan, but also to further bolster its military muscle on China’s doorstep.

Despite North Korea’s threats being empty, one should not dismiss the possibility that they will respond to provocations with force, much like how they shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 as a response to South Korean military exercises that fired live rounds into their territorial waters. This kind of small-scale fire exchange has the possibility to ignite the situation into a larger and more dangerous standoff, so it is of maximum importance that cool heads prevail and needlessly provocative displays of military muscle are scaled back. Koreans have historically seen themselves as a shrimp amongst whales – where they saw their peninsula abused by the US and the Soviet Union yesterday, they fear the same scenario repeating itself between the US and China today. If the Obama administration is not careful, it will provoke Pyongyang into doing something rash and by then, it will already be too late to rectify the situation.

This article appeared on Russia Today.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has travelled North and South Korea extensively and can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com

Sunday, 24 March 2013

GE13: What’s at stake for Malaysia?

Malaysians of all walks of life will soon go to the polls to take part in an election, the outcome of which will have long-ranging implications that could see significant changes in how the country is governed. The incumbent leader, Najib Razak, is campaigning for his first mandate at the polls, and his government has legitimized itself through its growth-promoting management of the economy and a series of populist measures aimed at lifting the burden on the poor. The opposition coalition, which has vowed to eliminate authoritarianism and elite graft, has released a manifesto that some have lauded, while others have been more skeptical of by questioning how the coalition plans on executing many of their programs. The dissolution of parliament is just around the corner and it cannot be denied that many are dissatisfied with the status quo, and there is a large demographic of young voters who want to challenge the ruling coalition’s infallibility at the polls.

The surfacing of contentious issues close to election-time has created a notable climate of disillusion in Malaysia’s critical blogosphere. Among those are concerns that immigrants in Sabah were given citizenship and voting rights during Dr. Mahathir’s era on the condition that they vote in favor of the ruling party. The recent exposé documenting members of Taib Mahmud’s family openly talking of skirting Malaysian tax law has gone viral, putting enormous pressure on Najib’s administration to take action. Many, especially among the young, feel animosity toward the government for the way in which the Bersih demonstrations were dispersed. These factors do not bode well for the ruling party, but despite the shortcomings that should rightfully be addressed, it should be acknowledged that from a developmental point of view, Malaysia has historically been among the top-tier of well-governed countries in the region and the ruling coalition has been very successful in numerous areas.


The Naijb government has undeniably had success in delivering high-economic growth to Malaysia. This should not be easily shrugged off by the frustrated voter, especially considering the lackluster state of the global economy. In recent times, economic turmoil has ensued throughout the European Union as a result of negligent mismanagement and the primacy of finance capital. Cyprus has been in uproar over a bill that would make citizens have their personal savings taxed when their government and affiliated bondholders took careless risks. In the United States, the Obama administration has found itself so indebted, that it was forced to pass the Sequester bill, cutting $85 million from the federal budget, primarily targeting social programs that the downtrodden and the elderly depend on. In both cases, the most vulnerable members of society have been forced to pick up the tab for governments and investors that have recklessly managed their economies and instituted punishing belt-tightening austerity measures.

In stark contrast, the Najib administration has extended its hand to the poor – be it single mothers, taxi drivers, low-earning families or young entrepreneurs – by introducing a wide range of credit schemes, vouchers, and subsidies that have helped the pace of development. Malaysians often overlook the fact that Malaysia has one of the lowest inflation rates in the world, the Najib government has made it a priority to implement people-friendly policies and programs of social uplift, exactly what the people of Greece, Spain, and Portugal have been asking their bureaucratic leaders for. Najib’s 1Malaysia program, the central backbone of his populist policies, has been criticized for lacking substance. One should note that the current leadership is trying to deemphasize ethnicity, and in a country where complaints of race-politics are commonplace, this should be rightfully seen as a welcoming development. There is no doubt that the current leadership is well aware of the criticisms and the short-comings, hence the emphasis being placed on economic and governmental transformation programs that have the potential to deliver increased stability and bring about an economic climate where more bold reforms are possible in the near-future.

The fervor and passions of the Arab Spring revolts are something that, for better or for worse, inspired many throughout the world to take a bold position against the status quo in their countries in a series of solidarity protests that emerged everywhere from Manhattan to Khartoum. Malaysia’s opposition leader has also attempted to invoke the passions of the Arab Spring, and as a result of that, it is the opinion of this observer that a great deal of Malaysia’s political discourse downplays or tarnishes the achievements of the country – things are too often presented simplistically and painted black and white. Still, bloggers and dissidents have harnessed the web and it cannot be denied that Malaysia enjoys a high degree of expression related to political pluralism. The toppling of regimes during the Arab Spring revolts in countries like Egypt and Tunisia through non-insurgent means were possible primarily for two reasons.

Discontent was driven by people in those countries because they lived under a far more pronounced model of political subjugation; they lacked freedoms of political association and the economies of those countries failed to deliver meaningful opportunities to the masses. In the Malaysian context, even with elite corruption and cronyism, there is still a sufficient amount of political breathing space and more prominently, the Malaysian economy is among the most energetic in the region – the optimism that comes with exploring unchartered economic terrain, the prospects of entrepreneurship, and competition can be felt among the people. For these reasons, Malaysia is not suited for a change in government by means of street action and the like – far too many Malaysians still see themselves being more economically stable and materially advantaged by the status quo.

The opposition coalition does promote some laudable promises in their approach, such as delivering free education, the proliferation of open-tenders, and the pledge to bite down on graft – whether or not this can be achieved is difficult to say. What should be more immediately concerning is that the most prominent element within the opposition coalition, the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), has historically held steadfast to its goal of transforming Malaysia into a Islamic state, one that would adhere to sharia law and Islamic penal code. Given the complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious makeup of Malaysian society, the empowering of a party that promotes such a political program has the potential to deepen social divisions and strain race-relations, and thus, a Malaysian federal government with such a party at its helm could pose serious challenges to the maintenance of racial harmony. This observer has witnessed many Malaysians (especially among opposition supporters) express their nostalgia for days past, when races more liberally interacted with each other and identity was less of an issue.

Those who hold such sentiments should reflect on the Islamic resurgence that has swept Malaysia throughout the 1980s, the impact of which gave rise to the more pronounced adherence to Islamic fashion, lifestyles and diet. The issuance of hudud-policies that would follow the empowering of an Islamist party in Malaysia would unequivocally deepen inter-ethnic friction. The aftermath of the Arab Spring in Egypt provides an example that could resemble the Malaysian context, whereby enormous social unrest emerged between secular and Islamist forces after an Islamist party took the helm, followed by severe inflation and economic stagnation in which Egypt remains mired in today. PAS’s management record in Kelantan and Kedah shows that the party places less emphasis on economic development, focusing more on penal code and the suppression of life style choices that do not adhere to their interpretation of Islam – this is not the kind of change that progressive-minded Malaysians have been calling for and they should not be fooled into giving this party a mandate to lead.

One could predict the short-term scenarios of a victory for the opposition, such as short-term market instability and a possible power struggle among the strange bedfellows that make up the opposition coalition, but long-term scenarios are uncertain. The most pressing concern is that the upward momentum of Malaysia’s growth could be held back as opposition parties embark on their own political and economic programs, effectively derailing the economic transformation agenda to obtain high-income status by 2020, the policy-brainchild of Dr. Mahathir that is still being carried out today with creditable progress. This kind of analysis is not fear mongering of any sort, but rather a reflection of the unfamiliar terrain Malaysia would embark on if Najib were unable to obtain his mandate. It should be remembered that Najib was not previously elected, and he has had to work within the confines of an administration setup by his predecessor. If Najib were given the mandate to form his own administration, he would have to take a bold and meaningful stance on elite corruption and opulent lifestyles by necessity in addition to passing more popular reforms.


Najib’s primary problem is that his reforms are perceived as cosmetic by a significant portion of commentators, although it is the personal opinion of this observer that the incumbent has undoubtedly moved in the right direction by deconstructing draconian legislation of days past. Najib’s commitment to addressing the grievances of racial minorities is often intertwined with Malaysia’s longstanding New Economic Policy (NEP), which many Chinese and Indian communities feel economically alienates them as they struggle to penetrate into circles of higher education and high-income employment. It should be noted that minority communities have been able to practice their culture and religion without hindrance, and pursue their business interests with minimum intervention from the state. On that note, more should be done to reform the NEP by making the elements of the program available to recipients on a needs-basis, and populist schemes associated with 1Malaysia have already began to move in that direction.

