Inaugural ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting + 8 in Hanoi: The 1,000-Year-Old City Hosts Warriors Bent on Peace
October 13, 2010
As Hanoi celebrated its one-thousandth birthday on October 10, 2010, defense ministers from 18 nations arrived with their entourages in the ancient capital of Vietnam. The ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting + 8 (ADMM+8) began its inaugural meeting on October 11, 2010. The festive scene in Hanoi could not be more like the set of a Bond movie: red banners exclaiming the pride of an ancient nation, a cacophony of horns and tinny official songs, motorbikes and excited citizens flowing river-like into intersections, and the bounty of the harvest season cascading off roadside stands and baskets balanced on bikes and bison. Meanwhile, sleek black Mercedes limousines carrying the leaders of the Asia Pacific region’s militaries quietly part the sea of people like sharks. Beneath the frivolity, real work is about to be done.
The host is Vietnam’s minister of defense, General Phung Quang Thanh. He will be joined by U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates and the ministers of defense from the ASEAN countries accompanied by their counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and Russia.
This is a historic meeting that will establish the basic modalities for a new regional security architecture designed to build confidence, practical cooperation among defense leaders and militaries, and promote peace and prosperity in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. The phenomenon of Asian defense ministers meeting formally is relatively new, and inclusion of the United States and Russia is a first.
Arguably, leaders responsible for defending their countries and fighting wars know better than most the cost of allowing tensions to become conflicts. The importance of communicating clearly to avoid misunderstandings and building relationships that could prevent confrontation is preeminent among such leaders. Accordingly, the theme of the meeting is “Strategic Cooperation for Peace, Stability and Development in the Region.” ADMM+8 leaders will seek to avoid recent headlines pointing to divisiveness between the United States and China over the South China Sea and currency valuation; between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands; between China and Korea over North Korea; and over other tensions.
Headlines from Hanoi are likely to focus on three areas:
- the establishment of a new security infrastructure for the Asia-Pacific region that formally includes the United States;
- a bilateral meeting between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his Chinese counterpart, Minister of Defense Liang Guanglie;
- confidence building and practical measures to build capacity and develop patterns of regional cooperation in areas of common interest such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).
Formal meetings between Asia’s defense ministers started only recently. Ministers first gathered informally in Singapore at the annual Shangri-la Dialogue hosted by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). ASEAN did not begin its security/defense track until 2003, and the first ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting took place in 2006.
In the ASEAN context, it is remarkable that the defense and security ministerial has matured so quickly. Credit in this area goes in particular to Vietnamese leadership. The Vietnamese chair ASEAN this year, and they pushed very hard to get the ADMM+8 started. Part of the motivation to move forward with a sense of urgency is the desire to include the United States formally in Asia’s newly developing security infrastructure.
There is a clear and present requirement to build trust and confidence among the region’s militaries and defense regimes, especially at a time when tensions are rising in areas such as the South China Sea, Yellow Sea, and the Senkakus and between ASEAN countries themselves. Additionally, there is a real requirement for defense and security cooperation in areas such as HADR, counterterrorism, and anti-piracy.
The cooperation and confidence building will trump rhetorical crossing of swords in Hanoi. Don’t expect to see the ministers focusing publicly on the South China Sea and other areas that have seen increased tensions between China and its neighbors. Most of the countries involved in the ADMM+8 are investing in the architecture to provide a context for a rising China to step onto the regional and global security and defense stage in a peaceful manner characterized by mutual trust, open channels of communication, and transparency.
While Secretary Gates spoke very bluntly about his concerns regarding Chinese intentions during this year’s Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore in June and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was similarly direct at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi in July, the United States and regional partners such as ASEAN believe the message has been delivered and it is now time to re-establish military-to-military ties with China and move forward with an agenda to build trust and cooperation. It is likely that regional issues will be discussed behind closed doors, but the inaugural ADMM+8 meeting is not intended to be a forum for airing divisive views.
Secretary Gates will hold a bilateral with his Vietnamese counterpart, General Thanh. This is the fourth time Secretary Gates has met with General Thanh in the last year and a half – marking the most intense engagement between the two countries to date. Ties are warming as Gate and Thanh meet just two months after the fifteenth anniversary of diplomatic ties and weeks after the first-ever Defense Policy talks in Hanoi led by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast and South Asia Robert Scher and his Vietnamese counterpart, Vice Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh.
Gates will also hold a bilateral with his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie. This is a very important meeting marking a critical step in the re-establishment of U.S.-China defense ties. The Hanoi meeting will lead to a formal visit by Secretary Gates to China in the near future. In addition, General Liang will meet with his Japanese counterpart, Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, in an effort to rebuild the security ties badly strained by recent conflict in disputed waters around the Senkaku Islands.
The ADMM+8 will likely evolve, along with the longer-running ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) led by the foreign ministers of the same countries and several other partner and observer countries, as vital ministerial meetings feed into the East Asia Summit (EAS) on October 31 in Hanoi. The EAS is an annual meeting of the leaders of ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand. At this year’s EAS, Russia and the United States will be invited to join, and at that point the EAS and the ADMM+8 will include the same countries.
As the streets are swept up and the chaos from Hanoi’s one-thousandth birthday subsides, the ministers from the region will seek to tidy up the rough-and-tumble rhetoric characterizing recent tensions between China, the United States, and China’s neighbors. The ADMM+8 ministers will release a Joint Statement following their meeting focusing on steps to enhance confidence building, cooperation, and practical steps forward. These recommendations will serve as important input to their heads of government in anticipation of the coming East Asia Summit. The contribution of defense ministers, the warriors from the region, will be fundamental in promoting peace. The tone set in Hanoi will be important as Indonesia takes over as the chair of ASEAN and prepares to host the East Asia Summit next year.
THE WEEK IN REVIEW
NEW FACES IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Rouse & Donilon Replace Emanuel & Jones. Over the past 10 days, President Obama has announced changes in key positions in the White House. Namely, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will be replaced by former senior adviser to and cochair of the Obama-Biden transition team Peter Rouse as interim chief of staff, and retiring national security adviser General Jim Jones with his deputy, Thomas Donilon. The moves will likely see high levels of continuity in foreign policy in general and Asia policies specifically. However, it is possible that the moves, coming ahead of U.S. mid-term elections, may signal a subtle step ahead for policy relative to politics. During his reign as chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel repeatedly was on point for decisions opposing deputies’ recommendations related to foreign policy affecting Southeast Asia, specifically postponing the president’s planned trips to Indonesia and slowing the decision about where and when to hold the second U.S.-ASEAN Leaders meeting, ultimately overturning recommendations for a Washington, D.C. venue in favor of holding the session on the margins of the United Nations meetings in New York. Donilon comes from the State Department and is well-known for his effective coordinating and communications. It is possible that his ascendance will enhance coordination with the State Department. Combined with a focus that will naturally turn from campaigning to governing after the November elections, it is likely that President Obama will be able to follow through on his plans to visit Indonesia in November.
WORLD BANK & IMF MEETINGS
Annual World Bank and IMF Meetings. The 2010 annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, held to discuss economic development-related issues, concluded October 10, stressing their strong commitment to working collectively to secure a robust, sustainable, and balanced global recovery. The six ASEAN finance ministers from Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines addressed the meeting. Treasurer Wayne Swan of Australia and finance minister Bill English of New Zealand also spoke to the conference. In a communiqué adopted at the conclusion, the International Monetary and Financial Committee underlines its commitment to intensify efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs ,by 2015, with a stronger focus on results, and calls for countries to refrain from protectionism amid rising global tension on trade and currency policies. Full text of the statement is available on http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2010/pr10379.htm.
