Wednesday, June 06, 2018

A Catch-22 From China That Could Derail Indonesia's Widodo

To win votes, the Indonesian leader needs Chinese cash to build railways and ports. To build those railways and ports he needs to accept the Chinese workers who are losing him votes


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On his FIRST visit to Indonesia this month as president of China Railway Corp, Lu Dongfu could have been forgiven if he felt bemused at the delays bedevilling the US$6 billion (HK$47 billion) Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project that his company was helping build.

Disputes with landowners have meant work has only just started on several sites along the 150km route – three years after Lu's firm beat out Japanese rivals for the train line. By comparison, Lu said in January that the CRC would bring another 3,500km of high-speed rail into operation in China this year alone.

"He said he understands," said one Chinese reporter 
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accompanying Lu on a visit to a construction site near Jakarta's Halim Airport, where the excavation on tunnel No. 1 is now under way. The reporter did not want to be identified because he was discussing an off-the-record conversation. "He said it's never easy pushing infrastructure projects in democratic countries."

Such comments hint at a growing sensitivity on behalf of Chinese officials towards local laws. If so, that is good news for President Joko Widodo, who has staked his hopes of a second term partly on securing badly needed infrastructure investment from China.
What's made Indonesian students forget the China taboo?

As China has stepped up investment in Indonesia – and more Chinese have taken up jobs here – resentment has driven some locals to protest. That has left Widodo to balance his country's appetite for trains, ports and power plants with protecting local workers as he eyes re-election next April.

"Widodo's relationship with China is shaping up as an election issue," said Keith Loveard, senior analyst with Jakarta-based business risk firm, Concord Consulting. "The relationship with China could turn toxic for him."

So China appears to be cutting Widodo some slack. Without giving details, Li promised to rein in the number of Chinese workers building steel plants, infrastructure and even serving as tour guides in Bali. This week on the popular resort island of Bali, Indonesian tour guides swarmed the immigration office protesting against a surge in the number of Chinese nationals working in the same profession.

Meanwhile, local media reporting on the Morowali special economic zones in Central Sulawesi alleged thousands of illegal workers from China had arrived to help build a nickel smelter and mill capable of churning out 3 million tonnes of steel a year.
While the government has vowed to investigate the reports, the operation – owned by Bintangdelapan Group and China's Dingxin Group – has denied the existence of illegal workers.

With its parks and Dutch colonial architecture, Bandung is a popular weekend getaway.

But the train journey currently takes three and half hours and with heavy peak-hour traffic, car journeys can take twice as long.

Banks on board

When Li's project is complete, it is hoped high-speed trains will catapult up from sweltering Jakarta through 760 metres of mountainous terrain and tea plantations to the balmy hilltop city.
And although some Chinese designs propose a train that can top 350km/h, the four stops along the relatively short track mean it is unlikely to ever reach those speeds.

But the project is going full-steam ahead. Before Li's visit, which wrapped up on Tuesday, the China Development Bank disbursed US$170 million in loans to kick-start work on the technically challenging project – which was a campaign pledge of Widodo's successful 2014 leadership bid.

And by disbursing the funds, China has done Widodo a favour with voters who may be frustrated with the project's glacial progress, said Rene Pattiradjawane, a researcher at the Centre for Chinese Studies in Jakarta.

"China is trying to ensure that Jokowi's pledge is on track, so to speak," Pattiradjawane said, referring to Widodo's widely used nickname.

"The money is there and work is starting."

Rising resentment

But Widodo's reliance on Chinese investment risks backfiring amid the worker influx and the rising resentment it has caused.

China is Indonesia's third biggest investor behind Singapore and Japan. But according to government data, the number of Chinese nationals working in Indonesia has ballooned fivefold over the past decade to more than 24,000. That is nearly twice the number of workers from Japan, which comes a distant second and is the second largest investor.

Indonesia's health scheme dwarfs Obamacare. But there is a problem

Anti-China bias has a long history in Indonesia. Last year Jakarta's former governor, Basuki Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, was drummed out of office in an election that turned on religion and race. During his 2014 election bid, Widodo was the victim of smear campaigns alleging his grandfather was Chinese. And this month marks 20 years since rumours of Chinese merchants hoarding rice sparked deadly riots, killing an estimated 1,000.

"The Chinese are acknowledging the number of foreign workers is a huge number," Pattiradjawane said. "This is a statement they are going to do something."

Even so, Widodo cannot afford to drive too hard a bargain with the imported Chinese workers.

While work has started on the train, much of the president's infrastructure wish list remains unfulfilled with the country still chasing more than US$150 billion worth of investment earmarked for his current term. Meanwhile, his administration has pledged US$15 billion for this year alone.