Najib’s formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) tasked at getting a clearer picture of Project IC is brave, and that is not often acknowledged. It would be very well received if the incumbent appointed similar investigations into figures like Taib Mahmud, which would help build confidence in institutions that are popularly accused of being toothless in the face of power and wealth. Sound management of the economy and ensuring the livelihood of the masses is the most immediate concern of Najib’s administration, and in that department, he is succeeding. Among other primary concerns are stringently improving transparency and accountability, institutionalizing firm anti-corruption measures, and the pursuit of an independent foreign policy. Members of the opposition and senior officials like Dr. Mahathir alike are concerned with Malaysia’s participation in the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) talks, a largely undisclosed US-led free trade agreement. Malaysia’s political independence and sovereignty comes first and foremost, and whoever takes Putrajaya must defend the interests of the people and enhance their happiness and economic well being.

This article appeared on Free Malaysia Today.

Nile Bowie is an independent political commentator and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He covers a wide range of international issues and is not affiliated with any political party. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Syria teeters on Obama’s “Red Line”

The pages of history tell us that beautiful civilizations emerged and prospered in the ancient cities of Damascus and Aleppo, some of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth. The harrowing circus of brutality that is the Syrian conflict, now in its third year, will soil and blacken those pages indefinitely. No matter the political outcome of this horrible war, a once tolerant and diverse state has been shattered and terror itself has eaten into the destiny of Syria’s people, inexorably changing the courses of their lives forever. Children have been orphaned; parents have faced the loss of their children – and by uncompromising means. Infants have been beheaded, the fates of innocent men and women have been sealed through summary executions, and families have been torn apart or destroyed all together. Recent developments in Syria are alarming.

Spokesmen of the Assad government recently accused foreign-backed militants of launching scud missiles containing chemical weapons in the city of Aleppo, killing dozens. Witnesses claim to have seen powder emanate from the rocket, causing those who inhaled the substance to suffocate or require immediate medical attention. An unnamed chemical weapons expert cited by Al-Jazeera claimed that the causalities were not consistent with Syria’s reputed stockpile of chemical agents, stating, “If it’s a chemical warfare agent, it’s not working very well.” Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari, called on the UN Secretary-General to form an independent technical mission to investigate the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups operating in Syria.


While on his first state visit to Israel, Barack Obama cast doubt and expressed deep scepticism toward the Assad government’s version of events, stating that if the government did indeed use chemical weapons, then it meant a “red line” had been crossed. Obama vowed not to make further announcements until concrete facts were established. What this essentially means is that Obama is now in a position to act on his statements and intervene more boldly and directly than the United States has already been doing since the beginning of the conflict. Additionally, NATO personnel have also indicated that they are prepared to employ a wide range of operations. US-European Command Admiral James Stavridis recently told media that the alliance was “prepared, if called upon, to be engaged as we were in Libya.”

Those who have critically monitored the situation from the beginning are under no illusions. The way in which mainstream media sources have covered the Syrian conflict, perhaps more so than any other topic in recent times, shows unequivocally how certain content providers have moved in step with the foreign policy of the Western and Gulf states who have enabled insurgent groups and provided diplomatic cover for opposition politicians who represent their economic and strategic interests. The Obama administration’s policy toward Libya and Syria eyes the same familiar endgame as what the Bush administration sought in its foreign policy adventures. The fact that many of those on the left who campaigned against Iraq and Afghanistan are now generally silent, or even supportive of Obama’s agenda, is proof that his policies have been packaged far more intelligently for mainstream consumption. The reality is that Syria is “Shock and Awe” by other means.

There are a myriad of reasons why Bashar al-Assad must go in the eyes of policy makers in Washington and Tel Aviv, and the destruction of his tenure could not have been possible without the financial muscle of Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s wretchedly opulent Sunni Monarchs. These glittering kingdoms of disaster-capitalism are not only responsible for supplying weapons and cash; a major incentive of theirs is exporting the Wahhabist and Salafist ideologies that many of Syria’s imported jihadists subscribe to, a warped and primal interpretation of Islam that has fueled the sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict and deepened social divisions to their most dangerous point – in a country that was once renowned for its tolerance of religious diversity. These Gulf kingdoms, which are more-or-less given a trump card to commit deplorable human rights violations institutionally, are also responsible for propping up the political arm of their militant foot soldiers, and that comes in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria’s opposition coalition, which is itself entirely a creation of foreign powers, has recently elected its own interim prime minister – enter, Ghassan Hitto, a virtually unknown political novice with a US passport and a computer science degree from Purdue University. Hitto is an Islamist Kurd with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood has politically dominated the Syrian National Council since its creation, in addition to organizing tactical elements of the insurgency. The backbone of the Brotherhood’s relationship with the medieval monarchies of the Persian Gulf is grounded in a firm opposition to Shi’a Islam, as extolled by clerical leaders in Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah; Assad himself is also an Alawite, an offshoot of Shi’a Islam. It should be clear enough by now how enflaming sectarian divisions in the region was a prerequisite for those bank-rolling the insurgency, aimed at demolishing the secular Syrian state.

Several high-profile members of Syria’s opposition coalition boycotted the vote for interim prime minister, citing what they viewed as a foreign-backed campaign to elect Hitto. Kamal Labwani, a veteran opposition campaigner, was reported as saying, "We don't want what happened in Egypt to happen in Syria. They hijacked the revolution." Those who abstained from the vote accuse Hitto of being a puppet of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the SNC’s decisions were being dictated from the outside. Walid al-Bunni, another senior figure in the opposition, stated, "The Muslim Brotherhood, with the backing of Qatar, have imposed their prime minister candidate. We will keep away if the coalition does not reconsider its choice." Let’s just get this straight – Assad, a leader whose presence today is a testament to the fact that he continues to enjoy majority popular support, is considered to have lost his legitimacy. On the other hand, Hitto, a man with no political experience who received 35 votes out of 49 ballots cast during a Syrian National Coalition meeting, is supposed to be legitimate representative of the Syrian people?


These realities can only be interpreted as the boot of the so-called “International Community” squashing the face of the Syrian people, imposing on them a man who does not represent them, but the business interests of multinational corporations who seek to plant their flags in the soil of a post-Assad Syria. Let’s not humor ourselves by thinking John Kerry, William Hague, Laurent Fabius or Qatari Emir Khalifa Al Thani actually care about the people of Syria. However many casualties the Syrian conflict has incurred thus far can be attributable to the influx of foreign funds, foreign arms, and foreign fighters. It would be intellectually dishonest to deny that the tactics of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Arab Army have also caused widespread civilian causalities and suffering. It is an enormous challenge for a state military to quell unconventional insurgencies of the sort carried out by militants in Syria when these battles take place in densely populated residential areas.

One should not cynically credit Syrian government forces with intentionally killing their own people; this does not serve the purposes of the state in anyway. Civilian deaths that have occurred as a result of government forces engaging the insurgency should more accurately be seen as a heinous by-product of a foreign campaign to topple the Syrian government. While the foreign ministries of Western capitals cite politically charged death-toll statistics to justify their campaign against “Assad the Butcher”, it is absolutely unconscionable that Paris and London have called for lifting the Syrian arms embargo, and for vowing to arm militant groups with or without the consent of the EU. Apparently some seventy thousand people have been killed in Syria according to the United Nations, and these cited European states, which allegedly are so concerned about terrorism, want to dump more guns into Syria – this is madness.

Western states want to install proxy leaders who will grovel to their multinationals and swallow IMF medicine, Gulf states seek unfettered hegemony in their own backyards, and they all want to see the Shi’a resistance smashed to pieces. Following the news of chemical weapons being used in Syria, the most immediate conclusion of this observer is that foreign-backed militants, who have used every opportunity to call for more material and support, employed the use of a smuggled chemical weapon of poor quality to bring about direct military intervention in their favor. Right on cue, Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are frothing at the mouth, urging President Obama to “take immediate action” and consider deploying troops. Graham was quoted as saying, "If the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem." There is no surer sign of a pathological mind than when one credits others with the blood on their own hands.

