Southeast Asia from the Corner of 18th & K Streets: Obama Should Invite Yingluck to Washington Soon

Volume IV | Issue 16 | 8th August, 2013

President Barack Obama should invite Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to the White House before the end of 2013, which marks the 180th anniversary of the two countries’ bilateral relationship. Thailand is one of the United States’ five allies in Asia, and the other four have all been invited to Washington in recent years. Thailand is a leader in ASEAN but has not had a meeting in the Oval Office in eight years, while the leaders of Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam have met the U.S. president in Washington over the past year and half, as has Myanmar’s leader.

The time for the Thai prime minister to be sent an invitation to Washington has come. Despite Thailand’s longstanding cooperation with the United States across a broad spectrum of areas, including military ties, public health issues, trade and investment, and education and culture, no Thai leader has been invited to the White House since September 2005, when former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited. Thaksin was toppled in a military coup the following year, which put U.S.-Thai relations on hold for a number of years.

Yingluck, Thaksin’s sister, was elected Thailand’s first female prime minister two years ago. She was widely assumed to be Thaksin’s proxy, but she has grown in stature as prime minister in her own right. A visit to Washington would help celebrate Thailand’s return to democracy, even if it is still a stormy one. Yingluck recently took over the portfolio of defense minister, presumably to deepen her ties with the military, which has long had deep suspicions about her brother’s ambitions. So Washington will get not only a prime minister but also a defense minister when Yingluck visits.

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The Biweekly Update

  • United States to begin military engagement with Myanmar
  • President Sang announces comprehensive partnership during Washington visit
  • Opposition doubles parliamentary seats in Cambodian elections

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Looking Ahead

  • A discussion on a career in building democracy
  • A lecture on the Indonesian revolution
  • Hanoi’s road to the Vietnam War

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Obama Should Invite Yingluck to Washington Soon

By Murray Hiebert (@MurrayHiebert1), Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, and Noelan Arbis, Researcher, Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies (@SoutheastAsiaDC), CSIS

President Barack Obama should invite Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to the White House before the end of 2013, which marks the 180th anniversary of the two countries’ bilateral relationship. Thailand is one of the United States’ five allies in Asia, and the other four have all been invited to Washington in recent years. Thailand is a leader in ASEAN but has not had a meeting in the Oval Office in eight years, while the leaders of Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam have met the U.S. president in Washington over the past year and half, as has Myanmar’s leader.

The time for the Thai prime minister to be sent an invitation to Washington has come. Despite Thailand’s longstanding cooperation with the United States across a broad spectrum of areas, including military ties, public health issues, trade and investment, and education and culture, no Thai leader has been invited to the White House since September 2005, when former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited. Thaksin was toppled in a military coup the following year, which put U.S.-Thai relations on hold for a number of years.

Yingluck, Thaksin’s sister, was elected Thailand’s first female prime minister two years ago. She was widely assumed to be Thaksin’s proxy, but she has grown in stature as prime minister in her own right. A visit to Washington would help celebrate Thailand’s return to democracy, even if it is still a stormy one. Yingluck recently took over the portfolio of defense minister, presumably to deepen her ties with the military, which has long had deep suspicions about her brother’s ambitions. So Washington will get not only a prime minister but also a defense minister when Yingluck visits.

Yingluck currently faces protests at home over a bill being debated by the Parliament of Thailand that would grant amnesty to those involved in political violence since the 2006 coup. Should those demonstrations grow into a political crisis, a visit to Washington might prove impossible in the near future. But that seems unlikely and an invitation should be extended.

A visit by the prime minister would be an opportunity to promote trade and investment opportunities with the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia. The Asia Pacific’s other heavyweight, China, clearly recognizes the importance of courting the leader of Thailand. Beijing has invited Yingluck to visit China twice between now and mid-September. China has long been a major investor in and aid donor to Thailand, and the Thais currently serve as the ASEAN coordinator for China, a particularly important role as ASEAN presses China to negotiate a code of conduct on the disputed South China Sea, also a priority for the United States.

Thailand was the first Asian nation to establish diplomatic ties with the United States, starting with the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1833. In recent times, Bangkok allowed the United States to uses bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War and granted U.S. military planes refueling and overflight rights during the war in Afghanistan.

Today Bangkok is home to one of the largest U.S. embassies in the world, reflecting the myriad areas in which the United States and Thailand cooperate, both domestically and regionally. The United States and Thailand have deep military-to-military relations and this year the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in Thailand is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Thailand and the United States cohost the annual Cobra Gold military exercise, the largest multilateral exercise in the world and the longest-running U.S. military exercise in the Pacific.

As for bilateral trade, the United States is currently Thailand’s third-largest trading partner behind Japan and China. U.S. companies had invested more than $466 million in net foreign direct investment in Thailand through 2011, making the United States one of the largest foreign investors in the country.

Stepped-up commercial relations could be explored during the prime minister’s visit. Yingluck told Obama when he visited Thailand right after his reelection last November that Thailand would like to explore joining the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks, and Japan’s recent entry has heightened Thai interest. Peter Petri, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, projects that Thailand would enjoy the second-highest overall GDP gain, of 7.6 percent, of all TPP members if it were to join. Only Vietnam is projected to benefit more, with a 13.6 percent boost to GDP.

To join the TPP, Yingluck would have to work hard at home to build support for the regional trade grouping. The Thai parliament would have to approve Bangkok’s decision to join in advance of negotiations. and Yingluck would have to overcome considerable Thai business and domestic opposition to free trade agreements. Thailand and the United States began bilateral free trade talks in 2004, but they became bogged down, with Thai protestors even burning the U.S. lead negotiator in effigy, before the 2006 coup prompted the United States to formally withdraw from the negotiations. A visit by the prime minister would give the U.S. administration the opportunity to explore in depth what it would take to prepare Thailand to join the TPP.

A White House meeting would also provide an opening to explore new avenues for Thai-U.S. cooperation in third countries. The Thailand International Development Cooperation Agency recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development to do joint assistance projects in third countries.

When U.S. regulations prevented the United States from paying for flights for several military health experts from Myanmar to come to Bangkok for a meeting in late August to discuss health concerns like the growing incidence of drug-resistant malaria in Myanmar, the Thais quietly agreed to pick up the tab. Thailand can also fund the participation of Myanmar police officials in training opportunities at the State Department-supported International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, where police from Myanmar could participate in classes on topics like rule of law and border control and combating human trafficking, narcotics, and terrorism.

A visit to Washington could be used to boost cooperation between the two countries on science and technology and also wildlife protection, an increasing priority of the Thai government and a topic raised repeatedly by Yingluck during her just-completed visit to Africa. The Thai Zoological Association and the U.S. Smithsonian Institution are slated to sign an agreement on wildlife conservation in Bangkok in August that is expected to include provisions on cooperating to help Myanmar develop its capabilities to tackle wildlife trafficking.

A meeting between Obama and Yingluck in Washington would give both countries an opportunity to celebrate this year’s anniversary of the United States’ oldest relationship in Asia, and to explore increased cooperation in many areas, including joint ventures in neighboring countries, politics and security, trade and investment, science and technology, and wildlife conservation. It is important that Washington send Yingluck an invitation for a meeting in the White House for later this year before she sets off on her next visit to China in late August.

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The Biweekly Update


United States to begin military engagement with Myanmar. U.S. ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell announced on August 1 that the United States will begin limited military engagement with Myanmar’s armed forces by the end of August. Cooperation will focus on human rights, humanitarian issues, and officer professionalization. Renewed U.S. military ties with Myanmar follow similar moves by Australia, India, and the United Kingdom. The United States maintains restrictions on financial transactions with several top Myanmar military leaders and an embargo against arms sales to the country.

Controversial pipeline begins delivering gas to China. A highly anticipated pipeline running from China’s Yunnan Province to Myanmar’s coast on the Bay of Bengal began pumping natural gas to China on July 28. Officials on both sides praised the $14.2 million project, a joint venture between China National Petroleum Corporation and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, for its benefits to both countries’ energy sectors. The Chinese government has long pushed for the project to help meet its energy demands, diversify its gas supply, and give it an alternative to the highly trafficked Strait of Malacca. Activists have criticized alleged human rights abuses committed during the pipeline’s construction and the lack of compensation for displaced villagers.

Government appoints new energy minister in cabinet reshuffle. The Myanmar government reassigned 4 ministers and 10 deputy ministers and accepted the resignation of 2 deputy ministers in a major cabinet reshuffle on July 25. Changes included the reassignment of former minister of rail transportation Zeya Aung to be the head of the Ministry of Energy, considered one of the most powerful cabinet positions. The reshuffle is the second since the civilian government nominally assumed power in March 2011; the first took place in September 2012.

