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Japan, China vie for ASEAN influence (Nikkei Asian Review, 8 September 2016)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tacitly warned Southeast Asian leaders against making too many concessions to China, engaging in a diplomatic tug of war with Beijing ahead of the East Asia Summit. "I expect ASEAN to play a leading role in creating stability and prosperity in the region by following the rule of law," Abe said Wednesday at a meeting with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The comment earned calls of agreement from some present. He expressed deep concern about "continued attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the South and East China seas over the past few months."

See also: How China bought its way into Cambodia (Today, 12 September 2016)

ASEAN could become 4th largest economy in the world (Asia One, 6 September 2016)

The ASEAN economy is expected to grow at 7 per cent per annum, with GDP reaching US$4.7 trillion (S$1.9 trillion) in 2020 and the possibility of becoming the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030, the Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said. ASEAN is a single market and production base with a combined GDP of US$2.43 trillion (S$3.3 trillion )in 2015, ranking as the sixth largest economy in the world, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said at the opening ceremony of the 13th ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ASEAN-BIS 2016). The ASEAN-BIS 2016 is being held on the sidelines of the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits in Vientiane. The ASEAN community is a community of opportunities not only for the over 620 million people in ASEAN but also for the people outside the region. The role of the private sector remains a key element for further progress in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025 implementation and regional economic integration.

ASEAN must work more closely to tackle new terror trends: PM Lee (Today, 7 September 2016)

While South-east Asia has been dealing with terrorism for some years, the emergence of three new trends means there is a greater need for the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) to work more closely to tackle the issue, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Addressing regional leaders at an Asean retreat on Wednesday (Sept 7), Mr Lee outlined the worrying trends of a rise in cases of self-radicalisation, growing links between terrorist groups and a spike in the number of attacks. “These are single individuals, self-radicalised, acting alone, difficult to stop,” he said during the informal closed-door session where leaders discuss regional and international issues, adding that there is a steady trickle of one or two self-radicalised individuals detected by the Singaporean authorities every month. He noted that the frequency of the attacks has increased. “It used to be a significant attack every few months, now we hear of attacks every few weeks, sometimes every few days in different parts of the world — and you have the Jakarta bombings and shootings in January, the attack in Puchong, Selangor in June and then most recently the bombing in Davao (last week).”Terrorist organisations that have been present in South-east Asia for the past decade, such as Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf, have also linked up with Islamic State (IS), as well as with Uighurs from China, he noted. “We have to work more closely together, share intelligence, share our analysis of threats, counter extremist doctrines and exchange views, and take concerted actions against terrorist groups.”

State of play: The race for the next UN Secretary-General (New Europe, 12 September 2016)

The next United Nations Secretary-General is to be decided this October, but recent straw poll results show that the decision for the position is still very much up in the air.

Currently there are ten nominated candidates, including Srgjian Kerim (Macedonia), Danilo Türk (Slovenia), Irina Bokova (Bulgaria), Natalia Gherman (Republic of Moldova), António Guterres (Portugal), Helen Clark (New Zealand), Vuk Jeremić(Serbia), Susana Malcorra (Argentina), Miroslav Lajčák (Slovak Republic) andChristiana Figueres (Costa Rica).  Two additional candidates, Vesna Pusić (Croatia) andIgor Lukšić (Montenegro) have already withdrawn. But another candidate, the European Commission’s Vice-President, Kristalina Georgieva (Bulgaria), may enter the race. There has been a push from many directions for a woman to occupy the role and it has been supported by the UN Presidents of the Security Council and the General Assembly, who wrote, “Convinced of the need to guarantee equal opportunities for women and men in gaining access to senior decision-making positions, Member States are encouraged to consider presenting women, as well as men, as candidates for the position” in a letter to the permanent representatives of the UN. Despite this suggestion, the most recent straw polls conducted at the beginning of September have placed Guterres, with experience as the former prime minister of Portugal and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as the overall top contender.

UN sanctions: what they are, how they work, and who uses them (UN News, 4 May 2016)

The UNSC discussed counter-terrorism and non-proliferation at its early May session. At least seven sanctions committees will brief the main United Nations body responsible for maintaining international peace and security. A quick snapshot covering the basics of UN sanctions and how Sanctions Committees work is provided by the UN News Centre within this article.

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.

ASEAN must step up to promote rule of law in region, experts say (Today, 15 January 2016)

With major world powers stepping up their engagement with Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will have to take on a bigger role to create a robust rules-based regional order. “The Barack Obama administration has devoted more attention to South-east Asia than any other United States administration since the Vietnam War … It is an explicit policy and it started before the world started paying attention to China’s increasing assertiveness in Asia,” said Dr Susan Shirk, a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. Prof Shirk, a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, was speaking during a panel discussion on Major Power Interests and Contestation in Southeast Asia during the Regional Outlook Forum 2016 organised by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. She pointed out that China’s intentions in the regional maritime domain are uncertain, especially since there is a gap between Beijing’s rhetoric of peaceful development and the construction of artificial islands, as well as its possible deployment of military assets in the South China Sea. “The question is how South-east Asia and, in fact, all of Asian countries, can encourage China to pursue a (regional) policy that is aimed at providing a public good of cooperation, freedom of navigation and respect for international law,” she said.

Formal establishment of ASEAN Community sees both opportunities, challenges (Xinhua, 31 December 2015)

As another significant milestone in its history and the regional integration process, Dec. 31 finally witnesses the formal establishment of theASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Community. Despite the euphoria and excitement, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a statement on this special day that the coming into being of the ASEAN Community does not mean that it has arrived towards the end of the community building process. "In fact, this is just the beginning," said the official. As what the foreign minister has revealed, the set-up of the ASEAN Community is far from the completion of the regional integration process, but a fresh starting point for this journey with both opportunities and challenges lying ahead.

Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Community 2015 (22 November 2015)

See also: The ASEAN Economic Community: The Force Awakens? (The Diplomat, 12 January 2016)

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.

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