ASEAN Economic Community: Shining light of the East


May 24, 2016

Ten countries in Southeast Asia are attempting to launch a single market for goods, services, capital, and labor, which has the potential to become one of the largest economies and markets in the world. Here are 12 things to know about the ASEAN Economic Community.

  1. The center of global economic gravity is shifting toward Asia. Within Asia, it is shifting toward the two giant economies of the People’s Republic of China and India. Their emergence as economic superpowers suggests that “economic size” bestows significant advantage in accelerating growth and fostering development.
    Source: ADBI. 2014. ASEAN 2030: Toward a Borderless Economic Community
  2. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is in the process of creating a single market and production base, called the ASEAN Economic Community, which will allow the free flow of goods, services, investments, and skilled labor, and the freer movement of capital across the region. This is envisioned to be in place by 31 December 2015.
    Source: 24th ASEAN Summit. 2014. Myanmar. Nay Pyi Taw Declaration
  3. If ASEAN were one economy, it would be seventh largest in the world with a combined gross domestic product of $2.4 trillion in 2013. It could be fourth largest by 2050 if growth trends continue.
    Source: Speech by ADB Vice-President Stephen Groff. 2014. Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany. ASEAN Integration and the Private Sector
  4. With over 600 million people, ASEAN’s potential market is larger than the European Union or North America. Next to the People’s Republic of China and India, ASEAN has the world’s third largest labor force that remains relatively young.
    Source: Speech by ADB Vice-President Stephen Groff. 2014. Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany. ASEAN Integration and the Private Sector
  5. ASEAN is one of the most open economic regions in the world, with total merchandise exports of over $1.2 trillion – nearly 54% of total ASEAN GDP and 7% of global exports.
    Source: ADBI. 2014. ASEAN 2030: Toward a Borderless Economic Community
  6. ASEAN is taking a more cautious approach to regional economic integration than Europe. In Asia, there is currently no serious consideration of a single currency.
    Source: ADB news release. 2015. An Increasingly Unified Asia Is Keeping an Eye on Greece
  7. The ASEAN Economic Community is founded on four basic initiatives: creating a single market and production base; increasing competitiveness; promoting equitable economic development; and further integrating ASEAN with the global economy.
    Source: ASEAN. 2007. Singapore. Declaration on the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint
  8. ASEAN’s physical infrastructure is critical to the ASEAN Economic Community’s goal of establishing a single market and production base. Cross-border roads, power lines, railways and maritime development will help propel the community forward. This will boost existing and new value chains or production networks.
    Source: Speech by ADB President Takehiko Nakao. 2015. 19th ASEAN Finance Ministers’ Meeting. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 
  9. One of the challenges to the ASEAN Economic Community is bridging the perceived “development divide” between the older and economically more advanced members – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, known as the ASEAN-6, and the four newer members – Cambodia (1999), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (1997), Myanmar (1997), and Viet Nam (1995).
    Source: ADB. 2013. The ASEAN Economic Community: A Work in Progress
  10. Some analysts believe that the ASEAN Economic Community will miss its December 2015 deadline because of the challenging requirements of economic integration, including changes to domestic laws and in some cases constitutional changes.
    Source: ADB. 2015. Realizing an ASEAN Economic Community: Progress and Remaining Challenges
  11. The flexibility that characterizes ASEAN cooperation, the celebrated “ASEAN way,” may hand member states a convenient pretext for noncompliance, according to one ADB report. How to enforce the accords remains an issue. Currently, the economic integration commitments lack sufficient mechanisms to ensure compliance.
    Source: ADB. 2015. Realizing an ASEAN Economic Community: Progress and Remaining Challenges
  12. ASEAN needs a plan beyond the ASEAN Economic Community to achieve the long-term development aspirations of its 10 member countries, according to an ADB study. This includes introducing structural reforms nationally and taking bold actions regionally to further deepen economic integration.
    Source: ADBI. 2014. ASEAN 2030: Toward a Borderless Economic Community

ASEAN Economic Community: Shining light of the East

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

THE level of interest in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) among the business community in the world at large has increased tremendously since its pronouncement at the end of last year.

While not discounting its imperfections, foreigners are more focused on the opportunities and promise of the single market and production base.

With 90% of global economic growth coming from outside the advanced economies, one can understand why. But there are also ASEAN’s particular strengths which attract attention.

Many are becoming increasingly aware of the size of the ASEAN economy (US$2.7 trillion, the seventh largest market in the world with over 620 million people). Beyond that, they also realise that its growth potential is very capable of achievement with the demographic dividend ASEAN will reap from its young population (60% under 35 years of age).

 The latter means a high level of productivity from a work force when a lot of the world would see an ageing population not part of the work force increasingly dependent on the resources of the economy.

