East Asia Forum http://www.eastasiaforum.org Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:00:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Aquino’s reformism hits a dead end http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/30/aquinos-reformism-hits-a-dead-end/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/30/aquinos-reformism-hits-a-dead-end/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:00:48 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43644 Author: Mark R. Thompson, City University of Hong Kong

Unlike his scandal-plagued predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo — who left office as the most unpopular post-Marcos president — it has long seemed that Benigno S. ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, could do no wrong. Aquino promised to take the ‘straight path’ (matuwid na daan) to clean up corruption. This, he said, would also eradicate poverty.

Aquino’s reforms were, at first, very successful. Economic growth accelerated to the highest among ASEAN nations. Corrupt politicians were held accountable — Arroyo was charged with plunder while Aquino’s congressional allies removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, a ‘midnight’ Arroyo appointee accused of obstructing Aquino’s anti-corruption drive. More people paid their taxes after a Bureau of Internal Revenue crackdown. And pro-administration candidates dominated mid-term congressional elections in 2013.

An effigy of Filipino president Benigno S. ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III is displayed as thousands of anti-corruption protesters march on the first year anniversary of an anti-graft street protest at a park in Manila, 25 August 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Credit rating agencies such as Fitch gave Aquino’s administration a vote of confidence as well, upping the country to investment grade. The Philippines steadily improved its ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, moving from 129th of 177 countries in 2011 to 105th in 2012 and to 94th last year. Aquino seemed to be moving fast along a ‘straight path’.

But over the past 12 months Aquino’s reform drive has run into a dead end.

In 2013, there were revelations that corrupt legislators employed fake non-governmental organisations (NGOs) set up by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and others to divert pork barrel funds into their own pockets. After initial hesitation, Aquino — seeking to limit the outcry from his middle class base — agreed to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that had been used to pay the fake NGOs.

Aquino was not initially blamed for this pork barrel scam — the president-appointed ombudsman indicted three opposition senators. But Aquino was accused of shielding his allies in Congress by limiting the Commission on Audit investigations of the scandal to before he took office in 2010. Aquino’s opponents also claimed that money had flowed to legislators to vote for Corona’s impeachment, trial and conviction.

In the absence of a strong party system, patronage has long been the only way for a president to ‘get things done’ in the Philippines. Fidel V. Ramos, generally considered the most successful reformist president before Aquino, was particularly adept at pork barrel spending to push through reforms.

Aquino’s artful concealment of the necessity for presidential pork was ‘outed’ when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on 1 July this year that major components of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) — which Aquino defended as a necessary instrument to quickly disperse unspent funds from other programs to higher priority projects — were unconstitutional.

Aquino lashed out at the Supreme Court in his penultimate State of the Union address, leading to fears that he would try to impeach its members (including his newly appointed chief justice) or slash its budget. Aquino also hinted that he might push for constitutional change to allow him to run for a second term, raising old fears of Marcos-style continuismo (continuing indefinitely in office).

But his congressional allies abandoned him both on his challenge to the Supreme Court and his call for constitutional change. His poll ratings have dipped sharply and Aquino — accustomed to high levels of popularity — now faces political isolation as a lame duck president.

Philippine politics appears to have gone through yet another case of a popular leader brought low by cascading scandals and failed promises. Aquino himself admitted his pledge to clean up the Bureau of Customs had failed miserably and recently appointed a new Custom’s chief to try again.

But in Aquino’s case, the fall from grace is particularly striking given his narrative of ‘good governance’. Graft remains, and Aquino’s family continues to resist the court-ordered land redistribution of his family’s huge plantation Hacienda Luisita.

Growth in the Philippines remains profoundly unequal.

Under Aquino, the Philippines has experienced impressive macro-economic growth, fuelled by remittances from the 10 per cent of the country’s population working abroad — often in menial jobs — and business process-outsourcing, primarily call centres that are largely foreign owned and can easily be moved to another country. While the service sector has boomed, agriculture — the economy’s biggest sector — has performed dismally.

Last year, economist Cielito Habito calculated that the growth in the aggregate wealth of the country’s 40 richest families in 2011 was equivalent to over three quarters of the increase in the country’s GDP that year . Unemployment, already the highest in ASEAN, has risen during much of Aquino’s presidency, while poverty has hardly dipped. Self-reported poverty has actually risen. Aquino has poured money into a Brazilian-style conditional cash transfer scheme that has met with some success but critics say he should concentrate instead on universal social services and creating jobs. The administration’s list of major completed infrastructural projects is also lean.

Vice President Jejomar Binay (who defeated Aquino’s vice presidential bet in 2010; presidential and vice-presidential candidates are elected separately in the Philippines) is widely seen as a leading contender in the 2016 presidential election — although his bid has been tarnished by a plunder case (for a supposedly overpriced parking garage said to involve payoffs) recently filed against him, which his supporters claim was instigated by Aquino allies.

Binay became a national political figure through his promotion of social welfare when mayor of Makati, Metro Manila’s business district. This suggests that Aquino’s inability to stick to the ‘straight path’ may have shifted the focus of the next campaign to the plight of the country’s poor who lack access to decent jobs, adequate education, health care and other social services.

Mark R Thompson is Director at the Southeast Asia Research Centre (SEARC) and Professor of Politics at the Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong.

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Cutting off Australia’s international television arm http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/30/cutting-off-australias-international-television-arm/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/30/cutting-off-australias-international-television-arm/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:00:13 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43639 Author: Ross Tapsell, ANU

What does the Australia Network’s closure and the launch of Sky News’ Australia Channel mean for Australian soft power?

Since their inception, Australia’s international media organisations have trodden a fine line between promoting Australia’s interests in the Asia Pacific region and upholding the values of the Fourth Estate which sees critical reporting of government as central to its role.

