Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: Sovereignty, Self-reliance and Diversification


March 14, 2019

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: Sovereignty, Self-reliance and Diversification

By Chheang Vannarith

https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50586127/cambodias-foreign-policy-sovereignty-self-reliance-and-diversification/

The annual conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation last week highlighted three key words in the formulation of Cambodia’s foreign policy in the new era: sovereignty, self-reliance, and diversification.Image result for Cambodia

Sovereignty has been regarded as the core principle and interest of foreign policy, especially amidst mounting diplomatic and economic pressures from the European Union.

Sovereignty has been regarded as the core principle and interest of foreign policy, especially amidst mounting diplomatic and economic pressures from the European Union. Prime Minister Hun Sen has continually stressed that Cambodia will never compromise or surrender sovereignty for foreign assistance. Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has also emphasised that sovereignty is a matter of survival for Cambodia.

The concept of sovereignty is increasingly critical to the formulation of Cambodia’s foreign policy strategy and approach. Sovereignty is generally understood in the Cambodian context as the absolute, legitimate right exercised by an independent state over its territory and people, without external coercion or interference. Notably, resistance against foreign intervention is unprecedentedly high since the establishment of the Second Kingdom of Cambodia in 1993.

Protecting sovereignty is becoming more challenging for small states like Cambodia. Major powers are not keen to see small states stay neutral as they are willing to force small states to take sides if necessary. In the 1960s, Cambodia was forced to take sides, against its own will and interest.

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Now Cambodia has ASEAN to help protect its sovereignty. However, the future ability of ASEAN to provide continued protection of sovereignty to its members is uncertain due to increasing pressure from major powers. ASEAN centrality is at greater risk in the context of heightening geopolitical rivalry between major powers.

Self-reliance and diversification are the two key strategies to protect the Kingdom’s sovereignty. Reducing dependence on foreign aid could help build economic independence and national resilience. And leadership does matter in promoting self-reliance.

Dependency syndrome on external support has trapped Cambodia for many centuries due to internal weaknesses and a lack of national reconciliation and unity. Beginning after the collapse of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, Khmer rulers of the past sought support from foreign countries to protect or gain power. Since the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, Cambodia has heavily relied on foreign donors for socio-economic development. In the 1990s, some even called Cambodia an “NGO-driven economy”.

Now it is necessary for Cambodia to recalibrate its political doctrine based on the concept of self-reliance, which is very much influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of life. Cambodia should not expect other countries to protect its interests and sovereignty; it needs to rely on itself. Realistically, no country or person is more invested in the interests of Cambodia than Cambodians themselves. Cambodia will be unable to maintain its sovereignty unless it is economically independent and resilient.

Diversification is another key term being used by Cambodian policy makers and analysts alike. There are three layers of diversification at the international, national, and local levels. Internationally, Cambodia needs to build more economic and strategic partnerships, expand export markets, and make new friends. The leadership of the Ministry of Commerce has the responsibility to diversify export markets through bilateral and multilateral trade deals. Remarkably, Cambodia does not have any bilateral free trade agreement with any country yet.

Diversification is another key term being used by Cambodian policy makers and analysts alike. There are three layers of diversification at the international, national, and local levels. Internationally, Cambodia needs to value add,build more economic and strategic partnerships, expand export markets, and make new friends. The leadership of the Ministry of Commerce has the responsibility to diversify export markets through bilateral and multilateral trade deals. Remarkably, Cambodia does not have any bilateral free trade agreement with any country.

Domestic economic success defines Cambodia’s role and image abroad. The success of Cambodia’s foreign policy largely depends on institutional reforms at home. There is a need to build a new generation of career diplomats who are capable of promoting Cambodia’s political, economic and cultural relations with other countries. Currently, the government gives priority to economic and cultural diplomacy.

At the national level, Cambodia has implemented institutional reforms to diversify its sources of growth and increase its productivity. Moving from labour-intensive industries to skill-driven industries or a knowledge-based economy is a must. Cambodia is running out of time to catch up with other regional economies, especially in the context of the fast-evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Early this year, a working group on digital economy was formed to conduct studies and propose policy guidelines and action plans to direct Cambodia’s future economy. Cambodia could leapfrog its economic structure if it has the right leadership and policy. It is high time for Cambodia to undergo “institutional surgery” to cut off bad, infectious parts of the governance body.

At the local level, Cambodia needs to do much more to diversify its sources of funding and development partners. Fiscal decentralisation is critical to rural development and poverty reduction. Leadership and institutional capacity building for local governments is also required. Merit-based appointment of local bureaucrats must be encouraged, at the provincial, district, and commune levels.

Chheang Vannarith is President of Asian Vision Institute (AVI), based in Phnom Penh

 

 

Time for bolder steps from ASEAN


March 4, 2019

Time for bolder steps from ASEAN

By : Ponciano Intal Jr, ERIA

ttps://www.eastasiaforum.org.Image result for ASEAN

ASEAN is now facing circumstances that are fundamentally different from anything it has dealt with before. They require a much more proactive approach on international and regional integration strategies. ASEAN is unlikely to maintain its centrality unless its leaders are prepared to take bold steps, beyond ‘business as usual’.

 

ASEAN has come a long way from its beginnings in 1967. It transformed an area of turmoil, antagonism and violence into a zone of cooperative peace and prosperity, and disparate economic backwaters into an increasingly integrated global growth powerhouse. A region that was a Cold War pawn is now central to the economic and political-security architecture of the Asia Pacific, and Southeast Asian peoples, once largely cut off from one another, are becoming a strong socio-cultural community.

A major reason for this remarkable transformation is that ASEAN leaders collectively stepped forward when faced with tremendous challenges. ASEAN crisis-points in the past are frequently forgotten when assessment is being made of its capacity to deal with new challenges. For example, leaders replaced Preferential Tariff Arrangements with the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1992 when faced with potential ’fortresses’ in the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. AFTA is still driving regional integration and the ASEAN Community, despite the 1997 financial crisis and the shift in investment flows out of ASEAN and into surging China.

But the new challenges require an even bolder response.

The realignment of great power relations in the Asia Pacific is causing great geopolitical uncertainty. The digital and fourth industrial revolution is expected to accelerate, generating significant regional unease about its impact on lower end employment. On the other hand, there is transformative potential for greater productivity in firms and industries, better growth opportunities for small and medium enterprises, and enhanced resiliency and sustainability across the ASEAN economies.

The surge in protectionism and anti-globalisation in much of the developed world underlines the priority of pursuing inclusive growth, economic openness and regional integration in ASEAN and the wider region through the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The rules-based multilateral trade regime and economic order is vital to ASEAN’s prosperity, but is under threat. The vulnerability of many ASEAN countries to climate change also demands sustainable and resilient development.

The next two decades will see history’s largest increase of middle and upper-middle classes in the India–ASEAN–China corridor, dubbed the ’golden arc of opportunity’. ASEAN needs to be well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. With far less technological capability and skilled manpower than China or India, ASEAN has to improve markedly its technological prowess, human capital, institutions and infrastructure.

So what can ASEAN leaders do to overcome the immense challenges the region faces?

Nimble and proactive diplomacy that asserts ASEAN centrality and harnesses the collective leadership of middle powers can do much for peace, security and prosperity in the wider region. Bringing together middle powers to raise their concerns will help constrain China–US competition and confrontation. ASEAN can also provide a strong and unified voice to ensure an inclusive regional architecture emerges.

Asian collective leadership is now essential to maintaining and strengthening multilateral rules and trading systems that ASEAN and the wider region rely on for economic prosperity and political security. Successfully concluding RCEP is just the start. But it will be important to ASEAN’s global credibility and voice in brokering a way forward with reform of the multilateral trade regime.

The biggest threat to ASEAN’s open and inclusive development is that to the rules-based multilateral trading system and international economic order. This system is a core interest of ASEAN and other countries in this region. The trade war has highlighted deficiencies in the World Trade Organization and international trading system that need to be addressed. ASEAN and Indonesia through their prominent participation in the G20 process have a common and urgent interest with like-minded partners in framing Asia’s proactive response to this challenge.

A more vigorous and active regional and international diplomacy will only be successfully built on stronger ASEAN foundations. Leaders will need to implement the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint and other measures that realise an integrated, connected and seamless ASEAN single market and production base. This would help ASEAN compete with China and India’s more liberal trade and investment environments and allow deeper integration across the region.It will also help ASEAN stand firm in its international diplomacy.

Deeper ASEAN integration means making fully operational national single windows, the ASEAN Single Window, national trade repositories, the ASEAN Trade Repository, the ASEAN Customs Transit System, and ASEAN self-certification schemes.