This article appeared on CounterPunch & PressTV.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Second Iran Hostage Crisis

From talk of “red lines” and cartoon bombs to having “all options on the table”, an undeniably delusional logic emanates from leadership in Washington and Tel Aviv regarding the alleged threat posted by Iran’s nuclear program. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously took to the stage of the UN General Assembly with his doodled explosive, he claimed that Iran would soon have the capability to enrich uranium to 90 percent, allowing them to construct a nuclear weapon by early-mid 2013. In his second administration, Obama, who recently said a nuclear-Iran would represent a danger to Israel and the world, appears to be seeing eye-to-eye with Netanyahu, despite previous reports of the two not being on the same page. For whatever its worth, these two world leaders have taken the conscious decision to entirely ignore evidence brought forward by the US intelligence community, as well as appeals from nuclear scientists, policy-advisers, and IAEA personnel who claim that the “threat” posed by Iran is exaggerated and politicized.

Its common knowledge that Washington’s own National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which reflects the intelligence assessments of America’s 16 spy agencies, confirmed that whatever nuclear weapons program Iran once had was dismantled in 2003. Mr. Netanyahu has not corrected his statements insinuating that Iran was nearing the red line of 90 percent enrichment, even when recent UN reports that show Tehran has in fact decreased its stockpiles of 20 percent fissile material, far below the enrichment level required to weaponize uranium. Hans Blix, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has challenged previous IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear activities, accusing the agency of relying on unverified intelligence from the US and Israel. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, former Washington insiders and analysts in the Clinton and Bush administrations, recently authored a book titled “Going to Tehran”, arguing that Iran is a coherent actor and that evidence for the bomb is simply not there.


Clinton Bastin, former director of US nuclear weapons production programs, has commented on the status of Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons, stating, “The ultimate product of Iran's gas centrifuge facilities would be highly enriched uranium hexafluoride, a gas that cannot be used to make a weapon. Converting the gas to metal, fabricating components and assembling them with high explosives using dangerous and difficult technology that has never been used in Iran would take many years after a diversion of three tons of low enriched uranium gas from fully safeguarded inventories. The resulting weapon, if intended for delivery by missile, would have a yield equivalent to that of a kiloton of conventional high explosives”. Bastin’s assessments corroborate reports that show Iran’s nuclear program is for civilian purposes; he further emphasizes the impracticality of weaponizing the hexafluoride product of Tehran’s gas-centrifuges, as the resulting deterrent would yield a highly inefficient nuclear weapon.

The fact that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued several fatwas (a religious prohibition) against the production of nuclear weapons doesn’t seem to have helped much either. An unceasing combination of Islamophobia-propaganda, a repetitive insistence that Tehran is edging closer to the threshold, and devastatingly negligent misreporting of Iran and its pursuit of domestic nuclear power has created a situation where the country is viewed as an irrational actor. In the court of Western mainstream opinion, Iran is grouped in the same category as bellicose North Korea, despite the fact that it is a law-abiding signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that has consistently cooperated with the IAEA while publically renouncing the use of nuclear weapons. This leads to the current scenario, where Iran and its people are punished under an unethical barrage of economic sanctions for possessing a weapon that they do not possess.

The severity of economic sanctions against Iran and the fabricated allegations of it possessing nuclear weapons serve as a disturbing parallel to the invasion and destruction of Iraq during the Bush administration. From the perspective of this observer, the US does not actually want to go to war with Iran – such an ordeal would bring about an array of overwhelmingly negative ramifications that Obama would probably want to avoid. What the US does want to do however, is to dismantle the foundations of the Islamic Republic by completely destroying its economy through sanctions, prompting the population to rise up and overthrow the regime – so basically, Obama is happy to conduct war by other means. Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent proclamations of the US holding a gun to the head of the Iranian nation can only be perceived as entirely accurate.

Its easy to see why the Supreme Leader has doubts over the prospect of negotiations with the US; the deal put forward at the most recent meeting of the P5+1 essentially argued that the US would roll back sanctions that prevent Iran from trading gold and precious metals in exchange for Iran completely shutting down its uranium enrichment plant at Fordo. The substance of this offer appears like it was deliberately drafted to be rejected by the Iranian side, given the fact that it would mandate Iran to shutdown one of its main facilities while keeping in place the most punishing sanctions that have destroyed the Iranian currency and made life-saving medications unaffordable for most – its more of an insult than an offer. For the average Iranian business owner and worker, US-led sanctions and currency devaluation have affected everyday transactions that provide paychecks and economic viability for millions of people.

From urban shopkeepers to rural restaurant owners, many have been forced to close their businesses because they are unable to profit from reselling imported goods purchased with dollars. Isolation from the global banking system has made it increasingly more difficult for Iranian students studying abroad to receive money from their families. Sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank aim to devastate the Iranian export economy, affecting everyone from oil exporters to carpet weavers and pistachio cultivators. By crippling Iranian people’s livelihoods and hindering their ability to pursue education and afford necessities, the Obama administration believes such measures will erode public confidence in the government and challenge its legitimacy. It is important to recognize that these sanctions are not only aimed against Iran’s government, but at its entire population, especially to the poor and merchant population. An unnamed US intelligence source cited by the Washington Post elaborates, "In addition to the direct pressure sanctions exert on the regime’s ability to finance its priorities, another option here is that they will create hate and discontent at the street level so that the Iranian leaders realize that they need to change their ways."

These sanctions, which are Obama’s throwback to ham-fisted Bush-Cheney era policies, must be seen as part of a series of measures taken to coax widespread social discontent and unrest. US sanctions have broadened their focus, targeting large swaths of the country’s industrial infrastructure, causing the domestic automobile production to plummet by 40 percent, while many essential medical treatments have more than doubled in price. Patients suffering from hemophilia, thalassemia, and cancer have been adversely affected, as the foreign-made medicines they depend on are increasingly more difficult to get ahold of. Over the past two years, general supermarket goods have seen a price hike between 100 to 300 percent. For the first time in the world, a media ban has been imposed, on PressTV, Iran’s state-funded English language international news service. Ofcom, a UK-based communications regulator linked to the British government, spearheaded the prohibition. The European Union has also imposed a travel ban on Press TV CEO Mohammad Sarafraz and eight other officials.

While editorials and commentators in the New York Times and Washington Post regularly accuse Iran of violating international law, the editors of these papers have shown no willingness to scrutinize the US and Israel by holding them accountable when they violate international law, namely, a prohibition of “the threat or use of force” in international relations unless a nation is attacked or such force is authorized by the UNSC, as embodied in the United Nations Charter. It is undeniable that by failing to question the brutal tactics meted out by Washington and Tel Aviv, these papers and the commentators affiliated with them endorse policies that intimidate and coerce civilian populations, in addition to employing terrorist tactics such as targeted cyber-strikes and extrajudicial assassinations – all of which the Iranian nation has been subjected to in utter defiance of the standards and rules of international law and their fundamental bedrock of protecting civilians.


The facts have been proven time and time again, Iran seeks economic development, technological advancement, and energy independence – it wants domestic nuclear power and the freedom to enrich uranium to 20 percent for the medical development of radiopharmaceuticals and industrial isotopes, as it is entitled to as an NPT signatory. Washington’s threats to impose “secondary” sanctions against third-country entities doing business with the Islamic Republic represents a mafia-mentality so characteristic of the unipolar reality in which the US sees itself. Washington has recently threatened energy-hungry Pakistan with sanctions over its partnership with Tehran in a $7.5-billion gas pipeline between the two nations, a project that would do infinite good by promoting regional stability and delivering energy to poverty stricken regions in Pakistan. Washington’s sanctions regime will collapse if the US Congress insists that China sharply cut its energy trade and relations with Iran. China will not adhere to such stringent foreign interference into its trade relationships, and Washington is in no position to sanction China because it buys oil from Iran.

If Beijing calls Washington’s bluff, other growth-focused non-Western economies like India, Malaysia, and South Korea will be less fearful of conducting business and buying oil from Tehran. Obama has taken some cues from the revolutionary students of 1979 and his administration has come up with a hostage crisis of its own, involving holding captive the civilian population of Iran – and Washington looks keen to let the sanctions bite until either the regime bows down, or the people rise up. One of the best examples of the perverted logic behind the US position on Iran comes from Vice President Joe Biden, who recently stated, “We have also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation”. Such a statement embodies the upside-down logic of Washington policy-makers who claim the moral high ground while enabling terrorism and engaging in unethical campaigns of economic and military warfare – the present state of affairs simply cannot continue.

