It’s Humanitarian Intervention, not Interference


May 19, 2015

Phnom Penh

It is Humanitarian Intervention, Not Interference

rohingya-refugees-try-to-cross-into-bangladesh-data

In this commentary on Ms. Khoo’s article I take the view that ASEAN’s non-interference principle can be reviewed in the context of regional concerns about human rights, human trafficking and security.Times have have changed. There is no harm done to review its applicability in keeping with regional and international developments.

ASEAN_logo_1But  to my mind, there is no doubt about its continued relevance in intra-ASEAN relations and international relations. The principle is also embodied in the United Nations Charter. There are times like  the  present Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugee crisis that affect the littoral states of Thailand. Malaysia and Indonesia when quick collective action should be taken to  rescue those still at sea from certain death and  stamp out the flow of refugees. Both Myanmar and Bangladesh are responsible for precipitating this humanitarian crisis and they have a duty to deal with it. As they have not, regional and international intervention to tackle  serious human rights abuses is warranted.

The non-intervention principle can be suspended but that does not invalidate its value  as a guiding principle governing relations among nation states. But ASEAN must look at mechanisms for rapid action in times of human tragedy.

ASEAN holds dear to the principle of non-interference which is enshrined in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (SEATAC). The purpose of the Treaty is to promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and co-operation among the people of Southeast Asia which would contribute to their strength, solidarity, and closer relationship. In their relations with one another,  ASEAN leaders would  be guided by the following fundamental principles:

  • a. mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations,
  • b. the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion,
  • c. non-interference in the internal affairs of one another,
  • d. settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means,
  • e. renunciation of the threat or use of force, and
  • f. effective co-operation among themselves.

SEATAC is also the document which countries like the United States, China and others are required to become signatories before they can be dialogue partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum.  ASEAN leaders thought (they were right) that this principle was fundamental to the preservation of peace and stability of Southeast Asia,  which was a victim of big power rivalry during the period of the Cold War, and US military intervention in Vietnam.

Human rights abuses as in Myanmar have raised questions about the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.  As Khoo states, “[T] he non-interference principle is being increasingly questioned through its expanded influence, new challenges arising from globalisation processes, and most importantly, the increasing need to focus on human security.” Some have argued that ASEAN needs to rethink about this principle.

By all means do that since times have changed. But I am of the view that there is a strong case to ensure that non-interference continues to be the principle guiding relations between members, and with other states.

In the Rohingya case, ASEAN must create first create mechanisms to deal with the humanitarian crisis promptly so that lives are not lost.That includes the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force of Naval, Police and Immigration personnel to undertake search and rescue operation to save lives and deal with syndicates engaged in human trafficking.

At present, the problem is left in the hands of littoral states like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand while Myanmar, the perpetrator, is allowed to pursue  ethnic cleaning.  Surely, the military junta must be held to account for allowing Buddhist monks to commit wanton acts on violence against a minority community with a view to exterminating them. Second, in the spirit of ASEAN cooperation, Myanmar must stop the flow of refugees and provide food and shelter and a safe haven for those who remain and others who will be repatriated.

This will give time for  a lasting political solution to be found regarding the status of the Rohingyas in their homeland. Third, the United Nations and ASEAN diplomats led by Malaysia as the 2015 ASEAN chair, and others like China, India, the European Union and the US can nudge Myanmar along the process towards national reconciliation.

This is the time for urgent and decisive action. Forcing Myanmar out of ASEAN is not an option.  Instead, ASEAN needs to engage in a consultative dialogue with the military junta towards finding a lasting solution to the Rohingya issue.–Din Merican

*Din Merican is Associate Dean, Techo Sen (Hun Sen) School of Government and International Relations, University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The views expressed in this commentary are his own and do  not in any way implicate his organisation

The Dilemma of Non-Interference in ASEAN

by Khoo Ying Hooi @www.themalaysianinsider.com

Ying Hooi is attached with a local university. Her research interests cover the fields of civil society, social movements, protests, political participation, human rights and democratization.

Recently, the international community was shocked when boats filled with 2,000 ethnic Rohingya arrived in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. About 8,000 Rohingya are reportedly still adrift at sea following a crackdown on human trafficking syndicates.

The humanitarian crisis casts the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a negative light. The incident has also revealed the core of many problems in Asean itself, that is the immense pressure on the regional bloc to rethink its principle of non-interference in internal affairs of neighbouring states.

The non-interference principle is being increasingly questioned through its expanded influence, new challenges arising from globalisation processes, and most importantly, the increasing need to focus on human security.

According to the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on a People-Oriented, People-Centred ASEAN adopted at the 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur on April 27, ASEAN leaders agreed to “continue establishing a people-oriented, people-centred and rules-based ASEAN community where all people, stakeholders and sectors of society can contribute to and enjoy the benefits from a more integrated and connected community encompassing enhanced cooperation in the political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars for sustainable, equitable and inclusive development”.

