Southeast Asia from the Corner of 18th and K Streets: Who Is Xi?

  • Volume III | Issue 3 | 16th February, 2012
    Feb 16, 2012

    Earlier this week, China’s vice president Xi Jinping arrived in Washington for a high level visit. To some, Xi—and China—mean everything to the United States. These observers view Asia’s risks and opportunities through the China prism. This narrow Sino-centric perspective is not strategic, however, nor is it practical. Understanding China, its rise, and what it wants to be is a core requirement for a successful and enduring U.S. approach to Asia, but it is not the whole game.

    In fact, a balanced approach to Asia takes China into account but puts emphasis on other key relationships such as U.S. treaty allies in the region (Australia, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand), strategic partners such as India and Singapore, and comprehensive partnerships such as with Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam.

    Deepening ties across the Asia Pacific is hard work, and it will take time, dedicated resources, and a retooling of U.S. foreign policy, national security, and military infrastructure. It will also require a new political script in the United States, one in which the leader of this country makes the case for Asia’s primary role in the United States’ economic and security future. America needs to begin to relate to Asia—not only politically from Washington, or financially from New York, or culturally from San Francisco and Los Angeles: it must connect at its center. Americans need leaders who can explain why Asia is fundamentally important to U.S. jobs, savings, economic growth, and security.

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    The Week That Was

    • United States partially lifts sanctions on Myanmar
    • Rumors of Thai coup persist despite military denials
    • CSIS hosts “The Singapore Conference @ CSIS”

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    Looking Ahead

    • Lecture on political change in Myanmar February 23
    • Second lecture in the TPP Speaker Series at CSIS February 28
    • Pacific Energy Summit in Hanoi March 20–22

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    WHO IS XI?

    By Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser & Director, Southeast Asia Program, CSIS

    Earlier this week, China’s vice president Xi Jinping arrived in Washington for a high level visit. To some, Xi—and China—mean everything to the United States. These observers view Asia’s risks and opportunities through the China prism. This narrow Sino-centric perspective is not strategic, however, nor is it practical. Understanding China, its rise, and what it wants to be is a core requirement for a successful and enduring U.S. approach to Asia, but it is not the whole game.

    In fact, a balanced approach to Asia takes China into account but puts emphasis on other key relationships such as U.S. treaty allies in the region (Australia, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand), strategic partners such as India and Singapore, and comprehensive partnerships such as with Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam.

    Deepening ties across the Asia Pacific is hard work, and it will take time, dedicated resources, and a retooling of U.S. foreign policy, national security, and military infrastructure. It will also require a new political script in the United States, one in which the leader of this country makes the case for Asia’s primary role in the United States’ economic and security future. America needs to begin to relate to Asia—not only politically from Washington, or financially from New York, or culturally from San Francisco and Los Angeles: it must connect at its center. Americans need leaders who can explain why Asia is fundamentally important to U.S. jobs, savings, economic growth, and security.

    Xi may help. He is reportedly a more charismatic leader than his predecessor, Hu Jintao. He is going to spend time in Iowa, right in middle America. The best deliverable we can hope for from Xi’s trip is to set the foundation for the United States and China to begin to understand one another better. The United States and most of China’s neighbors have had cause recently to question China’s intentions and what path it will take. Over the last 20 years, its economic ascendance in Asia has been nothing short of breathtaking as it has moved from a more ideological country to a more confident and agile newly industrialized country with economic might to spare.

    As China began to test its newfound economic power—it had become the largest trading partner of most Asia-Pacific countries between the late 1990s and 2011—it triggered real concern by asserting its sovereign interests in Northeast Asia, in the South China Sea, and along its common border with India. Countries, including the United States, realized that China might want to test its new power in ways inimical to neighboring states.

    To manage this trend and convince China that it can grow, prosper, and answer existential questions such as how to manage its energy, food, and water security for the coming decades, the United States decided to join other Asia-Pacific countries in developing regional security and economic frameworks that will encourage China to use its seat at the table to make rules along with others, and to implement and live by those guidelines.

    This is emphatically not a containment strategy, as many in the media have suggested. No strategic planner with a solid grounding in history, geopolitics, or economics would believe that containment is a viable or constructive approach when it comes to China. Vice President Xi likely understands this very well already, but his American hosts will emphasize this point repeatedly during his visit.

    The United States’ friends around Asia will watch this visit closely. They do not want the United States and China to enter a period of confrontation or conflict. At the same time, they would also resist the concept of too close a U.S.-China relationship in which their needs and desires could be easily overlooked by a global condominium.

    An elite core of U.S. policymakers understands this strategy and the importance of the nuanced messaging needed around Xi’s visit. Current U.S. policy is to speak very directly to the Chinese, say what is meant, and follow through. U.S. officials believe this approach will provide strategic clarity to the Chinese, who are trying to understand what the Americans want.

    President Barack Obama’s proclaimed “pivot” back to Asia is widely misread in China, particularly by economic nationalists and military hawks who interpret the move as an American surge designed to slash Chinese power at its base, contain the country’s growth, and put at risk its access to energy, food, and water. This is not the United States’ design, and President Obama and U.S. leaders will need to make that clear to Vice President Xi—a man who could be China’s leader for up to a decade.

    At the same time, China must step forward and convince the United States that it does not intend to use its new economic power and growing military capabilities to force smaller neighbors to bend to new interpretations of sovereign territory. China must convince the rest of Asia and the world that it realizes it can become a major power by playing by rules that it makes along with the rest of the world. It must demonstrate that it can achieve its security goals—including long-term supplies of vital inputs—through a rules-based market system.

    Xi’s visit means much to China and to the United States. Deepening mutual understanding, or at least setting a foundation for advancing that goal, will define success in this visit. That outcome is also very important to other countries in the Asia Pacific because enhanced understanding, transparency, and cooperation is the only road to a twenty-first century characterized by peace and prosperity.

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    The Week That Was

    Myanmar

    Aung San Suu Kyi’s by-election candidacy approved. Myanmar’s Election Commission February 6 officially approved opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s candidacy for the country’s April by-elections. Suu Kyi had to postpone her first campaign trip to Mandalay February 2 because the venue offered by local officials was too small. But her second campaign trip to the Irrawaddy Delta February 7, her first visit there in two decades, attracted a huge turnout.

    United States partially lifts sanctions on Myanmar. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton on February 6 signed a partial waiver of restrictions imposed on Myanmar under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The waiver, which runs through September, will allow assessment missions and limited technical assistance in Myanmar by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Myanmar was sanctioned under the TVPA after receiving a Tier 3 ranking, the worst possible, on the State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report.

    Report says Myanmar remains worst place for investors. British risk analysis group Maplecroft issued a report February 8 saying Myanmar has the world’s worst legal system for doing business, retaining the position it has held for the last five years despite recent reforms. The report serves as a warning to foreign investors attracted by the prospects of Western sanctions against the country being lifted. Other poor performers on the annual ranking of 197 countries included North Korea and Afghanistan, but the report singled out Myanmar for posing “significant operational and strategic risks.”

    Myanmar mulls civil service pay hike. The speaker of Myanmar’s Lower House, Shwe Mann, proposed a rise in civil service wages February 7 to combat widespread graft. Shwe Mann said pay for government workers, including teachers, police, and soldiers, was not enough to cover "basic daily expenses." As a result, many resort to asking for small bribes to survive. The raise, which will be debated by the parliament, is expected to come into effect on April 1, the same day that the country holds by-elections.

    Myanmar rebel group denies cease-fire agreement. Three weeks after Myanmar announced a cease-fire with the Karen National Union (KNU), leaders of the prominent rebel group on February 3 denied signing the cease-fire, saying further discussions are needed. KNU officials said the about-face reflects disagreement within the organization. The government meanwhile signed an initial cease-fire February 2 with the New Mon State Party and held preliminary talks February 5–6 with several armed groups, including the Karenni National Progressive Party, and February 9 with the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front.

