June 21, 2017
Cambodia-Vietnam Ties Turn 50
by Vannarith Chheang, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute
June 21, 2017
by Vannarith Chheang, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute
June 21, 2017
by James M. Dorsey
Two competing visions of ensuring regime survival are battling it out in the Gulf.
To Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the 2011 Arab popular revolts that toppled autocratic leaders in four countries and sparked the rise of Islamist forces posed a mortal threat. In response, the two countries launched a counterrevolution that six years later continues to leave a trail of brutal repression at home and spilt blood elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
Virtually alone in adopting a different tack based on former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s principle of “riding the tide of history,” Qatar, a monarchical autocracy like its detractors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, embraced the revolts and wholeheartedly supported the Islamists. The result is an epic battle for the future of the region that in the short-term has escalated the violence, deepened the region’s fissures, and put the tiny Gulf state at odds with its larger brethren.</span
Ironically, an analysis of political transition in Southeast Asia during the last three decades would likely prove instructive for leaders in the Gulf. At the core of people power and change were militaries or factions of militaries in the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar that saw political change as their best guarantee of holding on to significant powers and protecting their vested interests.
The Young People of ASEAN
In the Philippines and Indonesia, factions of the military partnered with civil society to show the door to the country’s autocrat (Suharto). In Myanmar, internationally isolated, the military as such opted to ensure its survival as a powerful player by initiating the process of change.
Sheikh Hamad, and his son and successor, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, have adopted the principle set forward by Southeast Asian militaries and their civil society partners with one self-defeating difference: a belief that by supporting political change everywhere else they can retain their absolute grip on power at home.
In fact, if there is one fundamental message in the two-week-old Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar, it is the recognition of the two countries’ ruling elites that they either thwart change at whatever cost or go with the flow. There are no half-measures.
There is however another lesson of history to be learned from the Southeast Asian experience: change is inevitable. Equally inevitable, is the fact that unavoidable economic change and upgrading rather than reform of autocracy like Saudi Arabia is attempting with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the driver’s seat has a limited shelf life without political change.
Gulf autocrats marvel at China’s ability to achieve phenomenal economic growth while tightening the political reigns. It’s a model that is proving increasingly difficult to sustain as China witnesses an economic downturn, a failure to economically squash popular aspirations, and question marks about massive infrastructure investment across Eurasia that has yet to deliver sustainable results and has sparked debt traps and protest across the region.
The Southeast Asian lesson is that political change does not by definition disempower political elites. In fact, those elites have retained significant power in the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar despite radical reform of political systems. That is true even with the rise for the first time of leaders in Indonesia and the Philippines who do not hail from the ruling class or with the ascendancy to power in Myanmar of Aung San Suu Kyi, a long-persecuted daughter of the ruling elite, who has refrained from challenging the elite since winning an election.
The bottom line is that ruling elites are more likely to ensure a continued grip on power by going with the flow and embracing political change than by adopting the Saudi-UAE approach of imposing one’s will by hook or by crook or the Qatari model of playing ostrich with its head in the sand.
The Qatari model risks the ruling Al Thani family being taken by surprise when an inevitably reinvigorated wave of change comes knocking on Doha’s door. More ominous are the risks involved in the Saudi-UAE approach.
That approach has already put the two states in a bind as they struggle in the third week of their boycott of Qatar to formulate demands that stand a chance of garnering international support. Even more dangerous is the risk that the hard line adopted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE will fuel extremism and political violence in an environment starved of any opportunity to voice dissent.
The ASEAN Way–Building Win-Win Strategic Partnerships to secure Peace, Stability and Development
The lessons of Southeast Asia are relevant for many more than only the sheikhdoms that are battling it out in the Gulf. International support for political transition in Southeast Asia produced a relatively stable region of 600 million people despite its jihadist elements in the southern Philippines and Indonesia, jihadist appeal to some elsewhere in the region, religious and ethnic tensions in southern Thailand and Myanmar, and deep-seated differences over how to respond to Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
That support also ensured that the process of change in Southeast Asia proved to be relatively smooth and ultimately sustainable unlike the Middle East where it is tearing countries apart, dislocating millions, and causing wounds that will take generations to heal.
To be sure, Southeast Asia benefited from the fact that no country in the region has neither the ambition nor the ruthlessness of either Saudi Arabia or the UAE.
