Inside Cover: 17 May 2010

Inside Cover: 17 May 2010

BANGKOK – As the madness unfolds outside my home, it reminds me of the American nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer saying that the US and former USSR “may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life”.

That is what the Thai government and the Red Shirt movement are now doing: killing each other.

Well, let them get on with it.
Like the even-worse Yellow Shirts and the 2006 coup-makers before them, they are behaving in a disgraceful and dishonest way, displaying utter contempt for the people they claim to represent.

Instead of dwelling on them and the Tiananmen-in-Bangkok situation they have caused, let us focus on some good news. Because, believe it or not, this region has recently witnessed some little-reported flashes of optimism and uplifting progress.

Consider Brunei and Singapore. They are not only the region’s smallest nations, but also the most threatened.

Singapore, the proverbial “little red dot”, to use the moniker coined by former Indonesian President BJ Habibie, is a rich, Chinese-majority island surrounded by big Muslim nations that have acted violently towards it in the past.

And little Brunei, less than a twelfth as large in population as Singapore, has long endured a bitter sovereignty spat with Malaysia, which surrounds it – and indeed cuts it in two.

But now, after 20 years of tough talks, Brunei and Malaysia have finally agreed to set the limits of their territorial boundaries.

The agreement was revealed last month when Murphy Oil said its deal to exploit two offshore blocks with Malaysia’s Petronas oil company had ended because the blocks were no longer Malaysian territory – they belong to Brunei.

In keeping with the amity of the accord, Brunei has invited Petronas to jointly develop the two oil-rich blocks for the next 40 years.

The “win-win” solution, as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak put it, is something to cheer about – and something Cambodia and Thailand could emulate to solve their equally bitter offshore boundary dispute.

As for Singapore, it produced a pleasant surprise by amending its constitution last month to give more political space for opposition parties.

Its parliament, which has 84 elected lawmakers, will now have up to nine non-constituency members – who will be the opposition’s best-performing losers, and nine non-elected lawmakers appointed to give alternative, non-partisan views.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “There’ll be at least 18 members who are not from the ruling party, which is about one-fifth of the house.”
When you consider that not long ago, every lawmaker in Singapore was from the ruling People’s Action Party, it is a profound improvement.

These progressive moves, along with the relatively free and fair presidential election in the Philippines, bring some succor and relief as we gaze in stupefaction at the bloodshed in downtown Bangkok.

correspondent for Asiaweek and former bureau chief in Washington and Hanoi for The Straits Times. He has covered East Asia for the past 25 years.

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