It also means ensuring transparent and streamlined non-tariff measures and a more concerted effort to strengthen regional and national standards and conformance quality infrastructure and systems. Leaders should also develop a strong and liberalised services sector and an open investment regime with freer flow of data and payments, institutionalise ASEAN’s Good Regulatory Practice, and implement a quality Regulatory Management System in each ASEAN country. There also needs to be greater commitment to skills mobility and development within the region, including greater focus on lifelong learning and skills training.

It is also essential to prepare for, adapt to and harness the digital and fourth industrial revolution. This requires creating stronger institutions and policies, with many already embedded in the ASEAN Community Blueprint. Embracing the digital revolution and adapting to new technologies under Industry 4.0 would drive ASEAN forward in upgrading its economies, enhance resilience and sustainability, empower its people, strengthen people engagement and connectivity, improving governance, and strengthen ASEAN’s innovation ecosystem.

Put together, these measures will revitalise ASEAN into a vibrant and influential grouping that is set for success in the decades to come.

Ponciano Intal Jr is a Senior Economist at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

 

 

 

 

FOREIGN POLICY: Cambodia needs to maintain good relations with the West


FOREIGN POLICY: Cambodia needs to maintain good relations with the West. Like it or not, the CPP still needs the West

There is an assumption by some commentators and analysts (myself included, on occasions) that just because China is now Cambodia’s closest political ally, the influence of Western nations has become negligible.

As early as 2015, Sebastian Strangio noted in his book Hun Sen’s Cambodia  that Western influence in Cambodia had “begun to wane.” Years on, this process was complete, according to many. In late 2017, Foreign Policy magazine reported on the “limits of US willingness or ability to influence Cambodia become clear when compared to China’s overwhelming influence there.” “Why the West was doomed to fail in Cambodia,” reads a headline from the Southeast Asia Globe last year. The exiled political analyst Kim Sok more recently asserted that Prime Minister Hun Sen “has no choice but to rely on the Chinese” as he increasingly pushes the West away.

China might be many things to Cambodia: the main provider of aid, investment and goods, a key geopolitical ally and something of a sagacious, avuncular mentor, an “ironclad friend” in Phnom Penh’s argot. But it isn’t, and most likely never will be, a major importer of Cambodia-produced goods. Instead, the major importers are the United States and the European Union. Together, they imported a little under two-thirds of all Cambodian exports in 2017. China, by contrast, imported just 6% of Cambodian total exports that year.

This matters greatly as both the US and EU now threaten to impose trade sanctions on Cambodia and re-introduce tariffs on its exports, a response to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)’s stage-management of last year’s general election, at which it won all the seats in the National Assembly, and its dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodian People’s Rescue Party (CNRP), the previous year. On 11 February, the EU formally started the 18-month process to remove Cambodia from its preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme, a process that can be stopped if the EU thinks Phnom Penh is making sufficient progress in political and human rights reform.

Cambodia’s economy, despite years of high economic growth, remains highly dependent on exports. Products made in its garment and footwear sector—the largest employer, by sector, and largest contributor to GDP—almost exclusively are exported to Western nations. So should the EU withdraw Cambodia from its Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme, which grants Cambodian exporters duty and quote-free access to European markets, then the imposition of tariffs and quotas will certainly see exports to Europe plummet, causing a considerable slump in the Cambodian economy.

The government knows this. That’s why it planned for years to reduce the economy’s dependence on exports, chiefly low-cost manufactured goods. But progress has been slow, if not glacial. Granted, the tourism sector is booming thanks to increasing numbers of Chinese visitors. So too are the retail and property sectors. But exports are still prepotent. There is likely zero chance, despite the opinions of some analysts, that if Western democracies punish Phnom Penh by imposing higher tariffs on its exports or switching to suppliers in other nations, then China can simply jump in and bail out Cambodia. Quite obviously, China doesn’t need to import low-cost garments from Cambodia; it produces more than enough domestically. China’s main import to Cambodia, the raw materials stitched and sewed at Cambodia’s garment factories, would also be harmed if exports to Western nations slump. Chinese investors own many of the largest firms in Cambodia’s garment and footwear sector, so they will be among those who will lose out if exports dry up. Moreover, Beijing would have wasted millions, if not billions, of dollars on funding new roads, ports and special economic zones in Cambodia that were aimed at improving its export capabilities.

