Balance & Good Health Come from a Strong Core: Is the ASEAN Secretariat Properly Resourced?
December 7, 2010
ASEAN is the core of new regional security and trade architecture. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton calls it “the fulcrum” for a twenty-first century framework in the Asia Pacific. The ASEAN members themselves tout “ASEAN centrality” as fundamental to a balanced and sustainable model for regionalism. ASEAN is the core of the East Asia Summit (EAS); the host of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM +); the foundation for economic integration in ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3; 7 of 10 members are part of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum; 4 of 9 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating countries are ASEAN members; and ASEAN’s dialogue partners have begun to send ambassadors specifically dedicated to ASEAN to Jakarta, the home of the ASEAN Secretariat (ASEC).
ASEAN itself has defined ambitious goals for political, social, and economic integration in the ASEAN Charter. The vision set out by the leaders of this 10-country grouping of nearly 620 million people with a $1.5 trillion gross domestic product is nothing less than practical integration by 2015. To support this vision, the role of ASEAN secretary general was elevated to ministerial level and the charismatic former foreign minister of Thailand, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, was recruited to fill that role and bring the organization to the next level.
How, then, will ASEAN meet its international expectations and realize the vision of its leaders with a secretariat that is understaffed and underfunded? In August this year, the ASEC had a budget of $14.3 million (about the same as a small to medium-sized trade association in the United States), a staff of roughly 300 including 65 managers and experts, 180 local staff, and 55 staff from donor organizations. In comparison to the European Union, the ASEC budget is about 0.137 percent of the European Union’s administrative cost, and its staff is approximately 7.86 percent the size of the EU’s.
ASEAN’s leaders say they are not pursuing European-style unification, but the comparison remains relevant. Basic policy analysis demonstrates the need for sophisticated, consistent, and thorough staff work at the secretariat level to support the goals ASEAN has set for itself as well as the expectations of its partners.
Partners are making contributions, but ASEC guidelines preclude allowing donors to fund operations and staff. This prevents the moral hazard question of whether a partner might wield undue influence based on contributions. Donor contributions conservatively total well over 20 times the ASEC budget and are focused on specific programs ranging from capacity building to trade facilitation to strengthening facility infrastructure such as information technology and library resources.
Limitations on the ASEAN budget represent an important opportunity for policy change. The issue is sovereignty, specifically whether empowering the ASEC would somehow impinge on a member country’s national rights and control. This is not surprising given that ASEAN members are relatively young countries. In the ASEAN Charter, Article 30, paragraph 2, the principle of sovereign equality is related directly to equal contributions to the ASEC. In effect, this limits ASEAN’s funding for its secretariat to a lowest common denominator. The country that can or will pay the least defines the maximum allowable contribution for all countries.
In Europe, the larger countries, specifically Germany and France, have contributed significantly more to the EU than smaller countries do, and the practice continues. Governance models to prevent undue influence can be found in Europe and Asia (see the Asian Development Bank, for instance).
In 2011, ASEAN’s largest country, Indonesia, will hold the chair. Amending the ASEAN Charter to allow member countries to make contributions based on their ability and interest, even if unequal, with the goal of strengthening the ASEC would be a legacy policy step for the region, and there is no better advocate for this move than the country hosting the facility. Such a step should be accompanied by more cooperation among ASEAN’s partners in their efforts to build capacity and improve ASEAN’s physical and policy infrastructure. This area is wide open for multilateral cooperation. Asian Development Bank chairman Haruhiko Kuroda this week mooted the idea of a secretariat that could oversee Asia. He said the ASEC was “too small to cover the region as a whole.” His statement was correct, but his conclusion deserves to be debated. The ASEC has a regionwide responsibility and role. Creating a new competing secretariat would undercut recent steps to build an ASEAN-focused regional architecture. Working together to properly staff and outfit the ASEC could significantly advance multilateral cooperation and regional integration.
The vision of ASEAN as a foundation for regional architecture can only be realized if the core is strong. ASEAN’s goals for integration are fundamental to the sustainability and soundness of that foundation. Therefore, it is in ASEAN’s interest as well as in the interests of its partners to review the limitations to properly resourcing the ASEAN Secretariat and invest in the future—not only of ASEAN, but also of peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region.
