Hackers in your heads, Cybercriminals preying on gullible


 

Cyberscammers tapping into minds – Conmen get personal data from social media

<< You’ve been had: A user checking an SMS alert about an unauthorised credit card transaction.

PETALING JAYA: Cybercriminals are getting into your head.

Realising that victims are no longer falling for the ‘I’m a Prince who wants to deposit US$50mil (RM199mil) into your account’ e-mail, these syndicates have enlisted psychologists and behavioural experts to launch targetted attacks on companies, groups and individuals.

By going through their victims’ social media accounts, they learn more about their targets and are able to craft attractive e-mail, prompting them to respond.

Clicking on the link in the e-mail will download malware that encrypts your device. Computers, smartphones, smartwatches and any other network-connected device, can be locked by cybercriminals who will only release it for a fee, or “ransom”.

Such ransomware has reached our shores, with a total of 5,069 attacks in Malaysia last year, according to cybersecurity company Symantec Corporation.

“The new modus operandi uses social engineering, with the e-mail being crafted by Malaysians who know the local scenario and how to trigger emotional reactions,” Symantec (Asia Pacific and Japan) cyber security services senior director Peter Sparkes told Sunday Star.

For example, if they find out from Facebook that you went shopping, you could get an official-looking e-mail from a trusted source like a government body or postal department saying: ‘You’ve received a free gift from shopping at our KL outlet. Click this link to trace your parcel’.

“Or if they see you at a cycling event, the e-mail could say: ‘Thank you for participating. Click on the link for photos and videos of the ride’,” he said.

“To decrypt your device, they’ll ask for about US$200 (RM782) in virtual currency like Bitcoin, to bypass the banks,” Sparkes added.

Acknowledging this new threat, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) strategic communication head Sheikh Raffie Abd Rahman urged the public to be more alert.

He said one of the most commonly used social engineering techniques was phishing attacks targetting online banking customers.

Such cases would be investigated by the police under the Computer Crimes Act 1997 or the Penal Code.

A total of 1,311 phishing websites have been blocked by the MCMC between last year and March 8.

This includes fake pages created to acquire personal information such as usernames, passwords, banking information and credit card details by masquerading as a trusted entity in an electronic communication.

CyberSecurity Malaysia (CSM) chief executive officer Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab said the number of incidents reported to the CSM indicates the growing threat of ransomware here.

Revealing that local businesses are also targeted, he said the CSM will work together with international communities to share current information on ransomware threats and disseminate them to the public.

Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said cybercriminals have become more sophisticated in their approach by enlisting psychologists.

“But whichever methods they use, there is an underlying modus operandi of appealing to human emotions of fear, greed, curiosity, loneliness, compassion or even spirituality,” he said.

By Christina Chin Yuen Meikeng The Star

Cybercriminals preying on gullible

Users beware! With cybercriminals leveling up, ransomware attacks are expected to spike here. Malaysians shouldn’t let their guard down when it comes to personal information and should be on the lookout for online scams.

HE wasn’t the fastest, but Eugene (not his real name) feels like a champion after finishing his first marathon.

Posting a selfie he made public on his Facebook account, the 28-year-old later receives an e-mail congratulating him on the feat. “Click on this link to see more pictures and videos of the event,” says the e-mail, which appears to be sent from the organiser of the run.

Curious and hoping to see images of himself, Eugene clicks open the link on his laptop but instead, gets a message telling him his device is now locked. All his files have been encrypted and he can’t access them, including his work document to be submitted on Monday.

The only way he can retrieve them is to pay a hacker a ransom of US$300 (RM1,181) in Bitcoin currency. Such an incident, known as a ransomware attack, could very well happen to you if you are not careful.

To top it all off, these cases are expected to increase this year, with “very specific ransomware targeted very specifically at Malaysians” being detected, says Symantec (Asia Pacific and Japan) cyber security services senior director Peter Sparkes.

According to cybersecurity company Symantec Corporation, Malaysia ranks 47th globally, and 12th in the Asia Pacific and Japan region, in terms of ransomware attacks.

Last year, there were 5,069 ransomware attacks or 14 per day in Malaysia. But Sparkes foresees that these numbers will surge.

“Ransomware is very attractive because it makes lots of money. It’ll be big here in the coming months, probably averaging 20 attacks per day.

“We’ve seen a lot of smartphone attacks recently. They love WhatsApp because the best way to get someone to click on a link is if it comes from someone you know,” he says.

Sparkes describes such crypto ransomware as the latest, and most dangerous malware threat because it’s near impossible to get rid of.

He adds that the experience is very emotional because many people do not back up their data.

“For individuals, losing personal data like photos and videos is traumatic so most victims will pay. Some will even tell you how to infect your friends to decrease your ransom,” he reveals.