This article appeared on PressTV & CounterPunch.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Mysterious Case of the Sulu Sultan

Malaysia has been in the midst of an ongoing security crisis since early February, when a group of 235 rag-tag militiamen from the neighboring southern Philippines slipped into the eastern state of Sabah and began occupying several villages. While engaging police in several firefights, the insurgents beheaded and mutilated several captured Malaysian security personnel, prompting Malaysian forces to deploy fighter jets in an unprecedented air assault over the area in an operation to flush out the intruders. The gunmen call themselves the “Royal Army of the Sulu Sultanate”, representing the heirs of a long-defunct kingdom which once controlled the territory up until the late nineteenth century. The so-called Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, who is believed to be directing the militant incursion from Manila, insists that Sabah is rightfully part of his kingdom and has vowed not budge on his claims even if his personnel are killed in the standoff.

Malaysians, who are preparing to vote in a pivotal general election just around the corner, have been fixated on events in Sabah as they unfold. The Philippines are soon expecting congressional elections as well, and given the timing, local analysts are wondering how exactly did this elderly self-proclaimed Sultan obtained the resources needed to establish his own private army. Both the Malaysian and Philippine governments have launched official investigations into allegations that figures within Malaysia’s political opposition had a hand in aiding the Sulu gunmen. Reuters cited an anonymous Filipino military officer who claimed that Sulu rebels were “invited to Sabah by a Malaysian opposition politician”.


The blame has been laid on Malaysia’s de-facto opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, who Malaysian reports say has links to Filipino insurgent networks that have long eyed the resource-rich state of Sabah in northern eastern Borneo. Local journalist Adrian Lai recently unearthed classified diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Manila brought to light by WikiLeaks, which document ties between Nur Misauri, former chairmen of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and Malaysia’s main opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. The MNLF is a political movement that pitted itself against predominately Christian Manila by seeking political autonomy for Muslim majority provinces in the islands in the southern Philippines. In 2001, Manila accused Misauri of terrorism when he led an MNLF unit that attacked an outpost of the Philippine army, prompting him to seek refuge in Sabah on the assumption that authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia would empathize with him and block his extradition. Misauri was detained by Malaysian security forces in Sabah and sent back to the Philippines where he was jailed until 2008.

WikiLeaks cables claim that Misauri detested the Malaysian government for turning him over to Philippine authorities and that he was “a strong advocate for the recovery of Sabah”. The cables claim that Misauri boasted that his militias could invade Sabah in the span of two hours. WikiLeaks has also confirmed that Misauri maintained close connections to Anwar Ibrahim, and that the two had met on several occasions. A separate report issued by AFP cited US diplomatic cables that implicate a Saudi Arabian ambassador to the Philippines of funding Muslim groups seeking autonomy in the southern islands. Misauri recently criticized Philippine President Benigno Aquino for siding with Malaysia in his firm stance against the Sulu militants, warning the Aquino government of chaos if Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III is apprehended.

Anwar Ibrahim, who has vehemently denied all accusations, has long been considered a darling of the West. Mr. Ibrahim is a slippery character of sorts; he was once Malaysia’s deputy prime minister prior to being sacked for getting too close to the IMF, among other things. Anwar also has friends in high places, from billionaire financier George Soros to senior neo-cons from the Bush administration. In recent times, Ibrahim has appealed to Carl Gershman, president of the US-Government funded foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), requesting that he send a US observer team to Malaysia to monitor the upcoming elections. Ibrahim enraged many when he stated he would support policy to protect the security of Israel, and while his political party has long received training and backing from the International Republican Institute (IRI) chaired by Republican Senator John McCain, there little doubt that Anwar – a creature of Washington’s taxpayer funded “Democracy Promotion” overseas – would be the trusted ally that the White House is looking for as it refocuses its military muscle and political influence to the Asia-Pacific region.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has recently conceded that events in Sabah showed signs of a conspiracy. A recent statement issued by Malaysian political-scientist Dr. Chandra Muzaffar alludes to reports of Malaysian opposition figures promising land, titles and other sinecures to the Sulu Sultanate if they emerged victorious in the upcoming elections. Muzaffar argues that a security crisis in Sabah, regarded as a political stronghold for the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, could weaken the ruling parties hold over the state, leading to a hung parliament or a narrow victory for the BN, prompting in his words, “massive street agitation which could pave the way for a regime change, which is the goal of not only the Opposition but also its foreign backers.” When Chandra talks of “foreign backers”, he is referring to the US political establishment.

The MNLF, under its current chairmen Muslimin Sema, has issued statements declaring that it disagreed with the incursion into Sabah, but acknowledged that MNLF forces aligned to Misauri were present there. Reports issued by Reuters also cited Malaysian officials who claimed that the Sulu terrorists had links to factions that were unhappy with the Philippines' recent peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an Islamist MNLF offshoot. The Malaysian government facilitated these peace talks, and Misauri made no secret that he publically opposed them. The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that some ten thousand MNLF fighters from the southern Philippines planned to join the insurgency in Sabah in solidarity with the Royal Sulu Army.

Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III has told media in the Philippines that he wants the United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom to intervene in his claim over Sabah. The Sultan claims that the US must intercede, as agreed upon in a 1915 agreement signed with Washington’s then-colonial government in the Philippines that mandated the US provide “full protection” to the Sulu Sultan in exchange for exercising sovereignty over the kingdom as the colonial administration. Let’s not forget, the strategically located state of Sabah is abundant in natural gas reserves, and its oil reserves are the third highest in the Asia-Pacific region after China and India. Sabah’s fifteen oil wells produce as many as 192,000 barrels a day, while the country has holds over 4 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. In 2010, Malaysia was the world’s third largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) after Qatar and Indonesia. The Malaysian government had paid a modest annual cession payment to the Sultanate (which the Sultan argues is a “rent”) since gaining independence from Britain, and one of the motivations for the Sultan’s push to reclaim the territory is definitely profit-driven. While the Pentagon refocuses over 60% of its naval presence to the Asia Pacific region, conflicts of this nature – which deal with obstructions to the flow of abundant energy resources to US companies – are exactly the sort that could coax the eventual involvement of US personnel if Sabah were to deteriorate into a hotbed of Sulu-terror.

The fact that individuals in the highest levels of the Malaysian and Philippine governments are suspicious of a conspiracy does much to lend credence to the possibility. Former Malaysian PM Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, an ardent critic of Israel and US imperialism, warned months prior to the standoff in Sabah that the opposition’s Western backers sought to bring Anwar Ibrahim to power through Arab Spring-style street riots and even the use of fire power, citing recent examples in Egypt and Syria where NATO states backed political opposition figures and supported al-Qaeda-linked rebels to act on their behalf in overthrowing governments they were tired of. Reports of Saudi Arabia financially supporting Philippine terrorists should also not be taken lightly, as Gulf States have moved in-step with the US and NATO as the main financiers of Salafist terrorist networks active in west Asia, north Africa and elsewhere.


Without resorting to elaborate conspiracies in the absence of hard facts, it would be entirely negligent to ignore circumstantial evidence linking Malaysian figures to this insurgency, especially considering all sources of this nature are non-Malaysian in origin. There is no doubt that the Sultan has no legitimate legal claims over Sabah since the International Court of Justice has long recognized Malaysia’s rights and sovereignty over the territory, and the highly unusual timing of the Sulu operation being so close to elections in both countries will naturally be perceived as suspect. Militancy and terrorism undermines the Sultan’s claims entirely and lends much credibility to suspicion that the Sultan has not acted alone. Even if the US isn’t involved, the fact that a figure who received blatant US support has been implicated is significant. There is much at stake in Sabah, and in the words of the Sultan, “The only thing that could end the conflict is an intervention.”

This article appeared on CounterPunch & Russia Today.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Nuclear War Through North Korean Eyes

There is little doubt that civilians on both sides of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) are weighed down with anxiety as both countries carry out provocative large-scale military drills amid threats of nuclear war. North Korea has recently announced that it will no longer abide by the UN-brokered armistice that ended the Korean War with a ceasefire in 1953 and authorities have severed its communications hotline with the South, the only diplomatic channel of contact between the two countries. Pyongyang has imposed no-fly and no-sail zones off both its coasts as part of comprehensive military drills that may see the test firing of short-to-medium range missiles. The US-South Korea joint command forces have launched their Foal Eagle field training exercises that will be ongoing until end of April. 200,000 South Korean troops and 10,000 US troops will take part in the exercise, which will include land, air, sea, and special operation drills. North Korea’s state newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, has reported that the North’s army, navy, air force, and anti-aircraft units were “just waiting for the final order to attack.”

