2nd U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting: Elevating the Partnership to a Strategic Level
September 28, 2010
The tone of the second U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting between 8 of the 10 ASEAN leaders and U.S. president Barack Obama may be one of the most striking characteristics of the event. The mood was sober, serious, and focused. Absent were the hortatory declarations and rhetorical directives of some past meetings, representing frustrated diplomatic initiatives. These were heads of government with a sense of mission.
Despite the fact that there were imperfections in the structure of the meeting, notably the absence of President Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, the region’s largest country and incoming chairman of ASEAN, the leaders were particularly cognizant that words used would be examined carefully in the context of renewed tension between the United States and China. The result was a comprehensive Joint Statement (click here to view the statement http://cogitasia.com/2010/09/24/white-house-joint-statement-of-2nd-us-asean-leaders-meeting/ ) whose most important line was, “We welcomed the idea to elevate our partnership to a strategic level and will make this a primary focus area.”
While the media scoured the Waldorf Astoria and rang analysts seeking perspectives that would feed the story line of increased U.S.-China friction they were developing from Manhattan, President Obama and the ASEAN leaders embarked on a focused review of the U.S.-ASEAN relationship and noted areas of deep cooperation that, taken together, suggest a real commitment to reinvigorate U.S. engagement in the region.
Importantly, both the United States and ASEAN rejected the idea that their relationship is defined by China. This point is important because it means the United States wants to reinvigorate its relationship with ASEAN because of the important economic, political, security, and socioeconomic benefits close ties will bring, not because it needs the relationship to manage an emergent China. Clearly, how China defines its role and desires in the region and globally will continue to be a fundamental concern of all parties at the table, but it is a process the partners can review and respond to if necessary from a base of strong mutual interests.
In his opening statement, President Obama made the case to Americans that ASEAN is core to U.S. economic and national security interests, taking an important step down the road to closing the gap between the deep policy engagement with ASEAN described by the Joint Statement and ensuring there is political support for sustaining that focus.
For his part, President Aquino, speaking in his role as the ASEAN convening chair for the ASEAN-U.S. relationship, said the meeting was “testimony to America’s commitment to be an active partner of ASEAN.” He went on to say the motivation for the meeting represented “a common desire to intensify our partnership.” Aquino sharpened the focus on the South China Sea, saying the United States “has been our staunchest partner in security cooperation in the region” and noting that “a growing concern is the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.” He underlined the mutual U.S. and ASEAN “renewed commitment” to the Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea and supported the drafting of a “formal code” for the South China Sea “in which claimants vow to adhere to diplomatic processes to resolve territorial disputes.” He said this focus was consistent with remarks made by U.S. secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi in July 2010.
The Joint Statement described the broad and deep ties between the United States and ASEAN, ranging from trade and economic (marked by the Trade & Investment Framework Agreement or TIFA) to engagement in the ASEAN Regional Forum and Post-Ministerial Conference, the ASEAN Defense Ministers Plus, and the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), to establishing a Permanent U.S. Mission at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta and naming a new U.S. ambassador for ASEAN to be resident in Jakarta.
The leaders also laid out a framework for enhanced high-level engagement that will be tested by results and substantive follow-through. The statement called for more high-level engagement of U.S. cabinet secretaries with their ASEAN counterparts. This is a serious focus and will be needed to be proven by the actions of U.S. government leaders such as Steve Chu at the Department of Energy and Tom Vilsack at the Department of Agriculture. Will they join their counterparts, Secretary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in being forward-deployed in ASEAN later this year and beyond? A near-term test of this new level of engagement will be whether U.S. treasury secretary Geithner and Federal Reserve chairman Bernanke meet their ASEAN counterparts during the upcoming World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington, D.C., in October.
President Obama and his ASEAN counterparts have laid out a sound and sober foundation for building the U.S.-ASEAN relationship and taking it to a new level. That effort will entail consistent high-level focus, which in turn will require sustained political support and engagement of the business community, civil society, and thought leaders. The second U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting in New York struck an appropriate tone for a relationship headed in the right direction, but with significant work to do in the months and years ahead.