Ransomware hackers are also using help from psychologists and behavioural experts to study their victims on social media before sending them personalised messages to trigger a response.

But it is not just ransomware that needs to be taken seriously as Malaysians need to be vigilant over social media scams, with these two being named as key trends in the country now by Symantec Malaysia systems engineering director David Rajoo.

He says cybercrime is extremely widespread with one in three Malaysians surveyed having experienced it in the past year and 83% know of someone else who was a victim.

“Consumers here lost an average of 27 hours and about RM8.9bil over the past year, dealing with the fallout of online crime.

“The amount of personal data stored online continues to grow, and while this free flow of data creates immense opportunities, it also opens the doors to new risks,” he warns.

Cybercriminals preying on personal data are also a cause for concern here and globally.

Sparkes points out that personal assistants and those in human resources are popular targets because that’s how cybercriminals gain access into an organisation’s database.

“Take a hotel for example. I’d target the CEO’s personal assistant. All I need is 200,000 of their best guests. If I sold the details at US$50 (RM197), it’s pretty good money for a day’s work. HR staff’s another good one because they look at CVs,” he says.

Last year, 500 million personal information was breached globally. That, he says, is a conservative estimate.

Someone checks out your Facebook activities, creates a personalised e-mail to get you to click on a link, and that’s it.

Everytime you download an app on social media, you could be giving access to your life, he cautions.

Of 10.8 million apps analysed in 2015, three million were collecting way more information than necessary, Sparkes says.

“Cyber scammers are also making you call them to hand over your cash,” he adds.

They send fake warning messages to devices like smartphones, driving users to attacker-run call centers to dupe them into buying useless services.

The services industry is the most vulnerable sector in the country, attracting 72.4% of spear phishing attacks.

There was also a significant spam increase with Malaysia jumping up the global ranking from 44 in 2014 to 23 last year, he adds, lamenting how many still don’t realise that cybercrime is an industry.

Cybercriminals are professionals using very sophisticated tools and techniques.

“They work like any other legit organisation – it’s a 9am to 5pm job with weekends off, holidays and proper offices. A lot of users still think it’s 18-year-olds in the garage fooling around. Nothing could be further from truth. The guys sell info to the underground economy,” Sparkes says.

Syndicates only need three things – cheap broadband, a cyber-savvy workforce they can hire, and countries where cyber laws are weak. Asia Pacific and Japan has invested significantly to give their population access to the Internet, he adds, explaining the shocking rise of cybercrime.

“I’m particularly concerned about the senior citizens as many are just discovering the Internet. They’re very trusting and will download without questioning. People stress on being streetsmart, but it’s just as crucial to be cybersmart,” he feels.

By Christina Chin Yuen Meikeng The Star

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M’sians still giving away sensitive info

Philippine president-elect Duterte may shift Manila’s foreign policy, have limited room for change on maritime disputes


The polls opened on Monday for general elections, including the race for the president, in the Philippines. As of press time, Rodrigo Duterte, also known as “the Donald Trump of the Philippines” has assumed a big lead with 39 percent of votes, and is believed to have secured his position as the country’s next president.

The 71-year-old Duterte has been mayor of Davao City for over 20 years. But his remarks are far more aggressive than those of US presidential candidate Trump. He has claimed that if he is elected, he will eliminate corruption and crime in this nation within several months and execute 100,000 criminals and dump them into Manila Bay. Not long ago, Duterte even vowed to “forget human rights.”

Duterte has also left a strong impression that his concept of foreign policy differs greatly to that of President Benigno Aquino III. He opposes the idea of going to war with China, wants direct negotiation with Beijing about the South China Sea, and doesn’t believe in solving the conflict through an international tribunal.

The overwhelming support Duterte received over and above the other contenders suggests there is strong dissatisfaction in the country with Aquino’s six-year rule. Though the country enjoyed 6 percent annual growth for the past six years, the public failed to benefit from it. The electorate is also fed up with Aquino’s lopsided South China Sea strategy – siding completely with Washington which brought no advantage to Manila.

The public cares most about livelihoods and nationalistic slogans cannot feed them. It is reported that the 40 richest families in the Philippines own 76 percent of the country’s total assets. The country is afflicted with corruption and hereditary politics, and as punishment, the Aquino-backed candidate is languishing far behind.

It won’t be possible for Duterte to turn the domestic Philippine political arena upside down. Being only a mayor of Davao in the past years, he has no power to move the entire nation. He was obviously bragging when asserting he would eliminate corruption in six months. In an era of rising populism, it seems that a “big mouth” can always be popular wherever they are.

But if there is anything that can be changed by Duterte, it will be diplomacy. Many believe that whoever assumes office will adjust the nations’ unscrupulous policy toward China. If the new leader wants to manifest his or her difference from the previous president, as well as to make achievements, improving ties with Beijing is the shortest way.

