Why North Korea Is Courting ASEAN

5 08 2014

By Zachary Keck

North Korea has surprisingly robust relationships with a number of Southeast Asian nations.

North Korea is launching a charm offensive towards Southeast Asia as part of its larger efforts to expand its diplomatic ties.

On Saturday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong left Pyongyang for a trip that will take him to five Southeast Asian nations.

“A DPRK government delegation headed by Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong left here Saturday to visit Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and Singapore,” a brief report from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. The report did not provide any details about the length of the trip, itinerary or size of Ri’s delegation.

However, South Korean media outlets reported, citing unnamed South Korean officials, that Ri will first travel to Laos and Vietnam before arriving in Myanmar in time to participate in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) over the weekend. After the ARF ends, Ri will travel to Indonesia and Singapore.

Ri’s trip once again highlights the rather robust ties (by North Korean standards, at least) North Korea maintains with some Southeast Asian nations. Between 2000 and 2006, for example, trade with Southeast Asia accounted for as much as 12 percent of North Korea’s trade. It has declined in the years since North Korea’s first nuclear test, and Ri’s trip this week may be aimed at trying to facilitate stronger economic ties.

North Korea’s strong ASEAN ties extend to the five nations that Ri will be visiting. Perhaps best known is North Korea’s longstanding ties to the Myanmar Junta. Although Myanmarese leaders have claimed to have significantly reduced ties to North Korea as part of their more general reform and opening up, there have been a number of signs that suggest that ties remain stronger than Burma cares to admit.

North Korea also has fairly robust ties to Indonesia. The two sides first established diplomatic ties in 1961, and DPRK founder Kim Il-sung visited Jakarta four years later. The two countries continue to maintain diplomatic relations and have embassies in each other’s capitals. Indonesia also lobbied strongly for Pyongyang’s inclusion in the ASEAN Regional Forum. Just last year, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa spent three days in North Korea in an effort to position Jakarta to exploit some of the economic changes Kim Jong-Un is introducing in North Korea.

Similarly, Singapore is one of North Korea’s largest trading partners and has had political ties with Pyongyang since 1975. High-level exchanges are also a frequent occurrence, and North Korean leaders have at times appeared interested in the Singaporean model of introducing economic reforms without relinquishing political power. Like Indonesia, Singapore undoubtedly seeks to benefit from some of the Kim Jong-Un era reforms such as the special economic zones.

Vietnam and North Korea also have a long history of relations, dating back to the early Cold War. Although economic ties between the two nations have stalled in recent decades, political ties remain robust with frequent senior level visits.

Laos and North Korea also maintain a robust political relationship, having first established diplomatic ties in 1974. Moreover, there has been a recent uptick in Lao-North Korean diplomacy. For example, in 2011 Lao President and General Secretary of the People’s Revolutionary Party, Choummaly Sayasone, visited North Korea. During that visit, the Lao president met with North Korea’s then-heir apparent Kim Jong-Un. Former North Korean military chief Ri Yong-ho also visited Laos in 2012, as did Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea. North Korea values its relationship to Laos because of the nation’s communist rule and the fact that it serves as a frequent transit point for North Korean defectors seeking asylum in South Korea.

Although North Korea usually sends its top diplomat to the ARF, Ri’s trip throughout Southeast Asia is consistent with North Korea’s recent effort to expand its diplomatic ties. As the North’s relationship with its traditional Chinese ally has faltered, Pyongyang has sought to improve ties with a number of other countries in the region such as Japan and Russia.

This is South Korea’s interpretation of the purpose of Ri’s trip. An unnamed ROK Foreign Ministry official told Yonhap that “Ri’s trip appears to aim at strengthening relationships with the Southeast Asian countries in a move to come out of international isolation and gather ground in the global diplomatic arena.”

Ri’s trip might also signal that the North Korean regime is once again concentrated on introducing some economic reforms in the country. This has always appeared to be part of Kim Jong-Un’s governing plan, however, the effort has slowed since the execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, a well known economic reformer, last winter.

While at the ARF, Ri might seek to make headway in restarting the Six-Party Talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear program as all six nations will be represented at the body. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has already said he plans to hold informal talks with Ri on the sidelines of the regional meeting this weekend. The U.S. has all but ruled out the possibility that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Ri during the forum. When asked about a possible Ri-Kerry meeting, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “There is no plan for that. Nor do I anticipate that’s something that would take place.”