Under the sub-topic on socio-cultural, the declaration stated: “Promote and protect the rights of women, children, youth and elderly persons as well as those of migrant workers, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, ethnic minority groups, people in vulnerable situations and marginalised groups, and promote their interests and welfare in Asean’s future agenda including through the ASEAN community’s post-2015 vision and its attendant documents”.

Less than a month after the adoption of the declaration, the plight of the Rohingya blew up.The Rohingya crisis is not a new problem in ASEAN. For decades, ASEAN has turned a blind eye to the fate of the Rohingya, one of the world’s most vulnerable minorities.

In my previous article entitled, “An ASEAN detached from its peoples” derived from my reflections after attending the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Assembly (ACSC/ APF), I said that what is seriously lacking in ASEAN is not declarations or statements, but fundamental issues such as people’s access to land and resources as well as minority rights for those such as the Rohingya.

Critics have long voiced doubts over ASEAN’s ambition for closer integration, known asASEAN EC the ASEAN Community, given the grouping’s sacred stance on sovereignty. The Rohingya crisis comes as a real test of the degree to which ASEAN member states take seriously their commitment to regional cooperation on protecting human rights as enshrined in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

The reluctance of Myanmar to openly discuss the issue is a clear obstacle for ASEAN to further develop a joint position. However, on the other hand, it is a moral obligation of Asean member states to find ways for a sustainable solution to the long-standing Rohingya issue by ensuring it is on the agenda of ASEAN meetings.

The Rohingya crisis has raised the pragmatism of ASEAN’s non-interference principle. At this crucial year of 2015, the deadline for the three pillars under the ASEAN community, ASEAN is fully aware that the issue could imperil the group’s stability in the region.

Although Myanmar is primarily responsible for the influx of Rohingya refugees, ASEAN has no choice but to go beyond its non-interference principle in order to maintain peace and stability in the region. Otherwise, silence on the issue could undermine ASEAN’s goal of achieving peaceful economic development in the long-term.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

Time for Indonesia to play a bigger role in ASEAN


April 1, 2015

Time for Indonesia to play a bigger role in ASEAN

by Pattharapong Rattanasevee

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/indonesia-asean-role/

Jokowi 5ASEAN would benefit from stronger leadership. But Indonesia, best placed to take up that role, appears unwilling despite the fact that it could be the leader that ASEAN needs. However, it intentionally refrains from asserting its influence over the association.

This is due to Indonesia’s internal weaknesses, ASEAN’s norms of non-interference and equality among members, and the remaining antagonism among ASEAN member countries. While President Joko Widodo has shown an increasing willingness to play on the international stage with statements urging the country to become a maritime power, the situation leaves a power vacuum within the association and intensifies the academic debate about leadership in integrating regions.

There are three possible and intertwining explanations of leadership in ASEAN. Sectoral leadership refers to leadership exercised through areas or sectors of competence, or depending on which country is in a better position to take the lead at the time. Indonesia’s foreign-policy orientation is frequently concerned with political and security issues. For example, it greatly influenced ASEAN positions on the Cambodian conflict and the South China Sea dispute. Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore like to push economic issues. These countries played a vital role in moving onto the path of economic integration. All were notable proponents of the ASEAN Free Trade Area. The Philippines is often more concerned with social and cultural issues, demonstrated by its initiation of ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).

ASEAN-10Cooperative leadership is formed among a group of countries that share a common vision and wish to play a strategic role in the region. This is based on the notion that no single ASEAN country can fulfill the leading role, so it should be built on the basis of two or three countries that are able to forge solid cooperation among their leaders and consolidate their domestic politics. This form of leadership is perhaps similar to the case of the European Union where Germany and France appear as a coalition leader.

Periodical leadership assumes that leadership is attached to individuality or charisma. This notion is heavily centered on some notable leaders of ASEAN, such as Indonesia’s President Suharto, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.

Soeharto-LeeKuanYew-MahathirThe sectorial explanation of leadership may be prevalent because Indonesia still lacks competence, for example in socio-economic areas. The cooperative model may have emerged because ASEAN is actually a collection of weak and vulnerable countries domestically. The periodical leadership is also visible because ASEAN is arguably an elitist organization and very much attached to leader’s charisma. But, without a doubt, ASEAN requires the presence of undisputed leadership for which Indonesia seems to be the only candidate.

ASEAN requires a clear and dominant leader that can serve as an institutional focal point and regional paymaster to facilitate and drive regional projects. Most multi-lateral or regional organisations include a country with more power relative to its other members. In every international bargain with competing national interests, there is an influence of structural powers (derived from material and resource capacity such as the size of land, population and economy).