China will not be too naïve to believe that a new president will bring a promising solution to the South China Sea disputes between Beijing and Manila. However, it sounds accurate that Philippine ties with China have already been through an all-time low during Aquino’s presidency. Only time will tell how far the new leader, be it Duterte or not, will go toward restoring the bilateral relationship.

Exclusive interview with Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang

 

Lu Kang: China hopes new gov’t in Philippines will work to solve disputes

CCTV Foreign Affairs Reporter Su Yuting spoke with Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, for more on China’s stance towards the
Philippine election and the South China Sea Issue.

https://player.cntv.cn/standard/cntvOutSidePlayer.swf

Duterte may have limited room for change on maritime disputes

Rodrigo Duterte, the hard-liner mayor of Davao City, seemed to be the sure winner of the presidential election in the Philippines Monday. Duterte shares different political views from the outgoing president Benigno Aquino, and how the China-Philippines relationship will develop after the election is worth exploring.

The South China Sea dispute is at the core of the relationship between Beijing and Manila, yet Duterte’s comments on the issue are self-contradictory. Although he suggested settling the disputes via direct negotiations with China, and proposed the principle of shelving differences and conducting joint development in the South China Sea, Duterte also vowed to ride a jet ski to Huangyan Island and plant the national flag there.

Despite the above statements, Duterte is a more practical politician compared with his predecessor. The new government is expected to see adjustments in its South China Sea policy.

However, the room for adjustments is squeezed by the US and the Aquino administration. To begin with, Washington and Manila have reached a series of cooperative agreements including a 10-year long Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and a five-year long Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative. By signing these deals, the White House, on the one hand, wants to draw the Philippines over to its side, and attempts to impose restrictions on the new government’s foreign policies on the other.

Recently, the Pentagon, by sending warplanes in the international airspace in the vicinity of Huangyan Island, has actively intervened in the South China Sea disputes. The US is always hyping up the Huangyan Island disputes and stirring up troubles against China. The US military intervention is attempting to influence the foreign policies of the new government.

Duterte’s political performances will be limited by the Aquino administration as well. The Aquino government unilaterally initiated the international arbitration in 2013 and has been obstinately pushing forward arbitral proceedings regarding the South China Sea disputes ever since.

“If the tribunal rules that the Reed Bank [Liyue Tan] belongs to the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, then of course we have the right to proceed,” Antonio Carpio, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice, urged the new government to proceed with the arbitration. The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea was also created by Aquino to unify national actions on the South China Sea issues.

Before leaving the office, Aquino will still strive to manipulate public opinion and provoke nationalist sentiments against China in every possible means. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has even introduced a Philippines Diplomatic Handbook for the new government’s reference. The Aquino administration is trying every means to exert influence on the new government and force it to accept the final verdict of the arbitration.

As mayor of Davao City, Duterte had limited political influence on the whole nation. Earlier, Aquino called on all presidential candidates to form a united front against Duterte. The hard-line new president is likely to face challenges from traditional elites and Manila. “The moment he [Duterte] tries to declare a revolutionary government, that is also going to be the day he will be removed from office,” Senator Antonio Trillanes, a former navy officer known for the failed military uprisings in 2007 and 2003, said earlier.

With his “big mouth,” Duterte is seen by many as the “Donald Trump of the Philippines.” His victory reflects Philippine citizens’ strong dissatisfaction with Aquino’s rule. The overall situation in the Philippines has not seen significant improvements in recent years. Politically, corruption is severe. Economically, the interests of the lower-class citizens have been neglected. The nation’s infrastructure is in urgent need to improve as well. The Philippines is lagging far behind its Southeast Asian neighbors. It is understandable that the Philippine citizens want a hard-line leader to change the status quo.

China has to be prepared for the negotiations with Duterte after the election. Despite the South China Sea disputes, Beijing and Manila have seen frequent people-to-people exchanges and strong economic ties in recent years. The two states should be prepared for direct communications to settle the disputes, and lead the bilateral relationship to a new level.

By Chen Qinghong Source:Global Times

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

US destroyer’s South China Sea show an insipid affair

If the South China Sea eventually becomes the main stage for strategic rivalries between China and the US, it will benefit China
more. The whole of Chinese society will be more resolute and it means China would have the chance to solve its peripheral and strategic problems at the same time. But the US, whose acts are prompted by greed,
will view the South China Sea as its burden sooner or later.

Chinese legal experts refute Philippine claim in South China Sea

Philippines arbitration lacks legal evidence

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Philippine presidential election a chance to settle South China Sea issues


The Philippine presidential election on May 9, arguably the most contentious in decades, will see a new leader assume power because incumbent President Benigno Aquino III is barred from seeking re-election. Since Aquino is responsible for the souring of Beijing-Manila relations by endorsing Washington’s “rebalancing to Asia-Pacific” policy over the past six years, the world is waiting to see what the new Philippine government’s China policy will be.

