The Road to Malaysia: Part 3 – The Cobbold Commission

Cameron Fromanteel "Kim" Cobbold, 1st Baron Cobbold - by Godfrey Argent, 1970
Cameron Fromanteel “Kim” Cobbold, 1st Baron Cobbold – by Godfrey Argent, 1970
This article is a continuation from The Road to Malaysia: Part 2 – Consultations.

In Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia the communists were making advances while the number of American servicemen in Vietnam tripled the number sent in 1950.  In Indonesia, the influence of the Partai Komunis Indonesia on President Sukarno was strong.  In Singapore, all the political parties except Singapore UMNO accused the PAP of having carried out negotiations to be merged with Malaya without first consulting the people.  This gave ammunition to the communists in Singapore and their sympathisers to attack both Lee Kuan Yew and the Tunku.

In British Borneo, the communists and their sympathisers tried to intimidate the natives thinking that it would work as it did in Singapore.  Truth be told, it had quite the opposite effect.  Lee Kuan Yew observed that as in Singapore, those anti-Malaysia in Sarawak were the Chinese communists, chauvinists and their sympathisers, while in North Borneo, they were Chinese businessmen and Chinese who were under the influence of individual British officials who were opposed to the Malaysia Concept, or ignorant of it. Kuan Yew noted that the direct links between the Chinese in Perlis throughout Malaya and Singapore to the British Borneo are the Chinese newspapers.  Hence, Kuan Yew suggested to the Tunku for the Chinese chauvinists be separated from the Chinese communists and the two groups should be separated.

Members of the Cobbold Commission arrived in Kuching in the morning of the 20th February 1962.  The members were:

  • Sir Cameron Fromanteel Cobbold, former Governor of the Bank of England, also Chairman of the Commission of Enquiry,
  • Sir Anthony Foster Abell, former British Governor of Sarawak and the High Commissioner to Brunei,
  • Sir David Watherston, the last British Chief Secretary of Malaya,
  • Wong Pow Nee, the Chief Minister of Penang, and,
  • Ghazali Shafie, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaya.

They were first brought to the Astana, a house that was built in 1870 by the second White Rajah, Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke as a wedding gift for his wife, Margaret Alice Lili de Windt.  It had been occupied by the British Governor since 1946.  Ghazali Shafie could not help but notice a Jawi inscription at the entrance of the Astana left by one of the Brookes “BERHARAP LAGI BERNAFAS, (Have Hope While There Is Still Breath)” perhaps an apt motivation for the colonial officials who did not want Sarawak to be part of the Federation of Malaysia.

The Brookes had built the Astana on the northern bank of the Sarawak river because it was where the Malays were.  The Brookes depended on the Malays for safety and security, the Chinese for prosperity and trading, while the natives were not entirely trusted.  The same compartmentalisation was practised in Sarawak by the colonial officials after taking over the state from the Brookes in 1946.

The first groups of interviewees were interviewed in Kuching on the 21st February 1962.  The first group amongst these interviewees was extremely pro-Malaysia.  They were led by Abang Mustapha, Datu Bandar of Kuching.  The second group was led nby Ong Kee Hui from SUPP.  This group was against the special rights to be accorded to the natives of Sarawak unless if it is not stated in the to-be-formulated Constitution. This group had a contempt for the backwardness of the natives and had regarded their leaders as men of no consequences.  This stand prompted an Iban by the name of Jonathan Bangau whom the SUPP had nominated as the party’s leader in Sibu to resign.

The next day, another group of Chinese in Kuching were interviewed.  Their spokesperson, a Chinese woman, twisted and distorted events in Malaya into something truly hateful.  She accused the Malayan Government of policies that turned very young girls into prostitutes and had labour laws that accorded workers not more than Ringgit 1.50 per fourteen-hour working day without holidays!  When these allegations were countered by Ghazali and Wong Pow Nee, she informed the Commission that she had read the stories from Chinese newspapers to which Wong Pow Nee murmured that these must have been communist publications.