CSIS launches U.S.-ASEAN Strategy Commission – A CSIS initiative, the U.S.-ASEAN Strategy Commission, was launched on November 17, 2010, with a mandate to provide recommendations for a long-term U.S. strategy for Southeast Asia. Cochaired Maurice R. “Hank” Greenberg, chairman of the C.V. Starr Company, and former secretary of defense and U.S. senator William S. Cohen, the commission brings together thought leaders including top executives from U.S. companies, former government officials, and civil society leaders. CSIS Southeast Asia Program senior adviser and director Ernie Bower will direct the commission’s work. If you would like to be involved in the commission’s work and kept updated on its progress, please check http://csis.org/program/us-asean-strategy-commission. For more information, please email SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
We’re Back! The United States Gets Back Into Trade
KORUS deal reached. Late on the afternoon of December 3, the White House shared embargoed notes with selected think tanks and trade groups around the country. The news was good. The United States and Korea had come to an agreement on the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and his Korean counterpart, Minister of Trade Kim Jong-hoon, spent two days last week in Columbia, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C., finalizing the negotiation. The agreement will need to be ratified by both governments, in the United States’ case, by Congress.
President Obama talks trade. Even better news was that President Obama immediately took the message to the American public of the importance of trade to the recovery and sustained growth of the U.S. economy to Americans. He issued public remarks linking trade and the KORUS deal to the creation of U.S. jobs. “I am very pleased that the United States and South Korea have reached agreement on a landmark trade deal that is expected to increase annual exports of American goods by up to $11 billion and support at least 70,000 American jobs.” His statement signals determination to invest the political capital needed to pass KORUS and move on to other trade deals in Asia, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), ahead of his hosting the APEC Leaders Summit in Hawaii next November. The White House looks to be answering the question posed by CSIS’s Ernest Bower in his blog “Will Political Capital Be Spent on Trade?” http://cogitasia.com/2010/12/02/will-political-capital-be-spent-on-trade-obama-congress-republicans-deal-negotiate/
5th round of TPP negotiations under way. With a KORUS deal like wind in their sails, teams from the nine countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) kicked off their fifth round (December 5–10) in Auckland, New Zealand. Talks are advancing and text is being negotiated. The KORUS deal was the first part of a two-step process that could catapult the TPP to the head of a new trade dynamic in the Asia Pacific region. The second would be the Obama administration and the 112th Congress passing the KORUS. If they do, the TPP agreement looks very real. Business now senses that a bridge between Capitol Hill and the White House on trade is possible. That means real muscle will be applied to passing the KORUS and can be transferred seamlessly to supporting a TPP deal. If KORUS passes, it is reasonable to expect that Korea will want to get into the TPP along with Japan—Japanese officials are making the rounds and presenting the case that they are willing and able to put agriculture on the table and come to the TPP table. At this point, it is not likely that new countries would be added ahead of reaching an agreement before APEC 2011 in Honolulu, but the idea that Korea and Japan want in will further increase business interest and proactive support.
ASEAN urges the two Koreas to exercise restraint. Following the artillery exchange between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) on November 23, ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan called on all relevant parties to “refrain from unusual military movements that will increase tensions and lead to greater mutual distrust.” Surin said the stability on the Korean peninsula has implications for maritime security in Southeast Asia.
ASEAN continues free trade push. As of January 1, 2010, five ASEAN related Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have concluded: ASEAN-Japan FTA (AJFTA), ASEAN-China FTA (ACFTA), ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA), ASEAN-India FTA (AIFTA), and ASEAN-Republic of Korea FTA (ARKFTA). Following the suspension of ASEAN-EU FTA talks in December 2009, the EU shifted focus to bilateral FTAs with various ASEAN members. The bilateral FTAs are said to ultimately serve as a stepping-stone for a future comprehensive agreement with the bloc. The EU’s FTA with Singapore is expected to conclude in early 2011. The EU hopes that deal will be followed by FTAs with Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework with ASEAN in 2006, thus establishing a sub-ministerial-level economic dialogue and facilitating market access. At present, Singapore is the only ASEAN member country to have concluded a bilateral FTA with the United States. Malaysia and Thailand initiated FTAs with the United States, but talks were discontinued in both cases. Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam are party to the TPP negotiations along with the United States, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, and Peru.
