Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A curfew - but there are few soldiers

The situation in the Thai capital is pretty normal except for the military-imposed curfew. Hotels have slashed room rates, it’s cheaper to shop now and there are still more traffic jams than soldiers in the streets.

THAILAND’s police general Adul Saengsingkaew arrived at the Wat That Thong in Ekamai, Bangkok, on Saturday evening to attend the wake of the 101-year-old mother of the country’s most famous journalist, Suthichai Yoon.

The political, business and media elite of Bangkok had showed up in full force to offer their condolences to the boss of the powerful Nation Media Group. Almost everyone came in dark suits and ties, making the ceremony very formal.

But just after 20 minutes, Adul, looking distressed, asked to be excused as he quietly made his way out of the temple.

We found out, not long later, that he had been sacked by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which now runs the country.

The army has taken over the country, imposed martial law, suspended the constitution and the Senate, detained over 200 squabbling politicians from both sides, including former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and imposed a curfew between 10pm and 5am.

Events are happening fast and furious in Bangkok.

Just last week, Adul was seen seated with army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha at a press conference to announce the coup but now he has been moved to an inactive post in the Prime Minister’s Office, before he retires soon.

Also axed were Tarit Pengdith, the head of the Department of Special Investigation, and Nipat Thonglek, the Defence Ministry’s permanent secretary. Both men had been seen as loyalists of the ousted government and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Nineteen editors of the country’s top media group were summoned by the military on Sunday for “an advice on national building” and “direction of news reporting in an abnormal situation”.

In short, they were told of their limits.

On Saturday night, The Nation reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk was told to meet the military junta, and when he showed up, he was immediately detained and taken to an undisclosed army base.

The outspoken columnist had posed for photographers with his mouth taped to symbolise he was being silenced. Apparently, that did not amuse the army generals.

At The Nation office, this writer saw two soldiers, looking bored, inside the television monitor room where the visual feeds were sent in.

Still, media rules have begun to be relaxed.

The NCPO has allowed free-to-air television channels, radio and satellite stations and cable operators to broadcast normally after the situation returns to normal. Earlier, even MTV Thailand and cartoon shows from cable TV were banned.

Despite the dramatic coverage by the media on the military and sporadic anti-coup protests, the reality is that it is actually difficult to detect the presence of soldiers.

The Victory Monument in Ratchathewi district is a popular spot for demonstrations while another protest took place outside the stylish Amarin Plaza in Ratchaprasong.

But during the weekend I was there, there was continuous presence of the army outside the famous Mah Boon Krong (MBK) shopping mall, as it is regarded as a strategic location.

The presence of the men in uniform, however, seems to have sparked off more excitement than fear for tourists.

But don’t expect to see soldiers in every street corner, as the media would want you to believe.

It is regrettable that Bangkok has been made to look like a city under siege when the reality is the opposite, especially in the day time, where traffic jams are still a daily affair.

Most hotels have slashed their rates and placed guests on certain floors to cut down on power use. Essentially, this is the best time for bargain hunters to go shopping in Bangkok. Hotel guests have found themselves getting upgraded to better rooms.

While most city folk respect the curfew, with most eateries in shopping malls shutting down at 8pm to enable their workers to return home, the rules are generally pretty relaxed as it is not a “shoot on sight” curfew.

Outside the near-deserted Dusit Thani hotel in Silom, most of the bars were still open, even when the curfew began, and my colleagues still got to watch the Thomas Cup final.

But one thing is for sure – most Thais expect the army to be in control for a while with a new PM to be appointed soon, but it’s the generals who will be calling the shots.


Monday, 19 May 2014

Securing US Influence in Asia Pacific: The Military Angle

PRESIDENT OBAMA’s recent tour of Asia was an attempt by the United States to reassure its allies in the Asia Pacific region that the rebalance strategy remains a priority. Although economic and diplomatic domains of the pivot continue to dominate discussions, one cannot ignore the military aspects of the pivot.   

This consists of two distinct but related pillars: The first is developing the Air Sea Battle (ASB) capabilities of the US to offset China’s Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) threat. The second is forming closer military relations with key allies in the Asia Pacific region.

Developing the Air Sea Battle concept

The ability of the US to project its armed forces far from its shores and then to be able to sustain them while they fight is unparalleled in military history. The US now worries that this capability could come under increasing threat in the Asia Pacific. China’s rising military expenditure has largely focused on an increasing arsenal of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air and surface to air missiles with improved range and accuracy to be able to strike enemy platforms and bases.

Its A2/AD capabilities are designed to thwart enemy projection of forces and to protect important Chinese targets from sustained attacks. By integrating capabilities of the air, land, naval, space and cyberspace forces, the ASB concept aims to provide US commanders with better ability to project power and sustain operations and thwart the adversary’s A2/AD capabilities in the advent of a war.

The US is developing its force structure in the Asia Pacific accordingly. The USAF has between 43,000-46,000 personnel in the Pacific and has stationed close to 60 per cent of its F-22 Raptor fighter fleet in and around the Pacific theatre. It has also announced that the first basing location for the new multirole F-35 will be in the Pacific.

