The Asian Voice

Thailand's Navy needs to get ship-shape, Indonesia should rethink foreign policy, sealing the Financial Times deal

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (left) during a welcoming ceremony at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand.
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (left) during a welcoming ceremony at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand.PHOTO: REUTERS

1. Thailand's Navy needs to get ship-shape

All things considered, Thailand needs to upgrade its maritime defence capacity.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

The Nation/ ANN  

The Royal Thai Navy's ability for search and rescue is extremely limited.    PHOTO: REUTERS

Just imagine these two scenarios: an aircraft falling from the sky into the Gulf of Thailand, or a large liner sinking in the Andaman Sea. What would be the response from the Royal Thai Navy? The answer is clear: nothing.

Fortunately, Malaysia's MH370 and South Korea's Saewol incidents occurred outside Thai territorial waters. 

Otherwise, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) would have been exposed to the core - that they did not have the capacity or capability to carry out the search and rescue in the middle of two oceans, let alone perform the much more sophisticated underwater operations. Their ability for search and rescue is extremely limited, subject to coastal areas and inland waterways. They have a small group of divers.

Before putting the horse before the cart - in this case the desire to purchase three powerful submarines, it is important to understand the real geo-strategic circumstances Thailand is facing to protect its maritime sovereignty and interests.

The current debate on the price, the home of the builder and the engineering configuration have not helped Thais to understand why their country needs to have submarines.

Indeed, Thailand was the first Southeast Asian country to run submarines. It was during the reign of Rama VI, of King Vajiravudh, that the plans to acquire six submarines were discussed. It would take another two decades, in 1930, before four Japanese-made submarines were delivered to Thailand and used during the Indochina War and World War II. 

The role of the almighty Thai Navy was completely decapitated followed Japan's defeat during WWII and the aftermath of the infamous Manhattan coup of 1951. The submarines were decommissioned and relegated to history.

Since then, the Navy has been playing third fiddle, following the Army and the Air Force. There was a brief moment of glory when Thailand acquired an aircraft carrier in 1997, Chakri Naruebet, which until today still has not been put into full use. In fact, it has become a butt of jokes about "an aircraft carrier without any aircraft."

The Thai Navy's historical mishaps, coupled with an inability to manage and operate the region's first aircraft carrier, the rough-handling of people-in-distress at sea and long lists of alleged malfeasance, do not augur well for their ongoing efforts to modernise their maritime defence capacity. A better communication strategy was badly needed.

Since January 1997, after the establishment of the Thai Maritime Enforcement Coordinating Centre-Thai-MECC - the centre has been the main mechanism to coordinate well over 30 agencies to deal with whatever challenges arise at sea. It has become cumbersome and ineffective as part of the Thai-MECC efforts to eradicate illegal fishing, modern slave labour and human smuggling, have demonstrated.

Under the Prayut government, the Thai-MECC has been revamped and better-equipped with new mandates and equipment - to the same level of Internal Security Operations Command to take up maritime challenges.

The Navy's role was brought to the fore due to the increased incidents at sea in past years, in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, involving transnational crimes including piracy, human trafficking, thefts and burglaries. Several unreported incidents of piracy and siphoning thefts of fuel occurred in the past three years in the Gulf of Thailand that highlighted the Navy's failure to prevent a recurrence of these incidents.

But it was the Rohingya boatpeople crisis that drew the Thai Navy most forcefully to the public's attention. First of all, it was their lawsuit against the (crusading web site) Phuket Wan's allegation that some of their officials benefitted from human trafficking. Secondly, it was the influx of Muslims from Bangladesh and Myanmar during the first weeks of this year. For the time being, the boatpeople's arrivals have temporarily died down due to the monsoon season and tighter patrols.

But what made the headlines in past weeks was a different story altogether. The planned purchase of three submarines from China worth Bt36 billion (S$1.4 billion) was the bone of contention. For nearly seven decades after the acquisition of Japanese-made submarines in the 1930s, the Thai Navy has been clamouring for new submarines to protect the country's vast maritime areas. The Andaman Sea is an important sea lane of communication that passes through the Straits of Malacca, leading to the South China Sea.

Thailand has 3,219 kilometres of coastline (the World Factbook) - while the Gulf of Thailand has 1,972 kilometres of coastline - with a total maritime territory of 320,00 square kilometres.

Last month, the 17-member scrutinising committee agreed unanimously to go for the Chinese-made submarines. 
The Navy thought that this time, with the strong consensus of all armed forces, a quick decision to buy could be made without hassles as in the past. 

One big contributing factor that necessitates the submarine's acquisition has been the new six-year national maritime security plan, which has been incorporated with the 13th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2014-2019). 

The estimated value of Thailand's maritime resources at Bt7.5 trillion annually - a bit inflated - has all but fired up the desire to protect this key national interest. 

The planned acquisition is part of the government's ongoing efforts to ensure efficient policy implementations under the slogan "Secured Country, Prosperous People". 