Initially, this debate surrounded the role of Radio Australia, which was established by the Australian government during WWII as a broadcasting service aimed at countering enemy propaganda, but by 1950, responsibility for Radio Australia was returned to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and declared free from government control. Yet, in that same year, the minister for external affairs, Percy Spender, wrote to ABC Chairman Richard Boyer: ‘I think it is important that Radio Australia be looked at as an instrument of foreign policy’.

This raised the question: can an international broadcasting operation be funded by the Australian government but not necessarily support its aims? The Australian media’s role in Indonesia has been central to this debate.

The Indonesia–Australia relationship is often described as Australia’s most important, and the broadcasting media seen as crucial to enhancing mutual understanding. During Indonesia’s New Order (1965–1998) Radio Australia often broadcast independent and controversial news throughout the archipelago, in particular, critical reports about Indonesian-occupied East Timor. Australian officials often had to placate Indonesian officials by explaining that Radio Australia was funded by the government but not beholden to them.

The debate over Radio Australia’s objectives continued until 1997, when the decision was made by then prime minister John Howard to drastically reduce its funding. That same year, the coalition government outsourced Australia’s international television station, Australia Television (established four years earlier), to the Seven Network — despite its impressive penetration in the region, which a Senate Committee concluded equalled that of CNN and the BBC. But the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 meant advertising dollars were not there for Seven, and after three years it stopped the service. Australia Network returned to the ABC, continuing to splutter along relatively underfunded, and was largely seen as a service for Australian expatriates to watch national sporting events.

By 2012, an internal ABC International Indonesia Review report stated that Australia ‘has a lack of brand recognition in Indonesia’. A key recommendation was to foster connections with Indonesian media organisations, and, in 2013, ABC International formed impressive and unique partnerships with Indonesian media companies, including Detik.com, Kompas Gramedia, Tempo, Republika Online and, more recently, the television conglomerate MNC Group. ABC provided these companies with Indonesian translations of content at no cost, so that more Australian news would enter the Indonesian media sphere. ABC International CEO Lynley Marshall said this showed ‘a new era of soft diplomacy’.

But in late 2013 relations between Australia and Indonesia reached their lowest point since the East Timor conflict of 1999 as news spread that Australia had tapped the phone of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and other senior Indonesian officials. As the story initially broke through the ABC, its international arm was able to provide Indonesian news partners with details of the story in the Indonesian language.

This infuriated many Australian government officials and some commentators who believed that ABC International was exacerbating bilateral tensions. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said later on talkback radio that the ABC ‘seemed to delight in broadcasting allegations by a traitor, [Snowden]’.The situation was further exacerbated in January 2014 when the ABC’s Jakarta correspondent reported claims (including photographs) that asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia by boat had possibly had their hands burnt by the Australian Navy. The claims, which were emphatically denied by the head of the navy, were broadcast on Australia Network throughout the region.

It was soon clear that Australia Network’s A$223 million ($US195 million) funding (over 10 years) would be cut from the budget. At the time it was broadcasting in 46 different countries. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had argued that it was not fulfilling the Australian government’s foreign policy objectives as a ‘tool of public diplomacy’ and questions surrounded ‘whether it is meeting the goal of promoting Australia’s interests overseas’.

Earlier this month, as Australia Network began to shed its staff, it was announced that Sky News (owned by BSkyB and the Seven and Nine Networks) would launch the new Australia Channel. This will be facilitated in conjunction with broadcast provider Globecast Australia. Sky News had missed out on securing Australia Network in 2011, when the then Labor government decided to abort a bungled tender process and leave Australia’s international media arm with the ABC. Sky News is part-owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose newspapers’ support for the Liberal-National Coalition in the 2013 Federal Election was clearly evident. But as Sky News was ‘Australia’s only 24-hour business channel’, it claimed it will ‘help promote Australian culture … [and] showcase Australian industry and Australia as an investment destination’. Its chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos said ‘it shows good outcomes in the national interest don’t necessarily have to be delivered by a government-funded broadcaster’.

Sadly, arguments that a free and critical media were good for promoting Australia’s national interest in the region largely fell on deaf ears. The similarities between the long-debated role of Radio Australia and the recent culling of Australia Network shows how the precise purpose of Australia’s international broadcasters is unlikely to be resolved while officials believe there is a dichotomy between the Fourth Estate and ‘soft diplomacy’.

Australia Network’s closure impacts the reach of Australia’s international news service, and comes at a time when larger international broadcasting organisations are partnering with Indonesian media companies. For example, CNN partners with local media conglomerate TransCorp, while Bloomberg partners with VisiNews Asia. Other well-funded international broadcasters such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Al Jazeera continue to increase their Indonesian language services. Australia Channel has stated they are not a replacement for Australia Network and is focusing initially on providing a service to Australian expatriates to gain subscriber fees.

But, if they are Australia’s sole international broadcasting channel, do they plan to go to the government for financial assistance in the future? And, if so, has the line between the role of soft diplomacy and a free and critical media been blurred even further?

Dr Ross Tapsell is a lecturer at the School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University.

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The two faces of Thai authoritarianism http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/29/the-two-faces-of-thai-authoritarianism/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/29/the-two-faces-of-thai-authoritarianism/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43634 Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Thai politics has completed a dramatic turn from electoral authoritarianism under deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001–2006 to a virtual military government under General Prayuth Chan-ocha. These two sides of the authoritarian coin, electoral and military, represent Thailand’s painful learning curve. The most daunting challenge for the country is not to choose one or the other but to create a hybrid that combines electoral sources of legitimacy for democratic rule and some measure of moral authority and integrity often lacked by elected officials.

A decade ago, Thaksin was practically unchallenged in Thailand. He had earlier squeaked through an assets concealment trial on a narrow and questionable vote after nearly winning a majority in the January 2001 election. A consummate politician and former police officer, Thaksin benefited from extensive networks in business and the bureaucracy, including the police and army.

In politics, his Thai Rak Thai party became a juggernaut. It devised a popular policy platform, featuring affordable universal healthcare, debt relief and microcredit schemes. It won over most of the rural electorate and even the majority of Bangkok. Absorbing smaller parties, Thai Rak Thai virtually monopolised party politics in view of a weak opposition.