7th ASEAN finance ministers’ investor seminar. Despite a significant influx of foreign capital into the region, ASEAN finance ministers agreed new “hot money” controls are not necessary at this juncture. The ministers noted that “hot money” has pushed most Asian currencies higher, affecting the countries’ export competitiveness and also leading to speculation and economic bubbles. ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan urged the members to intensify intraregional trade and investment in order achieve the goal of creating a single regional economic market in 2015. The ministers vowed to accelerate ASEAN connectivity through a single electronic trading platform—a key step to linking the region’s capital markets.
Aung San Suu Kyi undertakes cautious approach. Since her release on November 13, Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), who has always been vocal about pursuing democratic reforms, has been careful not to verbally challenge Burma’s ruling generals. While she said that U.S. engagement is “a good thing,” she also emphasized that the United States needs to be “very practical about it.” U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia Joseph Yun will visit Burma for discussions with ASSK, the ruling junta, and other parties this week. CSIS Southeast Asia Program Senior Adviser and Director Ernest Bower’s article “ASSK, Don’t Tell: Aung San Suu Kyi Messaging Cautious Engagement” on CogitASIA suggests that ASSK appears to be recommending change from within—focusing on changing “values” as opposed to her earlier messages seeking “regime change.” The asks the question whether her new signals are linked in some way to a deal struck to secure her long-overdue release, or if this is a new approach based on failed earlier attempts. To read more, see: http://cogitasia.com/2010/12/01/assk-dont-tell-aung-san-suu-kyi-messaging-cautious-engagement/
Burmese refugees stream across Thai border. Thousands of Burmese refugees continue to cross the Thai-Burma border to escape the conflict in eastern Burma. The Thai army only allows refugees to seek asylum when the fighting is visible or audible from Thailand, according to refugee reports. Recent reports further suggest that the Thai army is planning on blocking refugees from entering their country. As of November 2010, there were 90,000 U.N.-recognized refugees from Burma living in Thailand and 56,000 more waiting for refugee status.
An ethnic representative for vice president? Analysts speculate that recent talks between the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) may be a precursor to choosing a new vice president. While the USDP won 76 percent of the seats in the November election, it came in second behind the RNDP in the Arakan state. The RNDP won 18 seats, 4 more than USDP. Aung Lynn Htut, once a senior-ranking Burmese diplomat in Washington, said that it could be the first step in the junta’s plan to appoint an ethnic representative as vice president and a sign that the ruling generals “are looking for new ethnic friends.”
New Zealand adopts the name “Burma” instead of “Myanmar.” Members of parliament from New Zealand and opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Maryan Street spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi for 20 minutes after her release from house arrest. They discussed how New Zealand could help bring democracy to Burma. The New Zealand government also accepted the recommendation from foreign affairs minister Murray McCully to use the name “Burma” instead of “Myanmar,” signaling New Zealand’s nonrecognition of the military regime that introduced the name change.
Bilateral ties strengthening. New Zealand defense minister Wayne Mapp visited U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) and held discussions with PACOM commander Admiral Robert Willard. He was the first Kiwi defense minister to visit PACOM in the last two decades. He then came to Washington, D.C., for meetings with U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates and other senior officials. Robert Allen, chief executive officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), also visited Washington last week for talks with counterparts aimed at implementing plans supporting the Wellington Declaration signed by U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and New Zealand foreign minister McCully last month. Allen was also consulting on plans for advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.
CSIS Pacific Partners study advances to final stage. CSIS senior adviser and director Ernest Bower visited Wellington, New Zealand, two weeks ago to meet with counterparts and senior officials for the second of two seminars providing input on the CSIS Pacific Partners: The Future of United States–New Zealand Relations study. The study will be published in February and distributed at the Partnership Forum in Christchurch.
