ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Home >> Daily News >> ASEAN ANALYSIS
Asean Weekly ending April 29, 2012
Newly elected opposition members boycott parliamentary seats. Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) said April 17 said the party’s 43 new members of Parliament would not take up their seats until the government changes the swearing-in oath, which includes a pledge to “safeguard” the current military-drafted constitution. The opposition campaigned for the April 1 by-elections on a pledge to amend Myanmar’s constitution, which gives overwhelming power to the military, but the authorities have so far refused to do so. Separately, the NLD announced April 18 that Suu Kyi plans to travel to Britain and Norway in June on her first trip abroad in 24 years.
Japanese firms to help Myanmar develop securities exchange. Myanmar has enlisted the help of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Daiwa Securities to develop a securities exchange, according to the Financial Times. The two Japanese groups confirmed that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Central Bank of Myanmar to provide expertise to build and operate a securities market.
Asian Development Bank calls Myanmar’s economy a potential “gold mine.” Myanmar's economy could boom on an anticipated influx of foreign investment, Craig Steffensen, the Asian Development Bank’s country manager for Myanmar and Thailand, told Reuters. Economic growth is expected to hit 6 percent this fiscal year and 6.3 percent for 2013–2014. But Steffensen said growth will surpass that estimate if Western sanctions are rolled back and investment and assistance floods in from foreign companies and governments. Myanmar is a “huge market waiting to happen and growth will come from everywhere, not one specific sector,” he told Reuters.
U.S. business groups call for further easing of Myanmar sanctions. Thirteen U.S. business associations April 23 issued an open letter to President Barack Obama urging him to "open the door to further involvement of the U.S. business community'' in Myanmar. The Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others called on the administration to ease restrictions on private investment across all sectors and establish the same rules for all businesses. They also urged “lifting of financial services facilitation and transactions sanctions,” which they said is essential to the development of Myanmar’s economy. These moves, they said, are vital in enabling U.S. businesses to work in Myanmar.
Timor-Leste to preside over Community of Portuguese Language Countries in 2014. Minister of Foreign Affairs Zacarias Albano da Costa announced that Timor-Leste will preside over the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLC) beginning July 2014. The CPLC is an eight-member organization formed in 1996; Timor-Leste joined in 2002. The goal of the CPLC is to promote cooperation and friendship among Portuguese-speaking nations.
Portuguese and Tetum are the official languages of Timor-Leste, while English and Indonesian are working languages.
Government will send attach? to United Kingdom to support Timor workers. The director general of Timor-Leste’s Secretariat for Professional Development and Employment announced April 19 that it will send Maria Guterres to the United Kingdom as a work-attach? for Timorese workers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Guterres will work out of the Portuguese embassy in London. The government will urge Timorese workers, estimated to number about 8,000 in the United Kingdom and Ireland, to provide contact information so that Timor-Leste can provide assistance and information to them.
Aceh elects former separatist leader governor in peaceful election. Former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) official Zaini Abdullah defeated incumbent Irwandi Yusuf in the April 17 election for Aceh’s governor. Yusuf did not receive the backing of GAM’s old guard leadership and lost 29.2 percent to 55.8 percent.
Zaini was the foreign and health minister of the GAM’s government in exile until the group reached a peace deal with the Indonesian government in 2005. The election proceeded peacefully despite fears that violence would flare between each candidate’s backers.
Quake near Aceh tests tsunami alert system. A magnitude 8.6 earthquake struck the Indian Ocean near Sumatra’s Aceh province April 11 but did not result in injuries or major damage. It was the first real test for a $100 million tsunami warning system put in place after the December 2004 quake and tsunami that killed 230,000 people. The system worked, broadcasting tsunami warnings via loudspeaker, text message, television, and radio in countries around the Indian Ocean until the threat had passed.
Former Democratic Party treasurer sentenced to five years for taking bribes. Former Democratic Party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison April 20 for accepting kickbacks and rigging bids related to preparations for the 2011 Southeast Asia Games. The sentence was criticized as too lenient by Indonesian Corruption Watch. Prosecutors had originally sought a seven-year sentence.
Ban on export of unprocessed ore might push up world nickel prices. Russia-based Norilsk Nickel said April 18 that Indonesia’s planned ban on the export of unprocessed mineral ores might cause shortages that could push the market price of nickel above $22,000 per ton. The company said that if that happened, several idle mining operations around the world could be restarted. In February, Indonesia pushed the planned ban, which mandates domestic processing of ores, forward from 2014 to May 2012.
China Railway Construction Corporation to invest in bridge linking Java and Sumatra. An Indonesian consortium, Graha Banten Lampung Sejahtera, and the China Railway Construction Corporation have announced plans to begin construction in 2014 of a 19-mile, $10.9 billion Sunda Strait Bridge linking the islands of Java and Sumatra if an ongoing feasibility study returns positive results. The concept has existed for decades but is only now becoming economically feasible. The design has received the go-ahead from engineers analyzing the 260-foot-tall structure’s resilience to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Head of Malaysia’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit hails progress toward high-income status. Minister Idris Jala, the head of the government’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit, said April 18 that Malaysia is on its way to achieving high-income status by 2020. Idris Jala said that Malaysia’s 19 percent increase in private investments in 2011 was a clear sign that the government’s Economic Transformation Program (ETP) is working and indicated progress toward the government’s goal of national per-capital income of $15,000. The ETP is a set of initiatives that seeks to channel private investment into high-growth sectors.
Thaksin visit to Laos and Cambodia stirs tensions in Bangkok. Ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra made high-profile appearances in Vientiane April 12 and Siem Reap April 14, reportedly to celebrate the Thai New Year and reach out to supporters. One thousand supporters traveled from Thailand to see Thaksin in Laos, while the crowd in Siem Reap numbered several thousand, including high-ranking members of the Thai parliament. Separately, a controversial reconciliation bill that would include an amnesty for Thaksin was shelved by the Pheu Thai Party April 18 due to disagreements about the extent of the amnesty provisions.
Court to rule on l?se-majest? case under Computer Crimes Act. The Bangkok Criminal Court will rule April 30 on the controversial l?se-majest? case against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a manager of the message board for the news website Prachatai. Chiranuch was arrested March 6, 2009, for comments that were made by users on the website. This is the first case in which a person is being held responsible for user-generated content deemed to violate l?se-majest? on a website. Chiranuch is charged under the Computer Crimes Act. Numerous human rights and free press organizations have criticized Thailand for her arrest.
Songkran’s “seven dangerous days” more deadly this year. Thailand’s New Year celebrations, or Songkran, were more deadly this year than last, with 320 people killed and 3,320 injured. The celebrations, which ran from April 11 to 17, are termed the “seven dangerous days” due to the high number of traffic accidents caused by drinking and driving and the increased volume of cars on the road. According to Thailand’s Road Safety Center, there were fewer traffic accidents this year than in 2011, but the number of fatalities increased 18 percent.
Government establishes new agency for flood monitoring. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra April 16 ordered the creation of a new flood information center under the National Water Resources and Flood Policy Committee. The center will compile information on flooding from sources such as the Royal Irrigation Department and meteorological agencies, and distribute it clearly and concisely to the general public. Committee member Anond Snidwongs, who announced the order, said that many of the country’s current flood prevention projects are behind schedule.
Scores wounded as violence rocks southern Philippines. A string of bombings in the southern Philippines April 10–14 left seven dead and scores wounded. A powerful explosive booby trap planted by Abu Sayyaf militants hit an army patrol on the southern island of Basilan April 10, killing one soldier and wounding 27 others. Suspected extortionists bombed a bus in North Cotabato province April 11, killing 3 passengers and wounding 16 others. A grenade attack April 14 killed 3 people and injured 33 others at a cockfighting ring in central Mindanao.
Philippines, Qatar establish joint $1 billion investment fund. The Philippine government agreed April 11 to create an investment fund with Qatar worth $1 billion for prospective projects in the Philippines. The joint investment fund would be coordinated between the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry and the investment house Qatar Holding LLC. The creation of the fund comes after Philippine president Benigno Aquino and Qatar emir Sheikh Al-Thani signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding April 20. Qatar has expressed particular interest in tourism, energy, and infrastructure projects in the Philippines.
MILF casts doubts on likelihood of peace pact agreement with Philippine government. More than 200 political officers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed an April 8 statement expressing doubt about the prospects of a comprehensive peace agreement within President Benigno Aquino’s presidential term, which ends in 2016. The statement came ahead of another round of peace negotiations between MILF and government representatives in Kuala Lumpur April 24–26. The Philippine government remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached and hopes that negotiations will be bolstered by the inclusion of representatives from the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Philippine vice president warns of inevitable split ahead of elections. Philippine vice president Jejomar Binay declared during an April 17 interview that a split is “unavoidable” between himself and President Benigno Aquino in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential elections. President Aquino has denied the inevitability of a split and praised Binay’s service record in his administration. Binay, who chairs the PDP-Laban party, is a presidential hopeful in the 2016 presidential election and is aiming to distinguish himself and his party’s policy platform from Aquino’s Liberal Party ahead of legislative elections in 2013.
