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Abdullah S. Kamel

Director General

Waleed J. Kattan


Somayya Jabarti

Executive Editor

L. Ramnarayan Iyer

Managing Editor (National)

Mahmoud Ahmad

Managing Editor (International)

Shams Ahsan


TomWestbrook &

John Geddie

Wide US-North Korea gulf over nuclear deal terms


VEN if conciliatory

rhetoric revives US-

North Korea sum-

mit plans, President

Donald Trump and

Kim Jong Un must overcome

a gaping disconnect over what

a deal on the North’s nuclear

weapons would look like.

Observers of the soap opera-

style Trump-Kim summit drama

could be forgiven for thinking

that a fragile courtship is un-

derway, where the tenor of each

side’s statements will determine

whether the two can agree to sit

down together.

At the heart of the North’s

negative rhetoric that led Trump

to cancel the summit is a funda-

mental difference of views on

the path to denuclearization.

Reconciling those views may de-

termine not just the success of

any future meeting but whether

a summit is feasible.

“You could look at this as trash

talking in anticipation of the big

game,” said Christopher Hill, the

lead U.S. negotiator with North

Korea in the George W. Bush ad-

ministration. “Frankly speaking, I

think it’s more serious.”

Trump’s letter to Kim on

Thursday blamed “tremendous

anger and open hostility” by

Pyongyang for derailing the June

12 meeting in Singapore.

Then Trump changed his

tune after North Korea’s vice

foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan,

responded not with more threats

but qualified praise of the presi-

dent and openness for talks.

Trump said on Friday that the two

sides were talking about putting

the summit back on track, possi-

bly on the originally planned date.

And then on Saturday, Kim

and South Korea’s president,

Moon Jae-in, held a surprise

meeting to discuss carrying out

the peace commitments they

reached in their first summit and

Kim’s potential meeting with

Trump, Moon’s office said. On

Sunday, Moon planned to disclose

the outcome of that meeting.

It’s been a tempestuous few

days that have left close US ally

and summit-matchmaker South

Korea “perplexed”; North Korea’s

traditional ally China indignant

that Trump was blaming it for

changing Kim’s hardening atti-

tude; and officials in Trump’s own

administration struggling to stay

up to speed with developments.

North Korea’s fundamental

position has not changed, even

if its tone has. Kim Kye Gwan

explained that the North’s brand-

ing of Vice President Mike Pence

as a “political dummy” and its

warning of a potential nuclear

showdown were reactions to “un-

bridled remarks” by the US side

pressing it to unilaterally scrap its

atomic program.

For North Korea watchers,

it was a diplomatic blow-up

waiting to happen since Trump

impulsively agreed in March to

meet with Kim and try to per-

suade him to abandon weapons

that pose a growing threat to

the continental US.

“The massive gap between the

United States and North Korea on

denuclearization is the unspoken

subtext to everything that’s just

transpired,” said Evans Revere, a

former senior State Department

official for East Asia who since

leaving the US government has

periodically held informal talks

with North Korean officials.

“It speaks to the fact that

the North Koreans were not

prepared to come and give up

all their weapons for promises,”

said Hill, “and that the US was

not prepared to offer any sanc-

tions relief for anything until ev-

erything was done.”

That was a theme Kim Kye

Gwan, a veteran North Korean

nuclear negotiator, had expressed

in starker terms a week ago when

he lashed out at Trump’s National

Security Adviser John Bolton for

saying that the disarmament of

Libya in 2004 was a model for a

possible deal with North Korea.

For the North, that was a

deeply provocative comparison

for two reasons. First, Libyan

autocrat Muammar Qaddafi was

killed following US-supported

military action in his country

seven years after giving up his

nuclear program. Secondly, Lib-

ya had surrendered its fledgling

program — far less advanced

than North Korea’s — before re-

ceiving any benefits.

North Korea is looking at a

different type of deal.