There hasn’t been official confirmation on whether South Korea’s Foreign Minister, Yun Byung-se, will meet with Ri, although both men plan to attend the ARF. Last year, the two Koreas’ top diplomats shook hands at the ARF but did not talk. Ri, however, is well positioned to negotiate on behalf of the North Korean regime owing to his longstanding relationship with Kim Jong-Un, which dates back to the latter’s childhood in Switzerland.

Source :

The Diplomat

The Indian Ocean in ASEAN’s Future Maritime Discourse

12 06 2014

ASEAN must prioritize its Indian Ocean strategy if it is to ensure regional security.

By Sourabh Jyoti Sharma

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has, throughout history, been a theater of intense endeavor, enterprise, competition and friction. The IOR has long been a pivot in global power equations, whose domination or control has facilitated prosperity, and even mastery, of the greater global commons. With the fast growing economies of India and China vying for their share of this resource rich ocean, their global hunt for energy and the ever growing importance of sea lines of communication (SLOCs) via the volatile Strait of Hormuz and narrow Strait of Malacca have made this ocean the global cockpit of great power rivalries. With the imperative of geoeconomics over geopolitics, and the shift in the balance of power from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific (earlier referred to as the Asia-Pacific by the western world) combined with the strategic location of the Indian Ocean, the IOR, as U.S. strategic thinker Robert D Kaplan opined in his work “Monsoon,” is the “center stage for the 21st century.” This revisits the Mahanian terminology concerning the importance of sea power in the future, in which the “new great power game” in the IOR is slowly but steadily unfolding.

The Indo-Pacific region is an area of both relative insecurity and strategic instability. It contains some significant flashpoints and has its share of border issues, acts of terrorism and overlapping maritime claims. The Pacific part of the Indo-Pacific region possesses significant multilateral structures, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Most regional institutions revolve around ASEAN, including the East Asian Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the various “ASEAN Plus” groupings. The membership of the EAS includes India, but the various ASEAN-centric institutions have focused mainly on East Asia, while the IOR has received less attention. Southeast Asia is often regarded as a distinctively maritime sub-region, and as a maritime bridge between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In many ways, it is the geographic center of gravity for the wider Indo-Pacific region.

Increasingly, it makes sense to conceive of a wider Indo-Pacific region rather than the traditional conception of the Asia-Pacific and its various sub-regions. Economic connectivity across the Indo-Pacific region depends largely on maritime links, for the trade and energy supplies needed to propel future growth. The IOR in many ways is the geographical center of gravity for the wider Indo-Pacific region. Sitting astride significant choke points between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Southeast Asia also surrounds the South China Sea, and is thus economically and strategically vital to the emerging economies of Asia. With widespread concern for the security of SLOCs across the IOR and Southeast Asia, there is no doubt that there will be a renewed interest among extra-regional countries in the IOR.

The importance of maritime security has been highlighted by the recent establishment of the ASEAN Maritime Forum and the ASEAN Regional Forum Inter-Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security. Established in 1967, ASEAN has proven to be a very successful regional association. It has much to offer the IOR and its sub-regions, as the larger region moves toward a new era of development and regional institution-building. It could play a useful role in dampening some of the instability that is emerging in the IOR.

In the spirit of the Indo-Pacific regional concept, ASEAN should be more active in pursuing its common interests and links with the IOR, by helping to provide greater strategic certainty within the region. ASEAN should promote regional institution-building by supporting moves to rejuvenate the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and others. It could then focus on a wider range of regional issues, including energy security, as the region is teaming with multifaceted security risks ranging from maritime piracy to arms smuggling, and threats from both state and non-state sponsored terrorism. With security forums like ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEANPOL and others, ASEAN should support cooperative measures for shipping security by strengthening the role of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (ReCAAP) in the IOR, which is pivotal for energy security that fuels the growth of ASEAN’s economies.

With a view towards enhancing the provision of speedy, responsive and effective humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations across the IOR, the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) might give some attention to these issues within the IOR, beyond its own immediate interests. Learning from the devastating tsunami of 2004, a study should be initiated by ASEAN concerning the maritime needs of the less developed countries within the IOR, and the potential for ASEAN to provide assistance, including training and human resource development, to these countries in areas such as port development and management, coastal zone management, EEZ management and the mitigation of maritime natural disasters.

