President Bill Clinton’s Lecture @Georgetown-Purpose

May 1, 2016

President Bill Clinton’s  Lecture @ Georgetown University, Washington DC–Purpose

Earlier today I posted this April 21, 2015 Lecture by the 42nd President of the United States, President William Jefferson Clinton, to guests, faculty and students at Georgetown University, Washington  DC–where he attended the Walsh School of Foreign Service  in 1968 before going to Oxford and Yale– on  Facebook of The Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh for the benefit of my colleagues and Masters and Doctoral students.

In his Lecture, President Bill Clinton spoke about inclusive politics and inclusive economics and the purpose of public service, citing many examples of leaders in politics, business and civil society when he was in the White  House. I hope my fellow Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur and other parts of our country, my associates and friends and readers who support my blog can get the drift of Bill Clinton’s message  and reflect on his thoughts about the true purpose of public service.

I am sure our Prime Minister has own purpose to be in public service. But you can bet that  Najib’s  purpose is not something the 42nd President of the United States has in mind.–Din Merican

Paul Krugman, the Conscience of the Liberal, speaks

May 1, 2016

Paul Krugman, the Conscience of the Liberal, speaks on US Presidential Elections–It’s Hillary vs Donald in November, 2016

Maybe we need a new cliche: It ain’t over until Carly Fiorina sings. Anyway, it really is over — definitively on the Democratic side, with high probability on the Republican side. And the results couldn’t be more different.

“Personalities surely played a role; say what you like (or dislike) about Clinton, but she’s resilient under pressure, a character trait notably lacking on the other side. But basically it comes down to fundamental differences between the parties and how they serve their supporters.”–Krugman

Think about where we were a year ago. At the time, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were widely seen as the front-runners for their parties’ nods. If there was any dissent from the commentariat, it came from those suggesting that Bush might be supplanted by a fresher, but still establishment, face, like Marco Rubio.

Secretary Hillary Clinton

Most Experienced and Prepared for the Job as US President and Commander-in-Chief

And now here we are. But why did Clinton, despite the most negative media coverage of any candidate in this cycle — yes, worse than Donald Trump’s — go the distance, while the GOP establishment went down to humiliating defeat?

Personalities surely played a role; say what you like (or dislike) about Clinton, but she’s resilient under pressure, a character trait notably lacking on the other side. But basically it comes down to fundamental differences between the parties and how they serve their supporters.

Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-and-switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.

First, about the Democrats: Their party defines itself as the protector of the poor and the middle class, and especially of nonwhite voters. Does it fall short of fulfilling this mission much of the time? Are its leaders sometimes too close to big-money donors? Of course. Still, if you look at the record of the Obama years, you see real action on behalf of the party’s goals.

Above all, you have the Affordable Care Act, which has given about 20 million Americans health insurance, with the gains biggest for the poor, minorities and low-wage workers. That’s what you call delivering for the base — and it’s surely one reason nonwhite voters have overwhelmingly favored Clinton over a challenger who sometimes seemed to dismiss that achievement.

And this was paid for largely with higher taxes on the rich, with average tax rates on very high incomes rising by about 6 percentage points since 2008. Maybe you think Democrats could and should have done more, but what the party establishment says and what it does are at least roughly aligned.

Things are very different among Republicans.Their party has historically won elections by appealing to racial enmity and cultural anxiety, but its actual policy agenda is dedicated to serving the interests of the 1 percent, above all through tax cuts for the rich — which even Republican voters don’t support, while they truly loathe elite ideas like privatising Social Security and Medicare.

What Donald Trump has been doing is telling the base that it can order a la carte. He has, in effect, been telling aggrieved white men that they can feed their anger without being forced to swallow supply-side economics, too. Yes, his actual policy proposals still involve huge tax cuts for the rich, but his supporters don’t know that — and it’s possible that he doesn’t, either. Details aren’t his thing.

Establishment Republicans have tried to counter his appeal by shouting, with growing hysteria, that he isn’t a true conservative. And they’re right, at least as they define conservatism. But their own voters don’t care.

If there’s a puzzle here, it’s why this didn’t happen sooner. One possible explanation is the decadence of the GOP establishment, which has become ingrown and lost touch. Apparatchiks who have spent their whole careers inside the bubble of right-wing think tanks and partisan media may suffer from the delusion that their ideology is actually popular with real people. And this has left them hapless in the face of a Trumpian challenge.

Probably more important, however, is the collision between demography and Obama derangement. The elite knows that the party must broaden its appeal as the electorate grows more diverse — in fact, that was the conclusion of the GOP’s 2013 post-mortem. But the base, its hostility amped up to 11 after seven years of an African-American President (who the establishment, dominantly White, has done its best to demonize) is having none of it.

The point, in any case, is that the divergent nomination outcomes of 2016 aren’t an accident. The Democratic establishment has won because it has, however imperfectly, tried to serve its supporters. The Republican establishment has been routed because it has been playing a con game on its supporters all along, and they’ve finally had enough.

And yes, Trump is playing a con game of his own, and they’ll eventually figure that out, too. But it won’t happen right away, and in any case it won’t help the party establishment. Sad! ― The New York Times

– See more at:


Whither ASEAN–The View of a Pessimist?

April 30, 2016

Whither ASEAN–The View of a Pessimist?

by Philip Bowring

As 2016 chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Laotian People’s Democratic Republic is leading the group toward political irrelevance. And that is doubtless how China, the hand controlling the Laotian glove puppet, would like to see it.

The three minnows of ASEAN, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos, have just undermined ASEAN’s efforts to present some sort of a united front questioning China’s claims and activities in the South China Sea. Feeble though these have been, with endless talk of a developing a Code of Conduct making scant headway, they have at least been commonly agreed.

Meanwhile China has continued aggressive actions, reclaiming land, driving Filipinos from the Scarborough Shoal which lies well within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone and sending fleets of fishing boats protected by armed Coast Guard vessels operating 1,000 miles from the China coast to steal the fish from the exclusive zones of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

But creating facts in the sea while stalling the Code of Conduct, is not sufficient for China. On April 24 in the Laotian capital Vientiane, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced, with an understandable sense of triumph, that an “important consensus” had been reached with the three that disputes over the South China Sea should be resolved entirely on a bilateral basis and not involve ASEAN.

According to the Chinese, the consensus criticized any efforts to “unilaterally impose an agenda on other countries” and vowed that national sovereignty would prevail over the regional grouping. None of the other parties has contradicted Wang.

Timed for Hague Decision 

This China-created “consensus” was timed in advance of the decision expected in June from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on a Philippine case against China. Beijing refuses to accept the jurisdiction of the court but needs to find some diplomatic support given that the court is widely expected to rule largely in the Philippines’ favor.

The statement also comes at a time when Indonesia, which long claimed not to be involved in the South China Sea disputes, is making more determined efforts to protect its fisheries and is growing concerned about the proximity of China’s nine-dash line claim to its gas fields off the Natuna islands.

In February, ASEAN expressed serious concern about developments in the South China Sea, with only Laotian and Cambodian opposition preventing a stronger statement. But now the three minnows have effectively said that neither ASEAN nor international courts play any role in regional issues.

In which case, why bother to treat ASEAN as having any political or diplomatic role? Just leave ASEAN as a loose economic grouping with some extra benefits such as visa-free travel and stop pretending that it is anything more. It has long been clear that the overriding national interests of the states abutting the South China Sea were not fully shared by Myanmar or Thailand, let alone landlocked Laos.

As it is, tiny Laos with its long Chinese border, is already the focus of massive Chinese investment and is a bridgehead for the advance of Chinese road and rail systems into Thailand. The Hun Sen regime in Cambodia was installed by the Vietnamese (?) but has come increasingly under Chinese influence thanks to money and historic Khmer suspicion of Vietnam.

Brunei Sultan Blazes Islamic Path

As for Brunei, making sense of the decisions of its autocratic Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is never easy. Two years ago he announced that full Islamic law would be introduced in three stages, culminating in such features as cutting off limbs and stoning adulterers and homosexuals. At the same time, he is trying to reduce dependence on oil and make his petty kingdom into an Islamic version of Singapore, which would call for a far more open society than he consents to envision. All this is very confusing particularly given the Brunei royal family’s past reputation for gross extravagance and as a paradise for beautiful rent-seeking women who dare serious sexual harassment from randy royal children.

Brunei’s EEZ is known to contain oil and gas it needs to replenish its dwindling reserves. Much of its 200-mile EEZ lies within China’s nine-dash line so Brunei’s interest should be in expressing solidarity with Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. But Chinese money may have been more persuasive. Or the Sultan may figure that being a tool of China makes it less likely that Brunei, population 250,000, will eventually be swallowed by Malaysia or Indonesia.

The current divide makes it a good occasion to re-think both the name and the concept of the region. The very name Southeast Asia is of recent creation – by the British in the 1940s to describe territories occupied by Japan from Burma (previously part of British India) to the Philippines vis so-called Indochina, the Malay Peninsula and the Indian (or Malay) Archipelago (Indonesia). ASEAN in turn was invented in the 1960s as an anti-Communist bloc from which grew something bigger but more oriented towards trade.

ASEAN Minus Five?

Trade cooperation is still needed but as a political tool for its three largest states, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, which between them account for 75 percent of its population, ASEAN is now counter-productive. Likewise Malaysia needs close South China Sea allies not merely to defend its own islands and exclusive zones but to protect the integrity of a nation divided by roughly 600 km of sea, some of which lies within China’s nine-dash line.

In other words, these four states plus Brunei, if it could be released from the clutches of a newly medieval ruler, need a new grouping, could find sensible compromises on their own overlapping claims and confront China with a firm and united voice.

Convincing Indonesia of the merits of such as idea would be difficult. Jakarta not only hosts the ASEAN secretariat, such as it is, but harbors a sense that it is both the leader of the group and voice of moderation on all issues. That may have been the case in the past when it still basked in its non-aligned legacy and China was on the margin of regional affairs. But now China’s power and expansionist interests have divided ASEAN and made a myth of Indonesian assumptions of quiet leadership.

Wang Yi’s April 24 statement was a blunt description of a reality that has long been evident but fervently denied by foreign ministries in many capitals wedded to ASEAN illusions. It can be denied no longer. China has spoken: ASEAN is irrelevant.

What’s your deal with Prime Minister Najib Razak, Mr. Saudi Foreign Minister?

April 15, 2016

Malaysia: What’s your deal with Prime Minister Najib Razak, Mr. Saudi Foreign Minister?

Bernama reports:

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir today admitted that the donation to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak indeed came from Saudi Arabia.

“We are aware of the donation and it is a genuine donation with nothing expected in return. We are also fully aware that the Attorney-General of Malaysia has thoroughly investigated the matter and found no wrongdoing.So, as far as we are concerned, the matter is closed,” Adel told Malaysian reporters in Istanbul yesterday.

Earlier, Adel held a bilateral meeting with Najib on the sidelines of the 13th Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali had, on January 26, cleared Najib of any wrongdoing in relation to investigations into the SRC International Sdn Bhd and the RM2.6 billion alleged to have been deposited into the Prime Minister’s personal bank accounts.

Apandi said the investigations revealed that the amount deposited was RM2.08 billion, and it was a personal donation from the Saudi Royal Family in 2013, of which RM2.03 billion was returned to the contributor the same year.–


US Economic Ties to ASEAN Demand a New Agility

April 6, 2016

Asia Pacific Bulletin

Number 338 | April 5, 2016

US Economic Ties to ASEAN Demand a New Agility

by Shankaran Nambiar

Shankaran Nambiar, Senior Research Fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research, explains that “US-ASEAN economic relations will receive a huge boost if the US makes a more concerted effort to address issues such as the financing of large-scale developmental projects, be they to improve regional connectivity, build roads and dams, or enhance capabilities in cyber security and satellite technology.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) holds a pivotal position in configuring the space that China employs as it seeks to tilt the balance in global economic relations. In the last decade or more, China has been taking gradual but firm steps in establishing its economic hold over Africa, parts of South Asia, and of course ASEAN. Its grand connectivity projects and its role in the international funding system will further extend its reach.

Although China has taken a belligerent stance on the South China Sea, it has developed a constructive, non-intrusive approach to trade and investments with many ASEAN member states, resulting in some measure of reliance on China. China’s growing economic influence in Southeast Asia is a dimension that the US cannot afford to ignore.

Despite its rhetoric, the US lumbers along in its economic policy towards ASEAN. Although the Obama administration’s policy of “rebalancing” towards Asia includes ASEAN, the US has lost ground. The Expanded Economic Engagement (E3) Initiative, a successor to the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative, is supposed to prioritize trade facilitation, improve connectivity between ASEAN economies, develop principles that will address investment policies, and harmonize standards across the region. But it is perceived as serving the business interests of multinational companies rather than those of individual ASEAN economies.

Moreover, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are still not at that stage of development where trade and investment facilitation matters or where the government can rely on the right institutions to make progress on the required reforms. Good governance and the right institutional framework are necessary ingredients for economic development. Assistance from the US in these areas will be useful, but the US has to participate more actively in helping to meet what ASEAN governments see as pressing current needs.

Some ASEAN governments and influential constituencies within them see investor protection, non-discrimination against foreign companies, and the simplification of customs procedures as tools to pry open domestic markets that would benefit multinational companies from the developed world, much to the disadvantage of domestic companies. Although there is great merit in eliminating the institutional barriers to trade and investment, China does not pursue these objectives, preferring to win support by extending assistance in building infrastructure, founding science parks, and offering development financing. US pressure for institutional reform must be balanced with assistance on the ground, simply because the latter is more tangible and its results more immediate.

Some progress will be achieved in securing commitment for institutional reform via the TPP, once it comes to fruition. But that is not enough, because only four ASEAN countries are TPP members (Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam). Other strategies for a more inclusive trade strategy have to be devised. Obvious candidates would include adding the US to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement (RCEP), including China in the TPP, or moving ahead with the proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).

The Declaration resulting from the US-ASEAN Summit at Sunnylands, California in February attempts to take E3 forward. The Declaration has some useful points. Chief among them is the acceptance of “ASEAN centrality,” the notion that ASEAN is a cohesive and integrated region that is able to form reliable relationships with the rest of world. The Declaration also contains a veiled call for stability in the South China Sea and support for growth and development in the region. The question is how these goals can be made more concrete.

The new US-ASEAN Connect initiative, also a result of the summit at Sunnylands, has four pillars that can ostensibly work towards achieving these objectives: Business, Energy, Innovation, and Policy Connects. However, the Business Connect pillar seems aimed at increasing commercial engagement between the private sectors in the US and respective ASEAN member states. Business Connect officially claims to offer “coordinated, proactive support for US business,” which has undertones of bias against business in ASEAN member states. Domestic companies in ASEAN typically worry that the domestic market will be deluged by foreign investors who will put them out of business. In addition, the state is often heavily involved in ASEAN businesses. The TPP negotiations adopted an accommodative stance towards state-owned enterprises, prominent as they are in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. Business Connect should be similarly realistic.

The Policy Connect pillar is concerned with creating a favorable policy environment for information, communications, and technology (ICT). The main focus of this pillar is trade and investment, with specific programs to expedite trade and investment facilitation and the simplification and computerization of customs procedures. Presumably, standards and conformance will be given due attention, thorny as these issues are and given the technical complexities that are involved.

The Innovation Connect pillar is rather fuzzy and not likely to draw much attention since it has not been clearly enunciated. This pillar is directed at entrepreneurial development. Although venture capital, coaching and mentoring for aspiring entrepreneurs, and seed funding are matters of great interest in the US, there is not the same enthusiasm in ASEAN. The nature of entrepreneurship in, say, Manila is not quite what it is in Silicon Valley. Innovation Connect will have to take into account national differences and levels of development as well as providing a bridge to the US.

The Innovation Connect pillar is rather fuzzy and not likely to draw much attention since it has not been clearly enunciated. This pillar is directed at entrepreneurial development. Although venture capital, coaching and mentoring for aspiring entrepreneurs, and seed funding are matters of great interest in the US, there is not the same enthusiasm in ASEAN. The nature of entrepreneurship in, say, Manila is not quite what it is in Silicon Valley. Innovation Connect will have to take into account national differences and levels of development as well as providing a bridge to the US.

“Though US-ASEAN economic relations have gathered speed in recent years, by comparison with what China has been doing, US efforts are slow and clumsy.”

The choice of Connect Centers raises yet another problem because no Center has been selected to represent Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. These countries lag behind the other members and deserve the extra push that the US can give them.

In the short-term, the US has to design initiatives that support the developmental needs of individual states. China has done this eminently well in recent years. The longer-term strategy should be to work towards institutional reform that supports trade and investment and also draws all of ASEAN into a wider form of trade architecture. US-ASEAN economic relations will receive a huge boost if the US makes a more concerted effort to address issues such as the financing of large-scale developmental projects, be they to improve regional connectivity, build roads and dams, or enhance capabilities in cyber security and satellite technology. Cooperation can also be extended to build technological universities. Though US-ASEAN economic relations have gathered speed in recent years, by comparison with what China has been doing, US efforts are slow and clumsy. A more nimble and proactive approach that is in line with ASEAN’s aspirations will do much for both ASEAN and US-ASEAN relations.

About the Author

Shankaran Nambiar is Senior Research Fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research. He can be contacted at

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Cambodian PM Hun Sen’s Cabinet reshuffle sends a strong signal

April 5, 2016

Cambodian PM Hun Sen’s Cabinet reshuffle sends a strong signal: The Nation

The departure of veteran Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong represents a milestone in the nation’s recent political and diplomatic annals. Prime Minister Hun Sen has never reshuffled his Foreign Ministry in this way.

by Kavi Chongkittavorn

The Nation/ Asia News Network

While the country’s attention has zeroed in on other senior Cabinet member rotations and dismissals, Phnom Penh-based ASEAN diplomats are watching carefully what could be the ramifications of the latest Hun Sen moves – both on the domestic and foreign policy fronts.

Indeed, such a large number of reshuffled posts normally needs to go through the ruling Cambodia People’s Party’s deliberations beforehand, but this time the reshuffle did not.

 Apparently, the region’s longest-serving premier wanted to use this opportunity to gauge internal support as he pushes through candidates. Certainly, eyebrows were raised among top party’s echelons.

The new Foreign Minister appointment, Mr Prak Sokhon, who previously served as Post and Communications Minister, comes at a critical time as Cambodia suffers the consequences of political mishaps in July 2012 and the dismal election of 2013.

When Cambodia held the ASEAN chairmanship, Mr Hor Namhong refused to issue a joint communique – even though ASEAN had been through at least 18 drafts concerning the situation in the South China Sea – to soften ASEAN’s stance on the issue.

The minister also insisted on turning down suggestions from his Indonesian and Singaporean colleagues who tried to help, but in vain. Subsequently, Cambodia was harshly criticised by other members and dialogue partners.

More than officials would like to admit, Mr Hun Sen has to take the blame himself, quietly out of respect for the senior minister, who served at one time as his Foreign Policy mentor.

Make no mistake, by opting for Mr Prak Sokhon, who was his former adviser, Mr Hun Sen wanted to send a strong signal to ASEAN and the international community that this non-aligned country is back with a fresh foreign policy outlook.

Mr Prak Sokhon currently holds the presidency of the Institute of Research and Analysis Group, a think-tank belonging to Mr Hun Sen. Under his leadership, four policy trends are emerging as far as external relations are concerned.

First, Cambodia’s foreign pathway will be more moderate – no more the adventurism of the past or the dramatic turnarounds in bilateral relations. It will adhere to the principles of the non-aligned movement, which King Sihanouk co-founded in the 1950s with other newly independent countries.

Cambodia will adopt a more multi-directional foreign policy that will increase its profile regionally and internationally through non-traditional security cooperation, such as peacekeeping and landmine clearing, among other activities.

Mr Prak Sokhon will follow a clear pattern of diplomacy that will seek friendly relations with all. Unless we forget, it was the UN-backed peace plan in 1991 that made Cambodia the country as we know it today.

Some Cambodian officials have borrowed the term “dynamic equilibrium” – first used by former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa – to describe the country’s future diplomatic outlook.

Second, from now on Cambodia will maintain a delicate balance between major powers, especially the first tier partnerships affecting China and Japan and the second tier between China, the US and the EU.

For the past three years, Mr Hun Sen has successfully maintained a stable relationship with China and Japan, especially with the latter after a brief slump in relations in 2012.

Now Cambodia has formed strategic partnership ties with the two Asian giants, although the former is more competitive.

As for relations with the West, Mr Hun Sen has Mr Prak Sokhon’s job cut out for him.He could further strengthen ties with the US and Europe, especially with second-rank investor the United Kingdom. After the Sunnylands summit, Cambodia has also occupied a higher standing in Washington’s scheme of things.

Third, Cambodia’s integration into the ASEAN Community economy remains a top priority for Mr Hun Sen.He wants to make sure that his ASEAN legacy is kept intact and not blemished by South China Sea conflicts – of which Cambodia is not a party.

Starting with the first time Cambodia held the ASEAN chair in 2003, Mr Hun Sen has left a strong legacy in ASEAN, acting as a balance between old and new ASEAN members.

Although Cambodia was the last to be admitted in 1999, its influence was far larger because it was a more open country.With a freer economic and political atmosphere, Mr Hun Sen’s voice was loud.

Phnom Penh’s scorecard of AEC implementation was above average. Among ASEAN members, Cambodia is quite liberal in its financial and service sectors. In addition, Mr Prak Sokhon can reconnect with ASEAN to boost “Asean Centrality”, calling for more consultations between ASEAN colleagues, with whom he would certainly have a better rapport.

At the moment, Cambodia wants to push key ASEAN agenda items on narrowing the development gap, promoting small and medium-size enterprises, and connectivity.

Finally, Cambodia’s relations with neighbouring countries have developed markedly, especially with Thailand and Vietnam. In the past two years, Thai-Cambodia links have improved greatly since the former’s coup in May of 2014. Both sides have embarked on new projects that could improve Thai investment and migrant workers’ welfare in Thailand.

Both sides also continue to discuss ways to implement recommendations by the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the Phreah Vihear/Praviharn Temple – without resorting to violence as before. Border cooperation has increased and so has border trade. Hun Sen and his Thai counterparts get along very well.

The new leadership line-ups in Vietnam and Laos also augur well for Cambodia’s foreign policy orientation. Squabbling over the construction of dams and protection of the environment has died down. Now all the lower Mekong riparian countries are poised to intensify their cooperation and increase overall engagement with China.