Backed by the United States, the Aquino government has constantly sought to challenge China over the South China Sea issue, which, however, has proved to be a fool’s errand.

To begin with, Manila’s attempt to confront Beijing over its Huangyan Island has failed.

To maintain relations with the Philippines, however, China has exercised exemplary restraint in the island dispute. And the Philippines was expected to reciprocate the gesture for the sake of bilateral ties, which Aquino has long refused.

Encouraged by Washington, Manila sent military vessels to harass Chinese fishing boats and fishermen operating in waters off Huangyan Island in 2012, triggering a two-month confrontation with China’s surveillance ships. This prompted Beijing to strengthen its presence on the island, leaving no scope for Manila to encroach upon the Chinese territory.

Thanks to the Aquino administration’s accommodative policy, US troops, which the Philippine people fought strenuously to get rid of, are back in the country and will be stationed at five military bases.

Seeking Washington’s protection might not be a good move for Manila-it could even be counter-productive-because Philippine soldiers, despite being equipped and trained according to US standards, have not been able to defeat the poorly-equipped anti-government forces.

By selling its Hamilton-class cutters and other advanced weapons to the Philippines, Washington is strengthening its military alliance with Manila.

But the Philippines should realize that it is just a piece on the US chessboard. The US may make use of the Philippines to meddle in the waters of the South China Sea, but it will never get involved if it leads to open confrontation between China and the Philippines. Should a serious conflict break out between Beijing and Manila over the South China Sea issue, which is about China’s maritime sovereignty, Washington might prefer to watch from the sidelines because it does not concern the US’ core interests.

Manila’s provocations such as those around the Huangyan Island and the filing of an arbitration case in its dispute with China in the South China Sea, have a lot to do with the deteriorating bilateral relations, which have dealt a heavy blow to their trade and commercial cooperation.

As such, the incoming Philippine government should recalibrate its China policy.

But the prospects for that do not look encouraging, because the US is likely to take steps to ensure the new Philippine administration keeps serving its “rebalancing to Asia-Pacific” policy.

On the one hand, Washington is expected to ramp up its military aid to Manila in the next five years. On the other, in an attempt to hype up China’s legal construction on its South China Sea islands, the US flew six of its military planes through the international airspace near Huangyan Island last month, injecting more uncertainties into China-Philippines ties.

The Aquino government has been trying to justify its hawkish stance on the South China Sea issue and urging the incoming leadership to follow the same policy. Worse, its anti-China propaganda has seriously affected domestic opinion, as more Philippine citizens now seem to distrust China.

Given these facts, the new Philippine administration should take appropriate measures to improve Beijing-Manila ties and seek peaceful solution to bilateral disputes without becoming an expendable part of Washington’s Asia-Pacific maneuver.

By CHEN QINGHONG (China Daily)

The author is a researcher in Southeast Asian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.


China has sound reasons to reject South China Sea arbitration

An aerial photo taken on Sept. 25, 2015 from a seaplane of Hainan Maritime Safety Administration shows the Yacheng 13-1 drilling rig during a patrol in South China Sea.(Xinhua file photo/Zhao Yingquan)

 

Interview: No ‘ruling’ can destroy China’s sovereignty over S. China Sea

CCTV have talked to Victor Gao, the Director of the China National Association of International Studies. He says whatever the ruling is, the end result may be the opposite of what the Philippine government wants …

Videos:

http://t.cn/RqEfUgE

https://player.cntv.cn/standard/cntvOutSidePlayer.swf http://english.cctv.com/2016/05/06/VIDEiXOWX2qORs4PH2OlXKHk160506.shtml

The Philippines’ unilateral attempt at arbitration over South China Sea disputes is not a real attempt to find a solution, but pursuit of selfish gains in the name of “rule of law.”

The core of the Beijing-Manila South China Sea dispute is territorial issue, caused by the illegal occupation of some of China’s islands and reefs since the 1970s by the Philippines, and the issue of maritime delimitation.

The arbitration violates the basic principles of international law and undermines the integrity and authority of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS).

The court has no right to adjudicate on the case as in 2006, China exercised its right under Article 298 of the UNCLOS and made a declaration excluding compulsory arbitration on disputes concerning maritime delimitation.

The UN Charter and international law advocate peaceful settlement of disputes through dialogue and negotiation. The UNCLOS respects the dispute settlement procedure chosen by the parties themselves.

Meanwhile, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), signed by China and ASEAN countries, stipulates that disputes be resolved through consultation and negotiation by those directly concerned.