Even the European Union, which has much more solid and effective institutions to drive decision-making, is heavily influenced by French and German leadership. Regional integration is a scene of competing national interests and the position of leadership is normally taken by the governments of large, prosperous and powerful member states.

As the world’s fourth largest state in terms of population and the region’s largest country, which comprises about 40 percent of ASEAN’s total population, Indonesia is the elephant in the room. Indonesia initiated and proposed the foundation of ASEAN as a means to end regional conflict. As a consequence of a painful experience of colonization, it was the country that continued to stress non-alignment, with the hope of removing the exercise of external powers from the region. While the coercive action towards East Timor and the severe financial crisis in the late 1990s spelled the decline of Indonesia’s position in ASEAN, its recent democratic consolidation is bolstering its reputation in regional affairs.

The invisibility of leadership in ASEAN is a result of Indonesia trying to ensure regional unity. Without the low-posture politics of Indonesia, the association would not be able to create multilateralism and a neutral context in which smaller states could feel more comfortable when dealing with bigger countries. But, considering the remaining antagonism among members and its considerable institutional weaknesses, this raises the importance of leadership in ASEAN.

ASEAN’s future cannot rely wholly upon Indonesia’s structural leadership. It has to be invested with some sort of soft power that could help amplify international images and credibility, as well as tone down antagonism and resistance within the organisation. Indonesia should seek to play a more active leading role and exercise more of its power over the association.

In the foreseeable future, ASEAN will continue to be shaped by the politics of Indonesia. The recent political developments in Indonesia will provide a vital ingredient in building up confidence and credibility, as well as enhancing the pursuit of leadership in ASEAN.

Pattharapong Rattanasevee is a lecturer at Burapha University, Chonburi, Thailand.This originally appeared on the East Asia Forum, a platform for analysis and research at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University.

Indonesia–The Emerging Tiger of ASEAN


March 10, 2015

Indonesia–The Emerging Tiger of ASEAN with some challenges ahead

by Ajeya Bandyopadhyay, Kolkata, India | Opinion–http://www.thejakartapost.com

Indonesia's Open Government Partnership

Indonesia has experienced impressive growth in recent years. On the basis of purchasing-power parity (PPP), the gross national income per head doubled to US$4,730 during the decade to 2012.

The proportion of the population living in poverty fell by almost half, from 24 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2012 (World Bank). The booming young population joining the workforce created huge demand for real estate and brought foreign investment in construction and consumer goods.

Yet Indonesia’s growth has been quite uneven and perhaps unsustainable in the long run. Real consumption grew by about 4 percent a year on an average in 2003-2010. More alarmingly, for the poorest 40 percent of households it grew by only 1.3 percent.

In contrast the consumption by the richest 20 percent grew by around 5.9 percent. In other words the income disparity between rich and the poor is rising rapidly. Indonesia’s Gini Coefficient, a measure of income inequality, jumped from 0.29 in 2000 to 0.38 in 2011. High income inequality in the long run, hurts higher growth potential and disrupts social cohesion.

Growth momentum in the Indonesian economy has moderated somewhat over the past several months due to a weaker performance by the export sector, together with the impact of tighter monetary policy as the central bank has hiked interest rates to control inflationary pressures. This has resulted in GDP growth rate lowering from a 6 percent a year ago to around 5 percent year-on-year (year on year) till the end of 2014.

Although Indonesia made considerable progress in macroeconomic stabilization under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a key challenge for the present administration will be to implement crucial microeconomic reforms.  In other words, the crucial symptoms of a country falling into the so-called ‘middle income trap’ are quite apparent in all corners of the economy.

Over 3 million migrants from the countryside arrive each year in Jakarta and other cities. Many of them take recourse of jobs in low-end services, hawking food by the roadside or selling things from handcarts. They are part of Indonesia’s vibrant informal economy, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of the country’s GDP.

The “local content” restriction is acting as a deterrent for many manufacturers to open factories in Indonesia.

A large workforce engaged in the informal sectors rarely earns the minimum wage or gets access to government benefits.

The World Bank estimates that labor productivity in Indonesia’s low-end services is about double that of agriculture but it is still one-fifth of that in manufacturing. In nutshell, it means that poverty will fall much faster if agricultural laborers shift to manufacturing instead of low-end services. However, the manufacturing sector in Indonesia still remains highly uncompetitive due to decrepit infrastructure, rigid labor laws and the government’s protectionist policies.

Even though the share of Indonesia’s labor force in agriculture has been in decline for decades, manufacturing share has not changed really much at all from the 13 percent in 2012. Local manufacturing remains mostly confined to palm oil and a few other primary commodities.