3rd Round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Brunei Darussalam. This weekend, the third round of the TPP negations wrapped up after several days of negotiations, including well over 300 official delegates who met at the Empire Hotel in Bandar Seri Begawan. Negotiators in Brunei discussed agriculture, services, investment, government procurement, competition, telecommunications, e-commerce, textiles, customs, technical barriers to trade, the trade capability building, environment, and labor. They also worked to prepare consolidated text and proposals for cooperation.
TPP members agreed on Malaysia's request to join the negotiations on Tuesday. Subsequently, USTR Ron Kirk notified the U.S. Congress of the administration’s intent to include Malaysia in the negotiations. Ambassador Kirk’s notification letter can be downloaded here - http://www.ustr.gov/webfm_send/1559. Adding Malaysia was vital to increasing business interest in the agreement, especially in the United States where private-sector support will be vital in gaining congressional approval if an agreement can be reached.
New TPP Members? The Philippines and Thailand have indicated interest in joining the TPP, but both countries have serious political ground-clearing to do before being considered seriously. To comply with the high-level binding commitments in the services sector, the Philippines would need to amend its constitution. Thailand’s government is making good progress on its economy but is dependent on a very fragile coalition that may have trouble delivering on a major domestic political debate accompanying significant legal changes that would be required to comply with the TPP agreement. In the short term, the United States seems to believe that South Korea and Japan may be viable next-partners. If the two joined the pact, the TPP would become the largest trade accord since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Japan has expressed interest in joining the TPP, but has serious agriculture issues to be addressed before other members would have confidence that Japan could agree to the high-level binding pact. South Korea has been clear that its first priority is passage of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) after which it would likely aggressively pursue membership in the TPP.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Taiwan wants say in drafting code of conduct. According to Donald Lee, Taiwan’s representative to the Philippines, Taiwan wants to be included in the drafting the code of conduct for the South China Sea territorial dispute. Lee said that Taiwan should be a signatory to the code—currently discussed only among Southeast Asian countries and China—because it also lays claim to one of the largest islands in the Spratlys. Taiwan’s assertion is likely to be strongly opposed by China. ASEAN may also soft-pedal its response to the Taiwan initiative, hoping to deal with one set of issues at a time. If agreement can be reached to comply with multilateral means based on international law, Taiwan should be able to apply to join the discussions in the future.
United States does not want to “see conflict” in the South China Sea. The United States announced that it is willing to help craft a legally binding code for the South China Sea territorial dispute. U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. said that the United States does not “want to see conflict” and does not “take sides to this issue.” The United States strongly believes that the code of conduct would help ensure maritime security and the freedom of navigation.
8th Asia Europe Summit (ASEM) concludes. On October 5, leaders Asian and European nations plus the representatives of the European Union (EU) and Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) wrapped up their two-day summit in Brussels by establishing common ground on global economic governance, sustainable development, and the future of ASEM, as spelled out in the Chair’s Statement. Full text of the Chair’s Statement is available at http://www.asem8.be/sites/default/files/ASEM%208%20Chair's%20Statement_0.pdf. The Brussels meeting clearly had the feeling of going through the motions. With so many nations at the table, the lowest-common-denominator phenomenon is not compelling, especially given other, more robust trends in regional architecture being driven in Asia, for example the East Asia Summit. (The EU has petitioned to join the EAS, but there is no indication of interest in pursuing this option among the EAS members, who have elected to include Russia and the United States this year.) Australia and New Zealand joined the ASEM for the first time, swelling the ranks of the large conclave to 46 countries from the original 25 that met when ASEM was founded in 1996 in Bangkok. While the group agenda was less compelling, sideline initiatives gained more headlines. Malaysia announced it will negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU and Korea, and the EU finalized their trade deal. On the positive side of the ledger, ASEM leaders agreed to eliminate all forms of protectionism, including tariff and non-tariff barriers, and reiterated their resolve to conclude the WTO Doha Development Agenda promptly with an ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced outcome. On climate change issues, they agreed to reduce global emissions. On Burma, the leaders called for free, fair, and inclusive elections and the timely release of political prisoners as steps toward a “legitimate, constitutional, civilian system of government.” There continue to be areas of dissonance, however. Europe is the least willing of the Bretton Woods members to give up its seats at the table (G-7) to fast-growing and increasingly relevant developing nations now moving the global agenda in the G-20, an updated World Bank Board. Similar restructuring at the IMF is being hindered by reluctant European countries. To be sure, Europe is a vital market for Asia, but its role in driving the global agenda is clearly in decline. Laos will face the challenge of finding the requisite number of hotel rooms in its capital Vientiane when it hosts the 9th ASEM in October 2012.