Therefore, China has sound reasons to reject compulsory arbitration. Whatever the result of the arbitration, it will not be binding on China.

The Philippines has distorted and abused the international arbitration mechanism, and reneged on its promise to solve disputes through negotiation.

It is also an outright lie to say that “all bilateral tools have been exhausted.”

China and the Philippines have conducted several rounds of consultations on building trust, managing disputes and promoting maritime cooperation and, during these occasions, the Philippines has never talked with China about any of the appeals it mentioned in the arbitration case.

As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointed out, attempts to pressure China over an arbitration of maritime disputes is “either political arrogance or legal prejudice.”

It doesn’t hold water to say that filing for an arbitration is upholding international law, while not accepting arbitration violates international law. This is not viable in international practice .- Xinhua

Related:

China rebukes U.S. official’s criticism on South China Sea arbitration

BEIJING, April 29 (Xinhua) — A Chinese spokesperson on Friday rebuked U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks on the impending “arbitration” of the South China Sea issue, saying the United States is in no position to criticize China.

On Thursday, Blinken told a House of Representatives hearing in Washington that China “can’t have it both ways,” by being a party to the convention but rejecting its provisions, including “the binding nature of any arbitration decision.” Full story

Backgrounder: “Geng Lu Book,” encyclopedia on South China Sea

BEIJING, May 1 (Xinhua) — The “Geng Lu Book,” a historic book written between China’s Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (AD 1644-1911), begins with a few sentences outlining an accurate maritime navigation route of ancient Chinese fishermen sailing from the Tan Men port of China’s Hainan Province to the South China Sea.

The origin of the “Geng Lu Book” could date back to the early Ming Dynasty. The book records names of more than 100 locations in and important maritime information about the South China Sea, including sailing directions, time, distance, islands and submerged reefs, as well as sea current speeds and weather changes. Full story

Backgrounder: China has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea islands

BEIJING, April 29 (Xinhua) — The Philippines, distorting and partially applying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), attempts to challenge China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands.

In its unilaterally-initiated arbitration, the Philippines argues that low-tide elevations and submerged reefs are part of the exclusive
economic zone and continental shelf, a claim that totally runs contrary to historical fact, reality and international law. Full story

Historical documents record China’s sovereignty in South China Sea

 

Taiwan Republic of China (ROC) President Ma visits Taiping Island

President Ma convenes international press conference after visits

http://english.president.gov.tw/Default.aspx?tabid=491&itemid=36718&rmid=2355

Office of the President, ROC (Taiwan) … See us on. youtube. flickr … After arriving at Taiping Island, President Ma first heard a briefing at the Nansha Command and … a speech explaining the purpose of his visit and his hope for peace in the South China Sea. … Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan)

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Job for new Philippine head: Stop the kidnapping of foreign citizens


 

Manila urgently needs to tackle problems in its own backyard to stop the kidnapping of foreign citizens.

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was in Manila last November for the Apec Summit when he was informed by officials that Malaysian hostage, Bernard Then, who was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf group, was beheaded.

“He was upset and very shocked,” recalled a Malaysian official.

When he spoke to the Malaysian media in Manila, Najib said President Benigno Aquino had told him that Then’s beheading was probably carried out due to Philippine army operations and that Then had slowed down the militants who were moving from one place to another.

“That is not an excuse we can accept because he should have been released,” Najib told the media.

He described the beheading as savage and a barbaric act.

There seems to be no end to the kidnappings. Now more hostages, at least 20, are in the hands of the militants who are demanding ransoms.

They include four Malaysian sailors who were taken from their boat by Abu Sayyaf militants on April 1 in international waters near Pulau Ligitan. Their fate remains unknown.

Fourteen Indonesians travelling in tugboats from Borneo to the Philippines were also abducted by hijackers in two separate cases recently.

Even as the foreign governments were working to get their citizens released, more shocking news came – Abu Sayyaf gunmen had beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel in the southern province of Sulu, sparking condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Indonesia is still struggling with how to deal with the kidnapping of its citizens and is hosting talks with Malaysia and the Philippines to boost maritime security.

The meeting of foreign ministers and military chiefs in Jakarta is to discuss joint patrols to protect shipping in the waters between the three countries following the kidnappings.

The Philippine military has said the militants have been targeting foreign crews of slow-moving tugboats because they can no longer penetrate resorts and coastal towns in Sabah due to increased security.

Last week, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman was in Manila to meet his Filipino counterpart, Jose Rene D. Almendras. More assurance was given that Manila was doing all it could to secure the release of the hostages.

The Philippine military and police reportedly said that “there will be no letup” in the effort to combat the militants and find the hostages. But they have had little success in securing their freedom.

All these assurances somehow ring hollow.