In this Issue
The Week That Was
- 2ND U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting
- 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit
- Cambodian and Thai premiers meet in New York
- CSIS-Schieffer Series Dialogue on the South China Sea
- 8th ASEM Summit
- 2010 Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group
THE WEEK THAT WAS
2ND U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting. President Obama hosted 8 of 10 of his ASEAN counterparts at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York for a two-hour discussion over lunch on Friday, September 24, 2010. The White House and ASEAN governments have purposely called the session a “leaders meeting” as opposed to a “summit” to give themselves the flexibility of not requiring annual meetings. This approach underlined the practical tone and substance of the meeting, suggesting a good start for taking the relationship to the next level in a mature and sustainable way.
Substantively, the meeting underlined mutual commitment in areas such as security cooperation, trade and investment, socio-cultural development, and cooperation on key transnational issues such as climate change, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism. Notably, the leaders focused on encouraging Burma to open its political system, and they used careful language to reiterate their common views on maritime dispute resolution, multilateralism, and transparency in the South China Sea. That nuanced language represented good diplomatic sense, since earlier in the week in New York President Obama pressed Chinese premier Wen Jiabao very hard to immediately implement reforms to the Chinese currency in New York. Neither the United States nor ASEAN wants their relationship defined by China. Both sides intend to be firm on the South China Sea, but neither wanted the issue to be part of a script the media were developing of increased U.S.-China tension in New York.
The fact that the meeting was held in New York instead of Washington, D.C., and that President Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono, the leader of ASEAN’s largest country and largest economy and the incoming chairman of the group was not present, underlined the fact that the dialogue has not yet fully matured. The sober and substantive discussion suggested, however, that the trend is toward a significantly stronger relationship built on a strong foundation of common economic and security interests.
The Joint Statement from the second U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting and the White House Statement on the meeting are posted on the CSIS Asia policy blog cogitASIA: http://cogitasia.com/2010/09/24/white-house-joint-statement-of-2nd-us-asean-leaders-meeting/
President Obama confirms he will visit Indonesia in November. As if anticipating the criticism he has received for failing to follow through on three previously planned visits to Indonesia, a country in which he spent years of his youth, President Obama confirmed to the ASEAN leaders that he would visit Indonesia this November. He said he would travel to India, Indonesia, and Korea for the G-20 Summit and to Japan for the APEC Leaders Summit. He also indicated he will return to Indonesia in 2011 to attend the East Asia Summit (EAS) for the first time and join the third U.S.-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting. President Yudhoyono will host both of those meetings.
David L. Carden nominated as U.S. ambassador to ASEAN. President Obama informed the ASEAN leaders that he has nominated New York lawyer David Carden as his choice to be the first U.S. ambassador to ASEAN to reside in Jakarta. Carden would be a political appointment and will have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The new role will be a challenge. The ambassador will need to work out of the U.S. embassy in Jakarta—not the most elegant building in the city—and be a forward-deployed advocate for U.S. interests in ASEAN, traveling most of the time throughout the 10-country region while being careful not to step on the toes of his colleagues, the U.S. heads of mission. Carden was a significant contributor to the Obama presidential campaign. He works as the practice leader for securities litigation and SEC enforcement for Jones, Day. He earned his JD at Indiana University (1976) and bachelor’s degree from DePauw University (1973).
UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit—action plan and new commitments. The three-day MDG Summit in New York concluded on September 23. Scores of world leaders addressed the Summit, including seven ASEAN leaders/ministers, namely Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, and Cambodia. Both Vietnam and Indonesia claimed that they are early achievers on some MDGs, while Cambodia received the “MDG Award 2010” for achieving Goal 6 on HIV/AIDS. The meeting adopted a global action plan to accelerate progress over the remaining five years and spelled out the plan in the Joint Statement. Multilateral financial institutions and donor countries pledged billions of dollars to finance a wide range of initiatives under each goal. The UN Secretary-General’s initiative on women’s and children’s health received a commitment of $42 billion. MDG Summit outcomes are available here: http://www.un.org/en/mdg/summit2010/pdf/mdg%20outcome%20document.pdf
SOUTH CHINA SEA
China asks the United States to stay out of the South China Sea. On September 21 at the second U.S.-ASEAN Summit, China warned the United States to not interfere in the South China Sea territorial dispute. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that China opposes the “internationalization of the South China dispute because it will only make the issue more complicated” and reiterated that China enjoys indisputable sovereign rights over the islands and their adjacent waters. However, Jiang said that China is willing to work for a peaceful resolution through dialogue with the parties concerned.