Widodo has promised to spur economic growth to about 7 per cent from about 5 per cent now, in part by investing in infrastructure. But slow trains and tangled ports drive up costs. Indonesian manufacturers spend a quarter of their sales on logistics, according to the World Bank. In Thailand it's 15 per cent.

Promises for growth

Scott Younger, director of Jakarta based consultancy Nusantara Infrastructure, said that to reach Widodo's growth target, Indonesia needed to secure annual investment of about US$90 billion.

"Indonesia needs everything: ports, roads, rail, everything if it hopes to have faster rates of growth."

In April, Luhut Pandjaitan, the country's coordinating minister for maritime affairs, visited Beijing and scraped together about half the US$20 billion of investment he was seeking.

Nevertheless, Widodo has plenty of margin for error. Opinion polls put him in front of his most likely challenger, Prabowo Subianto, whom he beat in 2014 by double digits; inflation is under control; and the jobs that Chinese are said to be taking are largely in remote areas.

Even so, Widodo ignores the issue at his peril. "Any country would be upset," said Concord's Loveard. ■

Monday, April 16, 2018

What to know about the U.S.-led strikes in Syria


The U.S., U.K. and France launched strikes on Syria a week after U.S. President Donald Trump said there would be a "big price" to pay for the apparent use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the town of Douma, an attack that killed scores of civilians. Here's what we know and what's still to come:

1. What did they attack?
Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May released statements after the attack had begun, saying the missile strikes were focused on chemical weapons sites.

General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that naval and air forces struck three primary targets, including a chemical weapons research facility outside Damascus and a weapons storage area near Homs.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian war through activists on the ground, said installations belonging to the country's elite Republican Guards were also targeted. Russia's defense ministry said more than 100 cruise missiles were fired.

"This was not geared towards weakening Assad's conventional military capabilities," said Kamran Bokhari, a senior fellow with the Center for Global Policy in Washington. It was "a little more than the symbolic strike from last year but steering clear of any major operation."

2. How did Syria react?

Syria said the strikes failed to achieve their goal and breached international law. Syrian air defenses hit several incoming missiles, state-run media said. Analysts and diplomats said the strike was unlikely to shake Assad's hold on power or change the trajectory of the conflict.

The attack "was a victory for Syria," former lawmaker Sharif Shehadeh said by phone from Damascus. "Instead of weakening the government, it only made it stronger," he said. "Trump did it to save face."

Assad's allies, including Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah group, also condemned the strikes. Iran's Supreme Leader called the attack a crime and the country's Revolutionary Guard Corps said it gave "the resistance a more open hand," although it did not threaten to retaliate.

3. Are the attacks over?
May in her statement called it a "limited and targeted strike." U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that "right now, this is a one-time shot and I believe it has sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him." The U.K. Defense Ministry said the strikes were "successful."

Still, Trump warned in his televised address of a readiness to "sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents," though he didn't specify what that meant.

4. How did Russia respond?
Russia denounced the attacks as aggression against its ally, but there was no sign of an immediate military response.

"Our worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard," Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., wrote on Facebook. "Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible," he added, an apparent reference to Trump's mention of President Vladimir Putin in his speech.

The Kremlin released a statement from Putin saying the strike was an "act of aggression against a sovereign state which is in the front line in the fight against terrorism," and that there was no proof a chemical weapons attack had taken place.

The strikes appeared to have taken place far from Russia's bases near the Syrian coast. U.S. officials said they gave Russia no specific warnings of the attacks or the targets, but used the usual hotline with Moscow's military to ensure the airspace was clear. Still, French Defense minister Florence Parly told reporters that Russian authorities were warned ahead of time, as proof the action would be limited to specific targets.

French authorities said the allies don't seek any military escalation, nor confrontation with Russia. Macron, who called Putin on Friday to discuss the situation, still plans to travel to a security conference in St Petersburg in May, where they are expected to meet, an official said.

5. What about the U.K.?
May on Saturday made her case for action in the face of opposition from much of the public and the Labour Party, saying in a further statement it was highly likely Assad's regime had used chemical weapons.

"We would have preferred an alternative path, but in this case there was none," May said. "We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized."

She authorized the strikes without parliamentary backing and it's not clear she would have got it if she'd sought it. Parliament refused U.K. participation in a planned punitive raid on Syria in 2013, one of the reasons then-U.S. President Barack Obama called it off.

May will address Parliament — where she doesn't have a majority — next week. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong anti-war campaigner, has accused May of " waiting for instructions from President Donald Trump."