The young population will also be a huge part of the growing middle class which, on the demand side, will drive the consumption of a multiplicity of goods and services.

The expectation that ASEAN will become the third largest economy in the world after China and India (or fourth if the European Union is counted as one economy before mid-century is therefore not seen as fanciful.

At the same time, the very disparity in economic development in Asean is also seen as an opportunity to bring up the less developed countries from a low base. Here, large infrastructure development needs are making a number of foreign businesses consider where they might be involved.

Estimates of annual ASEAN infrastructure development needs vary widely from US$ 60bil to US$ 600bil, depending on the definition of what is the base requirement, but the sectors most in need are quite clear: energy, transportation and telecommunications.

The countries farthest behind in infrastructure development are also obvious, with Indonesia requiring around US$ 500bil for the rest of the Jokowi administration and Myanmar estimated to need US$ 350bil into 2025.

Companies in countries not so fashionable in ASEAN economic thinking, such as Russia, are seriously examining the technology they can bring to ASEAN economic development, in areas such as renewable sources of energy, water treatment and modern construction materials.

One Russian company is looking at, in the first instance, developing business-to-business e-commerce with ASEAN to facilitate two-way trade.

On the soft side – particularly with ASEAN’s young population – the greatest infrastructural need is for education and training. The more traditional investors in ASEAN, such as Britain, are looking at how they can address this beyond the conventional schools and universities.

Training in and introduction of new technologies in ASEAN are being mulled by many countries, particularly in Britain but also Russia. Creation of Artificial Intelligence in ASEAN for other markets as well is being looked at by one Russian company.

While not all this new interest in the ASEAN economic space has arisen from pronouncement of the AEC, that historic event last year has no doubt concentrated business minds on its promise and potential.

The United States, China, Europe and Japan no doubt have a long and abiding interest, but new interest among businesses in countries such as Russia is noteworthy. In August last year, the Russian and ASEAN economic ministers identified 57 new projects to be pursued.

The Russians now do not want just a roadmap. They want projects to be materialised.Of course, Russia has geopolitical reasons for wanting to develop trade and investment with ASEAN. At the Sochi summit this week with Asean leaders, after 20 years the Russian relationship with the region was raised to the level of a strategic partnership.

At the same time the Russians are drawing in the Eurasian Economic Union on their side of the partnership. They are also urging ASEAN to relate with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

All this reflects the geopolitical factors for Russia’s desire to develop the relationship with ASEAN – their deteriorated relations with the West and the sanctions against them.

Russia therefore needs to look East. ASEAN is a bright star. Whatever the geopolitical motive however, Russian businesses would not want to come to ASEAN if there were no opportunity.

Without taking sides or being drawn into any alliances, ASEAN  should get engaged with diversification of economic relationships for its own benefit. Russia, for instance, has got some very advanced technologies that could compete with the usual suspects to provide good terms and choice.

The ASEAN promise is not limited to the region. The foreign interests looking at and wanting to come to ASEAN also see how the market would expand, and how having ASEAN as their base makes good business sense.

It is to be hoped ASEAN companies see this too, and might want to engage with them for their own further expansion.

Beyond ASEAN there is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Comprising ASEAN and six other countries – China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand – the expanded free trade area would comprise three billion people and over a quarter of global Gross Domestic Product, and is growing. An ASEAN base, with its already large market, can be a springboard to an even larger one.

In addition, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), often seen as in opposition to the RCEP, could very well work to be complementary. With a market size of over 40% of global GDP, the TPP already has four Asean countries committed to join, with three more mulling over it.

Again, an ASEAN base would be a good platform from which to penetrate that already huge TPP market. An irony would be if, say, a Russian company in partnership with a Malaysian one were to produce goods or services in our country destined for America.

That prospect would be a test of US commitment to free trade. But that is another story.

The story now is about ASEAN and its AEC, which is engaging a lot of foreign business interest, whether driven by geopolitical or purely commercial considerations. The promise foreigners see in it is something we in ASEAN must also see. It is good to want to ensure an optimal AEC, but we must make business decisions now, as others are making.

Moving On in Vietnam, but Remembering Its Lessons


May 24, 2016

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributors

Moving On in Vietnam, but Remembering Its Lessons

http://www.nytimes.com

AS President Obama visits Vietnam, we are struck by the fact that most citizens of both countries have no living memory of a conflict that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and upward of a million Vietnamese.

As Americans who fought in that war, we are frequently asked about its lessons. There are few easy answers, in part because every conflict is unique and because we have learned that attempts to apply past lessons to new crises sometimes do more harm than good. But a few things are clear.

