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Thai prime minister visits Washington
Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited Washington on October 2-4 for meetings with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and key U.S. congressional leaders. Prayuth’s October 2 visit to the White House—the first by a Thai prime minister since 2005— included talks on bilateral trade, sanctions on North Korea, the South China Sea, and the Rohingya refugee crisis. Trump hailed the United States’ strong relationship with Thailand, while Prayuth told media after the talks that he was “satisfied” with the results of the trip. The joint statement pledged the Thai government to hold free and fair elections in 2018, with Prayuth later clarifying that elections will be held in November 2018.
Cambodia moves to dissolve opposition party
The Cambodian government on October 6 filed a petition with the Supreme Court requesting that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) be dissolved. The petition was based on complaints to the Interior Ministry by two minor parties aligned with the government accusing CNRP leader Kem Sokha of colluding with foreigners. The Supreme Court on October 9 ordered the CNRP to provide a legal response to the complaints within 20 days. Sokha remains in jail on charges of treason, while his deputy, Mu Sochua, fled the country on October 2, saying she feared for her safety in the wake of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s threat to arrest more opposition politicians.
Malaysia begins Kim Jong Nam assassination trial
The trial of two women charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, began on October 2 at the high court in Shah Alam, the capital of Malaysia’s Selangor State. Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia are accused of exposing Kim to a lethal dose of VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13. The two women, who face the death penalty if convicted, have pled not guilty.
Indonesia, Vietnam make gains on World Economic Forum global competitiveness report
Indonesia and Vietnam saw significant gains in global competitiveness over the past year, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018 released on September 27. The report, which assesses the factors driving countries’ productivity and prosperity, ranked Indonesia 36th globally, up from 41st last year. Vietnam rose to 55th place, up from 60th last year. Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines also saw modest gains in global competitiveness.
Indonesian president warns military to steer clear of politics
Indonesian president Joko Widodo on October 5 in a speech delivered during a ceremony marking the 72nd anniversary of the Indonesian armed forces, urged military officials to stay out of politics. Widodo's statement comes in the wake of controversial comments made by armed forces commander General Gatot Nurmantyo, who is believed to harbor aspirations to run for office in 2019. Gatot alleged in a September 22 speech that non-military institutions in Indonesia had tried to import 5,000 illegal weapons on behalf of Widodo, and he said he would attack the national police if they acquired military-grade weapons. The administration denied Gatot’s charges, with the security coordinating minister on September 24 clarifying that he was misinformed about a plan by the state intelligence agency to purchase 500 weapons from a state-owned arms manufacturer. Gatot will reach the mandatory retirement age of 58 in March 2018.
Philippine president calls for warmer ties with U.S.
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on September 28 called for friendly relations with the United States, striking a conciliatory tone after months of anti-American rhetoric. Duterte said that while Americans were not the Philippines’ “saviors,” the United States was a helpful ally and deserved thanks for its support in Marawi City, where Washington has provided intelligence and munitions to Philippine armed forces fighting Islamic State-linked militants. The president’s statement comes amid a period of rapprochement between the United States and the Philippines, with Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano on September 27 meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Washington. President Donald Trump is expected to visit Manila in November to attend the East Asia Summit.
Philippine president's satisfaction ratings fall
Net public satisfaction with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has fallen 18 points since June, according to an October 8 report by pollster Social Weather Stations. Duterte remains broadly popular, with 67 percent of Filipino respondents expressing satisfaction with Duterte as opposed to 19 percent expressing dissatisfaction, but this net satisfaction score of 48 percent is 18 points lower than the 66 percent Duterte received in a June survey. Duterte’s net trust ratings also declined since June, falling 15 points to 60 percent. The slide in satisfaction for Duterte follows a period of public outrage over the government’s drug war killings involving teenagers.
Vietnam fires leader of Danang for misconduct
The Vietnamese Communist Party’s Central Committee on October 6 fired the party chief of Danang, Nguyen Xuan Anh, and removed him from the Central Committee over charges of misconduct, mismanagement, and dishonesty. Anh had been party chief of Danang—which will host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November—since 2015 and had ascended through the party ranks quickly, joining the powerful Central Committee at just 40 years old. His dismissal follows the May firing of Dinh La Thang, a Politburo member and party chief of Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam’s economy vulnerable to potential Korean conflict
Vietnam is the Southeast Asian country most vulnerable to disruptions caused by a conflict on the Korean peninsula, the credit rating company Moody’s warned in an October 3 report. Non-commodity exports to South Korea accounted for nearly 6 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) last year, the highest proportion in Asia, and around 20 percent of Vietnam’s intermediate goods imports come from South Korea. The incorporation of Vietnam into supply chains for South Korean firms like Samsung and LG make the country particularly vulnerable to any weakening of production in South Korea, with Moody’s estimating that every 10 percent decline in South Korea’s GDP would lead to a nearly 1 percent decline in Vietnam’s economic growth.
U.S.-ASEAN economic relationship valued at $672 billion by U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on September 12 estimated the total value of the economic relationship between the United States and ASEAN at around $672 billion in 2015. In its “The ASEAN-U.S. Big Number” study, the chamber estimated the total value of the economic relationship by examining financial flows, sales by U.S. and ASEAN firms in the other’s markets, and government revenues derived from the operation of U.S. companies in ASEAN. The calculations also included the traditional measures of two-way merchandise trade and direct investment. This new methodology increased the estimated value of the relationship by around $145 billion.
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