6. And Germany?
While Germany did not take part in the action against Syria, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday she supported steps taken by the allies.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Algeria military plane crash: 257 dead after military transport aircraft crashes near Algiers

Nearly 260 people including members of Western Sahara's Polisario independence movement were killed when an Algerian military plane crashed soon after takeoff, officials said.

TV footage showed crowds gathering around the smoking and flaming wreckage near the Boufarik military base, near the capital Algiers.

A line of white body bags could be seen on the ground next to what media said was a Russian Ilyushin transport plane

A total of 257 people died in the crash, the Algerian defence ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said 247 passengers and 10 crew members were killed.

A member of Algeria's ruling FLN party told the Ennahar TV station the dead included 26 members of Polisario, an Algerian-backed group fighting for the independence of neighbouring Western Sahara, a territory also claimed by Morocco in a longrunning dispute.

Dzair TV said five people were in a critical state, but it was unclear whether they were inside the plane when it crashed. 

Footage from the scene showed thick black smoke coming off the field, as well as ambulances and Red Crescent vehicles arriving at the site. 

The tailfin of a plane could be seen above olive trees, with smoke and flames rising from the wreckage.

Algerian soldiers oversee the wreckage of the military plane after it crashed in Boufarik,
near the Algerian capital, Algiers (AP)

Several witnesses told Ennahar TV they saw flames coming out of one of the planes' engines just before it took off. One farmer said some passengers jumped out of the aircraft before the accident. 

"The plane started to rise before falling," an unidentified man lying on what seemed to be a hospital bed told Ennahar TV. "The plane crashed on its wing first and caught fire." 

Farouk Achour, chief spokesman for the civil protection agency, said the plane was carrying soldiers.

He said some passengers were "extracted with deep burns caused by the fuselage catching fire." 

The cause of the crash remained unclear and an investigation has been opened, Algeria's defence ministry said.

The ministry said most of the victims were soldiers and their relatives and the victims' bodies were transported to the Algerian army's central hospital in the town of Ain Naadja for identification. 

More than 100 people dead after military plane crashes in Algeria
Samuel Osborne
More than 100 people were killed when an Algerian military plane crashed soon after takeoff. Emergency services ...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Audrey Young: Visiting leaders show disrespect by failing to share platform with Jacinda Ardern

By: Audrey Young

It was a shame that Barack Obama refused to allow any meaningful media opportunities on his trip to New Zealand but he had an excuse given that it was a private trip.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo had no such excuse. It was shameful that on a state visit he failed to present himself in some manner to the public of New Zealand.

When preparing for the visit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade raised the issue of holding a joint press conference alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but the Indonesians declined.

Ardern will be too diplomatic to describe it as an insult, but it is one.

When New Zealand leaders visit other countries, they are expected to behave according to the protocols and values of that country. The same should apply for visitors to New Zealand.

Two leaders fronting together and talking about the relationship is an implicit display of respect for the other leader and country.

The opposite applies. To decline to do so is implicitly disrespectful to Ardern and New Zealand.

The Government needs to send a swift message to Mfat that such events for future VIP visits must be raised not by invitation but in the context of an expectation.

It need not be expressed in terms of compulsion but an obligation except for exceptional circumstances.

If Ardern does not make this clear now, Mfat will continue to present it as a take-it-or-leave-it option for the visiting country to dictate.

The Widodo visit followed a high-level visit the previous week from Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, again during which no press conference was organised. 
These two examples should not set a pattern for the rest of her premiership.

Holding a joint public press event was an expectation for VIPs under both Helen Clark and John Key's leadership.

In 2001, when Clark was hosting the first Indonesia President to visit New Zealand in 29 years, Abdurrahman Wahid, he surprised everyone at their press conference by talking about the problems with corruption in his country's justice system, including the judiciary.

It was in the context of questions about justice for the killers of Private Leonard Manning, who was killed on patrol near the West Timor border.

Setting an expectation that VIPs front will definitely leave them open to questions about potentially sensitive areas, West Papua in the case of Widodo

But if they don't have the skill to handle those, maybe they should not be in politics.

It is not New Zealand or Mfat's job to protect VIPs from sensitive issues.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Accidents mar Indonesia's fast-and-furious infrastructure program

By ERWIDA MAULIA, Nikkei staff writer

Deadly 'construction failures' put Widodo in hot seat ahead of elections

Five workers were injured when a box girder they were installing collapsed at an LRT construction site in East Jakarta. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

A string of accidents is threatening to undermine Indonesian President Joko Widodo's signature infrastructure development drive. Though the causes remain unclear, the president's political rivals have seized on the problems ahead of local and presidential elections, blasting the administration for pushing projects too hastily.

