|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.
|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.
|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.
|ASEAN must make bold decision to combat transnational crime: Zahid (New Straits Times, 29 September 2015)|
|Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamid has said at the 10th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC) that with transnational organised crime having gone global and reached macroeconomic proportions, ASEAN countries are at a critical juncture to decide whether they should also focus on new types of such crimes. The new types of crime include illicit trades in nature and cultural heritage, wildlife, wood-based products, electrical and electronic waste, ozone-depleting substances, counterfeit goods and fraudulent essential medicines.|
|Cloud hangs over enforcement of anti-haze law [pursuant to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (2002)] (Straits Times, 18 September 2015)|
A law to punish polluters who cause the haze has been lauded as an innovative and significant environment and public health law, but experts have pointed out challenges to its enforcement. Inadequate policing in Indonesia, where the burning takes place, and a lack of reliable information on land ownership and usage there make it difficult to take errant companies to task, they say. The law is also limited to foreign firms with a presence in Singapore, but prosecuting them here would not curb the practice of burning land there.As National University of Singapore law professor Alan Tan said: "It is hard to see how prosecuting a few companies in Singapore can deter others when the practice of burning is so widespread and entrenched in Indonesia." The experts were responding to queries on the recent breaches in the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, passed in Parliament in August last year. The Act targets those responsible for causing or condoning fires if burning results in unhealthy levels of haze in Singapore.
See also: Does Indonesian Approval of the ASEAN Anti-Haze Treaty Matter? (WSJ, 21 September 2014)
|Korea may declare itself MERS-free in late July (Korea Times, 1 July 2015)|
The government is cautiously weighing when to declare Korea free from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The country has not had any new cases of the disease for four consecutive days since Sunday. If the situation continues, the government may declare itself MERS-free as early as later this month, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The ministry said Wednesday that there were no new cases besides the already confirmed 182. No more deaths were reported, so the fatality rate remained at 18.1 percent. Signs are becoming more evident that the outbreak is waning. Professor Eom Joong-sik at the Sacred Heart Hospital also said regional health authorities are receiving less and less requests for MERS tests. "The team is considering declaring the country MERS-free if no case is reported for 28 days, twice the incubation period, since the last confirmation," Eom said. "We sent an inquiry about it to the World Health Organization (WHO) and if it agrees, we may be able to declare Korea free from MERS around July 25."
In case of Ebola and other infectious diseases, the WHO usually declares the end of a disease when no new cases are reported for twice the disease's incubation period.
|Who Wants to Rule the World? (Straits Times, 27 June 2015)|
Prior to Mr Ban Ki Moon stepping down next year, one might think that a global search is under way, perhaps using an executive search firm. One might assume that a job description has been circulated with prominent placement in the Economist magazine and elsewhere. Shortlists would then be drawn up, interview panels convened, a battery of psychometric tests administered to ensure that the best candidate possible can be identified, recruited and hired. One would be wrong on all counts. Not only is there no formal search process - but there is not even a job description. The UN Charter is vague, merely defining the position as the "chief administrative officer" of the organisation. The secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly "upon the recommendation of the Security Council".
|Ban stresses UN’s impact in past 70 years, urges States to recommit to collective security, rights (UN News Centre, 23 February 2015)|
In a Security Council meeting on 23 February in which Member States reaffirmed their commitment to the United Nations Charter, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN was an organization with major achievements to its credit, multiple crises on its agenda, and tremendous opportunities ahead. Mr. Ban described how the world had “starkly” changed since the Charter was drafted and how those changes were reflected within the UN, with four times as many Member States and new items, such as climate change, on the international agenda. Despite those changes, the aspirations contained within the Charter remained “valid, valuable and vital”, especially the commitment to prevention of armed conflict through the peaceful settlement of disputes and the protection of human rights.
Despite that flexibility, he noted that UN Member States needed to fortify a sense of unity on the meaning of the term ‘collective security’, which he stressed was the core purpose of the Organization. States were also falling short in their personal responsibility to prevent conflict, something about which the Charter was very clear, and he stressed that the collective work of the UN was based on consent and respect for the sovereign equality of all members. UN human rights action often caused concern among Member States because of fears such action could harm national sovereignty, he said, stressing that in fact, early action to prevent conflict and protect human rights helps to strengthen sovereignty, rather than challenge or restrict it, and that serious violations of human rights that weaken sovereignty.
|United Nations General Assembly and Security Council elect four Members of the Court (ICJ Press Release No. 2014/32, 7 November 2014)|
The General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations yesterday elected four Members of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a term of office of nine years, beginning on 6 February 2015. Judges Mohamed Bennouna (Morocco) and Joan E. Donoghue (United States of America) were re-elected as Members of the Court. James Richard Crawford (Australia) and Kirill Gevorgian (Russian Federation) were elected as new Members of the Court.
|ASEAN Political, Security Issues Impeding Integration (VOA, 30 June 2014) |
ASEAN has developed so-called scorecards for three categories of communities: economic, socio-cultural and political-security. ASEAN officials say they score 92 percent for economic community and 82 percent for socio-cultural. But ASEAN only scores 12 percent in political and security issues, said Hassan Wirajuda, the Indonesian ambassador to Cambodia. Speaking at a public lecture at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Wirajuda said these issues remain a major gap in ASEAN integration. “Because of differences among ASEAN countries on the state of their political development in terms of democracy, quasi-democracy and authoritarian government, which makes the issue of political and security community most sensitive to some,” he said. “But through time since the ASEAN Charter and the Blueprints were adopted, we made a lot of progress. Not as fast as we wanted, but we made progress.”
|Japan may suggest smaller whale catch after ICJ blow (Reuters, 1 April 2014)|
Japan could try to rescue its Antarctic whaling programme by sharply reducing catch quotas after the highest U.N. court ordered a halt, rejecting Tokyo's argument that the catch was for scientific purposes and not mainly for human consumption. The judgment by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was a blow to Japan's decades-old "scientific whaling" programme, although Tokyo, which said it would abide by the ruling, might be able to resume Antarctic whaling if it devises a new, more persuasive programme that requires killing whales. "We want to accept this from a position that respects the international legal order," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. "We want to properly consider our country's response after carefully examining the contents of the ruling."
The ICJ Judgment Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand Intervening) of 31 March 2014 can be found here.
|Backing Ukraine’s territorial integrity, UN Assembly declares Crimea referendum invalid (UN News, 27 March 2014)|
In a vote that reaffirmed Ukraine’s unity and territorial integrity, the United Nations General Assembly on 27 March 2014 adopted a measure underscoring that the mid-March referendum in Crimea that led to the peninsula’s annexation by Russia “has no validity” and that the parties should “pursue immediately a peaceful resolution of the situation.” By a vote of 100 in favour to 11 against, with 58 abstentions, the 193-member Assembly called on all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on the basis of the 16 March referendum “and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status.”
|ASEAN members step up consolidation for RCEP (Jakarta Post, 27 Feb 2014)|
Topics related to the preparation and follow-up negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — touted as the largest free trade area in the world — are likely to be on the table when Southeast Asia’s economic ministers meet during the 20th ASEAN Economic Ministers Retreat in Singapore at the end of February. The RCEP, which comprises the 10 ASEAN member nations as well as China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, would integrate all of ASEAN’s existing free-trade agreements into one scheme. It would account for a third of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) with total trade reaching US$740.5 billion and combined GDP amounting to $21.2 trillion in 2012. The RCEP is estimated to give income gains of approximately $644 billion by 2025, equal to 0.6 percent of the world’s GDP, due to the faster flow of goods, services, investment and labor across participating economies, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). For Indonesia, the deal will push GDP up by more than 1 percent in the designated time line for forging the partnership.
|ASEAN chair Myanmar's domestic issues a lingering threat to nation's credibility (China Post, 28 January 2014)|
Myanmar made succinctly clear the Rohingya problem would not be raised in any ASEAN meeting during its chairmanship this year. U Ye Htut, the spokesperson of President Thein Sein, reiterated his country's position during a press conference on the eve of the first ASEAN informal ministerial meeting recently in Bagan. After months of praise over economic and political reforms, Myanmar's continued denial of the existence of this issue has put a damper on its leadership role in ASEAN and further tainted its otherwise rather positive image abroad. Indeed, Nayphidaw's firm position has generated strong reactions from Western countries and international governments. ASEAN Muslim neighbors such as Malaysia, Indonesia and including Buddhist Thailand were extremely uneasy but have so far abstained from criticizing the treatments of the Rohingya by Nayphidaw.
A statement from Myanmar's Foreign Ministry in mid-January also urged international organizations and the media to verify information with assigned officials, otherwise they would be considered an act of interference with the country's internal affairs.
As such, it is imperative that Myanmar must come clean over the reported killings by showing transparency and accountability as soon as possible. The sooner the better, as it will impact not only on Myanmar's internal dynamic but ASEAN as a whole.
|Myanmar will use ASEAN chair to address regional disputes (Eleven Myanmar, 25 November 2013)|
Myanmar will make use of its helm as chair of the ASEAN bloc of nations to try and improve relations between China, Japan and the U.S. over territorial claims in the South China sea. Aung Htoo, deputy director-general of ASEAN Affairs Department, made comments during the second ASEAN talk jointly organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany held in Yangon on November 22 and 23.
"If China puts pressure on us, we will imitate Brunei. We will have to deal with four countries as to water territory dispute. We will try to improve relations with China and all concerned countries including the U.S. We will have to practice this policy. We will cleverly address these issues as they can last longer," said Aung Htoo. There is growing concern that China will exert pressure on its long term ally Myanmar to try and rally regional support behind its claims.
|UN chief reports on world body’s work in 2013, outlines new challenges (UN News, 3 September 2013)|
|UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has released his report to the General Assembly on the work carried out by the United Nations over the past year, highlighting new priorities and challenges. Mr. Ban said that the UN is adapting to new realities, among them an unprecedented level of interconnectedness, as well as unemployment brought about by the global economic crisis, increasing inequality within and among States, and environmental degradation. He also highlighted various issues that the UN has been focusing on to address new challenges, including the shaping of a post-2015 development agenda, the need to tackle climate change, democratic transitions, methods to maintain peace and security such as mediation and peacekeeping, the promotion of human rights, disarmament and drug control, among others.|
|China's development opportunity for ASEAN, not threat: Chinese FM (Xinhua, 2 August 2013)|
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has expressed that the development of China is an opportunity for countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and not a threat. China's fast growth has generated tangible benefits for its ASEAN friends while "unavoidably" arousing certain suspicion, concern or even misunderstanding among some of them, and "We're clear about it," Wang said in a speech at the opening ceremony of the High-Level Forum on the 10th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership. "This is nothing to be surprised at, because anyone could feel uneasy about a close friend who has all of a sudden grown into a big fellow," he said, adding that China's development is the strengthening of a force for peace and friendship. According to the minister, the judgment of a country's strategic direction should be based on its culture and history. The essence of the Chinese culture is about the pursuit of peace that features love, non-offensiveness and good-neighbourliness. China has made no attempt to act as colonialist anywhere in the world throughout the past 600 years and more, nor has it gone for expansion in its neighborhood since the People's Republic was founded more than 60 years ago. "This is what China has done in the past and it will remain unchanged in the future," said the minister.
|UN official calls for urgent action to improve air quality in Asia-Pacific region (UN News, 21 June 2013)|
With smog levels hitting all time highs in cities across the Asia-Pacific region, a senior United Nations official there is calling on Governments to do more, with greater urgency, to tackle the myriad challenges associated with worsening air quality. “The ongoing problem of air pollution between Indonesia and Singapore is symptomatic of a much wider challenge for the countries of [the region],” said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), urging Governments in the region to prioritize critical issues of air quality and human health.
|China and haze to dominate Asia security meeting|
China's territorial disputes with its neighbours and choking smog in Southeast Asia are among the contentious issues set to dominate the ASEAN Regional Forum following the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei beginning at the end of June. The foreign minister-level talks, which climax 2 July with the ASEAN Regional Forum that includes China, the United States, Russia and other heavyweights. ASEAN has sounded a more unified tone of late, and will press China in Brunei for "urgent" talks on a "code of conduct" meant to ease tensions, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said. In a move likely to anger China, which insists the United States has no role to play in the South China Sea, US Foreign Secretary John Kerry is expected to raise the issue in Brunei.
|ASEAN new chief's pressing concern (Channel News Asia, 23 January 2013)|
ASEAN's newly-installed secretary-general Le Luong Min has voiced concern over the slow progress towards building an ASEAN Community by 2015. Minh said member states have yet to ratify the numerous treaties and agreements necessary to transform the region into a single market. "One of the major challenges is that while we have been able to agree on many measures, we have been able to adopt many treaties and agreements, the pace of ratification and of course implementation on the part of the member states is rather low,” Minh noted. This is going to be one of the main areas he will be focusing on during this 5-year term in office.
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