Thaksin penetrated and controlled supposedly independent agencies aimed at promoting accountability, particularly the Constitutional Court, the Election Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission. His confidants and loyalists steered these agencies. His cousin became the army’s Commander-in-Chief. His police cohorts were fast-tracked to senior positions, including his brother-in-law, who became national police chief. Similarly, Thaksin’s business allies and associated partners secured plum concessions and choice government procurement projects.

After his landslide victory in February 2005, Thaksin became the first prime minister to be re-elected and to preside over a government composed only of one party. But his virtual monopoly on Thai politics and accompanying hubris inevitably got the better of him. Making a lucrative business out of politics led to his demise in the September 2006 military coup. Thaksin’s rule was democratic on paper but authoritarian in practice.

Yet Thaksin’s legacy is already strong. His subsequent proxy governments in 2008 and 2011–2014, under his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, were politically paralysed by anti-Thaksin street protests. When Yingluck looked poised to complete her term, Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party came up with a blanket amnesty bill that upended her government, assisted by the independent agencies that had turned against Thaksin in the 2006 coup. The putsch on 22 May 2014 was merely the knock-out blow on an ineffectual administration that was not allowed to govern.

Now the pendulum has swung to the other, authoritarian end. General Prayuth now heads a regime with no democratic pretences, ruling with absolute power. His is a military government both on paper and in practice. The tone of the 22 May coup clearly signalled that the military would dominate politics, epitomised by the general himself becoming prime minister.

Prayuth’s allies under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have now taken key portfolios relating to the Thai economy and society, foreign affairs and internal security. The structure of power under the NCPO is clear.

Two months after seizing power, the NCPO rolled out an interim constitution and appointed a National Legislative Assembly (NLA). Today the NLA is filled not with business cronies and spouses of politicians but with military classmates and siblings, who in turn chose Prayuth as prime minister. The caretaker prime minister then selected his cabinet, more than one third of which is military. The National Reform Council (NRC) will soon be formed, leading to a constitution-drafting committee, which will be nominated by the NRC, NLA, cabinet and NCPO.

Like a politburo, the NCPO is thus the nexus of this interim governing structure, comprising the NLA, cabinet, and NRC. This monopoly of power is reminiscent of the Thaksin juggernaut a decade ago. It was a parliamentary dictatorship then as it is now. But the fundamental difference is that the current authoritarian period completely bypassed the electorate.

Prayuth enjoys the same immense personal popularity as Thaksin did. His no-nonsense state of the nation speeches have been to the point and delivered in appealing tones. The NCPO’s anti-corruption campaign is popular and would certainly score more points if it dared to aim at higher-up corruption schemes and concessions, not just low-hanging fruits like extortion rackets that run motorcycle taxis and the state lottery.

Prayuth and the NCPO also benefit from the fact that public expectations started from a low base. After six months of anti-government street protests and policy paralysis, the coup was a relief. Everyone had to make do with the coup because there was no initial alternative in the face of continuing martial law. But reality will start to bite as the military-dominated government starts its day-to-day work. The next 14 months of the NCPO’s timetable to return to democratic rule may be long and hard.

The military-backed government faces a tall order dealing with the grievances and expectations of a neglected electorate. Those who spoke out against the political monster that the Thaksin regime eventually became must now be wary of the potential for the military-backed government setting on a similar path. Unaccountable power with absolute authority and direct rule is inadvisable in Thailand. Past experiences in the 1960s, early 1970s and 1991–1992 have shown that such governments eventually end in tears.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak teaches International Political Economy and is Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

A version of this article was earlier published here in The Straits Times.

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Modi connects with the American dream http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/29/modi-connects-with-the-american-dream/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/29/modi-connects-with-the-american-dream/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 02:00:47 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43625 Author: Peter Drysdale, East Asia Forum

Before his election to India’s prime ministership, Narendra Modi was persona non grata in the United States because of his alleged complicity in the ethnic violence in Gujarat of 2002 in which 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus died, 2500 people were injured, and 223 more were reported missing. Though a subsequent Indian Supreme Court investigation in 2012 cleared him of complicity in the violence, Modi was still banned from entering the United States, a decision taken by the previous US administration but not lifted by Obama until after Modi’s election.

Yet there is perhaps no Indian prime minister who connects with the American dream in terms of life-forging experience or national aspiration more than Modi. His rise from lower caste origins, the son of a tea-stall vendor, to the top job may be the stuff of Indian soap opera, but it also could have come straight from Hollywood. His success in winning such a huge mandate from a wide cross section of the Indian electorate, whatever baggage he carried from the Hindu nationalist right, is a heart-warming story of the triumph of a social underdog over the political establishment — a story that resonates well in America.

As curtain-raisers to this week’s events in New York and Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel visited Delhi last month, proclaiming India as an ‘indispensable partner for the 21st century’ and the visit as a ‘transformative moment’ in the relationship.

Yet there is much still to be sorted in India’s relationship with the United States. Ostensibly, Modi’s ambitions to boost the Indian economy could be a powerful kick-start to improving Indo–US ties. But despite the aspirations of its new leadership, India’s commitment to economic openness is coming from way behind and the Obama administration, like most of the international policy community, remains deeply disaffected by India’s protectionist economic policies which continue to make it difficult for US companies to invest and do business more widely in India. The goal of US$500 billion bilateral trade a year, declared on the Kerry visit, will remain a pipedream unless India changes policy direction more sharply than Modi has been able in his first 100 days.

As C Uday Bhaskar puts it, ‘The US may not be able to make any large fiscal commitment to Modi, as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and to an extent China’s President Xi Jinping have been able to during their recent meetings with Modi. However, given the size of the US economy and the complementarities with India, the Obama–Modi meeting may yield fruit on the issues of trade and technology transfers. Indian red-tape and complex bureaucratic procedures do not make India an attractive business destination and it remains to be seen how Modi will be able to convince his interlocutors, both US corporate and political leaders, that India is now moving from “red tape to red carpet”, as Modi put it in Tokyo’.

