The Asian Voice

Thai-Vietnam strategic partnership, lure of ISIS in Indonesia, China's plagiarised animated flims

Leaders from the Mekong region countries including Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (second from right), and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (right) and Japan attend a joint press during the seventh Mekong-Japan Summit meeting.
Leaders from the Mekong region countries including Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (second from right), and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (right) and Japan attend a joint press during the seventh Mekong-Japan Summit meeting.PHOTO: REUTERS

Commentaries and insights from newspapers in the Asia News Network (ANN).

1. Working towards Thailand, Vietnam comprehensive strategic partnership

Ties between the two countries are set for a far greater boost with Asean Economic Community looming.

Kavi Chongkittavorn

The Nation/ANN

When the Vietnamese Cabinet led by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung arrives in Thailand on July 23 to July 24 for an official visit - and later on to hold a joint Cabinet meeting with his Thai colleague, General Prayut Chan-o-cha - Thai-Vietnam ties will be transformed into comprehensive strategic partners.

Before the peaceful settlement of the Cambodian conflict in 1992, Vietnam was Thailand's arch-enemy. Every Thai knew the Nom Mak Mun incident in 1980 where their troops clashed briefly on the volatile Thai-Cambodia border - representing the lowest point in Thai-Vietnam relations. The relationship was literally entwined with the Cambodian conflict.

Then the tension began to ease during the Chatichai government (1988-1991).

Thailand-Vietnam links took a drastic turn for the better when former foreign minister Nguyen Co Thach told the former prime minister at the end of 1988 that Vietnamese troops would be pulled out from Cambodia.

Right after he came to power, Mr Chatichai declared a rapprochement policy of turning the battlefields of Indochina into a marketplace, much to the chagrin of his Asean colleagues.

It would take another decade after Vietnam joined Asean in 1995 before the Thai-Vietnam relations had overcome their "trust deficit" and reached the comfort level to embrace each other strategically. Throughout this time, Bangkok reiterated to Hanoi that it would not allow any group or person to use Thai territory to harm Vietnam.

Back then, Thailand turned inwards and had to cope also with an economic crisis as well as political paralysis throughout the 2000s as Vietnam continued to grow economically and normalised ties with the US and joined the World Trade Organisation.

When the two cabinets meet for the third time, they will talk business and strategy as never before. They want to do it in style, as next year they will commemorate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties. The two countries became strategic partners in June 2013. Now they want to go to the next level - comprehensive strategic partners.

First and foremost, Thailand and Vietnam share one common objective - that their strategic partnership is for regional integration and prosperity, especially regarding their two neighbours, Laos and Cambodia.

Their development and economic integration within the Asean Community will be indispensable for community-building in the region.

Secondly, both also share similar allies and friends - the US and China. Thailand is a US treaty ally and has excellent links with China.

Vietnam has very close party ties with China and its relations with the US are blossoming.

Within the region, the progress of US-Vietnam ties has been more remarkable given the pair's past antagonistic experience.

Last week's visit to the US by Vietnam's Communist Party Secretary-General, Nguyen Phu Trong, was a powerful indicator of how Washington would go to ensure special ties with its former enemy.

At this juncture, both need each other.

Last year, Vietnam exported US$30 billion (S$40.53 billion) worth of goods to the US, more than Thailand at US$26 billion.

Meanwhile, Thai-China ties have their own dynamics, especially over the past year following the power seizure last May. China has reached out to Thailand as never before, further deepening their strategic linkages.

On the regional challenges, Vietnam has expressed appreciation of Thailand as a coordinating country in conducting the three-year stint, which will end this month.

It encouraged Asean to stand firm and have common positions in negotiating with China over the drafting of a code of conduct on the South China Sea.

Although it had been a tough call, Hanoi was pleased with the Thai role.

Thailand stressed to Vietnam on every occasion that the Thai policy towards China would be an independent one, designed to ensure regional peace and stability.

Thailand would not drag other countries into doing things they did not want to do.

Understanding their latent bargaining power, both Thailand and Vietnam were moving closer together - long rua lum daew kan (living inside the same boat), as the Thais love to say.

The aim, to build stronger bonds bilaterally as well as in the Mekong sub-region, whether such a move was related to environment protection, resource sharing, connectivity and security.

Both countries see eye to eye that a more cohesive lower Mekong riparian region can prevent meddling by major powers.

The two countries hope that by the end of this year, bus services, between the two countries through Laos and Cambodia could start, together with coastal shipping links.

The roads R8, R9 and R12 will connect the neighbours by land.

During Prayut's visit last year, the two countries agreed to boost two-way trade to US$15 billion by 2020.