We are dealing with human lives. If the foreign governments are frustrated with the way the crisis is being handled by Manila, imagine the anguish and uncertainty of family members waiting for news of their loved ones.

The kidnappings are taking place in the Philippines’ own backyard and the question arises as to whether they are doing enough to tackle the problem at source.

The answer will be no. After all how do you explain the alarming number of people being kidnapped and brought back to the Philippines with a price put on their head?

It is election period in the Philippines. A lot of energy is spent on political campaigning by politicians and fears remain that the lives of the hostages are not on their priority list.

“Manila must be doing more to tackle the kidnapping and transborder crime activities and I seriously think they are not doing enough,” said a security official.

Security is a big challenge for the Philippines. While its military is battling the militants in the south, up north Manila sent its ships and aircraft to keep watch over the South China Sea, where tensions are building up with China.

Another problem has risen from these hostage-taking cases. It is affecting the economic activities of citizens living on both sides of the border.

Sabah has shut down its eastern international boundaries to cross- border trade as part of measures to clamp down on the kidnapping groups.

Barter trade is a lifeline for people on Tawi Tawi, the southern-most Philippine province and the closest to Sabah, for their rice, cooking gas and fuel.

Authorities in several Indonesian coal ports have blocked departures of ships for the Philippines over security concerns. Indonesia supplies 70% of the Philippines’ coal import needs.

The calls for joint navy and air patrol efforts among neighbouring countries are getting louder. But that is a stop-gap measure.

These kidnapping cases are affecting the image of the region as well.

Filipinos are about to elect a new president. Lets hope one of the priorities of the new leader is to tackle, with a lot of care, the safe release of the hostages and subsequently peace in southern Philippines.

By Mergawati Zulfakar The Star

 

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Malaysia’s pragmatic patriot: friends with benefits


 

The South China Sea dispute. The global terrorism threat. Malaysia’s foreign policy is back in the world’s spotlight and it is exciting times for ISIS Malaysia’s Foreign Policy and Security Studies chief.

IN an article titled “Think tanks aren’t going extinct. But they have to evolve”, American scholar James Jay Carafano wrote that the capacity to do rigorous, credible research is “no longer sufficient” for think tanks to manoeuvre their ideas prominently into the policy debate. Instead, think tanks must learn to communicate “in ways that will allow their ideas to break through to decision-makers who are bombarded with information from all sides”.

In that regard, Elina Noor has proven to be a real asset to Malaysia’s premier think tank, the Institute of Strategic and Interna­tional Studies, or ISIS Malaysia. Her ability to articulate on complex and dynamic global affairs – such as major power relations, cyber warfare, terrorism and conflicts – in succinct yet jargon-free language has also made her a highly sought-after interviewee by the international media.

As a child, Elina wanted to be “everything”, from prime minister to fashion designer. Her parents, who ran a management consultancy firm, however, might have subconsciously put her on her career path by leaving the world news on television all the time when she was growing up.

“My parents would engage in lively debates about international affairs between themselves. As I grew older, I wanted to do law with an eye towards international law, specifically how war and conflict affect people.”

After graduating from Oxford University in the United Kingdom, she specialised in public international law at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This was followed by an internship at the Centre for Non-proliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington DC, specialising in issues of weapons of mass destruction terrorism.

Essentially, she helped compile a database of terrorist groups with chemical or bioweapons capabilities by combing through secondary sources and obtaining intelligence from experts who had gone into the field.

Her days in the United States were cut short, however, by visa limitations. So, after nine months, she returned to Malaysia in 2001.

Her appetite whetted by her Washington experience, Elina joined ISIS Malaysia as a researcher.

Though formally positioned as a research organisation for nation-building initiatives, ISIS Malaysia was set up by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1983 to serve as a crucial sounding board for the government on foreign policy and security issues.

In addition to research, ISIS Malaysia engages actively in non-governmental meetings between states, known as Track Two diplomacy, and fosters closer regional integration and international cooperation through forums such as the Asia-Pacific Roundtable.

Now, having risen through the ranks, Elina heads a team of eight in the Foreign Policy and Security Studies division.

As a claimant state in the ongoing South China Sea dispute, chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in 2015, and currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Malaysia’s foreign policy direction has drawn renewed interest at home and abroad.

Invariably, Elina is asked questions on Malaysia’s relations with China. Her answer is perhaps best laid out in an article she wrote, titled “Friends with Benefits: Why Malaysia can and will maintain good ties with both the United States and China.”

On the topic, Elina had explained: “Malaysia should or will be subservient to an awakening dragon, but the cost-benefit calculus militates against provoking it. Equally, Malaysia’s location and posture make it a strategic partner for China in South-East Asia.

“It is the mark of a mature and solid friendship when overall relations are not held hostage to single-issue disagreements.”

Elina had added that such overlapping claims in the South China Sea, “should not, if managed well, stultify cooperation between Malaysia and China in other areas of the relationship. For a developing country with high-income and knowledge-economy ambitions like Malaysia, the show must go on”.

Or to put it simply, Malaysia wants to be everybody’s friend. That’s always been the country’s foreign policy from the start, she points out.

On the other hand, this pragmatic approach has also enabled the country to punch above its weight in places where even superpowers fear to tread.

Elina’s other portfolio, cyber warfare and security, is expected to come further into the spotlight with recent headlines claiming that the so-called Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria intended to abduct top Malaysian leaders, including the PM.

“Malaysia up to this point has handled terrorism very well,” Elina says.

Many attempts have been foiled in the past, she adds, and the police have kept it low-key.

“If you follow the issues closely, you’ll notice the police only started publicising their efforts in the run-up to Pota (The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015), an anti-terrorism law passed by the Malaysian government on April 7, 2015 enabling the Malaysian authorities to detain terror suspects without trial for a period of two years.”

Part of this publicising had to do with the political selling of Pota, but there was a more legitimate, pressing reason: People were taking security for granted in Malaysia.

“Malaysians treat security like it’s not a problem. We often criticise the police but the military and Special Branch in charge of counterterrorism really know what they’re doing. The police have been very vigilant and I think they do good work but haven’t been given enough credit.”

After 14 years, she still enjoys her job because of the intellectual robustness but admits some world-weariness has set in.

Nevertheless, Elina remains motivated by the knowledge that a lot of good Malaysians on both sides of the political divide are doing good work for the country.

Pointing to a faded wristband she has been wearing for “donkey’s years”, the inscription reads: “Malaysia tanahairku (Malaysia, my homeland)”.

“Call me cheesy,” she says, “but I’ve never thought of removing it. Love for country might, but does not always, equate to love for government. I’m a sentimental patriot.”

By Alexandra Wong, China Daily/Asia News Network

North Korea: launched a long-range rocket, cannot repeat China’s nuclear weapons path


North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday morning. Pyongyang authorities said they had successfully launched the Kwangmyongsong-4 earth observation satellite, while the US, South Korea and Japan considered the launch to be a long-range missile test.

Pyongyang has made progress in long-range rocket and missile technology, but it is far from mastering mature long-range missile system and building a strategic deterrence. North Korea hopes it can effectively threaten the US homeland, but it views the matter too simply. Washington regards Pyongyang’s rocket launch as “severe provocation.” The majority of the international community doesn’t believe that in the foreseeable future, Pyongyang can miniaturize warheads and have the long-range nuclear strike ability to coerce Asia-Pacific countries and the US.

Long-range missile technology is similar to rocket technology, but there are differences. The deterrence of long-range missiles using liquid propellant is limited due to their restrained mobility and slow response times. According to analysis from the US and South Korean side, Pyongyang’s liquid propellant is backward and unreliable. North Korea has no successful record in long-range missile launch. As long as the Kwangmyongsong-4 enters the target orbit, it can be considered successful. But after all, the launch of a rocket and a missile is different.

Long-range missiles need a huge supportive system, for instance, the ability to measure flight attitude, orbit accuracy and landing location, but Pyongyang doesn’t have any of this. Washington and Seoul believe that North Korea has a rather limited missile testing ability. With the missile and rocket launched by the North landing in the ocean with little possibility of it being retrieved, it is extremely difficult for Pyongyang to collect the test data. Its industry is also not able to manufacture all the materials necessary for developing long-range missile and nuclear bomb.

Some believe Pyongyang’s research into nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is similar to China’s atomic and hydrogen bomb development in the 1960s. Since China succeeded, so will North Korea.

This is a serious misreading. China faced a different environment than North Korea today in developing nuclear weapons. It was before the Non-Proliferation Treaty was adopted in 1968. Plus, China has a vast territory, and has nuclear test sites in the desert, while North Korea’s limited space makes this impossible.

China’s strategic deterrent power of nuclear bomb and missile, limited at the beginning, were enhanced as science and technology improved in the country. It has become even more credible with the mobility of land-based ICBMs and the upgrading of sea-based missile launching system.

Pyongyang is at the stage of developing nuclear equipment and long-range rockets, which however has developed far from the reality of the country’s technology and economic development. So far, it is hard to tell whether it brings more strategic security or strategic harm to Pyongyang.

How far can Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb and missile develop? It is not up to the political determination of Pyongyang, since it involves complicated geopolitical forces which North Korea can hardly harness. Pyongyang must think carefully how to extricate itself from the increasingly grave situation. – Global Times

Related:

Discussion of THAAD deployment is shortsighted move of Seoul and Washington

However, China’s determination to safeguard its national security should be clearly shown, so that the other stakeholders will have to think carefully before they make any decision that might challenge China’s position.