The IOR is home to about 2 billion people and serves as a global energy highway with nearly 50 percent of the world’s container traffic and 70 percent of the world’s petroleum products traveling through its waters. In a complex, globalized and interdependent world, the IOR could be the global commons that is most contested amongst the great powers.

ASEAN, as a potential stabilizer in the region, and its member countries cannot afford to ignore these trends, and should pay increased attention to promoting links with all important actors in the IOR, and particularly with an emerging great power like India. Rather than being able to pick and choose policy options, this has become a security imperative for ASEAN. China’s naval inroads in the region via its string of pearls strategy, and its “historical” claims to “own” the entire South China Sea, together with the benignly viewed rise of democratic India’s naval prowess, are fraught with the prospect of protracted maritime disputes. This resource rich but highly volatile region will shape Asia’s strategic destiny in the 21st century, and be driven solely by the power of geoeconomics, as foretold by Mahan or Panikkar in the past, or as retold by Robert D Kaplan or C Raja Mohan in the present. Is ASEAN ready for this coming “new great power game” in the IOR, and in its backyard in the South China Sea?

Sourabh Jyoti Sharma is a research scholar pursuing a PhD, and is currently working on “Chinese Navy in Indian Ocean and Strategic Implications for India,” at the Department of Political Science, Delhi University.

Source :

The Diplomat

Thailand’s Coup – Will ASEAN Answer?

31 05 2014

By Kerstin Radtke

ASEAN must decide how to respond to the ongoing struggle for democracy in Thailand

Recent weeks have brought forth a slew of unfortunate developments for the “land of smiles,” as Thailand likes to brand itself. Political turmoil – first in the form of a half-coup on May 20, when General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law, and then finally the full seizure of power by the army on May 22 – has led to some alarming developments. These events should be of special concern to Thailand’s Southeast Asian neighbors, with which Thailand forms the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Thailand is one of the most active and central players in ASEAN, representing Southeast Asia’s second biggest economy. This coup is far from uncommon news for Thailand. In fact, it constitutes the twelfth effective coup d’état in Thailand since 1932, besides seven other attempts. The pattern of political instability that Thailand has shown over the last couple of years seems almost continuous, and one could argue that the country’s regional neighbors are  somehow used to these ups and downs in the Thai political landscape. However, the fact that the very popular, and in the past conciliatory, King Bhumibol Adulyadej seems to have stayed out of the game this time makes this coup special, with the route back to stability and democracy much more uncertain.

Why should we expect any ASEAN comment at all though, since ASEAN prefers to stress the policy of non-interference and a hands-off approach concerning member states’ domestic issues? The answer is that the non-interference norm has lately seen some recalibration. Domestic issues that have regional implications, or the potential to threaten regional stability and security, are no longer taboo. Instead, facing comments by other ASEAN members might be tolerable or acceptable. One prominent example was the ASEAN response to cyclone Nargis in 2008 in Myanmar.

Concerning Thailand, the ASEAN Heads of State and Government issued an official statement on December 14, 2013, calling “on all parties concerned to resolve the current situation through dialogue and consultations in a peaceful and democratic manner.” Although the statement could be interpreted as pro-government, it nonetheless stands out as a noticeable peak in ASEAN’s cherished principle of non-interference with the internal affairs of its member states. With the army’s seizure of power, the situation in Thailand has not been solved through dialogue, consultations or in a democratic manner. ASEAN should thus follow-up its December statement, especially because it’s expressions of democracy are also backed by principles in the 2008 ASEAN Charter. In this document, the organization subscribed to the ideas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Certainly, critics of the association have denounced the gap between ASEAN’s identity on paper, and its actions when faced with real situations. The question for ASEAN therefore, is whether it wants to live up to its self-ascribed standards, or continue to just pay lip-service.

Indonesia, nowadays often described as the custodian of human rights and democracy in ASEAN, has already taken an active line. On May 22, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said: “Without meaning to intervene in the domestic affairs of Thailand… the development of the situation [there] should be a concern of Indonesia, together with the Asean.” Another factor in ASEAN’s view of the situation should be that Myanmar, a direct neighbor of Thailand, has just turned toward democracy. ASEAN countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, traditionally the most supportive of pro-democracy developments within ASEAN, might also have a strong interest in Thailand going back toward democracy as soon as possible, so as not threaten the new and still fragile developments in Myanmar.