There have been modest moves to lift investment restrictions — the decisions to raise the limit on foreign direct investment to 49 per cent in the insurance sector and to open up the defence sector to foreign investment have been welcomed by American investors — and there is great potential through increasing investment in infrastructure, growing the manufacturing industry, modernising the military and attracting more foreign investment. But it has been, perhaps understandably, a slow start. Progress towards the bilateral investment treaty which the United States wants will not be easy nor will it be easy to resolve issues over liability laws relating to nuclear trade.

The Modi government’s torpedoing the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has seriously damaged international confidence in its ‘Made in India’ strategy. Reneging on its commitment to implement the WTO’s Bali deal on trade facilitation is seen by some in India as a tough assertion of domestic over foreign priorities but in the international policy and business communities it’s universally seen as a betrayal of the promise of a more coherent national development strategy. In American diplomatic language, it was a ‘confusing signal'; feelings underneath the diplomatic language are close to unprintable.

Also commenting on Modi’s visit, Sourabh Gupta urges India to re-join the global consensus on multilateral trade. ‘When Prime Minister Modi greets President Obama (tomorrow)’, Gupta writes, ‘he should convey that India will withdraw its hold on the trade facilitation agreement protocol with immediate effect….(and) that New Delhi will embrace a good faith effort to finding a permanent solution to the public food provisioning impasse on the Bali timeline — while reserving the option to inject pressure points on the multilateral trade system if the inverted, and unjust, features of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture are not revised’.

The Obama administration is also trying to mobilise Indian participation in the Asian security arrangements as a counterweight to China. This is likely to be difficult for two reasons: it will be difficult to reconcile with Modi’s pluralist diplomacy; and US objectives themselves remain unclear. Modi has made it clear that China, Japan and Russia are important partners for India and has sought to deepen bilateral relations with them. The structure of India’s growing if awkward relations with China were on full display when Xi Jinping paid an unusually early visit to Delhi last month. Modi is looking to chart his own partnership with Beijing based on a thriving economic partnership and is unlikely to take an overtly anti-China stance. In his former role as chief minister for Gujarat, Modi achieved a significant level of Chinese investment in his state and the Xi visit promises to up that across the country. The United States wishes to re-establish its ‘influence’ in Asia but for what purposes, apart from muscling up to China, is not entirely clear.

There is much in Modi’s vision of an India that can look out and compete in the world in which the United States can rejoice. A subtle conception of US diplomatic interests would also sensibly include India’s finding its way with China as well as the other major economic powers in Asia in that. And his US visit and the G20 summit in Australia next month are important opportunities for Modi to articulate a coherent and comprehensive development vision and a policy framework that outlines his policy priorities and the measures that he will take to boost international confidence in the future of the Indian economy.

Peter Drysdale is Editor of the East Asia Forum.

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Obama and Modi must cook up a solution on food subsidies and the WTO http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/28/obama-and-modi-must-cook-up-a-solution-on-food-subsidies-and-the-wto/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/28/obama-and-modi-must-cook-up-a-solution-on-food-subsidies-and-the-wto/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 12:00:40 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43613 Author: Sourabh Gupta, Samuels International

The young Narendra Modi government has not covered itself in glory on the international trade policy front.

At the second ministerial meeting of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations in late August, New Delhi proposed a jaw-droppingly low rate of trade liberalisation for industrial goods. Its insistence earlier this year at the WTO on re-negotiating the ministerial decision on public stockholding for food security purposes has halted the December 2013 Bali Package in its tracks and thrown the Doha Development Agenda into further disarray. India’s obstinacy is tactless: trade facilitation is the least objectionable element of trade liberalisation imaginable. New Delhi must reverse course forthwith and re-join the global consensus on multilateral trade.

When Prime Minister Modi greets President Obama in the Oval Office on Tuesday, he should convey that India will withdraw its hold on the trade facilitation agreement protocol with immediate effect, and that New Delhi will in good faith find a permanent solution to the public food provisioning impasse on the Bali timeline — while reserving the option to apply pressure on the multilateral trade system if the inverted, and unjust, features of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture are not revised.

As per the domestic support pillar of the 1994 Uruguay Round agriculture agreement, public stockholding programs for food security purposes in developing countries are exempt from subsidy reduction commitments so long as the accumulation of such stocks is undertaken at prevailing market prices and corresponds to transparent and predetermined food security targets. If domestic procurement is undertaken at a support/acquisition price that exceeds the market price, a price differential multiplied by the eligible production procured is treated as a trade distorting subsidy and assessed towards that country’s aggregate measure of support ceiling. Most developing countries, including India, voluntarily notified a zero aggregate support measure — meaning that they would limit their trade-distorting domestic support, if any, to a 10 per cent de minimis ceiling on an individual product-specific basis.

For Uruguay Round agricultural agreement accounting purposes, however, once the support/acquisition price exceeds the market price, the unit price differential is not calculated using the global market price as the base. Instead it is calculated using an external reference price that is out of date (it uses a base period of 1986–88) and out of touch with domestic rates of food inflation.

The perverse net effect of this skewed accounting is that even though India’s recent support prices for rice and wheat are a bare smidgeon above the international market price, because this latter price is substantially above the 1986–88 base price, the measured subsidy bill has breached or is close to breaching the 10 per cent product-specific de minimis ceiling. The rollout of the Indian government’s gargantuan national food security program will shatter whatever ambiguity remains on this accounting front, even if domestic procurement prices remain almost at par with international prices. This is a travesty: so long as stocks do not leak overseas, New Delhi’s food provisioning program does not in principle distort international markets.