Under the ASB concept, the USN is expected to assemble a sizable naval force in the Asia Pacific region with 60 per cent of its fleet stationed in the Pacific by 2020. The Navy also plans to acquire a new class of ballistic missile submarines to replace the current Ohio class strategic ballistic missile submarines.
Network of alliances & agreements

The US is rebuilding and strengthening its regional network of alliances that will support its ASB operations across the Asia Pacific. China’s growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas has caused many US allies to deepen their defence and security alliances with Washington.

As a result of bilateral disputes with China, the Philippines is revamping its military. For decades, long-running insurgencies by Muslim and communist groups forced the military to be structured primarily for counterinsurgency operations. While these security threats still exist, the Philippines has been increasingly working with the US to strengthen its navy since the Scarborough Shoal incident with China in early 2012.

Washington sanctioned US$50 million to the Philippines under foreign military aid late last year. The funding, however, comes with a stipulation - it can only be used to improve Philippines’ naval capability, which seriously lags behind that of its major neighbours. An agreement on the US-Philippines defence cooperation, signed during President Obama’s Asia tour, will allow the rotation of 4500 US military personnel and ships and aircrafts throughout the Philippines.

This will allow the US access to bases and will enhance readiness of the Philippine military as a result of joint training. The US Navy SEALs have already conducted training exercises with Filipino personnel on how to use small UAVs at sea – a useful asset to conduct better surveillance in the South China Sea.

Japan’s dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has resulted in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeking to increase Japan’s military power. The government would like to modify Japan’s Constitution, which would remove obstacles to Japan’s use of military force thereby allowing it to fulfil its collective security treaty obligations. Japan has also announced plans for a “Dynamic Joint Defence Force,” which involves improving the interoperability of Japan’s Self Defence Forces.

The USN plans to deploy the P8 maritime patrol aircraft in Japan – a first deployment of the P8 outside the US – and the USAF will be deploying the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft rotationally. By 2017, Washington plans to position a squadron of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters. Most of the new military hardware that Japan plans to acquire is air and sea equipment, clearly illustrating Abe’s focus on protecting Japan’s maritime assets. The US has welcomed these plans of the Abe government, which will allow Japan to play a greater role in its self-defence.
Defending allies?

The Republic of Korea (ROK) and US alliance is largely directed towards the threat from North Korea. The ROK and US have conducted several military exercised for potential war situations on the Korean peninsula. The US has also initiated a trilateral dialogue between its two most important Asian allies – Japan and ROK.

Australia has an extremely important military role to play in the pivot. In addition to the rotational deployment of 2500 troops in Darwin, an American drone base is being developed in the Cocos Islands. Pine Gap, near Alice Springs, is one of the three major satellite tracking stations operated by US Intelligence agencies and US military and is a very important facility for the analysis of data transmitted from US satellites operating in several regions including South East Asia.

Due to its geographical location, Australia can potentially provide vital logistical and intelligence support to the US forces in case of a Sino-US confrontation. As American bases in the Western Pacific are coming under greater threat, Australia’s support as an ally during such operations will be important for Washington as Australia remains at a safe distance from the bulk of China’s conventional missile inventory.

The rebalancing strategy of the US may or may not be aimed at containing China. But the network of agreements that Washington continues to develop in Asia clearly depicts a forward looking plan that will ensure that the US is well prepared for any air sea battle to defend its regional allies.

Harshita Kohli is an Associate Research Fellow with the US Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. She was previously a journalist based in Mumbai, India.
Posted on 17:07 | Categories:

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Men Behind 'Rejimen Anarki' Revealed!

The identity of the men behind one of the most malicious and provocative FB accounts in Malaysia have been found to be 2 seemingly normal lads from Johor and Pahang respectively. The FB account 'Rejimen Anarki' is well known to incite hatred towards the Johor royalty. Many reports have been made against the account which led to the revelation of the 2 people which were believed to also use another FB account by the name of 'Rakyat Anarki', as reported by the Selangor Chronicle blog.

The 1st May demonstration saw one of the admins behind the account to reveal himself after a scuffle broke between him and the Unit Amal PAS who were guarding the rally. Tensions ran high when he tried to ambush the prohibited area of the Merdeka Square, which was still under construction. These men are thought to be linked to the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) hence the seditious postings of accusing the current ruling coalition as a regime and libeling the Sultan of Johor on the FB account. 

Another report from the portal revealed discovery of insidious and subversive banners all around the country, asking the Rakyat to join the 1st May rally, with words and objective of toppling the government. The social media is buzzing on whether these two are linked to each other. The police have got to do something to curb this unhealthy agenda.

Malaysians are taught to uphold the Rukunegara, the 5 principles that would strengthen and dignify our respect to this country. The emergence of this seditious bunch of Malaysians can only bring more harm to the next generation. The rally after rally held by the irate opposition have proven to bring nothing beneficial to this country. Rakyat is being used for the sake of toppling the ruling government. Hatred and revenge will get you nowhere. Have you ever seen a developed country become one from protests? History has proven that a country built with chaotic protests will remain as it is, read : Thailand and Egypt. 
Posted on 07:50 | Categories: