Southeast Asia From Seat 12C
March 22, 2010
- Messy Democracy & Economic Growth
- President Obama delays Indonesia, Australia Trip to June
- US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke speaks on US Indonesia Trade at CSIS
- AUSTR Barbara Weisel leads US team to initial TPP negotiations in Oz
- USTR says APEC Trade Ministerial will be in Baucus’ Big Sky Montana in 2011
- Singapore’s DPM & Minister of Defense defines new geostrategic realities in Asia at CSIS
- State’s Kurt Campbell wraps up 10 days in ASEAN
- US Malaysia ties “on the verge of substantial improvement”
- Malaysia prepares to unveil New Economic Model to succeed New Economic Policy
- Protests continue beyond one week mark in Thailand
- Limits on Chinese Influence in ASEAN – Vice Premier visits Laos
- ASEAN Economies recover as politics provide drama
- New US Ambassadors to Singapore & the Philippines Confirmed
- Obama nominee to lead OPIC testifies to Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Upcoming programs – Prime Minister Abhisit of Thailand & Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia to speak at CSIS
- CSIS Asia Team doing major study on the politics of climate change in Asia
Democracy can be messy and this week proved the point. In Washington, Democrats on Capitol Hill once again convinced President Obama to delay his Asia trip to try to push health care across the finish line. In Thailand, red shirt protesters extended their protests in Bangkok and other major cities calling on Prime Minister Abhisit and the government to take the country back to the ballot box. The Philippines continued election-mania pushing toward the May 10 national vote, while Malaysians politicians jousted in Parliament. Vietnam has remained quiet on the surface, belying the intense politicking going on inside the Vietnam Communist Party as the 11th Party Congress approaches early next year. In Burma, election rules were mooted and then promptly protested as inadequate by many observers – and still no date set. Indonesia exhaled as its legislature, the DPR departed for a recess and on the news that President Obama wouldn’t arrive until June. And finally, down under, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd found his numbers at their lowest since taking office and perhaps hoping for an “Obama boost” from his fellow wonk from Washington.
While politics roil and flail, economic growth seems to be climbing back onto the stage and key economic indicators from Washington to Jakarta to Bangkok showed promising signs of spring-like rebirth.
The Week That Was
- The big news this week was President Obama postponing his Asia trip one more time. This time until June when health care, dead or alive, will be part of his legacy. In CSIS commentary -- http://csis.org/publication/strike-two-postponement-obama-trip-indonesia-australia -- I explained that the President gets a pass on his “second strike” from Indonesia and Australia who were both under intense pressure manufacture deliverables in a compressed time frame. The important challenge now for officials in Washington, Jakarta and Canberra is to sustain the momentum and seize the opportunity of the June trip.
- In their zeal to ensure the President’s travels extended only as far as Ohio, Democratic leaders made the mistake of questioning the value of the Commander and Chief’s visiting Indonesia and Australia. We took that question on directly with these Critical Questions which were sprayed on Capitol Hill like an extinguisher on the first flickers of a curtain fire -- “Obama’s Trip to Indonesia & Australia” http://csis.org/publication/obamas-trip-guam-indonesia-and-australia-march-21%E2%80%9326.
- In preparation for the trip, the Obama Administration’s trade team began to the case to Americans that Asia = Growth = Jobs. The tip of the spear was US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke who spoke to CSIS on St. Patrick’s Day on “Emerging Opportunities in US – Indonesia Trade”. Watch, listen to or read his remarks here http://csis.org/event/statesmens-forum-gary-locke-united-states-secretary-commerce.
- USTR’s Assistant USTR for Southeast Asia Barbara Weisel led a team of US negotiators to Melbourne, Australia for the initial round of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks from March 15-19. Observers reported that the discussions were very productive and set the platform for progress, including rumors of a mechanism to allow additional countries to join the talks. http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/press-releases/2010/march/ustr-negotiators-report-successful-first-round-trans.
- In a further sign the AHC (After Health Care) era would include a presidential commitment to take the trade message to the country, USTR took the clever step to announce that Montana – home of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus – would host the APEC Trade Ministerial talks on the week of May 23, 2011. The US will host the APEC Summit in Hawaii in November 2011 as well as other related senior official and ministerial meetings. http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/press-releases/2010/march/ustr-names-big-sky-montana-site-2011-apec-trade-mini
- Singapore’s impressive Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Defense Teo Chee Hean spoke at CSIS and argued that the financial crisis accelerated a realignment of the geostrategic landscape pushing China and India into elevated global leadership roles. He challenged American colleagues to recognize this reality and step up to the challenge by intensifying substantive engagement in Asia and ASEAN. Read or listen to his remarks at CSIS here http://csis.org/event/luncheon-speech-honorable-teo-chee-hean-deputy-prime-minister-minister-defense-republic-singap .
Obama’s diplomatic equivalent of the Special Forces, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, spent ten days moving around ASEAN to prepare the ground for the President’s arrival. I counted six countries on his itinerary – Malaysia, Laos, Brunei Darussalam, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan -- and the investment made won’t be lost on the trip delay. In Malaysia, Dr. Campbell said "US Malaysia relations are on the verge of substantial improvement," during his press briefing on March 10 ... http://www.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rm/2010/03/138007.htm
Having spent most of last week in KL, I believe Assistant Secretary Campbell is correct. The Malaysians are serious about moving forward with the US across a range of key areas including Iran, non proliferation and export controls, human trafficking, Afghanistan and last but not least joining the Trans Pacific Partnership. Malaysia is also about to unveil its New Economic Model, as reform based successor to the New Economic Policy. Details on the new model are not published yet, but leaders say it should allow Malaysia to participate in high quality trade agreements like TPP and hone the country’s competitiveness.
- In Thailand the red shirts extended their protests beyond one week with the resurgence this weekend described by the Straits Times as including over 120,000 protesters. Analysts argue that the red shirt movement is increasingly detaching from its focus on ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and looking at divisions in Thai society between rich and poor. However, red shirt leaders have thus far rejected offers from Prime Minister Abhisit to engage in talks with a condition that Thaksin is not on the table.
- In continuing efforts to firm up its influence over Mekong countries, China sent Vice Premier Hui Liangyu to Vientiane, Laos on Friday for talks about strengthening bilateral ties. China and Vietnam are competing for the position of Laos’ most trusted partner. The Chinese are expected to come bearing gifts including additional aid. However, the limiting factor in Chinese influence in Southeast Asia is ironically its geographic proximity to the region. No ASEAN nation, not even the Burmese, wants a big brother type relationship.
Regional economies continue to recover. Despite having protesters in the streets for over a week, Thailand’s SET was up 2% on the week. Indonesia is a big economy making the turn to strong growth. Behind its new elevated bond rating, Indonesia's macro outlook is strong http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/analysis/strong-economy-sets-stage-for-reforms-sri-mulyani/364566
The Week Ahead
A new US Ambassador to Singapore – lawyer and former State Senator David Adelman – was confirmed as was US Ambassador to the Philippines – career foreign service officer – Harry K. Thomas. Former JP Morgan banker Elizabeth Littlefield testified at her nomination hearing to become President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) -- http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/2010/LittlefieldTestimony100311p.pdf
- CSIS is planning to 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
- The CSIS Asia Team is conducting a major study on the politics of climate change in Asia. This is a unique undertaking to better understand the domestic political landscape for meaningful reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and the United States. The project will: 1) Map the terrain of the climate change debates in Asia’s major economies; 2) Incorporate unique industry analysis; 3) Identify issues that could complicate international negotiations; and 4) Highlight views toward regional cooperation in an edited volume detailing these aspects of the politics of climate change debate in Asia. Read more at http://csis.org/program/politics-climate-change-asia.
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