Southeast Asia also had the benefit of an international community that saw virtue in change rather than in attempting to maintain stability by supporting autocratic regimes whose policies are increasingly difficult to justify and potentially constitute a driver of radicalization irrespective of whether they support extremist groups.
Former US President George W. Bush adopted that lesson in the wake of 9/11 only to squander his opportunity with ill-fated military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, a flawed war on terrorism, and a poorly executed democracy initiative. The lesson has since been lost with the rise of populism and narrow-minded nationalism and isolationism.
Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.Image result for Learn from ASEAN embracing political change.
June 20, 2017
by Kavi Chongkittavorn
BANGKOK, June 15 (Reporting ASEAN) – By the time ASEAN turns 50 years old next year, Timor Leste could already be its eleventh member state. After filing its application six years ago, Timor Leste is poised to join ASEAN under the chairmanship of the Philippines, which is very keen to bring the region’s young democracy into its embrace.
Indonesia’s President Widodo Jokowi with Timor Leste’s President Taur Matan Ruak
What made headlines regarding the admission of Timor Leste, or East Timor, was the comment by Rahmat Pramono, Indonesia’s Permanent Representative to ASEAN, that ASEAN was closer to welcoming Dili. This was, after all, the first time a senior ASEAN official revealed the status of ongoing discussions on ASEAN’s fourth enlargement.
“In 2011, when Indonesia was the head of ASEAN, Timor Leste submitted an application to join ASEAN. The ASEAN member countries agreed to conduct a feasibility study of the new country,” Pramono said. Earlier, Timor Leste’s prospects for gaining membership had been blocked by Jakarta, which said that the country was not ready due to political instability, weak economic infrastructure and insufficient human resources to engage ASEAN. These assessments were shared by other member states at the time.
But a change of heart came about as the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Timor Leste improved under the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Today, Jakarta is actively pushing for Dili’s inclusion in ASEAN. New ASEAN members such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar are likewise inclined to accept Timor Leste.
Looking back, Timor Leste had expressed its intention to join ASEAN as early as a year after its independence in 2002. At the time, Thailand and Cambodia were the only two countries backing the young nation’s bid to join ASEAN right away. They thought that the best way to help was to include it in the ASEAN family as soon as possible. As a young democracy, Thailand at the time also viewed ASEAN’s expansion as a way to strengthen openness and democratization in its member states.
But other ASEAN countries were reluctant about Timor Leste’s entry. Among the old ASEAN members, Singapore was very succinct in its position that Timor Leste needed some time to prepare for membership in ASEAN because it lacked the capacity to join the economic community. The island republic feared that Timor Leste’s entry would slow down the grouping’s community-building progress.
The feasibility studies done as part as of processing Timor Leste’s membership application looked at three aspects by which to evaluate the country’s overall qualifications as ASEAN’s 11th member. These three are the pillars of politics and security, economy and socio-cultural issues. The political and security as well as economic aspects have been assessed, while the socio-cultural assessment is expected to be completed soon by Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and Security Studies.
The two completed studies on the politics and security pillar and the economic pillar concluded that Timor Leste must improve human resource development and undertake capacity-building in order to boost its economic growth and skills. When the ASEAN Community was launched at the end of last year, all members pledged to implement new action plans in the three pillars under the new framework from 2015-2025.
In July this year, the ASEAN foreign ministers will meet in Vientiane to discuss whether Timor Leste can join the regional organization by next year.
Earlier this year, in a surprise move, Dili agreed to host a meeting among the ASEAN-based civil society organizations because Laos, ASEAN chair in 2016, was reluctant to do so. Since 2005, as part of the effort to transform ASEAN into a people-centred community, ASEAN leaders have been having an interface with representatives of civil society organizations. But so far, these dialogues have been held irregularly, and often depend on the ASEAN chair’s decision.
When ASEAN admitted new members in 1995, 1997 and 1999, these new members – Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia – were admitted without any pre-conditions or preparations. They learned from daily engagements with their ASEAN colleagues, gradually absorbing the ASEAN way. In meeting after meeting, they worked together with officials from other member countries, at all levels. Within a short period, they mastered the ways and means to interact with the rest of ASEAN family.
To prepare for its membership in ASEAN, Timor Leste has opened foreign missions in all 10 ASEAN member countries and dispatched officials to be attached to the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat. Since there remain few Timor Leste officials who speak or write in English – Tetum and Portuguese are the country’s official languages – quite a few other ASEAN countries have been diligently helping them out in English-language communication.
Currently, ASEAN has 10 members comprising Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. (END/Reporting ASEAN – Edited by Johanna Son)
*Kavi Chongkittavorn is a columnist with ‘The Nation’ newspaper, and senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
June 19, 2017
by Kishore Mahbubani, Dean, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS
Try imagining a world where the Middle East is at peace. The thought seems almost inconceivable. Imagine a world where Israel and Palestine, two nations splintered from one piece of territory, live harmoniously. Impossible? This is what Malaysia and Singapore accomplished. After an acrimonious divorce in 1965, they live together in peace.
Imagine a world where Egypt, the most populous Islamic country in the Middle East, emerges as a stable and prosperous democracy. Impossible? Then ask yourself how it is that Indonesia, the most populous Islamic country in Southeast Asia—with more than four times as many people as Egypt—has emerged as a beacon of democracy. Egypt and Indonesia both suffered from corruption. And both experienced decades of military rule, under Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Suharto in Indonesia.
Yet Egypt remains under military rule while Indonesia has emerged as the leading democracy in the Islamic world. What explains the difference? The one-word answer is ASEAN. ASEAN’s success in practising strategic diplomacy over the past 50 years has been one of the most undersold stories of our time.
If one were looking around the world to find the most promising region for international cooperation, Southeast Asia would have been at the bottom of the list. Home to 240 million Muslims, 130 million Christians, 140 million Buddhists and 7 million Hindus, it is the most diverse region in the world. In the 1960s, when ASEAN was formed, the region had garnered a reputation as ‘the Balkans of Asia’, due to its geopolitical rivalries and pervasive disputes.
Today, ASEAN is more important than ever. It has become more than an important neutral zone for great-power engagement. Its success in forging unity in diversity is a beacon of hope for our troubled world.
As the ASEAN dynamic gained momentum and the organisation moved towards creating hundreds of multilateral meetings a year, the Southeast Asian region became more closely connected. Webs of networks developed in different areas of cooperation, from trade to defence.
ASEAN camaraderie has defused many potential crises in the region. One shining example of the success of ASEAN’s strategic diplomacy occurred in 2007. In August that year, the world was shocked when monks in Yangon were shot during street protests after the unexpected removal of fuel subsidies led to a drastic overnight rise in commodity prices. Since ASEAN had admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997, there was pressure on ASEAN countries to make a statement criticising these shootings.
As an ASEAN member state, Myanmar had two options. It could have vetoed an ASEAN joint statement or disassociated itself from such a statement. Then there would have been a statement among the remaining nine countries criticising Myanmar. Many, including the nine other ASEAN foreign ministers, expected this to be the outcome.
ASEAN–Building Strategic Partnerships for Peace, Stability and Development
To their surprise, Myanmar’s foreign minister, Nyan Win, agreed that all 10 countries, including Myanmar, should endorse the statement. This was a truly remarkable decision—the statement said that the ASEAN foreign ministers ‘were appalled to receive reports of automatic weapons being used and demanded that the Myanmar government immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators’.
In short, even when there were sharp disagreements between Myanmar and its fellow ASEAN countries, Myanmar decided that sticking with ASEAN was preferable to opting out. Clearly the ASEAN policy of engaging the military regime in Myanmar with strategic diplomacy had succeeded. This story of engagement almost reads as a foil to the EU’s disastrous policy of isolating Syria.
ASEAN’s ability to foster peace extends outside its member states. In an era of growing geopolitical pessimism, when many leading geopolitical thinkers predict rising competition and tension between great powers—especially between the United States and China—ASEAN has created an indispensable diplomatic platform that regularly brings all the great powers together. Within ASEAN, a culture of peace has evolved as a result of imbibing the Indonesian custom of musyawarah and muafakat (consultation and consensus).
Now ASEAN has begun to share this culture of peace with the larger Asia Pacific region. When tensions rise between China and Japan and their leaders find it difficult to speak to each other, ASEAN provides a face-saving platform and the right setting to restart the conversation. In particular, ASEAN has facilitated China’s peaceful rise by generating a framework that moderates aggressive impulses. In short, ASEAN’s strategic culture has infected the larger Asia Pacific region.
One of the miracles of the Asia Pacific is that significant great-power conflict prevented, even though there have been enormous shifts of power among the great nations in the region. Of course, the reasons for this lack of conflict are complex. ASEAN’s neutrality, which helps the organisation retain its centrality in the region, is one factor in keeping the region stable and peaceful.
