Foreign Policy: ASEAN, North Korea and United States in the Quest for Stability


June 13, 2017

Foreign Policy: ASEAN, North Korea and United States in the Quest for Stability

by David Han@RSIS (Rajaratnam School–NTU)

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

In recent months, North Korea has raised tensions and aroused anxiety throughout the Asia Pacific, including Southeast Asia. Although ASEAN should be concerned about this threat given the grave security implications for the wider Asia Pacific region, it needs to be mindful of why it exists in order to avoid distorting its credentials and relevance to the Korean Peninsula crisis.

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In a letter to the ASEAN Secretary General dated 23 March 2017, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho indicated his ‘expectations that ASEAN, which attaches great importance to the regional peace and stability, will make an issue of the US–South Korean joint military exercises at ASEAN conferences’. He added that ASEAN should take a ‘fair position and play an active role in safeguarding the peace and safety of Korean Peninsula’.

In April 2017, during the 30th ASEAN Summit in the Philippines, ASEAN instead expressed ‘grave concern’ and urged North Korea to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program. ASEAN’s firm yet measured response to North Korea reflects the international consensus against North Korea’s actions. It is also a neutral posture that avoids siding with any party involved in the crisis, including China or the United States. ASEAN’s position neither overestimates the organisation’s ability to contribute to the resolution of the crisis nor misconstrues its existing purpose as a platform for shaping regional security.

RSIS researchers Shawn Ho and Sarah Teo wrote that ‘ASEAN could strengthen its regional security credentials by paying more attention to the challenge on the Korean Peninsula’. The rationale is that given the ‘current salience of the Korean Peninsula’s security to Beijing and Washington, if ASEAN is to do more to deal with the challenge on the Korean Peninsula, ASEAN’s relevance and importance to both major powers could be enhanced’.

This argument raises the importance for ASEAN to urge the United States to continue engaging with Southeast Asia. The United States could do this through existing regional arrangements that have been shaped by ASEAN multilateralism, rather than circumventing such established structures when dealing with security and geopolitical issues.

Yet the Korean Peninsula may not be the appropriate conduit for ASEAN–US ties so this argument could be problematic for two reasons.

First, it is unclear how ASEAN would demonstrate its relevance to the United States by dealing with the North Korean threat, when ASEAN is already challenged by existing geopolitical issues within the region. As ASEAN has been unable to reach consensus over major geopolitical contentions, such as the South China Sea dispute, it is not clear how ASEAN would be relevant to the United States tackling the Korean Peninsula crisis without first demonstrating its capacity to resolve Southeast Asia’s maritime spats.

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The second problem is that it risks ASEAN becoming divided between China and the United States. During the recent meeting on 4 May 2017 in Washington DC, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conveyed to ASEAN foreign ministers that Washington intends to stay engaged in Southeast Asia when he commended ASEAN as an ‘essential partner’ to the United States. Tillerson also urged ASEAN to pressure North Korea by reviewing Pyongyang’s relations with ASEAN and curbing the country’s revenue flows from Southeast Asia.

But were ASEAN to comply with the United States’ request to condemn North Korea’s actions, China could perceive this as an attempt by Washington to complicate the dynamics of the Korean Peninsula crisis in which ASEAN is not directly involved.

ASEAN’s internal unity could also be affected negatively if it were to get involved in the Peninsula crisis. There are already indications that some member states are more inclined towards China while others gravitate towards the United States. If ASEAN chooses sides regarding the North Korean threat, this could widen the intra-ASEAN divide.

So if ASEAN intends to show its relevance regarding the North Korean threat, it should be realistic about its own ability to offer viable solutions to the crisis and avoid pandering to either China or the United States.

During the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meetings, ASEAN could signal to North Korea that it should back down from its provocative behaviour, but beyond this there is not much that ASEAN can do to pressure North Korea to change its course. In the past, ASEAN has issued similar statements on North Korea’s brinksmanship and North Korea has disregarded them, continuing with its nuclearisation drive unabated.