Frank Aum, a former senior

Pentagon adviser on North Ko-

rea, said it seeks a phased pro-

cess in which each side takes

“progressive and synchronous”

steps toward denuclearization

and peace. The North has spent

decades building a nuclear and

missile capability to deter the US,

and Aum remains skeptical that

it’s truly interested in giving up

those weapons although it sees

value in going down that path to

see what benefits it might get.

For the Trump administra-

tion, a phased process would

replicate past failed aid-for-

disarmament deals with North

Korea, although Trump himself

this past week — before he can-

celed the summit — did not rule

out an incremental approach

that would provide incentives

along the way to the North. He

said Kim would get security

guarantees if he denuclearizes.

That suggests some flexibil-

ity on the part of Trump, who

has vacillated between threats

and flattery in his long-distance

courtship of Kim and is clearly

eager to have his shot at being

the first US leader to meet with

his North Korean counterpart

and even bring peace to the di-

vided Korean Peninsula.

Revere said what’s needed

now is what should have hap-

pened in the first place before

Trump impulsively agreed to the

summit: an effort by officials to try

and bridge the vast gap between

the two sides. It’s a gulf which

does not appear to have narrowed

despite two, rare trips to Pyong-

yang by Secretary of State Mike

Pompeo to meet with Kim.

For Trump to go into a meet-

ing with Kim “without any idea

of what you’re coming out with,”

said Hill, “is frankly worse than

having no summit at all.”

— AP

Telling truth to power still no easy task

for Malaysia’s revved up media


N the first hours after the

biggest political upset in

Malaysia’s history, the chief

editor of news site Malay-

siakini gathered his team

in their cramped newsroom in a

shabby industrial estate on the

outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Some journalists and vol-

unteers brought in to cover this

month’s election that ousted the

Barisan Nasional coalition from

power after 61 years shed a few

tears of joy, recounted Steven

Gan, the editor. Others fretted

that a government that had re-

lentlessly harassed them, even

blocking their site during the

vote count on election night,

may still try to cling to power.

With widespread distrust

in the largely party-owned or

pro-Barisan press that skipped

stories of corruption and gave

little voice to opposition parties,

reporting from alternative news

sources like Malaysiakini played

a major role in rousing an elec-

torate angered by endemic graft

and rising living costs.

Remembering what he said to

his staff that morning, Gan said

it was no victory speech, but a

simple message: “It doesn’t really

matter who is in power, we as jour-

nalists will continue to do our job.”

Wall-to-wall coverage of the

fallout from the election since

then has given a sense that Malay-

sia’s media has been unshackled

by the arrival of a new coalition

that includes pro-democracy ac-

tivists and has pledged to repeal

anti-fake news legislation.

However, uncertainty remains

as to whether the mainstream me-

dia, conditioned to be cautious

because of the diverse religious

and ethnic mix in the country, will

keep its focus on politics when the

election fever dies down.

Or whether the new adminis-

tration led by 92-year-old Maha-

thir Mohamad — who intimidated

and muzzled the media when he

was prime minister from 1981 to

2003 — is really prepared to cede

more power to the fourth estate.

“Mahathir is not known to be

a democrat, so there is some skep-

ticism,” said Gan. “We are going

through a period of euphoria and

things are still in flux. It will take a

few months before we know.”

See also “Najib’s downfall a

bitter-sweet victory for Malaysia’s

stifled satirists”

At the heart of the issue is

that a number of Malaysia’s main-

stream news outlets are either

owned by parties from the former

coalition government or linked to

state entities.

This allowed the political

leadership to vet senior editorial

appointments and influence cov-

erage, stifling opposition voices

during the campaign and sending

readers elsewhere for the facts.

“In prison I had no access to

newspapers, television, so in a way

it was good. I kept my sanity by

not reading local papers,” reform

leader Anwar Ibrahim joked as he

addressed reporters last week af-

ter his release from prison, where

he was jailed three years ago on

charges of sodomy that he said

were politically motivated.

