All the hoo-haa about the Scorpene scandal has come to a nought when the probe into the “scandal” discovered that the Mongolian woman tied to the scandal, Altantuya Shaariibuu, had never entered France between 1999 and 2006, and neither did Prime Minister Najib Razak entered France on a personal capacity between those years.
In fact, DCNS officials alluded that they had never met any Mongolian woman by the name of Altantuya Shaariibuu, and all negotiations were done in English, not French as claimed by a certain quarter, therefore dismissing the need for an interpreter. Furthermore it was revealed that Altantuya could not speak French.
So, what was then she in this all?
And what of the photoshopped photo of her with Najib and Razak?
That is the traditional greeting of the Batak, Simalungun and Mandailing people, located in North Sumatera. Up until 1947 or 1957, the peoples of Sumatera were free to sail across the Strait of Malacca to trade or visit relatives on the Malayan side. When immigration laws came into force with the formation of both Indonesia and Malaysia put a stop to it all…almost. Malaysia is still a magnet for Indonesians to chance a better living, legally or otherwise.
I am a Mandailing by descent, and my ancestors are from the Nasution marga (family or clan). Although I know next to nothing about my people or their traditions, I am proud to tell fellow Malaysian Mandailing that I am a Nasution. There are many famous Malaysian Mandailing and they include the late nationalist educationist Aminuddin Baki (marga Lubis), the late Judge Tan Sri Hashim Yeop Abdullah Sani (marga Rangkuti), the late former Menteri Besar of Selangor Dato’ Harun Idris (marga Harahap), former minister Datuk Mokhtar Hashim (marga Harahap), actor Dato’ Ahmad Tamimi Siregar (marga Siregar), former Inspector-General of Police Tun Mohammed Hanif Omar (marga Nasution), former Chief of Air Force General (Rtd) Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad (marga Nasution) and last but not least, broadcaster and singer Rubiah Lubis (marga Lubis).
Recently, the Minister for Information, Communication and Culture, Dato’ Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim announced his Ministry’s intention to preserve the Mandailing traditional TorTor dance and Gordang Sambilan as part of the Malaysian Mandailing heritage, and this, as did other attempts to preserve other traditions inherited from the Indonesian ancestors, got the Indonesians all riled up. On Twitter, hashtags such as #MalaysiaMiskinBudaya (Malaysia is Culturally-Poor) and #TorTorPunyaIndonesia (The Tor-Tor is Indonesian) ruled the timeline with Indonesians bashing Malaysia for allegedly stealing the former’s culture. What is more shocking is when an Indonesian Batak politician, Ruhut Sitompul, was quoted in the Jakarta Post as saying:
“Once in a while, I think it’s necessary that we bomb [Malaysia] as a form of shock therapy. Otherwise they will keep oppressing us. There’s no need for diplomacy – they always find excuses”.
It is funny that a country with 28 million people (plus more than a million who are Indonesian citizens working here) can be threat, oppressing Indonesia that has 240 million inhabitants. Perhaps, Ruhut Sitompul was looking for a way to shift the focus of Indonesian Muslims (the Mandailing are Muslims) from his recent fiasco with the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) over the Lady Gaga concert ban.
Majority of the Twitter hashtag users were from the Jakarta side, rather than from the Sumatera side; while most Malaysians who laugh at the Ministry’s effort to preserve this culture from disappearing from the Malaysian Mandailing community altogether are either non-Malays, or those who are staunchly anti-government. Some of the comments can be found here . Perhaps, they would be happy too if China one day declares war on the overseas Chinese community who practice Chinese traditions outside of mainland China. And the Malays who do not support the preservation of heritage are the ones who are happy when the Wayang Kulit Jawa of Selangor and Johor have disappeared totally from the face of this planet, save for some puppets.
The Malaysian Mandailing Association President, Ramli Abdul Karim Hasibuan said that Malaysia intends to recognise the Tor-Tor dance and the Gordang Sambilan as a Mandailing heritage here, not claim it to be a Malaysian culture. After all, the two belong to the Mandailing, not Malaysia nor Indonesia. And I, would of course like to learn more about the culture of my Mandailing side. Maybe, a lesson in history is in order here, for the uninformed Malaysians and Indonesians as well.
Among famous Mandailings in Indonesia include Indonesian actress Tia Ivanka (born Artia Dewi Siregar), composer and musician Rinto Harahap, and singer Diana Nasution. However, two famous Indonesian Mandailing with ties to Malaysia are the late Adam Malik, a marga Batubara who was a foreign minister of Indonesia and also a Vice-President; and the late General Abdul Haris Nasution, a former Minister of Defence.