This is why it is important that in the growing Sino–US geopolitical competition, both sides should treat ASEAN as a delicate Ming vase that could easily break. US and Chinese interests will both suffer if ASEAN is damaged or destroyed—delicacy in dealing with ASEAN is critical for both sides.
ASEAN is far from perfect—its many flaws have been well documented, especially in the Anglo-Saxon media. It never progresses in a linear fashion, often moving like a crab, taking two steps forward, one step backwards and one step sideways. Viewed over a short period, progress is hard to see. But despite its many imperfections, in a longer view, ASEAN’s forward progress has been tangible. In these interesting times, ASEAN’s policies and practices of strategic diplomacy deserve appreciation and study by the global community.
Kishore Mahbubani is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and co-author of The ASEAN Miracle.
An extended version of this article appeared in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Strategic diplomacy in Asia’.
June 18, 2017
by FMT Reporters
DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang wants the federal cabinet to make the US Department of Justice’s (DoJ) latest court filings related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) a priority agenda in its next meeting.
The Gelang Patah MP said the 36 ministers need to live up to the integrity of the late former Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn who led the country from 1976 to 1981 and whose son Hishammuddin Hussein is today a part of the cabinet lineup.
Calling the 251-page document in the legal suit “a shocker of shockers”, he said the ministers need to decide how to cleanse and purge Malaysia in light of the allegations made.
He claimed that it revealed not only a “complex web of deceit and treachery in stealing billions of ringgit of 1MDB funds for personal and private use and aggrandisement, but (also) the depths of depravity some Malaysians had been prepared to descend to steal and lavish on themselves billions of ringgit of public funds from the 1MDB scam.”
“I call for a nation-wide people’s campaign for the collective resignation of the cabinet if the 36 ministers cannot do anything at its meeting,” he said, adding that Malaysia needed to be cleared of the “ignominy and infamy” of being regarded as a global kleptocracy.
“Ministers who have not read the updated DoJ’s 251-page kleptocratic action against 1MDB by Wednesday’s cabinet meeting should identify themselves, for clearly they are not fit to be in the cabinet,” he said in a statement today.
The DAP parliamentary leader also asked if there are any “modern-day Hussein Onns” in the current cabinet, referring to the third prime minister who he said had an impeccable personal integrity and abhorrence of corruption.
He added that Hishammuddin, who is the defence minister, was wrong in asserting on Friday that the DoJ filing would divert attention from the government’s larger agenda.
Integrity is Greek to these UMNO Leaders–PM Najib Razak, Minister of Defence Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn and Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Zahid Hamidi
“Hishammuddin could not be more wrong, for there can be no bigger agenda in Malaysia than to ensure that democracy in Malaysia does not mutate into a kleptocracy, and the national imperative to uphold integrity in public life,” he said.
Lim claimed that Hussein would have agreed with him.“I have no doubt that if Malaysia had been accused of being a ‘global kleptocracy’ when Hussein was Prime Minister, he would have made it his top agenda to resolve the matter,” he said.
Hussein would also have had no hesitation in tendering his resignation as Prime Minister if he was unable to clear the nation of such “infamy and ignominy”, Lim added.
“Does Hishammuddin agree with me, or am I wrong in attributing such qualities of uncompromising commitment to public integrity to his father, the third Prime Minister of Malaysia?”
He said Malaysians will know soon whether there are any patriotic ministers who are prepared to make a principled stand to quit if the cabinet is unable or unprepared to respond honourably in the matter.
He said no loyal and patriotic Malaysian can read the legal document without “intense shame, consternation and horror.” He claimed that it represented the nation’s greatest shame in its 60-year history since independence.
In its court filing in California on June 5, the DoJ is seeking to seize US$540 million (RM2.3 billion) in assets, including art works, jewellery, a luxury yacht and film rights purchased with funds allegedly embezzled from 1MDB.
The assets named in the applications included the film rights to the two comedies “Dumb and Dumber To” starring Jim Carrey and “Daddy’s Home” featuring Will Ferrell.
The action follows last July’s civil forfeiture suit by the DoJ which sought to recover all the assets including but not limited to the Park Lane Hotel in New York, a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills, condominiums in New York, a private jet and expensive works of art, as well as finances related to Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
June 18, 2017
reviewed by Tom Pepinsky
Muddy Boots & Smart Suits is a sprawling volume, containing everything from a plea for the practice turn in international relations theory to an explanation of cross-validation in predictive quantitative modeling to reflections on internet access in rural Myanmar. It is also, paraphrasing the introductory chapter by Michael Wesley, an attempt at reflection on Asia-Pacific studies by researchers with current or past links to the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. Reading this volume as a big fan of (and occasional visitor to) the ANU, I had the sense that this volume reflects not just a larger conversation that has been happening for decades now between ‘area studies’ and ‘the disciplines’, but also something more special to the ANU.