The strategies include seven action plans that would improve the navy's maritime connectivity and capacity building, infrastructure and equipment upgrading, seafarers' training, protecting the marine environment, promoting eco-tourism and the fishery regime in Thailand.

All things considered, Thailand needs to upgrade its maritime defence capacity. In the coming years, the old and emerging maritime powers could make the Indo-Pacific maritime zone an active playground. The country also must be ready to engage with other Asean members in planning and joint operations. 

Under the Asean Political-Security Community, maritime security cooperation is one of the priority areas as part of the Asean Community's building efforts to promote peace and stability in the region.

2. Indonesia should rethink its foreign policy to improve its international standing

The nation has failed to capitalise on its achievements  

By Tantowi Yahya 

The Jakarta Post/ANN

Indonesia had missed multiple chances to take advantage of its “political dividends”.     PHOTO: ST FILE

In a recent discussion on Indonesia’s foreign policy, I was introduced to the term “diplomatic blind spot”, which entails the idea of neglected strategic issues in diplomacy. 

The term could also refer to diplomatic achievements on which we have failed to capitalise in the national interest. 

I argued that Indonesia had missed multiple chances to take advantage of its “political dividends”. 

Our inability to get the most out of our political investment in other countries has been exploited by other nations. Let me give some examples of Indonesia appearing content to relinquish its diplomatic achievements. First is Myanmar’s democratic transition. Since 2007, Indonesia’s role in democracy-building in Myanmar, either bilaterally or through ASEAN, has been significant. 

However, after Myanmar began its democratic transition, Indonesia appeared to forget to follow up its diplomatic success with deeper economic engagement.

Instead we are witnessing a flood of economic activity from China, Malaysia and other countries into Myanmar’s potentially lucrative market. Indonesia was supposed to be among the first countries to take economic advantage of Myanmar’s potential. We were there to open the gate, yet we did not step in once the path was cleared. 

Our diplomatic engagement as a trustworthy friend who consistently supported Myanmar’s democratization appears to have been wasted. 

Second, Indonesia’s role in peacekeeping in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1995, then president Soeharto visited Sarajevo and met his counterpart Alija Izetbegovic. 

As chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Indonesia’s contribution to ending the conflict in Balkan that killed thousands was greatly expected. 

Though the visit was nearly cancelled due to a lack of security assurances, Soeharto courageously pressed ahead, given his strong commitment to assisting efforts to end the Balkan conflict.

Hard work in diplomacy contributed to the peace agreement in the former Yugoslavian states. 

Furthermore, the UN mandated Indonesia to lead the peacekeeping mission there, with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, later to become president, appointed chief military observer to the UN protection force in Bosnia. Indonesia became even closer to the Bosnians with the construction of the Istiqlal Mosque in Sarajevo. 

The mosque, named after the largest mosque in Jakarta, was funded by Indonesia. But once again, we appeared to be too readily satisfied with the achievement, with no further noticeable effort to engage with Bosnia-Herzegovina in the economy or other sectors. 

Third, our outstanding support for Palestinian independence. Indonesia provides without reservation aid for the Palestinian government and people. The Indonesian Hospital in Gaza was inaugurated on June 15, built using donations from the people of Indonesia. 

Furthermore, our Foreign Ministry has provided capacity-building training to Palestinian bureaucrats expected to serve as civil servants in their country. 

Can we really afford to let such support become a “free lunch”? It certainly depends on how we would like to value and determine our good intentions. But we should be able to utilise each of our diplomatic successes to further our national interest. 

Besides the above examples of Indonesia failing to follow up on its diplomatic successes, one diplomatic endeavor of interest has occurred in Senegal, reflecting China’s visionary soft power in Africa. 

Unimaginable to most of us, in the dusty town of Dakar, Senegal’s capital, a majestic opera house stands in sharp contrast to its surroundings. 

Do the residents really need such a glamorous entertainment facility? It turned out that it was a donation from the Chinese government. Beijing clearly bears in mind the potential possessed by a future stable Senegal and how China could benefit from it.

Beijing has performed cultural infiltration — the building will one day host numerous cultural performances from China. True, our economic investment is not as strong as China or South Korea, which have a greater chance of reaping “political dividends”. 

But we certainly have our political assets. 

Our valuable experience of democratic transition and managing bureaucratic transformation could be shared with other countries — this is no less significant than economic investment. 

The above examples show the success of our many diplomats in projecting Indonesia’s role to assist our partners in finding solutions to some of their internal, regional and global challenges. 

However, lack of coordination between the ministries and other institutions, especially in the economic sector, seems to have resulted in poor follow-up. 

Hence the economic benefits of our diplomatic achievements have not been fully exploited, apparently as a result of sectoral ego — the “virus” across our bureaucracy. In the 1990s, a prescription to treat and cure sectoral ego was offered by the New Order government, with the idea of creating “Indonesia Incorporated”. 

Impressed by Japan’s successful transformation into an economic giant in Asia and the world, president Soeharto initiated the idea. Witnessing Japan’s quick recovery after its defeat in World War II, many Western countries were curious to understand Japan’s strategy of revival. 

