Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
I once paid a cop 30 ringgit (about $10 then) for making an apparently illegal left-hand turn in Kuala Lumpur. Scores of drivers in front of me were also handing over their “instant fines”, discreetly enclosed within the policeman’s ticketing folder. It was days ahead of a major holiday and the cops were collecting their holiday bonus from the public.
Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim holds a disc he says contains evidence of judge-fixing in Malaysia
I felt bad about this, of course. What I was doing was illegal, immoral and perpetuating an insidious culture that goes by many names in the East — “baksheesh” in India, “Ali Baba” (and his 40 thieves) in Malaysia, “swap” in Indonesia (means “to feed”). But the policeman pointed out I would have to take off the good part of a day to go to court and pay 10 times as much to the judge. So I rationalised: “When in Rome…”
Alas it was not the first time, nor would it be the last that I have (ahem) paid an “informal levy” to officialdom. I’ve given baksheesh to the phone company in India to get a telephone installed, and to get a driver’s license without a test (no wonder there are so many accidents in India.) I’ve paid the immigration officer at Jakarta airport to let me in with a nearly expired passport.
With the Rudd Labor government now in power for just over a year, it’s worth looking what at has changed in the country’s foreign policy and its security implications for the region. Is the region, particularly Southeast Asia, ready for Australia’s new advances?
Howard’s pragmatism and ‘forward defence’ doctrine over the previous dozen years was unashamedly aimed at garnering an image of being a “considerable power and significant country” (Downer, 2006). Howard’s loyalty to the United States, no-matter-what, was also aimed at banking up some credit with Washington on the security front. Given the concerns of the time over terrorism (in particular the attack on Bali which killed dozens of Australians), one could argue his staunchly pro-American policy was well founded. Moreover, Downer was quite dismissive of past Labor policy on developing a closer relationship with its immediate neighbours. In 2006, he said of Labor: “In effect, they argue for a retreat to regionalism.”
Now here's an interesting question. The New York Times reports that President-elect Barack Obama wants to make "a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office." But from which one? As NYT staffer Helene Cooper explains, it's a question that's fraught with diplomatic, religious and personal complications. After a day of calling around Washington, she found a consensus:
It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected.
As journalists, we spend a lot of time watching politicians and policies to guage their impact on financial markets and economies. Now, as recession takes an inexorable hold in the Asia-Pacific region, we’re watching for the impact on politicians themselves.
So far there has been no repeat of the political upheaval triggered by Asia’s economic crisis a decade ago, which culminated in the ignominious resignation of President Suharto in Indonesia and the ouster of Thailand’s prime minister (see previous blog). There are no food riots as there were back then, and Asians are not crowding at banks’ doors to rescue their savings.