The book succeeds in showcasing the breadth and diversity of scholarship on Asia and the Pacific within that community. Looking across the volume as a whole, some of the more useful contributions (to the mind of this reader) are those that touch on the policy process, and the ANU’s position as a national university serving Australia itself. There are also some interesting discussions of Australia’s position in the Asia-Pacific region, viewing the country as not just an outside observer but as itself a case.
Readers curious about particular topics or questions will also find much to learn in the individual chapters, which showcase scholars’ areas of expertise in an engaging and sometimes speculative manner. I suspect that this volume’s best use will be as a series of chapters, read individually by students and specialists who find the chapter topics engaging and wish to know more.
This leads me to my main criticism. Taken as a whole, the volume’s weakness is how disjointed the individual contributions are. This may have been inevitable given the volume’s charge, but there are missed opportunities for interesting and productive engagement across chapters that may have led to some more substantial conclusions. Here is one example: the chapter on strategic cultures by Peter J. Dean and Greg Raymond summarises various disagreements between first and third generation schools of strategic culture. Simplifying mightily, one axis in this debate is between whether behavior is just a dependent variable or is both a dependent and an independent variable. It would have been revealing to put this into conversation with Paul Kenny’s chapter on design-based inference. If the first generation strategic culture theorists are right, what does this mean for a research strategy that requires a strict conceptual separation between causal variables and their effects? Is this tension irresolvable? If so, what’s next?
Another tension is between chapters that express a preference for microlevel details versus those interested in broad national trajectories. Evi Fitriani studies regional alignments in Asia with a conceptual focus on state-level processes. Nick Bisley’s chapter on power also operates at the state level. Contrast this with Cecelia Jacob’s preference for local-level studies of conflict and local-level understandings of international norms, each of which requires a focus on the individual or subnational community level. Should scholars following in Jacob’s tradition find Fitriani and Bisley’s analyses compelling, and vice versa? One argument—which I find overly simplistic—is that this is just a depth/breadth tradeoff. I suspect that the issues are more substantial, and would have enjoyed reading the authors grapple explicitly with them, in direct conversation with one another.
More narrowly, but importantly for the volume’s broader reach, I disagree with two characterisations of Asia Pacific studies in Wesley’s introductory chapter, which for better or for worse frames the entire volume. First, I take issue with the claim that Asia Pacific studies has been ‘remarkably non self-reflective’. It is impossible to list all of the volumes, workshops, seminars, and conference panels devoted to ‘rethinking’ or ‘reimagining’ or ‘refocusing’ the unwieldy body of intellectual inquiry captured under the term ‘Asian and Pacific Studies’, not just in Australia but in North America, Europe, and in Asia itself. There are at least four common themes that can be found throughout the subgenre of self-reflection: (1) the constructedness and artificiality of ‘Asia and the Pacific’; (2) discipline versus area studies; (3) positionality, hegemony, and Orientalism; (4) local versus global and sub-, cross-, trans-, and international studies.
The other disagreement I have is that ‘few methodological or conceptual debates have originated from within the study of Asian and Pacific societies’. The exceptions are just subaltern studies and the rise of great powers. How narrow a view of the contributions of Asianists this is! Just a glance at my bookshelf reveals so many additions. Margaret Mead on Samoa. Benedict Anderson on nationalism. Clifford Geertz on the Balinese cockfight. James Scott on the resistance and the state. Aihwa Ong and Michael Peletz on gender and identity. Chalmers Johnson on the developmental state in Japan. I could certainly go on—that list just reflects my idiosyncratic tastes and interests. These are major contributions by regional experts working on regional issues that have shaped entire disciplinary conversations, each with methodological implications that has occupied a generation of graduate seminars around the world.
The more general observation that emerges from this discussion has implications beyond Muddy Boots & Smart Suits as a volume. Research on Asia is important: the study of Asia and the Pacific has proven to be remarkably generative, providing major concepts and debates in the social sciences and humanities. Muddy Boots & Smart Suits reminds us of the value of self-reflection, and especially of the individual researchers, political incentives, and institutional support required to make these contributions.