This is not to downplay ASEAN’s importance as a regional organisation. Indeed, over the past few decades, ASEAN has played a key role in reducing the risk of conflict in the region through dialogue, consultation and consensus. It was even envisioned that ASEAN norms could have a wider influence on the security trajectory of the Asia Pacific. The ARF was formed in 1994 for ASEAN and external stakeholders to discuss security issues and promote cooperative measures to enhance peace and stability in the region.

But the ARF is not meant to provide and enforce solutions to conflicts, so ASEAN is limited in offering viable recommendations to both the United States and China on the Korean Peninsula crisis. In the long term, ASEAN should focus its efforts on developing the ASEAN community to advance norm formulation, measures to promote peaceful consultation on security issues and collective solutions for conflict prevention and resolution.

In the meantime, ASEAN should continue in its unequivocal insistence that North Korea step down from its aggressive actions and that all parties involved are to avoid any further provocation.

David Han is a Research Analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article was first published here on RSIS.

2017 Cambodian Commune Elections–CPP wins


June 6, 2017

Congratulations to Royal Government and the People of Cambodia led by HE Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen. You have shown that democracy via free and fair elections works. CPP wins to provide peace, stability and development for all Cambodians​​ as well as ensuring stability and sustainable for ASEAN and Southeast Asia as well.

សូមអបអរសាទរដល់រាជរដ្ឋាភិបាល និងប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា ក្រោមការដឹកនាំរបស់សម្តេច នាយករដ្ឋមន្ត្រី​ តេជោ ហ៊ុន សែន ដែលបានឆ្លុះបញ្ចាំងពីលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ​តាមរយៈ​ការបោះឆ្នោតកន្លងទៅប្រកបដោយយុត្តិធ៌ម និងត្រឹមត្រូវ។ គណៈបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជាត្រូវ​បានឈ្នះឆ្នោត និងធានាជូនប្រជាជនកម្ពុជានូវ​ សន្តិភាព ស្ថេរភាព និងការអភិវឌ្ឍន៍​ជូនប្រជាជនកម្ពុជាទាំងមូល ក៏ដូចជាធានាជូននូវស្ថេរភាព និង​ និរន្តភាពអភិវឌ្ឍន៍ ជូនអាស៊ាន និង ជូនតំបន់អាស៊ីអាគ្នេយ៍ទាំងមូលដែរ។ 

http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/39069/traៈnsparency-the-main-winner/

Analysts say greater transparency should emerge as a result of changes heralded by this year’s commune elections.

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Independent political analyst Meas Ny said the CNRP has won more commune seats than before, but could not say immediately if this would lead to improvements in local services.

“We have to wait and see when they come to work in their positions,” he said. “They have to work first.”  He added that with the CNRP getting more seats in the communes, government officers’ work would be more transparent because both parties are competing closely for support.

He said: “My thoughts are that from now on the provincial governors will have to manage their work effectively, otherwise there will be a greater effect on the CPP.

“In the case of a CPP governor putting pressure on a CNRP commune chief, people in the commune who voted for the CNRP will react. For commune development, budgets have to get approval from the government and national assembly.”

Sam Kuntheamy, Executive Director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said provincial governors could not put pressure on new CNRP commune chiefs because they worked awithin a system, having to go through district councillors, provincial councillors and then to the Ministry of Interior.

“So the provincial governor cannot make their work difficult,” he said.  Adding to that, the new commune chiefs have to implement the policies their parties campaigned on.

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HE Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen leads CPP to victory in 2017 Cambodian Commune Election

“It’s good now because the Senate election will start next month, so the opposition party will get more seats because more commune members will vote for their party member in the Senate.”

The opposition would gain positions of provincial councillors or district councillors from the votes of commune chiefs and commune members. He said the mission of commune councils was to serve the common interests of citizens and act as the agent of the central government.