Now the figure could be higher.

Vietnam has been more ambitious than Thailand when it comes to foreign trade.

It has negotiated with the Trans Pacific Partnership and joined the Eurasian Union recently, broadening its free-trade networks.

Under the Asean Economic Community, all members must free up investment restrictions to promote direct investment.

As key exporters of two major agricultural commodities - rice and rubber - both sides would collaborate to exchange information and technological know-how.

All things considered, as major powers continue to elbow each other for greater influence, Thailand and Vietnam will embrace one another even more.

2. Can Indonesian Islamists resist the allure of ISIS?

The future of Indonesian Islam may depend on the endgame of the ongoing power struggle within the Islamist movement itself.

Ary Hermawan in Tucson, Arizona

The Jakarta Post/ANN


Indonesian terror suspect Muhamad Aries Rahardjo, alias Afief Abdul Madjid, listens to a judge during his trial in Jakarta on June 8, 2015.  PHOTO: AFP

The Islamic world is in turmoil, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) couldn't be happier.

The ultra-violent terrorist group, notorious for its medieval savagery and its aptitude for effectively using this violence as slick, Hollywood-style propaganda, has sown conflicts in Muslim-majority countries to spread its genocidal ideology.

Despite its repetitious anti-Western rhetoric, the fact is ISIS has no plan to take on the West or the Jews (the traditional enemies of radical Islam) anytime soon.

For the time being, it has chosen to wage a bloody civil war against fellow Islamists.

In recent days, ISIS has issued threats against the old guard of Al-Qaeda, the Taleban and Hamas.

ISIS considers those groups as apostates for challenging its legitimacy and blocking its ambition to conquer the Islamic world. Some Al-Qaeda and Taleban members have defected to ISIS and are now fighting against their former organizations.

Outside Iraq and Syria, ISIS has so far claimed a presence and carried out deadly terror attacks in Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Tunisia and Afghanistan.

It has not yet carried out attacks in Indonesia, but it has attracted a significant number of sympathisers from the country through its massive online propaganda.

It is safe to say that for now ISIS is gaining the upper hand in this inter-jihadi/Islamist propaganda warfare.

It has set up several Indonesian-language websites, and the number of its propagandists and fanboys on Twitter seems to be growing.

Arrahmah.com, an Indonesian jihadi website loyal to Al-Qaeda's Jabhat Nusra, ISIS' rival in Syria, is struggling in its own jihad against Indonesian pro-ISIS websites such as azzammedia.com, VOA-Islam, shoutussalam.com and al-mustaqbal.net.

An Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) report, The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia, says that ISIS has already recruited local militants linked to Jemaah Islamiah (JI), including the prominent jihadi ideologue Abu Bakar Baahir.

It is feared that the group will attract sympathisers of mainstream, non-violent Islamists like Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which promotes the creation of a transnational Islamic caliphate, and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

The HTI and the PKS have strongly rejected the caliphate of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but can they fend off ISIS propaganda assaults?

The PKS, once the nation's biggest Islamic party, is an easy target for attacks by ISIS propagandists.

The party's reputation is in tatters after it was hit by a damaging corruption scandal and suffered humiliating defeats in recent elections.

It does not help that the Muslim Brotherhood, which inspired the creation of PKS, has been brutally crushed and its top leaders sentenced to death by the repressive Egyptian government.

HTI is against democracy, but ISIS supporters criticise them for ruling out armed jihad in their fight to establish the caliphate, which is why they say the group has yet to achieve its goal since it was established in 1953.

HTI has succeeded in mainstreaming the idea of caliphate as a government system, but many Indonesian Muslims still believe its caliphate dream is nothing but a ridiculous and distant utopia.

ISIS, on the other hand, claims to have already established a real, functioning caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

This is a powerful narrative for ISIS.

In their propaganda offensive, the old Islamists have accused ISIS members of being khawarij, a fringe group that emerged during the political crisis in the early years of Islam that led to the assassination of the last "rightly guided" caliph, Ali Ibn Abi Thalib.

Prophet Muhammad had warned against the khawarij, who he said would be straying from Islam due to their extremism.

They also consider the ISIS caliphate as illegitimate as it was declared unilaterally without their consultation.

Calling ISIS khawarij or unIslamic is a clever move, but in the war of propaganda, it's all about gimmick.

ISIS may not offer a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of Islam, but it is visually more attractive to young, angry Muslims.

Regardless of its savagery, ISIS is seen as cooler than other Islamist groups.

It has created fanboyism on Twitter with a kind of dedication comparable to that of Liverpool or One Direction fans.