Regionally and internationally, the human rights situation and the further deterioration of Thai democracy were viewed with concern. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed her deepest concern about the situation in Thailand. Several other non-governmental, regional and international organizations like the EU, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), have strongly condemned the military’s seizure of power. The situation on May 20, when the army launched its “half-coup,” did not justify the imposition of martial law, which severely restricted human rights, civil liberties and media freedom. Considering these developments, it will be interesting to observe whether an ASEAN voice will also be heard in the current discussion of the “Thai fight.”

Kerstin Radtke is a Research Assistant at the University of Konstanz, Germany.

Source :

The Diplomat

ASEAN’s Tepid Response to the Vietnam-China Faceoff

17 05 2014

By Luke Hunt

The bloc’s inability to craft a united response to Chinese aggression signals a further decline in its regional clout.

By Luke Hunt

As ASEAN wound up its annual meeting in Naypyidaw with the usual round of backslapping and handshakes, Thailand was again close to political implosion while Vietnam’s navy faced another Chinese incursion in waters not far from Danang.

Sadly, both threats to regional stability elicited only a tepid response from ASEAN leaders gathering for the first time ever in Myanmar, a country whose human rights record could end a global attempt to coax its regime out of a North Korean-like status.

Not much was said about Brunei’s introduction of Sharia law and punishments that range from the stoning of adulterers, gays and apostates to lopping the limbs off thieves. Hard-line Muslims are pushing for something similar in Malaysia, which has been embarrassed by its fumbled response to the disappearance of Flight MH370.

Neither a ruthless crackdown on dissent in Cambodia nor a massive borrowing binge in Laos rated much of a mention among ASEAN leaders. Little mention was made of a serious economic crunch in Vietnam, which alongside the Philippines is providing the international bulwark against China’s extraordinary nine-dash line declaration.

Enthusiasm for ASEAN, and in particular the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015, has been waning, particularly among heavyweight members like Indonesia. This lack of interest in ASEAN affairs, and a willfully blind attitude to the more weighty issues of state, could not have come at a worse time.

The Thais had been tasked with negotiating a code of conduct between China and ASEAN over Beijing’s “ancient claims” in the South China Sea – also known as the West Philippines Sea and East Sea in Vietnam – as gunboat diplomacy between Hanoi and Beijing reaches its most dangerous levels since 1979.

Ancient claims have no basis in international courts, but Beijing is relentless in its territorial ambitions. It is also using its own rules in maritime disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan – and possibly Indonesia over the Natuna Sea.

But the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has left the Thais and ASEAN rudderless as China tried to defend its stationing of an oil rig on Vietnam’s continental shelf.

As Vietnamese and Chinese ships jostled and fired water cannons at each other – the best ASEAN could do was issue another summit statement urging restraint and expressing “serious concern,” timidly avoiding any mention of China.

Furious protesters have trashed 15 Chinese factories in Vietnam, forcing Chinese investors and tourists to flee across the border and into the safety of Cambodia. Golfers in Danang reported fighter jets overhead, heading out to sea.

Observers said it was the first time Vietnam had allowed the state-run press to freely cover the protests, which the government also allowed to proceed. However, Singapore-based Channel News Asia was taken off the air after flagging a report on the protests.

At least 200 people have been arrested and the Vietnamese government has pledged to crack down on hooliganism.

“It is clear that China’s new assertiveness is triggering anxieties among its neighbors,” said  Ernest Bower, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

ASEAN has long been ridiculed as a toothless tiger and its behavior amid the current standoff between China and Vietnam – perhaps the greatest challenge to face the group – only reinforces the claims.

If ASEAN genuinely wants to be taken seriously, now might be an appropriate time for a united public front on China’s territorial ambitions in the seas that divide the bloc’s 10 nations. If it is unable to do that, then individual member states face the daunting task of dealing with Beijing on their own, further relegating ASEAN to the political sidelines and undermining its diplomatic credentials.

Source :

The Diplomat

Weaknesses in the ASEAN way

10 05 2014

By Bahana Menggala Bara

Whenever weak Southeast Asian states join forces in ASEAN to engage with major powers, they aim to dictate to the giants.

This ASEAN way, with its emphasis on non-interference and consensus, has developed into an approach that offers an alternative to the more dominant Western one.

Contemporary Southeast Asian dynamics offer the so-called ASEAN way as an approach that may provide a positive model of self-engagement. But outside the relatively clear-cut idea of self-motivation, the ASEAN approach quickly becomes more challenging since ASEAN’s attempts to mimic the values of other regions are puzzling in their complexity.

To start with, ASEAN is an anomaly as far as regional groupings are concerned, as it asserts itself as the driving force when conducting external relations. This engagement challenges the current offensive norm in which major powers are the only entities free to engage in security competition.

In a confounding manner, ASEAN deems it has a similar capacity to do so, though it does not act on it to compete, but to stabilize.

However, ASEAN’s engagement with bigger powers poses a double-edged sword. Theoretically, it may well serve the weak and major powers’ mutual interests, but the extent to which ASEAN member states individually put regional interests before their national ones remains to be seen.

ASEAN may find benefits if it can bargain with major powers. However, dealing with unshared interests requires great wisdom and diplomacy, especially from the ASEAN chair.

Evidently, ASEAN under Cambodia’s chairmanship failed to issue a Joint Communiqué in 2012, letting itself be pulled by the force of interests from emerging powers. Here, the ASEAN ideal to engage with the major powers turned into being driven instead of driving.

It is therefore imperative that further reform be encouraged by strong ASEAN leadership. Additionally, Indonesia stepping in to restore the situation provides another anomaly of clashes of socializing, leaving one with the notion that weak leadership in ASEAN remains a concern.

Moreover, ASEAN’s ability to manage its complex external relations by creating myriad architectures remains a subject to be explored.

As is widely known, ASEAN has designed the ASEAN Plus One mechanism to facilitate the construction of larger regional architectures that do not overlap because they carry different purposes and act at different levels.

However, the architectures produce abundant documents and declarations from each consensus. In their making, a large number of meetings take place at all levels. One may find that this kind of approach is less efficient and less effective than a consolidated one.

The ASEAN approach tends to focus on the process instead of the result. In the end, the implementation of documents ends up in a long queue.

Finally, in conducting external relations with its dialogue partners, ASEAN’s actions tend to enforce a free trade regime. ASEAN, in this regard, has fallen into the regime of capitalism, a Western product. In this sense, ASEAN has unconsciously adopted Western values. By integrating with the world market ASEAN is mimicking the Western approach.

In the end, ASEAN becomes a part of the West’s efforts to create economic interdependence. ASEAN “grows” to become a mere market and hence is open to the exploitative relationship between core and peripheral economies. Ultimately, for ASEAN to purely mimic the Western approach as part of its learning process becomes a drawback.

As a regional grouping, ASEAN has four major weaknesses: The tendency to prioritize national over regional interests, weak leadership, ineffective bureaucratic structure and purely emulating the Western approach.

The first weakness often occurs because a large gap between CLMV (Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Myanmar, Vietnam) and the ASEAN Six (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines).

To be independent, rather than depending on external powers, it is paramount for the ASEAN Six to economically assist CLMV, or else the latter follows the political-economic strategies and orientations of outside powers.

Although consensus building within ASEAN comes more naturally by focusing on similarities and recurring patterns, the ASEAN approach needs to address, rather than ignore, their gap and strive to meet their differences through similarities.

To overcome weak leadership, a tandem leadership is needed. As chair of ASEAN in 2011, Indonesia had to deal with numerous issues that could have divided ASEAN. Upon leaving the position, Indonesia took the moral responsibility to ensure that its successor, Cambodia, safeguarded any ASEAN regional interests developed during its chairmanship.

Therefore, Indonesia should have carried out extensive leadership in tandem with and overlapping with Cambodia. Indonesia’s assertive action in proposing the ASEAN Six-Point Principles in the absence of the Joint Communiqué might have been partly motivated by its shared responsibility.

Eventually, ASEAN members must develop and learn about how to gain independent leadership, or else other powers might infiltrate and manipulate ASEAN’s leadership to their own wishes.

To tackle its structural ineffectiveness, ASEAN needs to focus its efforts on the results as much as the process. There should be a supervising body within ASEAN to keep track of what has been achieved so far.

This body needs to function not just to record the level of policy implementation but also enforce what is left behind. In other words, ASEAN needs to manifest not just normative but also pragmatic actions. If ASEAN is able to create an abundance of mechanisms for reaching a consensus, why is it so hard to design ones to enforce an implementation of the consensus?

Lastly, to end its penchant for mimicking a Western approach, ASEAN should adapt and localize the values it borrows from the West to better fit its own values, needs and interests. If it continues to purely adopt free trade agreements under capitalism and an inter-dependent economy, ASEAN should fall how the West falls.

Instead, ASEAN needs to design creative systems that anticipate the fall, enduring independently, creating a market economy and producing economy at the same time, not just a competing economy but also a complementary one.

To sum up, the ASEAN approach is still raw and untested, thus it needs to be challenged and criticized in order to survive, improve and endure. Most importantly, if this approach is set in motion as the model to be implemented in neighboring regions, the values and problems ASEAN possesses will travel along with it.

Applying the ASEAN approach is expected to solve some problems beyond its region, but leaving the drawbacks unresolved could aggravate glitches in neighboring areas.

Arguably, this Southeast Asian approach may offer an alternative model for international relations but only if it is developed to survive an ever-changing world where powers tend to be both dynamic and manipulative.

The writer, an alumnus of Leiden University, is an Indonesian diplomat. The views expressed are his own.


The Jakarta Post

ASEAN Leaders Summit to Take Place Amid South China Sea Concerns

10 05 2014

By Ankit Panda

Leaders from the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will meet in in Napyidaw, Myanmar this weekend. The meeting is historic due to its venue: Myanmar is hosting an ASEAN summit for the first time. However, the meeting unfortunately coincides with two major maritime disputes between two ASEAN states and China. Vietnam’s tryst with China over an oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands and the Philippines detention of a  Chinese fishing boat in the disputed waters of the Second Thomas Shoal will ensure that managing maritime disputes with China will top the agenda as the leaders meet in Napyidaw.

The timing of the summit could encourage both the Philippines and Vietnam, and the remaining ASEAN countries, to revisit the regional organization’s bid to develop effective multilateral means to manage the various disputes in the South China Sea. It is highly unlikely that the leaders would convene in Napyidaw and issue any sort of joint condemnation of Chinese behavior (not in the least owing to the host country’s complicated relationship with China). Instead, ASEAN leaders are likely to do what they have done in the past: emphasize international law, encourage restraint, and call for diplomacy.

More specifically, the timing of the summit with these two acute flare-ups in the South China Sea should be a rude reminder that ASEAN should double-down on its efforts to set in stone a binding code of conduct for the South China Sea. Without any such concerted effort, China is unlikely to reconsider its behavior in the South China Sea. As Flashpoints blogger Carl Thayer told the South China Morning Post, ”Asean protestations will not move China one inch.”

The prospects for this summit leading to a breakthrough on a code of conduct are slim. The watershed document in this area, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, signed between all the ASEAN states and China, is proving insufficient in managing contemporary tensions. As Malcolm Cook notes for the Lowy Interpreter, the 2014 summit will really test the mettle and conviction of ASEAN states to make good on their intention to enforce the 2002 Declaration. Chinese action in recent weeks, both against Vietnam and the Philippines, violates the declaration.

One of the worse potential outcomes of this weekend’s summit is that ASEAN leaders will leave Napyidaw having said or done nothing about Chinese behavior in the South China Sea or a code of conduct. Implicitly, such a result would expose the diplomatic fault-lines present within the 10-member association. Both Manila and Hanoi will be vocal in their pursuit of at least a joint statement on the South China Sea. Filipino Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles C. Jose told The Wall Street Journal that he expects ASEAN to reiterate its “grave concern over the recent developments in the South China Sea, as well as Asean’s strong resolve to uphold the rule of law.”

ASEAN leaders themselves remain divided over the urgency they ascribe to the China issue and the policies they would like to pursue to resolve South China Sea disputes. In particular, given that China is a major trade partner for each state in the region, the countries without disputes with China are not eager to participate in an inflammatory statement against China given the risk of damaging their political and economic relationships with Beijing. China’s approach of avoiding multilateral forums for addressing maritime disputes has worked to the extent that it has paralyzed ASEAN’s ability to respond in unison to China’s assertion of its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Indeed the July 2012 ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Cambodia offers a stark reminder of what disunity can look like within the association.

For Myanmar, the historic occasion of hosting its first ASEAN Summit and joining the comity of Southeast Asian nations as a state in transition will likely be overshadowed by a fixation on China. Although Myanmar’s reforms under the leadership of Thein Sein has reduced its dependence on China, it maintains cordial relations with Beijing and is unlikely to risk this over South China Sea maritime disputes.

Source :

The Diplomat

Presidential candidates unclear on ASEAN

3 05 2014

By Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar

Recent developments in the 2014 general elections have seen an absence of ASEAN debate from both legislative and presidential candidates. From the legislative campaign to current coalition talks, we have not heard any serious discussion on Indonesia’s position toward ASEAN.

While there have been slogans that glorified Indonesia in global politics — such as “Asian Tiger” — there has been no clear vision on how Indonesia’s foreign policy will be managed, particularly in the regional environment.

This is ironic; as the ASEAN Community will be established next year, our president’s vision on ASEAN will determine Indonesia’s position in the upcoming era. It makes this year’s general elections important, not only for the Indonesian people, but also for ASEAN.

The most interesting part of this year’s election is the rise of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Gerindra Party, two parties with populist-nationalist rhetoric that have been in opposition to the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over the last five years. Quick-count results from the legislative election have so far placed these parties among the top three positions, along with the Golkar Party.

The PDI-P is renowned for its populist and pro-poor approach to gaining voters, including the use of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno’s slogans, as well as criticism of Yudhoyono’s “neoliberal” government, while Gerindra uses populist economics and readapts nationalist symbolism to gain middle-class voters.

Both of these parties have utilized nationalist rhetoric as a main part of their political programs. Their approaches — such as nationalization or pro-poor programs — are different to the more pragmatic approach of the ruling Democratic Party.

This nationalist rhetoric is also accompanied by the tendency to strengthen the state’s role in managing the economy. Several campaigns from the PDI-P and Gerindra have raised “sovereignty” and “nationalization” as items on the political agenda, in contrast to the policies of the government.

Although the commitment to nationalization by presidential candidates Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto is still in question, their statements and programs reflect intentions to raise nationalism as a main topic of discourse.

The rhetoric campaigned by the PDI-P and Gerindra has two prominent characteristics.

First, the rhetoric glorifies Indonesia’s greatness and its decadence under a neoliberal regime. The parties reject neoliberal capitalism and excessive foreign investment and exploitation, and they call for the nationalization of strategic industrial assets, particularly those related to mining.

However, the PDI-P and Gerindra do not fully reject capitalism and the parties have been supported by several domestic businesspeople.

Second, the rhetoric strongly calls for “national sovereignty” and a strong state role in the economy. Both the PDI-P and Gerindra have described nationalism as a “state-led economy” in which the government stands strong in the face of the global economy. It shares some similarities with the early New Order government, which put an emphasis on state-led planning and industry, but with the full support of foreign aid, as described by scholars Vedi Hadiz and Richard Robison.

State-led capitalism differs from neoliberal capitalism in terms of who regulates the market and the role of the state, but is similar in terms of capital accumulation. State-led capitalism only transfers the locus of capitalist accumulation within the state; it has nothing to do with the bigger capitalist accumulation process.

Thus, within state capitalism, the capitalist accumulation will be preserved. With its strong position in the economy, the state will be able to control any industry or investment in the country (for example, through a licensing policy) and thus create a new form of oligarchy with businesspeople. It makes the state relatively autonomous in the process of capitalist accumulation in Indonesia.

The nationalist rhetoric is merely a redundant form of the “state-led capitalism” practiced in the early New Order era. As long as capitalists’ interests can be preserved by the new government, there will be no radical change in the next regime.

So, what would this mean for ASEAN regionalism?

This year’s election will have at least two implications for regional integration in South East Asia. First, the election will determine Indonesia’s position toward ASEAN. Nationalist candidates will favor a strong position based on “national interest”, while candidates from centrist parties (the Democratic Party or Golkar Party) will favor a more regionalist approach in their foreign policy.

Parties with nationalist tendencies are likely to be skeptical toward ASEAN integration. Gerindra seems to consider ASEAN and cooperation in other regional and international frameworks as an obstacle for national sovereignty. Gerindra’s position is clearer than that of other parties — Indonesia’s foreign policy should be based on state-defined national interest. Parties with religious tendencies, such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), aim to bring Indonesia’s foreign policy closer to the so-called interests of the Muslim community.

However since ASEAN has been completely institutionalized since 2003, such nationalist and religious tendencies will have to adapt its norms.

Second, the election result will determine debates and negotiations related to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Nationalists will favor higher state control of the economy, but “centrists” seem to accommodate ideas of “free trade” or a “competitive economy” embedded in the AEC Blueprint. However, their position toward capital will not be different to that of the current government.

The absence of clear foreign policy including regional and international cooperation from presidential candidates will lead to a lack of preparedness for facing the regional and global challenges ahead.

The writer is a staff member at the ASEAN Studies Center, Gadjah Mada University.

Source :

The Jakarta Post