They discovered the “secret” was Japan Incorporated, the term introduced by the American scholar Ezra Vogel in his book, Japan as Number One: Lessons for America. 

Japanese bureaucrats seemed to behave as parts of one massive company, posing a huge challenge to compete with Japan in the automotive industry, formerly dominated by US industries, and other sectors.

 To quote military thinker Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, the strength of Japan’s competitiveness lies in the way they conduct their bureaucracy, which is run in a similar war to a corporation. Meanwhile, in the US, government and business sectors are two different, distinct and separate entities.

The core of Indonesia Incorporated as suggested by Suharto was a synergy among governmental institutions, the private sector and civil society in managing and realising integrated economic development. 

This concept remains a challenge; subdued during the Reform era, it briefly resurfaced in 2011 under then president Yudhoyono. 

It’s not too late to reconsider the spirit of “incorporated” as a possible answer to Indonesia’s contemporary global challenges. It has often been demonstrated that an efficient country is quicker in attaining progress and welfare. 

Yet unwillingness to walk together as a solid and productive economic unit involving all government agencies, as demonstrated by solitary actions taken by ministries, even by defaming the President, will hamper the ideals of creating a just and welfare society as mandated by our Constitution. 

The writer is deputy chair of House of Representatives Commission I overseeing foreign affairs and lawmaker representing the Golkar Party.

3. Financial Times sale - the deal few in London saw coming

Few expected that the mast-head would be bought by Asia's largest media group

By Chris Peterson

China Daily/ ANN  

Pearson Plc is selling the Financial Times to Japan's biggest financial news group, Nikkei Inc.     PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

It was the deal no one expected.

For years there have been sporadic rumours that the Financial Times, Britain's stately grand dame of journalism, was on the auction block, but for 16 years, Marjorie Scardino, CEO of owners Pearson Plc, stoutly rebuffed all suggestions, saying the salmon-pink FT would be sold 'over my dead body'.

How times change. She stepped down in 2012 and John Fallon, her successor, conspicuously failed to rule out a sale of the 137-year-old title.

Even so, Thursday morning's announcement by Pearson that it was in the final stages of talks to sell the title, set off a wave of speculation by market and media watchers, and guess what? They all got it very wrong.

The usual suspects were trotted out - former New York Mayor and multi-billionaire Mike Bloomberg's eponymous news and market information service, Thomson Reuters and Germany's Axel Springer Group were all immediately touted as potential new owners, with News Corp's Rupert Murdoch an outside possibility.

Even journalists at the FT itself were in the dark, going so far as to suggest in print on Thursday that Axel Springer would win.

Not a chance. Despite a previously expressed desire to buy the FT, Bloomberg himself, a multi-billionaire, has his hands full reorganising his news empire, which is already generating a healthy revenue stream. Thomson Reuters, lagging behind Bloomberg in data sales, may want to continue its focus on improving that side of its business. 

Murdoch already owns the Wall Street Journal, the FT's great rival, so he probably wouldn't have got past the UK's regulators.
Axel Springer was a hot favourite, with Reuters confidently predicting that the German media group was in the final stages of talks.

Er, no.

When the rabbit came out of the hat, it was the Japanese news and digital media empire Nikkei, that absolutely no one in London's Anglo-Saxon orientated media world had predicted; it said it would shell out US$1.31 billion (S$1.79billion), with Pearson agreeing to add around & 90 million to the FT's pension fund.

The FT's sale to Asia's largest media group is the latest in a long line of British icons that have fallen into foreign owners' hands.

Upmarket car brands Rolls Royce and Bentley are now owned by Germany's BMW and Volkswagen respectively, Land Rover and Jaguar are the property of India's Tata Group, China's Geely Group owns the company that makes distinctive London taxicabs, fellow Chinese automakers are starting to supply the city's distinctive red double decker buses, The Times and the Sunday Times newspapers, as well as the lurid Sun tabloid daily, long ago fell into the hands of Australian turned naturalised American Rupert Murdoch, and Reuters, the long-established British-based international news service, was gobbled up, much to the journalistic establishment's dismay, by Canada's Thomson family.

So what's left in the UK media world? Well, the weekly Observer and The Guardian remain under control of a British trust, The Daily Telegraph is firmly in the grip of the secretive British Barclay brothers, while The Independent and its I spinoff are owned by a Russian oligarch.

So what will change for the FT and its average daily readership worldwide of 2.2 million, and the highly successful, which has 4.5 million users?

There have been hints, no more than that, which suggested Pearson was considering getting rid of the paper edition. And what is sure is that had Bloomberg, Reuters or Springer acquired it, there would have been job cuts. But the Japanese group seems to have wanted to buy a thriving business.

For now, I think the newspaper's 400 or so journalists can probably rest easy in their beds tonight. But you know, new owners often can't resist tinkering with their new this space.

Chris Peterson is the managing editor for China Daily Europe, based in London. He worked for Reuters and then Bloomberg for over 40 years before joining China Daily.