    Myanmar reveals foreign debt figures. Myanmar February 2 revealed it owes a higher-than-estimated $11 billion in foreign debt. Officials said $8.4 billion of the external debt was run up between 1962 and 1988 under the socialist administration of General Ne Win. Japan was Myanmar's biggest creditor with loans of $6.4 billion. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank were also big creditors. Myanmar has started talks on the debt with several countries and institutions.

    Indonesia

    GDP grew 6.5 percent in 2011. Indonesia’s GDP grew 6.5 percent in 2011, up from 6.2 percent in 2010 and higher than any year since before the Asian financial crisis of 1997, according to statistics released February 6. Demand for exports was slightly dampened by the European financial crisis, but Indonesia is weathering the economic climate better than its Asian neighbors are, thanks to strong commodity exports and domestic demand. The government hopes to see GDP growth hit 6.7 percent in 2012, with new infrastructure projects fueled by a recent upgrading of the government’s credit rating by two international credit rating agencies.

    Organized labor strikes disrupt production near Jakarta. About 20,000 workers in the Jakarta suburb of Bekasi walked out of factories and protested January 27, blocking a major thoroughfare. Some reports indicated there was a nationalist or racist element to the protest, possibly aimed at the Korean owners of many of the factories in the area. More than $4.5 billion of goods per year are manufactured in the Bekasi industrial estates, driving Indonesia’s exports, but workers there receive some of the lowest wages in the region.

    Indonesia delivers its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty instrument of ratification to the UN. Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa deposited the legislature’s ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty terms with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon February 6. The treaty requires ratification by eight more nuclear-capable states (out of 44) before coming into force. Indonesia has pressed hard for nuclear disarmament in the international community in recent years and is eager to finalize negotiations to create a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

    Government plans to peg fuel subsidies to market prices. Indonesian finance minister Agus Martowardojo said February 9 the government will consider alternative schemes to shrink the cost of fuel subsidies. The announcement came in response to criticism of a plan to restrict the use of subsidized fuel to motorbikes starting April 1. The government currently subsidizes the entire cost of fuel above 50 cents per liter, which does not promote efficient fuel use. The policy change announced was welcomed by legislators and industry representatives.

    Trial starts for alleged bomb maker in 2002 Bali bombing. Umar Patek, the bomb maker allegedly responsible for the device that killed 202 people in a Bali nightclub in 2002, was arraigned on charges in the West Jakarta District Court February 13. The charges could result in the death penalty. Patek was caught in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in January 2011, after spending time in the Philippines with the group Abu Sayyaf. He is believed to be the last significant suspect in the 2002 bombing to be charged.

    Democratic Party trails Golkar and PDI-P in latest polling. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party is lagging behind both major opposition parties in polling released February 4. Golkar is polling at 18.9 percent popularity and the Indonesian Party of Democratic Struggle (PDI-P) at 14.2 percent, while the Democratic Party trails at 13.7 percent. Yudhoyono’s approval rating stands at 49 percent. The Democratic Party has been plagued by recent corruption scandals, but it hopes to regain its anticorruption reputation before presidential elections in 2014.

    Violence continues near Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg mine. A car carrying several contractors who work at U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg mine in restive Papua province was shot at February 9. Two of the workers were injured but are recovering. The incident follows the death of a local police officer who was shot while patrolling an area near the mine February 7. The Grasberg mine, one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, was the site of a months-long, sometimes violent labor strike that was resolved in December after the company agreed to a salary hike.