A more astonishing response from Beijing would be to simply hand Cambodia the cash to make up for any shortfall if exports to the West decline, a move some analysts think is possible. But it’s actually improbable. Would this come in the form of concessional loans or simply cash payments? The latter would be raise serious opposition in Beijing, where some policymakers and analysts are already becoming sceptical of the amount of money wasted through Xi Jinping’s signatory Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). At least for the BRI, however, Xi can point to the likelihood of future returns on investments. Few profits, though, would be reaped by simply bailing out Cambodia’s exporters.

The other option, bailouts in the form of loans, would be just as risky to the Cambodian government, which is struggling (though doesn’t admit it) with a growing public debt, especially to China. How would Phnom Penh square the circle of attaining more loans if exports, its chief means of acquiring foreign currency, dwindle? Moreover, say that new European tariffs on exports and reductions in trade see Cambodia’s exports figures slump just 10%, or roughly US$500 million a year. Would China be willing to provide this much annually for few returns? Also, what about the knock-on impact to other sectors in Cambodia if exports slump? It would certainly see investment and profits contract in the retail, construction, property and many other sectors, too. The real costs of even a minor slump in garment exports is likely to be felt throughout the economy, as well as by the millions of family members of workers who rely on remittances each month.

Whichever way one looks at it, Western nations still have considerable influence in Cambodia. They clearly know this and that’s why they are exerting pressure on Phnom Penh to make political reforms through threats to the country’s export-driven economy. The Cambodian government, for the most part, either says it isn’t concerned about threatened Western sanctions, claims that they are an assault on Cambodia’s sovereignty, or a move to punish only poor Cambodians. It hasn’t yet publicly admitted that its own actions may actually be the real cause.

But here’s the kicker: trade with the US and EU might be immensely import to Cambodia, but it’s only negligible to them. Indeed, the EU’s trade with Cambodia—which is overwhelmingly Europe importing Cambodian goods, not the other way around—is worth about a tenth of its trade with Vietnam, for example. So there wouldn’t be any mutual catastrophe if exports decline; it would simply be felt by one side. Just look at how the US is currently weathering new tariffs President Donald Trump imposed on Chinese imports, which could soon be raised even higher. Any loss in trade with Cambodia won’t even be felt as a tremor in America, though it would be an earthquake in Cambodia.

Remember, too, that it isn’t as though Cambodia is the world’s only producer of cheap clothes and shoes. Bangladesh is making them for much cheaper, as does Vietnam, whose ruling Communist Party is now backing down to American and European demands for some political and legal reforms in order to boost trade. Hanoi appears more than happy to negotiate, while Phnom Penh stuffs its ears. It would be so much easier from some European importers to simply say, enough of Cambodia, and move operations or find new supply chains in other countries.

Amid all of this, pay attention to the irony of the situation. The CPP government has largely been allowed to do what it wants politically for so many years because of the fat profits reaped from its export-driven economy. Years, if not decades, of enviable economic growth rates have provided the CPP government with its main source of legitimacy; the economy is growing, wages are raising, unemployment is low, and we’ve created a brighter future for Cambodia, the party constantly says. Much of the public who might be unhappy with political conditions temper their emotions with this acknowledgment.

But the CPP government today faces a novel problem. While it was a low-cost, export-driven economy that gave the party so much legitimacy, the same export-driven economy is now its Achilles heel. However much it wants to drag itself under the parasol of Chinese patronage, it remains exposed to the storms of Western trade.

 

 

 

 

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: Challenges and prospects


January 29, 2019

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: Challenges and prospects

Dr.Chheang Vannarith, President of Asian Vision Institute

In terms of contribution to peace, Cambodia has deployed more than 5,000 troops under the framework of the United Nations to various conflict zones. KT/Mai Vireak

Strategically located at the center of the Mekong Region and Southeast Asia, Cambodia has great potential to become a bridging state in the region and strengthen its leadership role within ASEAN and other sub-regional institutions, argues Chheang Vannarith.

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Small states such as Cambodia have fewer foreign policy options, given the narrowing strategic space for small states to manoeuver. In such a transitional period, Cambodia has to adjust and adapt in order to survive and thrive.

