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Asia and International Law

 
International Organisations – US Upgrades Economic Ties With ASEAN Amid China’s Growing Influence (The Diplomat, 30 March 2016)
 

ASEAN has become the strategic focus in the U.S. “rebalance to Asia” strategy. China enjoys comparative advantages in historic, geographic, and geo-economic terms, and has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for six consecutive years since the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) was launched in 2010 (in 2014, bilateral trade was over $480 billion and total Chinese FDI in ASEAN was about $400 billion). In an attempt to counter China’s economic influence and make up for its own loss (Washington traditionally has more leverage in political and security ties), the United States began to strengthen its trade and investment ties with Southeast Asia. According to the U.S. State Department, ASEAN countries now are collectively America’s fourth-largest trading partner. Progress was made especially during Obama administration: U.S. trade in goods with ASEAN countries has expanded by 55 percent and topped $226 billion in 2015, and U.S. FDI in ASEAN has nearly doubled since 2008, with a total stock of over $226 billion.

Underestimating the economic power of ASEAN would be a mistake (The Nation, 30 March 2016)

To underestimate the region, however, would be a mistake. The GDP of its ten members now totals more than $2.5 trillion - about 25 per cent more than India's. If ASEAN were one economy, and current growth trends continue, it could be the world's fourth-largest economy by 2050. Rising affluence means the number of middle-class households will top 120 million by 2025, roughly double the 2010 number. The question is: How can the region turn impressive projections into a future reality? Boosting intra-regional trade is one sure way of spreading wealth. Intra-ASEAN trade accounts for approximately 25 per cent of Southeast Asia's total, compared to 50 per cent in the EU. To help address this shortfall in potential, ASEAN's member countries have formed the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which aims to liberalise the flow of goods, services, capital, and ultimately, skilled labour across the region. If fully implemented, the extra steps envisaged under the AEC could raise ASEAN'S GDP by 5 per cent by 2030 - a welcome development for countries like Thailand following subdued growth and currency volatility in 2015. The opening up of services across the region under the AEC framework will be of particular interest to Thailand. ASEAN's intra-regional flow of services has lagged that of goods - a paradox given the service sector's importance to most ASEAN economies, including Thailand, where it accounts for just over 50 per cent of GDP.

 

 
Law of the Sea – Indonesia and Malaysia protest ‘trespass’ of Chinese boats (Asian Correspondent, 30 March 2016)
 

Indonesia has demanded that the Chinese government explain the “encroachment” of its coast guard vessel, claiming that it had interfered with Indonesia’s seizing of a Chinese boat that was fishing illegally in its waters. According to the Jakarta Post, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said her government had sent a diplomatic note to China to protest the actions of the coast guard vessel. She said the vessel had defied Indonesia’s control of its exclusive economic zone (ZEE) and continental shelf areas. This followed the botched attempt by the Indonesian Maritime and Fisheries Monitoring Task Force to capture the Chinese fishing boat near the Natuna Islands. Indonesia claimed the Chinese coast guard vessel “rescued” the boat by bringing it back into Chinese waters. Shahidan Kassim, the Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said about 100 Chinese fishing boats along with two Chinese Coast Guard ships were spotted trespassing into Malaysian waters yesterday near Beting Patinggi Ali.

The incident prompted the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency to increase monitoring of the area by dispatching more vessels there in concert with the Royal Malaysian Navy.

China's actions in South China Sea far bigger than other claimants, says US official (Straits Times, 30 March 2016)

China's campaign of land reclamation and military construction on features in disputed waters of the South China Sea "vastly outstrips what all other claimants have done over the past several decades", a senior US official has said. As for recent friction with Indonesia over Chinese fishermen, it was "particularly disturbing" to see fishing issues come to the fore, and the scale of Chinese fishing "raises questions about what the intent is over the long term'', Ms Colin Willett, US Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told South-east Asian journalists yesterday in a teleconference call from Washington.” In the case of Indonesia, we're not even talking about the South China Sea. We're well into Indonesia's exclusive economic zone," said Ms Willett. "I think this is all a piece of a broader pattern of behaviour where the scope and scale of Chinese activities actually outpace what we see in the rest of the region."

 
Human Rights – Myanmar: UN chief welcomes election of first civilian President in more than 50 years (UN News, 16 March 2016)
 

Following the historic national polls last 8 November, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Htin Kyaw, who was elected by the Myanmar Parliament as the first civilian President in more than five decades. “He welcomes this as a significant achievement towards advancing the democratic reforms ushered in by the outgoing Government,” indicated a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

South-east Asia's children face 'double burden' of obesity and undernutrition – UN report (UN News, 28 March 2016)

A joint report released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has shed new light on the nutrition situation of children across the region. The report finds that several ASEAN countries are facing simultaneous crises of over and undernutrition, with some children overweight while their peers suffer from stunting and wasting.

This “double burden of malnutrition” is happening in middle income countries such Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. “Many countries in South-east Asia have seen impressive economic gains in the last decade, lifting millions of children out of poverty,” said Christiane Rudert, Regional Nutrition Adviser for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, in a press release.

 
International Organisations – UN warns of dark side of greater ASEAN integration (Straits Times, 26 February 2016)
 

Increasing trade ties in South-east Asia are a boon not only for business but also for crime, though local officials have not quite figured out how to control the latter.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in a report released yesterday, warned of the significant danger posed by criminal activities such as drug trafficking, maritime piracy and human trafficking should local officials continue to neglect security needs thrown up by streamlined Customs controls. "Regional integration is happening so fast it is changing the threats," UNODC's regional representative Jeremy Douglas told The Straits Times. But regional leaders, while focusing on economic needs, are not paying enough attention to the risks brought about by closer ties within the region, as well as between South-east Asia and the rest of the world.

 
Law of Development – UN development agenda seeks to reach 'those farthest behind,' Ban tells Human Rights Council (UN News 29 February 2016)
 

At the opening of the 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, senior UN officials emphasized the powerful link between the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the right to development, highlighting that people on the front lines of armed conflict and humanitarian need are hoping the Organization can help ease their suffering.“Long-term peace and security cannot exist without human rights for all,” United NationsSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Council members at UN headquarters in Geneva. “Sustainable development is impossible without peace and security. Human rights are the very foundation of our common humanity. These fundamental links have led the United Nations to undertake wide-ranging advocacy and defence of human rights,” he underlined.

 
Law of the Sea – Singapore will work to formulate Code of Conduct in South China Sea: Vivian Balakrishnan (Channel News Asia, 27 February 2016)
 

As country coordinator of ASEAN-China relations, Singapore will focus on the formulation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, said Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan on Saturday (Feb 27). Speaking to the media in an interview after the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' retreat in Vientiane, Laos, Dr Balakrishnan said that ASEAN foreign ministers had reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability in the disputed waters, and called for self-restraint in the conduct of activities. The retreat is the first ministerial-level meeting since the establishment of the ASEAN community on Dec 31 last year, and the ongoing developments in the South China Sea were among the issues discussed.

China Urges U.S. to Stand down on South China Sea Issue (Xinhua, 29 February 2016)

China has urged the United States to not position itself as the "international judge" on the South China Sea issue. Hong Lei, a spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, made the remarks at a daily press briefing after Daniel Kritenbrink, U.S. White House senior director for Asian affairs, said that a ruling by The Hague on a complaint lodged by the Philippines "will be binding on both parties."

Philippines asks China to respect sea dispute arbitration (Channel News Asia, 27 February 2016)

The Philippines has urged China to respect a forthcoming ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague on a territorial dispute in the South China Sea after Beijing accused Manila of "political provocation". China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the waters, through which about US$5 trillion in trade is shipped every year. China refuses to recognise the case lodged by the Philippines with the tribunal and says all disputes should be resolved through bilateral talks.

"The Philippines, as well as the international community, is asking China to respect the forthcoming ruling of the arbitral tribunal and together advance an international rules-based regime," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement in Manila. "If China does not heed our collective call, does it mean that China considers itself above the law?"

 
International Economic Law – The Philippines asks WTO to force Thailand to comply on cigarette import ruling (Manila Bulletin, 3 February 2016)
 

The Philippines has formally asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to compel Thailand to act consistently with the multilateral trade body’s ruling favouring the customs valuation of Philippine-made cigarette imports. The move was prompted by a legal action taken by the Thai government against Philip Morris Thailand which imports cigarettes from its Philippine affiliate. This was viewed by the Philippines as inconsistent with the WTO decision that ruled against Thailand’s customs valuation on imported cigarettes. In an official statement submitted to the WTO, the Philippines cited Thailand for repeatedly giving assurances that they will take steps to comply with the WTO ruling and yet they proceeded to file charges against the importer of Philippine cigarettes.

US wins WTO dispute against India's solar rules (Reuters, 25 February 2016)

The United States won a ruling against India at the World Trade Organization on Wednesday after challenging the rules on the origin of solar cells and solar modules used in India's national solar power program. In a statement, the US Trade Representative's office called the ruling a significant victory that would hasten the spread of solar energy across the world and support clean-energy jobs in the United States. The United States complained to the WTO in 2013 about the Indian solar program, which sought to ease chronic energy shortages in Asia's third-largest economy without creating pollution. But a requirement that certain cells and modules be made in India fell afoul of WTO rules on discriminating against imports. The United States said its solar exports to India had fallen by 90 percent from 2011, when India imposed the rules.

 
Human Rights – Bay of Bengal 'three times more deadly' than Mediterranean for migrants and refugees (UN News, 23 February 2016)
 

Refugees and migrants crossing the seas of Southeast Asia died at a rate three times higher than those in the Mediterranean last year, a new United Nations report has found, highlighting the urgency of greater life-saving cooperation among the affected States. The report, Mixed Maritime Movements in South-East Asia, from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), states that those movements had been “three times more deadly” than in the Mediterranean last year, due largely to mistreatment by smugglers and disease on the boats. Refugees and migrants often employ the same routes, modes of transport, and networks, and their movements are commonly referred to as “mixed movements.”

New UN report finds migrants play critical role in Asia-Pacific development (UN News 29 February 2016)

Migrants from countries across Asia and the Pacific play a key role by helping to drive economic growth in their countries of destination while also supporting families in their countries of origin, but the benefits of migration remain under-acknowledged, a new United Nations report has found. Mr. Hongjoo Hahm, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) launched the 'Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2015: Migrants' Contributions to Development' on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Regional Thematic Working Group on International Migration, including Human Trafficking, which includes 15 members from the UN system and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). “Business-as-usual risks heightening inequality, holding back advances in productivity, and facilitating human rights abuses,” said Mr. Hahm. “Positive outcomes require policies aligned with national development strategies and international standards promoting fair recruitment, decent and productive employment and social protection.”

 
Human Rights – ‘Imperative to pursue criminal accountability of the DPR Korea leadership’ – UN rights expert (UN News, 22 January 2016)
 

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has called on the international community to further all efforts to improve the human rights situation in the country. “In addition to continuing political pressure to exhort the DPRK to improve human rights, it is also now imperative to pursue criminal responsibility of the DPRK leadership,” said Marzuki Darusman in Tokyo at the end of his last official visit as a UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert. “Not much has changed in the country almost two years after the report of the Commission of Inquiry,” the Special Rapporteur, whose mandate ends in July 2016, added. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), since his appointment in 2010, Mr. Darusman has made several requests to visit DPRK; however, access was never granted. He has been visiting other countries in the region such as Japan, Thailand and the Republic of Korea.

 
International Organisations – UN at 70 – The world still needs the United Nations (Washington Examiner, 26 October 2015)
 

October 24 marked the 70th birthday of the United Nations. The U.N. Charter came into effect when ratified by a majority of the 50 original signatories and the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States). The ratification process, like the U.N. itself, combined hope for a better future with a large membership and power politics. Although the U.N. is not a perfect institution, it provides enormous net benefits to the world and to the United States.

Created in the shadow of the Second World War, the purpose of the United Nations was to prevent war and sow the seeds of peace. The U.N.'s work rests on three pillars: Peace and security, development and human rights. All three are necessary for long-term peace. Ultimately, the U.N. will be constrained by what its member states want and for what they are willing to pay. The U.N. system cannot — and was not intended to — override power politics. Instead, it can provide a place to channel power in the pursuit of peace. The P5+1 negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program are an example. The U.N. system provides the venue and expertise to address long-term efforts to bolster sustainable development and address climate change. The Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 provided a workable 15-year global framework for countries to reduce hunger and raise health standards. Perhaps the most surprising contribution of the U.N. system is to human rights. One of the most important examples is the Universal Periodic Review created in 2005. It would be almost impossible to create the U.N. system today. From the horror of war came the impetus to build an organization dedicated to helping states build peace. Despite its flaws, the U.N. is still crucial to the United States and the world at large.

 
 
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