Specific functions were to maintain order, offer services for citizens’ health, well-being and contentment, to plan for economic and social development, and to ensure citizens have a quality standard of living. He said: “The commune chief has to respond to the needs of the commune community.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan told Voice of America radio the opposition party would have 487 commune chiefs working at the grassroots. “Whoever comes from whatever political party works under the Ministry of Interior,” he said.

“We will not discriminate against a political party.” The National Election Committee said preliminary results showed the CPP winning in 22 provinces. The CNRP won in Siem Reap and Kompong Cham provinces and in Phnom Penh. The CPP came top in 1,163 communes and the CNRP won 482. The Khmer National United Party won one commune.

More than 85 percent of the 7.8 million registered voters turned out in an election described by international observers as free and fair with no sign of intimidation, violence or coercion.

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STATEMENT OF CAPDI ON THE COMMUNE COUNCIL ELECTION IN CAMBODIA–June 4, 2017

In response to the invitation of the National Election Committee through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Royal Government of Cambodia, the election observation delegation of the Centrist Asia-Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI) led by Honorable Agung Laksono, Vice-Chairman of CAPDI and Former Speaker of Republic of Indonesia, nine delegates from Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, and Turkey arrived in Cambodia to observe the 2017 commune council election.

As part of the mission, the CAPDI delegation paid a visit to Prime Minister Hun Sen and leaders of three main political parties such as the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the National United Front for an Independent, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (Funcinpec) and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Moreover, we were also briefed by representatives from the National Election Committee and Civil Society Organization Alliance Forum on a range of issues regarding the election process.

On Election Day, the CAPDI delegation went to a number of polling stations in the capital city of Phnom Penh and in provinces. We were impressed by a large voter turnout of 80% of all the registered voters and we observed that people were casting their vote in an open and free environment. More importantly, voters appeared to be more enthusiastic and happy to take part in the election process. There was no sign of intimidation, coercion and violence. Furthermore, the election staff was selected through a transparent and competitive process and they did their job with a high degree of integrity and professionalism.

We were also grateful for the Cambodian government’s efforts in ensuring safety and security for voters, members of political parties, the election staff, members of the media and local and international observers before, during and after the election. The CAPDI delegation along with representatives from various political parties and civil society organizations also monitored the vote counting process.

The CAPDI delegation also noticed that Cambodia has made a lot of progress since the country fully achieved peace and stability after the transition period of the late 1990s.

Progress can be seen, not only in the economy, but also in the political democrat process.

Finally, the CAPDI delegation would like to congratulate the Cambodian people, the NEC and the nearly 8 million registered voters and other relevant agencies for successfully conducting a free, fair, secrete and credible commune council election. We witnessed a sincere desire from the voters to express their sentiment in a peaceful and democratic manner. We are confident that political leaders would be able to resolve their differences also through a peaceful and win-win manner. CAPDI is ready to support any process that would lead to peace, stability and prosperity in Cambodia.

Fareed Zakaria GPS–Trump’s First Overseas Trip as 45th POTUS


May 30, 2017

Fareed Zakaria GPS–Trump’s First Overseas Trip as 45th POTUS

 

The President Who cried wolf


May 24, 2017

The President Who cried wolf

‘Trump is now more than just a real estate developer, a franchise marketer, or a celebrity TV star. He is President, and he is dealing with matters of war and peace, law and justice. Words matter, and in a wholly different way than he has ever understood. They build national credibility, deter enemies, reassure allies and execute the law. In high office, in public life, words are not so different from actions. They are everything”.–Fareed Zakaria

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For most of his life, Donald Trump has found words to be his friends. He has used them to build his business, dramatize his achievements and embellish his accomplishments. As important, he has used them to explain away his missteps and to paper over his problems. He built a 58-story building in glass and steel, but through his wordplay, it became 68 stories tall. He owns an 11,000-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, but in his telling, it’s 33,000 square feet. Trump has used words extravagantly and cleverly to serve his ambition. He has called his method “truthful hyperbole,” and oftentimes it is not even truthful. But it has worked — so far.