Cambodia’s biggest festival ends with deadly stampede. The tragic stampede on the last day of Cambodia’s annual water festival on November 23 resulted in at least 352 deaths and left 394 wounded. Most drowned or suffocated or were trampled to death. An investigation by the government is under way. Cambodian premier Hun Sen apologized and took responsibility for the incident but stated that “no one will be punished.” China and Vietnam provided the victims with donations of $500,000 and $100,000 respectively. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton expressed her condolences to the Phnom Penh government.
Cambodia-Thailand border dispute resolved. In contrast to earlier announcements of the delayed opening of the border gate at the Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodian premier Hun Sen stated on December 6 that the border dispute is now resolved and that the situation at the disputed area would return to its status prior to July 15, 2008. The resolution came from four bilateral meetings between the prime ministers of Cambodia and Thailand. The next steps include demarcation, demining, and opening of additional border gates to facilitate good exchange along the borders. In addition, Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya will visit Phnom Penh on December 19 to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two Southeast Asian nations.
Vietnam officially joins TPP. On November 14, Vietnamese president Nguyen Minh Triet announced that Vietnam will participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement negotiations as an official member. Prior to this, Vietnam has participated in the negotiations as an observer. President Triet affirmed that Vietnam will work with the other TPP members to promote economic integration and growth in the region.
Vietnam struggles to combat inflation. Vietnam’s inflation rate rose to a staggering 11 percent in November, up from 10 percent in October. The government’s efforts to impose price controls on certain commodities in order to ease pressure on the dong and limit price increases have been ineffective. In response to that, the American Chamber of Commerce said that the government’s inability to implement effective economic and monetary policy has raised “credibility and confidence issues.”
Vinashin requests postponement of debt payment. On November 29, the near-collapse Vietnamese state-owned shipbuilding company Vinashin sent a request to its lenders to delay the first debt payment of $60 million, to be paid on December 20. Though Vinashin did not outline an alternative repayment plan in its request, Vinashin’s chairman, Nguyen Ngoc Su, said that Vinashin officers have met with the creditors and asked for the debt to be delayed by one year, until December 2011. Led by Elliott Advisors and Standard Chartered Bank, the creditor group will meet on December 7 to discuss the request. Former chairman of Vinashin Pham Thanh Binh was suspended in July and arrested on suspicion of “having internationally violated state regulations on economic management.”
Najib announces part two of the New Economic Model (NEM). Prime Minister Najib gave an overview of the challenges facing Malaysia's economy and outlined future strategic policy recommendations. Challenges include slow growth in private investment as a result of outdated business regulations; lack of drive and incentives in the manufacturing sector to move up the technological ladder; low investment in R&D and innovation; misallocated resources and subsidies; and outdated wealth distribution policies. Najib also detailed five key policy actions that Malaysia will implement: 1. reinvigorate the private sector so it becomes the key driver of growth; 2. enhance innovation and promote entrepreneurship; 3. transform the public sector, including restructuring government and other administrative procedures; 4. intensify human capital development; and, 5. narrow socioeconomic disparities.
To deliver on these five policy areas, the government will establish two separate institutions to monitor and sustain the impact of the NEM. The Central Agency (PEMANDU) will coordinate the design of policy measures, while the Independent Evaluation Board (IED) will report on the progress of the NEM.
Malaysia kicks off first round of FTA talks with the EU. Malaysia will begin Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with the European Union in mid-December. Talks are expected to last between 18 and 24 months. Malaysia is also hoping to conclude FTA talks with Australia in 12 months and is the newest member of the nine-country TPP negotiating group.
Malaysia leads Asian M&A as Najib eases takeover rules. Malaysia became Asia’s leading market for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) after Prime Minister Najib eased governing takeovers, initial offerings, and property purchases last year. Acquisitions of Malaysian companies tripled this year to $21.3 billion. Another three real estate mergers are worth almost $3 billion. Moves to liberalize rules regulating mergers paid off: Malaysia attracted $1.6 billion in foreign direct investment during the first quarter of 2010, almost matching the 2009 total. The Malaysian government also projects growth rates of 7 percent in 2010, the fastest in a decade.