Suspended copper mine project to resume with larger profits for Myanmar. Myanmar announced on July 26 that work will resume on the controversial Chinese-run Letpadaung copper mine under new contract terms by the end of September. Officials said the new contract will increase the government’s share of profits to 51 percent, up from a previous 16.8 percent held by the military-owned Union and Myanmar Economic Holdings. The government-appointed Letpadaung Investigation Commission, led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, recommended in March that the project continue following wide-scale protests, but that the contract be renegotiated. Local communities claim they have faced rights abuses and unfair compensation for the displaced during the mine’s construction.

Lower House speaker Shwe Mann assumes leadership of Parliament. Lower House speaker Shwe Mann assumed leadership of both houses of Parliament on July 31, taking over from outgoing Upper House speaker Khin Aung Mying. Shwe Mann’s first speech in the position, which rotates between the speakers of the upper and lower houses every two years, focused on addressing communal and religious violence. The move will further raise Shwe Mann’s political influence and profile. The speaker confirmed in June that he plans to run for president in Myanmar’s 2015 national elections.

Parliament approves anticorruption bill despite presidential opposition. Myanmar’s Parliament on July 26 approved an anticorruption bill following a year of legislative review. The bill establishes an anticorruption commission and requires all government officials to declare their assets. The approved bill also requires members of the anticorruption commission to declare their assets, a provision President Thein Sein has opposed. Watchdog group Transparency International ranks Myanmar one of the most corrupt states in the world.


President Sang announces comprehensive partnership during Washington visit. Presidents Truong Tan Sang and Barack Obama announced an agreement to form a U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership following a July 25 meeting at the White House. The partnership will create mechanisms for cooperation in areas including political and diplomatic relations, trade and economic ties, science and technology, education and training, environment and health, defense and security, and protection and promotion of human rights. Sang followed his meeting at the White House with a speech to the CSIS Banyan Tree Leadership Forum. He is just the second president of Vietnam to visit Washington since the 1995 normalization of relations.

Government bans information sharing on social media. A decree signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and made public on July 31 bans the sharing of “general information” through social media in Vietnam. The decree mandates that blogs and social media Web sites contain only personal information. Social media users will only be allowed to post news they legally own and will not be allowed to quote, gather, or summarize information from the press or government Web sites, according to Broadcasting and Electronic Information Department director Hoang Vinh Bao. The ban will take effect on September 1. The implications of this ruling for foreign companies like Google and Facebook are not yet known.

Appeals court finds shrimp farmer guilty. The People’s Supreme Court of Vietnam on July 30 upheld the conviction of shrimp famer-turned-popular hero Doan Van Vuon for attempted murder. Vuon was arrested for planting mines and firing makeshift guns at hundreds of police and soldiers attempting to evict his family from their shrimp farm near the northern city of Haiphong. Vuon and three family members have been sentenced to five years in jail, while two other family members received reduced sentences. Vuon’s lawyer, Tran Vu Hai, said that the court’s decision was biased.

Vietnamese, Singaporean legislatures strengthen ties. Vietnamese National Assembly vice chairman Huynh Ngoc Son visited Singapore on July 29–30 to discuss legislative cooperation with Singaporean Parliament speaker Halimah Yacob. The two officials agreed on closer cooperation between their two legislative bodies and pledged to strengthen coordination at the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly. Son’s delegation also met with senior Singaporean officials, including Senior Minister of State Chan Chun Sing and Permanent Secretary Chan Yeng Kit.


Opposition doubles parliamentary seats in national elections. Cambodia’s National Election Commission has said preliminary results indicate the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won the country’s July 28 national elections with the slimmest margin in 15 years. Results suggest the CPP garnered 68 parliamentary seats and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won the remaining 55, nearly doubling the 29 it previously held. The CNRP retracted an initial claim of victory but has refused to accept the results, alleging widespread fraud. Official election results are expected by the end of August.

International groups, opposition call for election investigation amid fraud allegations. The United States, the European Union, and several international rights groups have joined calls by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to investigate allegations of fraud during the July 28 national elections. Numerous allegations of voting irregularities have surfaced since the contest, including inflated voter rolls, duplicate ballots, and the turning away of voters due to ballots already cast in their names. Talks between the CNRP and ruling Cambodian People’s Party collapsed after the National Election Committee rejected the opposition’s request to invite the United Nations to mitigate the dispute.

Court opens hearings against deputy opposition leader over genocide denial. A Phnom Penh municipal court began hearings in late July against opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha. A Khmer Rouge genocide survivor is suing Kem Sokha for allegedly saying that Vietnam staged the infamous Tuol Sleng prison during the Khmer Rouge rule. Kem Sokha has not accepted three summonses to appear in court and his spokesman said he is not concerned about the hearing. Parliament approved a law on June 7 criminalizing the denial of genocide following the alleged remarks.


Rupiah closes at its lowest level since 2009. The rupiah closed at 10,222 to the dollar on July 23, according to Bank Indonesia, its lowest level since July 2009. The currency rose slightly to 10,285 to the dollar as of August 3, but has depreciated by about 5.7 percent in 2013. It is the fourth-worst-performing Asia Pacific currency of the year due largely to an outflow of U.S. dollars by foreign firms and investors attempting to repatriate profits made in the Indonesian market.

Vice President Boediono could face charges in Bank Century bailout case. Vice President Boediono could face charges because of a letter he allegedly wrote to Bank Indonesia officials in November 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis, instructing them to approve a loan for the ineligible Bank Century. Anti-graft investigators confirmed on July 22 that the bailout of the bank hinged on the loan ordered by Boediono. They said he might have been motivated to save Bank Century because of its politically connected depositors.

Pirate attacks increase by 50 percent since 2012. Forty-three pirate attacks were reported in Indonesian waters in the first half of 2013, up 50 percent from the first half of 2012. The number is alarming considering that global pirate attacks have fallen from 177 to 138 during the same period. Experts say that the increase is due to the relocation of pirates who are attracted to the coastal mangrove forests and shallow estuaries of Indonesia’s islands. Multilateral efforts by Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia to address pirate attacks have had mixed results.

Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization criticizes hardline group. Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, said on July 29 that the government should punish the hardline Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) for raids it has made on bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and other allegedly immoral establishments during Ramadan. The latest raid by FPI members led to a car chase with local residents on July 18 that ended with a pregnant woman being killed. That incident prompted Nadhlatul Ulama and other groups to break their usual silence about FPI’s actions and call for government action against the organization.

Boat carrying asylum seekers sinks near West Java. A boat carrying 204 Iranian, Iraqi, and Sri Lankan asylum seekers from the city of Jayanti, Indonesia, sank off the coast of West Java on July 23 en route to meet a larger ship that was to have carried the refugees to Australia. Authorities rescued 189 passengers, but 15 were reported dead. The asylum seekers would not have been allowed to settle in Australia, but would have been resettled in Papua New Guinea under a new policy announced by Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd.


UMNO elections scheduled for October 5. Prime Minister Najib Razak, president of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), announced on July 27 that elections for party leadership will be held on October 5. An amendment to the party constitution will allow approximately 150,000 grassroots party members to vote for top party posts for the first time, rather than just the 2,600 delegates who were allowed to vote in previous elections. Party leaders have urged members not to challenge Najib for the party presidency or Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Hassin for the vice presidency. The elections will be closely watched as an indicator of party support for Najib and his agenda following UMNO’s historically narrow victory in the May 5 national elections.

Japan and Malaysia to bolster economic and security ties. Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, pledged to bolster economic and security ties on July 25 during a two-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Making his third trip to Southeast Asia in just six months, Abe visited the Philippines and Singapore in addition to Malaysia. Both Japan and Malaysia are currently in maritime disputes with China, and Abe emphasized the importance of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea during his visit. Japan has been the largest foreign investor in Malaysia since 1980.

Veteran banker shot dead in Kuala Lumpur. Arab Malaysian Development Bank founder Hussain Ahmad Najadi was fatally shot on July 29 in Kuala Lumpur after leaving a meeting with a business partner. Police are searching for three suspects who are believed to be contract killers. The Bahrain-born Malaysian resident was a pioneer in linking Middle Eastern economies with those of Malaysia and ASEAN. He was chairman and CEO of AIAK Group, a corporate advisory firm he founded in Kuwait and later moved to Malaysia.

Malaysian pension fund to invest $660 million in European industrial real estate. Malaysian state pension fund Employees Provident Fund (EPF) plans to invest $660 million in high-yield German industrial property and French retail space, according to a July 25 report by Reuters. EPF will expand an existing partnership with Australia's Goodman Group Pty Ltd. for its German investments. The world's sixth-largest pension fund holds $160 billion in assets and is seeking higher dividends abroad in what will be its first-ever Eurozone investment.