In Bau and Simanggang (now Sri Aman), banners and placards expressing anti-Malaysia slogans in Chinese characters plastered the town in anticipation of the Commission members interviewing residents there. The scene was different in Kanowit and Kapit.  People shook the hands of the Commission members, especially the Malayan ones.  One of the Tuai Rumah even held Ghazali Shafie’s hand as they walked through Kapit town.  They were all awaiting the arrival of Malaysia!

However, Ghazali learnt that under the colonial administration the Iban had suffered oppression and suppression.  This began when Sarawak was under the Brunei Sultanate and continued under the Brookes and subsequently the British. When they faced the Commission, they were all for Malaysia and some even emphasised on the need for a speedy arrival of better education and development for the Iban community.

At Binatang (now Bintangor), the division between the wishes of the natives and the Chinese was most prominent. The natives were all for the speedy arrival of Malaysia while the Chinese were divided into two groups: one favouring a referendum, while the other favouring a Federation of North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak – a line maintained especially by the communists.

In North Borneo, the only negative views were given by the British officials and expatriates as well as the rich local businessmen. At this juncture, Ghazali noted that these British officials knew nothing or chose to disregard Harold MacMillan’s famous “Wind of Change” speech in Cape Town made on the 3rd February 1960.

Cobbold, not having any experience in dealing with the Far East, succumbed to the ideas of these officials that in his draft, he recommended that both the British and Malayan Governments should have executive powers over the British Borneo states for five years.  Both Wong Pow Nee and Ghazali believe that the Malayan Government would never agree to perpetuate colonialism in any form. However, the two governments should discuss the matter should they want the British officials to stay on in Borneo in the service of the two territories.  Wong Pow Nee quoted the state of Penang where he was once a Chief Minister to demonstrate the point that the British fears were groundless and that the Tunku, the Malayan people as well as the 70 percent who advocate the creation of Malaysia in the North Borneo and Sarawak would not agree to Cobbold’s suggestions as it would still be a form of colonialism.  What more that the communists in Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia, China and the Soviet Union had branded the Malaysia Concept as neo-colonialism. Interesting also to note here is that in April 1962, the Philippines House of Representatives had made a formal claim on North Borneo.  On the 20th January 1963, Drs Subandrio, and alleged communist and also Sukarno’s Foreign Minister and Second Deputy Prime Minister announces Indonesia’s “confrontation” towards Malaysia.

In the end, on the 31st July 1962, Prime Minister Harold MacMillan told the Malayan delegates that Her Majesty’s Government was just as anxious to see Malaysia succeed. Soon after, an Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) was set up by the Malayan and British Governments that would include the North Borneo and Sarawak Governments.  On the 12th September 1962, the North Borneo Legislative Council adopted the following motion:

“Be it resolved that this Council do welcome the decision in principle of the British and Malayan Governments to establish Malaysia by the 31st August, 1963…”

Then on the 26th September 1962, the Council Negri of Sarawak adopted the following motion without dissent:

“This Council welcomes the decision in principle of the British and Malayan Governments to etablish Malaysia by the 31st August, 1963…” 

The Federation of Malaysia that would include the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak was to come into operation by the 31st August 1963. All in all, the IGC made recommendations in its report pertaining to the States’ Constitutions, legislative powers, financial provisions, elections, the Judiciary, public service, citizenship, immigration, religion, education, the National Language, status of existing laws, the position of the indigenous races and transitional arrangements prior to the formation of Malaysia.

North Borneo was thoroughly satisfied with the IGC report and the North Borneo Legislative Council unanimously adopted the Report on the 13th March 1963.  The Sarawak Government was satisfied and considered that the Report contained “generous terms of safeguards for Sarawak.”  Stephen Kalong Ningkan as the Secretary-General of the Sarawak Aliance said that his party “fully endorses the Report.”  Leong Ho Yuen, the Vice-Chairman of the SUPP said: “All in all, the Report is quite satisfactory. Though we cannot get all we asked for, at least we have been given a high percentage.”  The Sarawak Council Negri voted unanimously to adopt the Report on the 8th March 1963, five days before North Borneo.

Donald Stephens who was the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the North Borneo Alliance said: “The whole of North Borneo will now welcome with joy the creation of Malaysia.”