Constitutional Court dismisses case against the Democrat Party. Six judges split four to two in favor of dropping the charges against the Democrat Party for alleged misuse of a $960,000 state election grant in 2005. A guilty verdict would have dissolved Thailand’s oldest political party and banned its senior figures, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, from politics for five years. The case against the Democrat Party was lodged by the Election Commission (EC) in April, but was thrown out over technicalities as the EC did not follow the correct process during its investigation The court had earlier disbanded two political parties considered to be pro-Thaksin entities. Antigovernment groups vowed to protest the ruling but postponed their rallies until December 10 out of respect for the birthday of the King of Thailand on December 5. Academics suggest the ruling will worsen the political situation due to the perception of inconsistent judicial treatment of parties. However, the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) said that the verdict will have no major impact on the economy. The fact that the Thai economy has prospered despite political challenges will be discussed on December 8 at CSIS during an on-the-record program featuring Thai economic officials. To learn more about the event, please contact SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org
Two-point constitutional amendments. In a 330-156 vote, the parliament voted for an amendment of the 2007 constitution that would implement a one-representative-per constituency system. This would give smaller political parties a better chance of winning, as individual candidates in smaller constituencies would be more popular than a larger political party. The opposition Puea Thai party argues that the move favors the Democrat Party as it would help the government’s coalition partners—a collection of smaller parties—gain more votes in elections. The second amendment would require parliamentary approval for international treaties. The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) announced its opposition, stating that it would favor the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Committee (JBC). Prime Minister Abhisit has agreed to discuss these changes with PAD leadership for their support.
Thailand celebrates the 83rd birthday of His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The nine-day celebration began on Tuesday, December 2, 2010, as exhibitions were set up throughout the capital. Festivities are planned to take place daily from 5:00 p.m. to midnight under the theme “Our Land,” which will showcase the king’s contributions to art, culture, and all religions in Thailand. The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and antigovernment groups have announced that they will postpone political protests until the celebrations are over. U.S. secretary of state Clinton issued a congratulatory note wishing the king and the Thai people a prosperous year.
Bank of Thailand pursues tighter monetary policy. On December 2, the Bank of Thailand (BoT) announced an increase in the one-day repurchase rate by a quarter of a percent from 1.75 to 2 percent as a precautionary measure to combat inflation. The new policy came into force immediately and came as a surprise to the business community. The following day, the state-owned Krung Thai Bank increased its fixed-deposit rates by 30 basis points from 0.15 to 0.45 percent.
President’s son named Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN) executive. The president’s son, Edhie “Ibas” Baskoro Yudhoyono, was appointed as the deputy chairman of KADIN. He will be responsible for the international promotion of arts and culture and will hold the position from 2010 to 2015. Edhie Baskoro is also a legislator for the Democratic Party and serves as its secretary general. KADIN is considered a stronghold of former minister and controversial business leader Aburizal “Ichal” Bakrie.
Indonesian credit ratings improving. International credit rating agencies are looking to upgrade the rating of Indonesia’s sovereign debt to investment grade levels. Analysts from Moody’s have stated that Indonesia’s economic recovery is on a sustainable path. In June 2010, Moody increased its debt rate for Indonesia to Ba2. Indonesia’s government debt also has a BBB score from Japan Credit Rating Agency and BB from Standard and Poor’s, all with a positive prospect.
Government to reduce oil fuel subsidized in January 2011. Energy and Natural Resources minister Drawin Saleh said the government is looking to place limitations on subsidized fuel oil sales. The first phase of the policy is to be implemented in the Jakarta-Bogor-Depok-Tangerang-Bekasi (Jabodetabek) region. Currently, 200 of the 600 gas stations in the area are selling subsidized fuel. The policy will save approximately 500,000 kiloliters of fuel per year. The second phase of subsidy reduction will be implemented in Java and Bali.
New Philippine ambassador to the United States confirmed. Former Central Bank governor of the Philippines during the Corazon “Cory” Aquino administration and former chairman of insurance and investment giant AIA Philippines Jose “Joey” Cuisia has been nominated to be the Philippines’ ambassador to the United States. Cuisia will take up his ambassadorial duties in Washington in early February.
MILF warns of more armed conflict in Mindanao. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) warned that the expiration of the mandate on December 8 of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT)—comprising Brunei, Libya, Japan, Norway, the European Union, and nongovernment organizations— could spark new tensions and violence on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. MILF is reportedly incensed by President Aquino’s insistence on replacing the Malaysian facilitators of the talks on charges of bias and has rejected informal talks with the government without the participation of the Malaysians.
Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand in stock exchange alliance. The Singapore Exchange, Bursa Malaysia, and Stock Exchange of Thailand plan to link via an electronic trading system by the second half of 2011. The move will give investors access to all three markets simultaneously and is a step toward regional economic integration. The combined stock exchange system is part of a proposed single securities market that will boost market liquidity and add depth to Southeast Asia’s capital market. The Philippines is expected to join by the first half of 2012. It is uncertain whether Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam will join. Cambodia and Laos are also expected to launch their own stock markets next year.
Singapore and Malaysia explore new immigration clearance for rapid-transit rail. Singapore and Malaysia’s Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskander Malaysia have agreed to establish co-located customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) facilities in Singapore and in Johor, so that commuters will need to clear immigration only once when the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Singapore and Iskander Malaysia gets under way in 2018. Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart, Prime Minister Najib, met to discuss the technical parameters for the RTS link and agreed that it would be cost-effective and convenient to have a CIQ system that is well integrated with transport services on both sides. A new framework was also established to enhance cross-border sharing of information and security.
Laos and Vietnam receive ADB loan for road system upgrade. On November 30, the Asia Development Bank (ADB) endorsed loans of $95 million to upgrade road systems in Laos and Vietnam. The project is expected to be completed in June 2016. The loan will be repaid in 32 years at an annual interest rate of 1 percent.
$34 million compensated to Laos’s dams-affected families. Theun-Hinboun Power Company, a Laos-European hydropower firm, spent $34 million for relocation of about 700 families affected by the dam’s construction in southeastern Laos. The allocation, stipulated in the investment deal, will be used to build houses and to clear land for family farming.
Brunei Monetary Authority to be established. The sultan of Brunei announced the establishment of a national monetary body responsible for oversight of monetary policy, supervision of financial institutions, and currency management. The Brunei Monetary Authority will be established on January 1, 2011. The Sultan announced it was important to maintain the Sultanate’s prosperity by establishing a body that had the power to properly manage funds and debts. Speculation followed the announcement, however, with many questioning whether this meant the Brunei dollar would be de-pegged from the Singaporean dollar.
Brunei rises in “ease-of-doing-business” rankings. The 2011 Doing Business Report recently revealed that Brunei had improved five slots—from 112th to 117th—in its ease-of-doing-business ranking. The improvement was the result of efforts by the Registrar of Companies to improve the process of starting a business in Brunei. Minister of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) Pehin Yahya said that the improvement shows the government's resolve in responding to the needs of the business community.
Timor-Leste seeks ASEAN membership. Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ forum held in Singapore on December 1, Timor-Leste president Jose Ramos-Horta expressed interest in gaining membership in ASEAN in 2011 during Indonesia’s chairing of the organization. . Claiming ASEAN members’ support for his nation’s bid, President Ramos-Horta asserted that the successful admission would “elevate Indonesia’s statesmanship.”
Timor-Leste donates $1 million to disaster-hit Indonesian victims. Following a series of natural catastrophes in Indonesia, Timor-Leste announced on November 18 a $1 million donation to Indonesia for “victims of the Wasior flash flood, Mentawai tsunami, and Merapi eruption.”
Papua New Guinea
ADB loans PNG $120 million for renewable energy facilities. The Asia Development Bank (ADB) will loan Papua New Guinea (PNG) $120 million to enhance local electricity supply. The project, which will be completed in December 2016, will fund “‘run-of-river hydropower plants and transmission systems” in provincial areas of PNG.
Cholera outbreaks in Western PNG. A small island of Western PNG near Cape York of Australia suffered a cholera outbreak. About 400 cases involving 100 deaths were reported. To prevent the spread of the pandemic, Australian authorities have restricted travel between the Torres Strait Islands and PNG. In addition to $1.7 million of aid given earlier, the Australian government has pledged an additional $500,000 to fight the disease in PNG and the Torres Strait. The World Health Organization has also offered medical supplies and other relief efforts.