Foreign policy is not only the extension of domestic politics but also the adaptation to external dynamics. Cambodia’s worldview is dynamic – it continues to observe the main trends of regional and global politics, from which multiple futures can be formed.

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Cambodia’s National Institute for Diplomacy and International Relations (NIDIR)

 

Cambodia’s foreign policy has been robustly reformed over the past three years, especially in capacity building and strategic analysis. We have established the National Institute for Diplomacy and International Relations (NIDIR) to equip diplomats with analytical as well as soft skills. We need a few more years to see the fruits of this capacity-building programme.Image result for CAMBODIA

The  Founding principles of Cambodia’s Foreign Policy are permanent neutrality, non-alignment, peaceful co-existence, non-interference, no military alliances or military pacts, and no foreign military bases on its soil. The tenets of Cambodia’s development foreign policy objectives are economic development and poverty reduction, peace and security, cultural identity, and the national role in the global community.

How to transform the regional and international environment into a source of national development has been the priority of Cambodia’s foreign policy. Cambodia has been promoting an open and inclusive international economic multilateral system that is based on international laws and norms.

As a small and open economy, Cambodia is very much connected with other economies, relying on external markets and the inflow of foreign capital and technology. Hence, Cambodia is committed to upholding economic multilateralism through promoting a rules-based international order. Towards this, reforming and making the World Trade Organization (WTO) more relevant to both developed and developing countries is critically important to save the global trading system.

Asean is the cornerstone of Cambodia’s foreign policy as it provides an important shield to protect the sovereignty and independence of its member states, whilst also mitigating and filtering interference from major powers. As long as ASEAN members stay united to protect each other’s interests, I believe that ASEAN can navigate through uncertain and challenging times ahead. Cambodia has largely benefited from ASEANean’s economic integration, although the development gap remains an issue.

Within the context of contestation in the Asia Pacific region, the best scenario of a regional order, from the Cambodian perspective, would be an Asean-driven regional order. Neither a US-centric regional order nor Sino-centric regional order will make our region stable. Only ASEAN can ensure that regional cooperation and integration remain on track, although at a slow pace. Consultation and consensus, non-interference, and equal sovereignty are the norms that need to be nurtured.

National role perception

The perception of Cambodia’s national role does matter in foreign policy. Cambodia aims to become a peace contributor, civilization connector, and a bridging state in the Mekong region and ASEAN. In terms of contribution to peace, Cambodia has contributed more than 5,000 troops under the framework of the United Nations to various conflict zones. Currently, we have 810 troops conducting missions in four countries, including South Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic, and Lebanon.

This month, Cambodia hosted the launch of the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) with the aim to further connect civilisations in Asia and beyond. Building synergies between cultural diversity and sustainable development, peace, connectivity, and innovation is a new era of Cambodia’s cultural diplomacy, which is more proactive and dynamic. Cambodia has more to contribute to the Asian century under the framework of the ACC.

Strategically located at the Hub of the Mekong Region and Southeast Asia, Cambodia has great potential to become a bridging state in the region. To realise this vision, Cambodia needs to build its democratic governance to become a source of inspiration for other regional countries, strengthen its leadership role within ASEANean and other sub-regional institutions, and maintain trust and good relations with all Asian powers, especially China, India, and Japan.

Prospects

Cambodia’s Foreign  Policy will become more robust in response to fast-changing regional and global geo-politics. We have only one choice: adapt or be left behind. Cambodia must adapt itself to an evolving World Order as well as the contest to establish a new regional order in the Asia-Pacific. We need to be steadfast and stay ahead of the curve in our foreign policy strategic vision and tactical approaches. Capacity building and human capital are even more critical. Cambodia needs to invest more in research capacity in order to have more informed foreign policy making and develop a new generation of professional diplomats who are capable of analyzing international trends and building trust and friendship around the globe.

To fill the research capacity gap, Asian Vision Institute (AVI) is founded to conduct academic and policy researches in order to inform policy makers and stakeholders in Cambodia and the region. Multi-stakeholder dialogues on national and international issues need to be encouraged as Cambodia is looking for innovative ideas and solutions. AVI, by connecting people, knowledge and actions in Asia, can help Cambodia to ride the tide of the Asian century.