To a large extent, the “local content” restriction is acting as a deterrent for many manufacturers, especially in the consumer goods category, to open factories in Indonesia. In contrast services now employ about 44 percent of the labor force, up from 37 percent a decade ago.

Jokowi WidodoAlthough it is too early to predict, it can be stated with a reasonable degree of certitude that Indonesia is likely to miss the bus in manufacturing if infrastructure and human skills continue to remain the biggest challenges. A very high level of energy subsidies (on fossil fuel and electricity), around Rp 300 trillion in 2013 equivalent to 3 percent of GDP, also pose a significant burden on the taxpayers.

Already under implementation, a phased and sequenced approach to energy subsidy reform, while protecting the most vulnerable consumers, will encourage energy efficiency, shift consumer behavior and free up resources for critical social investment.

Widening access to affordable housing, clean water, sanitation, education and healthcare might slowly start to trickle down the benefits of rapid economic growth to the less fortunate and create adequate purchasing power to sustain the next generation of industrialization.

But the defining question remains if the current level of investment (as a percentage of GDP) is adequate to support the next level of strong growth. Historical precedents reveal that sustained higher levels of investment are crucial, along with the improved efficiency of investment. China is a golden case in point with investment to GDP ratio being 46 percent in 2012.

Fortunately, Indonesia, among other middle income countries of East Asia (excluding China) is maintaining a nearly 33 percent investment rate which is above the 25 percent threshold prescribed by the Growth Commission as the necessary condition for robust and high growth.

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Apart from creating world-class infrastructure — roads, airports, power plant, telecom and information super-highways, a significant proportion of investment and budgetary support should also be channelized into R&D, innovation and enrichment of human capital through high quality technical education and modern skill building.

Reforming the investment climate is essential; so are the conditions for innovation, to attract leading companies and a world-class talent pool. The present government should play a decisive role in determining Indonesia’s future economic policies: whether to pursue a strategy of globalization by encouraging greater international integration or adopt a more nationalist, protectionist approach. Each approach has its own pros and cons.

But what is apparent is that, the government needs to undertake a bunch of crucial policy and institutional reforms bundled with critical investment in hard and soft infrastructure.

All these should be accomplished with a sense of utmost urgency before it gets too late for the country to get out of the middle-income trap and graduates into a high income, industrialized nation providing a better quality of life to its citizens.
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The writer is presently a senior executive of Ernst & Young (India), advising government, multilateral and bilateral clients in the area of public policy, economic growth, energy policy and governance. He worked quite extensively in the South and Southeast Asian region, including Indonesia. This is a personal view.

Cambodia Realigns Its Foreign Relations


March 7, 2015

Cambodia Realigns Its Foreign Relations

by Murray Hiebert, Phuong Nguyen, YaleGlobal

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/cambodia-foreign-relations/

Samdech Techo Hun SenSamdech Techo Hun Sen of Cambodia

Cambodia’s foreign relations map has undergone dramatic shifts in the past six months. In the aftermath of Cambodia’s elections in July 2013, Beijing promptly recognized the results and congratulated Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party for their victory.

However, as anti-government protests led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party grew in the weeks that followed, with protesters condemning the elections as fraudulent and calling on Hun Sen to step down, China has since largely remained silent and kept the prime minister at arm’s length.

At the same time, the Cambodian government in the past few months has moved to consolidate its relations with Vietnam following several years of deteriorating ties between the two neighbors. Phnom Penh made this move despite the anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia fed by opposition leader Sam Rainsy that has gained traction since the elections.

An ongoing political crisis and China’s apparent hedging on Hun Sen are behind this emerging geostrategic realignment.

Hun Sen is struggling to deal with growing opposition to his rule and grievances from the public on labor rights and governance at a time when Cambodia is at a critical political and economic crossroads. The country is seeking to become more integrated with the rest of Southeast Asia and the world in the years ahead. Cambodia’s youth are increasingly more educated and exposed to democratic norms and the outside world.

Hun Sen, whose strong-arm tactics largely worked in the past, now faces what is perhaps the most serious challenge to his rule in decades and is seeking outside recognition to boost his domestic legitimacy. The truth is, even if his party manages to win the next elections, Hun Sen must continue to deal with growing demands for greater transparency, better rule of law and more democracy.

China, until recently Cambodia’s most important patron, has not been willing to offer Hun Sen much political backing. While the two governments continue to maintain high-level meetings and exchanges, there has been a shift in Beijing’s policy toward Cambodia. Shortly after Hun Sen announced he would not step down in the face of opposition-led protests, an article in China’s state-controlled Xinhua in late December quoted Khmer analysts calling for national referendum on whether to organize new elections. Chinese leaders probably will not give Hun Sen the cold shoulder anytime soon, but they seem to be charting a middle course and slowly moving away from their past policy of wholeheartedly endorsing his government.