In the meantime, US support for its sugar sector in 2011 exceeded the (5 per cent) product-specific de minimis ceiling eight times over, yet due to the high bindings notified in its non-product-specific subsidies category, Washington was able to shunt the excess trade-distorting sugar support to this latter category and still remain within its Uruguay Round Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) ceilings. The scale of the United States’ post-Uruguay Round rice and wheat subsidies, too, aside from being the decisive factor in ensuring their commercial viability, has depressed international market prices. This upside-down state of play — permissible trade-distorting subsidies hoarded primarily by the rich and powerful, with a fallback option to switch between product and non-product specific support — must not be allowed to stand. The quibbling on the banks of Lake Geneva on this must end.

When President Obama meets Prime Minister Modi, he should make clear that his administration will support the effort to update the WTO agriculture agreement’s external reference price using a 3-year or 5-year rolling average price, or, alternatively, forgo the counting of food stocks that are transparently acquired and released at reasonable administrative prices in low-income countries for food security purposes from AMS calculations altogether. This latter option is no giveaway; the Doha Round agriculture negotiations chair, Crawford Falconer, offered a ‘clean’ (implying there were no differences among members) modalities text in December 2008 that had affirmed the same. A work program which pares down trade-distorting non-product specific subsidies by dividing up country-wise aggregate measures of supports on a product-by-product basis and then applies maximum reduction commitments to the most subsidy-reliant items, should also be initiated.

Equally, Modi on his return to New Delhi should ensure that his government’s administered price purchases of grain are synchronised with the requirements of the public distribution system and food security needs. They are vastly in excess of requirements currently. He should also gradually disentangle support for producers from protection for consumers by hastening the rollout of his predecessor’s electronic direct benefits transfer scheme. This will minimize the large illegal diversions of subsidized grains to the open market. In the interim, he should contemplate transferring a fraction of the market value of production in the form of cash payments to farmers. Cash subsidies, as opposed to price supports as per WTO rules, are calculated using the market price, not the external reference price.

Democratic societies have not done a terribly good job of reconciling rural livelihood interests with multilateral trade liberalisation. In the late 1940s, the discriminatory application of US import quotas linked to domestic price supports adversely tipped the balance in the negotiations on the stillborn International Trade Organization’s charter. In July 2008, the discord between the US and India over the special safeguard mechanism for smallholders was a proximate cause of the breakdown in the Doha round of trade negotiations. Obama and Modi must not let this history go on repeating itself.

Sourabh Gupta is a Senior Research Associate at Samuels International Associates, Inc and an EAF Distinguished Fellow.

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The Modi show visits the United States http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/28/the-modi-show-visits-the-united-states/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/28/the-modi-show-visits-the-united-states/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 01:21:59 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43607 Author: C Uday Bhaskar, Society for Policy Studies

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has begun his maiden visit to the USA this week. He will visit Washington on Monday for his first summit level meeting with US President Barack Obama.

The trip offers the chance for Modi to project himself as a global leader with a distinctive vision and clear objectives. In an extensive interview with CNN on the eve of his visit, Modi held forth on a range of issues, ranging from terrorism and the challenge of radical ideologies to the rise of China. Some of these themes will be elucidated in greater detail as the trip progresses.

Modi will be able to project his impressive political profile in New York. Billed as a major public event with an estimated crowd of almost 20,000 people, it will draw many of the Indian diaspora. In keeping with his ability to harness communication technology effectively the event will also be live streamed to other cities in the US and India. It is not often that a foreign leader is able to attract such large numbers at a public event and the sub-text of the relevance of the Indian diaspora in domestic US politics is discernible — albeit in a subtle manner. Politics is the art of managing spectacle and the Modi visit did not disappoint. But the Washington part of the Modi visit will be more sober than the General Assembly speech. Politically, the real contrast will be between a confident Indian prime minister and a beleaguered US president.

Until recently the US had denied a visa to Narendra Modi — then chief minister of Gujarat — and it was only after his emphatic electoral victory that Washington reviewed this imprudent decision. To his credit, Modi — who cannot be accused of a poor memory — has not appeared to have allowed this issue to mar his perception of the US. Modi will have a wide range of issues that he wishes to discuss. The India–US bilateral relationship has been moribund since 2008 due to the global economic downturn and the domestic political constraints associated with the Manmohan Singh government in its second term (2009–14).

The US may not be able to make any large fiscal commitment to Modi, as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and to an extent China’s President Xi Jinping have been able to during their recent meetings with Modi. However, given the size of the US economy and the complementarities with India, the Obama–Modi meeting may yield fruit on the issues of trade and technology transfers. Indian red-tape and complex bureaucratic procedures do not make India an attractive business destination and it remains to be seen how Modi will be able to convince his interlocutors, both US corporate and political leaders, that India is now moving from ‘red tape to red carpet’, as Modi put it in Tokyo.

In light of the recent visit of President Xi to India and the manner in which PLA troops flexed their muscle, enhancing India’s comprehensive military capability will figure high on Modi’s agenda. India and the US signed a comprehensive defence cooperation agreement in June 2005 but it has remained on the backburner for almost a decade. The recent visit of US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to Delhi drew attention to the considerable potential that this sector offers. With luck, the Modi–Obama meeting will infuse much-needed political traction into this aspect of the bilateral relationship.

Regional and global security issues such as the future status of Afghanistan, the turmoil in Pakistan and the threat posed by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State will figure, but it is unlikely that there will be any consensus given the divergent views that Delhi and the White House have had about the role of Pakistan’s military and its links with terrorist groups.

Perhaps the one area where the two leaders will have a relatively candid conversation is about managing the assertiveness of China, particularly in relation to territoriality. Will China abide by international law and customary practice in the South China Sea, for example?

The relationship between India and United States has great potential, and the meeting between Obama and Modi could very well herald the start of a more productive bilateral relationship.

C Uday Bhaskar is Director of the Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi.

