August 20, 2013

Surabaya’s Mrs. Mayor: Indonesia’s Best-Kept Secret

by Stanley A. Weiss

Surabaya, Indonesia–Here, in Indonesia’s second-largest city, legend tells of a titanic battle between Sura, the great white shark, and Baya, the crocodile. Meeting in a river one day, the two creatures fought ferociously for supremacy of the animal kingdom. The place where they clashed became known as “Surabaya,” the city of the shark and the crocodile, emblematic of the repeated waves of colonial sharks and crocodiles that have controlled the city for centuries.

Settled in the late 1200’s on the northern shore of East Java, Surabaya rose to become a major Southeast Asian port and trading center, frequently fought over and eventually controlled by the Dutch East Indies Company for over three centuries. The Dutch surrendered to Japanese troops in 1942, who occupied the country until their surrender to the Allies in 1945.

After the nationalist leader, Sukarno, declared Indonesia’s independence on August 17, 1945, violence broke out between Indonesian freedom fighters and the Dutch and British, who returned to the country to take possession of Allied prisoners of war. A British brigadier-general was killed in the crossfire, and the enraged British attacked Surabaya . The bloody Battle of Surabaya is celebrated as a turning point in Indonesia’s war of independence. Ever since, Indonesians have called it “the City of Heroes.”

Continue Reading

August 5, 2013

Can Egypt Move Beyond the Politics of Retribution?

by Stanley A. Weiss

BALI, Indonesia— Former United States President Bill Clinton likes to tell the story about the time Nelson Mandela first took him to see his old prison cell on Robben Island, where the South African icon was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the collapse of apartheid. In a small room with barely enough space for a man his size, Mandela slept on the floor, without a bed, for more than 6,500 days. Clinton asked, “Weren’t you bitter and angry when you finally walked out of here?” Mandela replied, “Yes, I was. But then I said to myself, ‘Mandela, they had you for 27 years. If you are still angry with them when you pass through the gate, they will still have you.’ But I wanted to be free, so I let it go.”

Clinton often adds that “nearly all of the conflicts in the world could be resolved if one side would just stand up and let things go. But there aren’t many men like Mandela in the world, because the instinct to hold on to old hatreds and fears is greater than the instinct to let go.”

Continue Reading

July 8, 2013

China’s Indian Ocean Strategy Not a Danger-Yet

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–When the Chinese admiral Zheng He set out on the first of seven historic voyages of exploration 608 years ago, the sails of his 317 ships blotted out the horizon. Included in the fleet were several colossal, football field-sized vessels–large enough to fit 65 of Columbus’ ships end-to-end–whose holds would eventually bring home mountains of gold, ivory, and porcelain for the glory of the Ming emperor. Sailing to a dizzying array of coastal countries over the next three decades, Zheng’s flotilla made its way across the modern-day Middle East, ultimately reaching the Cape of Good Hope some 4,000 miles away.

Such expeditions had never been seen before–and would not be seen again. Internal instability, Mongol threats, and high financial costs conspired to cripple China’s Age of Exploration. Zheng died and was buried at sea. His magnificent ships were burned. Records of his voyages were destroyed. For nearly six centuries China turned inward, away from the ocean.

That is, until now. With its release last month of a 350-page “blue book” detailing China’s strategy in the Indian Ocean, Beijing has served notice that–while insisting its interests are strictly economic–it is not content to ignore the waters to its west any longer. And India, which relies on the Indian Ocean for most of its trade and has long suspected China of pursuing a so-called “string of pearls” strategy in the region–encircling the subcontinent with a network of commercial and military facilities–is understandably wary.

Continue Reading

April 18, 2013

Xi Jinping’s First Great Test

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON–In Washington, D.C. today, the White House was taken over by North Korean terrorists. With the help of a rogue Secret Service agent, the President and his senior advisors have been taken hostage. The terrorists’ leader, blaming the U.S. for his parents’ death during the Korean War, intends to obtain the launch codes for America’s entire nuclear arsenal and detonate the weapons in their silos, obliterating the country.

Of course, this scenario is playing out not at the White House itself, but at the multiplex down the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Where movie villains once sported thick Russian accents or exaggerated Middle Eastern features, today’s entertainment antagonists reflect the world’s growing concern over the erratic and impenetrable “Hermit Kingdom” of Northeast Asia. And if the plot of the movie Olympus Has Fallen seems provocative, it’s hardly more provocative than North Korea’s actual actions of late–or more heartbreaking than the incidents of real terror witnessed this week on the streets of Boston.

Continue Reading

February 20, 2013

Myanmar: A Nation at War With Itself

by Stanley A. Weiss

YANGON — Towering high above the center of this ancient city, the Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the great wonders of the religious world. Said to be encased in more than sixty tons of gold, the Shwedagon is older than the city itself. Its earliest legend goes back 2,500 years, when two brothers from lower Burma are said to have met the Buddha shortly after his enlightenment. As proof of their friendship, the Buddha plucked eight strands of hair from his head, which they brought back and enshrined within the Shwedagon. There it remains, alongside the Buddha’s famous precepts, the first of which reads: “Avoid killing, or harming any living thing.”

Continue Reading

September 12, 2012

The Courage to Jump in Indonesia

JAKARTA–Five years ago, one of the most respected soldiers in U.S. history died too soon. Wayne Downing was a West Point graduate and four-star general who served two tours in Vietnam and came out of retirement after 9/11 to serve as anti-terrorism advisor to President George W. Bush. Known as the father of the modern Rangers, Downing commanded America’s elite counter-terrorism teams in the 1990s and spent decades training foreign soldiers who came to Fort Bragg to learn about democracy. Not long before he died, I had lunch with General Downing at the White House. He told me that of all the foreign soldiers he ever trained, two stood out. One was Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the reigning King of Jordan. The other was Prabowo Subianto, the former commander of Indonesia’s special forces, and the current front-runner to be Indonesia’s next president in 2014.

Continue Reading

April 27, 2012

Iran is to India as Pakistan is to the U.S.

NEW DELHI—Tourists flying into this ancient city are sometimes surprised to find their descent re-routed at the last minute by the presence of an 86-foot bronze statue that sits at the end of a runway. The giant icon depicts none other than Lord Shiva, one of Hinduism’s most popular and powerful gods. Known alternatively as the destroyer and the creator, family man and hermit, teacher and warrior, kind herdsman and wrathful avenger—Shiva is, like India itself, a perfect symbol of contradictions.

Continue Reading

March 8, 2012

The Fire Next Time In Bangkok

BANGKOK, Thailand— Last October, the flood came. Cresting the banks of the swollen Chao Phraya River, runoff rolled through Thailand’s central plain, killing nearly 400 and displacing millions in the costliest natural disaster in the nation’s history.

Continue Reading

February 23, 2012

The First Thing the U.S. Should Do In Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar— During the years he lived as a child in Indonesia, President Barack Obama learned the culture of Jakarta, spoke the language, survived chicken pox, and recalls frequently feeling “the sting of [his] teachers’ bamboo switches.” As a young military officer training in the United States, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known as SBY, parachuted out of planes with Fort Benning’s storied 82nd Airborne Division and attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. It is an interesting parallel between presidents that each spent formative years in the other’s country.

Continue Reading

October 6, 2011

Indonesia’s Uncertain Dance

JAKARTA—One of the mesmerizing dances performed here is Jaipongan, a style that mixes Indonesian martial arts with village ritual music. It features graceful arm movements and slow, lunging steps that create the appearance of forward momentum. While the dancer floats across the floor, you never really notice that she’s moving in a circle until the dance ends and she is standing back where she started.

Continue Reading

Page 3 of 41234