Following Pyongyang’s recent threats that it would engage preemptive nuclear strikes against any aggressor, Seoul shot back with its strongest rhetoric yet, stating, “If North Korea attacks South Korea with a nuclear weapon, then by the will of the Republic of Korea and humanity, the Kim Jong-un regime will perish from the Earth.” South Korea’s newly inaugurated President Park Geun-hye has been in office for less than one month and in the current scenario, it has become politically impossible for her to stick to her campaign pledges of taking a softer line on North Korea. Most of the time, the substance of North Korea’s threats do not materialize, much like last month’s pledge to take an immediate “physical response” to a barrage of UN sanctions. While talk of taking “second and third countermeasures” are thrown around pretty liberally in North Korean state media, the North Korean foreign ministry has not announced any specific actions – such as a nuclear weapons test or rocket launch – in response to harsh UN resolutions or the ongoing US-ROK drill offensive.


North Korea invokes a brutal historical narrative of war with the United States to legitimize its conduct in the present day – and indeed, North Korea is a victim of war crimes. Washington and its allies rained napalm over North Korea, destroying nearly all its cities and thousands of villages. A staggering four million Koreans and one million Chinese soldiers were killed – US military sources confirm that 20 percent of North Korea’s population was killed off, even that being a highly conservative figure. In the fallout of North Korea’s third nuclear test, state media has invoked several English-language editorials that reflect on the overlooked historical back-story of the US stockpiling nuclear weapons in South Korea. The statement released by the Rodong Sinmun reads:
“In the 1980s the U.S. spurred the modernization of the nuclear hardware of its forces in south Korea. Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Ronald, speaking at a parliament, confessed that the U.S. shipped more than 1,000 nuclear weapons to south Korea and deployed 54 airplanes for carrying nuclear bombs. South Korea turned into the world’s biggest nuclear outpost with the stockpile of nuclear weapons such as bombs, shells, warheads, land mines and carrier means as well as nuclear bases and arsenals. The U.S. nuclear threats were vividly manifested in its open declaration to use nuclear weapons in Korea.”
For all intents and purposes, this is an accurate account. If we fast-forward toward the present-day, the Bush administration’s Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations issued in 2005 established the circumstances under which the US could preemptively invoke the use of nuclear weapons. The document states:
“The lessons of military history remain clear: unpredictable, irrational conflicts occur. Military forces must prepare to counter weapons and capabilities that exist in the near term even if no immediate likely scenarios for war are at hand. To maximize deterrence of WMD use, it is essential US forces prepare to use nuclear weapons effectively and that US forces are determined to employ nuclear weapons if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use.”
The North Korean Foreign Ministry’s recent statement, “Second Korean War Is Unavoidable”, argues that the DPRK reserves the right to a preemptive nuclear attack and the Foal Eagle joint military exercises are akin to Washington lighting a fuse for a nuclear war. The document also acknowledges the Obama administration’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, and that the US “seeks a way out of a serious economic crisis at home in unleashing the second Korean War.” Many analysts throughout the alternative media have acknowledged North Korea’s history as a victim and have defended their acquisition of a nuclear deterrent. While the historical context of abuse warrants one to be empathetic toward Pyongyang in this respect, many of these commentators fail to necessitate the primacy that inter-Korean dialogue should hold in their writings. It should also be noted that when official figures, such as Jon Yong-nam of the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League, utter phrases like, “We vow to plant the flag of the central military command and the North Korean flag on Halla Mountain on Jeju Island [South Korea]”, it makes the deterrent argument far less convincing.

In recent times, the North has provided slight openings for foreign media to enter the country and speak to its citizens, and undercover testimony has been smuggled out. Recent reports published by Radio Free Asia (RFA) detail the intellectual insecurity of North Korean civilians, who in consuming copious amounts of state media in the absence of any other source, deeply fear the threat of strikes or an invasion from foreign powers. RFA quotes a resident of North Korea’s Yanggang Province who has allegedly said, “The authorities said if we have nuclear weapons, we can scare off anyone we meet, but on the contrary even though we have nuclear weapons and we’re shouting that we might launch a preemptive strike, I’m worried it seems we might receive a preemptive strike.” Another resident in resident in Hamgyong Pronvince said, “If we shoot off a nuclear weapon, are the Americans going to stay motionless? In any case, if nuclear weapon is launched everyone dies, so I feel there’s no use for training or anything.”


Although these anonymous testimonies, appearing on the US State Department-run RFA, likely serve as some form of propaganda, it highly plausible that a percentage of the North Korean population feels quite uneasy about the current state of affairs. One could offer their rhetorical support for North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons as a deterrent, but what will become of some 10.5 million innocent civilians in Seoul if the North attempts to proliferate its nuclear arsenal? Likewise, 3.2 million souls in Pyongyang would be extinguished if the US employed its preemptive nuclear doctrine. The potential death toll should not be limited to those in capital cities, the reemergence of conflict on the Korean Peninsula immediately endangers the 70 million people living there. For all the firery rhetoric exchanged between the two Koreas, the fact that the hardline Lee Myung-bak regime, incumbent President Park’s predecessor, did not retaliate when the North shelled Yeonpyeong island in 2010 demonstrates the extent to which restraint has been exercised for the sake of stability.

The only thing keeping the situation from deteriorating is the fact that North would probably not come out victorious if it went to war with South Korea and the United States. While the North boasts larger manpower, more submarines, and more fighter jets, the South possesses highly sophisticated weaponry and modern defense technology by comparison – for this reason, Pyongyang has put more focus on the development of ICBMs and nuclear warheads. Military experts say North Korea is years away from developing a long-range missile and a nuclear warhead to attack the US mainland; however the damage it could do to South Korea and Japan has the potential to amass high civilian causalities and shouldn’t be under-estimated. One could argue that the case has never been stronger for the withdrawal of the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea. Such a move that would satisfy civilians in both Koreas and yield higher chances of provoking a positive response from Pyongyang during this tense period; however, that simply isn’t going to happen. As the Pentagon pivots to the Asia-Pacific, North Korea is a godsend in its ability to provide Washington with a legitimate pretext to bolster its forces in China’s backyard.

As tensions increase on the Korean Peninsula, the only power that has any influence to broker an agreement that could de-escalate hostilities is China. Following North Korea’s third nuclear test, many Chinese citizens took part in a historically unprecedented outbreak of anti-North Korea protests, and both China’s state-run media and various policy experts are becoming more vocal in their criticism of Beijing’s North Korean policy. China partnered with the United States to co-author recent UN resolutions against Pyongyang, exhibiting new heights of Beijing’s disapproval with the Kim dynasty. An editorial in China’s Global Times newspaper reads, “If North Korea engages in further nuclear tests, China will not hesitate to reduce its assistance to North Korea.” The editorial went on to say that if the US, Japan and South Korea “promote extreme U.N. sanctions on North Korea, China will resolutely stop them and force them to amend these draft resolutions.”

Kim Jong-un has demonstrated his willingness to go against the wishes of his main allies in Beijing, which has visibly frustrated those on the Chinese side, who have for years attempted to nudge Pyongyang into implementing meaningful economic reform. China should do more to denounce unnecessary and provocative military drills that have the potential to lead to fire exchange and inter-Korean turbulence. More likely than not, these threats will not materialize and tensions will deescalate in time. China hosted tri-lateral talks in Beijing with Pyongyang and Washington in attendance a decade ago in April 2003 – at the time North Korea withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, fired a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan, violated South Korean airspace with a fighter jet, and threatened to abandon the 1953 Armistice Agreement. The present day scenario is highly unpredictable and it’s clear that Beijing must take the initiative to deescalate this situation and bring all parties together to the negotiating table to work out a new agreement – one that establishes meaningful inter-Korean security assurances that lead to both sides scaling back military drills and provocative muscle flexing – such is a prerequisite for any kind of normalization of relations.