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Protecting pluralism in India’s media market http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/27/protecting-pluralism-in-indias-media-market/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/27/protecting-pluralism-in-indias-media-market/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 12:00:31 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43601 Authors: Suzanne Rab and Alison Sprague, London

Competition and diversity in media and communications are fundamental to a healthy economy and democracy. This has been clear in India in recent years. In May 2014 the Indian Law Commission — seeking to tighten media ownership regulation — issued a consultation paper to resurrect controversial reform proposals of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). In India and internationally there is no consensus on the exact manner and scope of interventions that are appropriate to protect competition and pluralism in media markets.

Regulation of media ownership is often justified on two main grounds. The first is to ensure that economic power does not become concentrated in the hands of a particular entity, which may raise prices above their market-competitive level or reduce quality or innovation. The second argument is to safeguard media pluralism (varying viewpoints and opinions), creating an environment which is conducive to freedom of expression.

Most agree media pluralism is a ‘good thing’. But India, or indeed any other democracy that seeks to regulate this area, has not decided how many viewpoints make a sufficient plurality.

On 15 February 2013 the TRAI released a consultation paper on issues relating to ownership — particularly cross-ownership — of the media. In its statement on the launch of the consultation, the TRAI observed that media markets in India are undergoing changes that it believed may have significant implications for competition and consumer choice in the sector.

The TRAI posed a number of detailed questions largely covering possible methods to regulate media ownership. Among the more controversial consultation issues were: first, whether it would be appropriate to have a ‘one out of three rule’ where companies can only run one media outlet, such as radio or TV, in a single area; second, whether it would be appropriate to restrict an entity’s ownership of a media outlet to a certain level (say 20 per cent); and third, whether any entity should be allowed to have an interest in both broadcasting and distribution.

But the TRAI has not, as yet, set out a discussion of identified problems in media markets in India today or made explicit the policy objectives that need to be fulfilled: there is an absence of a problem statement beyond data and market analysis which predated the consultation by almost four years. Moreover, the TRAI did not appear to have considered the costs and benefits of the various interventions it was considering.

These are serious omissions.

It was also concerning that while the TRAI acknowledged convergence, it did not discuss its implications for technology, networks, services and, fundamentally, regulation. A similarly ill-considered approach was also taken by the TRAI in the narrower 2013 consultation on monopoly and market dominance in cable TV. The UK media ownership regime was presented as a ‘poster child’ for regulation. In some instances, measures that the UK has now rejected in favour of a more liberal approach were promoted.

India certainly has plenty of international inspiration and examples from which to borrow — or reject. The challenge is how to cut through the morass of rules and create something that works for India and that addresses its specific challenges. If one of the biggest concerns is political control of the press, then a remedy that targets that may well be warranted. However, it is questioned whether a wholesale importation of plurality regulation, which has not necessarily been workable elsewhere, is a proportionate solution, at least in the absence of an assessment of the alternatives.

Competition law can go a long way in ensuring that one voice does not use its economic and political power to crowd out other viewpoints. However, a level of consensus is emerging that media pluralism and competition are distinct and that there is, in principle, a regulatory ‘gap’ where competition law alone cannot address some of the challenges presented by individuals or groups using their influence to distort the media.

The question, then, is how to plug that gap? This may call for tighter restrictions on the types of entities that can control the media such as political parties or government agencies. However, it will be important to ensure that any additional controls do not result in replacing one form of objectionable control with another.

It is difficult to be too enthusiastic about a total rewrite of India’s media regulation to ban any form of market expansion across the media supply chain or a blanket threshold on the level of ownership interest — at least without more detailed inquiry as to what economic or other considerations dictate that approach.

Suzanne Rab is a barrister specialising in competition law, EU law and regulation at Serle Court Chambers.

Alison Sprague is an economist specialising in media with CEG Europe.

Suzanne and Alison are co-authors of the book, Media Ownership and Control: Law, Economics and Policy in an Indian and International Context’, published by Hart Studies in Competition Law in July 2014.

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The ASEAN Economic Community’s labour policy needs work http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/27/the-asean-economic-communitys-labour-policy-needs-work/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/27/the-asean-economic-communitys-labour-policy-needs-work/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 00:00:45 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43592 Author: Sanchita Basu Das, ISEAS

Driven by the looming 2015 deadline, discussion is heating up about the impact ASEAN’s Economic Community (AEC) will have on employment. Set to begin on 31 December 2015, the AEC envisions ASEAN as a single market and production base characterised by the free flow of goods, services, investments and the freer flow of capital and skills. Two key factors will affect the region’s employment prospects.

Indonesian workers at a construction site in Jakarta, 03 September 2014. A recent publication by the International Labour Organization and the Asian Development Bank on six ASEAN countries found that, with the AEC in place, jobs in agriculture; trade; transportation; and construction would increase in all six countries by 2025.(Photo: AAP).

First, structural change in the domestic economies of ASEAN’s member countries will impact the labour market, as trade integration leads member countries to reallocate resources from less productive to more productive economic activities. And some occupations are likely to grow as the ASEAN integration process progresses.

This kind of structural change, and changing employment dynamics, has occurred in the past. During the last two decades, ASEAN saw a decline in employment in agriculture, which has mainly been compensated by gains in the services sector. Currently, while agriculture accounts for 40 per cent of total employment, industry accounts for 19 per cent and services 41 per cent.

But this regional generalisation masks cross-country variations. Today, agriculture remains the largest employer for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, while services sector employment plays an important role in Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

A recent publication by the International Labour Organization and the Asian Development Bank on six ASEAN countries — Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — found that with the AEC in place, jobs in agriculture; trade; transportation; and construction would increase in all six countries by 2025. Vietnam would gain six million additional jobs, Indonesia 1.9 million and Cambodia 1.1 million. But, for these economies, job losses would be felt in food processing, private services and mining industries.

Another impact of the AEC on the labour market could also be a shift in demand for particular occupations. The largest absolute demand is likely to be for low- and medium-skill jobs, though there will also be demand for high-skill jobs.