Tomorrow, on Malaysia Day, we shall look into the self-rule granted to the State of Sarawak and why was Malaysia formed on the 16th September 1963 instead of on the 31st August. We will also look at what was said by those who were involved in parts of the process.

Protest Against China’s Blatant Intrusion

Ever since my last posting on China’s hegemonic role in the South China Sea I was told that China has agreed to not station its coast guard cutter at the Luconia Shoals while Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Shahidan Kassim, announced in Parliament that there has been an increase in operational presence by the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency at the South Luconia Shoals from 269 days in 2014 to 345 days this year. It is believed that Malaysia’s continuous diplomatic stance that is seen as friendly by China as opposed to holding demonstrations as held in other claimant countries is the reason for the one step back taken by China at the Luconia Shoals. However, the Chinese coast guard continues to loiter in the South China Sea.

  
However this morning (18th December 2015) a group of about 16 people calling themselves the Sarawak Association for People’s Aspiration or SAPA, headed by Lina Soo as its President, held a protest rally in front of the Chinese Consulate in Kuching, Sarawak.

The protest which began at about 9am kicked off by the submission of a protest note at 9.28am to the personal assistant for Mr Liu Quan by SAPA, followed by shouts in Hokkien saying “Get out and don’t return” by the SAPA members.

  
Although small, this protest is significant as it displays a growing awareness amongst Malaysians on the blatant incursions by the Chinese navy as well coast guard.

China has been aggressive in creating ad hoc ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone) around its man-made islands, warning off other military aircraft and vessels that got too near. Four days ago the BBC filed a story on how one of its journalist flying in a Cessna 206 was asked to leave the area to avoid miscalculations.

Last month a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft was told by the Chinese to leave and that “it would be a shame if a plane fell from the sky.”

Things are not going to get better as China continues to claim the South China Sea as its territorial waters whereas two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 per cent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and 80 per cent of China’s crude oil imports come through the South China Sea. Even Indonesia, a non-claimant, has begun to reinforce its military presence in the Natuna islands to face the Chinese.

It will be a matter of time, sooner rather than later, that we will see aggressive flying by PLAAF aircraft that will be stationed at China’s South China Sea airstrips when intercepting other military aircraft. The South China Sea is a potential flashpoint Malaysian cannot ignore nor take lightly.

South China Sea: The Gatling Gun Approach?

China's build-up in the South China Seas brings this region closer to a conflict
China’s build-up in the South China Seas brings this region closer to a conflict

We need to look at what we see as the threats. What you see is the story unfolding in Syria and Iraq and which fighter is not there at the moment? You’ve got the Super Hornets, you’ve got the Typhoons and yet it is still unfolding before our very eyes. And secondly, the threat from IS is different from our traditional terrorist threats that we have faced in the past, don’t compare with the threats that we’re facing from IS.”

Those were the words uttered by the Malaysian Defence Minister on the eve of the recent Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition that concluded on the 21st March 2015. He added:

You will see the gatling gun that we have fitted on our A109s and maybe the threat that we face just requires a gatling gun.”

Many defence practitioners, analysts, journalists and bloggers such as I, felt as if the military had been let down when we heard those very words uttered on board the Royal Malaysian Navy’s frigate, KD Jebat.  Malaysia has been seeking for the replacement of the MiG-29N fleet for the longest time, and now it has been stalled again.  Furthermore, the fight against the IS is first and foremost a counter-insurgency warfare that falls within the purview of the Home Ministry, with the Defence Ministry in a supporting role.

It would be good to note, too, that missing from the airshow for the first time at LIMA ’15 are the Smokey Bandits, the RMAF’s aerobatics team that consists of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29Ns.  It was looked forward to, and missed by many.

In March of 2013, the PLA-N sent its largest and most modern amphibious assault ship, a destroyer and two guided-missile frigate to James Shoal (Beting Serupai), 80km off the coast of Bintulu in Malaysia’s state of Sarawak, to conduct an oath taking ceremony there.  The PLAN sailors and marines pledged to “defend the South China Sea, maintain national sovereignty and strive towards the dream of a strong China.”  Just 80km off Malaysia’s coast, this flotilla went unchallenged by the Royal Malaysian Navy or by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency vessels.