Malaysian ringgit hits lowest level in three years. Malaysia's ringgit has fallen to its lowest level in three years, trading at 3.26 to the U.S dollar on August 3. The drop is due in part to an exodus of foreign funds after Malaysia's $2.9 billion in sovereign debt matured on July 30. Fitch Ratings downgraded Malaysia’s credit outlook from “stable” to “negative” the following day, warning about the slow pace of reform on urgent fiscal deficit issues, a shrinking trade surplus, and slowing economic growth. Global investment funds hold over 30 percent of Malaysia's sovereign debt, making it vulnerable to shifts in global investment.


Philippines, Japan review strategic partnership. President Benigno Aquino and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe met in Manila on July 27 to discuss the Philippines-Japan strategic partnership. The discussion centered on Japan’s four main initiatives in the Philippines: economic aid, maritime cooperation, support for the Mindanao peace process, and boosting people-to-people exchanges. Abe announced that Japan will provide a concessional loan for the Philippines to build 10 coast guard patrol boats. Aquino emphasized that maritime cooperation is the “pillar” of the two countries’ strategic partnership.

Philippine, Vietnamese foreign ministers discuss bilateral cooperation. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario joined his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Binh Minh, in Manila on August 1 for the seventh meeting of the Philippines-Vietnam Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation. The ministers pledged to develop a robust bilateral relationship and discussed cooperative initiatives in defense and security, maritime and ocean cooperation, trade and investment, and agriculture. They focused on the South China Sea disputes during their meeting and agreed to work closely to convince fellow ASEAN countries to expedite negotiations with China on a code of conduct for parties to the disputes.

Washington increases military assistance to Manila. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on July 31 that Washington has decided to increase its annual military assistance package to Manila from $30 million to about $50 million. The military aid will be allocated for acquisition and maintenance and may include a third Hamilton-class cutter warship for the Philippine navy, according to del Rosario. The United States has provided to the Philippines a total of $312 million in military aid as well as various types of military equipment since 2002.

Three reporters killed in the span of two days. Three journalists were gunned down in the Philippines during a 48-hour period on July 30–August 1, according to Reporters Without Borders. The methods by which Mario Sy, Bonifacio Loreto, and Richard Kho were killed suggest they were specifically targeted. Six reporters have been killed in the Philippines so far in 2013. The country is ranked 140 out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.


Government invokes security law to control protests. The Thai government implemented emergency measures in several districts of Bangkok on July 31 under its Internal Security Act, to contain anti-government protests that began on August 3. The security act grants Thai security forces the power to block roads, stop vehicles, impose a curfew, and ban large gatherings. Hundreds of demonstrators protested a government-backed amnesty bill that would acquit all those involved in political violence between the September 2006 coup and May 2012. Government opponents fear that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government will manipulate the bill to facilitate the return of Yingluck’s brother, ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to Thailand. Parliament started hearings on the bill on August 7.

Oil spill reaches Thailand’s beach resorts, affecting tourism. Oil from a July 27 spill at a PTT Global Chemical facility in Rayong Province has reached the resort beaches of Koh Samet Island. Rayong Tourist Association chairman Chairat Trirattanajarasporn said that the cost to Thailand’s tourism sector could reach $32 million if the spill is not fully contained. He said that 15 to 20 percent of advanced bookings to the island have been cancelled and called on PTT to compensate hotels that are affected. Concerns also abound that the spill will harm Thailand’s fish and shrimp industries, which feed both the local and export markets.

Parliament set to approve $64 billion megaprojects bill. Parliament is expected to approve a bill by the end of 2013 allowing the government to borrow $63.8 billion to upgrade Thailand’s infrastructure, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong. Bank of Thailand governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said that investments in infrastructure would strengthen the country’s long-term economic growth. Thailand’s public debt is set to increase to 60 percent of GDP after the bill is enacted. Kittiratt expects the infrastructure projects to be completed by 2020.

Thaksin calls for unity in birthday speech. Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on July 26 called on Thais to unite and reconcile their differences for the sake of the country. Thaksin, who was celebrating his 64th birthday in Beijing, made the remarks via a phone-in address to supporters and an online video posted by his son on YouTube. Some political observers viewed his remarks as an attempt to drum up support for a government-backed amnesty bill that will be heard in Parliament on August 7.

