HAMISH McDON­ALD

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - world@the­sat­ur­day­pa­per.com.au

Aung San Suu Kyi en­dured a quar­ter cen­tury of con­fine­ment and ha­rass­ment be­fore she be­came Myan­mar’s de facto head of govern­ment last year. But her big­gest chal­lenge has now ar­rived with the cri­sis around the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in north-west­ern Rakhine state.

Her de­ci­sion in 2011 to en­ter the po­lit­i­cal space cre­ated by the mil­i­tary’s par­tial re­treat from its five decades of di­rect rule meant ac­cep­tance of some re­stric­tions. She her­self could not be­come pres­i­dent be­cause the army-writ­ten con­sti­tu­tion barred any­one who’d been mar­ried to a for­eigner or had chil­dren with for­eign cit­i­zen­ship, as she had. So her party has a dummy in the job, while she leads as “state coun­sel­lor”. The armed forces, or Tat­madaw, re­tain con­trol of the de­fence, home af­fairs and bor­der con­trol min­istries. With 25 per cent of the seats in par­lia­ment, they can block any con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments to change all this.

So Myan­mar’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem has two power cen­tres, and Suu Kyi her­self is in some re­spects a dummy leader, too. The other cen­tre is the armed forces com­man­der-in-chief, Se­nior Gen­eral Min Aung Hlaing. He is the one call­ing the shots in Rakhine.

When a lit­tle-known Ro­hingya mil­i­tant group at­tacked po­lice and army posts on Au­gust 25, Suu Kyi was not con­sulted and barely in­formed about the Tat­madaw’s planned re­sponse.

For ac­tions in which about 400 were killed, mostly in­sur­gents, for the 12 se­cu­rity men lost, this re­sponse has been mas­sive. About 370,000 of the es­ti­mated mil­lion Ro­hingyas have been driven into Bangladesh, with hun­dreds killed and many rapes re­ported, and vil­lages burnt down be­hind them.

The Tat­madaw has car­ried out this sweep, with help from bands of vig­i­lantes drawn from the coun­try’s ma­jor­ity of Ba­mar eth­nic­ity and Bud­dhist re­li­gion and egged on by dem­a­gogic monks. If the at­tack­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army (ARSA), had the ob­jec­tive of pro­vok­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse and thereby gain­ing in­ter­na­tional sym­pa­thy it has been wildly suc­cess­ful – at the cost, of course, of or­di­nary Ro­hingyas.

This might sug­gest the Tat­madaw has learnt noth­ing from the coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paigns it has waged con­tin­u­ally against a score of mi­nori­ties since in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1948. Yet for all the for­eign cul­ti­va­tion and West­ern mil­i­tary aid Min Aung Hlaing has re­cently en­joyed, he is play­ing to a do­mes­tic au­di­ence in which racist an­tipa­thy to­wards the Ro­hingya is widespread.

In a rare brief­ing for Myan­mar jour­nal­ists on Septem­ber 1, he played up the ARSA as a so­phis­ti­cated transna­tional ter­ror­ist out­fit with links to Daesh and al-Qaeda, in­tent on re­cruit­ing at least one mem­ber of ev­ery house­hold, and work­ing to­wards cre­ation of a sep­a­rate Is­lamic state. An­a­lysts say this has greatly im­proved the Tat­madaw’s im­age from that of the harsh regime that had kept Myan­mar in poverty. Even Suu Kyi’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, U Thaung Tun, is now talk­ing about the ARSA’s al­leged sep­a­ratist agenda.

Suu Kyi is play­ing it cau­tiously – too cau­tiously – by talk­ing of “mis­in­for­ma­tion” and not ad­dress­ing the cred­i­ble ev­i­dence of eth­nic cleans­ing. She seems spooked by ru­mours and spec­u­la­tion that Min

Aung Hlaing will slap her down in public, per­haps by mak­ing the ob­jec­tive of eth­nic cleans­ing an ex­plicit one, or even by in­vok­ing the emer­gency pow­ers vested in him by the con­sti­tu­tion to push her aside.

Fin­ger off the but­ton

The North Korea cri­sis eased some­what this week, with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion agree­ing to wa­ter down new sanc­tions to stave off Rus­sian and Chi­nese ve­toes in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, and Kim Jong-un throw­ing a party, in­stead of another bal­lis­tic mis­sile test, for his nu­clear and mis­sile sci­en­tists.

The sanc­tions will cut North Korea’s sup­plies of re­fined petrol, hit­ting the mo­torists among its nomen­klatura and mak­ing the Korean Peo­ple’s Army run down its fuel stock­pile, but are easy on heav­ier fuel used for heat­ing and power. Adding tex­tiles to the list of banned im­ports from the North will cut the regime’s flow of hard cur­rency.

Back in the Aus­tralian the­atre, for­mer de­fence and in­tel­li­gence chiefs fired shots at politi­cians for us­ing Don­ald Trump in cam­paigns seen as dam­ag­ing the na­tional in­ter­est. Re­cently re­tired de­fence sec­re­tary Den­nis Richard­son told Wash­ing­ton’s hawk­ish Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies that cer­tain for­mer La­bor lead­ers − read Paul Keat­ing and Bob Carr – had the ob­jec­tive of weak­en­ing ANZUS ties be­hind their crit­i­cism of Trump. In Can­berra, for­mer Of­fice of Na­tional As­sess­ments di­rec­tor Al­lan Gyn­gell told the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs there’s been an un­for­tu­nate ten­dency of some lo­cal hawks to bash China to show the Amer­i­cans we were still on side, de­spite Trump.

In Wash­ing­ton, em­i­nent US strate­gists Jef­frey Bader and Jonathan Pol­lack sug­gested it was time to pull in the wide slack given US pres­i­dents to launch nu­clear at­tacks, an au­thor­ity del­e­gated by congress on the as­sump­tion such at­tacks would be re­tal­ia­tory and at short no­tice. Bader and Pol­lack said the pres­i­dent should be re­quired to get unan­i­mous clear­ance for any pre­ven­tive or pre-emp­tive nu­clear strikes from a panel of se­nior of­fi­cials, mil­i­tary chiefs and con­gres­sional lead­ers.

Sin­ga­pore sling

Sin­ga­pore, along with Ire­land, is a model for our repub­li­cans about how to have an elected head of state com­bined with a head of govern­ment cho­sen by par­lia­ment.

Alas, the Peo­ple’s Ac­tion Party (PAP) that has ruled the placed since 1959, can’t leave things alone and ac­cept just any­body cho­sen by the peo­ple for the largely sym­bolic job of pres­i­dent.

This week Sin­ga­pore got a new pres­i­dent, for­mer par­lia­men­tary speaker Hal­imah Ya­cob, who is the first fe­male in the post and the first Malay in five decades. But there was no election: she won by de­fault af­ter the elec­toral com­mis­sion ruled all the other con­tes­tants were un­qual­i­fied.

Fol­low­ing an un­ex­pected scare some years back when an op­po­si­tion fig­ure got a strong protest vote against the PAP’s can­di­date, the govern­ment reset the rules to make sure all the main racial groups got a turn as pres­i­dent and to weed out peo­ple of un­suit­able back­ground. This time the field was lim­ited to Malays, but the other two Malays who nom­i­nated, both well-known busi­ness­men, were ruled out be­cause their com­pa­nies did not meet the thresh­old of $S500 mil­lion ($463 mil­lion) in eq­uity.

It all looks a bit too con­ve­nient to some govern­ment crit­ics. Ya­cob was a longterm PAP mem­ber of par­lia­ment un­til she re­signed to run. One of the two re­jected nom­i­nees, Mo­hamed Salleh Mar­i­can, had promised, if elected, to ini­ti­ate an in­quiry into the row be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong and his sib­lings about the dis­posal of the home of their late fa­ther, PAP pa­tri­arch Lee Kuan Yew.

Mar­bles to stonker Brexit?

Bri­tain’s Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment is push­ing through its om­nibus bill to keep reg­u­la­tions in oper­a­tion when and if Brexit hap­pens in March 2019, as sched­uled, but the Greeks might hold up the exit from the Euro­pean Union un­less an old griev­ance is set­tled.

Each of the 27 mem­bers of the EU must agree to the terms of Bri­tain’s exit. A push is now on among Greeks for their govern­ment to with­hold its con­sent un­til the so-called El­gin Mar­bles are handed back by the Bri­tish Mu­seum in Lon­don. The stat­ues and friezes, chis­elled from the Parthenon from 1801-12 by agents for Lord Thomas El­gin, with the per­mis­sion of the then Ot­toman rulers, are per­haps the most no­to­ri­ous ex­am­ple of im­pe­rial loot.

“If it [Bri­tain] can give back In­dia, it can empty one room in Lon­don to re­turn these items,” Alexis Mantheakis, a co-founder of the In­ter­na­tional Parthenon Sculp­tures Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, told re­porters re­cently. “We’re hop­ing the Greek govern­ment will do it. It’s a unique • op­por­tu­nity.”

Vol­un­teers dis­trib­ute food do­na­tions to Ro­hingya Mus­lim refugees in Naikhongch­hari, Bangladesh, this week.

HAMISH McDON­ALD is The Satur­day Pa­per’s world ed­i­tor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.