Malaysia joins TPP. Underlining its newfound confidence in its own economic reforms and related commitment to becoming a driver of global trade and regional integration in order to enhance its competitiveness, Malaysia officially joined the eight other Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) members on Tuesday, October 5, 2010. The United States was a strong proponent for Malaysia’s membership. U.S. officials have been keen to include Malaysia and South Korea (after and if it can get the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement or KORUS passed after U.S. mid-term elections in November) to join the TPP negotiations in an effort to offset competition from China and the EU. In 2009, U.S. exports to the current members of the TPP and Malaysia amounted to $71.6 billion, or 5 percent of the United States’ overseas sales. Malaysia launches two major economic initiatives with Europe. Malaysia and Europe agreed to two landmark decisions—EU-Malaysia FTA and Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) —that would boost bilateral trade and investment relations. Malaysian prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak met with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on the sidelines of the eighth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) to discuss the two agreements. The EU is Malaysia’s fourth-largest trading partner, while Malaysia is the EU’s second-largest trade partner in ASEAN. Between 2005 and 2009, EU’s exports to Malaysia grew on average of 1.2 percent per year, reaching nearly $32 billion in 2009. The PCA will allow the EU to engage with Malaysia on a variety of areas of mutual concern, including taxation and customs, intellectual property rights, transnational crime, and disaster risk management. The EU has already signed PCAs with Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Current negotiations for an EUPCA with Thailand and Singapore are under way.
Political Reform - Longtime MIC party leader Samy Vellu steps down. Samy Vellu, president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), announced he would step down as the party’s head in January, 2011 opening a new chapter in the party’s history and marking a continued changing of the guard among the leaders of Malaysia’s ruling political coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN). The 74-year-old Vellu served as the party’s president for 11 consecutive terms over the course of three decades and has been criticized for dominating the Indian community’s engagement in Malaysian politics. Some analysts have attributed Vellu’s unwillingness to promote new young Indian politicians to the Hindraf protests, which focused the Indian community’s political frustration with the BN and cost the coalition votes in its worst showing in its history in 2008. Vellu named his deputy and former press secretary Dato G. Palanivel as his successor.
PM Najib urges ASEAN to develop mechanism for resolving territorial disputes. In his talk at the seventh ASEAN 100 Leadership Forum held on October 1 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak urged ASEAN to develop viable mechanisms to settle territorial disputes. He also encouraged the ASEAN leaders to utilize arbitration or consult the international courts to resolve border disputes, as Singapore and Malaysia did a couple years ago. Notably, Malaysian-Singapore relations have warmed considerably under the stewardship of prime ministers Najib and Lee Hsien Loong.
Courts to hear Suu Kyi’s appeal on October 18. Burma’s Supreme Court announced that it will hear an appeal on October 18 lodged by Aung San Suu Kyi against her house arrest for a security breach in August 2009. According to a notice posted in front of the Supreme Court, the judges have called this a “special appeal.” The last time Suu Kyi lodged the appeal was in May 2010. The Supreme Court has rejected her appeal twice in the past, most recently in February.