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James B. Comey

The White House understands the gravity of the allegation that President Trump asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to end the Michael Flynn investigation. That’s why the administration has vigorously denied the charge. And perhaps it’s not true.

But the challenge for the administration is that in the court of public opinion, this is likely to turn into a case of “he said, he said” — unless there are, in fact, tapes. On the one side, you have Comey, a distinguished civil servant with a history of speaking truth to power. While his critics feel that he has made several bad judgments over the past year, most people believe he is honest and sincere. On the other side, you have Trump.

The Post’s reporters Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee describe Trump as “the most fact-challenged politician” they have “ever encountered.” They pointed out that, after having received a whopping 59 “Four Pinocchio” ratings during the campaign, Trump in his first 100 days made 492 “false or misleading claims,” at an average of 4.9 a day. These fact checkers clarified that “those numbers obscure the fact that the pace and volume of the president’s misstatements means that we cannot possibly keep up.” By their count, there were only 10 days in the first 100 days in which Trump did not make a false or misleading claim.

And his fibs are not over small matters. Before being elected, Trump claimed that Barack Obama was not born in the United States; that he had met Vladimir Putin, who “could not have been nicer”; that he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq “from the beginning”; that he watched Arabs in Jersey City, N.J., cheer when the World Trade Center was attacked; that America’s unemployment rate (just last year) might be as high as 42 percent; and that its murder rate was the highest in 45 years. Since his election, he has claimed that his electoral vote margin was larger than anyone’s since Ronald Reagan, that China stopped manipulating its currency in response to his criticism and that Obama had his Trump Tower phones tapped. Every one of these claims is categorically false, and yet Trump has never retracted one of them.

Trump’s approach has never been to apologize because it wouldn’t make sense to him. In his view, he wasn’t fibbing. As his sometime rival and now friend Steve Wynn, a casino tycoon, put it, Trump’s statements on virtually everything “have no relation to truth or fact.” That’s not really how Trump thinks of words. For him, words are performance art. It’s what sounds right in the moment and gets him through the crisis. So when describing his economic policy to the Economist, he explained that he had just invented the term “prime the pump” a few days earlier. Never mind that the phrase was coined a century ago, has been used countless times since and was in fact used by Trump repeatedly in the past year. At that moment, it seemed the right thing to say.

But Trump is now more than just a real estate developer, a franchise marketer, or a celebrity TV star. He is President, and he is dealing with matters of war and peace, law and justice. Words matter, and in a wholly different way than he has ever understood. They build national credibility, deter enemies, reassure allies and execute the law. In high office, in public life, words are not so different from actions. They are everything.

It would be the ultimate irony if Trump now faces a crisis in which his lifelong strength turns into a fatal weakness. His rich and checkered history of salesmanship, his exaggerations, fudges and falsehoods, leave him in a situation now where, even if he is right on this one, people will have a hard time believing that this one time Donald Trump is finally telling the truth.

 

The Criminal 45th POTUS?



May 17, 2017

The Criminal 45th POTUS?

http://www.nytimes.com

After the revelations of the past 24 hours, it appears that President Trump’s conduct in and around the firing of the F.B.I. Director, James Comey, may have crossed the line into criminality. The combination of what is known and what is credibly alleged would, if fully substantiated, constitute obstruction of justice. It is time for Congress and a special counsel in the executive branch to conduct objective, bipartisan inquiries into these allegations, together with the underlying matters involving Michael Flynn and Russia that gave rise to them.

First, the facts. On January 26, Sally Yates, then the acting Attorney General, informed the White House that Mr. Flynn had apparently lied about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. The next day, President Trump hosted Mr. Comey for a private dinner, during which he allegedly asked Mr. Comey repeatedly whether he would pledge his “loyalty” to him, which Mr. Comey declined to do.

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Sally Yates–Acting Attorney-General

On February 14, the day after Mr. Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, President Trump allegedly held Mr. Comey back after a meeting to say that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong and that, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Mr. Comey declined to drop the investigation, going on in March to confirm before Congress that it was ongoing, and later requesting greater resources from the Department of Justice to pursue it.