This article appeared on CounterPunch.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has travelled extensively to North and South Korea and can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 11 March 2013

China’s Xi paints Africa red

At a recently held meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, China’s leaders unveiled a dramatic long-term plan to integrate some 400 million countryside dwellers into urban environments by concentrating growth-promoting development in small and medium sized cities. In stark contrast to the neglected emphasis placed on infrastructure development in the United States and Europe, China spends around $500 billion annually on infrastructural projects, with $6.4 trillion set-aside for its 10-year mass urbanization scheme, making it the largest rural-to-urban migration project in human history. China’s leaders have mega-development in focus, and realizing such epic undertakings not only requires the utilization of time-efficient high-volume production methods, but also resources – lots and lots of resources. It should come as no surprise that incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping’s first trip as head of state will take him to Africa, to deepen the mutually beneficial trade and energy relationships maintained throughout the continent that have long irked policy makers in Washington.

The new guy in charge – who some analysts have suggested could be a populist reformer that empathizes with the poor – will visit several African nations with whom China has expressed a desire to expand ties with, the most prominent being South Africa. Since establishing relations in 1998, bilateral trade between the two jumped from $1.5 billion to 16 billion as of 2012. Following a relationship that has consisted predominately of economic exchanges, China and South Africa have now announced plans to enhance military ties in a show of increasing political and security cooperation. During 2012’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation meeting, incumbent President Hu Jintao served up $20 billion in loans to African countries, which were designated for the construction of vital infrastructure such as new roads, railways and ports to enable higher volumes of trade and export. In his address to the forum, South African President Jacob Zuma spoke of the long-term unsustainability of the current model of Sino-African trade, whereby raw materials are sent out and manufactured commodities are sent in.


Zuma also stated, "Africa's past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies. We certainly are convinced that China's intention is different to that of Europe, which to date continues to attempt to influence African countries for their sole benefit." Xi’s visit highlights the importance China attaches to Sino-African ties, and during his stay, he will attend the fifth meeting of the BRICS, the first summit held on the African continent to accommodate leaders of the world’s most prominent emerging economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The BRICS group, which accounts for around 43% of the world's population and 17% of global trade, is set to increase investments in Africa’s industrial sector threefold, from $150-billion in 2010 to $530- billion in 2015, under the theme "BRICS and Africa: partnership for development, integration, and industrialization".

With focus shifting toward building up the continent’s industrial sector, South Africa is no doubt seen as a springboard into Africa and a key development partner on the continent for other BRICS members. Analysts have likened the BRICS group to represent yet another significant step away from a unipolar global economic order, and it comes as no surprise. As Eurozone countries languish with austerity cuts, record unemployment and major demand contraction, the European Union in South Africa's total trade has declined from 36% in 2005 to 26.5% in 2011, while the BRIC countries total trade increased from 10% in 2005 to 18.6% in 2011. The value and significance of the BRICS platform comes in its ability to proliferate South-South political and economic ties, and one should expect the reduction of trade barriers and the gradual adoption of economic exchanges using local currencies. China’s ICBC paid $5.5 billion for a 20% stake in Standard Bank of South Africa in 2007, and the move has played out well for Beijing - Standard has over 500 branches across 17 African countries which has drastically increased availability of the Chinese currency, offering yuan accounts to expatriate traders.


It looks like the love story that has become of China and Africa will gradually begin shifting its emphasis toward building up a viable large-scale industrial base. Surveys out of Beijing cite 1,600 companies tapping into the use of Africa as an industrial base with manufacturing's share of total Chinese investment (22%) fast gaining on that meted out to the mining sector (29%). Gavin du Venage, writing for the Asia Times Online, highlights how Beijing’s policy toward Africa aims to be mutually beneficial and growth-promoting, “Chinese energy firm Sinopec teamed up with South African counterpart PetroSA to explore building a US$11 billion oil refinery on the country's west coast. Refineries are notoriously unprofitable, with razor-thin margins. Since South Africa has no significant oil or proven gas reserves itself, the proposed plant would depend on imports, and would have to serve the local market to be viable. The plant will therefore serve the South African market and not be used to process exports to China. This is only the latest of such investments that demonstrate a willingness by Chinese investors to put down roots and infrastructure in Africa. It also shows that China's dragon safari is about more than just sourcing commodities for export.”

Indeed, and Beijing’s dragon safari is loaded with a packed itinerary, with Mao-bucks flying everywhere from Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Nigeria and Angola. Xi Jinping will also grace the Angolan capital of Luanda, where China had provided the oil-rich nation with some $4.5 billion in loans since 2002. Following Angola’s 27-year civil war that began in 1975, Beijing played a major role in Angola's reconstruction process, with 50 large-scale and state-owned companies and over 400 private companies operating in the country; it has since become China's largest trading partner in Africa with a bilateral trade volume at some $20 billion dollars annually. Chinese Ambassador Zhang Bolun was quoted as saying how he saw great potential in further developing Sino-Angolan relations and assisting the nation in reducing its dependence on oil revenues while giving priority to the development of farming, service industries, renewable energies, transport and other basic infrastructure.

Chinese commercial activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have significantly increased not only in the mining sector, but also considerably in the telecommunications field. In 2000, the Chinese ZTE Corporation finalized a $12.6 million deal with the Congolese government to establish the first Sino-Congolese telecommunications company, while the Kinshasa exported $1.4 billion worth of cobalt to Beijing between 2007 and 2008. The majority of Congolese raw materials like cobalt, copper ore and a variety of hard woods are exported to China for further processing and 90% of the processing plants in resource-rich southeastern Katanga province are owned by Chinese nationals. In 2008, a consortium of Chinese companies were granted the rights to mining operations in Katanga in exchange for $6 billion in infrastructure investments, including the construction of two hospitals, four universities and a hydroelectric power project, but the International Monetary Fund intervened and blocked the deal, arguing that the agreement between violated the foreign debt relief program for so-called HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) nations.

China has made significant investments in manufacturing zones in non-resource-rich economies such as Zambia and Tanzania and as Africa’s largest trading partner, China imports 1.5 million barrels of oil from Africa per day, approximately accounting for 30 percent of its total imports. In Ghana, China has invested in Ghanaian national airlines that serve primarily domestic routes, in addition to partnering with the Ghanaian government on a major infrastructural project to build the Bui Hydroelectric Dam. China-Africa trade rose from $10.6 billion in 2000 to $106.8 billion in 2008 with an annual growth rate of over 30 percent. By the end of 2009, China had canceled out more than 300 zero-interest loans owed by 35 heavily indebted needy countries and least developed countries in Africa. China is by far the largest financier on the entire continent, and Beijing’s economic influence in Africa is nowhere more apparent than the $200 million African Union headquarters situated in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – which was funded solely by China.

China’s deepening economic engagement in Africa and its crucial role in developing the mineral sector, telecommunications industry and much needed infrastructural projects is creating "deep nervousness" in the West, according to David Shinn, the former US ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. During a diplomatic tour of Africa in 2011, former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton insinuated China’s guilt in perpetuating a creeping “new colonialism”. When it comes to Africa, the significant differences in these two powers' key economic, foreign policy strategies and worldviews are nowhere more apparent. Washington has evidently launched its efforts to counter China's influence throughout the African continent, and where Beijing focuses on economic development, the United States has sought to legitimize its presence through counterterrorism operations and the expansion of the United States Africa Command, better known as AFRICOM – a outpost of the US military designated solely for operations on the African continent.

During an AFRICOM in 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller cited AFRICOM’s guiding principle of protecting “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market,” before emphasizing how the increasing presence of China is a major challenge to US interests in the region. Washington recently announced that US Army teams will be deployed to as many as 35 African countries in early 2013 for training programs and other operations as part of an increased Pentagon role in Africa – primarily to countries with groups allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. Given Mr. Obama’s proclivity toward the proliferation of UAV drone technology, one could imagine these moves as laying the groundwork for future US military interventions using such technology in Africa on a wider scale than that already seen in Somalia and Mali. Here lays the deep hypocrisy in accusations of Beijing’s purported “new colonialism” – China is focused on building industries, increasing development, and improving administrative as well as physical infrastructure – the propagation of force, which one would historically associate with a colonizer, is entirely absent from the Chinese approach.