Indonesia welcomes U.S. involvement in the dispute. Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa publicly rejected China’s stance that the United States should stay out of the South China Sea territorial dispute, prior to the U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting on September 24. Natalegawa said that Indonesia—a nonparticipant in the dispute—is keen to ensure that ASEAN will set up conditions conducive for negotiations and resolve the tension through peaceful means. Foreign Minister Natalegawa made a keynote presentation at the prestigious Banyan Tree Leadership Forum at CSIS on September 17. For a transcript and audio of the Minister’s speech click here: http://csis.org/event/indonesian-perspective
Aquino asserts ASEAN unity against Chinese claim to South China Sea. President Aquino asserted on September 23 that ASEAN will stand as a “block” if China attempts to use force and its weight as a regional superpower in territorial disputes in the contested South China Sea. Aquino also welcomed and praised the Obama administration’s efforts to enhance the U.S. presence in the region and to assure neighbors that there is still a U.S. military presence in the region. Read President Aquino’s Opening Statement at the second ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting on cogitASIA: http://cogitasia.com/2010/09/25/statement-by-president-aquino-at-the-2nd-asean-us-leaders-meeting/
U.S. diplomats meet with Burma’s opposition party leaders. On September 21, U.S. diplomats met with officials from Burma’s three main opposition parties—the Democratic Party (DP), the National Democratic Force (NDF), and the Union Democracy Party (UDP)—in Yangon. The officials complained about surveillance by Burmese intelligence, stating that they were questioned by their township authorities for details about their campaigns. The U.S. embassy declined to comment on the purpose of the meeting.
Burma’s electorate greets poll with indifference. Although more than 30 political parties will contest the 1,163 seats in the national and regional parliaments, the Union Solidarity and Development Party—headed by the incumbent prime minister—is the only party that will contest all constituencies. The election law states that a candidate automatically wins if that candidate is the only contestant in the constituency; in other words, the junta has won a number of seats even before the elections are held. Also, under the new constitution, 25 percent of the seats are reserved for the military. Due to these legal restrictions, many are convinced that the same faces will continue to rule Burma even after the polls.
Aung San Suu Kyi barred from Burma elections? Although the new election laws prohibit Aung San Suu Kyi from standing in the polls and being a member of her own party, eyewitnesses say that her name is now on a voters’ list for her ward in Rangoon. No official comment has been made regarding this assertion. The legislation also prohibits convicted persons from voting, which includes Mrs. Suu Kyi, who is currently serving an 18-month sentence for violating the terms of her house arrest. Her sentence is set to expire on November 13, six days after the elections.
Burma denies nuclear program at IAEA assembly. At the annual International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assembly in Vienna, Austria, on September 23, 2010, Burmese official Tin Winn said that the evidence released by the Democratic Voice of Burma in June about a nuclear weapons program was false. He told the assembly that the allegations were “unfounded” and emphasized that any applications of nuclear science and technology are only for “peaceful development purposes.” He asserted that “Myanmar will never engage in activities related to the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons."
ICG releases report on China’s Burma strategy. On September 21, the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report on China’s strategy toward Burma’s elections and ethnic politics. The report states that China is likely to accept “any poll result that does not involve major instability,” especially after Burma’s military offensive into Kokang in August 2009, and a changing bilateral balance of power due to the Obama administration’s engagement policy. Therefore, despite widespread opinion that the elections will be neither free nor fair, Beijing does not see any major problems surrounding the upcoming elections, and will continue to support policies that strengthen border stability and serve its economic interests. Read the full report at: http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-east-asia/burma-myanmar/B112-chinas-myanmar-strategy-elections-ethnic-politics-and-economics.aspx.