Qantas A380 ready to fly again. The national flagship airline Qantas grounded its fleet of A380 aircrafts after an engine exploded over Batam Island in Indonesia three weeks ago. A flawed oil pipe was identified in one of the aircraft's Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) alerted related airlines and the manufacturer as it carried out its safety investigation. The pipe is prone to cracks, which can lead to potential failure and an oil fire. After safety inspections, the airline said it was ready to put the planes back into the air. The swift management of the incident was praised by crisis consultants, and legal action may be carried out.
South China Sea
ASEAN and China to discuss code of conduct in December. ASEAN nations and China will meet in Kunming, China, at the end of December to discuss a code of conduct on maritime security cooperation in the South China Sea. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea are not likely to be discussed. China’s ambassador to Indonesia, Zhang Qiyue, stated that territorial disputes could be resolved only on a “bilateral basis” by the claimant states and China and will not be raised during the meeting in Kunming.
U.S. supports climate change mitigation in the Mekong. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change opened on November 29 in Cancun, Mexico, and will last until December 10. U.S. ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak said that nations must work together to build on the progress last year in Copenhagen. In this context, he underlined the U.S. commitment of $2.8 million for the Mekong River Basin Climate Change Adaptation Program to increase climate change resilience of communities dependent on the Mekong River.
Cambodian PM defends Chinese dams. Cambodian premier Hun Sen urged environmentalists not to blame China’s dams for the record low level of water in the Mekong River. He attributed the current water level to climate change and carbon emission, bringing about irregular rainfall. China plans to build eight dams on the Mekong River, but environmental groups argue that such constructions will damage ecosystems. The Mekong River is a source of water, food supply, and navigation for more than 600 million people living along its banks.
The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held November 29, 2010–December 10, 2010 in Cancun, Mexico. World leaders will attempt to reach a binding agreement to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 2012 as outlined in the Kyoto Protocols.
CSIS Southeast Asia Program event Thailand Update: Trade Relations and Economic Progress on December 9, 2010. This is an on-the-record briefing on trade relations and the economy in Thailand with The Honorable Thawatchai Sophastienphong, Thai ambassador to the World Trade Organization, to be followed by remarks by Rachane Potjanasuntorn, deputy permanent secretary, Thai Ministry of Commerce, and Dr. Kirida Bhaopichitr, East Asia Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Unit, World Bank . The speakers will focus on Thailand’s trade policy and key trade issues and challenges, as well as Thailand’s involvement in the WTO. For more details, please email SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org
CSIS Southeast Asia Photo Contest—Pacific Partners: The Future of U.S.-New Zealand Relations. The CSIS SEAP is currently undertaking a major study called “Pacific Partners: The Future of U.S.-New Zealand Relations,” and we are soliciting photos to be included in the printed report! The winning photos will be published on the cover of this report in February 2011. Submission deadline is January 5, 2011, 5:00 pm. For more details, please visit http://csis.org/programs/southeast-asia-program/pacific-partners/photo-contest or email SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org
CSIS Banyan Tree Leadership Forum featuring The Honorable Fred Hochberg, Chairman & CEO, Export-Import Bank of the United States, on January 11. Mr. Hochberg is a leader of the Obama administration's economic team and is playing a principal role in developing and executing the strategy to double U.S. exports in the next five years. Status: scheduled. Please email SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org for more information.
CSIS Banyan Tree Leadership Forum featuring The Honorable Tan Sri Dato' Haji Muhyiddin Yassin, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. DPM Muhyiddin is a former minister of trade and education and will discuss Malaysia's agenda and outlook for 2011. Status: scheduled. Please email SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org for more information.
 The EU’s total budget for 2010 is $188 billion. Costs related to the administration of all EU institutions total $10.47 billion, representing 5.6 percent of the budget (see page 9, line 5, at http://ec.europa.eu/budget/library/publications/budget_in_fig/syntchif_2010_en.pdf). Note that the EU budget data did not specifically list the EU Secretariat-General as a separate line item.
 EU total staff number 36,798. Personnel related to the EU commission administration total 3,815, representing 3.75 percent of total staff (see page 17, line 26, at http://ec.europa.eu/budget/library/publications/budget_in_fig/syntchif_2010_en.pdf).