Vietnam POW John Mccain with President Richard M. Nixon

John Kerry commanded a swift boat as a young officer and received three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Silver Star for his acts of courage

The first is not personal to us, but a principle that applies to all who wear the uniform: We must never again confuse a war with the warriors. American veterans deserve our deepest respect, gratitude and support whenever and wherever they serve.

The second lesson is that our leaders need to be honest with Congress and the American people about our plans, goals and strategy when the lives of our fighting men and women are put at risk. (The mission of the first American combat troops deployed to Vietnam was described as “flood relief.”)

The third is to exercise humility in assuming knowledge about foreign cultures. During the war in Southeast Asia, neither America’s allies nor our adversaries acted in accordance with our expectations.

A fourth and final lesson of the Vietnam conflict is playing out before our eyes: that with sufficient effort and will, seemingly unbridgeable differences can be reconciled. The fact that Mr. Obama is the third consecutive American president to visit Vietnam is proof that old enemies can become new partners.

As veterans who were fortunate to serve in public office, we are proud of the contributions we made to the resumption of normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam. The process of restoring relations was arduous and required full cooperation by Hanoi in developing information about Americans missing or unaccounted for from the conflict — an effort that continues today.

But we have reached the point, more than 20 years after normalization, when our agenda with Vietnam is forward-looking and wide-ranging. Mr. Obama’s discussions with the Vietnamese will cover issues from security cooperation to trade and investment to education, and from the environment to freedom of religion and human rights.

This wider agenda reflects changes to the relationship that are well underway. Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 60,000 American visitors annually to Vietnam. Today, there are nearly half a million. Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 60,000 American visitors annually to Vietnam. Today, there are nearly half a million. Twenty years ago, our bilateral trade in goods with Vietnam was only $450 million. Today, it is 100 times that. Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 1,000 Vietnamese students in the United States. Today, there are nearly 19,000.

More remarkably, the Vietnamese Politburo includes two people who earned graduate degrees in the United States while on Fulbright scholarships. It’s appropriate, therefore, that this week, a new institution of higher learning will open in Ho Chi Minh City: Fulbright University Vietnam. One of us, Senator Kerrey, is proud to serve as chairman of the university’s board.

Nearly half a century ago, when we were serving in Vietnam, we would never have imagined that our country would one day work with the government in Hanoi to help save the Mekong River Delta by helping create an initiative to manage its ecosystem and cope with the effects of climate change. We could never have imagined that our two countries would be partners in a landmark trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is intended to raise labor and environmental standards while expanding prosperity in our country and all along the Pacific Rim.

It would have been even harder to imagine that the United States and Vietnam would be cooperating on security issues. And yet the United States has helped establish a new training center for People’s Army of Vietnam on the outskirts of Hanoi, where young Vietnamese soldiers will prepare for service in United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping missions.

The United States and Vietnamese militaries are in frequent contact, and our diplomats consult regularly about the controversy surrounding competing maritime claims in the South China Sea. Our government does not take sides on the legal merits of these claims, but we believe strongly that they should be settled peacefully and in accordance with international law and not unilaterally by any country seeking to assert hegemony over its neighbors.

Of course, the United States and Vietnam have different political systems and different approaches to some issues. But human rights are universal, and we have made clear to the leaders in Hanoi our strong belief that Vietnam will reach its full potential only if and when its people have the right to express themselves freely in the arenas of politics, labor, the media and religion. In our visits to Vietnam, we have been impressed by the eagerness of its citizens to take advantage of technology and to compete in the global labor market. We are convinced that the government in Vietnam has nothing to lose, and much to gain, by trusting its citizens.

Looking to the future, we know that mutual interests, above all else, will drive our partnership with Vietnam. But it is strengthened, as well, by the natural affinities between our societies. These include family ties, a tendency toward optimism, a fierce desire for freedom and independence and a hard-earned appreciation that peace is far, far preferable to war.

Obama’s Vietnam “Legacy” Trip: A Reality


May 23, 2016

Obama’s Vietnam “Legacy” Trip: A Reality 

By Greg Rushford

Air Force One touched down yesterday evening in Hanoi. The White House and influential Washington think-tank scholars are spinning President Barack Obama’s three-day Vietnam visit as a “legacy” moment, validating the president’s “pivot” to Asia. Expect much warm talk of how America is forging ever-closer economic- and security ties with a modernizing Vietnam. Expect the usual heartwarming television images of happy people -including peasants toiling in lush rice fields, wearing their iconic conical hats.

Don’t expect any admissions from Vietnamese Communist leaders of the suffering they continue to inflict upon some of their country’s best citizens. As former prisoner of conscience Cu Huy Ha Vu rightly notes, today’s Vietnam is “a kleptocracy.” Intrepid pro-democracy advocates stand in the way.

Courageous men like Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, and Tran Vu Anh Binh, three of Vietnam’s 100-plus current political prisoners. They languish behind bars, while some Washington insiders have averted their eyes.