Thai PM Abhisit to visit Burma. Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will make his first visit to Burma on Monday, October 11, after several postponed attempts. Prime Minister Abhisit is expected to emphasize Thailand’s economic interests in Burma. Thailand is currently the largest investor in Burma, with interests totaling $7.41 billion between 1988 and 2008. This trip also comes in time for a discussion of Burma’s November 7 elections. Unlike the international community, Thailand has been supportive of the elections. Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya has even called the elections “a crucial step…lead[ing] to national reconciliation and unity.”
Inter Parliamentary Union urges release of Burma’s MPs. On October 6, the human rights committee of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) urged Burma to “immediately and unconditionally” release 12 members of Parliament (MPs) from jail. The lawmakers are 12 among the 2,100 political prisoners in the country. The committee also raised “serious doubts” about the junta’s desire to ensure the fairness of the elections.
Aquino’s first 100 days. President Benigno Aquino marked his first 100 days in office on Friday, October 8. Similar to U.S. president Barack Obama, Aquino faced expected challenges taking the reins from a long-standing incumbent while riding very high popularity and trust ratings. Aquino’s popularity stood near 85 percent (Obama’s was 69 percent) at his inauguration. It has been reduced to 71 percent (Obama’s is in the 40s) as his cabinet has had issues coordinating its messaging, coalescing as a team, and moving from reacting to controlling the agenda. Analysts see evidence of factions developing within Aquino’s team pitting those loyal to his campaign running mate, Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas – whose key allies dominate the economic team – against those close to the president’s mother and his family. The tragic Hong Kong tourist hostage incident in which eight visitors were massacred in a badly managed hostage-taking situation dominated airwaves and put the government on the defensive. Additionally, forces backing former president Gloria Arroyo-Macapagal have succeeded in bogging down Aquino’s key vehicle for pursuing justice and fighting corruption, the Truth Commission, by challenging its constitutionality in the Supreme Court. Aquino retains strong support, however, and his focus on good governance, poverty alleviation, and economic growth through private-public partnerships (PPPs) has attracted strong support from allies such as the United States, which confirmed a $434 million grant through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Aquino’s inaugural foreign visit was to the United States where he delivered a speech to the United Nations and met U.S. president Barack Obama in the context of the second U.S.ASEAN Leaders Meeting. As the Philippine economy strengthens, look for the Aquino team to gel move toward driving the president’s agenda in areas such as promoting reproductive health (in the face of opposition from the Philippine Catholic church leadership), building infrastructure, and creating new jobs through investment.
IMF upgrades World Economic Outlook for Philippines to 7 percent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised its 2010 growth forecast for the Philippines upward for the second time this year, to 7.0 percent from its previous estimates of 6.0 percent and initial estimate of 3.6 percent. In the first half of 2010, the Philippine economy grew by 7.9 percent, while the government forecasted a steady 5 to 6 percent growth for the whole year. However, the IMF also warned that inflation would rise to 4.5 percent in 2010 and to 4.0 percent in 2011.
Malacañang reviews August 23 hostage report. While the Palace review panel supported most of the findings regarding the August 23 Hong Kong tourist hostage crisis compiled by the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC), it also recommended the prosecution of several people associated with the botched rescue. Chief presidential legal counsel Eduardo De Mesa noted that there would be a “realignment” of certain charges. Insiders indicate the president has decided not to prosecute his long-time friend, Undersecretary in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Rico Puno, but it is likely that DILG secretary Jesus Robredo may be moved. The Palace review on the report came after President Aquino said that he was not “100 percent sold” on the findings of the IIRC.
United States committed to eliminate Abu Sayyaf. The United States declared it would continue to send forces to the Philippines as part of an agreed security framework with Manila until the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf is permanently wiped out. U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. said that Abu Sayyaf and its regional terror ally, the Jemaah Islamiyah, continue to pose serious threats to the country’s southern region. Ambassador Thomas noted that Washington is committed to sending “military advisers” to the Philippines and military aid to the poorly equipped Filipino forces. The United States has already donated some 25,000 helmets and provided fast-deploying rubber boats to patrol the southern coast. Ambassador Thomas is in Washington, D.C., this week for consultations with the East Asia Pacific Bureau at the State Department and other agencies.
U.S.-Philippines naval training exercises in Luzon. The Philippine Navy will conduct nine days of joint training with U.S. troops on Luzon October 13-22. More than 3,000 sailors, marines, and aviators from the U.S. Navy and Marines have arrived for the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) and Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX). Five Philippine navy ships and 1,000 soldiers and marines will also participate in the exercises. The exercises will focus on bolstering the interoperability of the two countries’ armed forces in “territorial defense in pursuit of [a] national defense strategy.”
Major bomb north of Bangkok. A 10-kilogram explosive device exploded inside an apartment building killing four people, injuring eight, and bringing down the complex in the Nonthaburi province—40 kilometers north of Bangkok. Reports suggested that the explosion occurred while the bomb was being assembled in the rented unit. Police found bomb-making instruments, electrical switch boards, ammunition magazines, an AK-47 rifle, and a CD labeled “new Thai state” in the remains. DNA and forensic tests confirmed that one of the bomb-makers was Mr. Samai Wongsuwan, a native of Chiang Mai and staunch Red Shirt supporter. Thai academics have predicted that political tensions, remaining to be resolved after tragic clashes resulting in nearly 100 killed in Thailand earlier this year, could escalate, testing the stability of the Democrat Party.
Russian “merchant of death” extradition drama continues. Thailand’s criminal court dropped charges of money-laundering and fraud against the alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout, thereby speeding his extradition to the United States. However, his defense lawyer, Lak Nittiwattanawichan, filed an appeal against the court’s decision based on the absence of witness testimony. The appeal could prolong the extradition. Bout is an ex-Soviet pilot who was arrested while trying to sell arms to undercover U.S. agents posing as Colombian FARC rebels in 2008.
The Indonesia that can say “No.” President Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) canceled his trip to the Netherlands following the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) after Dutch courts announced they would hear a case against him. The courts alleged the Indonesian president violated human rights principles against the Maluku pro-independence group. President SBY expressed his skepticism about the validity of Dutch courts, as the complaint was filed only one day before the courts decided to hear the case, which would have been the day of his arrival. According to the president, his decision to cancel the trip while his plane was waiting on the runway was a matter of national dignity. President SBY declined to visit the United States for the second U.S.- ASEAN Leaders Meeting hosted by President Barack Obama two weeks earlier.
Indonesia ratifies ASEAN-India FTA. On October 4, India and Indonesia put their free trade agreement (FTA) in full operation. India and ASEAN signed a free flow of goods agreement in August 2009. The deal needs to be ratified by the members domestically in order to enter into force. Indonesia is the sixth country— following Vietnam, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand—to ratify an FTA with India.
Indonesian fishermen will be released from Malaysia. Indonesian fishermen who were arrested in September after their boats were shipwrecked in Malaysian waters will be released. Malaysian authorities believed the fishermen were encroaching on Malaysian territory, a claim disputed by Indonesian counterparts.
Flood devastates Vietnam, southern China, and Indonesia. Monsoon rain poured into southern China, Vietnam, and Indonesia over the past week, resulting in devastating floods. In Vietnam, the death toll reached 48 with at least 23 people missing. Vietnamese deputy prime minister Hoang Trung Hai expressed condolences for the local people and presented the Ha Tinh province with 1,000 tons of rice and VND 1000 billion (US 50 million) and asked relevant ministries to provide assistance. In southern China, one person was killed and 213,000 villagers were forced to evacuate. In Indonesia, 91 people died, and the security forces attempted speedy recovery by removing blocked roads and fixing bridges. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton expressed her condolences (http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/10/149244.htm) and announced that the U.S. embassy in Hanoi has offered immediate relief assistance and is working with local authorities to help those affected by this tragedy.
Vietnam demands release of fishermen held in China. Vietnam demanded the unconditional release of nine fishermen detained by China last month. China has accused the fishermen of fishing with explosives near the disputed Paracel islands. Vietnam described the arrest as “irrational” and said there were no explosives on the boat. The Vietnamese foreign ministry has also sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, stressing that the arrest violated Vietnam’s sovereignty.
China-Laos railway network starts construction. The construction of the 530-kilometer railway connecting Xishuangbanna City in the southern province of Yunnan to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, will start on October 28. This railway is part of the Trans-Asian Railway network, linking 28 Asian countries including Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam.
Laotian parliamentary leader meets with Chinese legislator. Laotian national assembly president Thongsing Thammavong met with chief Chinese legislator Wu Bangguo at the Shanghai World Expo on October 2. Wu stated that “China was ready to work with Laos to maintain frequent high-level contacts, deepen strategic trust, expand trade and economic cooperation, strengthen exchanges between the ruling parties, expand personnel training and promote common development.” In return, Thongsing underscored the importance of Laos’s developing relations with China and confirmed his country’s readiness to strengthen bilateral exchanges and cooperation.
Cambodia ratifies ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand free trade area. On October 1, the Cambodian parliament endorsed the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Zone, which comprises a market of 600 million people with a combined GDP of $2.7 trillion. The agreement has been in force since January 1, 2010 and is ratified by Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The deal is expected to be fully realized by 2015.
Cambodia and Thailand exchange ministerial visit. In an attempt to restore confidence and cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand, Cambodia’s information minister will lead a delegation composed of Cambodian journalists to visit Thailand October 8-12. The visit was arranged after the two kingdoms’ premiers, who met in New York for the second U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting, agreed to promote media and cultural exchange programs.
Cambodia eyes its rice market in Russia and Poland. A Cambodian delegation composed of government officials and rice industry representatives recently visited Russia and Poland for possible rice delivery contracts that will most likely total at least 4,000 tons a month. A similar delegation also went to Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany in an attempt to expand Cambodia’s rice-exporting markets. Such visits reportedly allow Cambodia to become more aware of the regulations of gaining access to those markets.
Exports to EU fall 85 percent. Brunei’s exports to the EU have fallen by 85 percent over the past nine years, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistics office. His Majesty, the sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, met with the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barrosso, on the sidelines of ASEM to discuss ways to further bilateral cooperation. The EU noted the difficulty of conducting business with Brunei due to high trade tariffs imposed by the sultanate. The EU is currently Brunei’s ninth- largest trade partner.
Singapore ranked 2nd for average wealth per adult in Asia. According to a recently released global wealth report by Credit Suisse Research, Singapore currently ranks fourth in the world, behind Switzerland, Norway, and Australia, making it the second-wealthiest nation in the Asia Pacific in terms of average personal wealth. Due to domestic economic growth and asset price increases, average wealth per adult in Singapore doubled from $105,000 per adult to over $250,000 in 2010. The increase is coincident with a 7 percent decrease in average debt. China is expected to overtake Japan as the second-wealthiest country in the world by 2015. The United States currently has the largest share of wealth in the world, amounting to 27 percent. Japan comes in at second place with 11 percent and China at 8 percent.
Renewed urge for Pacific solution for asylum seekers. Australia’s immigration minister Chris Bowen visited Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, on October 12 to discuss the problems of human trafficking and border security with Malaysia, Indonesia, and East Timor. Australia had earlier proposed a refugee processing center be established in Timor-Leste, but the Timor-Leste government rejected the proposal. Refugees from conflict-ridden parts of Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are currently housed on Christmas Island; however, facilities have eroded and resources are being stretched thin. The refugee processing center is a sensitive political issue in Australia that will test the newly formed minority government. The issue flared up last month when a 36-year-old Fijian jumped to his death at a Sydney detention center.
New Zealand is safe in currency wars. Analysts from the rating agency Moodys noted that the race for weaker exchange rates to boost exports by other economies will not severely affect New Zealand. Policymakers at the IMF annual meetings in Washington expressed concerns about rising protectionist sentiment and easy monetary policies by central banks disturbing foreign exchange markets. New Zealand’s immunity comes from its close linkages to the growing Australian economy, which largely avoided the global downturn. The demand for New Zealand exports and Kiwi dollars comes mainly from Australia and Asia.
APEC ministers target growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The 17th APEC SMEs Ministerial Meeting, themed "Strategy for Reinvigorating Economic Growth with Dual Engines: SME and Asia-Pacific Economy," concluded on October 3 in Gifu, Japan, with recommendations for leaders on how to develop the SMEs in their countries. The recommendations are stipulated in a joint statement, available at: http://www.apec.org/apec/ministerial_statements/sectoral_ministerial/small___medium_enterprises/2010_small_and_medium.html.
Denmark approves $4 million grant to the MRC. The Danish minister for development cooperation approved a grant of approximately $4 million to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) for the period 2011—2015. The Danes have expressed interest in ensuring the sustainable management of fish resources in the Mekong River, on which millions of people in the region depend.
145 new species discovered in the Mekong region. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) announced a list of 145 new species discovered in the Mekong River region. New plants were found in Cambodia’s Kampot province, Vietnam’s central provinces, and southeastern Thailand. According to the Vietnam News Agency (VNA), the plants served as a proof of the “biological treasure” of the river.
Congressional hearing on Mekong River. The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on “Challenges to Water and Security in Southeast Asia” on September 23. The committee, chaired by Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, was notified of the extensive impacts of the plans to build a series of 12 dams on the Mekong mainstream to the river and on livelihoods if mainstream dams were to go forward. The committee was urged to ensure that mainstream dams do not proceed until the findings of the MRC-commissioned Strategic Environmental Assessment are considered and adopted by regional governments. Testifying at the hearing were Joseph Yun, deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, Dr. Richard Cronin from The Stimson Center, and Dekila Chungyalpa of the World Wildlife Fund. Testimonials are available here: http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=4c2fd291-5056-a032-52fd-414f26c49704
U.S. ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner in Washington, D.C. Ambassador David Huebner is in Washington, D.C., this week. The Asia Society has organized a breakfast meeting with Ambassador Huebner on October 20. He will speak about the future of strategic relations between the United States and New Zealand.
APEC Ministerial Meeting on Food Security will be held on October 16-17 in Niigata, Japan. The conference expects to develop an “APEC Action Plan on Food Security” addressing sustainable agricultural development and reliable access to food.
Vietnam will host ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ASEAN-BIS) on October 26–28. The summit will draw an estimated 600 to 1,000 companies from ASEAN and ASEAN partners. It is an opportunity for companies—from both the public sector and private sector—to exchange business information and come up with development strategies to improve their investment efficiency. The summit will also honor companies that have brought important contributions to the development of Southeast Asia.
Fifth East Asia Summit (EAS) will be held on October 30 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov will be attending as special guests. The two countries will be admitted to the framework as members in 2011 in Indonesia.
Third ASEAN-UN Summit. Scheduled on October 29 in Hanoi at the sidelines of the 17th ASEAN Summit, the third ASEAN-UN summit will review and set the direction for ASEAN-U.N. relations and exchange of views on international and regional issues of mutual concern in the future.
APEC CEO Summit. The 2010 APEC CEO Summit will be held on November 12-13 in Yokohama, Japan. Convened under the theme of “Asia-Pacific as the Driving Force for Global Growth: Seeking Prosperity after Crisis”, this high-level conference will bring together leaders from both public and private sectors to discuss from various angles how APEC, constituting over 40 percent of the world’s population and accounting for more than 50 percent of the global GDP, can contribute to the sustainable growth of the world economy.
Looking Further Ahead –U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates and U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton will travel to Canberra, Australia for the AUSMIN dialogue November, 2010. Also in November, President Obama will visit India, Indonesia, the G-20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea, and the APEC Leaders Summit in Yokohama, Japan.