China will “by no means allow war on the Korean Peninsula” a foreign ministry spokesperson said Wednesday, stressing Beijing was deeply concerned over Pyongyang’s announced plan to launch a satellite later this month, only weeks after it tested a nuclear bomb in defiance of international sanction

US playing a messy game of provocations in SCS; China build up defense to thwart the provocation


In October, the US guided missile destroyer USS Lassen conducted a “freedom of navigation” operation within 12 nautical miles of China’s Meiji and Zhubi reefs.

In December, a United States Air Force B-52 bomber “accidentally” flew within 2 nautical miles of China’s Huayang Reef.

On Saturday, the Pentagon announced an “innocent passage” by the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur within 12 nautical miles of China’s Zhongjian Island.

On the surface, these are “routine” operations US Senator John McCain says are “normal occurrences” China will have to accept.

Yet this is not a Tom-and-Jerry kind of game where no party gets seriously hurt.

There is real potential danger, because the US challenges to China in the South China Sea are showing a trajectory of escalation.

Zhongjian Island is part of the Xisha Archipelago, where there is no current, active dispute, and hardly part of the issue of the day.

The Pentagon did display some diplomatic sophistication this time, claiming that the USS Curtis Wilbur “challenged attempts by the three claimants-China, Taiwan and Vietnam-to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around the features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas”.

Ignoring the fact this violates the US’ recognition of “one China”, reaffirmed by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, the Pentagon’s statement raises legitimate suspicions that it has an agenda to further complicate the South China Sea issue.

As in the rest of the South China Sea, there is no evidence the named “claimants” are attempting to “restrict navigation rights and freedoms”. Enlarging the South China Sea issue by extending it to the Xisha Archipelago may be an attempt to drive a wedge between the mainland and Taiwan by dragging the latter into a long dormant and increasingly forgotten “dispute”.

The US wants a larger role in the Asia-Pacific. And it is bent on preempting a perceived Chinese challenge.

There is no better way to do this than by making things messier, to make itself “needed” and “wanted”.

What China needs and wants is peace, but as the Chinese saying goes, while the tree craves calm, the wind will not abate. Beijing needs to react accordingly, and prepare for all possibilities.

However, the country learned the significance of comprehensive national strength the hard way. It should not be distracted. It should rise above stress responses and stay focused on its development agenda. – China Daily)

Build up defense to thwart US provocation 

China firmly upholds her sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. [Photo/Xinhua]

The US on Saturday sent one of its naval vessels within 12 nautical miles of the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea. The move, according to the Pentagon, was about “challenging excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and others.” The Chinese side criticized the behavior of a “serious political and military provocation.”

Until recently, China-US frictions have been fixed on the Nansha Islands. The latest intrusion by US vessels is a high-profile US provocation that has expanded to the Xisha Islands. Xisha is under China’s actual control and China has released the territorial sea baseline of the Xisha Islands, including Zhongjian Island. Therefore, the US provocation this time is more vicious.

Currently, China and the US have been focused on making their own moves in the South China Sea disputes. China is building islands in accordance with the law, and the US cannot prevent China from doing so despite strong protests. The US sent warships to provoke, and China protests against it strongly, yet with few effective countermeasures.

It is hard to evaluate the strategic nature of Sino-US confrontations in the South China Sea. China seems to have more room to maneuver, while the US apparently has more control over the overall situation.

Since it happens at the door of China, China feels that the US is circling to contain it and the US vigilance against China is aggressive. There is a long way to go before China can have an equal footing with the US. Such equality can only be achieved with the build-up of strategic strength.

China’s military strength still significantly lags behind that of the US. If the US is ready for a face-off in the South China Sea, it can quickly gather its military strength despite the far distance.

We also face similar setbacks in the East China Sea. We bear enormous pressure from Washington in our peripheral areas, and the relative backwardness of China’s military might is the weakest link in our competition with the US. Chinese people must be clear about the broader strategic significance of this reality.

The US provocation comes ahead of the 2016 two sessions which are scheduled in March. This reminds us that we must retain a high growth rate of military spending in spite of the economic downward trend.

The defense expenditure of a big power must constitute a certain percentage of its overall expense. China’s military budget only takes up 2 percent of its GDP, much lower than the US figure of 4 percent. Before we reach the same ratio as the US, we should hold a cautious attitude toward decreasing the defense budget.

China needs to accelerate its speed of building up strategic strike capabilities, including a nuclear second-strike capability. The US provocation will not stop due to Chinese objections. In the short-term future, we will have limited means to counter the US.

It will probably take China a dozen years or longer of military build-up before it faces a different situation in the South China Sea. – Global Times

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