Some of those insiders are Southeast Asian analysts who work inside the gleaming $100 million headquarters of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, just a few minutes from the White House – and who have undisclosed sidelines as business consultants. They know that to speak forthrightly on Vietnam’s shameful human rights record would threaten their easy access to senior communist officials. Their corporate benefactors who depend upon that political access to win lucrative business contracts in Vietnam could lose the big bucks.

Ernest Z. Bower President & CEO, Bower  Asia Group,  is widely recognized as one of the strongest proponents for close ties between the United States and Asia. In recognition of his work, the King of Malaysia has awarded him the Darjah Panglima Jasa Negara (PJN), pronouncing him holder of the title Datuk in Malaysia.  The president of the Philippines also awarded him the rank of Lakan, or Commander, for his service to the Philippines.  Ernie is currently the United States Chair of the Advisory Council on Competitiveness for the Vietnamese Prime Minister and serves on the boards of the Special Olympics, American Australian Education & Leadership Foundation, the Institute for Religion & Public Policy, the United States-New Zealand Council and the Board of Advisors of the United States-Indonesia Society.

Moreover, Vietnam’s Ambassador to the United States has a team of $30,000-a-month Washington lobbyists on his payroll. Their assignment is basically not to let awkward questions about political prisoners interfere with enhanced U.S.-Vietnamese commercial- and security ties, especially the sale of lethal weapons to fend off Chinese maritime intimidation.

One wonders what Dieu, Hoa, and Binh, locked away in their cells, would have to say – if they were free to speak. Dieu, a devout Catholic citizen journalist, has been imprisoned since 2011. He committed the “crime” of exercising free speech. Dieu has been living “in hell” – beaten, humiliated, and treated like a “slave” for refusing to wear a uniform with the word “criminal” – his brother has told Radio Free Asia. Hoa, also a blogger whose crime was his free speech, has been incarcerated since 2011. Binh, a songwriter, lost his liberty in 2012. His crime was writing music that offended the Communist Party. While Binh’s term is scheduled to end next year, Dieu and Hoa could languish behind bars until 2024.

All three men are associated with the Viet Tan, a U.S.-based political party that is highly effective in using the social media to advocate democratic freedoms of speech and assembly. The Viet Tan reaches a wide audience, both inside Vietnam and in the Vietnamese diaspora. For its skilled high-tech advocacy, the Hanoi’s feared Ministry of Public Security brands Viet Tan as a “terrorist” organization.

Binh, Hoa and Dieu were amongst a group of 17 political prisoners who have been represented by Stanford law professor Allen Weiner, a former high-powered U.S. State Department official. Weiner won a United Nations panel determination that his clients – all either Viet Tan members, supporters or friends – had been unjustly imprisoned. While 14 of Weiner’s clients have been released, that’s unfortunately not quite a happy ending. “Some of those who have been released, however, continue to suffer severe harassment and intimidation at the hands of the Vietnamese security services,” Weiner reports. “They continue to pay a heavy price.”

That’s the sort of glaring injustice that no credible analyst of today’s Vietnam would want to downplay. Meet CSIS Asia analyst Murray Hiebert (pic  above)- a man who doesn’t deny that Vietnam has human rights issues, yet is careful never to use clear language that would anger senior Vietnamese officials.

Nine months ago, I brought Allen Weiner’s brave clients to Hiebert’s attention, asking if perhaps this would be an opportunity to highlight the injustice by holding a public forum. The CSIS analyst brushed off the inquiry – at the time I had not realized that CSIS has never held such an event. He also declined to say whether he agreed with Hanoi’s characterization of the Viet Tan as a “terrorist” organization.

(The White House and State Department are better informed than CSIS. Not only do they respect the Viet Tan for its peaceable advocacy, but Obama’s national security officials have maintained close ties with the Viet Tan leadership. Radio Free Asia reported that on May 17 representatives of the Viet Tan, along with other respected Vietnamese pro-democracy advocates including Boat People SOS and Vietnam for Progress, were briefed on Obama’s upcoming Vietnam trip in the White House on May 17.)

A few weeks ago, Hiebert once again did not respond to a request to be interviewed on the imprisoned Viet Tan supporters. I then tried to register for a May 17 press briefing that Hiebert and two other CSIS scholars held on the Obama visit. I had hoped to ask about Binh, Hoa and Dieu. But CSIS spokesman Andrew Schwartz – who also had not responded to a recent e-mail inquiry – denied me admission, asserting that the event was “oversubscribed.”