Obviously, the same cannot be said of the United States, whose firepower-heavy tactics have in recent times have enabled militancy and lawlessness, as seen in the fallout of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 2011 bombing campaign in Libya with notable civilian causalities. As Xi Jingping positions himself in power over a nation undertaking some of the grandest development projects the world has ever known, Beijing’s relationship with the African continent will be a crucial one. While everything looks good on paper, Xi’s administration must earn the trust of their African constituents by keeping a closer eye on operations happening on the ground. The incoming administration must do more to scrutinize the conduct of Chinese conglomerates and business practices with a genuine focus on adhering to local environmental regulations, safety standards and sound construction methods. The current trajectory China has set itself upon will do much to enable mutually beneficial economic development, in addition to bolstering an independent Global South – a little less red then how Mao wanted it, but close enough.

This article appeared on Russia TodayPressTV.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com

Friday, 8 March 2013

Malaysia faces uncertain war in Sabah

Tension is high in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah following an ongoing standoff between militants from the nearby southern Philippines and Malaysian security forces. 235-armed militants landed in eastern Sabah in early February and occupied several villages in an effort to assert a centuries-old claim over the territory. Both sides accuse the other of firing the first shot, but once the stand-off produced Malaysian causalities, Malaysian security forces deployed fighter jets and launched an unprecedented air assault on the militants with five battalions of solders deployed over the area in an operation to flush out the militant group, which they termed “Operation Sovereignty”. At least 52 militants have been killed, in addition to several Malaysian policemen who were reportedly mutilated by the insurgents; reports claim that militants sent an e-mail message to Malaysian authorities that included images of beheaded police officers. The insurgents identified themselves as the “Royal Sulu Army”, representing the now-defunct Sulu Sultanate that controlled the territory for centuries before leasing the land to the colonial British North Borneo Company in 1878.

The Manila-based Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, directed the insurgency, while his brother Agbimuddin Kiram led ground operations into Sabah. The Sultanate insists that Sabah is its homeland, and it will not budge on its claims over the territory even if its personnel are killed in the standoff. British colonialists leased the land from the Sultanate and eventually annexed Sabah in 1946 before turning over the disputed territory to the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. At the time, the Philippines contested the transfer, claiming that the British did not possess the authority to transfer ownership to Malaysia. The British and the Malaysian authorities responded by asking the United Nations to conduct a referendum which came to the conclusion that two-thirds of the population of Sabah favoured joining Malaysia. The Malaysian government also began paying small annual payments to the heirs of the sultanate as compensation for their cession of the land, an arrangement that has continued to the present day.

Malaysia originally took a soft approach on the Filipinos militants by offering them the opportunity to lay down their arms and leave peacefully, leading many to criticize the government and security forces for allowing the militants to penetrate Malaysian territory. Local media referred to the gunmen as “intruders”, but soon after the gunmen engaged security personnel in a firefight, Malaysia began referring to the group as “terrorists”. Prime Minister Najib Razak authorized intense retaliatory strikes, calling for the total surrender of militants. Following the airstrikes, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III told Filipino media that he was unable to contact his brother, militant leader Agbimuddin Kiram, and that he was increasingly worried over the safety of his “royal army” in Sabah, prompting the Sultan to call for a ceasefire. Malaysian PM Najib reiterated that he would not consider any request unless the militants in Sabah turn over their arms to the Malaysian authorities and surrendered.


Filipino militant groups call for retaliation against Malaysia

The Philippine government under President Benigno Aquino has sided with Malaysia and reiterated its call to followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to surrender to prevent further bloodshed. Aquino has spoken of punishing the Sultan and his men for masterminding the armed rebellion in Sabah, prompting a domestic backlash that threatens fragile peace deals with separatist militant groups sympathetic to the Sultan’s cause. Fighters representing the Sulu Sultanate are ethnic Tausugs from the Philippines’ Sulu region, some of whom have aligned themselves with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which has been fighting for autonomy over the territories in the southern Philippines. Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), warned the Aquino government of chaos if Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III is arrested or his men apprehended.

Nur Misuari founded the MNLF in 1969 with the aim of forming an independent egalitarian nation in the Philippines’ easternmost regions of Mindanao, Palawan, and Sulu. The organization has at times preached religious tolerance, and is composed of Muslims, Christians, members of indigenous faiths. An MNLF offshoot – the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) – is known to have perpetrated brutal violence and murder. The ASG maintain links to Al-Qaeda networks, and reports issued by AFP claim that US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks implicate a Saudi Arabian ambassador to the Philippines of bolstering Filipino terrorist networks with cash through religious charities.

At a recent press conference, Misuari stated, “And for what reason is he (Aquino) aligning this country with Malaysia, a colonial power occupying the land of our people? I am against that, totally against that with all my soul. I hope the president will be properly advised. I hope he will recant. Otherwise we won’t forgive him. And there is an attempt even to arrest the sultan, I understand. Let them do that. The country will be in total chaos if they do, I promise you.” MNLF political chief officer Gapul Hajirul has warned of civil war in Sabah waged by Filipino Muslims who have long resided there. Nur Misuari warned Malaysian PM Najib that targeting Filipino Muslims in Sabah “would be tantamount to war”.

After Malaysia's assault on the Sulu militants, Princess Celia Fatima Kiram warned that the Sultanate would wage a "long civil war" in Sabah. The MNLF has claimed that thousands of ethnic Tausug fighters were planning to enter Sabah using small pump boats, and that many had already successfully slipped through a naval blockade set up by the Philippines. The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that MNLF member Habib Hashim Mudjahab claimed that at least 10,000 Tausug people from islands in the southern Philippines were headed to Sabah to act as reinforcements in support of the Royal Sulu Army. Filipinos in Sabah who are not part of the Royal Sulu forces have reportedly joined the fighting in reaction to what they perceive as atrocities committed by the Malaysian government. Former MNLF member Hadji Acmad Bayam told the Manila Bulletin that MNLF forces may have a significant weapons arsenal hidden within Sabah’s thick jungles left behind by MNLF commanders who have moved in and out of the region over the years.


Allegations of political motives

Malaysia will soon hold a pivotal general election that pits incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak against de-facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Najib voiced suspicion as to why the Sulu rebels chose to pursue their long-standing claim to Sabah when the country was preparing to hold a general election. Reuters cited sources within the Malaysian government who claimed that the gunmen were suspected to have links to factions that were unhappy with the Philippines' recent peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), another breakaway group from the MNLF which today is widely recognised as the mainstay of the Moro movement. Malaysia acted as the facilitator for that 2012 peace agreement. Kuala Lumpur has played a key role in facilitating peace talks between Manila and Mindanao since 2001, and the MNLF publicly opposed MILF’s Framework Agreement with Manila. Furthermore, Reuters cited an anonymous Filipino military officer who claimed that Sulu rebels were “invited to Sabah by a Malaysian opposition politician to discuss land issues”. Najib then ordered Malaysian intelligence officials to investigate claims that an opposition leader had a hand in the armed intrusion in Sabah. Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim pressed charges against Malaysian broadcasters for running a story implicating his involvement in the insurgency, and vehemently denied his involvement.

Local analysts have criticized Ibrahim for accepting funds and training from US Government-linked foundations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), while pro-government mainstream media is routinely critical of Anwar’s links to foreign figures. Bloggers have also posted photographs of Anwar Ibrahim meeting with MNLF leader Nur Misuari, insinuating cooperation between the two in coordinating the Sulu insurgency. Tian Chua, one of the leaders of of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition headed by Ibrahim, accusing the ruling party of having orchestrated the gun battle with Filipino militants, claiming that the incursion was believed to be a "planned conspiracy of the [UMNO] government" to divert attention and intimidate the people in the run-up to elections, prompting unanimous denials from the ruling party. Filipino sources claim that the Sulu Sultanate’s incursion of Sabah is an attempt to undermine President Benigno Aquino in midterm elections scheduled in May. Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III ran as a senator allied to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during elections in 2007 and Filipino politicians allied to him are seen as pressuring Aquino to pardon his predecessor, who remains under house arrest for electoral fraud.


Sulu Sultan calls for US intervention

Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III has told media in the Philippines that he wants the United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom to intervene in his claim over Sabah. The Sultanate claims that the United States must intercede, as agreed upon in a 1915 agreement signed with then US colonial government in the Philippines that mandated the US provide “full protection” to the Sulu Sultan in exchange for exercising sovereignty over the kingdom as the colonial administration. As calls for intervention and accusations of plots abound, mudslinging is rampant between the ruling parties and oppositions of both Malaysia and the Philippines. The Sulu militants have put aside “responsible conduct” by attempting to legitimize their force by invoking historic claims to the land.