The establishment of Mutual Recognition Arrangements (MRAs) for professional services will also affect employment in the region. MRAs will promote the flow of skilled labour. Member states have adopted a framework for MRAs for seven professions — engineering, architecture, nursing, accountancy, surveying services, medicine and dentistry. MRAs will allow each member country to recognise education, experience, licences and certificates granted in other countries.

But so far, only the skills of architects and engineers — who are registered with the professional regulatory body both in their home countries and at the regional level — will receive cross-border recognition.

But with the MRAs, effective movement and the subsequent benefits will be limited as domestic rules and regulations governing these professions still apply.

For example, in Malaysia, foreign engineers have to be licensed by the Board of Engineers for specific projects and must be sponsored by the Malaysian company carrying out the project. The Malaysian company must further demonstrate to the Board of Engineers that they are not able to find a domestic engineer for the job. A foreign engineer in Malaysia must also be a registered engineer in his or her home country, have a minimum of 10 years experience and must have a physical presence in Malaysia for at least 180 days in one calendar year.

Similarly, for architects to become fully licensed, most countries impose restrictions on residency or nationality. Foreign architects are often allowed to work on a project-based basis and, in most cases, employers have to submit proof that an equivalent national professional is not available for the job.

Domestic regulations will also limit the cross-border movement of nurses. For example, in order for a Filipino nurse to practise in Thailand, the candidate must pass the national licensure exam in Thai. As for the surveying profession, the MRA only provides the enabling framework of broad principles for further bilateral and multilateral negotiations among ASEAN member states. MRAs will be unable to provide greater mobility unless they address the domestic rules and regulations of ASEAN economies.

The advent of the AEC will not immediately change the ASEAN labour market. Over time, economic integration may cause structural changes and with that changes in employment scenarios. But policymakers will have enough transition time to address issues in their domestic economies.

The AEC may result in higher welfare, wages and employment. But it is expected that these benefits will be distributed unevenly among countries, sectors and genders. To address this, coordinated and coherent policies will be needed at both regional and national levels to ensure inclusive and fair outcomes. Policymakers should also continue with their efforts to ensure quality education and training in their economies as ASEAN strives to remain competitive and to develop itself as a regional production base in the future.

Sanchita Basu Das is a Fellow and Lead Researcher in Economic Affairs at the ASEAN Studies Centre, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore.

A version of this article was first published here in The Straits Times on 4 August 2014.

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Japan may not be such an easy pushover on nuclear deal with India http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/26/japan-may-not-be-such-an-easy-pushover-on-nuclear-deal-with-india/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/26/japan-may-not-be-such-an-easy-pushover-on-nuclear-deal-with-india/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 12:00:25 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43593 Author: David Brewster, ANU

In recent weeks we have seen the ‘bromance’ between India and Japan reach new heights. Earlier this month, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tokyo amid media hype of a special relationship, and even a de facto alliance, between the two countries. There is talk of a special ‘personal chemistry’ between Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and much was made of the claim that Modi was one of only three people that Abe follows on Twitter.

We are told, among other things, that India will receive 3.5 trillion yen (US$28 billion) in Japanese investment, that Japan will build bullet trains for India and that India will become a major new supplier of rare earth minerals to Japan. There have been important developments on the security front, including plans for expanded security dialogues and the prospect of more naval exercises. We were also told that there were imminent deals on the sale of US-2 amphibious aircraft to the Indian Navy and on the supply of Japanese nuclear technology to India.

The subtext of this friendship is of course China, as the two major regional powers find common cause against their huge neighbour. To some in New Delhi, these developments represent steps towards a long-held dream of a multipolar world in which India and Japan can work together as Asian partners — perhaps one day without the ‘third wheel’ of the United States.

Well, not so fast — deals on the US-2 aircraft and the supply of nuclear technology face significant problems which may take quite some time to work through. We need to be careful about the rhetoric, particularly from some in the Indian media, far exceeding the reality. While there are good reasons to expect a closer strategic alignment between India and Japan in the long term, there are also many political, institutional and cultural obstacles that will make that road a long and rocky one. Building the relationship will likely take considerable time and patience on both sides.

Through much of the 20th century, the relationship between India and Japan was cordial, if somewhat distant. Since the end of the Cold War, one of the biggest areas of disagreement has been in the nuclear realm. Japan has long been a leading supporter of international norms against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India is one of the few major countries in the world that is not a party to either the NPT or the CTBT, arguing that the international non-proliferation system ‘discriminates’ against it. In 1998, Japan and Australia led international condemnation of India’s nuclear weapons tests. Since that time, Tokyo’s stance has been that India should sign the NPT (which it practically cannot, because it would mean giving up its nuclear weapons), or at least become a party to the CTBT, so there will be no more nuclear tests.

A nuclear agreement has been under negotiation between the two countries since 2010, but without real progress. The deal is important for India for both practical and symbolic reasons. India has an ambitious program to increase its nuclear generation capacity, including becoming one of the biggest users of nuclear power in the world. Japanese companies (Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi) rank among the biggest suppliers of nuclear technology, with Toshiba (including Westinghouse, which it controls) representing in the order of 30 per cent of total worldwide nuclear reactor capacity. Japan is at the forefront of several nuclear technologies, including mixed oxide fuels, light water reactors, advanced boiled water reactors and fast breeder reactors. French and US nuclear suppliers also rely on Japanese companies for key technologies. Lack of access to these technologies would significantly restrict India’s options and could prevent it from achieving its nuclear plans. Just as important is the symbolism of a nuclear deal — it would effectively signal Japan’s acceptance of India as a great power and a legitimate nuclear weapons state.

For their part, the big Japanese nuclear companies are very keen to supply technology to India. Since the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the Japanese nuclear industry has effectively been in a state of suspended animation and India represents one of the few large growth markets in the world for nuclear power.

But any deal must contend with extremely strong opposition in Japan to nuclear weapons and growing opposition to nuclear power. This is felt right across the political spectrum. Many argue that a deal with India would punch a big hole in the international nuclear non-proliferation system, making it harder to hold the line against other less responsible countries. There is also opposition — especially since Fukushima — to assisting in the development of the Indian nuclear power industry.