Just a month after Widodo opened a railway connection to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, heavy rain triggered a landslide at a rail underpass near the airport on Feb. 5. Tumbling concrete and soil crushed a passing Honda Brio, killing the female driver and injuring the other passenger. Railway operations were suspended for three days.

The landslide occurred a day after a deadly accident at a construction site for a commuter rail line in Central Jakarta. A heavy crane fell over, killing four workers and injuring at least one other. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Widodo’s smoke and mirrors hide hard truths

Indonesian leader has become a master of the art of official obfuscation and embellishment with 2019 elections in his sights


Indonesian President Joko Widodo waves at an ASEAN summit event at Clark,
Pampanga, northern Philippines November 12, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Facilitated by a largely unquestioning media, Indonesian President Joko Widodo's government has become a master at the game of smoke and mirrors, which in its simplistic form is all about convincing the public that things are happening when they really aren't.

The protracted negotiations with US mining giant Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold are a good example, but going back to the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the deceptive game-playing has covered everything from beef to natural resources to infrastructure.

While not new, the official obfuscation and embellishment of the truth has become more apparent as the 2019 legislative and presidential elections approach and Widodo and his palace spin doctors perceive the need to display his accomplishments.

Yudhoyono played this game back in mid-2011 when the Australian government suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia over animal welfare issues, and Jakarta decided some payback was in order by ordering a ban of its own.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

China’s Creditor Imperialism

Chinese Garment Factory in Seegal | Image: Fibre2Fashion
Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will. As Sri Lanka's handover of the strategic Hambantota port shows, states caught in debt bondage to the new imperial giant risk losing both natural assets and their very sovereignty.

BERLIN – This month, Sri Lanka, unable to pay the onerous debt to China it has accumulated, formally handed over its strategically located Hambantota port to the UAsian giant. It was a major acquisition for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which President Xi Jinping calls the “project of the century” – and proof of just how effective China’s debt-trap diplomacy can be.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Syrian: “It was Never a Revolution nor a Civil War. The Terrorists are sent by U.S. Government"

Bashar Al Assad, Photo: Flicker

Three years ago (2014), “Majd” wrote these words on a Facebook posting:

”I am Syrian… living in Syria in the middle of everything. We have seen horrors. It was never a revolution nor a civil war. The terrorists are sent by your goverment. They are al Qaeda Jabhat al Nusra Wahhabi Salafists Talibans etc and the extremist jihadists sent by the West, the Saudis, Qatar and Turkey. Your Obama and whoever is behind him or above him are supporting al Qaeda and leading a proxy war on my country.

We thought you are against al Qaeda and now you support them.

The majority here loves Assad. He has never committed a crime against his own people… The chemical attack was staged by the terrorists helped by the USA and the UK,  etc. Everyone knows that here.

American soldiers and people should not be supporting barbarian al Qaeda terrorists who are killing Christians, Muslims in my country and everyone.

Every massacre is committed by them. We were all happy in Syria: we had free school and university education available for everyone, free healthcare, no GMO, no fluoride, no chemtrails, no Rothschild IMF- controlled bank, state owned central bank which gives 11% interest, we are self-sufficient and have no foreign debt to any country or bank.

Life before the crisis was so beautiful here. Now it is hard and horrific in some regions.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Syrian refugees respond to Hurricane by cooking feasts for displaced victims

Syrian refugees Abeer and Nora (Facebook/Sweet & Savory)
Two Syrian refugee sisters living in Georgia, USA, cooked an assortment of Middle Eastern dishes to welcome a group of 40 people affected by Hurricane Irma.

Abeer and Nora al-Sheikh Bakri, who fled their hometown of Douma in 2012 before resettling in Georgia in 2016, told Huffpost that they know what it’s like to lose everything, and thus felt "compelled" to help.

They drove for an hour to deliver the food to the Hamzah Islamic Center in Alpharetta, Georgia, where dozens of evacuees had taken refuge from the storm, the Huffpost reported.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Libya: Ten Things About Gaddafi They Don’t Want You to Know

This article was first published by Global Research in November 2014. Today Libya as a Nation State has been destroyed by US-NATO.

What do you think of when you hear the name Colonel Gaddafi? Tyrant? Dictator? Terrorist? Well, a national citizen of Libya may disagree but we want you to decide.

For 41 years until his demise in October 2011, Muammar Gaddafi did some truly amazing things for his country and repeatedly tried to unite and empower the whole of Africa.

