Low grade Malaysian diplomacy

Unspun was traveling when this piece of news was sent to him. The whole story is remarkable in how low grade diplomacy has become where Australia and Malaysia are concerned.

To begin with Unspun finds it hard to understand the Australian human rights groups’ and the UN’s obsession on the possibility of asylum seekers being caned by the Malaysian authorities. Of all the things that can happen to asylum seekers why obsess over caning? Malaysia does cane people once in a while but they do not go around willy nilly caning every asylum seeker in sight.

And on the Malaysian side, what must, or must not, go through Foreign Minister Anifah Aman’s mind for him to argue with such churlishness? Wouldn’t a simple response that caning should not be an issue because Malaysia is a country of laws and legal processes and that the only people caned are those found guilty, suffice?

Why the defensiveness? Especially when it was only human rights groups and the UN, and not the Australian Government, that was mouthing off on the caning? Why alienate a people because of what some interest groups and the UN is saying?

What does it say of the Malaysian Government to have such bottom-of-the-barrel politicians putting up arguments that would embarrass their own mothers? Perhaps the problem can be traced back to the likelihood that Anifah was spared the rod when he was in school, so he never learned his rhetoric?

Malaysia Questions Treatment Of Aborigines

By Karlis Salna, AAP South-East Asia Correspondent

JAKARTA, May 27 AAP – Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has questioned Australia’s treatment of Aborigines in response to criticism of his country’s record on human rights and the controversial asylum seeker swap deal.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Bali, Mr Aman lashed out at suggestions the 800 asylum seekers covered by the deal could be caned, saying Malaysia was a civilised nation.

“Australians always have fears,” he told AAP on Friday.

When asked if he could guarantee that asylum seekers would not be caned, he said: “We won’t treat them like you have treated Aborigines.”

The comments come in the wake of criticism of the asylum seeker transfer deal linked to Malaysia’s record on human rights.

A series of Amnesty International reports have detailed how asylum seekers in Malaysia are subjected to abuse and extortion, and live in constant fear of deportation. Thousands are believed to be beaten and caned every year.

“I don’t know (why) you think that we cane those people,” Mr Aman said.

“We are a very civilised nation. If we are not civilised then you (Australia) are the ones to blame, because most of our politicians are Australian graduates.

“Maybe there is something not right that we learned from Australia. So if we are doing what you think we are doing, we must have learned from you.”

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Thursday said that the asylum seekers Australia intended to send to Malaysia would be treated properly.

Under the swap deal announced on May 7, up to 800 new boat arrivals to Australia will be relocated to Malaysia for processing.

In return, Australia will accept 4000 people from Malaysia who have already been granted refugee status.

The deal has come under fire from human rights groups as well as United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.

During a visit to Australia earlier this week, Ms Pillay said Australia had to ensure there was no risk Malaysia would breach the principles of the Refugee Convention and Convention against Torture – neither of which the South-East Asian nation had ratified.

Mr Bowen has said the agreement with Malaysia will be finalised within weeks.

Kompas’s answer to New Media

Kompas has been trying to meet the challenge from the New Media with Kompasiana from September 1. The blog contains writings from Kompas journalists as well as guest writers, one of the latest is Chappy Hakim the former Air Force chief.

They are going to Pesta Blogger as well. You might also want to check out Aris Heru Utomo’s views on the US Ambassador’s engagement with the blogging community here.

Screen Grab of Komsiana

Rasa not so sayang?


(Update: Unspun, uncharacteristically, did not go through the papers this morning. It appears that the problem is even more serious as the matter has been brought before parliament. This is an excerpt of a report from The Jakarta Post:

The House on Monday urged an immediate response from the government to Malaysia’s use of the traditional Indonesian song Rasa Sayange in its “Truly Asia” tourism campaign.

House of Representatives member Hakam Naja of the National Mandate Party (PAN) said if the government could prove the song belonged to Indonesia, Indonesia should sue the Malaysian government.

“The government needs to check on its origins, whether it’s from Indonesia or not,” the deputy chairman of House Commission X overseeing education and tourism was quoted as saying by detik.com newsportal.

Rasa Sayange is believed to have originated in Maluku, where it has been sung for generations by people to express their love for the environment. (rst of story here)


Is a cultural flap between serumpun countries Malaysia and Indonesia in the works?

Unspun‘s business partner today told me of a radio broadcast talking about the Rasa Sayang Malaysia site, which is Malaysia’s answer to e-marketing itself to the world.

According to the radio program, the site’s comments section has been closed down because many Indonesians have been writing in to complain of Malaysia’s appropriation of the Rasa Sayang tune to boost its own image.

Ever the skeptic Unspun went to the site and clicked on the “comments” hyperlinked. Nothing happened! This suggests that the radio announcer may be right.

This all set Unspun‘s head spinning about Malaysian culture and how sometimes Malaysia goes so hard to create a culture of its own that the results become ersatz. Consider, for instance, what sometimes happens when Malaysians get an invitation to attend a formal Malaysian occasion: The dress code is usually specified as “Malaysian Batik.” Not just any batik but “Malaysian Batik.

This may work well in other countries but not in Indonesia, home of the batik. The batik here, from Solo, and Pekalongan are exquisite, beautiful and full of history (for more information on Indonesian batik try my friend’s blogsite here. Compare it to the Malaysian batik, and you’d see the difference. Wavy lines that a five year old could have drawn over satiny fabric that’s good for showing off the spare tyres of middle aged men. Amoeba would have more culture.

And it is always an embarrassment when Malaysia culture shows are staged here. What can we show them that they do not have? Wayang Kulit? Satay? (OK, ganted Unspun likes Malaysian satay a lot over Indonesian ones but its hardly a Malaysian invention is it?) A Malaysian minister scolding bloggers goblok? Unspun’s written about it here and here.

But the point here is not to trash Malaysia; rather it is to suggest that it should perhaps find more creative ways of expressing its multi-racial culture that befits a nation 50 years in the making with lots of creative and smart people.

Back to the possible flap on Rasa Sayang. Is the tune Indonesian? Unspun is no authority on musicology and would like to hear from any authoritative persons out there.

This has the hallmarks of an issue that may escalate. If the radio announcer was right then the Malaysian authorities have a task on their hands to manage this issue before it snowballs into a public flap with nationalistic sentiments inflamed on both sides of the straits. Perhaps the Malaysian Tourist Board’s new PR consultant has good advice on how to handle the issue?

(Readers please note: This may shape up to be a emotive issue so let’s all work toward making this a discussion rather than a catfight. It’s OK to express opinions but try to refrain from name calling and emotive language. If you feel someone should o should not do something, say it and say why. Other than that, debate all you want!)