The depth of this sentiment is not well understood or even acknowledged in New Delhi, where India’s right to be recognised as a legitimate nuclear weapons state is taken as a matter of course. For many in New Delhi, a preoccupation with establishing India’s nuclear legitimacy blinds them to the deep concerns in Japan about nuclear proliferation.

When Modi visited Tokyo earlier this month, he allowed public rhetoric and expectations about the growing relationship to exceed reality. He apparently assumed that Japan’s nuclear concerns could be fudged.  It appears that Japan will likely support India’s bid to join the international Nuclear Suppliers Group as the only non-NPT country. But Modi is rumoured to have come away angry and disappointed that Tokyo would not agree to India’s demands for a nuclear deal with Japan without New Delhi giving a clear commitment to a ban on nuclear tests as well as placing a cap on liability for accidents. New Delhi no doubt hopes that these issues can be resolved before the next summit meeting between the two. But India may find that, at least on nuclear issues, Japan is not such an easy pushover.

David Brewster is a Visiting Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.

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Indonesia and Malaysia need to focus on a ‘soft’ approach to tackle IS support on social media http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/26/indonesia-and-malaysia-need-to-focus-on-a-soft-approach-to-tackle-is-support-on-social-media/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/26/indonesia-and-malaysia-need-to-focus-on-a-soft-approach-to-tackle-is-support-on-social-media/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 00:00:44 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43585 Authors: Stefanie Kam and Robi Sugara, RSIS

In response to the rise in Indonesian and Malaysian fighters joining the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur have taken action to criminalise membership. The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the nation’s top Muslim clerical body, also released a statement that it was haram, or forbidden, for Muslims to participate in IS activities. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has also issued a strongly worded statement condemning IS for its actions, which ‘run counter to Islamic faith, culture and to common humanity’.

These are positive moves. But they have been inadequate, given the popularisation of IS ideological beliefs via social media.

A government worker removes ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) flags painted on to walls near Veteran Street in Surakarta City, Indonesia, in an attempt to discourage the promotion of the jihadist group in the region, 5 August 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Indonesia, in response to the 2002 Bali bombing, the twin bombing of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton in 2009, and other attacks on Indonesian soil, adjusted its counter-terrorism strategy. Indonesia has stressed a hard approach to countering the threat of terrorism, primarily through the lens of law enforcement. Over 600 terrorists have been prosecuted in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings. Currently, the Indonesian police are responsible for counterterror operations, particularly the elite counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88.

But Indonesia’s hard approach has resulted in the growing incidence of terrorist attacks targeted at the police. Allegedly, it has also created convergence between jihadist fighters and religious vigilante groups — such as Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) — providing opportunities for the jihadist groups to recruit and enhance their influence in society.

Malaysia has also stepped up its counterterrorism efforts and arrested several individuals amid reports that four new Malaysian militant groups, identified by their acronyms BKAW, BAJ, Dimzia and ADI, are bent on creating a ‘super’ Islamic caliphate in parts of Southeast Asia, including secular Singapore.

So far, the emphasis on hard approaches to countering terrorism has brought some success in defeating terrorism and disrupting terrorist plots. But the rising influence of social media and the popularisation of IS ideologies through the internet highlights the need for states to be innovative in using modern communications to counter the growing threat of radicalisation.

The exposure of Malaysians and Indonesians to external currents of contemporary Muslim socio-political thought — ranging from the moderate-liberal, radical and sectarian — is intensified by social media. Indonesia has the second-largest population of Facebook users and the fourth-largest population of Twitter users in the world. Malaysia has also seen an increase in internet users since 2000, from 21 per cent to 65 per cent in 2012.

Research has shown that young people are at greatest risk of being radicalised by extremist messages. This is particularly important because of the use of social media by young people. The ease and pace of communicating via such social media platforms are what keeps them ‘hooked’. Governments need to drive the online debate to ensure that their message is heard above the extremists’. The use of social media by radical groups to recruit, raise funds and spread propaganda messages should not be taken lightly.

A video by the IS released in July featuring Indonesian fighter Abu Muhammad al-Indonesi showed him delivering an impassioned appeal to fellow Indonesians to ‘join the ranks’. A number of Indonesian IS fighters are reportedly also using social networking platforms such as Facebook to recruit fighters. According to Indonesia’s National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT), there are currently 34 Indonesians who have joined the IS group. These numbers do not include Indonesians who have joined other groups in Syria and Iraq in the jihadist cause.

Malaysian authorities say that the IS sympathisers are attracting a small number of Malaysians from a wide variety of backgrounds through social media, particularly Facebook. They have also managed to raise funds through such channels.

In early August, photos of a dead 52-year-old jihadist Malaysian fighter who was formerly a member of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) were uploaded and circulated via social media and blogs. The former KMM member allegedly died while defending the town of Arzeh with several other jihadist fighters. The photo was ‘liked’ by thousands of online users.

The primacy of IS theological arguments feature strongly in the Indonesian militants motivations to fight in Syria. The IS believes that the ‘Final Battle’ against the false prophets will ensue in the ongoing battle in Syria. The activities of Malaysian IS supporters on Facebook on the other hand point to a more complex mix of motivations for Malaysians joining the IS, most of which are political, financial or ideological.

The distinct divergences in the causes for motivating these Indonesian and Malaysian fighters to join the IS, as well as the differences in contexts, highlight the need for tailored responses by the state and community in each country.

To date, IS has carried out executions, including beheadings. In many cases, IS has videotaped the executions and posted them online. There is a need to be discreet in publicising the IS to the larger community without exaggerating or sensationalising the group, so as to deny them the publicity that they seek.

Governments, with the help of civil society activists, should partner to channel key messages of religious moderation and interfaith tolerance through soft media campaigns.

Stefanie Kam Li Yee is an Associate Research Fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Robi Sugara is a graduate student pursuing an M.Sc in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

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