The RMAF Su-30MKMs are about the only MRCA capable of taking on the PLAN or PLAAF but lack miserably in numbers
The RMAF Su-30MKMs are about the only MRCA capable of taking on the PLAN or PLAAF but lack miserably in numbers

While the Minister focuses on the IS threat, which really should be looked at by the Home Ministry and not Defence as it involves counter-insurgency warfare, both the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Royal Malaysian Air Force are in dire need of more capable assets.  Without the MiG-29Ns and the F-5E Tiger IIs, the RMAF is down to just 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flankers and 8 F/A-18 Hornets, supported by 14 BAe Hawk 208 and 6 BAe Hawk Mk 108.  Of course, that is if the serviceability rate is at 100 percent.

The Royal Malaysian Navy’s combat power is represented by 2 Scorpene submarines, 2 Frigates (with 6 to be constructed), 6 corvettes, 6 offshore patrol vessels, and 8 missile boats.  Although the Royal Malaysian Navy could give any enemy a bloody nose if required, without air superiority achieved, there will be a repeat of what happened to Force Z in 1941.  The RMN is also somewhat impaired given that its OPVs are fitted-but-not-with strike-capable weapons such as anti-air and surface-to-surface missiles.

The Kedah-class OPVs have been fitted-but-not-with SSMs (Photo courtesy of BERNAMA)
The Kedah-class OPVs have been fitted-but-not-with SSMs
(Photo courtesy of BERNAMA)

Underscoring its intention to subjugate the other claimants especially Malaysia, the Chinese Coast Guard was found in the vicinity of the Luconia Shoals, 150km off Miri, early this month.  With a large to cover, both the Royal Malaysian Air Force as well as the Royal Malaysian Navy are very much lacking in assets.

A Malaysian vessel intercepts a Chinese Coast Guard cutter at the Luconia Shoals off Sarawak, Malaysia - picture courtesy of WSJ
A Malaysian vessel intercepts a Chinese Coast Guard cutter at the Luconia Shoals off Sarawak, Malaysia – picture courtesy of WSJ

In his speech during the recent Air Force Day celebration, General Dato’ Sri Roslan bin Saad RMAF underlined three approaches to ensure that the RMAF stays on top of the game:

  • The amalgamation of assets and organisation: this approach gives focus to the readiness of aircraft and radar systems. Through the Chief of Air Force’s Directive Number 19, several action plans have been formulated to ensure that the serviceability rate for aircraft and radar systems remain high.
  • Enhancement of Human Resource: this is done by raising, training and sustaining the RMAF’s manpower by increasing its specialisation and competency levels.
  • Optimisation of Available Resources and Finance: this is by formulating a strategy to ensure that resources and finances are being managed properly and are well managed.
General Dato Sri Roslan bin Saad RMAF, the Chief of Air Force, delivering his speech at the Air Force Day parade at the Kuantan Air Base.
General Dato Sri Roslan bin Saad RMAF, the Chief of Air Force, delivering his speech at the Air Force Day parade at the Kuantan Air Base.

In my opinion, the amalgamation of assets should also include the reactivation of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N Fulcrum as well as the Northrop F-5E Tiger II fleets.  With limited funds available for the addition of more interceptors as well as MRCAs, perhaps the RMAF should get the MiG-29Ns back online in a reduced number. The final number of MiG-29Ns maintained by the RMAF was ten.  Perhaps eight is a credible size to maintain.  We know that engine hours is no longer the issue with the MiG-29Ns. If budget constraint is a concern, no upgrades are needed for now. They can still perform their MRCA role with what is readily-available, and perform as Smokey Bandits when needed.  It would be worthwhile to note that the Indian Air Force has upgraded its much-older MiG-29Bs to the MiG-29UPG, at par with Russia’s MiG-29SMTs but sporting western avionics.  I am more than sure that Malaysia’s Aerospace Technology Systems Corporation Sdn Bhd (ATSC) could propose an upgrade to the MiG-29Ns. These upgrades would be cheaper than a total fleet purchase which negotiations will take years to conclude.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) maintains more than 400 F-5E Tigers in its inventory while the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) maintains more than 200.  These old analog interceptors are based near where the threats are.  The most interesting point about the F-5Es are that they run on analog systems and require less time from cold start to interception.  Malaysia had about 16 F-5Es and 2 RF-5E Tigereye that could do Alert 2 standby for first interception while the Alerts 5 and 7s could come and back them up later.  Two squadrons could still be maintained perhaps in Kuching with an FOB set-up in Miri and Labuan for F-5E detachments.

