Two big regional stories this week: Jokowi's probable win of the Indonesian presidential elections and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Australia.
Where Jokowi's campaign has found success, it has been at the level of the grassroots. Volunteers have carried the presidential ticket with self-initiated activities in communities, public spaces and online.
Because Jokowi's supporters are spread among so many small groups, it comes as a surprise to see their numbers when they gather in one place. Prior to Saturday night's debate, a public concert supporting Jokowi was held in Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno, a stadium complex named after the first president, Sukarno. Headlined by Slank, one of Indonesia's most popular rock bands and the producers of a campaign song for Jokowi, the concert filled the stadium to capacity with supporters holding up two fingers to indicate their preference for Jokowi, candidate number two on the ballot. Other artists in the line-up reportedly performed for free in support of Jokowi, while online news reported that concert-goers volunteered to clean up rubbish after the show so that Jokowi would not be blamed for making a mess.
In the final segment, in which one ticket was able to ask the other a question, Kalla noted matter of factly that Prabowo had spoken about thieves the day before. Gesturing toward himself, Kalla said, 'We and the parties that support us are not thieves.' Then, clearly relishing the chance to strike, he ran through a list of the other side's iniquities. 'My question is, because we (on our side) don't have oil thieves, don't have meat thieves, don't have a rice mafia, we don't have a hajj mafia, we don't have forest thieves, who is it that you are referring to?'
Prabowo, struggling to regain his narrative and his cool, admitted there might be thieves in his own party. His running mate, Hatta, stood up to calmly and cynically suggest that if there problems with corruption, then the police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) could take care of it. Kalla, seeing he had landed a blow, shot back with no small amount of scorn that all of these problems were already under consideration or on trial in KPK. Jokowi suggested Prabowo had not yet answered the question and invited him to do so again.
Prabowo has every right to await the official count by the KPU and to challenge the result in the Constitutional Court. We should remember that the chair of Jokowi's party, former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, did just that in 2009 when her opponent's margin of victory was a much higher 34%. I cannot forsee any scenario in which Prabowo would not exhaust every legal avenue available to challenge the result. He has come too far and invested too much time and money to not do so. Assuming he takes this as far as he can, the KPU and Constitutional Court would not be able to declare Jokowi the winner of the election until late August.
In a speech to supporters on Wednesday night, Prabowo told them to 'have patience, follow the law, and try to be polite.' But Jokowi supporters expressed grave concern that Prabowo might use his muscle to disrupt or taint the vote counting. Prabowo has cultivated ties with underworld figures as well as nationalist and Islamist thugs. He can also call on considerable reserves of cash — he disclosed $140 million in assets to the election commission earlier this month — and neither the KPU nor the Constitutional Court have avoided Indonesia's unfortunate history of graft. In just the past year, the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court was caught selling rulings in electoral cases. The KPU's computer system is also thought to be vulnerable to tampering. These are serious concerns in Indonesia's young democracy.
On Prime Minister Abe's visit to Australia, I added a quick comment immediately after the Japanese leader addressed the Australian Parliament:
Note the three-way link Abe draws between Australia, the US and Japan, which could yet prove consequential. Because as Buruma concludes, Washington's security guarantee to Tokyo is becoming more 'fraught with danger' as Japan's relationship with China erodes, with the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute being the flashpoint. Why? Because 'it risks dragging the world's largest military power into petty regional conflicts'.
Now more than ever, the risk is that allies of the world's largest military power will get dragged along too.
The next day, Malcolm Cook countered:
Friendships, special relationships and skilful diplomacy are built upon the recognition of convergence of interests and beliefs. This is different to a commonality of interests and beliefs, and such a convergence does not have to imply required future action. I would hazard that the burgeoning of the China-Australia relationship, despite the huge differences between the two states, is testament to this distinction.
If one accepts that Australian officials and politicians can do their job and realise this difference, it is hard to see how the steps taken by Japan and Australia to foster closer security ties is putting Australia or the Australia-China relationship at any greater risk. Forgoing such opportunities with Japan for doubts that deserve to be dispelled would be an opportunity lost and would raise questions in Japan about how good a strategic partner Australia really is.
Sticking with Asia, here's Griffith University's Andrew O'Neil on the limitations of the realist paradigm in understanding the current geo-political climate:
The region is characterised by great-power rivalry between the US and China, to be sure, but there is little evidence non-great-powers feel under pressure to 'choose sides'. And there are few indications this will change in the future. Indeed, small and middle powers are demonstrating a degree of agency in shaping geopolitics that undermines the validity of the realist model for predicting how states in Asia will behave.
Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia have resisted bandwagoning with the new rising power in Asia, but nor have they joined the US, Japan, and Australia to balance against China. Far from being pressured into choosing camps, all three have been highly adept at exploiting benefits from close relations with Beijing and Washington.
And Julian Snelder wrote on the recent political protests in Hong Kong:
'We hope young people can raise their understanding of the rule of law, and make themselves the vanguard of preserving Hong Kong's prosperity and stability', thundered Li Yunchao, China's powerful vice president.
China is alarmed by the mobilisation of the Hong Kong public in recent weeks, including a large rally for democracy in 1 July. Beijing's earlier publication of a White Paper had goaded the local democratic Occupy Central movement and surely boosted turnout in its informal online referendum last week: 88% of the 787,767 respondents demanded direct voting in the 2017 chief executive election, citing 'international standards' of democracy.
Visibly irate, Beijing has denounced the referendum as 'illegal', 'ridiculous' and a 'farce…of mincing ludicrousness'. Hardline voices mutter darkly about 'the PLA coming out of their barracks'. A sophisticated hacking campaign took place while banks and accounting firms have strained to distance themselves from the rabble rousers. Hong Kong has even been warned about losing its RMB currency trading business. The city thus faces a barrage of intimidation,which may backfire on Beijing.
We had Vaughan Winterbottom return to The Interpreter this week. He looked at tightening restrictions on freedom of expression in China:
On Tuesday, official news agency Xinhua revealed new guidelines issued by the country's media regulator that prohibit journalists from reporting or blogging on state secrets, commercial secrets, 'or information which has not yet been made public.' It was not immediately clear what the latter phrase meant, though 'revealing state secrets' is acatch-all crime in China that has been used to bring troublemakers to trial before.
The guidelines are the latest move by the Government under President Xi Jinping to tighten restrictions on journalistic freedom, both in traditional media and online. In June the media regulator announced new rules forbidding journalists from publishing reports critical of the Government without employer approval. The rules also ban journalists from setting up their own websites and conducting interviews or writing reports outside their assigned field of coverage.
Shashank Joshi gave us a rundown of recent opening of debate on India's nuclear doctrine:
This debate has been catalysed by a variety of factors. These include Indian disquiet at Pakistan's development oftactical nuclear weapons, a widespread sense that India's nuclear deterrence has failed in the face of state-sponsored terrorism, concern that India's ability to project deterrence against China remains inadequate, and a general sense that India has been slow to translate its national power into usable capabilities.
Typically, only those at the fringe of this debate – the ultra-hawks – have proposed radical changes in India's nuclear policies, such as the resumption of testing or a shift to nuclear war-fighting doctrines. But a growing number of mainstream Indian voices – including former officials and military officers – are expressing dissatisfaction with India's nuclear doctrine, the first and only public version of which is now over a decade old. See, for example, the former civil servant PR Chari writing for the Carnegie Endowment in June, the April manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before it came to power this year, and articles such as those in The Hindu last week.
But it is fascinating to see an official who until recently was at the heart of Indian nuclear policies, in both military and civilian institutions, make such explicit criticisms of a doctrine with whose classified details he would be intimately familiar.
And on the Middle East, Roger Shanahan expertly examined the 'caliphate' declared by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Iraq-Syria border region:
ISIS has certainly gained kudos and headlines through its military success but its dominance in parts of Iraq is aided by political gridlock in Baghdad and Iraqi military ineffectiveness. Neither of these will last forever and Baghdadi's forces will at some stage be engaged in decisive fighting in Iraq, at which point his tactical alliance with the tribes will come under enormous pressure. He needs to maintain military momentum, and he has been attempting to do this in eastern Syria. How long he can maintain his cross-border empire remains to be seen, but it will in all likelihood remain an ephemeral construct.
Baghdadi's caliphate claim has shown how diffuse, splintered and broadly-based the regional Islamist threat has become and how easily groups can be swayed by martial success. Even though ISIS's success, and its caliphate, will not last forever, in the idealised worldview of radical islamists it will serve as a model of what can be done by committed and observant Muslims.
The Afghan Arabs under bin Laden had to shelter in non-Arab lands and were constantly under threat. Baghdadi by contrast has achieved what nobody among contemporary jihadists has before him: he has carved out a piece of the historical Arab world, defeated the 'kafir', done away with the Western-imposed borders and placed his territory under Islamic rule. Even if few people physically join his caliphate and it lasts only weeks or months, the damage may have been done.
Photo by Flickr user Ikhlasul Amal.