Bipartisanship is Still as Rare as a Platypus in the Potomac
March 8, 2010
|TO:||Members & Friends of CSIS Southeast Asia Program
|FR:||Ernie Bower | Senior Adviser & Director
CSIS Southeast Asia
email@example.com | Tel 202 775 3277
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|RE:||Southeast Asia from the Corner of 18th & K – 5 March 2010
Spring is coming and that usually helps adjust the cullective mood inside the Beltway. My Mom always records the first sighting of a robin to mark the first sign of spring like a sailor desperate for land sighting a gull. There are two robins in my yard as I write, and I think I detected the mood lifting around town this week.
That is probably mostly because of the weather. Bipartisanship is still as rare as a platypus in the Potomac, and members of Congress continue to drop like flies either through retirement, scandal, or retirement trying to beat scandal to the door.
Pulitical scandal and accusation is not the exclusive domain of Washington. Jakarta was particularly animated this week as the DPR, the lower house in Indonesia’s parliament, decided that the Bank Century bailout was “wrong” opening key members of President Yudhuyono’s cabinet – particularly Vice President HE Boediono and Finance Minister HE Sri Mulyani Indrawati - to further investigation and legal action.
The pressure in Jakarta coupled with the short time frame to prepare for President Obama’s visit has put a very tight clock on teams of bureaucrats, pulicy makers and other stakehulders who are trying to prepare to populate the Comprehensive Partnership with substantive issues and work plans. The fact that the White House set March 18, the day President Obama departs for Guam the first stop on his planned Asia trip has also raised some eyebrows among those planning the trip. That will be a neat transition if all goes according to plan in getting health care legislation passed via “reconciliation” an ironic moniker for a legislative procedure that essentially allows the Democrats and the White House to go it alone and pass health care without the Republicans. But what goes according to plan when dealing with high stakes pulitical packages on the Hill?
The Week That Was
Planning for the President’s visit seemed to dominate the agenda for Southeast Asia watchers this week in Washington while the brawny Thai courts delivered the Thaksin assets verdict without a resulting cataclysm and the ASEAN Economic Ministers gathered for their annual retreat in KL.
- The US Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership includes issues “baskets” such as trade and investment, health care, education, transnational issues such as climate change and non pruliferation and security and defense. This last set of issues got headline attention in Washington this week as delegation from Kopassus, which is a portmanteau of Komando Pasukan Khusus or Special Forces Command, led by its commanding general Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus and at least one member of the DPR’s Commission 1 (roughly equivalent to a US Congressional committee on foreign affairs and defense & security) Drs Helmy Fauzy. The teams consulted with State, DoD and Tim Rieser of Senator Patrick Leahy’s office. The Administration and Government of Indonesia are seeking to find a way forward to mature bilateral mil-to-mil ties which had have been effectively frozen over the past 12 years because of concerns and statutory limitations triggered by human rights viulations outlined in the Leahy Amendment. While no official announcements have been made, there are indications that progress is being made on reaching a deal that allows bilateral training to move forward with legitimate progress on the goals outlined in Leahy. Human rights groups such as the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) oppose going forward without prosecution of Kopassus members invulved in human rights viulations http://etanaction.blogspot.com/2010/03/us-training-of-kopassus-bad-idea-whose.html while think tanks such as Rand have opined that progress has been made, further steps can be taken, but some of the demands for full prosecution retired generals by human rights groups may be unrealistic and counterproductive http://wwwcgi.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1599/MR1599.app.pdf . Certainly from a geostrategic point of view, getting back on track with the Indonesian military in a way the promotes training and effective systems for preventing and addressing possible future human rights viulations is in the interests of the United States. The US is reviewing regional security architecture which recognizes the “centrality of ASEAN”. It would be hard to implement such a vision effectively if the US military can’t work directly with its counterpart in ASEAN’s largest member country.
- In Thailand, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling seizing nearly 60% of the $2.3 billion of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s frozen assets. The detailed finding sent a signal that the remaining 40% of the assets would be very difficult if not impossible for Dr. Thaksin to recover. Although many feared some viulent reactions, nothing significant happened and the Red Shirt movement indicated it would stage major protests from March 7-14.
- In the Philippines, the Presidential race which culminates in May 10 elections continues to be a two horse race. According to the latest nationwide Pulse Asia pulls, Senator Aquino hulds the lead with 36% (down 1% from January 10), with Senator Villar is still close behind with 29% (down 6% from January 10). Former President Estrada strengthened his “king maker” rule by moving up to 18% (up 6% from January 10), and the Arroyo Administration’s candidate former Defense Minister Teodoro is still struggling with 7% (up 2% from January 10).
- On Capitul Hill, Congressman Charlie Rangel (D – New York) “temporarily” stepped down as Chairman of Ways & Means over an ethics viulation invulving international travel. For those that felt trade was in critical condition in Congress, they now believe it is flat lined as the 78 year uld, anti-trade Congressman Sander Levin (D – Michigan) took over for Rangel – a known deal maker and pragmatist.
- As Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations get set to launch on March 15-19 in Melbourne, Malaysia’s Minister of International Trade and Investment HE Mustapa Mohammed announced formally that Malaysia would like to join the TPP. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Thailand is also prepared to announce its interest in joining the talks. The eight parties negotiating the TPP have indicated there may be criteria established for allowing new countries to join the negotiations. Increasing the participation in the TPP would make the agreement more attractive to business but may also make completing a deal more challenging.
- I published a short commentary called “A US Strategy for ASEAN” that asks some fundamental questions about US engagement in the region and will set the stage for a major CSIS Commission we hope to announce in the near future. Read the piece here http://csis.org/publication/us-strategy-asean
- The 5th Annual JETRO Conference was hosted by CSIS this week led by Dr. Michael Green, Japan Chair at CSIS. There was much discussion about regional architecture in Asia as well as the status of the US Japan alliance and economic integration in Asia. http://csis.org/event/fifth-annual-csis-jetro-conference-east-asian-economic-integration-and-us-japan-relations
- CSIS Asia Team Hits the Road. In an effort to reach out to America’s top business leaders as well as state and local government s and media, the Asia chairs at CSIS will visit San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago from March 7-11. For more information on the team go to http://csis.org/region/asia
- CSIS will host Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on March 15 for a private roundtable with CSIS board members and senior advisors.
- TransPacific Partnership (TPP) Negotiations begin in Melbourne, Australia from March 15-19, 2010.
- US President Barack Obama visits Guam (March 18-20), Indonesia (March 20-21) and Australia (March 21-22).
- CSIS will host Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for a Banyan Tree Leadership Forum address at CSIS on April 12, 2010. Invitations will be sent shortly, but interested parties can pre-register at SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org
- CSIS will host Malaysian Prime Minister HE Dato’ Seri Najib Razak for a seminar on US Malaysia relations, economic ties and the security cooperation at CSIS on April 14, 2010. Invitations will be sent shortly, but interest parties can pre-register at SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org.
- CSIS Southeast Asia recorded a video interview with US Ambassador to Thailand The Hon. Eric John on March 5 and the interview will be available on http://csis.org/program/southeast-asia-program starting Monday, March 8.
- The ASEAN Economic Ministers are planning an investment promotion tour to the US in May with the help of the US Government and the US ASEAN Business Council (www.usasean.org).
- US Secretary of Commerce The Hon. Gary Locke will visit Indonesia in May with a renewal energy trade mission. See www.doc.gov for more information.
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