PM Najib announces launch of Economic Transformation Program. On September 21, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak unveiled his Economic Transformation Program (ETP), the core of his ambitious New Economic Model (NEM). The ETP is made up of two components: the National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) and Strategic Reform Initiatives (SRIs). The NKEAs will prioritize and align key sectors for major projects that will help to boost economic growth, while the SRIs (due in a policy report on October 26) are policy changes that will liberalize markets, improve human capital, and introduce measures to increase market transparency. To date, 131 projects (worth $444 billion) have been identified as key entry points to drive growth and are expected to boost Malaysia’s growth by 6 percent every year for the next 10 years. These projects include a high-speed rail to Singapore and mass transit system in Kuala Lumpur, the development of nuclear and solar energy power facilities to optimize sustainability, and the provision of broadband access for all Malaysians.
Interview with the Honorable Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia. During an extensive interview at CSIS on September 23, Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa talked with CSIS’s Southeast Asia Program senior adviser and director Ernie Bower about the new ETP and NEM, why the prime minister has decided to pursue these wide-ranging reforms, and the politics involved in the effort. He also talked about Malaysia’s commitment to be part of trade liberalization in Asia, the country’s experience with the ASEAN FTA, and FTAs with India, China, Australia, and New Zealand. He also made the case for Malaysia’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Video of the interview is available here: http://csis.org/multimedia/video-interview-ernest-bower-interviews-hon-datuk-seri-mustapa-mohamed
Malaysia to resume role as MILF-RP peace facilitator. After a meeting between Philippine president Benigno Aquino III and Malaysian foreign minister Dato’Seri Anifah Hj Aman in Manila, Malaysian government representatives announced on September 15 that Malaysia was prepared to resume its role as peace facilitator between the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Philippine government conveyed its trust and confidence in Malaysia’s role as a neutral third party, and both governments expressed hopes that the first peace talk will be held before November. President Aquino formally informed Prime Minister Najib that Malaysia would continue to serve as the third-party facilitator during the bilateral meeting between both parties at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on September 24.
Malaysia-Thai trade could reach record value. The Malaysian ambassador to Thailand predicted trade between Malaysia and Thailand could hit a record high of $20 billion if the two countries maintain their current trade momentum until the end of the year. The ambassador noted that trade between the two countries during one quarter increased by 45 percent compared to the corresponding quarter last year. Several reasons account for this growth, including the establishment of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)—and the positive consequences as a result—and greater domestic demand in both countries. This trend is consistent with increased economic integration between the ASEAN countries. Intra-ASEAN trade has increased nearly 113 percent from 2000 ($176 billion) to 2009 ($376 billion).
Anwar Ibrahim fails to get charges dropped. Malaysia’s Appeals Court has rejected opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal of sodomy charges filed against him. If convicted, Anwar will face up to 20 years in prison. Anwar has maintained his innocence, stating that the charges were a government plot to sideline him after his party made unprecedented electoral gains. Anwar’s legal team will now take their case to Malaysia’s highest court, the Federal court.
Philippine Muslim rebels drop independence demand. Mohager Iqbal, the chief negotiator for the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), declared on September 23 that MILF would drop its demand for independence and instead seek the status of a “substate.” MILF says it is open to the formation of a non-independent Islamic Bangsamoro substate under a unitary Philippine government. Iqbal provided vague details as to the nature of this substate, but he declared the Muslim substate would not seek four powers traditionally exercised by the central government: national defense, foreign affairs, currency and coinage, and postal services. This implies that the substate would not have soldiers, but internal security (forces) only. The decades-long conflict has taken the lives of more than 120,000 people in Mindanao, a resource-rich region in the southern Philippines and the homeland of the minority Muslims. A Palace official said the move has cleared a major obstacle in the 40-year dispute.
