The Regional Implications of Indonesia’s Rise

The Regional Implications of Indonesia's Rise
Image Credit: REUTERS/Beawiharta

Despite a mild economic slowdown amidst China’s economic rebalancing and the U.S. Federal Reserve tapering—and despite a dip in Indonesian shares following a surprisingly weak performance by the favorites in Wednesday’s parliamentary election—the general direction of Indonesia’s economy seems clear: onwards and upwards. Since the Asian Financial Crisis and the fall of Suharto, Jakarta has learned lessons, expedited political reforms, and taken economic strides that today constitute a platform from which Southeast Asia’s largest country can continue to build on what it has achieved to date. That’s not to say corruption, infrastructure deficiencies and inequality do not remain problems for whoever takes the political baton after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but Indonesia’s economic trajectory is bending sharply in the right direction. Continue reading

The state of democracy in Southeast Asia

June 23rd, 2012  Author: Chayut Setboonsarng, CARI

The great philosophical question about the elements of a perfect democracy and their relation to capitalism remains unsettled, and is likely to remain thus.

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Yet the recent history of Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand calls for a more practical conversation about the nature and extent of democratic transformation in Southeast Asia.

The demand for democratic institutions is typically associated with the rise of an educated middle class, and the organisers of pro-democracy demonstrations in the streets of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur certainly fit this demographic. But the evolution of democracy has not necessarily followed the same pattern across the whole of Southeast Asia. This is most notable in Myanmar where there is no middle class and the reformist president, Thein Sein, is acting on geopolitical and economic considerations.

The political processes in Thailand and Malaysia (and indeed in the rest of Southeast Asia) are centred on personalities rather than on ideologies. During elections, the average Thai voter does little to examine the policies put forth by the ruling Pheu Thai Party or the opposition Democrat Party. The left–right debate is non-existent because both parties’ public policies are informed by populism. Instead, voter interest is focused on who operates and supports the political parties. During the July 2011 elections, for instance, it was common knowledge that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was fully supportive of his sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s taking the helm of the Pheu Thai Party. Yingluck’s familial affiliation also ensured the continued support of Thaksin’s base, whose welfare entitlements would be protected. Across the aisle, the Democrat Party’s known ties with the military and the old guard vouched for the party’s commitment to preserving the interests and status quo of these groups.

In Malaysia’s race-based politics, matters of austerity and taxation are also conspicuously absent from the public debate. The Bersih electoral reform activist movement, the United Malays National Organisation’s (UMNO) dwindling hold on power, and the emergence of a clear bipartisan balance, gives the looming general elections more weight. The quality that most distinguishes leader of the opposition Anwar Ibrahim from the incumbent is simply that he is not Prime Minister Najib Razak. Provisions outlined in Buku Jingga, the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat’s master plan, are not radically different from the government’s Economic Transformation Programme.

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Is China Trying to Split ASEAN?

By Trefor Moss May 30, 2012

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Defense leaders from around Southeast Asia are meeting in Phnom Penh this week for the 6th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM). The theme of the get together – “Enhancing ASEAN Unity for a Harmonized and Secure Community” – smacks of doublespeak: unity and harmony within ASEAN are sorely lacking at the moment, and no-one really thinks the ministerial meeting is going to rediscover them.

In the anarchy of the international arena, a club like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ought to be a reassuring place to be. The organization gives its ten members – small or medium-sized players in geopolitical terms – the opportunity to close ranks when dealing with the greater powers, and to speak with one voice loud enough to be heard in Beijing, Washington and any other place that needs to listen.

Unfortunately, ASEAN doesn’t work like that: individualism swiftly trumps collectivism whenever contentious issues arise.

In particular, ASEAN has a China problem. Ask the ten members about China, and you’ll get a kaleidoscope of opinions about what that country represents. Some ASEAN countries are very much pro-China: their own economic development is tied closely to Beijing’s, and they are comfortable with the political implications of their China connections. Others are cooler on relations with Beijing: they balance a wariness of Chinese influence with the obvious benefits of a healthy trading relationship. And finally, there are those that feel threatened by China and regard themselves as targets (or at least potential targets) of Chinese assertiveness.

Unity on the question of how to handle China has therefore eluded ASEAN. And given the association’s nature, this is unsurprising: neutrality and non-intervention, not unity and collectivism, are ASEAN’s most cherished principles.

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East Asia Summit – Disasters to top summit agenda

Petchanet Pratruangkrai
The Nation
October 31, 2011 2:02 am

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Amid increasing natural calamities in the region, relief issues to get priority in discussions by leaders

Relief measures for floods and other natural disasters will be a top agenda item for the sixth East Asia Summit (EAS) in Bali in mid-November.

Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said flood relief would be put near the top of the agenda by Asean leaders and its eight EAS partners as many countries in Southeast Asia are facing severe inundation.

 

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Ex-intel chief: U.S. cyber-vulnerable

Published: Aug. 7, 2011 at 4:56 PM

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Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell listens as U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to the media after visiting the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in McLean, Virginia, on December 8, 2008. (UPI Photo/Roger L. Wollenberg) clip_image004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (UPI) — The United States isn’t ruthless or broad enough in cybersnooping, former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said Sunday.

“All governments, sophisticated governments, run an electronic espionage effort,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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N.Korea, counter-terrorism take ASEAN centre stage

Thursday July 23, 2009

By Kittipong Soonprasert and Jack Kim

PHUKET, Thailand (Reuters) – Reining in North Korea‘s nuclear programme, counter-terrorism cooperation and maritime security will take centre stage at Asia’s biggest annual security gathering on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during the signing of a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation between the U.S. and the Asian bloc in Phuket July 22, 2009. (REUTERS/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/Pool)

Myanmar could also be in the spotlight after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said Washington was concerned about the possible transfer of nuclear technology from North Korea to the military junta. Continue reading