Adam Malik was actually born in the town of Chemor, near Ipoh in the state of Perak. His mother. Siti Salamah, was from Chemor. Every time Adam Malik visited Malaysia, he would take the opportunity to visit his relatives in Chemor (see Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, Adam Malik, anak Chemor, Surat Berita Mandailing, Jilid I, No. 2, 1996: 2-3.). In fact, both Adam and Haris hailed from the same village of Hutapungkut, right in the middle of the Mandailing homeland in Sumatera. And it was in major part due to these two Mandailing men that the Indonesian confrontation against Malaysia ended. They were both against the Confrontation. Haris even bluntly refused to go to war with Malaysia because he likened it to going to war against his own relatives. Why is this so? Haris, who was a General in the Indonesian Armed Forces then, had a nephew also from Chemor, Perak, who was in the Royal Malaysian Navy (retired as Vice-Admiral) Dato’ Mohammed Zain Mohd Salleh (see A.H. Nasution, Memenuhi Panggilan Tugas, Jilid 1: Kenangan Masa Muda, Jakarta: Gunung Aung, MCMLXXXII: 6). After the peace treaty was signed between the two governments in Bangkok in August 1966 to end the Confrontation, Adam Malik immediately took the opportunity to visit Chemor to assure his relatives (see Adam Malik, Mengabdi Republik, Jilid 1 Adam Malik Dari Andalas, Gunung Agung, Jakarta, 1978; Abdul Rahman Rahim, Jatoh-Nya Sa-Orang President, Penerbitan Utusan Melayu Berhad, chetakan kedua, 1967).
As such, the Indonesians and Malaysians have cross-border ties, ties that bind the two together as the same people divided only by political and diplomatic boundaries, but who are really one. Therefore, the Tor-Tor, Gordang Sambilan, should be preserved by the people of Malaysia as a heritage so they would and could remember how the bond of this Nusantara is still very much alive. And like the Barong dance of Bali that preserves the Hindu Epic of Ramayana from India, strengthens cultural and spiritual ties between nations. The only way for this to be achieved is to suppress extremism and getting rid of ignorance.
It is that time of the year again, whenever that time may be in a calendar year, but it is the same time Malaysians, those in the Peninsula in particular, have been complaining year after year about since at least 1994. Every year, haze from neighbouring Indonesia would engulf the Peninsula, and at times even Sarawak, up to the point of suffocating Malaysians. Every year a complaint is lodged, but nothing seems to be seriously done by the Indonesian government to put a stop to this. This, in my opinion, is akin to bullying of one’s neighbour.
A few weeks ago I tweeted about the need for the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Royal Malaysian Air Force to boost its power projection capabilities in light of China’s increasing bullying of the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal issue. What began as a simple issue over a fishing vessel, turned into a standoff between the lightly-armed Philippines Navy against the might of the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLAN). And from the 10th April 2012 up until this posting was made, the whole issue was an impasse. The Philippines government has announced yesterday that it would be pulling back its vessels from the shoal because of bad weather – another sign of a weak navy, unable to withstand weather conditions.
Interestingly, a senior Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) replied to my tweet saying that China should not be seen as a threat, but rather an opportunity. With a population of over 1.3 billion, China, an emerging economic powerhouse, should be seen as an opportunity. However, as the United States and the European powers have reduced defence spending, China’s has increased 12 percent over the past decade. China is investing heavily in “asymmetric capabilities” designed to thwart America’s interference in its interests over the East and South China Seas. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), by 2035, China’s defence spending could overtake that of America’s.
While China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has an active force of 2.3 million, China’s real military strength lies elsewhere. As part of the “asymmetric capabilities” China is acquiring A2/AD (anti-access/area denial) capabilities. In 1996, we saw the US Navy sending two of its carrier battle groups to Taiwan when the PLA started lobbing missiles at islands off Taiwan. By 2020, China aims to deter American carriers and aircraft from operating within what is known as the “First Island Chain” – a perimeter that runs down from the Aleutians, the north of Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo. In 2005, the “Taiwan Anti-Secession Law” was passed in China, which commits the latter to a military response should Taiwan declare independence. While the US maintains “strategic ambiguity” on the event that secession happens, Jia Xiudong of the China Institute of International Studies reflects the policy of China:
“We don’t have any ambiguity. We will use whatever means we have to prevent it from happening.”
If so, what has happened to the rhetorical agreements made during the various ASEAN engagements with China? Let us remember one thing: while the Chinese politicians do all the talking on behalf of the government of China, the People’s Liberation Army IS NOT formally part of the state. It is responsible to the Communist Party and is run by the Central Military Commission, not the Ministry of Defence. Therefore, a better understanding of the loyalty and priorities of the Chinese military is very much needed. While Chinese ministers have time and again promised a “peaceful rise,” we see its bullying of neighbours occur on a frequent basis. Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, have all been physically bullied by China’s military. While diplomats from both sides tried to water down the situation at the Scarborough Shoals, men of the Chinese military amped up bellicose language. The state-run media warned that “war could break out with the Philippines if the island nation did not give up its claims on disputed rocks and reefs in the South China Sea.”
Lest we forget, back in a meeting between ASEAN and China in 2010, when faced with a barrage of complaints about his country’s behaviour in the region, its Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said:
China is a big country, and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact.”
Last week, our Defence Minister cancelled a visit to the RMN outpost at Terumbu Layang-Layang, where a popular dive resort is also located, because of strong objections by China.
You decide if China really is an opportunity, or a threat. But I have this to say – running down our military as done by certain politicians, is not helping the situation at all.