China praises Philippine hostage investigation report. China appeared to be turning the page in an effort to normalize relations with the Philippines after the tragic botched hostage crisis in Manila. China praised the Philippine government for its 83-page investigation report released on September 20 regarding the incident that left eight Chinese nationals dead. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Hu said the report demonstrated that the Philippine government was taking “great care” in investigating the matter, and that was appreciated. The report had been sent first to Beijing for review as part of an agreement on the part of the Philippine government to be as transparent as possible with Beijing over the investigation process and report’s contents. The report noted that leaders communicated poorly with the hostage-taker and that the police had been inadequately trained to handle the hostage situation. In contrast to Beijing’s signal, many Hong Kongers said the investigation left too many questions; for instance, the report failed to determine if friendly fire had killed some of the tourists. Philippine officials had previously said police bullets may have hit some of the victims.
Aquino will make first ASEAN state visit to Vietnam in October. President Benigno Aquino III accepted an invitation from Vietnamese president Nguyen Minh Triet to visit Hanoi in October. The two leaders are expected to discuss bilateral issues and sign four major agreements that will institutionalize cooperation in higher education, defense, and maritime affairs. Relations between the two gained momentum after the two countries achieved their target of $2 billion in bilateral trade in 2008. Both are primary claimants in the South China Sea disputed maritime territory.
Philippines receives $434 million Millennium Challenge grant. With President Aquino and U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton as witnesses, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) formally approved the $434 million compact for the Philippines in New York on September 23. The agreement gives the country access to more aid from the MCC, which was held up during the Arroyo administration’s failure to meet the necessary requirements on fighting corruption.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Scher visits the Philippines. Robert Scher visited the Philippines in mid-September for discussions with senior defense officials of the U.S. treaty ally. Issues discussed included capacity building and coordination on maritime security and on various initiatives including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), as well as discussions about U.S. support for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) generally and in Mindanao specifically. The officials also discussed the status of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
U.S. congressional body calls on Indonesia to advance West Papua autonomy. The House Subcommittee for Asia Pacific Affairs led by Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) held a hearing on alleged abuses committed by the Indonesian military in West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). Indonesia introduced limited autonomy in West Papua in 2001. However, academics and advocates testified that the government of Indonesia in general and the military specifically has not implemented the autonomy measures. They allege that the military murdered and incarcerated activists without due process. Accusations of genocide were also made, but currently are unsubstantiated due to the lack of evidence. Papuan autonomy was expected to create more economic freedom and more returns in the logging and mining industries, which subsequently would be used to improve the welfare of citizens but instead have been used for local military operations, according to testimony. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in charge of South and Southeast Asia Robert Scher said that these were serious accusations and that investigations should be conducted. Full text of Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Joseph Yun testimony is available here: http://www.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rm/2010/09/147551.htm
Rupiah braces for more appreciation. The rupiah has gained 4.9 percent on the U.S. dollar this year and continues to strengthen as foreign investors look to hold more Indonesian assets. Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest economy, accounting for nearly half of ASEAN’s $1.5 trillion gross domestic product and with growth rates projected at 6 percent and high bond yields. Foreign investors have purchased $2.2 billion of rupiah-denominated assets this year. Price-to-equity (PE) ratios for Indonesian stocks are among the highest in the region, meaning investors have already bet on Indonesia’s robust performance extending for the next two years. A 10-year Indonesian bond yields 7.79 percent while a U.S. Treasury bill with the same maturity yields 2.54 percent.
Indonesian agricultural industry suffers slowdown. One sector belying the strong growth trend in Indonesia is agriculture. Experts and industry leaders pointed to three major factors that have hindered the advancement of the sector. First, market price fluctuations result in problems of cash flow and difficulty in maintaining operations for farmers and agribusiness. Despite strong management systems, price uncertainty affects industry performance. Second, credit availability is not conducive to sector growth. Indonesia has the region’s highest interest rate at 5.89 percent, in contrast to Malaysia (3.03 percent), Philippines (3.92 percent), Thailand (3.4 percent), Vietnam (3.43 percent), and Singapore (1.79 percent). Last, because loans and microloans for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in agriculture that provide downstream services are difficult to secure, innovation is disincentivized and Indonesian competitiveness in agriculture is undercut.