Finally, on May 9, President Trump fired Mr. Comey. We were first told he did so because Mr. Comey bungled the F.B.I.’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. Two days later, President Trump changed his story: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’” The day after that, President Trump threatened Mr. Comey on Twitter, warning him against leaking to the press.

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Any one of these facts or allegations, by itself, likely would not constitute obstruction of justice. After all, as the F.B.I. Director himself stated, the President has the undisputed power under the Constitution to hire and fire members of his administration in the normal course of government business.

But what he cannot do is exercise that power corruptly, to spare himself or those associated with him, like Mr. Flynn, from scrutiny and possible criminal liability. To do so would run afoul of a series of federal statutes that define the crime of obstruction of justice. They are variations on the theme that anyone who “corruptly” or by “any threatening letter or communication” tries “to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” will be subject to criminal penalties.

The operative word here is “corruptly.” It means “an improper purpose,” or one that is “evil” or “wicked.” There is no precise formula for defining it; those involved in the administration of justice must continually wrestle with its interpretation.

Here, the evidence strongly suggests that the president acted corruptly. That starts with the demand for loyalty from Mr. Comey, the account of which the White House disputes. That demand can reasonably be understood to mean that Mr. Comey should protect Trump and follow his bidding, rather than honoring his oath to follow the evidence. It is also an implicit threat: Be loyal, or you will be fired.

When Mr. Comey did not seem to take the hint, Mr. Trump made his meaning crystal-clear on February 14: Let the investigation go, and let Mr. Flynn go, too. The president denies this as well, of course, as he has denied so much else that has proven to be true. Who are we to believe: Mr. Comey, who would have no reason to accuse the President of obstruction of justice, and who has apparently preserved meticulous notes of his conversations? Or the President, who fact-checkers have demonstrated has told more lies in less time than any other modern occupant of the Oval Office?

While Mr. Trump might have been within his rights to fire Mr. Comey, this pattern of demands to protect himself and Mr. Flynn, followed by retaliation when the demands were not met, if proven, is a textbook case of wrongful conduct. Add to this the fact that Mr. Flynn was already offering testimony about the Russia connection in exchange for immunity from prosecution, and Mr. Trump’s clumsy attempt to dissemble the cause of the firing, and it is clear that a cover-up was afoot.

Finally, Mr. Trump topped things off with his tweeted threat to Mr. Comey; witness intimidation is both obstruction of justice in itself, and a free-standing statutory offense.

Taken together, this evidence is already more than sufficient to make out a prima facie case of obstruction of justice — and there are likely many more shoes to drop. Mr. Comey reportedly took notes on all of his encounters with the president. If what has emerged so far is any indication, this is unlikely to offer much comfort to Mr. Trump.

And there remains the core question of the President’s motives. Is he withholding his taxes because they show evidence of “a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” as his son once stated, or do they show no such thing, as his lawyers claim? Why is Mr. Trump so fervently protecting Mr. Flynn: out of loyalty to a friend, or because Mr. Trump fears what that friend would say if he received immunity?

We have previously called for Congress to set up an independent 9/11-style commission on the Russia and Flynn investigations, and for the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor. This appointment is necessary because Congress can’t actually prosecute anyone who may have committed crimes, including obstruction of justice, in connection with the Trump-Russia matter. This week’s revelations about the president, the most powerful man in the country, emphasize the need for these independent structures to be erected and to encompass these new allegations.

At least for now, we need not address the question, fully briefed to the Supreme Court during Watergate, but never resolved, of whether a special prosecutor could indict the President; as with Nixon, the question may again be obviated by other events, like the House initiating impeachment proceedings and the President resigning.

In the meantime, the House and Senate must continue their existing investigations and expand them, with the Judiciary Committees of both bodies immediately beginning hearings into the president’s abuse of power. Congress must be prepared to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Richard W. Painter, a Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, is the Vice Chairman and Norman L. Eisen is the Chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. They were chief White House ethics lawyers for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively.