Get Serious About Uprisings Philip Bowring IHT Thursday,
September 6, 2001
HONG KONG There are signs that Southeast Asian nations
are beginning to do more than pay lip service to cooperation on insurgency
and related tricky regional issues. But human rights issues are likely
to get less sympathy.
At the end of her whistle-stop tour late last month of
all nine neighbors in the Association of South East Asian Nations, President
Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia asked that there be a special meeting
of security and intelligence officials before the next ASEAN summit
meeting, in November, to combat cross-border movements of arms and insurgents.
Meanwhile President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines
has recently been both to Malaysia, a player in the problems of Muslim
Mindanao and Sulu, in the Philippines, and to Singapore, a predominantly
ethnic Chinese nation often viewed with suspicion by its mainly Malay
Singapore's senior minister, Lee Kuan Yew, has gone out
of his way to improve relations with Malaysia. Mr. Lee met with Prime
Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad on his first visit to Malaysia in 10 years,
in an effort to resolve long-standing disputes between the two countries.
After the trip, he said relations with Malaysia seemed likely to improve.
Mrs. Megawati has made it clear that Acehnese independence
claims will get short shift from her administration regardless of what
overseas human rights groups have to say. But to end the insurgency
she will need more cooperation from Indonesia's neighbors. Although
Indonesia has stepped up naval and air patrols off Aceh, the flow of
arms to the rebels has not been interrupted. The rebels have sympathizers
in Malaysia among people of Acehnese origin and some conservative Muslim
groups. Muslims in southern Thailand have been supportive and there
is no shortage of Thai fishermen willing to trade in arms.
Indonesian officials have privately complained that Singapore
is not doing enough to reduce the flow of money to the rebels. But Singapore
seems to be making a determined effort to revive regional cooperation.
Mrs. Megawati has easily been able to forge a common front
with Mrs. Arroyo against separatism. Unlike Malaysia, Indonesia has
never meddled in Mindanao, and for some time Jakarta has been aiding
dialogue between Manila and the main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation
The most important country from the point of view of both
Indonesia and the Philippines is Malaysia. Relations in the past were
not helped by the public sympathy of Abdurrahman Wahid and Joseph Estrada,
the former presidents of the two countries, for the imprisoned former
Malaysian deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim.
Mrs. Arroyo has been able to make a fresh start with Mr.
Mahathir. She has also distanced herself as far as constitutionally
possible from the Philippines' claim to the state of Sabah in eastern
Malaysia - a claim that the Philippine Senate refuses to abandon.
The Malaysian government now may be seeing insurgencies
linked to Islam in a different light. Certainly, it suits the interests
of the governing United Malays National Organization to represent its
local Malay opponents as more extreme Islamists than they actually are.
But Malaysians were apparently linked to bomb blasts in Jakarta that
were blamed on Muslim militants. Malaysia's confidence in its own stability
has been slightly eroded.
In Indonesia, the liberalism that flourished after the
economic crisis, the downfall of President Suharto and the independence
of East Timor may be giving way to a renewed emphasis on national unity.
. The removal of Mr. Wahid and the replacement of Chuan Leekpai as Thai
prime minister have weakened the forces of liberal democracy in the
region and made dialogue with the Burmese junta easier. Western economic
leverage, though still strong, is past its peak.
. Australia's problems with well-organized and financed
boatloads of Afghan migrants have demonstrated the conflict between
Western declarations on human rights and national interests. Australia
is now united with its neighbors in resenting holier than thou lectures
from Europe. . It remains to be seen whether ASEAN members can generate
enough cooperation to reverse the tides of separatism and religious
extremism. But there is renewed awareness that if they do not hang together
they could hang separately.