The social and political changes taking place in Cambodia have not been lost on Beijing. Chinese leaders could be hedging their bets on Cambodia’s political future to avoid the kind of strategic blunders they made in Myanmar in recent years. Beijing long threw its support to Myanmar’s military regime and was taken unaware by the sweeping reforms President Thein Sein launched in 2011. Chinese leaders did not begin to face up to the new political reality in Myanmar until Thein Sein suspended construction of the multibillion dollar Chinese-backed Myitsone dam.

As part of its new policy, China is engaging different actors in Myanmar’s emerging political scene, from parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann and army chief Min Aung Hlaing to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Chinese leaders who have largely given Thein Sein the cold shoulder are now considering an official invitation for Aung San Suu Kyi to visit China. Neither President Xi Jinping nor Premier Li Keqiang made a stop in Myanmar during their diplomatic blitz across Southeast Asia in 2013. Interestingly, Cambodia was not included in that itinerary either, despite being a staunch ally and a popular investment destination for Chinese businesses.

Meanwhile, relations between Vietnam and Cambodia have blossomed during the past few months. Hanoi has provided Hun Sen with much needed outside recognition and a boost to his legitimacy. In late December, Hun Sen visited Vietnam ahead of the 35th anniversary of the ouster of the Khmer Rouge by Hanoi’s troops, and Vietnamese leaders lavishly congratulated him for his role in rebuilding Cambodia.

Two weeks after Hun Sen’s trip, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Cambodia, where the two leaders co-chaired a bilateral trade and investment conference – the largest since 2009 – and pledged to boost economic ties in banking, finance, agribusiness, tourism and telecommunications. At the end of 2012, Vietnamese businesses had invested around $3 billion in nearly 130 projects in Cambodia, making Vietnam one of the country’s top foreign investors. China, in comparison, invested a total of $9.17 billion in the country between 1994 and 2012.

Hanoi is closely watching the political turmoil in Cambodia, but still jumped at the chance to patch up ties with Phnom Penh following several years of irritation over border demarcation and Cambodia’s siding with China over the South China Sea disputes. In the foreseeable future, Hanoi still has an interest in sustaining regime stability in Cambodia and the ruling party’s grip on power given how overtly anti-Vietnamese Sam Rainsy has shown himself to be.

For instance, Rainsy has recently declared that Vietnam is encroaching on Chinese territory in the South China Sea, in the same fashion that he alleges the nation is grabbing Cambodian territory.

Offering Hun Sen political support when he most needed it, as well as strengthening bilateral economic ties, seemed like a logical choice for Vietnamese leaders. Hanoi is also concerned about the increasingly anti-Vietnamese rhetoric among the Cambodian population. Launching the new Cho Ray Phnom Penh Hospital, a joint venture between Vietnam’s Saigon Medical Investment and Cambodia’s Sokimex, was perhaps an effort to soften anti-Vietnamese sentiment through joint cooperation in the health sector.

But realistically, Hanoi’s support alone is insufficient to assure Cambodia’s and Hun Sen’s autonomy among foreign powers. Beijing’s noncommittal stance in recent months might also have prompted Hun Sen to look for support beyond his traditional patrons. For instance, he shrewdly used Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Cambodia in November 2013 to boost his domestic legitimacy – by asking Abe for advice on electoral reforms – and his position vis-à-vis China.

Hun Sen and Abe issued an unusual statement on bilateral maritime security cooperation, underscoring the need to settle disputes peacefully and according to international law. The two countries agreed to boost military ties, with Japanese experts, including those from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, expected to provide training to Cambodian military personnel for future United Nations peacekeeping operations. And in stark contrast to what happened at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh in 2011, Cambodia did not object to tabling a discussion on China’s Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea during the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo in December 2013.

Cambodia is evolving quickly, both politically and economically, and it remains to be seen whether Hun Sen can retain power for several more election cycles. Beijing’s new strategic calculus in Cambodia has suddenly left Hun Sen feeling vulnerable, at least for the moment. This has prompted Hun Sen to work to boost his standing among other regional actors, particularly Japan, Vietnam and ASEAN, by offering them his support on issues of contention with China such as territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

(Murray Hiebert is senior fellow and deputy director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. Phuong Nguyen is a research associate with the CSIS Sumitro Chair.)

Reasons why TPPA must be defeated


January 4, 2015

This commentary is intended for  Prime Minister Najib and Din Merican lastestour MITI Minister. To both of them, this is my message on TPPA. Thread carefully.Please don’t sell Malaysia’s interest to Obama and his cohorts and corporate America. What did Najib say to the US President during his golf diplomacy in Hawaii on this subject? I wonder since his administration, like the Obama’s, is always opaque when it comes matters of public interest.–Din Merican

Reasons why TPPA must be defeated

by Bernie Sanders

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multi-national corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy. It will also negatively impact some of the poorest people in the world.