While the briefing room was indeed rather crowded, even full, according to people who were present, Schwartz found room for Vietnam Television. VTV is a Hanoi-controlled media tool that the Communist Party finds useful for spreading the party line. These days, VTV’s best “scoop” has been in warning Vietnamese independent journalists – and specifically the Viet Tan – to stay away from linking corrupt communist officials to a Taiwanese steel mill that somehow obtained environmental clearance to discharge toxic wastes into the sea, which has resulted in a massive fish kill.

(At the May 17 CSIS briefing, a Television Vietnam correspondent asked if the next American president would continue Obama’s “pivot” to Asia – which at least drew laughter. It is perhaps also worth noting that while “journalists” from Vietnam Television are welcome to peddle their propaganda in the United States, authorities in Hanoi continue to jam Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese language service. And while the BBC is free to broadcast its English-language programs in Vietnam, the BBC’s celebrated Vietnamese Language Service frequently has run into problems.)

As it turns out, CSIS has a history of making life uncomfortable for guests at the think tank’s public events who might pose awkward questions. On May 24, 2015, former political prisoner Ha Vu angered the Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S., Pham Quang Vinh, by asking how Vietnam justified persecuting its political prisoners. Vinh, visibly upset, retorted that Vietnam has no political prisoners – which was pretty rich, considering that at that moment, the ambassador was busy trying to avoid making eye contact with one of Vietnam’s most famous political prisoners.

Moreover, CSIS analyst Hiebert, who chaired the panel, did not challenge the ambassador’s absurd claim. (The CSIS event discussed a study on U.S.-Vietnamese relations that Hiebert had co-authored; that study had not disclosed that the Vietnamese government had secretly financed it, Hiebert subsequently admitted to me.)

And last July, Hiebert went to extraordinary lengths to accommodate Vietnamese security officials when Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong spoke at CSIS. Hiebert summoned a guard, escorting Dr. Binh Nguyen, a prominent Vietnamese-American physician, from the premises. Hiebert apologized to Binh, who had been invited, but said that the communist security officials insisted that she be ejected (for details see: How Hanoi Buys Influence in Washington, D.C., www.rushfordreport.com).

Turns out that there are other reasons to doubt Hiebert’s independence. While his official CSIS bio does not disclose it, Hiebert is also a senior advisor to a prominent business consultancy, the Bower Group Asia.

Conflicted interests

Hiebert’s boss at CSIS, Ernie Bower, runs the Bower Group Asia. “Our clients include the world’s best global enterprises,” the BGA website proclaims. “We understand the nexus between politics and economics.” Bower has more than 60 employees in his Washington, D.C. headquarters and in 21 Asian countries (including Vietnam). Another CSIS analyst, Chris Johnson, is a BGA managing director for China. Like Hiebert, Johnson does not disclose his business affiliations on his CSIS website.

Bower, who formerly chaired the CSIS Southeast Studies chair, responded angrily last year when I asked him which was his real day job: CSIS or his business consultancy. He said he was “saddened” that I had suggested he appeared to have conflicts of interest. But perhaps aware that others might also wonder, Bower now identifies himself on the CSIS website as a “non-resident” advisor. The chair remains vacant. CSIS spokesman Schwartz and John Hamre, the think tank’s CEO and one of Washington’s most acclaimed fundraisers, have not responded to persistent inquiries to explain the apparent conflicts.

Here’s how the conflict works:

At CSIS Hiebert has advocated the TPP trade deal. The Bower Group is actively seeking TPP business.

Hiebert has strongly contended that the U.S. lethal arms embargo on Vietnam has outlived its usefulness, and should be lifted. Lockheed, which wants to sell Hanoi its P-3 Orion and C-130 Hercules surveillance planes, has a seat on Hiebert’s CSIS board. So does Boeing, which has been peddling its P-8 Poseidon military surveillance aircraft in Hanoi. Imagine how the giant defense contractors would feel if the money they dole out to CSIS would be used to shine a spotlight on issues involving corruption and human-rights abuses in Vietnam.

Coca-Cola, a Bower Group client, got into Laos a few years ago, thanks to Ernie Bower’s understanding of “the nexus” between business and politics. Coke also has a seat on the CSIS Southeast Asia Board.

Chevron, another major CSIS benefactor, also has a representative on CSIS’s Southeast Asia board. Hiebert authored a November 2014 column for the Wall Street Journal defending Chevron in bitter litigation the oil giant had in Indonesia. In his column, Hiebert identified himself only as a CSIS analyst. Then Ernie Bower got busy on the Bower Group’s Facebook page, touting the Journal piece: “BGA’s Murray Hiebert provides much-needed analysis of the court case against Chevron in Indonesia” in the Wall Street Journal. [Full disclosure: I have been an occasional contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s Asian edition for more than two decades.]

In recent months, Hiebert has been quoted widely by major news outlets including CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press, Forbes, Politico, the Financial Times, the Washington Times, and the Voice of America – always only identified as a CSIS analyst. Readers would not know that Hiebert also works for a business consultancy. They would not know that corporations that fund Hiebert’s CSIS programs have serious financial interests at stake.

One wire-service report that quoted Hiebert about Vietnam’s new top leadership was picked up by the New York Times in April. This gave Ernie Bower another opportunity to twitter to his clients about how “BGA Senior Advisor Murray Hiebert” had made the pages of the Times.

And earlier today, CNN quoted Hiebert’s approving views of enhanced U.S. weapons sales to Vietnam, identifying him only as a CSIS scholar. Viewers were not aware that this “scholar” is funded at CSIS by major U.S. defense contractors, and has taken money from the Vietnamese government for co-authoring a study that called for the lifting of the U.S. weapons embargo to that country. Nor would viewers know that Hiebert also works for the Bower Group, which also touts its interest in facilitating arms deals.

A little digging illustrates how Bower mixes his CSIS affiliations with business. In 2014, for example, Bower opened some important doors in Washington to a Manila wheeler-dealer named Antonio “Tony Boy” Cojuangco. Tony Boy also sits on CSIS’s Southeast Asia board. Bower brought him to town as the head of an “eminent persons” group – such flattery can go a long way in certain Asian circles.

CSIS arranged appointments for the Filipino eminences in the White House, the Export-Import Bank, on Capitol Hill and of course at CSIS headquarters, where they had a scheduled appointment with the think tank’s president, John Hamre. That was during the day. That night, the Bower Group hosted a lavish dinner for Tony Boy and his associates at the posh Jefferson Hotel. Bower, Hiebert, Chris Johnson, and other CSIS/Bower Group operatives were present. To judge from photos I’ve seen, it was a good night all around, lubricated by bottles of Pomerol. (Hamre has not responded to repeated requests to comment. On the CSIS website, the CSIS head asserts that some unnamed journalists who have questioned CSIS ethical practices have ignored evidence to the contrary that he has provided.)

Agents of Influence

Speaking of influence peddling, if one looks closely, the Washington lobbyists on that $30,000-a-month retainer from Vietnamese Ambassador Vinh unwittingly illustrate how the official spin surrounding the Obama visit to Vietnam doesn’t tell the whole story.

The most recent foreign agent’s disclosure form that the Podesta Group has filed with the U.S. Department of Justice lists some of what the firm did to earn its $180,000 for the last six months of 2015. One is left wondering exactly what the lobbyists did to earn their keep.

The lobbyists disclosed only seven meetings, mostly with congressional aides. The only elected representative who met with Podesta representatives was Matt Salmon, an Arizona Republican who is retiring from Congress at the end of this year.

Rep. Salmon had already met with Vietnamese Ambassador Vinh earlier in the year and had been to Vietnam in May. The congressman already had supported an enhanced U.S.-Vietnam trade relationship.

Do the math: $180,000 for seven meetings. That’s about $25,000 a meeting, throwing in about 50 e-mails and five phone calls that the Podesta lobbying form mentions. David Adams, the Podesta lobbyist who has been working to facilitate the Obama visit to Vietnam this week, is a former close aide to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. Asked what he had really done to each the money, Adams declined to comment.

This week, when the television screens show images of happy Vietnamese peasants with their conical hats, toiling in their rice paddies, think of David Adams. The average Vietnamese citizen would have to work 13 years to earn enough money to pay for just one $25,000 Podesta Group meeting with congressional aides.

From the days of French colonialism to the present Communist kleptocracy, the Vietnamese central government has always stolen from its poorest people.

Ambassador Vinh’s lobbyist Adams proudly styles himself as a part-time “gentleman farmer” in Virginia’s wine country. Wonder what those Vietnamese peasants would say, if they knew that their stooped labor is helping subsidize such a lifestyle?

Korean Foreign Ministry acts spinelessly


May 13, 2016

Third Rate Diplomacy: Korean Foreign Ministry acts spinelessly

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Seoul. (Yonhap)

We can’t but wonder whether it is proper to use taxes to pay the wages of our diplomats who appear incompetent at best and engrossed in self-interest at worst, concerning their response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to visit Hiroshima.

The way the Ministry reacted to this rather anticipated affair is not just disappointing but, worse, makes the Korean people feel a sense of shame. The diplomats should have more clearly stated the country’s stance, asking for the public’s understanding, if necessary, or using the Obama plan to call attention to Japan’s wartime atrocities and warn against Japan’s efforts to feign as the victim of World War II. (Remembering that FDR declared the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as, “A day that will live in infamy,” it would make him turn over in his grave to see the Japanese pleas of victimhood today.).

Our diplomats should look no further than Beijing ― warning Japan not to use the Obama visit as a ruse to whitewash its colonial rule of barbarism, while refraining from directly raising any issues about the visit itself in its apparent consent for the need of a nuclear-free world Obama’s visit symbolizes.

In contrast, the Korean Ministry, in its official response, tried to emphasize that Washington had consulted with Seoul in the process of the Obama decision. The government was most concerned about a public that would feel easily slighted by the United States and the political opposition, now in control of the National Assembly, which would use it against the government. The Ministry would claim its action is restrained by a more important need to keep the U.S. and Japan on the same page as it is for the ongoing efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

This usual litany of excuses would mean the Foreign Ministry has their priorities in the wrong order, revealing they are still stuck in an inferiority complex that was overcome by the rest of the nation before the new millennium.

Just in case they don’t know, their top priority should be to act boldly in the nation’s interest and for the pride of the people on the basis of popular consent. Its behavior, however, exhibits nothing of the above. In other words, the ministry ended up insulting the people’s intelligence and let go of a chance to build national consensus and keep pressing Washington or Beijing. Rhetorically, the statement deserves scrutiny only for it is used as a bad example.

Through an anonymous official, a method that gives the impression of the lack of transparency and confidence, the Ministry said without identifying who was making the statement, “President Obama’s decision was made on the basis of his conviction in pursuing global peace and stability through a nuclear-free world.”

It sounded as if Seoul was a bystander in the Obama decision contrary to the Ministry’s insistence that it was consulted but didn’t share his vision, when Korea could be the biggest beneficiary from a North Korea that is separated from its nukes.

The Ministry went a step further by saying that the U.S. position about the use of its nuclear weapons against Imperial Japan has not changed. This obviously means Obama’s intention not to apologize for the bombings. Then, the ministry lost its coherence completely, saying, “The U.S. clarifies that the public acknowledgement of historic facts is indispensable to understanding the past.” Whose acknowledgment and understanding does this mean?

Not least, it ended by a highly questionable claim without corroborating evidence by saying that the Obama visit would also aim at bringing consolation to Korean victims of the Hiroshima blast. It is not until Obama mouths such a consolation that it should be seen as the Ministry’s wishful thinking.

Obama’s Hiroshima visit can be meaningful in that it is an effort to remove one of the biggest existential threats to humankind. However, it is worrisome for Korea and China, the victim countries that can’t forget Japan’s brutal colonial rule and its consistent efforts to shun its culpability for the war. It’s deplorable for the ministry to fail to register this national feeling openly and passionately. Who does this Ministry work for? We wonder.

foolsdie5@ktimes.com

Donald J. Trump: Major Foreign Policy Address


May 10, 2016

Donald J. Trump: Major Foreign Policy Address

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-delivers-major-foreign-policy-address

In a major address today, Republican presidential candidate and GOP  presumptive nominee for President of the United States, Donald J. Trump detailed his views on critical foreign policy issues, making it abundantly clear that he is committed to prioritizing America first in national security, international diplomacy and global trade.  “Today, our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster,” Mr. Trump said. “There’s no vision, no strategic purpose, no direction, no consistency.”

In his speech before The National Interest Magazine and its parent institution, The Center for the National Interest, and invited guests, Mr. Trump articulated five important criticisms of American foreign policy: the nation’s resources are overextended; many of our allies aren’t paying their fair share; our friends fear they can’t depend on us; our rivals no longer respect us – and the country doesn’t have clear foreign policy goals.

“All of this is going to change when I am President,” he said. “America is going to be strong again. America is going to be a reliable friend and ally again.”

As President, he would ensure the defeat of ISIS as a major foreign policy goal. “I have a simple message for ISIS: Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. We must, as a nation, be strong and resilient. They’re going to be gone.”

The presumptive nominee also pledged to rebuild America’s military and the national economy – two vital pillars of a peaceful and secure world. “We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. Our military dominance must be unquestioned,” he said. “We are also going to have to change our trade, immigration and economic policies to make our economy strong again – and to put Americans first again.”

After criticizing the “reckless, rudderless and aimless foreign policy” of President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump outlined a more coherent international vision.

“Our foreign policy goals must be based on America’s core national security interests,” he said. He pledged to defeat radical Islam in the Middle East and to focus on stability in the region, not nation-building. Recognizing the differences America has with China and Russia, he also vowed to “seek common ground based on shared interests.”

“My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations centered on prioritizing America first. Under a Trump Administration, no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s prepared remarks can be viewed here: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-foreign-policy-speech

Governor Zeti Aziz –Where is Integrity?


April 26, 2016

Bank Negara Malaysia: Questions for Zeti Aziz –Where is Integrity?

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

If I can anyway contribute to the diversion or improvement of the country in which I live, I shall leave it, when I am summoned out of it, with the satisfaction of thinking that I have not lived in vain.Stephen Grellet

Did the much quoted line attributed to Grellet (he escaped from execution during the French Revolution and went on to a new life as a Quaker reformer in the United States) run through Governor Zeti Aziz’s mind when her staff in Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), monitoring the suspicious movement of unusual sums of money making their way through the nation’s banking system, drew her attention to the enormous funds making its way surreptitiously into the country through the Prime Minister’s personal account?

Leaving Bank Negara (Central Bank) Malaysia with a severely battered reputation

Perhaps she had been alerted by the Prime Minister himself earlier. So it may not have come as a surprise. It is possible that she told her staff : “Don’t worry; I am taking care of the matter myself”.

What is the explanation for the internationally lauded BNM’s top official’s inaction or inability to respond to what in any other part of the world would have triggered off alarm bells on the possibility of money laundering, and other concerns of illegal money transfer and corrupt practices arising from a massive and unprecedented deposit from abroad into the nation’s banking system?

It could not have been because of ignorance, negligence, oversight or incompetence. Then what? Only Governor Zeti can answer that. Zeti, and BNM, have on numerous occasions stressed the importance of ensuring the integrity of the country’s financial system.

In its latest press statement on cyber security BNM said that “it continuously reviews and enhances the resiliency of its control measures, governance and adopts best practices which involves robust defence mechanisms with timely transactions monitoring”.

In Accord with International Best Practice?

According to foreign reports, between opening his account at AmBank on January 13, 2011 and April 10, 2013, Mr. Najib received a total of more than $US1 billion — or, more precisely, $US1,050,795,451.58 — including a series of individual deposits that ranged between $US9 million and $US70 million. So much money was flowing into the account that it is supposed to have triggered money laundering alarm bells in AmBank which is part-owned by Australia’s ANZ Bank

(see http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-29/najib-razak-bank-accounts-triggered-money-laundering-alert/7280244).

The initial money transfers would probably have been made known to Zeti perhaps even before their actual movement was effected. And discreet approval may have been granted well in advance. Nobody in his or her right mind would attempt to receive such hefty sums without making sure that the banking authorities will approve. Besides, the country’s gossip mill is notoriously tireless on money matters so that it would have been crucial that the transaction should remain a secret.

Najib Razak–A Leader of Unimpeachable Integrity?

Perhaps Zeti decided to close one or both eyes to the transfer because she was convinced that the Prime Minister is a leader of unimpeachable integrity doing the best for his country. And following the wisdom of Grellet, since she is passing through the world but once, her act of kindness towards Najib would be recognized for its goodness.

The Prime Minister may have confided to Zeti that the enormous sum deposited in his account was a personal donation from a member or members of the Saudi Royal Family. He may also have explained why the donation was made and what it was to be used for.

Zeti may have agreed that it was in the national interest that the deposit be permitted without the need for investigation, clearance or publicity; and that it was best to keep it as hush-hush as possible in view of the misgivings and misconceptions that would arise if the news was ever leaked.

Various versions of the use of the money and its intentions have now emerged. They include:

  • helping the Prime Minister win the 2013 elections by paying off politicians and projects

  • enlisting Malaysia’s help in the fight against ISIS

  • influencing the direction of the country’s Islamic development by keeping it firmly anchored with the Saudi-led Wahhabi camp

We can only speculate which is the correct one that persuaded Zeti to jettison the independence from political influence and other values and ethics that Bank Negara and other central bank authorities are supposed to swear allegiance to.

Was it to ensure victory for the Prime Minister beleagured by forces of bad intention and chaos from within? Or was it to help Najib preserve Malaysia’s standing as a moderate Islamic nation and to defeat the forces of evil and darkness from outside?

Zeti has not directly responded to the many questions asked of the personal donation as well as of the 1MDB scandal. She has left it to her mainly UMNO defenders who have brushed off accusations that she failed in her duty as the chief regulator of Malaysia’s financial system and financial adviser to the Government. Also the accusations that she is guilty of partisanship in the country’s politics, complicity in money laundering, and perhaps also looking after her own interests by striking a deal with a tainted regime in view of her husband’s alleged involvement in a corruption scandal and other alleged shady family businesses.

Because questions and accusations remain unanswered, Zeti will be leaving office with her reputation, and that of Bank Negara, damaged and tarnished.

But we may not need to wait long for some light to emerge. The links between 1MDB, where the official story line is unraveling rapidly and the personal donation are like a hydra. Official stonewalling and whitewashing may temporarily decapitate one of the heads but another soon re-emerges.

And hopefully, soon, Zeti Aziz’s part in the personal ” donation” scandal, and possibly also the 1MDB debacle, will become more clear to all even if she chooses to remain silent. Silence is not golden.