So despite what you’ve heard on the radio, seen in the media or on the TV, Gaddafi did some powerful things that are not characteristic of a “vicious dictator” as portrayed by the western media.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Who are the Rohingya Muslims? The stateless minority fleeing violence in Burma

Rehingya Refugees,
They have often been called the most persecuted minority in the world. The 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims squeezed precariously into the north-west state of Rakhine, in mainly Buddhist Burma, bordering majority Muslim Bangladesh, are stateless and unwanted.

Neither country will give them citizenship even though their families’ roots in modern-day Rakhine, once called Arakan, can be traced back to the Eighth Century. 

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Survivors tell of mass killings, beheadings as Myanmar 'cleansing operation' underway

Photo: AP

By Lindsay Murdoch

Survivors have described mass killings, including beheadings of children, and arson attacks in a dramatic escalation of the Rohingya crisis that the United Nations warns could be a humanitarian catastrophe.

A 41-year-old witness told the rights monitoring group Fortify Rights he found his brother and other family members in a field after attacks by Myanmar security forces on the Rakhine state village of Chut Pyin in Ratheduang township.

"They had marks on their bodies from the bullets and some had cuts," he said.

"My two nephews, their heads were cut off. One was six years old and the other was nine years old. My sister-in-law was also shot with a gun."

A27-year-old survivor from the village told Fortify Rights "some people were beheaded and many were cut…when we saw that, we just ran out of the house".

"The situation is dire," said Matthew Smith, Fortify Rights' chief executive officer.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Burmese army of burning down villages and shooting Rohingya Muslim civilians

Credit: Independent/GettyImages
Activist groups have accused the Burmese army of burning down villages and shooting Rohingya Muslim civilians as part of a crackdown on insurgents in Rakhine state.

Violence has driven thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing towards Bangladesh for safety, along with a smaller exodus of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, where they face growing danger of sickness and attempts by the Bangladesh authorities to send them home.

The Burmese government has blamed Rohingya insurgents for the violence, including the arson.

Laura Haigh, Amnesty International's Burma researcher, said reports of villages being burned were "deeply disturbing."

Friday, August 25, 2017

North Korea is far richer in minerals than its southern counterpart

 North Korea Gold Reserve. Picture: YouTube
Mining currently only makes up 14 per cent of North Korea's economy – but the dictatorship may in fact be sitting on vast reserves of mineral wealth.

International sanctions imposed on the hermit kingdom in response to its nuclear tests should, in theory, be crippling its trade in minerals.

A March 2016 UN resolution banned the export of gold, vanadium, titanium, and rare earth metals from North Korea.

Another resolution in November capped production of coal and banned shipments of nickel, copper, zinc and silver.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jokowi Widodo Is In Error, the Inequality or the Poverty that is being grown out of?

Villagers in Indonesia, Picture Credit: World Bank
By Tim Worstall, contributor about economics, finance and public policy.

It's always slightly worrying when the ruler, or leader, of a place manages to get the basic diagnosis wrong, which is what I think is happening here with Jokowi in Indonesia. He's saying that the country needs a more equitable distribution of the wealth when that's not the problem at all, rather, there's not enough wealth to distribute. Thus the attention should be upon creation of more wealth rather than distributing the inadequate amount currently available. It's entirely possible that at some point the inequality becomes the greater problem but I severely doubt that this is so in Indonesia as yet:
Indonesia's president on Wednesday vowed a fairer distribution of the nation's wealth and a renewed commitment to protecting diversity after volatile months in which the country's reputation for tolerance was undermined by religious tensions and attacks on minorities.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Indonesian rights activists slam ‘repressive’ decree

JAKARTA: Civil organisations in Indonesia on Wednesday decried a move by the government to disband certain groups deemed to be in conflict with the state’s secular ideology.

The protests came after President Joko Widodo signed a decree on Monday widely believed to be aimed at containing the rise of hardline groups that call for syariah law in the world’s largest Muslimmajority country.

Poll Result
“This decree is proof that this regime is repressive, authoritarian, and even repeating what the New Order regime did,” Hizb-ut Tahrir Indonesia spokesman Ismail Yusanto said, referring to the rule of former strongman president Suharto.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why Do North Koreans Hate USA? One Reason — They Remember the Korean War.

“WHY DO THEY hate USA.?”

It’s a question that has bewildered Americans again and again in the wake of 9/11, in reference to the Arab and Muslim worlds. These days, however, it’s a question increasingly asked about the reclusive North Koreans.
Photo: Keystone/Getty Images via The Intercept
Let’s be clear: There is no doubt that the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea both fear and loathe the United States. Paranoia, resentment, and a crude anti-Americanism have been nurtured inside the Hermit Kingdom for decades. Children are taught to hate Americans in school while adults mark a “Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month” every year (it’s in June, in case you were wondering).