The two suggestions above is for the RMAF to consider while it waits for budget and arrival of the new MRCA.

It is of no secret that while Dassault Aviation has been promoting its Rafale MRCA heavily in Malaysia especially, the fighter jocks of the RMAF prefer the F-18Ds that they have; and if any addition is to be made to its MRCA fleet, it should be the F-18Ds.  End-users’ opinions and evaluation must be seriously considered.

The other threat that faces Malaysia is the potential insurgency in Sabah’s ESSZONE.  While “helicopters with Gatling guns” may be considered an answer, a helicopter is slow to get away from a fire-fight.  Time and time again we have seen how rebels in the southern Philippines who are also responsible for the kidnappings as well as skirmishes in Sabah brought down military helicopters.

The real answer is in a platform that can deliver enough payload at high speed and conduct effective strafing of known enemy positions.  The RMAF should consider reactivating the Light Attack Squadron (LAS) that was used in counter-insurgency warfare in the 1980s and early 1990s.  The Pilatus PC-7 Mk II, while acting as the aircraft for the LIFT program (Lead-In Fighter Training), can also be used as both counter-insurgency warfare aircraft as well as in support of the roles taken up by the Hawks 108 and 208 as well as the Aermacchi MB-339CM.  Economy-of-effort has always been part of the Principles of War and still holds true today.  Having the experience in the LAS I believe will make them better pilots for the F/A as well as MRCA roles as they progress later.

RMAF BAe Hawks and Aermacchi MB-339CM light fighter/lead trainers flying past during the Air Force Day parade
RMAF BAe Hawks and Aermacchi MB-339CM light fighter/lead trainers flying past during the Air Force Day parade

The RMAF also lacks the eye-in-the-sky.  From the days when I joined the RMAF in the 1980s, the AWACS have always been sought after but never procured.  An AWACS provides the RMAF as well as the RMN a good detail of what is happening both in the sky and at sea.  Four AWACS with good loiter endurance based in Kuching working round-the-clock should suffice. Kuching is at the nearest point between Borneo and the Peninsular, and covers the South China Sea easily.  On top of this, Maritime Patrol Aircraft with anti-ship and anti-submarine capability should be made available for the RMAF.  This is to complement the RMN in its role especially in the South China Sea.

I am not sure but I believe we cannot see much of what is beyond the Crocker range in Sarawak.  Mobile radar systems could be stitched along the range to provide better coverage of what goes beyond the range.  The data can be fed via satellite or HF system.  The RMAF’s HF system is more than capable of providing accurate radar picture of the area.

The Malaysian Army’s “top secret” Vera-E passive radar system should also make its data available and fed into the RMAF’s current air defence radar system to enhance the capability of the the latter.  There is nothing so secret about the Vera-E.  Several keys tapped on Google and one would be able to find out about the Malaysian procurement of the system.  I am flabbergasted that the Malaysian Army has yet to share the Vera-E data with the RMAF.

The government should also allow the RMN to look into procuring available assets from the USN that are capable to deter PLAN assets from entering sovereign waters unchallenged.  Apart from capital assets. the RMN should look into converting some of its smaller assets such as the CB-90s and RHIBs into Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) with 30mm stabilised weapons and targeting system complemented by a STRIKE-MR fire-and-forget missiles that could be operated remotely to conduct swarm attack on larger enemy units.  Using the USV swarm tactic, the RMN should look at the tactics used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) to sink larger Sri Lankan naval units.  Using the CB-90s as well as the RHIBs for swarm warfare at shoals and atolls controlled by Malaysia in the South China seas fits with the concept of “working with what we have and not what we feel we should have.”  Swarm forces can neutralise or deter larger forces from advancing further, while the USV concept does not need the unnecessary loss of lives to achieve its objective.