Dr. Chheang Vannarith is President of Asian Vision Institute

 

The World George H.W. Bush Made


December 3, 2018

The World George H.W. Bush Made

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Bush -1 was kind, decent, fair, open-minded, considerate, lacking in prejudice, modest, principled, and loyal. He valued public service and saw himself as simply the latest in the long line of US presidents, another temporary occupant of the Oval Office and custodian of American democracy.”–Richard Haass

What happens in this world is the result of what people choose to do and choose not to do when presented with challenges and opportunities. The 41st US president didn’t always make the right choices, but his administration’s foreign policy record compares favorably with that of any other modern leader.

 

CAMBRIDGE – I have worked for four US presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike, and perhaps the most important thing I have learned along the way is that little of what we call history is inevitable. What happens in this world is the result of what people choose to do and choose not to do when presented with challenges and opportunities.

I worked for and often with Bush for all four years of his presidency. I was the National Security Council member responsible for overseeing the development and execution of policy toward the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. I was also brought into a good many other policy deliberations.

Bush was kind, decent, fair, open-minded, considerate, lacking in prejudice, modest, principled, and loyal. He valued public service and saw himself as simply the latest in the long line of US presidents, another temporary occupant of the Oval Office and custodian of American democracy.

His foreign policy achievements were many and significant, starting with the ending of the Cold War. To be sure, that it ended when it did had a great deal to do with four decades of concerted Western effort in every region of the world, the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, the deep-seated flaws within the Soviet system, and the words and deeds of Mikhail Gorbachev. But none of this meant that the Cold War was preordained to end quickly or peacefully.

It did, in part, because Bush was sensitive to Gorbachev’s and later Boris Yeltsin’s predicament and avoided making a difficult situation humiliating. He was careful not to gloat or to indulge in the rhetoric of triumphalism. He was widely criticized for this restraint, but he managed not to trigger just the sort of nationalist reaction that we are now seeing in Russia.

He also got what he wanted. No one should confuse Bush’s caution with timidity. He overcame the reluctance, and at times objections, of many of his European counterparts and fostered Germany’s unification – and brought it about within NATO. This was statecraft at its finest.

Bush’s other great foreign policy achievement was the Gulf War. He viewed Saddam Hussein’s invasion and conquest of Kuwait as a threat not just to the region’s critical oil supplies, but also to the emerging post-Cold War world. Bush feared that if this act of war went unanswered, it would encourage further mayhem.

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Days into the crisis, Bush declared that Saddam’s aggression would not stand. He then marshaled an unprecedented international coalition that backed sanctions and the threat of force, sent a half-million US troops halfway around the world to join hundreds of thousands from other countries, and, when diplomacy failed to bring about a complete and unconditional Iraqi withdrawal, liberated Kuwait in a matter of weeks with remarkably few US and coalition casualties. It was a textbook case of how multilateralism could work.

Two other points are worth noting here. First, Congress was reluctant to act on Saddam’s aggression. The vote in the Senate authorizing military action nearly failed. Bush, however, was prepared to order what became Operation Desert Storm even without congressional approval, given that he already had international law and the United Nations Security Council on his side. He was that determined and that principled.

Second, Bush refused to allow himself to get caught up in events. The mission was to liberate Kuwait, not Iraq. Fully aware of what happened some four decades earlier when the US and UN forces expanded their strategic objective in Korea and tried to unify the peninsula by force, Bush resisted pressures to expand the war’s aims. He worried about losing the trust of world leaders he had brought along and the loss of life that would likely result. He also wanted to keep Arab governments on his side to improve prospects for the Middle East peace effort that was to begin in Madrid less than a year later. Again, he was strong enough to stand up to the mood of the moment.

None of this is to say that Bush always got it right. The end of the Gulf War was messy, as Saddam managed to hang onto power in Iraq with a brutal crackdown on Kurds in the north and Shi’a in the south. A year later, the Bush administration was slow to respond to violence in the Balkans. It might have done more to help Russia in its early post-Soviet days. Overall, however, the administration’s foreign policy record compares favorably with that of any other modern US president or, for that matter, any other contemporary world leader.

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One last thing. Bush assembled what was arguably the best national security team the US has ever had. Brent Scowcroft was the gold standard in national security advisers. James Baker was arguably the most successful secretary of state since Henry Kissinger. And with them were Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Robert Gates, Larry Eagleburger, William Webster, and others of standing and experience.

All of which brings us back to George H.W. Bush. He chose the people. He set the tone and the expectations. He listened. He insisted on a formal process. And he led.