Najib dah sampaiWhat was the Deal with Obama?

The TPP is a treaty that has been written behind closed doors by the corporate world. Incredibly, while Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and major media companies have full knowledge as to what is in this treaty, the American people and members of Congress do not. They have been locked out of the process. Further, all Americans, regardless of political ideology, should be opposed to the “fast track” process which would deny Congress the right to amend the treaty and represent their constituents’ interests.

The TPP follows in the footsteps of other unfettered “free trade” agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the Permanent Normalized Trade Agreement with China (PNTR). These treaties have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world. The result has been massive job losses in the United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories. These corporately backed trade agreements have significantly contributed to the race to the bottom, the collapse of the American middle class and increased wealth and income inequality. The TPP is more of the same, but even worse.

During my 23 years in Congress, I helped lead the fight against NAFTA and PNTR with China. During the coming session of Congress, I will be working with organized labor, environmentalists, religious organizations, Democrats, and Republicans against the secretive TPP trade deal.

Let’s be clear: the TPP is much more than a “free trade” agreement. It is part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system. If TPP was such a good deal for America, the administration should have the courage to show the American people exactly what is in this deal, instead of keeping the content of the TPP a secret.

10 Ways that TPP Would Hurt Working Families

1. TPP will allow corporations to outsource even more jobs overseas.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, if the TPP is agreed to, the U.S. will lose more than 130,000 jobs to Vietnam and Japan alone. But that is just the tip of the iceberg… Service Sector Jobs will be lost. At a time when corporations have already outsourced over 3 million service sector jobs in the U.S., TPP includes rules that will make it even easier for corporate America to outsource call centers; computer programming; engineering; accounting; and medical diagnostic jobs.

Manufacturing jobs will be lost. As a result of NAFTA, the U.S. lost nearly 700,000 jobs. As a result of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, the U.S. lost over 2.7 million jobs. As a result of the Korea Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. has lost 70,000 jobs. The TPP would make matters worse by providing special benefits to firms that offshore jobs and by reducing the risks associated with operating in low-wage countries.

2. U.S. sovereignty will be undermined by giving corporations the right to challenge our laws before international tribunals.

The TPP creates a special dispute resolution process that allows corporations to challenge any domestic laws that could adversely impact their “expected future profits.” These challenges would be heard before UN and World Bank tribunals which could require taxpayer compensation to corporations. This process undermines our sovereignty and subverts democratically passed laws including those dealing with labor, health, and the environment.

3. Wages, benefits, and collective bargaining will be threatened.

NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, and other free trade agreements have helped drive down the wages and benefits of American workers and have eroded collective bargaining rights. The TPP will make the race to the bottom worse because it forces American workers to compete with desperate workers in Vietnam where the minimum wage is just 56 cents an hour .

4. Our ability to protect the environment will be undermined.

The TPP will allow corporations to challenge any law that would adversely impact their future profits. Pending claims worth over $14 billion have been filed based on similar language in other trade agreements. Most of these claims deal with challenges to environmental laws in a number of countries. The TPP will make matters even worse by giving corporations the right to sue any of the nations that sign onto the TPP. These lawsuits would be heard in international tribunals bypassing domestic courts.

5. Food Safety Standards will be threatened.

The TPP would make it easier for countries like Vietnam to export contaminated fish and seafood into the U.S. The FDA has already prevented hundreds of seafood imports from TPP countries because of salmonella, e-coli, methyl-mercury and drug residues. But the FDA only inspects 1-2 percent of food imports and will be overwhelmed by the vast expansion of these imports if the TPP is agreed to.

6. Buy America laws could come to an end.

The U.S. has several laws on the books that require the federal government to buy goods and services that are made in America or mostly made in this country. Under TPP, foreign corporations must be given equal access to compete for these government contracts with companies that make products in America.

Under TPP, the U.S. could not even prevent companies that have horrible human rights records from receiving government contracts paid by U.S. taxpayers.

7. Prescription drug prices will increase, access to life saving drugs will decrease, and the profits of drug companies will go up.

Big pharmaceutical companies are working hard to ensure that the TPP extends the monopolies they have for prescription drugs by extending their patents (which currently can last 20 yea rs or more). This would expand the profits of big drug companies, keep drug prices artificially high, and leave millions of people around the world without access to life saving drugs. Doctors without Borders stated that “the TPP agreement is on track to become the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines in developing countries.”

