Our leaders need a change in mindset – but so do we


February 14,2019

Our leaders need a change in mindset – but so do we

by Dr,Sharifah Munirah Alatas

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Last May, most Malaysians were ecstatic, full of hope that the Barisan Nasional (BN) “regime” had finally disintegrated. Out with the old, in with the new… or so we thought.

Nine months and five days later, the hopes of the Malaysian public are dashed. We went through the gestation period, and a “baby” was delivered in the form of Pakatan Harapan (PH). However, large segments of our society have lost hope. The new narrative rejects this newborn infant. It is as if we suddenly realised that we do not like the shape of its head, or the position of its ears. It is either too small or too thin and cries incessantly; or it is too quiet or maybe even mentally challenged.

But despite knowing that a newborn has no ability to show its true character yet, many of us have concluded that we made a massive mistake in conceiving it. Did we commit a blunder in voting for PH? Were we too impetuous? Did we act irrationally? Are we too myopic? But the “coffin” has been sealed, till 2023 at least.

The reverse side of the coin exposes a similar, although less obvious, climate of uneasiness and regret. Those voted into power may be asking similar questions of themselves, but it is manifested differently in their public life. The backlash Dr.Maszlee Malik received after accepting the presidency of IIUM is a case in point. The media had a field day when they reported that it was against PH’s promise not to prop up politicians as heads of public universities.

Maszlee later agreed to give up the post pending his replacement by a suitable candidate. We hope that this positive step taken by Maszlee was because he realised that he was too impetuous, irrational or myopic, or that he simply made a boo-boo. But we, the public, should stop harping on his mistake and commend him for succumbing to the criticism of civil society.

The recent embarrassment about “lacklustre” degrees obtained by certain Cabinet members is another case in point. The issue, to my mind, is not the fact that an academic degree should be judged as mediocre, good, better or best. The issue, rather, is that the person concerned should not feel so insecure as to withhold the truth about which university granted him the degree. Even worse, he should not try to fool the media and public into thinking that “one Cambridge fits all”, as if we are referring to undergarments.

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Again, the issue is about integrity, confidence, dignity and honesty. In this case, Deputy Foreign Minister Marzuki Yahya ( pic above) should ask himself if he, too, was impetuous, irrational, myopic or intentionally dishonest. At least, we the public hope he will engage in some form of self-reflection. We the public should also look beyond the petty issue of Ivy League versus online degree. We should monitor our leaders so that they keep their inflated egos in check, especially when it serves no purpose for the reforms that our country desperately needs. Criticise the ego, not the stupidity.

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In early January, a student activist said that despite Maszlee’s announcement on November 9 last year that he would relinquish the post of presidency “pending the choice of a suitable candidate”, the process is taking too long. The student questioned Maszlee’s sincerity, asking if he really intended to step down. The delay, the student said, was a deliberate attempt to break a promise.

The common claim in other complaints about “broken promises” is that PH is delaying policy reforms, and that there is an agenda to maintain a BN-like status quo. People feel that the agenda is a ploy to ingratiate the coalition with BN supporters, including PAS.

Maybe so, but we should also be cognisant of the fact that many of our leaders in PH are incompetent or inexperienced. It is our duty to “educate” them and provide constructive criticism. After all, we do that with our children. In Maszlee’s case, we should monitor the situation maturely, because he may be right in saying that “it takes time to find a suitable person”. We should also realise that it is “slim pickings” in Malaysia right now.

Our post-GE14 history has shown that talk about “changing our mindset” has fallen on deaf ears. It is business as usual at our schools and universities, for instance. I am not aware of a single innovative training programme for teachers, or new workshops for lecturers that address “mindset-changing” paradigms for Malaysia Baru. So far, I have not come across any public lectures, talks or seminars in the country that has addressed this problem in depth. After nine months, I wonder if any of us actually understand what “reform” really means.

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On Feb 12, a news portal ran a story on Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun and his deputy, Noor Rashid Ibrahim. They made a trip to Istanbul together with about 17 other senior police officers and their wives.

