Asean Forum where dictators showed off

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said at the Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting on August 4 that the Asean should not be hesitant to integrate into the world.

He delivered the impressive speech to the Asean foreign ministers amid the growing financial scandal within the Malaysian government.

The Asean has its own status in the world: The third strongest in Asia after China and India; it is also expected to become the fourth strongest after the United States, the European Union and China by 2030, according to Najib Razak.

This is not his own speculations; he referenced the figures and surveys of the UN, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the US Council on Foreign Relations.

The progress of Asean seems impressive by judging the figures as shown in the sheets. That is why the US has taken interest in Asean in its Asia-Pacific focus. China also wants Asean to connect with Kunming to establish the Maritime Silk Road (one agenda in the String of Pearls concept).

Similarly, other Asian and EU countries have taken interest on Asean.

Malaysia's Asean Chairmanship

Malaysia has taken Asean chairmanship for this year, and thus the summit, the regional forum, and most of the other related meetings have been held in Malaysia. It is tradition that the prime minister, the president, or the leader of the Asean chairman country delivers speeches.

Najib Razak, therefore, delivered a speech on the 48th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting, regional forum and related meetings held on August 4.

Frankly, the expectations he mentioned in his speech were very usual. Other Asean leaders as well gave such routine speeches before.

The noticeable fact is that he was trying to redeem his damaged dignity through the speech.

Especially, he emphasised the difference between the dictator and democratator.

China's foreign minister Wang Yi; General Tanasak Partimapragorn, one of Thailand's coup leaders who is taking both the deputy prime minister and foreign minister positions; and Ri Tong-il, the spokesperson of the North Korea's foreign minister were also seen in the forefront at the regional forum.

Najib Razak and financial scandal

Malaysia made headlines in recent years.

The Malaysia Airline's MH 370 has vanished into thin air. Similarly, its MH 17 has been blown out of the sky in the aerial territory of Ukraine. Malaysia has become Asean's chairperson in 2015.

Then the financial fraud happened between the Malaysian government and Najib Razak concerned with the 1Malaysia Development Fund (1MDB).

The problem has escalated in July when the Wall Street Journal revealed that Najib Razak has drained nearly US$700 million (2.6 billion ringgit) from the fund into his bank account.

He rebutted and said he would sue the Wall Street Journal.

But the Malaysia's anti-corruption commission has started investigation publicly. The attorney general of Malaysia himself led the investigation. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also demanded Najib Razak to give explanation.

The democratator

Najib Razak made an unexpected move amid the accusations. He sacked the attorney general, the deputy prime minister, and no less than four other government officials on July 28. He then replaced more than seven positions with new officers and reformed the executive body.

He did rely on his deputy who had been in the post since 2009. But when he started being critical, Najib Razak removed him from the government.

It is the trait of Najib that he systematically eliminates his political rivals and anyone that can threaten him.

Last year, he threw his potential rival Anwar Ibrahim into jail for five years accusing that he had homosexual relationship with his personal assistant. Ibrahim has no record in such cases.

Both the political image and dignity of Anwar Ibrahim were damaged and also he will miss the 2018 election as he will be in jail until 2019.

Criticisms highlight it as a well strategist move.

Najib gave a reason for dismissing top government officials that it was to maintain unity within the government in 2018 election.

Undeniable truth

On August 3, the anti-corruption commission disclosed their findings which could support the Wall Street's information. They said that $700 million (2.6 billion ringgit) is in Najib's bank account, but it is not from the 1MDB.

They gave reason that the contributors gave the money but they did not mention their names. Additionally, they said they are investigating another 4 billion ringgit case.

He who wants to be the king

Najib's financial mystery is not sorted out yet.

Anwar Ibrahim compared Najib with French King Louis 16 and condemned that he is more like a king than a prime minister judging by his wealth and performances.

Najib bested Ahmad Badawi in 2008 election since the latter lost popular support over declining economy and uncontrolled corruption.

The promise of economic reform was Najib's selling point and he did well in his early days as the prime minister. The 1Malaysia scheme, which aimed to establish unity based on the nationalism, was his milestone. Alleviating poverty and public-centred projects were successful as the fruition of the scheme.

Therefore he won the 2013 election again and defeated his rival Ibrahim. But there were some confusion as Najib implemented a programme before the election that anyone who went to polling had the right to apply for citizenship. Through the programme, Najib won the election.