8. Wall Street would benefit at the expense of everyone else.

Under TPP, governments would be barred from imposing “capital controls” that have been successfully used to avoid financial crises. These controls a range from establishing a financial speculation tax to limiting the massive flows of speculative capital flowing into and out of countries responsible for the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s. In other words, the TPP would expand the rights and power of the same Wall Street firms that nearly destroyed the world economy just five years ago and would create the conditions for more financial instability in the future. Last year, I co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Harkin to create a Wall Street speculation tax of just 0.03 percent on trades of derivatives, credit default swaps, and large amounts of stock. If TPP were enacted, such a financial speculation tax may be in violation of this trade agreement.

9. The TPP would reward authoritarian regimes like Vietnam that systematically violate human rights.

The State Department, the U.S. Department of Labor, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have all documented Vietnam’s widespread violations of basic international standards for human rights. Yet, the TPP would reward Vietnam’s bad behavior by giving it duty free access to the U.S. market.

10. The TPP has no expiration date, making it virtually impossible to repeal.

Once TPP is agreed to, it has no sunset date and could only be altered by a consensus of all of the countries that agreed to it. Other countries, like China, could be allowed to join in the future. For example, Canada and Mexico joined TPP negotiations in 2012 and Japan joined last year.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont’s at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website.

 

US Asian Foreign Policy


October 26, 2014

US Asian Foreign Policy

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.the star.com.my

“US foreign policy in Asia, therefore, has to be delicate and sensitive enough to adjust to what can be described without exaggeration as seismic economic change. On the one hand, it should not be drawn too deeply into exclusively political-security manifestations despite China’s unacceptable belligerent and assertive actions. On the other, America must adjust to Asia’s economic rise.”–Dr. Munir Majid

Tan_Sri_Dr_Munir_MajidTHE United States is a global power. Asia the largest continent on earth. The Asian economies of the proposed RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) alone now constitute 30% of global output, with consistently the highest growth rates and holding the largest reserves in the world.

It is not likely the United States would have missed Asia in the conduct of its foreign policy in pursuit of its interests. The interminable discussion, particularly among academics, on the US pivot or rebalance to Asia, following President Barack Obama’s use of the former term, can be overdone. It can result in the wood being missed for the trees.

That discussion, furthermore, leads to concentration on the military and security aspects of US foreign policy in Asia. US policy-makers lend their weight to this, with statements such as those by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Asean Regional Forum in Hanoi in 2010 or previous Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Shangrila Dialogue in 2012.

Clinton had said freedom of navigation and the peaceful settlement of disputes were vital to US interests in the region. Panetta said that in the rebalance, US naval forces in the Pacific would be increased to 60% from the present 50%.

All this was said in relation to China, in the context of disputes the rising Asian power has with a number of states in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It did not take a leap of imagination to leave the impression the new emphasis of US foreign policy in Asia is primarily political-security in nature – and is intended to contain China as it became more assertive in the sea disputes.

A number of reasons has conventionally been offered for China’s greater assertiveness. It is a rising power; these things historically happen. On the other hand the US is a declining power; often a parallel is drawn with the conflict between Sparta and Athens in the 5th century BC which ended the latter’s domination of ancient Greece.

It is also asserted that there has been a loss of central control in China of the country’s bureaucratic political structures which allowed the fisheries department, for instance, to go ahead of the foreign ministry in asserting the sea claims. Unlikely as it may sound, this is not impossible especially as another reason offered is not mutually exclusive: the desire, at China’s centre, to shore up legitimacy at home at a time of increasing domestic stress, such as contending with the social consequences of slowdown in GDP growth from 10% to 7.5%.

All these reasons are not implausible, although I would add ASEAN’s desultory approach in pursuing the code of conduct under the terms of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of 2002 until the Scarborough Shoal stand-off in 2012 between China and the Philippines, and the failure of foreign ministers from the regional grouping to agree on a joint communique for the first time in that same year, gave Beijing time and space to fashion that greater assertiveness whatever its leitmotif.

In the context of US foreign policy in Asia, the China Question has become predominant again as it was all those years ago in regard to recognition of the communist regime, its representation of China at the United Nations and final establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979.

The objective of balancing, if not containment of, China cannot become the sole reason for the United States’ greater involvement in Asia. It delivers a political-security good which most countries in the region secretly desire, but it cannot become the sum total of US foreign policy in Asia.

The drama of the sea disputes has obscured the good reason for US’ greater interest in Asia which is primarily economic, the region’s dynamism which has moved the centre of global economic gravity eastwards to the Asia Pacific. While the political-security interest may secure economic benefits, it can also spoil their achievement if relations between US and China are possessed by such a concern alone.

What has been happening in Asia is that both US and China are driving each other into positions which are antagonistic and not cooperative. Leaving aside military chest-thumping and bellicose diplomatic language, they are also trying to exclude, or at least marginalise the other, in the organisation of Asia-Pacific regional economic cooperation.