One of the keys to its allure is perhaps its ability to present itself as the winning team even when it suffers major setbacks by issuing videos of gruesome executions every time it loses a territory.

This gives IS an aura of invincibility, a sense of honor when older Islamist groups seem to be going nowhere.

Little can be done by the moderates to stop the trend, because this is not exactly their fight.

This is an internal strife among the Islamists.

The conflict between orthodoxy and heterodoxy within Islam in the Indonesian archipelago has been going on for centuries (it goes way back to the 17th century, according to historian Azyumardi Azra).

To put it simply, there is a perennial tension between those wanting to Islamise Java and those wishing to Javanise Islam, or between supporters of political Islam and defenders of cultural Islam.

This tension, however, has never spiraled into an open armed conflict.

The rise of Islamism or political Islam in post-Soeharto Indonesia is widely seen as a logical consequence of burgeoning democracy.

This may no longer be the case if ISIS prevails.

It is crucial to note that as the moderate and liberal Muslims are battling Islamism or extremism in general, the future of Indonesian Islam may depend on the endgame of the ongoing power struggle within the Islamist movement itself, on whether the old guard Islamists can resist the allure of IS and not become more radical and turn violent.

The PKS and HTI leadership will not easily fall for ISIS propaganda, but there is no guarantee their members will not jump on board the ISIS bandwagon soon.

3. Plagiarism the bane of animation industry

China should strive for innovation to make its mark in the animation industry.

Xiao Lixin

China Daily/ANN

After premiering early this month, The Autobots, a made-in-China animation claiming in its trailer to be the cartoon version of The Fast and the Furious, has been widely criticised on social media.

Netizens allege it has plagiarised Disney's Cars, with some saying it is just a re-edited version of the Chinese team's 20-episode production K Times, which was released in 2013.

But instead of citing facts to prove the allegations wrong, director Zhuo Jianrong has used indecent language to counter the netizens.

The copycat animation and the verbal personal attacks are likely to fade from public memory after films of higher quality hit the screens.

But the blind pursuit of quick money, the lack of motivation to make quality films and disregard for intellectual property rights will raise serious questions.

For long, a number of animations made in China have been accused of plagiarism.

In a survey conducted by China Youth Daily in 2011, 70.8 per cent of the respondents said they disliked Chinese animations because they were "plagiarised and lacked creativity".

Innovativeness is the soul of animations and other artistic creations. There is indeed a wide gap in the development and creativity of the animation industries of China and that of industry leaders like the United States and Japan.

But the problem is that, some Chinese animation teams can't distinguish between learning from cutting-edge foreign productions and copying them or their ideas, which is similar to plagiarism.

We can wait for the developing domestic animation industry to prosper by learning from advanced countries' productions, and we know Chinese animators cannot become experts overnight and regale audiences with masterpieces that can rival animations like Kung Fu Panda.

But how can we tolerate the fact that some animators don't have even the slightest idea of originality and copy the posters and characters from technically sound and successful Hollywood productions?

Made-in-China animations have seen what many consider a "golden period". People still talk about some Chinese animations.

Take Uproar in Heaven, the international award-winning animation of 1961, for example. Its every scene looks like a fine painting, because the production team used such methods as stamp mark technique in Wuxi Paper Horse (woodblock color or black-and-white paper prints used for folk sacrifice from East China's Jiangsu province), and learned from the murals in Yongle Palace in Shanxi province, North China, to design every character and weapon to present millenniums-old Chinese culture.

Even in the past decade, Chinese animations held some promise thanks to the government's subsidy policy to help develop the animation industry. China even overtook Japan in 2011 as the top producer of cartoon films in terms of total length. But the situation remained unsatisfactory when it came to quality.

Despite its good intentions, the policy designed to subsidize productions by the minute also has attracted and been exploited by quite a few money-minded speculators. With no authoritative organization that can effectively supervise the animation industry and identify copycat productions, people can use the policy to simply plagiarize to cut costs and still go unpunished.

This plagiarising tendency is also associated with the social environment, where intellectual property and originality don't get due respect. Thus, those choosing the easy way out can make more profits easily in the short term while good animators continue to suffer.

Worse, even in the long run, the existing social environment could make it difficult to safeguard good animators' legitimate rights and interests. More often than not, independent illustrators whose original works are "stolen" after being posted on the Internet have tried to use social media like microblogs to seek justice, but the copycats, despite facing online criticisms, have rarely apologised or received proper punishment.

Back to The Autobots. According to its director, it is designed to encourage children to think independently and pursue creativity and innovativeness.

But what the director and his team have done is just the opposite and sets a bad example to follow.

Visual: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2015-07/11/content_21252106.htm