Blatant politics

After Malaysia’s elections in 2013, Najib Razak came to show his true colours. Now, his corruption scandal has become more noticeable.

Criticisms are being levelled at Malaysia’s declining economy, tax reform and 1MDB programme. Although the 1MDB plan met with success in its initial stage, Malaysia has now owed more than US$ 11.6 billion due to mismanagement. Meanwhile, there have been accusations that nearly US$ 700 million from the fund went to Najib Razak’s bank accounts.

Particularly, two out of five remittances to his accounts were made by a company related to the fund programme. Moreover, the money was remitted during the 2013 election period. The two remittances totalled US$ 681 million.

Political analysts say that such a case means blatant politics that has never existed in Malaysian history.

Malaysia progressed thanks to Najib Razak’s father Tun Razak and Mahathir Mohamad. During the tenure of Prime Minister Badawi, who Mahathir put trust in, the country experienced a barrel of corruption scandals and racial tension. Mahathir then supported Najib.

But now, Najib is following Badawi’s example. Mahathir publicly urged Najib to step down. But his calls could not overrule Najib’s power.

At the opening of Asean Foreign Ministers’ meeting before the regional forum, Najib Razak talked about efforts to push Asean at the top of the world. He could say so as he chairs Asean. But his political future will end if he is involved in Malaysia’s corruption scandals.  

The press conference of a coup general

On August 4, democratator Najib Razak delivered a speech. On August 5, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a Thai coup general held a joint press conference.

It was a significant press conference on the sidelines of the Asean regional forum and related meetings because it was jointly held by China that has mounting tension with the Philippines and Vietnam over the South China Sea dispute, and Foreign Minister General Tanasak Partimapragorn from the Thai military government.

The topic is about the content of Asean-China meeting. It is not strange that such a joint press conference took place because Thailand had acted as a coordinator between Asean and China for three years.

During the briefing, they recalled what they discussed in the regional forum and the issue of South China Sea. To sum up, they promised to speed up the implementation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

During the press conference, their mutual relations were coherent. Even before the reporters, the two showed far friendlier relations with each other and exchanged gifts. This reflects China’s stance on the Thai coup government. Meanwhile, the Thai general showed off their legitimacy in the Asean region.

The Asean foreign ministers discussed the issuance of a joint declaration on the South China Sea on August 5 but failed to complete it.

Some diplomats said the Philippines proposed to use the strongest word in the declaration to warn China but it was strongly rejected a member country that has close relations with China. They did not mention which country it was.

The joint declaration was published on August 6, just saying “grave concern” over the South China Sea issue.

North Korea’s warning

Another significant thing during the period of the Asean regional forum is also a press conference held by North Korea.

The forum is important for the security within the Asian region. The latest forum was attended by the US, EU, Russia and almost all the powerful Asian countries including China, Japan and South Korea. North Korea was also in attendance.

North Korea did not usually hold a press conference despite its attendance at the forum. But this year, North Korea held a press conference. It was held by Ri Tong-il, spokesperson of North Korean foreign minister. He is a former North Korean representative to the United Nations. Looking very stern, he used DPRK, the official abbreviation of his country.  

Unlike Japan and China, he made his clarification in English. He memorised and clarified what his foreign minister Ri Su-young had discussed at the forum.

After his clarification, Ri Su-young was asked questions by South Korean journalists in the Korean language. He asked them to question in English as among those present were foreign journalists. A South Korean journalist however asked a question in the Korean language. Ri Tong-il answered it in English.

With intent to respond to Americans, North Korea put blame on the US only at its press conference. He said its further nuclear test was up to the US stance. North Korea had no other choice, he said.

Ri Tong-il commented North Korea’s nuclear test is concerned with the security of his people and the dignity of his country.

North Korea has conducted a total of three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.  This time, they are preparing for a new style. Ri Tong-il also expressed its dissatisfaction with joint military exercises between the US and South Korean. He accused them of conducting more than 20,000 times of joint military exercises since 1954. He said they conduct it every day—365 times in 365 days.  His main subject at the press conference is North Korea’s plan to conduct a further nuclear test.

Empty resolutions

No tangible results emerged from the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Asean regional forum and related meetings held from August 1 to 6.

The brief discussions made this time will be brought to the Asean Summit scheduled in the last week of November.

What is significant at the forum is that dictators showed off their muscle.

Najib Razak said at the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that the Asean should not be hesitant to integrate into the world.

If despotism continues to reign, any country, not only the Asean, will get what they deserve.