King leaves hospital for seaside palace. Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej was released from Siriraj Hospital on August 1 after nearly four years of treatment for a lung infection and other ailments. His wife, Queen Sirikit, was also released after being treated for a suspected stroke at the same hospital since July 2012. The rulers were greeted by cheering crowds as they traveled in a royal van from Bangkok to their seaside palace in Hua Hin, south of the capital, where they will remain accompanied by doctors and nurses.

South China Sea

U.S. Senate approves resolution on sea disputes. The U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution on August 29 calling for a peaceful resolution to the disputes in the East and South China Seas. It also urged claimants to establish a code of conduct to avoid conflict. Senators Robert Menendez, Marco Antonio Rubio, and Ben Cardin filed the resolution. China’s Foreign Ministry said on August 1 that it has lodged a formal complaint against the passage of the resolution with the U.S. government.

China commissions new frigate for South China Sea fleet. China’s navy held a ceremony on July 30 officially commissioning a new-generation light guided missile frigate, the Meizhou, for the country’s South China Sea fleet. The frigate, which was independently developed by China, integrates many types of weaponry and equipment, and features quality stealth performance and information integration. As part of the fleet, it is responsible for carrying out offshore operations, patrol and surveillance, fishing and fishery resources protection, and antisubmarine operations.

U.S. surveillance planes patrol South China Sea. Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario on July 31 confirmed a Kyodo News report that U.S. P-3C Orion maritime aircraft have been conducting intelligence monitoring activities in the South China Sea. The report revealed information from a classified government document stating that reconnaissance flights have been focused on the Second Thomas Shoal, a Philippine-occupied feature that has been repeatedly approached by Chinese naval and civilian vessels in recent months. The U.S. Navy conducts periodic surveillance for maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea as part of existing provisions in the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty, according to del Rosario.

Biden says United States seeks quick negotiations on code of conduct. U.S. vice president Joseph Biden told Bloomberg on July 27 that the United States has been actively engaged in urging China and ASEAN to promptly negotiate a code of conduct for the South China Sea. Biden gave the interview while wrapping up a six-day trip to India and Singapore. He added that it is in the United States’ and China’s interests to see a code of conduct reached. Biden is the third senior U.S. official to visit Southeast Asia in 2013, following trips by Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.


Biden meets with Prime Minister Lee during visit. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and U.S. vice president Joseph Biden discussed the need for South China Sea claimants to quickly reach agreement on a code of conduct and both nations’ desire to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement by the end of 2013 during Biden’s July 26–27 visit to Singapore. Biden also met with former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was visiting the city-state at the same time. The vice president visited a factory to underscore the benefits of trade and spoke to U.S. sailors aboard the littoral combat ship USS Freedom.

Cartoonist accused of sedition will not be charged. Prosecutors in Singapore said on July 29 that Leslie Chew, a cartoonist accused of sedition due to racial and religious issues raised in his online comic strip, will not be charged. Chew was released on April 21 pending possible prosecution under Singapore’s Sedition Act, which carries a maximum three-year sentence and a nearly $4,000 fine for first-time offenders. Government officials claim the law is crucial in managing tensions in the ethnically diverse city-state, but human rights groups say it curtails political dissent.

Work-related accidents, diseases cost more than $10 billion in one year. Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health Institute released a report on July 30 based on statistics from 2011 showing that the cost of workplace accidents and diseases that year was $2.6 billion and rose to $10.5 billion when lifetime costs were included. Minister of State for Manpower and Health Amy Khor said she hoped the study would convince businesses of the benefits of improving health and safety regulations for workers.

Miami lawyer tapped to become new ambassador to Singapore. President Barack Obama on July 27 nominated Miami trial lawyer Kirk Wagar to be the next U.S. ambassador to Singapore, and Wagar was confirmed by Congress five days later. Wagar ran the Florida finance operation for Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns and was among the president’s earliest and most outspoken supporters. Obama also nominated three career diplomats between July 23 and 30 to fill ambassadorships in Southeast Asia: Robert Blake for Indonesia, Dan Clune for Laos, and Philip Goldberg for the Philippines. Clune was confirmed on August 1.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

Latest round of TPP negotiations concludes in Malaysia. The 18th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations concluded on July 25 in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, with Japan taking part for the first time during the last two days of talks. Officials from participant countries reported making substantial progress and reiterated their commitment to concluding the overall agreement by the end of 2013. The next round of TPP talks is scheduled to be held in Brunei from August 22 to 30.