The resource-rich state of Sabah is abundant in oil and gas reserves, which contribute to 14% of Malaysia’s natural gas and 30% of its crude oil reserves. Sabah’s fifteen oil wells produce as many as 192,000 barrels a day. Four new oilfields have been found in Sabah’s territorial waters over the last two years, and perhaps one of the motivations for the Sultan’s push to reclaim the territory is profit-driven. Even so, the highly unusual timing of the Sulu operation being so close to Malaysia’s general elections will naturally be perceived as suspect – and in following that line of thought, it is unsurprising that many are asking questions about the Sultanates’ arms sources and funding. The Sulu Sultanate could have taken several alternative dialogue-based approaches with the nations involved to address this situation that would have yielded infinitely less destructive consequences for his followers and his cause. The insurgent approach taken by the militants undermines the Sultan’s claims entirely, and lends much credibility to alternative narratives that allude to the crisis being manufactured to bring about a conflict at a politically sensitive time. As figures of all political leanings ask themselves who stands to gain from this situation, there is not enough information available to make an accurate assessment.

Malaysia is not often faced with security crises, especially of the sort that this conflict could expand into if more Filipino militants take up arms. Malaysia’s upcoming general election is expected to be extremely close, and many fear that a wider crisis would delay polls. Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III has spoken of foreign intervention as the only solution to the conflict, and wider war could likely be something he is trying to achieve. As many Filipinos categorize the actions taken by Malaysia as “atrocities”, a credible threat exists in the prospect of wider war if MNLF soldiers establish a foothold in Sabah, or potentially even by conducting retaliatory attacks in Peninsular Malaysia population centers like Kuala Lumpur. While Malaysia’s position must continue to be firm, security forces must exercise restraint in quelling the insurgency to prevent the indiscriminate loss of life if the militants refuse to abandon their mission and turn over their arms.

This article was originally appeared on PressTV and the Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Basketball diplomacy in North Korea

It's an unlikely friendship, built upon the love of basketball. The chummy alliance between former-NBA star Dennis Rodman and North Korean Supreme leader Kim Jong-un was anything but expected, as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang continue to rise. Following perhaps one of the tensest periods on the Korean Peninsula in recent times since North Korea’s third underground nuclear test that was openly aimed at sending a warning to the United States, Rodman’s visit, along with three other Harlem Globetrotters, comes at a unique time.


Rodman’s crew travelled to Pyongyang with approval from North Korean authorities to conduct a series of basketball exhibitions for a documentary produced by hipster-media outlet VICE, and there were no plans for the group to meet Kim Jong-un. Reports claim that Kim enjoyed Rodman’s company so much, that the Harlem Globetrotters and Rodman’s film crew were invited to Kim’s palace for a party, where they were likely induced to imbibe several bottles of North Korea’s famously potent soju.

Kim allegedly expressed to Rodman his desire to improve North Korean-American relations, and Rodman later addressed Kim before a crowd of thousands, telling him, "You have a friend for life." Kim, like his father, Kim Jong-il, is a devoted basketball fan. During her visit to Pyongyang in 2000, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright brought Kim Jong-il an NBA basketball signed by Michael Jordan as a goodwill gift. As if the North Korean regime couldn’t be any more bizarre following Kim’s endorsement of a performance featuring characters dressed as Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh in 2012, Kim’s mingling with famously flamboyant Dennis Rodman reinforces the overwhelming peculiarity that is the North Korean regime.

While these two may be strange bedfellows, Rodman’s visit represents a very tangible attempt of offering goodwill on behalf of the United States, the sworn and mortal enemy of Socialist Korea.

Kim Jong-il was known to be a huge movie-buff, boasting a huge collection of DVDs, among them many American titles that he was said to be fond of. South Korean media often depicts North Koreans as having a secret affinity for all things American, and if Rodman’s stopover in Pyongyang tells us anything, it is that goodwill goes a long way, and maybe the DPRK would be willing to play from different sheet music if the US changed its approach.

It’ll take more than basketball to get Beijing on board

Following North Korea’s third nuclear test, many Chinese citizens took part in a historically unprecedented outbreak of anti-North Korea protests, and both China’s state-run media and various policy experts are becoming more vocal in their criticism of Beijing’s North Korean policy.

Xi Jinping has indicated that his incoming administration will soon enter discussions about new policies for the Korean peninsula, including North Korean policy, and reports claim that Chinese researchers have been given orders to prepare reports re-evaluating China's policies toward the North. Many prominent Chinese analysts are beginning to voice their concerns that North Korea's value as a geopolitical ally is outdated. Recent material published by Deng Yuwen, assistant editor of China's Study Times, an educational institute for high-ranking officials in the Communist Party of China that Xi Jinping headed until 2012, stated, "Once North Korea has nuclear weapons, it cannot be ruled out that the capricious Kim regime will engage in nuclear blackmail against China," Deng said, claiming that, when Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang in 2009, Kim Jong-il "suggested that if Washington held out a helping hand, North Korea could become its strongest fortress against China."

Deng argues that China should begin to shift its focus toward facilitating North Korea's unification with South Korea, thus helping to “undermine the strategic alliance between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul [and] ease the geopolitical pressure on China." The so-called “US-North Korea deal theory” whereby North Korea would participate in US efforts to counter China, if it ever came to fruition, would be the one policy direction that nobody could have ever imagined. As Washington pivots its military muscle toward the Asia-Pacific with over 60% of US naval forces now located there, Washington would likely find more comfort in solidifying North Korea’s role as northeast Asia’s “madman in the attic,” so as to justify the highly unpopular American presence in South Korea and Japan.


Concerns over North Korea dumping China in favor of an alliance with the US have appeared in the Study Times, it is unlikely that the piece is merely the personal opinion of the writer, but rather a reflection of the Chinese political establishment, who feel frustrated with their increasingly noticeable lack of leverage with Pyongyang. Zhang Liangui, a professor at the Central Party School, in an interview with the ultra-nationalist Global Times paper, stated that "North Korea has never cared about China's attitude, when North Korea makes big decisions, it would rather inform Washington than Beijing... the North has never viewed China as an ally." Zhang is referring to the North’s April 2012 satellite launch, where US officials were given early notification, while the Chinese foreign ministry was among the last to know.

Even as Beijing becomes more upfront with its discontent, China has a valuable economic stake in North Korea’s development; it continually invests in joint ventures with Pyongyang and has led initiatives to develop the nation’s vast untapped mineral resources (which include deposits of coal, iron ore, gold ore, zinc ore, copper ore, and others) valued at a staggering $6.1 trillion, China is not looking for any additional agitation as it prepares for its once-in-a-decade leadership transition. Two members of China’s incoming Politburo Standing Committee, Zhang Dejiang and Sun Zhengcai, have spent years in close proximity to North Korea, engaging in cross-border interactions with North Korean counterparts aiming to promote economic reform in Pyongyang.

Immediately following the North’s third nuclear test, China signaled its frustration with the North in an opinion piece with the Global Times, which stated "If North Korea engages in further nuclear tests, China will not hesitate to reduce its assistance to North Korea." The editorial went on to say that if the US, Japan and South Korea "promote extreme U.N. sanctions on North Korea, China will resolutely stop them and force them to amend these draft resolutions." One would hope that the centerpiece of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy towards the North under Xi Jingping will be encouraging the regime to behave more sensibly and focus on meeting the needs of its people.

Perhaps policymakers in Beijing will have an easier time convincing Pyongyang to behave if it offered a meaningful security pact in which Pyongyang is guaranteed military support from China if things ever get ugly – given the increasing frustration of the Chinese side of things, this doesn’t look so likely. One could surmise that Xi’s administration may also voice its discontent with the frequently occurring ROK-US joint military exercises held near the North Korean border and in disputed maritime areas, which have historically irked Pyongyang and have arguably provoked it into behaving in an equally provocative way. One thing is for sure – after three nuclear tests and continuing rhetoric from Pyongyang threatening the South with destruction – all sides are reassessing their positions. Washington’s DPRK policy is one of “strategic patience,” and after a history of failed deals between the US and North Korea (primarily because both sides are guilty of not sticking to their end of the agreement) Obama would be best advised to take some cues from ‘the Worm’ and serve up some good will and meaningful engagement on the court.

This article originally appeared on Russia Today the Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com