He and Mahathir came togeth-

er in the alliance that won the May

9 election.

In the free-for-all that has

followed, journalists at the likes

of the Star, an English-language

newspaper majority owned by

one of the Barisan parties, have

scrambled to catch up on big sto-

ries mostly ignored previously.

“Up until May 8, the main-

stream media was used by the

government to create an alternate

reality which no thinking person

could really have believed in,” said

Martin Vengadesan, news editor at

the Star.

The paper this week published

his interview with Clare Rewcas-

tle-Brown, whose groundbreaking

reporting on a financial scandal at

state fund 1MDB was suppressed

and led to her exile fromMalaysia,

on the front page.

“When I was interviewing

(Rewcastle-Brown) and we were

talking openly about ... corruption

at the highest level, I had to keep

checking myself because I was not

used to this much openness,” Ven-

gadesan said in an e-mail.

But Vengadesan added that be-

cause of the Star’s political owner-

ship, it does face uncertainty.

“I don’t have any answers as

to what future direction we may

take,” he said. The Star’s major

shareholder, the Malaysian Chi-

nese Association party, was in the

former coalition government but

lost all its seats in the election.

For even the most intrepid

reporters, years of persecution at

the hands of the government have

made them wary of promises of

change. Under the previous ad-

ministration, financial newspaper

the Edge and news site the Malay-

sian Insider were suspended, two

cartoonists were charged for sati-

rizing PrimeMinister Najib Razak,

and charges were brought against

Malaysiakini’s co-founders, Gan

and Premesh Chandran.

Life was set to get even tough-

er under fake news laws brought

in last month, under which mis-

leading reports can lead to prison

terms of up to six years.

On the campaign trail, Maha-

thir’s political alliance promised

to repeal the fake news law but

since the election the new premier

has equivocated. “Even though we

support freedom of press and free-

dom of speech, there are limits,”

Mahathir said.

In the early years of Maha-

thir’s first spell as prime minister,

he suspended three newspapers

— the Star, Sin Chew Daily and

Watan — and used several laws to

curb speech freedoms.

“After that, everybody did a

lot of self-censorship and wanted

to avoid problems,” Chan Aun

Kuang, editor-in-chief of Chinese-

language newspaper Nanyang

Siang Pau, said.

However, this time, Mahathir’s

party is a minority in the new rul-

ing coalition, and if his authori-

tarianism resurfaced it is likely to

be curbed by his partners. So far,

he has shown a consultative ap-

proach in dealings with his new


Anwar, an enemy-turned-

ally of Mahathir who is expected

to take over as prime minister at

some point, has already sounded a

different note.

“We are committed to the re-

form agenda, beginning with the

judiciary, media and the entire ap-

paratus,” he said last week.

Even if some of the publishing

controls are dismantled, and gov-

ernment pressure subsides, some

of the country’s leading indepen-

dent media outlets don’t expect

radical changes in a press corps

conditioned for years to behave


“We have our own way,” said

Kamarul Bahrain Haron, deputy

editor-in-chief of Astro Awani, a

round-the-clock news channel.

“We always love to say in edi-

torial meetings an idiom or prov-

erb in Malay: ‘If there’s a pound of

flour, and just one strand of hair,

you pull the hair without disturb-

ing the flour,’” he said, explaining

that means being critical without

creating a stir. Another factor

shaking up Malaysia’s media land-

scape is familiar the world over:

social media and the smartphone.

From scurrilous gossip to foot-

age of opposition rallies, many

Malaysians turned to each other

and to opposition leaders directly

on Facebook, Whatsapp and Twit-

ter in the run-up to the election,

completely bypassing major me-

dia and the regulators.

“We’re not following the gov-

ernment media stuff, they’re a

laughing stock,” said Kuzi Romeo,

who drives a taxi in Kuala Lumpur

and prefers to get his news from

Whatsapp groups instead.