The RCEP (negotiation for which involves Asean and six Asia-Pacific states) does not include the United States. China has not been invited to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Vietnam, for instance, is a negotiating partner which would not pass the same pre-qualification as China if the US had some such objective test. It is realpolitik – and the compliment is returned with the RCEP.

Other Asian states are being forced into making a choice between the two constructs, whether they are members, or potential members, of both. Even if it is argued the two groupings will ultimately coalesce, the burning issue is the standards and style of trade and investment relations which differ, with the TPP particularly bearing heavy American imprint.

The US has done well in signalling its economic interest in Asia with the rebalance, often considered as the second pillar of the pivot to Asia. Understandably, having been at the centre of the international economic system that had driven Asian growth, it now wants, as a long-established Pacific nation, to share in further regional prosperity – by still being at that centre and by entrenching as well as by strengthening the rules of economic conduct.

Asian restoration

The latter gives rise to problems in the pursuit of US foreign policy objectives in Asia. It is a new Asia the US is dealing with, not the Asia of yore when the American writ was overwhelming.

It is a more confident Asia. Indeed the whole sweep of the change in the centre of economic gravity is something of an Asian restoration. Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund ranked China’s economy as the world’s biggest in purchasing power parity terms. American predominance in at most the last century is over. The Chinese economy which was the biggest in many more hundreds of years is now back.

The Economist observed: “The brief interlude in which America overshadowed it (China) is now over.”

Asia has also looked on as the American capitalist system came close to meltdown in the 2008 crisis because of many excesses embedded in the rules of the economic game. Rules and forms of crisis management which America taught Asia never to entertain were employed to save the economy. There have not been contrition and enough humility afterwards.

Indeed it would seem to Asia some of those rules are being strengthened with a vengeance in American trade and investment proposals, such as to be found in the TPP, particularly in respect of corporate rights against the state. Have not any lessons been learned both from recent economic experience and from the historic rise of Asia in the desire – perfectly understandably – to further Americans interests?

Yet the system America offers is still the best to achieve optimal economic outcomes. But it has to be substantially adjusted to avoid considerable social and political cost, and to reflect that other countries, especially in Asia, have grown up and grown big.

US foreign policy in Asia, therefore, has to be delicate and sensitive enough to adjust Barack Obamato what can be described without exaggeration as seismic economic change. On the one hand, it should not be drawn too deeply into exclusively political-security manifestations despite China’s unacceptable belligerent and assertive actions. On the other, America must adjust to Asia’s economic rise.

Schemes of trilateral or quadrilateral alliances, even of a “soft” kind, involving the United States, Japan, India and/or Australia, are provocative. While it is always stated by the advocates they are not against China, this is what Beijing reasonably feels. At the very least they isolate China. Alliances have a history of bringing about precisely the outcomes they purportedly want to avoid.

CHINA-RUSSIA-UN-DIPLOMACYChina for its part should not continue to be a stick in the mud, carping and complaining, self-righteous in proclaiming always that others are in the wrong, never Beijing. Whereas China’s actions in the South China Sea particularly have been bullying and abominable. Its sovereignty over areas it claims is not God-given. It is disputed. Other states have rights. It cannot go about behaving in the vein that might is right. It must recognise international laws and the friendships it eschews.

Actually, both America and China must give substance to the new type of great power relationship which was identified in the Obama-Xi Jinping meeting in Sunnylands, California in June last year. As Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post in March this year the US must articulate its own vision for the evolving international order that is acceptable to both countries.

On the other hand, China should not expect to replicate principles of that kind of relationship which it had first forged with Russia in the mid-1990s. That model would not fit. Russia is not the United States. As the status quo global power and the revisionist rising regional power due weight must be recognised in each other. A very difficult process no doubt but neither should be in denial of the other’s position and a creative relationship can be forged without recourse to tired old foreign policy constructs.

ASEAN_logo_1ASEAN too has a role beyond tedious repetition of the ASEAN platform being the basis of regional cooperation and security. That platform will float away if there was not a stronger foreign policy positioning – particularly on the South China Sea disputes. There is some belated effort on the code of conduct but to always work from the technical and official position on these issues upwards without clear leadership at the top is disappointing to say the least. How many times have Asean leaders focused for more than half an hour on the South China Sea issues? There has to be deep concentrated effort.

The fear of failure cannot rule the day. If ASEAN states cannot take on at least one major foreign policy position in their region, how could they expect the US and China to negotiate on the more daunting evolving international order?

The states of Asia as a whole, of course, must also play the responsible part of grown-up countries to ensure their new found prosperity and outstanding economic prospect are not upset by stupid swagger and assertive expression. They must remember they still have some way to go. Future prospect is not current reality.

And, as the present global superpower, the US has a complex role quite unlike the situation in the past when its word was law. It is a different world. Therefore it cannot be the same America.