Singapore and Malaysia finalize land swap deal and end 20-year dispute. The Singapore government traded four land parcels in Marina South and two pieces in Orphir-Rochor in exchange for land owned by Malaysia in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji, Woodlands, and Bukit Timah. MS Pte. Ltd, a 60-40 joint venture between the Malaysian Khazanah Nasional Bhd and Singaporean sovereign fund Temasek Holdings, will oversee joint development of the land parcels. The Marina South parcels and Ophir-Rochor sites are located near Singapore’s financial center and business district. The Singapore government plans to use the railway land for redevelopment. The agreement ends a 20-year dispute between Malaysia and Singapore over land and water. Both sides agree that the deal is mutually beneficial and believe that it enables both countries to move forward on a planned rapid transit system between Singapore and Malaysia.
Singapore as a renminbi center for Southeast Asia? Under the new currency swap agreement between Singapore and China, both countries may borrow up to about $22 billion in the other’s currency. According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the country’s central bank, the swap agreement may also transform Singapore into the renminbi center for Southeast Asia. Singapore has positioned itself as the financial hub for the region and facilitator of the various trade and investment deals.
China praises Singapore for its regional role. In a meeting with his Singaporean counterpart George Yeo, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi praised the island-nation for its active role in promoting cooperation between ASEAN and China. His remarks alluded to Singaporean prime minister Lee’s claim that Singapore could act as a “bridge” between ASEAN and China, as Singapore is a country with a cultural affinity for and deep ties with China. In this context, Singapore has received a nod from Beijing to move forward with a free trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan that would effectively link Singapore into the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), formalizing and enabling economic integration between China and Taiwan.
Singapore exports experience unexpected increase. Rapid growth in Singapore’s pharmaceutical sector exports contributed to an unexpected increase. Singapore’s non-oil exports grew by 31 percent, a much larger figure than the 19.5 percent growth economists had predicted earlier this year. In the pharmaceutical sector alone, exports expanded by 64.7 percent in August, compensating generously for a decline of 22.7 percent in July.
City bombings continue. A series of bombings struck Bangkok in the past month, with the most recent blast on Sunday, September 26, in the Dusit area. Another blast last week in Yannawa district injured two female students and a man. Reports say the bomb wiring was similar to that used in attacks earlier this month, which suggests the attacks were planned by the same group. Authorities have offered a $3,271 reward for any information that could lead to a possible arrest. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has increased the number of checkpoints around the city and said that the attacks were aimed at discrediting the government. He also apologized to the public for failing to prevent past attacks.
Amnesty bill to promote national reconciliation. The Democrat Party coalition partner, Bhumjaithai Party (BJT), launched a petition for a bill that would give amnesty to all political protestors from September 19, 2006, to May 31, 2010. The rationale for the bill is that it would encourage national reconciliation, as it would help 111 Thai Rak Thai members and another 100 in the Chart Thai party members who were banned from politics for five years. The bill is written by the de facto leader of the BJT party, Newin Chidchob, who is currently under the five-year ban. Both the Democrat Party and the opposition Puea Thai Party are skeptical about the amnesty bill.
Cambodian and Thai premiers meet in New York. Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen met his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, on the sidelines of the second U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting in New York where they agreed that military confrontations should be avoided. Both leaders expressed their satisfaction with increased bilateral trade and encouraged frequent visits at ministerial levels and joint activities. The temple dispute was not mentioned in this one-on-one bilateral meeting. However, the two are likely to meet again at the Asia Europe Meeting in Brussels next week and at the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi next month.
Cambodian premier urges Obama to cancel “dirty debt.” Prime Minister Hun Sen urged President Obama to write off “dirty debt” of about $317 million borrowed by the U.S.-backed Lon Nol administration that came to power through a coup in 1970. Arguing that the loan was spent on arms, fueling civil conflicts after the Vietnam War, the current Cambodian government proposes to convert the debt into development assistance as the United States did with Vietnam. By referring to international laws requiring governments to repay their predecessor’s debts, the United States argued that Cambodia has the ability to pay the debt, and that the repayment will allow Cambodia to win credibility and to have access to future international capitals. In his speech at the MDG Summit this week in New York, Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong said, “Burden of debt reimbursement presented a major hurdle for less developed countries seeking to meet MDG targets. The ability to fund development projects was severely curtailed by such debts.”