He said he believed “about

25 percent” of what he reads in

mainstream newspapers. “Since

the election, maybe 30 percent,

they’re still the same media,” he


— Reuters


MONDAY 28 MAY 2018,



Taiwan diplomacy

harder than ever in

US-China tug of war


IPLOMACY has nev-

er been easy for Tai-

wan and is becoming

ever more complex

as it is caught be-

tween the US under an unpredict-

able leader and an increasingly

assertive China, which claims the

self-ruling island as its own.

In her strongest statement yet

over pressure from China, Taiwan’s

President Tsai Ing-wen blamed Bei-

jing after Burkina Faso severed ties

on Thursday with Taipei.

Tsai said China was showing

insecurity over “more substan-

tial developments in relations

between Taiwan and the US, and

other like-minded countries”.

The US remains democratic

Taiwan’s most powerful ally and

leading arms supplier, although it

gave up official diplomatic ties in

1979 to recognize Beijing.

In recent months, it has made

a series of new overtures — Presi-

dent Donald Trump signed a sym-

bolic bill paving the way for mu-

tual visits by high-level officials and

Washington gave long-awaited ap-

proval for a license necessary to sell

submarine technology to Taiwan.

Yet while Taiwan’s relationship

with the US is essential to its secu-

rity, it must also guard against ril-

ing China, its biggest military threat

but also the dominant market for

the island’s export-driven economy.

Beijing officials have de-

scribed ramped-up Chinese mili-

tary drills near Taiwan as a warn-

ing against asserting its sover-

eignty. Analysts say they are also

a message to Washington.

Foreign minister Joseph Wu

— whose resignation over Burkina

Faso was rejected by Tsai — said

earlier this month that furthering

Taiwan-US relations must be done

“in a very cautious manner”.

He described the government

as seeking to “advance bilateral

interests without creating any

kind of trouble for anyone else”.

While Taiwan calls itself a

sovereign country, the island has

never formally declared a split

from the mainland and China sees

reunification as its eventual goal.

Since Tsai came to power two

years ago, Beijing has become in-

creasingly hostile and is highly

suspicious of her traditionally

pro-independence party.

China is using its clout to shut

Taiwan out of international meet-

ings and to pressure companies to

list the island as a Chinese prov-

ince on their websites.

To mitigate against Beijing’s

suppression, Taipei is making a

concerted effort to win more in-

ternational backing.

More countries than ever had

voiced support for Taiwan after

Beijing blocked it from a major

meeting of the World Health Or-

ganization (WHO) earlier this

month, said Tsai, who cast it as a

sign the island was gaining global


“Taiwan needs to form a broad-

er coalition of willing friends to

supplement the support it gets

from the US,” said Jonathan Sul-

livan, director of the China Policy

Institute at Nottingham University,

although he added the US remains

the island’s top foreign relations

priority because of its influence.

Observers say growing frustra-

tion with Beijing has prompted the

latest supportive gestures from

the US toward Taiwan as trade

tensions between the world’s two

largest economies escalate and

concerns mount over China’s as-

sertiveness in the region.

Relations with China are “no

longer serving US interests”, said

William Stanton, who headed the

American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)

— the US de-facto embassy in Tai-

pei — from 2009 to 2012.

Arguably the most liberal

place in Asia, Taiwan stands in

stark contrast to Communist Chi-

na’s authoritarian one-party state

and is a strategic Pacific ally for

Washington to counter Beijing’s

territorial ambitions.

All eyes will be on which US of-

ficial is sent to the opening of AIT’s

newly built office complex next

month, which cost $250 million.

However, some observers

point to Trump’s erratic approach

to foreign policy and fear Taiwan

could be used as a pawn in his ne-

gotiations with China.

But foreign minister Wu dis-

missed the possibility of Taiwan

being used as a bargaining chip

by the US, saying the island has

“good friends” in the Trump ad-


“Taiwan by itself is also an ac-

tor,” he added.

“We can also try to judge what

is in Taiwan’s best interest, and

try to find the right policy for Tai-