    Thailand

    Rumors of coup persist despite military denials. Red Shirt leader and Pheu Thai Party member of parliament Jatuporn Prompan charged January 8 e that Thailand’s military is planning to stage a coup in April during a military reshuffle. In response, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship said it would hold an anti-coup rally February 25. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra downplayed the rumors, saying she has assurances from the military that there will be no coup. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm said General Prayuth assured him that there would not be a coup, and that he does not need to provide a guarantee.

    Ministry seeks bail for arrested Red Shirt leaders. Thailand’s Justice Ministry began filing for bail February 6 for 60 Red Shirt and southern Thai detainees using a specially allocated $1.5 million fund. The ministry said it was pursuing bail for these individuals without prejudice. The detainees include some charged under the controversial lèse-majesté law. Families of detainees have been asked to guarantee that their family members on bail will not flee once released.

    31st Cobra Gold joint military exercises begin. Military exercise Cobra Gold 2012 began in Thailand February 7 with more than 13,000 troops participating. This year’s Cobra Gold is the largest multinational joint exercise in the Asia Pacific to date, with troops from the United States, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and South Korea taking part. The exercises are intended to enhance military relations and interoperability between participating nations. Cobra Gold 2012 will conclude on February 17.

    Probe, criticism following paramilitary rangers’ killing of four Pattani civilians. A group of Thai army rangers shot and killed four villagers January 29 in a truck in restive Pattani province. Two investigative panels have been formed to review the incident: one by Governor Theera Mintharasak and another by the 4th Army Region, which controls security in Thailand’s south. The incident has sparked widespread criticism, and Deputy Prime Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha admitted January 31 that the rangers acted inappropriately.

    Pheu Thai Party moves forward with efforts to amend constitution. Pheu Thai member of parliament Udomdej Ratanasathien submitted a draft bill to Thailand’s Speaker of the House February 8 that seeks to create a drafting assembly to amend the country’s constitution. Red Shirt chairwoman Thida Thavornseth, along with 400 supporters, submitted a draft of proposed amendments to the speaker. Under Pheu Thai’s proposed amendments, a 99-person assembly—22 legal experts and one representative from each of Thailand’s 77 provinces—would meet to amend the current constitution, which was established after the 2006 military coup that toppled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    Philippines

    Arroyo set to be arraigned March 19 for vote rigging. A Philippine court on February 10 denied the revocation of an arrest warrant for ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on charges of vote rigging and postponed her arraignment hearing to March 19. Arroyo has been confined to her hospital room since November. She faces charges of conspiracy to rig the 2007 congressional elections in favor of her senatorial candidates. Arroyo has also been charged in a separate criminal case with receiving kickbacks from a Chinese telecommunication firm. She denies any wrongdoing in the scandals.

    Philippine military reports killing three militant leaders. The Philippine military claimed to have killed three senior militant leaders in a U.S.-backed airstrike February 2 on the Philippine island of Jolo. Government officials reported that two Jemaah Islamiah (JI) leaders, including Malaysian Zulkifli Bin Hir, known as Marwan, and one Abu Sayyaf leader, Gumbahali Jumdail, known as Dr. Abu, were killed along with 12 others. Despite the government reports, only the bodies of Dr. Abu and his son have been identified. Malaysia said it will aid in identifying the bodies of the JI leaders.

    Solicitor general resigns to return to “private practice,” denies split with Aquino. Philippine solicitor general Jose Cadiz resigned February 6 after expressing his desire to return to private life. He denied a split with President Benigno Aquino over criticism that Cadiz mishandled the 2011 Supreme Court case involving the Aquino family’s Hacienda Luisita and lost the country’s bid to defend its duties and taxes on imported alcoholic products before the World Trade Organization.

    Aquino pushes for hasty passage of Freedom of Information Bill. The government of Philippine president Benigno Aquino expressed optimism February 4 that its proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill will be approved by legislators. The FOI legislation would disclose records of government transactions, meetings, and other dealings while penalizing officials for denying access to information. Freedom to public information is a right enshrined in the Philippine constitution. Political opponents have derided Aquino’s proposal as too watered-down, noting that it includes 16 exception clauses.

    United States to give Philippines second Coast Guard ship. The U.S. Congress on February 10 approved the transfer of a second Coast Guard cutter to the Philippine Navy in order to boost its capabilities. The United States previously transferred a retired cutter to the Philippines in May 2011 after removing much of the ship’s sophisticated equipment. The Philippine Navy has requested that this time the ship’s communication equipment, sensors, and radar not be removed, but the United States has not yet responded to the request. The ship transfer comes two weeks after officials from the Philippines and the United States discussed increasing joint exercises and training between the two countries, and increased U.S. ship and aircraft visits to the Philippines.

    Vietnam

    Russia assures Vietnam of safety of its nuclear technology. Petr G. Shchedrovitsky, general director of Russian state-owned atomic energy group Rosatom, reassured Vietnam of the safety of its nuclear technology February 9. “It is very difficult to have such an incident at Vietnam’s reactor like the one at Japan’s Fukushima plant,” he said. Rosatom officials were in Vietnam to discuss the next steps in Vietnam-Russia cooperation on nuclear power. Vietnam’s first nuclear power project will include two turbines totaling 4,000 MW and is scheduled to be operational in 2020.

    U.S. House pushes bill to block increases in aid if Vietnam does not improve human rights record. The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee on human rights approved a proposal February 8 that would block any increase in non-humanitarian assistance to Vietnam unless the country makes progress in respecting freedom of religion and ending human trafficking. The draft bill calls on Vietnam to release its political prisoners and voices concern about the treatment of Buddhist clergy and Christian churches, including those of the minority Montagnard and Hmong ethnicities. The House has approved the bill twice in previous sessions, but it has died in the Senate.

    Vietnam arrests nine alleged members of antigovernment organization. Vietnamese police led a raid on an allegedly reactionary political organization, capturing its leader, Tran Cong, and five others, a local police official announced February 6. The official added that the organization operated “nonviolently” but aimed to topple the government. Tran Cong allegedly developed the political organization of more than 300 participants in several cities and provinces, including among overseas Vietnamese. Rights groups say the claim that a group is conspiring to overthrow the state is regularly used to silence dissidents in Vietnam.

    Vietnamese prime minister dismisses chairman of state-owned electricity monopoly. Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung has dismissed Dao Van Hung, chairman of Vietnam’s state-owned Electricity Group of Vietnam (EVN). Under Hung’s leadership, EVN sunk millions in investments into non-core sectors such as securities, banking, and real estate, while the power industry faced a capital shortage. EVN suffered a total loss of nearly $816 million in 2011. Vietnamese state-owned enterprises have been under increasing scrutiny in recent years for incurring massive losses in non-core business interests.

    Cambodia

    Cambodia tribunal extends Duch’s sentence to life. The Supreme Court of the UN-sponsored Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) February 3 extended the prison sentence of convicted Khmer Rouge official Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, from 19 years to life. Duch was sentenced in 2010 to 35 years in prison, later reduced to 19, for running the infamous Tuol Sleng prison during the Khmer Rouge regime. He admitted overseeing the torture and killing of more than 12,000 individuals. Both Duch and the prosecution had appealed the original sentencing.

    Garment workers hold a “people’s tribunal,” criticize major manufacturers. The first “Permanent People’s Tribunal” on conditions and wages for garment workers released its findings February 8. The tribunal featured Cambodian and international panelists and was held over two days. It declared that a “living wage” was a human right and called on the government to create and implement standards for garment factories. Major manufacturers that were criticized by the tribunal include H&M, Gap, and Urban Outfitters. The tribunal is influential but not binding.

    Sam Rainsy party accuses Cambodian People’s Party of vote buying. Opposition party Sam Rainsy (SRP) said February 6 that nearly every SRP elector was approached by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and offered between $500 and $5,000 to vote for CPP representatives in the country’s recent Senate elections. The SRP’s accusations include a taped conversation in Battambang province. Some 179 SRP councilors cast ballots for the CCP in the Senate elections, in which only members of the National Assembly and 11,300 local officials vote. Election results have not been officially released.

    Cambodia pursues non-permanent Security Council seat. The EU and British ambassadors to Cambodia pledged February 8 to take Cambodia’s bid for a non-permanent UN Security Council seat in 2013 and 2014 to their respective governments. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Koung said Cambodia’s deputy prime minister had met with the ambassadors to discuss the country’s bid. Foreign Minister Hor Namhong also held talks with U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Kurt Campbell, though it was unclear whether they specifically discussed U.S. support for Cambodia’s bid.

    Singapore

    CSIS hosts “The Singapore Conference @ CSIS.” The CSIS Southeast Asia Program hosted the “Singapore Conference @ CSIS” on February 8, featuring high-level policymakers and experts from Singapore and the United States. In his keynote speech, Singapore’s minister for foreign affairs and minister for law, K. Shanmugam, said Singapore is “committed to continue to build a holistic relationship and explore new areas of cooperation with the U.S.’’ Prior to attending the conference, Singapore's education minister, Heng Swee Keat, signed a memorandum of understanding February 7 with U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan to deepen collaboration on education. For more information, including transcripts and videos of the day’s speeches, please visit http://singapore.csis.org.

    Singapore tourist arrivals hit record high. Singapore welcomed a record 13 million overseas visitors last year, up 13 percent from 2010. The majority of visitors arrived from Asia, including Indonesia, China, Malaysia, and Australia. Tourism industry revenue jumped 17 percent to a record $17.8 billion. Revenue from sightseeing and entertainment, which includes gambling, soared 37 percent to $4.4 billion. Singapore’s shopping malls and its two casino resorts have helped attract visitors since they opened in 2010.

    Singapore mulls “no censorship zones.” Singapore’s government-sponsored Arts and Culture Strategic Review released a report February 6 aimed at improving the vibrancy of the country’s arts scene, including a suggestion to “relax rules and regulations” governing artistic expression at designated areas and times. Another recommendation was for “no censorship zones” where censorship would be abandoned in favor of creativity and free expression. The review is tasked with encouraging the arts and tracking the country’s cultural development until 2025.

    Rare foreign workers strike ends with agreement to pay back wages. Construction workers from Bangladesh protested unpaid wages in eastern Singapore February 6. Their employers, Singapore-based Sunway Concrete Products and Techcom Construction & Trading, which build government housing across the island, had not paid the workers since November 2011. The workers also took issue with the food they were being served. The wage dispute was resolved and the 200 workers ended their sit-in after eight hours.

    Singapore's ruling People's Action Party founding member Toh Chin Chye dies. Toh Chin Chye, one of the founders of Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and its first chairman, died February 3 at the age of 90. Together with old guard leaders Lee Kuan Yew, S. Rajaratnam, and Goh Keng Swee, Toh is credited with helping to guide Singapore through its post-independence period. In addition to serving as PAP chairman, Toh served as Singapore’s deputy prime minister and in several cabinet positions. One of his most notable legacies is helping to design Singapore’s national flag.

    Malaysia

    Volkswagen considers partnership with Malaysia’s Proton. Volkswagen recently sent a team of high-level executives to Malaysia for talks to explore a potential partnership with Malaysia’s Proton according to a February 9 article by Bloomberg. The prospective partnership would provide Volkswagen with an avenue to expand its production operations in Malaysia and increase the company’s market share in Southeast Asia. This is not the first time Volkswagen has considered a partnership with Proton. Talks between the two companies in 2007 and 2010 failed to produce a partnership.

    Malaysian exporters halt palm oil shipments to Iran. Most palm oil exporters in Malaysia have stopped supplying Iran with palm oil since the end of 2011, according to a February 8 Reuters report. Exporters have halted the flow of palm oil because international sanctions have made it difficult for Iranian importers to pay for shipments. Malaysia supplies Iran with an average of 33,000 tons of palm oil per month, roughly half the country’s demand.

    Anwar’s Israel statement causes stir. Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said in an interview January 26 with the Wall Street Journal that he supports “all efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel.” Anwar’s statements have caused a stir in Malaysia. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin called for Anwar to clarify his remarks and said his statements ignored the plight of the Palestinians. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said that Anwar’s statements are no surprise and that he has always been sympathetic to Israel.

    Malaysia awards Australia’s Lynas rare earth plant temporary operating license. The Malaysian government approved a temporary license February 2 for Australia’s Lynas Corporation to build a rare earth plant in Kuantan despite opposition from local residents and environmental groups. Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) approved the license but imposed five safety-related conditions. AELB spokesman Ghazli Ismali said if the company does not comply with the conditions imposed, the license will be either suspended or revoked.

    ASEAN

    ASEAN secretary-general to visit Myanmar in late February. ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan will conduct a two-day visit to Myanmar February 20–21. The visit comes at the invitation of Myanmar’s foreign affairs minister, Wunna Maung Lwin. Surin said the ongoing reforms in Myanmar “have been welcomed enthusiastically throughout ASEAN and the world.” He also said the visit would allow him to listen to people on the ground about how ASEAN can facilitate further reform.

    ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office opens in Singapore, considers doubling Chiang Mai Initiative. The ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMBRO) officially opened in Singapore January 31. AMBRO is the independent macroeconomic surveillance office of the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI), a currency swap arrangement between ASEAN, China, South Korea, and Japan. The CMI was established after the 1997 Asian financial crisis and draws from the foreign exchange reserves pool of its members to support regional currencies in the face of future financial crises. AMBRO director Wei Benhua said the ASEAN+3 members are considering doubling the CMI reserve pool from $120 billion to $240 billion.

    ASEAN and UN conclude peace and conflict prevention workshop. A two-day ASEAN-UN workshop on sharing best practices for conflict prevention, peacemaking, and peacekeeping concluded February 8 in Jakarta. The workshop was the first of its kind since the adoption of the ASEAN-UN declaration on cooperation in November 2011. Sayakane Sisouvong, deputy secretary-general for ASEAN’s political security community, said the workshop helped identify possible new joint activities to help increase ASEAN’s capacity in these fields.

    Brunei Darussalam

    Interpol joins hunt for Cambodian ambassador charged with graft in Brunei embassy construction. Interpol has joined the hunt for Cambodia’s former ambassador to Brunei, Nan Sy, who was convicted in absentia in November 2011 for embezzling $430,000 while in charge of building the country’s embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan. The crime came to light in May 2011 when a bill that was thought to have been paid was delivered to the Cambodian government. Efforts to recoup the lost funds are proceeding in Phnom Penh, where Nan Sy owns two properties that may be seized by the Cambodian government.

    Crew of stray Vietnamese fishing boat released. Nine crew members from a Vietnamese fishing ship detained by Brunei were released February 13 following a personal visit to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah by Vietnamese foreign minister Pham Binh Minh. The crew, from Vietnam’s Binh Minh province, were taken into custody January 20 while fishing in Brunei’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). A Brunei court fined each member of the crew and ordered them to serve a month in jail if they could not pay. Vietnam and Brunei claim overlapping EEZs in the South China Sea.

    Laos

    Laos receives officials from China and Vietnam on goodwill visits, reaffirms ties to both countries. Lao vice president Bounnhang Vorachit met with a visiting Communist Party of China delegation led by Yuan Chunqing February 6 and reaffirmed Laos’s commitment to capitalize on Chinese development assistance. This was followed by a visit February 9 from Vietnamese president Truong Tan Sang, whose three-day trip kicked off a celebration of Vietnam-Laos solidarity. China is Laos’s largest investor and Vietnam is its second largest.

    Laos investigates sale of babies for foreign adoption. Laos has suspended foreign adoptions and is investigating a retired justice ministry official for allegedly selling babies to Americans, Canadians, and Australians for up to $5,000 each, according to a February 6 Radio Free Asia report. While the U.S. State Department praised Laos’s efforts to combat trafficking, it added that the Lao government had never prosecuted or punished any public official for complicity in trafficking in persons, and that corruption and a weak, ineffective judiciary contribute to the problem.

    Timor-Leste

    First legal textbooks on Timor laws created. The Timor-Leste Legal Education Project announced February 1 the release of the first legal textbooks on Timorese law. The project is a partnership between Stanford University Law School and the Asia Foundation, and was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The textbooks are available online and aim to improve the understanding and implementation of Timor-Leste’s laws.

    Foreign Minister da Costa visits Thailand, seeks support for ASEAN bid. Timorese foreign minister Zacarius Albano da Costa met with Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, during a visit to Thailand February 8 in a bid to strengthen ties between the two countries. He requested that Thailand support his country’s preparations to join ASEAN and invited representatives of Thailand to visit Timor-Leste May 20 for independence celebrations.

    APEC

    President Medvedev emphasizes liberalization in APEC agenda outline. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev outlined his country’s top priorities as host of the 2012 APEC forum in an article posted on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) website January 28. The article, entitled “Integration for Development, Innovation for Prosperity,” stresses trade and investment liberalization and strengthening regional integration. It vows to utilize Russia’s presidency to ensure the forum maintains a leading position in the world. APEC’s annual summit meeting will be held September 2–9 in Vladivostok.

    Mekong Delta

    Thailand expands support of joint patrols on Mekong River. Thai navy chief Surasak Roomruangwong announced February 8 that the country’s Mekong Riverine Operation Unit will be expanded, with more personnel and boats to better assist joint patrols with China, Laos, and Myanmar against robbers, drug smugglers, and illegal immigrants along the Mekong River. The joint patrols began after 13 Chinese sailors were killed in the Golden Triangle area of the Mekong River in October 2011.

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    Looking Ahead

    Lecture on political change in Myanmar February 23. The Wilson Center’s Asia Program and Human Rights Watch will host a lecture February 23 on recent political changes in Myanmar and prospects for the country’s upcoming April by-elections with David Scott Mathieson, Human Rights Watch’s senior Myanmar researcher, who has just returned from Yangon. The event, entitled “Political Change in Burma: A Human Rights Perspective,’’ will be held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ 5th floor conference room from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Please RSVP to asia@wilsoncenter.org.

    Second lecture in the TPP Speaker Series at CSIS February 28. The CSIS Southeast Asia Program and the CSIS Scholl Chair in International Business will host a lecture February 28 on congressional perspectives on the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Representative Howard Berman, chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. The event will take place at the CSIS B1 Conference Facilities from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Please RSVP to southeastasiaprogram@csis.org.

    Forum on Indonesia’s transition to a middle-income country February 29. The U.S.-Indonesia Society (USINDO) will host a forum and lunch February 29 with World Bank managing director and former Indonesian minister of finance Sri Mulyani Indrawati. The discussion will focus on Indonesia's economic rise, its transition to a middle-income country, and the challenges that remain. The event will be held at the Cosmos Club’s Powell Room, 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Please RSVP here.

    Pacific Energy Summit in Hanoi March 20–22. The U.S. National Bureau of Asian Research will host the Pacific Energy Summit in Hanoi March 20–22. The summit, entitled “Innovative Generation: Powering a Prosperous Asia,” will focus on the best practices and solutions for meeting Asia’s energy needs and promoting environmental protection. Speakers include Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, U.S. Admiral (Ret.) Dennis Blair, and Melody Meyers, president of Chevron Asia Pacific. To request an invitation, please contact Clara Gillispie at (202) 347-9767 or nbrpes@nbr.org.

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Ernest Z. Bower