United States and Vietnam applaud bilateral cooperation. On September 21, Vietnamese president Nguyen Minh Triet met with former U.S. president Bill Clinton on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). During the meeting, President Triet applauded the CGI’s contributions to Vietnam regarding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and spoke highly of Clinton’s role in normalizing U.S.-Vietnam relations. Clinton also noted that the United States looks forward to working with Vietnam to promote peace and stability in the twenty-first century.
ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly concludes with success. Chairman of Vietnam’s National Assembly Nguyen Phu Trong successfully concluded the 31st General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA-31) on September 24. During AIPA-31, the member states adopted resolutions concerning security, politics, the economy, and cultural cooperation. They also stressed the importance of the AIPA-ASEAN relationship, and proposed holding an annual meeting between AIPA and ASEAN leaders.
Clinton and Gates to visit Vietnam in October. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton will visit Vietnam to attend the East Asia Summit (EAS) on October 30 and U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates will travel to Hanoi to participate in the first meeting of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting + 8 (ADMM+8), which is expected to be held in Hanoi on October 12, 2010. At the EAS, the United States and Russia will be formally invited to join, marking the establishment of important regional security and trade architecture. President Obama indicated that he will attend the EAS in Indonesia in 2011. After the United States and Russia join, the EAS will include the same 18 nations in the ADMM+8, namely the 10 ASEAN members, plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States.
Brunei and Malaysia sign DOA for joint exploration. In another example of progress on dispute resolution in ASEAN, Malaysia and Brunei have found a way forward on joint energy resource development. After a dispute in May 2003 that suspended exploration of the deepwater CA1 block, Malaysian prime minister Najib Tun Razak and the Sultan of Brunei have signed a Deed of Agreement (DOA) for production sharing whereby the two countries will allow PetroleumBRUNEI and its consortium of contractors to resume exploration operations. The agreement will allow Petronas Carigali Overseas and Canam Brunei to join the existing consortium comprising Total, BHP Billiton and Amerada Hess. French oil major Total maintains a 54 percent stake in the venture, while BHP Billiton and Amerada Hess have reduced their stake to 15 percent and 22.5 percent respectively. The new agreement will enlarge the area of the deepwater block, from its original size of 5,000 sq. kilometers to 5,850 sq. kilometers.
Australia proposes Timor-Leste host a regional processing hub for asylum seekers. In an attempt to address an influx of refugees from several Asian countries, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard plans to approach Timor-Leste to explore opening a regional processing center for asylum seekers. Despite domestic protests, the Timor-Leste government remains open to discussing concrete proposals from Australia. However, Timor-Leste emphasized its view that this is not a bilateral issue; thus, it argues that any final decision should go through the Bali Process, a regional forum to discuss transnational crimes and human smuggling, in consultation with Indonesia.
Carbon tax a possibility. Although Prime Minister Julia Gillard ruled out a carbon tax during her campaign, Labor’s coalition partner, the Green Party, is a strong proponent. The Green Party leadership claims Gillard promised to set a price for carbon in Australia as part of the deal to win their support so she could form a government. Australian Climate Change minister Greg Combet and some industry leaders endorsed the idea. As the carbon tax is evaluated, industries will be subject to stress tests to bring about more comprehensive economic reform. With the recent developments, the Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said that the prime minister's pre-election promise meant nothing.