I urge the government to reconsider the budget put forth by both the RMAF and the RMN. Budget constraint should not be a reason the military is not allowed to enhance their current capabilities.  The warfare doctrine based on the principles of selection and the maintenance of aim must be respected if the Malaysian military, in particular the RMAF and RMN, is to achieve its objectives which mainly is to act as deterrence from potential belligerent forces.  If the RMAF and RMN are not allowed to be strong, Malaysia will always be bullied at the South China Sea diplomatically.

Do You Choose A Person Who Is A Populist, Or One Who Can Actually Work?

It is interesting how time and time again we, our ASEAN neighbours included, vote in or root for people who are popular rather than people who can actually do the job. The Philippines had Cory Aquino, Eric Estrada; Indonesia had Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid). In Malaysia, we have people rooting for Anwar Ibrahim despite the comical and absurd nature of his “struggle” to become a Prime Minister come what may. What is more absurd and even funnier was the populist campaign designed by Najib Razak’s consultants to paint a popular image of the incumbent.

And that failed badly.

So, what do we Malaysian people actually want? Someone who wins on a big popularity ticket, or someone who can actually work, proven to have truly serviced his/her constituency and not just offer lip service?

Indonesia now has Joko Widodo. See one person’s observations of him before and after the elections and see how the same reflects many politicians here in Malaysia.

ESSCOM’s Failure: Who To Blame?

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If you think it is disgusting that armed men believed to be from the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf could infiltrate our borders of the east coast of Sabah last November, shoot dead a tourist from Taiwan and kidnapped his wife, then again a few days ago taking a tourist from China and a resort worker away, guess what is even more disgusting? That the man above, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, had the cheek to say the following (as quoted by The Star:

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Who are we to blame then, Wan Junaidi?

May I remind the Deputy Minister that ESSCOM was created on 7th March 2013 to ensure the security of the ESSZONE is taken care of in a holistic manner so there would be no recurrence of the Lahad Datu incursion and of other similar incidents. Maybe I can provide the Deputy Minister with a statement by the Prime Minister on Police Day 2013 that was posted on ESSCOM’s website.

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ESSCOM is an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department to undertake the enhancement of security in the ESSZONE defined as 10 districts from Kudat to Tawau spanning 1,733.7 kilometers, to prevent recurrence of any form of intrusion by unwanted foreign elements.  The method that should be employed to affect this is by applying the Defence-in-Depth concept that I wrote about in March of 2013 when ESSCOM was first formed.  The military has worked with the police in a support role on numerous occasions starting with the First and Second Emergencies of 1948-1960 and 1968-1989 periods respectively, in various UN missions such as to Cambodia, Liberia, and Timor Leste. The military also supported the operations conducted by the police in Ops Daulat last year, and since then the military and police have conducted basic recruit training jointly at the Army Recruit Training Centre in Port Dickson to enhance better understanding between the two.  Therefore, the issue of one not being able to accept orders by the other does not arise.  In any case in peacetime, the command of the police prevails and the military plays a supporting role, and this has always been case.  The Immigration however, does not have any experience in operational security as they only act as filters to immigration, and not experienced nor trained in deploying combat assets.  It is no secret that the southern Filipinos have no respect nor fear for our Immigration Department. They only fear our police and the military.

I don’t subscribe to Wan Junaidi’s remark that the resorts should close down. They have been in existence even before the formation of ESSCOM. They are still located within our littoral zones. Should they not be protected? Should there not be security forces stationed at these resorts as there is on Mataking, Mabul, Sipadan, SiAmil and other islands?  If the resort owners do not cooperate, what is the problem? Who makes the policies? Can’t action be taken against resort owners who do not respect policies? Stop giving stupid excuses, Wan Junaidi, and start behaving like a Deputy Minister.  If ESSCOM cannot even get the buy-in because it does not have the will to enforce and execute policies, it should be disbanded and leave it to the police and military to run an enhanced version of Ops PASIR. The Immigration Department should just go back to stamping passports and weed out illegal immigrants.