If, as the saying goes, a fish rots from the head, it also flourishes because of the head. The US flourished as a result of the many contributions of its 41st president. Many people around the world benefited as well. We owe him our collective thanks. May his well-deserved rest be peaceful.

Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003), and was President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. He is the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

Singapore’s uphill battle to maintain ASEAN unity


December 3, 2018

Singapore’s uphill battle to maintain ASEAN Unity

by Joel Ng, RSIS

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/11/30/singapores-uphill-battle-to-maintain-asean-unity/

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As year as the ASEAN chair was marked by several milestones in the deepening of regional peace and security. Ahead of the 33rd ASEAN summit from 11–15 November 2018 that finished with Singapore’s official handing over of the chairmanship to Thailand, Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan stated that ASEAN ‘actually achieved far more than I dared to anticipate’.

 

As a small nation, Singapore cannot impose its own ideas in regional or global settings. Instead it has the much trickier challenge of convincing other players, each with their own contexts and agendas, that strengthening the multilateral framework is in their best interests.

Tensions in the South China Sea, North Korea’s long-range missile tests and threats of a US–China trade war clouded the end of 2017 and presented a considerable challenge to ASEAN’s ongoing efforts to enhance regional cooperation. Despite the uphill battle, ASEAN and Singapore have played an integral part in ameliorating tensions on all three fronts.

Most recently, the 33rd ASEAN summit made an important contribution to the easing of regional tensions, with China agreeing to participate in talks on the long-proposed South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC). China offered a timeframe of three years for COC negotiations to be completed, which Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared as good progress.

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The COC is perhaps the most important document related to the South China Sea disputes. With competing states attempting to apply different rules to claim legitimate sovereignty over the waters, fears have arisen that conflict could break out over misunderstandings or maritime encounters going wrong. The COC has been in gestation since the 2002 Declaration on Conduct in the South China Sea, but has barely progressed in the intervening years.

Claimants agreed upon a draft negotiating text for the COC earlier this year, ahead of the ASEAN–China Post Ministerial Meeting in August 2018, and now China has committed to signing the COC within three years. While this may sound like piecemeal progress, it is important to remember the headwinds facing the discussion: as a much larger power, there is little incentive for China to sign anything at all.

Keeping all parties on board while pushing consensus and norms forward — at a pace that divergent parties can accept — is something ASEAN does well. With Singapore at the helm, ASEAN has helped to keep the COC moving forward without alienating any of the negotiating parties. The significant difference in 2018 has been China’s explicit commitment to a rules-based order, a position it believes distinguishes itself from the United States.

Perhaps the most surprising event of 2018 was the US–North Korea peace talks in Singapore. As recently as 2017, both sides had issued threats against the other. North Korea continued to conduct missile tests, and the murder of Kim Jong-nam had soured its previously cordial relations with Malaysia. Singapore was one of the only plausible choices as a venue because of its high security, positive relations with both sides and an avowed impartiality.

While talks were initially cancelled just weeks before they were to be held, Singapore remained alert and ready for their resumption. The country’s experience in hosting summits put it in good stead for facilitating the dialogue, regardless of uncertainties on either side. The eventually successful engagement demonstrated the importance of Singapore as an open, inclusive and highly efficient state ready to contribute to international security.

ASEAN has paddled against global currents in 2018 to offer hope that multilateral initiatives will continue to bring states closer together on common objectives. But trade tensions between ASEAN’s two largest partners — the United States and China — continue to concern the region. Progress on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) remains a priority for ASEAN to offset this concern, though negotiations will continue into 2019 after RCEP partners failed to meet the November 2018 deadline.

The initial impetus for Southeast Asia to unite as a region was to buffer individual countries against the pull of larger powers, whose efforts to draw smaller states exclusively towards them are often driven by whimsical domestic agendas. As Prime Minister Lee noted during the opening ceremony of November’s ASEAN summit, ASEAN has raised its standing in the world and made itself greater than the sum of its parts by maintaining a collective voice on global issues.

Singapore’s chairmanship offered a strong restatement of ASEAN’s aims and bolstered the frameworks that were devised to address the myriad concerns of its members. Maintaining unity in the face of these external pressures is probably the best way for ASEAN states to maintain a strong position and secure the best outcomes for their continued growth.

Joel Ng is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Multilateralism Studies at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

A version of this article originally appeared here on RSIS.