Interview with the Honorable Kim Beazley, Australian ambassador to the United States. CSIS Senior Adviser Ernie Bower interviewed former deputy prime minister, minister of finance and defense, and Labor Party leader Kim Beazley on the newly elected government of Australia and its impact on the country’s foreign and national security policy. Ambassador Beazley also talked about Australia’s regional role in Asia and underlined continuity in the U.S.-Australia bilateral relationship. Beazley said the upcoming Australia-U.S. Ministerial (AUSMIN) talks scheduled for early November involving U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates were fundamental to the close cooperation between the two countries. He also suggested that a visit from President Barack Obama to the United States’ treaty ally was fundamentally important to sustaining good ties. The full interview is available here: http://csis.org/multimedia/interview-australian-ambassador-us-kim-beazley-newly-elected-australian-government
Australian navy visits Sulawesi and Surabaya. During a four-day visit in the south of Sulawesi, two Royal Australian Navy warships anchored in Makassar at the Soekarno-Hatta port. Navy officers from the HMAS Success and HMAS Arunta will visit the Indonesian naval base and the mayor of the city. Indonesian students and teachers were also invited to board the vessels to learn about Australia before their exchange program. Two other warships traveled to Surabaya on September 25–28 to participate in a joint military exercise with the Indonesian navy.
Interview: Ernest Bower speaks with the Honorable Tim Groser, New Zealand Minister of Trade. On September 23, CSIS senior adviser and director of the Southeast Asia Program Ernie Bower interviewed Minister Groser and discussed food security, the integration of Oceania and ASEAN economies, and the NZ-China FTA. Minister Groser stated that the consolidation of bilateral FTAs into larger regional trade agreements, specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will be important. He also expounded on the strategic and political importance of FTAs in addition to their economic gains. He underlined the importance of a strategic unity in vision between the United States and New Zealand and reaffirmed that the relationship between the two countries rested in shared values. To listen to the full interview: http://csis.org/multimedia/video-ernest-bower-speaks-tim-groser-new-zealand-minister-finance
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
PNG adheres to “one-China” policy. On September 13, Papua New Guinea (PNG) premier Michael Thomas Somare attended “Summer Davos” held in Tianjin, a port city in Northern China, where he met Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao. He said he appreciated China’s “unselfish help” rendered to PNG, and reiterated PNG’s adherence to its “one-China” policy. His Chinese counterpart promised to encourage Chinese investors to expand business in resource-rich PNG in the areas of agriculture, forestry, fishery, energy, telecom, and transport.
Laos proposes construction of dam at Sayabouly. At the Mekong River Commission (MRC) on September 22, Laos submitted a proposal to build a 1.26 GW hydropower plant at Sayabouly in northern Laos to generate foreign exchange income. If the proposal is approved, approximately 90 percent of the electricity generated would be sold to neighboring countries. Both the MRC and international conservationists said the dam will potentially have a negative effect on fish migration and giant catfish in the Mekong River. Prior to official approval, representatives to the MRC from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam will have to assess the environmental impact of the project.
CSIS will cohost a discussion with His Excellency Vo Hong Phuc, Minister of Planning and Investment of Vietnam. The CSIS Southeast Asia Program will cohost a discussion with the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council for Competitiveness (PMAC) in Washington, D.C., on September 28. The meeting is by invitation only. Interested parties may contact Mary Beth Jordan (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
CSIS-Schieffer Series Dialogue on the South China Sea. On September 28, CSIS will host a panel discussion entitled “South China Sea: A Key Indicator for Asian Security Cooperation for the 21st Century.” Panelists include Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific the Honorable Kurt Campbell; the Honorable Stapleton Roy, former U.S. ambassador to China, Indonesia, and Singapore and director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States; chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times David Sanger; and Senior Adviser & Director of the CSIS Southeast Asia Program Ernest Bower. The session will be held 5:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m. at CSIS, 1800 K St, NW, B1 Conference Room. Seating is limited; RSVP to email@example.com.
8th ASEM Summit will be held in Brussels, Belgium,on October 4–5.
2010 Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group will take place on October 8–10. Central bankers, ministers of finance and development, private-sector executives, and academics will be convening in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues of global concern, including the world economic outlook, poverty eradication, economic development, and aid effectiveness.
Looking Further Ahead – In October, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will visit Hanoi for the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting +8, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Hanoi to attend the East Asia Summit (EAS), and both will visit Australia in November for the AUSMIN dialogue. In November, President Obama will visit India, Indonesia, the G-20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea, and the APEC Leaders Summit in Yokohama, Japan.