Before this was disclosed by a local newspaper, our officials in Putrajaya were silent. After the event appeared on social media, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin confirmed that he had approved the trip. But the reason given does not justify the business-class travel, the luxurious accommodation or delectable dining experiences for these “vacationers”.

What is baffling is that Muhyiddin did not seem to know exactly what the extravagant trip was about. He was reported as saying: “This is something I felt the police needed.” Sounds very unprofessional, doesn’t it? He was also quoted as saying: “Maybe they want to learn from what is being done by another country.” “Maybe”? Why is our Home Minister unsure about the real reason for the trip and the huge expense? Once again, the public feels cheated and manipulated.

We urgently need some insight into the psychology of political and social change. It is very difficult to change people’s fundamental political beliefs. This applies to those in government as well as the general public. Many interacting factors are involved, including cultural conditioning, motivation, personality and temperament. Most people are resistant to altering the way they process empirical data. But this does not mean we cannot keep trying.

There is a phenomenon at work in the current political landscape called the “persistence of political misperceptions”. When challenged with facts that debunk various points of view, the more partisan subjects (public and government) become even more sure of their original beliefs.

Mentioning debunked myths such as “the Malays are lazy” while correcting it with the truth – that they are not lazy – is enough to reinforce the original lie that they are.

The mind demonstrates an unwillingness to change, so it is simpler not to challenge existing understandings. It is easier to take comfort in a little ignorance and to remain in the original belief. The downside is that the less Malaysians allow themselves to know about a phenomenon or policy, the more extreme their opinions tend to be. This is basic hat-trick political psychology.

Our current leadership seems to be acting out just such a hat-trick, whether they know it or not. If they truly desire to revamp the education policy, for instance, the ministry should have engaged the media incessantly, informing us of tangible reform programmes for teacher education. Policies about shoes and schoolbags could have been introduced at a later date as the issues are fairly low in the pecking order of reforms.

But we, the public, are just as guilty of warped political psychology. A majority of us gave PH the mandate to lead the nation towards social, political and economic recovery. But quite a number of screw-ups have happened since May 9 and the public is rightfully livid.

As I look around, though, I also see an uncompromising, over-critical and impatient public, stuck in the old mode of “politicians will be politicians”, “this is realpolitik” and “all politicians are corrupt – what to do?”

Let’s criticise constructively, not merely to achieve that two-minute thrill of Facebook or Twitter fame. After all, revolutions throughout history did not reform society in just nine months. Regime change entails years, and even then there are no perfect regimes.

There are several civil society groups which have been giving constructive criticism, who scrutinise events and who toil over media reports about misbehaving leaders. But these are few and far between.

What we need in the New Malaysia is a more educated public with a vision that reaches beyond their pay cheque. This may be a tall order, but if we want our leaders to change their mindsets, we must change ours as well.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

The Mekong region is caught in a tug-of-war


February 14, 2019

The Mekong region is caught in a tug-of-war

by Nguyen Khac Giang, VEPR

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/02/07/the-mekong-region-is-caught-in-a-tug-of-war/

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For the Mekong countries, including Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, 2018 was a big year both domestically and regionally. Key developments from last year will inevitably continue to shape the politics of the region in 2019. In terms of domestic affairs, the most worrying trend is the consolidation of autocratic power in almost all countries.

 

In Vietnam, the sudden death of president Tran Dai Quang in September 2018 created a huge power vacuum, which was filled by Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong. By merging the two most powerful positions in Vietnamese politics, he has become the strongest Vietnamese leader since the death of Ho Chi Minh in 1969, edging the communist state towards the Chinese model of centralised rule.

Cambodia, in theory a multi-party democracy, has practically become a one-party regime after an election that saw Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party win all parliamentary seats in July 2018. He is now one of the world’s longest-serving heads of government, having held the premiership for 33 years since 1985.

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Things are no better in Thailand. Four years after seizing power, the military junta has made — and broken — five promises to hold a general election to establish a civilian government. Even if the sixth promise is fulfilled in February 2019, it will be difficult to sen Myanmar, the intensifying Rohingya crisis has not only created Southeast Asia’s biggest humanitarian concern but also exposed the reluctance of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to complete the democratic transition that started in 2011.e swift change, as the junta will exploit all means available to dominate the electoral process.

In Myanmar, the intensifying Rohingya crisis has not only created Southeast Asia’s biggest humanitarian concern but also exposed the reluctance of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to complete the democratic transition that started in 2011.

 

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In Myanmar, the intensifying Rohingya crisis has not only created Southeast Asia’s biggest humanitarian concern but also exposed the reluctance of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to complete the democratic transition that started in 2011.

The autocratisation of the Mekong region has significant implications at a time when its giant neighbour China continues a long march to the south. China has committed billions of US dollars in concessional loans and credit to Mekong countries via the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC), an ambitious initiative which was launched in 2016. But the LMC’s actual impact remains to be seen. While the LMC is ostensibly aimed at creating a ‘shared future of peace and prosperity’, China can use it as part of a carrot and stick strategy due to its largely opaque and non-binding frameworks.

It should be noted that Beijing has a record of working closely with autocracies. Beijing has helped leaders in Central Asia guard against ‘colour revolution’, provided African autocrats with an alternative model of development and has aided socialist Venezuela in crisis. A less democratic Mekong region will be more exposed to China’s strategy of buying influence, which often involves closed-door negotiations and dealings.

Image result for the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam in southern Laos collapsed,

The LMC, as well as other established regional mechanisms such as the Mekong River Commission and Lower Mekong Initiative, have also failed to address the core issue which theoretically binds Mekong countries together: transnational water management. In July 2018, a section of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam in southern Laos collapsed, reportedly killing 34 people, leaving 97 missing and displacing 6000 others. The collapsed part of the dam was only an auxiliary section and the whole project is built in one of the Mekong’s tributaries instead of the main stream. Needless to say, it could have been an even greater catastrophe.

Image result for the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam in southern Laos collapsed,

In Vietnam, for example, hydro dams are considered to be time bombs ticking over the head of the Mekong Delta on which 90 per cent of Vietnam’s rice exports depend. Despite the incident, the Laos government resumed its dream of becoming ‘a battery for Asia’ by permitting work to continue on several hydro projects. Beneficiary countries of the hydropower boom such as Thailand and China gave condolences and support to Laos but continued building their own dams. China, for instance, has built 7 and has plans for a further 21 dams on the Mekong — plans formulated without consultation with lower-Mekong countries.

The ongoing trade war between China and the United States also has the potential to impact the Mekong region both economically and politically. If the trade war accelerates, investors will consider countries like Vietnam and Thailand, and to a lesser extent Cambodia, as shelters to circumvent higher tariffs and other technical barriers. Exports from the Mekong region to the United States, many of which are substitutes for Chinese goods, will also benefit from the trade dispute. On the other hand, the region also bears the risk of a flood of Chinese goods into domestic markets, which is already a big issue.

More broadly, the Mekong region will continue to be a battlefield for influence between the two global superpowers. The rumour that China seeks to build a military base in Cambodia, although dismissed by Hun Sen, should be a serious warning for Washington. Of the five Mekong countries, only Vietnam is wary of China’s charm offensive due to a lingering sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea. The superpowers’ tug-of-war will perhaps come to play a key role in shaping the region’s development trajectory.

Nguyen Khac Giang is the lead political researcher at the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR) at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2018 in review and the year ahead.

Trump has conjured a crisis out of thin air. That should worry us all.


January 16, 2019

Trump has conjured a crisis out of thin air. That should worry us all.

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/1/10/trump-has-conjured-a-crisis-out-of-thin-air-that-should-worry-us-all

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Watching the struggle over funding for a border wall, I am struck by the way in which, in one sense, President Trump has already achieved success. He has been able to conjure up a crisis out of thin air, elevate this manufactured emergency to national attention, paralyze the government and perhaps even invoke warlike authority and bypass Congress. He may still fail, but it should worry us that a president — any president — can do what Trump has done.

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Let’s be clear: There is no crisis. The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has been declining for a decade. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the southern border has been on a downward trend for almost 20 years and is lower than it was in 1973.

As has often been pointed out, far more people are coming to the U.S. legally and then overstaying their visas than are crossing the southern border illegally. But it’s important to put these numbers in context. More than 52 million foreigners entered the U.S. legally in fiscal year 2017. Of this cohort, 98.7 percent left on time and in accordance with their visas. A large portion of those remaining left after a brief overstay, and the best government estimate is that maybe 0.8 percent of those who entered the country in 2017 had stayed on by mid-2018.

As for terrorism, the Cato Institute has found that, from 1975 to 2017, “there have been zero people murdered or injured in terror attacks committed by illegal border crossers on U.S. soil.”

As for drugs, the greatest danger comes from fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances, which are at the heart of the opioid crisis. Most of this comes from China, either shipped directly to the United States or smuggled through Canada or Mexico. Trump has addressed the root of this problem by pressing the Chinese government to crack down on fentanyl exports, a far more effective strategy than building a physical barrier along the Mexican border.

Even the Drug Enforcement Administration acknowledged in a report last year that while the southern border is the conduit for most of the heroin entering the United States, the drug typically comes through legal points of entry, hidden in cars or mixed in with other goods in tractor-trailers. In other words, a wall would do little to stanch the flow.

And yet, the power of the presidency is such that Trump has been able to place this issue center-stage, shut down the government, force television networks to run an error-ridden, scaremongering Oval Office address, and now perhaps invoke emergency powers. This sounds like something that would be done by Presidents Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, not the head of the world’s leading constitutional republic.

When the U.S. government has created this sense of emergency and crisis in the past, it has almost always been to frighten people, expand presidential powers and muzzle opposition. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to the Red Scare to warnings about Saddam Hussein’s arsenal, the United States has experienced periods of paranoia and foolishness. We look back on them and recognize that the problems were not nearly as grave, the enemy was not nearly as strong and the United States was actually far more secure. The actions taken — suspending civil rights, interning U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent, taking the nation to war — were almost always terrible mistakes, often with disastrous long-term consequences.

And yet, presidential powers have kept expanding. Modern media culture has made it easier for presidents to set the agenda, because the White House is a central and perpetual point of focus and now receives far more attention than it ever had. Trump has managed to use this reality and turn good news into bad, turn security into danger and almost single-handedly fabricate a national crisis where there is none.

This whole episode highlights a problem that has become apparent in these past two years. The U.S. president has too many powers, formal and informal. This was not intended by the founders, who made Congress the dominant branch of government, and it is not how the country has been governed for much of its history. But over the past nine decades, the presidency has grown in formal and informal authority.

I have been an advocate of a strong executive for most of my life. I don’t much like how Congress operates. I now realize that my views were premised on the assumption that the president would operate within the bounds of laws, norms and ethics. I now believe that an urgent task for the next few years is for Congress to write laws that explicitly limit and check the powers of the president. I would take polarization over Putinism any day.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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Asia Needs Pence’s Reassurance


November 16, 2018

Asia Needs Pence’s Reassurance

By Patrick M. Cronin

He should confront Trump’s mistakes and put forward a positive agenda.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the ASEAN summit in Singapore on Nov. 15. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

In Asia, anxieties about the United States’ role in an increasingly China-centered world are palpable. While some fear that the United States is retreating from its international obligations, other worry that it is bent on instigating conflict.

.As U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits Southeast Asia and the South Pacific this week to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meetings, he should make clear that the United States remains a stalwart partner for the region with a vision for peaceful cooperation and development.

No U.S. retreat

The United States is not withdrawing into fortress America. It remains actively engaged in global affairs and is focused on strengthening the economic and military foundations of its power. The country’s central aim is to stay competitive in a world driven by a dynamic Indo-Asia-Pacific region. That goal, of course, derives from a real concern that China is challenging the postwar order and an understanding that the United States needs to find new ways to renew its diplomatic, economic, and military competitiveness.

The United States is not withdrawing into fortress America. It remains actively engaged in global affairs and is focused on strengthening the economic and military foundations of its power. The country’s central aim is to stay competitive in a world driven by a dynamic Indo-Asia-Pacific region. That goal, of course, derives from a real concern that China is challenging the postwar order and an understanding that the United States needs to find new ways to renew its diplomatic, economic, and military competitiveness.

But as U.S. President Donald Trump said last November in Da Nang, Vietnam, the United States has been “an active partner in this region since we first won independence ourselves,” and “we will be friends, partners, and allies for a long time to come.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has likewise been a forceful advocate for diplomacy in the region. Meanwhile, Congress is on the cusp of passing a bipartisan bill designed to bolster U.S. engagement there. The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act would authorize $1.5 billion in new funding over the next five years for regional diplomacy, development, and defense programs. In short, rumors of America’s disengagement miss the mark.

No Cold War with China

Pence also needs to reassure the region that when it comes to China, the United States is not seeking a war—trade, cold, or hot.

Pence also needs to reassure the region that when it comes to China, the United States is not seeking a war—trade, cold, or hot.

Instead, the U.S. administration wants a fair, open, and cooperative relationship. That doesn’t mean ignoring China’s attempts to compete with the United States, including through grey-zone operations like muscling the Philippines out of Scarborough Shoal and militarizing artificial islands despite pledging not to do so. And America will not shy away from meeting challenges directly. But on a fundamental level, the Trump administration would like to channel competition toward cooperation where possible.

In fact, the Trump administration rejects the idea of Thucydides’s Trap: that conflict between a rising power and a status quo power is inevitable. Leaders have agency, and it is up to them to determine the future course of relations. And for its part, the United States seeks to remain a force for good, not to contain or curb the China’s peaceful rise.

Of course, it would be useful for Pence to clarify that Washington will not tolerate coercion or the use of force against allies and partners in the region. But the vice president should also reiterate what he said last month at the Hudson Institute: “America is reaching out our hand to China. We hope that Beijing will soon reach back with deeds, not words.” That sentiment is broadly shared, even among Democrats, who do not agree with some of the administration’s tactics. (As Joaquin Castro, a Democratic representative from Texas, said last month, China should “compete, not cheat.”)

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US Vice President Mike Pence has confronted Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the ASEAN summit about what is being done to hold those responsible for the persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority in her country to to account.

This will be a difficult balance to strike. And here, China’s approach to the South China Sea is instructive. It alone pursues claims there based in part on historical rights rather than contemporary international law. It showers the region with promises of infrastructure investment, but it fails to deliver transparent, equitably financed, high-quality development. It promises to follow an ASEAN Code of Conduct for the region but seeks a veto on the right of ASEAN members to extract natural resources from the South China Sea or hold military exercises there with Australia, Japan, the United States, and other non-ASEAN states.

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But the fear that a major confrontation, or even war, will play out in Southeast Asia is greatly exaggerated. China seeks to advance its goals by means short of war, and the United States aims to cooperate where it can but compete where it must. The resumption of the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue—a U.S.-China working group involving top defense and diplomacy officials—is thus a good sign.

 

Yes to an affirmative agenda for Asia

Beyond dispelling myths about U.S. retrenchment and bellicosity, Pence should also put forward a positive agenda for Asia. Here, he will have to confront some of Trump administration’s mistakes.

Many in the region question the United States’ predictability, because Trump has reversed major U.S. initiatives, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Paris Agreement on climate change. Meanwhile, he has escalated tariff wars without articulating a coherent strategy for achieving results, and his uneven application of penalties has rankled allies and competitors alike. Nor has the administration deployed soft power well, often ignoring U.S. values like democracy and human rights, turning the country’s back on refugees, using unbefitting language, papering over conflicts of interest rather than cracking down hard on corruption, and being far too comfortable with authoritarians.

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Despite these missteps, Pence can use the trip to Asia to burnish four cornerstones that should be the foundation of the administration’s free and open Indo-Asia-Pacific strategy, especially in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Those four elements are a rules-based order, sustainable economic development, inclusive diplomacy, and effective security cooperation.

First, upholding and peacefully adapting the set of rules chosen freely by strong and independent sovereign states will be the foundation for U.S. engagement with the region. The United States has enduring interests in the South China Sea: stability, freedom of navigation, and resolving disputes peacefully and without coercion.

Although ensuring the rule of law will require far more than freedom of navigation operations, the United States will continue to help maintain the openness of the seas by sailing, flying, and operating anywhere international law permits. Importantly, seafaring nations from Asia and Europe are also demonstrating their commitment to the same cause by conducting similar operations.

Second, for growth to be sustainable, it has to be fair and reciprocal. It should be pursued in a manner that is transparent, non coercive, and environmentally sustainable, especially when it comes to the global maritime commons. There is nothing wrong with China’s Belt and Road Initiative that sunshine and high standards of accountability cannot fix.

Meanwhile, the United States should go even further to mobilize public and private support for trade, investment, and development. Eventually, the country can create a whole constellation of allies and partners that can invest in energy infrastructure, digital connectivity, transportation, and more. For instance, the United States is in active discussions to leverage the BUILD Act to expand joint efforts with allies and partners in the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. In doing so, it can set a gold standard for development in the region.

Take Indonesia for example. China aside, a prosperous, democratic, and stable Indonesia is in the vital interest of the United States. Yet few in Washington are aware of the opportunities that await in Southeast Asia’s most populous country. The U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation has just completed a successful economic investment in Indonesia. Pence should ensure Washington starts negotiating a follow-on compact while simultaneously using BUILD Act funds to facilitate new U.S. private sector entry into Indonesia.

A third tenet of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia is inclusive diplomacy, including trust-building with competitors and partners alike.

ASEAN deserves broad support for its unique convening authority. Certainly, that is a major reason why the United States embraces the body having a loud unified voice in Indo-Pacific engagement. It also is in favor a strong, binding Code of Conduct—not one that unfairly limits the freedom of action of Southeast Asian states.

Inclusive confidence-building measures, such as plans to extend the voluntary Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea to include coast guard vessels and efforts to protect rapidly depleted fishery stocks, deserve action. The United States should signal its support for promoting a new framework of “Resilience, Response, Recovery,” which is one of several useful concepts being put forward by ASEAN under Singapore’s chairmanship. At the same time, ASEAN members are pragmatic. The United States will often have to cooperate with them on a bilateral or trilateral basis to find effective responses to real challenges.

In terms of diplomacy with China, it might be worth creating a new crisis avoidance mechanism—perhaps mirroring the 1972 Incidents at Sea agreement. The bilateral pact did not prevent all U.S.-Soviet mishaps, but it helped avert major disasters, something that is even more important in a region where intermediate-range cruise missiles, hypersonic weapons, and the military use of cyberspace and outer space are unrestricted.

Finally, the United States will continue to support effective security cooperation centered on information sharing, capacity building, and interoperability. The United States should buttress such efforts by firming up its commitment to respond appropriately to threats of coercion and the use of force.

Boosting the ability of allies and partners to see better what is happening in their maritime backyards will help them become more resilient. And assistance with capacity building, especially for coast guards and other law enforcement agencies, will give nations a better ability to protect their sovereignty. Bilateral, “minilateral,” and larger multilateral exercises can also help create a readiness for dealing with future contingencies.

In sum, a confident but not boastful United States is neither stepping away from Asia nor trying to provoke wars there. Rather, it aims to ensure stability in the region so that all countries there can advance both sovereign interests and regional cooperation.

Patrick M. Cronin is senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. @PMCroninCNAS
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Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: to secure Cambodia’s place in a peaceful multilateral and interdependent world.


October 1, 2018

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy in a complex global geo-political landscape.

https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50537969/cambodias-worldview-2018/

Cambodia’s foreign policy has been robustly reformed after a leadership change in 2016. Over the past two years, Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon and his team have taken concrete measures to enhance institutional capacity as well as to improve work-flow through the adoption and promotion of meritocracy, in which qualified officials have been spotted and promoted.

Although a foreign policy strategy is being articulated, Cambodia has at least been realistic and straight forward in its worldview and positions taken on some international issues. As a small state, Cambodia has taken a safe and smart approach towards sensitive geo-political issues to avoid being perceived as taking sides. But sometimes it also adopts a bold approach when core national interests are at stake.

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Win-Win  Policy for Peace at Home and Smart Partnerships Abroad for Prosperity in a multilateral and interdependent world.

Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen walked the extra mile to explain Cambodia’s bold position on domestic and international issues at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York. The statement highlighted core principles and objectives of Cambodia’s foreign policy amidst rising complexity and uncertainties in the global geopolitical landscape.

Firstly, Cambodia has been consistent in demanding that major powers respect the sovereignty and independence of weaker states by strictly adhering to the non-interference principle. Cambodian ruling elites are of the view that the “first-class” superpower – with obvious reference to the United States – has asserted its interventionist policy under the guise of universal values such as political freedom, democracy and human rights.

Prime Minister Hun Sen stated human rights is being used as “a mission to impose civilisation” upon other weaker states under the pretext of “the protection of political rights”. This is the strongest statement so far by a Cambodian leader at the UNGA concerning foreign intervention. It clearly shows that Cambodia will not be submissive to foreign pressure when it comes to the human rights agenda.

In well-crafted  remarks, he added, “big countries should not attempt to install their administrative system on other small countries, because those small countries also possess sovereignty and legitimate aspiration to maintain their own identities”.

It is historically proven that interventionism by superpowers cause conflicts and human suffering in different parts of the world. Small and weak states have been victims of the ambitions of major powers to build an unfair system to serve their selfish interests. The behaviour of some irresponsible major powers could be understood as in the Khmer proverb, “Burning other people’s houses just to boil their own eggs”. Learning the lessons from its own turbulent history, Cambodia now understands the consequences if it lets down its guard.

Other than being wary of foreign intervention, Cambodia is also against unilateralism and protectionism. US foreign policy has shifted from a dual track diplomacy of bilateralism and multilateralism towards unilateralism and bilateralism. Transactional international politics and protectionism being exercised by President Donald Trump and his team are triggering a full-fledged trade war, jeopardising international peace and development. If there is a Cold War 2.0 or World War III, the US would be held most accountable. Perhaps, it will lead to the end of the American century.

Unilateralism is the tool of superpowers to impose their views on other states in order to achieve their power projection agenda. “The imposition of unilateral sanctions has become a popular weapon of powerful nations in managing their international politics, which is completely driven by geopolitical agendas,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen, when addressing the UN.

 

Cambodia also called upon the international community to work together to oppose interventionism, unilateralism, and protectionism in order to save multilateralism and global governance. Small states must be bolder to stand up against the major powers and be counted. Cambodia for its part has taken a proactive approach in building a fair and just international system that serves the interests of both big and small countries.

Complex interdependence, from the Cambodian perspective, is the foundation of international peace and stability. Nation states must work together to deepen international cooperation and partnerships in order to effectively implement sustainable development goals as well as to resolve emerging global issues such as climate change, natural disasters, international terrorism, poverty, and armed conflicts.

Cambodia has grown rapidly because of good economic policies, combined with the return of peace after a tumultuous civil war, a conducive neighbourhood effect within ASEAN and the Greater Mekong Subregion and large inflows of foreign capital. As the country is integrated into the global economy, it has a strong interest in promoting a rules-based international order, which is something new for Cambodia’s foreign policy.

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Cambodian troops take an oath of allegiance in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 18, 2018. Cambodia sent the eighth batch of 184 peacekeepers to Lebanon to replace the seventh group, whose one-year United Nations peacekeeping mission in that country had come to an end. (Xinhua/Sovannara)

Cambodia has stressed the importance of international law and the “legitimacy of international legal order” although has not elaborated on what constitutes rules-based order and what Cambodia needs to do more to strengthen the order as such.

“Cambodia, as a small economy, believes in the interests of a rules-based international cooperation,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen.

There is an increasing concern that without the respect of international law and norms, global institutions such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization will become less relevant in promoting peaceful settlement of disputes between countries. The US, which had led the international liberal order since the end of World War II, is now disrupting globalization and marginalizing global institutions.

Within the context of a zigzag trajectory of world politics, Cambodia’s foreign policy strategy will focus on the promotion of multilateralism, interdependence, rules-based international order, and a fair and just global governance system.

ASEAN and the challenge of a multipolar world


September 18, 2018

ASEAN and the challenge of a multipolar world

Ja Ian Chong, NUS

 

At no time since the Cold War has there been a greater demand for an effective, functioning ASEAN. Yet today’s ASEAN seems far from able to live up to its full promise at a time when its members need it most. In a more contested world, the group is one of the few channels that can enable Southeast Asian states to stand their ground.

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During the Cold War, ASEAN’s early members were able to prosper by integrating into the US-backed economic order. The US alliance system also ensured strategic predictability in the region. With expansion in the late 1990s and early 2000s, ASEAN members did well: regional stability was buttressed by a preponderant United States and a People’s Republic of China (PRC) eager for cooperation. Under these conditions, ASEAN states did not have to worry about each other.

New uncertainties over the trajectories of the United States, the PRC, India and Europe mean that the conditions to which ASEAN members are accustomed may no longer be reasonable to expect. ASEAN needs to adapt or it will atrophy.

Southeast Asia stands at a fault line of major power interests. Be it ideas about the first island chain or visions of an Indo-Pacific, many strategic perspectives intersect in Southeast Asia. The PRC is the region’s largest external trading partner, even as private sector FDI makes the United States a larger foreign investor overall.

Crosscutting US and PRC concerns may be less of a stress point for Southeast Asian states while the United States remains able to wield a restrained but clear preeminence in the region. For some time, significant overlap in US and PRC interests permitted Southeast Asian governments to mask their pursuit of disparate individual interests under the guise of not choosing sides and some vague commitment to ASEAN. But ASEAN members can no longer presume the luxury of major power concordance: Washington is reconsidering its global commitments and Beijing is growing readier to challenge the prevailing order. In different ways, India, Russia and Europe are also more willing and able to question the status quo.

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An effective ASEAN can serve several key functions at moments of multipolar contention that enable Southeast Asia to become greater than the sum of its parts. ASEAN can be a platform for collective bargaining that can give its members — perhaps save Indonesia — more heft than they would individually enjoy when dealing with the likes of the United States, the PRC, India or Europe. An ASEAN that is more able to coordinate over common issues — such as managing maritime and aerial activity, riparian development, environmental protection and investment responsibilities — is more able to preserve the autonomy of its members.

Internally, a well-ordered ASEAN offers less opportunity for unwelcome intervention in Southeast Asia. These conditions can safeguard member freedom, allowing them more say in managing contentious issues like the disputes in the South China Sea or the risks associated with the Belt and Road Initiative.

ASEAN’s peak of success during the 1980s rested precisely on the ability of its then-members to coordinate as a whole. Together, ASEAN members were able to hold their own when engaging the United States, the PRC and the USSR, even as they brought pressure to bear on Vietnam for its invasion and occupation of Cambodia.

By setting aside differences and holding common positions, ASEAN members gave external actors little chance to sow discord or peel off members through inducement, threat or promise. ASEAN was stable and the region calm. ASEAN was also able to overcome collective action problems through a unity of purpose, mutual trust and efficient coordination — characteristics that are in question, if not absent from, ASEAN today.

Stasis, internal division and a lack of initiative are colouring the present-day ASEAN. Even if ASEAN retains a role in tempering intra-regional tensions, member states can no longer bet on simply working towards a large common ground between an established United States and a rising but satisfied PRC. Believing that what worked in the past will continue to do so is unrealistic.

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Between trying not to choose sides and amid exaggerated fears of some sort of EU-like imperium, ASEAN states chronically neglect to invest in updating the grouping’s own institutional capabilities. ASEAN’s capacity to coordinate and act together effectively when needed is something no amount of infrastructure connectivity, FTAs or smart cities can substitute. Short of a rapid and successful reboot, a more contested world with multiple powerful actors is likely to intensify ASEAN’s drift toward the margins, and with it the scope for its members to pursue their interests and soften major power rivalries.

Ja Ian Chong is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore.