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Southeast Asia reacts to Trump election
Myanmar’s presidential spokesperson expressed high hopes for continuing bilateral relations under U.S. Republican leadership, noting that Senators John McCain and Mitch McConnell were key supporters of U.S.-Myanmar relations. The Indonesian Foreign Ministry downplayed Trump’s previous anti-Muslim statements as campaign rhetoric and expressed confidence that the “United States will continue to be a country that respects tolerance.” In his congratulatory message to the president-elect, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen highlighted the foresight of his own endorsement of Trump.
Philippines halts some military exercises with U.S., preserves EDCA
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on November 8 announced that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States will continue, while some joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises will be scaled back. Exercise Balikatan will continue while the Philippine-U.S. Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise have been canceled. According to a Philippine Defense Department spokesperson, annual joint drills have been reduced from 13 to 6 or 7. Duterte has said he wants all foreign troops out of the Philippines by the end of his term in 2022.
Duterte cancels police rifle purchase after U.S. halts sale
President Rodrigo Duterte on November 7 canceled an existing order between U.S. firearms manufacturer SIG Sauer and the Philippine National Police for 26,000 assault rifles and said the Philippines would explore other options for arms purchases. The State Department had earlier halted the sale after Senator Ben Cardin, senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concerns about human rights violations stemming from extrajudicial killings linked to Duterte’s war on drugs. Duterte’s police chief created some confusion a few days later by saying that the president would allow the sale to proceed.
Hard-line Islamic groups lead protest of Jakarta governor
On November 4, more than 150,000 protesters descended on Jakarta to demand the immediate prosecution of Jakarta’s governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, for blasphemy. The charges stem from Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, publicly criticizing arguments that the Quran forbids Muslims from voting for non-Muslim leaders. The protests, which included members of various hard-line Muslim organizations, were seen by some analysts as prompted by domestic politics and an attempt to attack President Joko Widodo ahead of presidential elections in 2019. Purnama served as Widodo’s deputy when Widodo served as governor before he was elected president.
Thai crown prince expected to ascend the throne on December 1
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected to ascend to the Thai throne on December 1. The crown prince, who traveled to Germany to attend to personal matters following his father’s death on October 13, returned to Thailand on November 11. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said that the ascension will take place “in accordance with the constitution, palace law, and tradition.” The coronation will follow the cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which is expected in late 2017, about a year after his death.
Violence continues in Myanmar’s Rakhine State
Myanmar government officials said 34 people were killed after they attacked government troops in western Rakhine State on November 12, but Muslim Rohingya villagers insisted the victims were civilians and unarmed. Government troops have been conducting counterinsurgency sweeps since nine police were killed in attacks along the Bangladeshi border on October 9. Diplomats from the United States, United Kingdom, China, and the European Union visited Rakhine on November 9 as part of a UN observation delegation, the first granted access since the October incident. Some aid agencies also accessed previously restricted areas to distribute humanitarian aid.
Hun Sen breaks ground on next phase of rural roads project
The first phase of Cambodia’s rural roads project, completed on November 2, upgraded 340 miles of dirt roads to concrete at a cost of $68.6 million from government coffers. The second phase, to be completed in 2020, will expand the road network to 10 provinces and receive $54 million from the Asian Development Bank, $41 million from South Korea, $18.5 million from Australia, and $17.8 million from the Cambodian government. In total, 750 miles of improved road will be built.
Laos moves forward on third Mekong dam project
Construction on the 912-megawatt Pak Beng Dam, located in northern Laos, is slated to begin in early 2017. The ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party sees hydropower development as a critical source of Lao exports and views the dam as crucial for the country’s further economic development. Critics of the project cite as causes for concern a downturn in energy consumption in neighboring countries, the lack of an agreement between China and Laos over water management in the upper Mekong River, the potential negative environmental impact in Cambodia and Vietnam, and food security vulnerabilities.
Thai government earmarks $3.6 billion for rice subsidy scheme
Amid falling rice prices, the Thai government is encouraging farmers to delay selling their rice crop and participate in a new rice subsidy scheme. Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn expects 700,000 farming households in central Thailand will benefit from the scheme. Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s trial for negligence in her administration’s failed rice subsidy scheme prior to her ouster in a coup in 2014 is currently under way. Yingluck was fined $1 billion and faces up to 10 years in prison.
Singapore limits next presidential election to ethnic Malay candidates
Singapore has decided to change the rules governing the election of its president to ensure representation from all major ethnic groups. Under the new rules, a presidential election will be limited to candidates of a particular ethnicity if five consecutive terms pass without a president of that ethnicity. The new system will limit the 2017 presidential election to ethnic Malay candidates. A Malay has not served as president since direct elections for that office were instituted in 1991.
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