So, who is to be blamed, Wan Junaidi?  Who is to be blamed for appointing a non-combatant to take charge of a combat situation? Who is to be blamed if as a result of the appointment two armed incursions have taken place resulting in the kidnapping of three people and the death of one?  I will blame Wan Junaidi for making stupid statements, one after another, and blame the government for making him a Deputy Minister.

ESSCOM ERROR

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When the government announced the formation of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), I said to myself, “About bloody time!”. I imagined security sectors formed from Kudat to Sandakan to Lahad Datu to Semporna and Tawau, mirroring what we used to have along the Malaysian-Thai border during the Communist insurgency such as Kota Alfa, Kota Bravo, Kota Charlie and Kota Delta spanning Kuala Perlis to Tumpat. The initial aim was to combat the communist guerrillas and stopping their infiltration from Southern Thailand. After the treaty in December 1989, we had elements of the Unit Pencegahan Penyeludupan (UPP) or the Anti-Smuggling Unit operating in these areas in a supporting role, to curb the smuggling of contrabands and also human trafficking.

Instead, I find it rather amusing when the Ketua Setiausaha Negara announced that Datuk Mohammad Mentek has been appointed as the Director of ESSCOM effective April 1st. What is wrong with this appointment? Mohammad Mentek is the Director of Immigration for the state of Sabah, the agency that, in my opinion, has failed badly in curbing the in-flow of illegal Filipino and Indonesian immigrants into that state.

The New Straits Times ran a story on Mohammad Mentek’s appointment and a statement by the KSN that was complemented by Mohammad’s curriculum vitae; citing even that Mohammad would be very experienced in the field of security and public order.

This April 1st appointment has to be an April’s Fool joke with an extremely bad taste. Surely the KSN should know the functions of the Immigration Department like the back of his hand. If I may provide a memory-jogger for all, the. immigration Department’s functions are:

  • 1. Issuing of passports and travel documents to Malaysian Citizens and Permanent Residents.

    2. Issuing of visas, passes and permits to Foreign Nationals entering Malaysia.

    3. Administering and managing the movement of people at authorised entry and exit points.

    4. Enforcing the Immigration Act 1959/63, Immigration Regulations 1963 and Passport Act 1966.

  • If you think I made the above up, read it here. How much of an expert do you think the Sabah Director of Immigration would be in the field of counter-insurgency warfare, joint-command operations and public order? Other than the pen being mightier than the sword, I doubt if the person’s handled anything more than the butter knife, let alone deploy battalions of soldiers and policemen in combat situations.

    This is another example of the government missing out on a good opportunity to make things better. Obviously, the main concern when we talk about Sabah right now is its defence from foreign elements. With the heavy presence of our security forces there, we can only see illegal immigrants returning to their homeland, and not the other way round. Therefore, the government should have had a clear aim (again, quoting from the Principles of WAR) in ensuring its strategies in making Sabah more secure conform to this aim. A concept called Defence-in-Depth should have been adopted instead where the Army and Police’s General Operations Force occupy the peripheral islands off Sabah, as being done in Ops PASIR, supported by the Navy, Marine Police and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. These are the front-liners that will be meeting armed militants head-on. Onshore, defence and security should be effected by the Army and Police. The Immigration Department will just stick to its supporting role, weeding out illegal immigrants.

    Therefore, in my opinion, the ESSCOM should be jointly-directed by the Deputy Commander of the Army’s 1st Division, one of the deputies of the Commissioner of Police, Sabah, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s Head of Regional Enforcement for Sabah and Labuan. The reason is because they are in-charge of the combat and combat-capable units operating in this region, not the Immigration.

    In conclusion, the choice of the Director of Immigration for Sabah as the Director for ESSCOM is a grave mistake. I respect the person for who he is, but if the government wants to be seen serious in protecting the Malaysians in the state of Sabah, leave the job to the professionals. Not someone who holds a Master of Science (Statistics) degree and a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) degree from the University of Minnesota, United States.

    The Chinese Navy “Visits” Beting Serupai

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    Mention the name Beting Serupai you might get frowned upon by many. Mention the name James Shoal, and it may raise a few eyebrows. To most Malaysian, they would not be able to pinpoint where James Shoal is, save for some avid fishing enthusiasts, but this 22-meter deep shoal 80 kilometres off Bintulu, Sarawak, has been “visited” by elements of the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) or simply referred to as the Chinese Navy, yesterday.

    In its report on the 26th March 2013, the Associated Press wrote:

    The official People’s Daily online said Wednesday that one destroyer, two frigates and an amphibious landing ship took part in the drills around Chinese-controlled outcroppings. They involved hovercraft, ship-born helicopters, amphibious tanks, and land-based fighters and bombers, and were followed by a ceremonial visit Tuesday to James Shoal farther south.

    The Beting Serupai has always been part of China’s claim, lumped together in the Spratlys, as its southernmost territory. Prior to this “visit” the PLA-N visited the shoal in 1993 and 1994. In April of 2010, its vessel, the Marine Surveillance Ship-83 placed a sovereignty stele into the water area of the shoal.

    When Malaysia enhanced its relationship with China in May 2011, it was looked at as a step further towards harnessing a greater economic relationship. The Malaysian Opposition was quick to excoriate the act as political pandering. But in retrospect, it was strategically a good move as it relives the act by the Sultanate of Melaka with the Chinese. China is not a country one could just ignore. As in the 15th century, an alliance with China not only provides economic benefits, but also from a military standpoint.

    It is no secret that after China’s warnings to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in 2012, the United States was actively looking for bases in this region. Among the countries where bases are sought include the Philippines and Vietnam. However, no other modern naval base offers the best proximity than Malaysia’s own Teluk Sepanggar just north of Kota Kinabalu. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the carrier battle group of the USS John C Stennis decided to make a port call there in early October 2012. Before that, in the month of April 2012, the RMN base was visited by the US Navy Secretary, who brought with him the submarine-tender, the USS Emory S Land, and the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine, the USS Louisville.

    The only factor that is stopping the US Navy from getting naval base facilities in Sabah is probably not having a Malaysian government that would kowtow to them. Therefore, the outcome of the next general elections would be important to them. Little wonder that Sabah has been the aim of a certain party. However, this writer hopes that this dangerous effort would not come to fruition.

    That the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines has asked Filipinos to stop referring to Sabah as Sabah, Malaysia three days ago, citing Memorandum Circular No. 162 issued by Malacanang back in 2008. The DFA has also begun referring to Filipinos fleeing Sabah as “displaced persons” instead of “evacuees” or “returnees.” This is the Philippines government doing a 180 on its previous position re the Sabah claim. The fact that the US Navy and Marines have begun deploying its assets in the Philippines comes as no surprise. On Tuesday the USN and US Marine Corps offloaded more than 270 tactical and amphibious assault vehicles in Subic Bay, Zambales.

    American troops from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force, offloaded a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle from the container and roll-on, roll-off ship USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus on March 21. Some 8,000 troops from both the US and the Philippines will commence its Balikatan exercise on 5th April. And the US has yet to offer an explanation on why its minesweeper, the USS Guardian, could run aground on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea near Palawan, two weeks before the incursion by the Sulu militants. And suddenly, Jamalul Kiram III who hardly has enough money to cover the bills for his twice-weekly kidney dialysis, could find the financial resources to send hundreds of armed militants across the Sulu Sea to Lahad Datu.

    Perhaps, the Chinese naval exercise in the South China Sea and its “visit” to the southernmost part it claims comes as a warning to any party that plans to upset the military balance in the region. China, I would expect, would want to protect its interests; and the 180 by the Philippines in the Sabah issue could be seen as an attempt to de-stabilise the region. Having Sabah not only allows a nation to dip its fingers into Sabah’s oilfields but also increases its EEZ reach into the Spratlys.

    Whatever the intentions may be by all the related parties, the Malaysian government should seriously look into increasing its naval and aerial assets. A country that is weak militarily will only see its soil trampled by foreign forces. The government should also make sure Sabah is not lost to another nation, and act against the Quislings who have caused the emergency in Lahad Datu.