Obama asks Congress to renew Trade Promotion Authority. President Barack Obama on July 30 said that his administration has asked Congress to grant it Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA bars Congress from amending or filibustering economic agreements negotiated by the administration and allows them to be passed with a simple majority. TPA, which last expired in 2007, is considered essential to the administration's goal of quickly concluding and passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Obama's call to renew TPA came just days before the start of Congress's month-long summer recess.


Government confirms plans under way for second major Mekong dam. A Ministry of Energy and Mining official confirmed that the Lao government has begun clearing land and collecting data to begin construction on the controversial Don Sahong dam, according to a July 31 Radio Free Asia report. The project is the second major dam along the Mekong River in Laos, along with the Xayaburi dam currently under construction. Environmental groups have criticized both projects, citing serious concerns about the dams’ impact on livelihoods and biodiversity both in Laos and in downstream countries.

Laos, Thailand to resume border talks after six-year suspension. The Thai Foreign Ministry announced in late July that Thailand and Laos will reconvene the Thai-Lao Joint Boundary Commission on August 15–16 in Bangkok. The two sides will discuss strategies to complete the demarcation of their border and the possibility of opening additional checkpoints along the 500-mile boundary. Disagreements over the border halted previous attempts at demarcation, which have been suspended since 2007.


ASEAN countries top global consumer confidence report. Indonesia and the Philippines topped the global consumer confidence list in the second quarter of 2013, according to the Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions released on July 24. The survey gauges consumers' economic outlook and confidence in the job market, the status of their personal finances, and their readiness to spend. Thailand and Malaysia ranked within the top 10. Global consumer confidence overall slowly improved from the first quarter of 2013, according to the report.


Foreign minister denies forceful expulsion of asylum seeker boat. Foreign Minister Jose Luis Guterres has denied claims that police forcefully expelled a disabled Australia-bound boat carrying Rohingya asylum seekers from Myanmar in early July when it landed in Timor-Leste, according to a July 30 report by Australia Network News. A spokesman for the refugees contends that the group requested asylum but was forcefully pushed away. Guterres acknowledged Timor-Leste's obligations as a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention but said that no one in the group requested asylum.


New regulation bans daytime dining in Muslim-owned restaurants during Ramadan. The Brunei Islamic Religious Council on July 25 issued a ban prohibiting daytime dining in restaurants or fast-food outlets owned by Muslims during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that ends on August 7. The regulation, which also applies to non-Muslims, is meant to show respect to Muslims who are fasting during the day. Non-Muslims are allowed to order carryout food to eat elsewhere. Muslim-owned restaurants have reportedly lost between 5 and 40 percent of business since the law was enacted.


Labor unions lobby for worker’s rights to be discussed at APEC summit. A delegation from the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICTU) met with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on July 29 to urge him to include workers’ rights on the agenda for the October 7–8 APEC summit in Bali. ICTU secretary general Sharan Burrow said that labor issues should be on the agenda because “economic growth is in the interests of both workers and businesses.”

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Looking Ahead

A discussion on a career in building democracy. CSIS will host a roundtable discussion on August 15 with Gordon West, vice president for RTI’s International Development Group, on his experiences supporting development in Asia through democracy and governance-strengthening measures. His experience includes fieldwork supporting democratic reforms in Indonesia and promoting economic growth, good governance, and reliable infrastructure in a number of Southeast Asian countries. The event will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. in CSIS’s Fourth Floor Conference Room, 1800 K St., NW. Please click here to RSVP.

A lecture on the Indonesian revolution. The U.S.-Indonesia Society will host a lecture August 15 on the 1945–1949 Indonesian revolution. Eric Tagliacozzo, history professor at Cornell University, will speak on the origins of Indonesian nationalism, the Japanese occupation, the political movements opposed to colonialism and their roots, and the turbulent years of the creation of the Indonesian nation. The event will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The venue has not yet been announced. Please RSVP here by noon on August 14

Hanoi’s road to the Vietnam War. The Wilson Center will host a panel on September 25 to explore the internal debates and other elements that shaped Hanoi's strategy in the decade preceding U.S. military intervention in Vietnam. The panel will feature Pierre Asselin, associate professor of history at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu; Shawn F. McHale, associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University; and John Prados, head of the National Security Archive's Vietnam and Intelligence Documentation Projects. The event will be held from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 6th floor. Click here to RSVP.

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Murray Hiebert
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program

Noelan Arbis