South China Sea
China, Philippines in standoff over Scarborough Shoal. Chinese and Philippine maritime surveillance ships remain locked in a two-week standoff at the disputed Scarborough Shoal. The incident began April 10 when Chinese surveillance ships intervened to prevent the Philippines’ flagship, the Gregorio del Pilar, from arresting Chinese fisherman for illegal fishing near the shoal. Most vessels, including those of the fishermen, have since left the area, but one Philippine and one Chinese patrol boat remain at the scene. Both sides have reiterated their territorial claim to the shoal and China has rejected a Philippine call to bring the dispute to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea for resolution.
China warns India, Russia over resource exploitation in South China Sea. India rejected an April 5 warning by China not to develop oil and gas blocks in the South China Sea. India asserted April 11 that no nation has “unilateral control over” the sea and it will continue oil exploration and investment opportunities with Vietnam. China also requested that Russia avoid getting involved in the sea after Russian gas giant Gazprom April 10 signed an agreement with Vietnam to develop two blocks off the country’s coast.
Vietnam lends support to Philippine multilateral approach to resolve dispute. Vietnam April 9 voiced its support for a Philippine proposal to resolve the South China Sea dispute through multilateral mechanisms within ASEAN. The Philippines made the proposal to fellow South China Sea claimants during the 20th ASEAN Summit in Cambodia April 3–4. China has said it prefers to resolve disputes bilaterally. Both Vietnam and the Philippines are looking to draft a binding code of conduct within ASEAN before inviting China to participate in the discussions.
International Crisis Group releases report on South China Sea conflict. The International Crisis Group published a report April 23 titled “Stirring up the South China Sea.” The report examines the policy shifts and reasons for diplomatic failure in the South China Sea, noting that China continues to benefit from ambiguity about its intentions. It concludes that long-term prospects for resolution depend on China developing a consistent South China Sea policy throughout the government and reining in the diverse Chinese actors that are pursuing their own interests on the issue.
Vietnam surprises investors with second interest rate cut in just over a month. Vietnam’s central bank April 10 cut interest rates by a full percentage point for the second time in just over a month. The State Bank of Vietnam hopes to encourage investment after Vietnam’s growth rate fell to 4 percent in the first quarter of the year, the lowest level in three years. The move surprised investors because it came so soon after the last rate cut in March.
Vietnamese and Chinese militaries strengthen ties. The militaries of Vietnam and China reaffirmed close ties during an April 16 meeting in China between Vietnamese Lieutenant-General Do Ba Ty and Commander-in-Chief Chen Bingde of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Both sides agreed to implement the contents of a 2003 protocol and work together closely at the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus, and they arranged for the their navies and border guards to conduct joint patrols and rescue missions. They also agreed to abide by basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related issues.
U.S. and Vietnam hold five-day naval exchange. The United States and Vietnam held five days of naval exchange activities to “focus on non-combatant events and skills exchanges in areas such as navigation and maintenance," according to a U.S. embassy statement. The U.S. 7th Fleet Flagship USS Blue Ridge, the guided missile destroyer USS Chafee, and the rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard arrived in Danang April 23. The last U.S. port call to Vietnam was in July 2011.
Vietnam asks WHO for help with mystery disease. Vietnam has sought assistance from the World Health Organization to investigate an unknown disease that has caused 19 fatalities and sickened another 171 people as of April 20. Symptoms include high fever, a rash on hands and feet, and eventual organ failure. The disease was first discovered in 2011 and most cases have come from one impoverished village in central Vietnam.
The International Monetary Fund lowers ASEAN-5 growth projections for 2012. The annual World Economic Outlook of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), released April 17, reduced its 2012 growth projections for the ASEAN-5 (Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam) from 5.6 percent to 5.4 percent. A number of factors influenced the reduced growth projection, including the ongoing low demand for imports in Europe and the United States. The IMF projected that economic growth for the five countries would rebound to 6.2 percent in 2013.
Cambodia ranks last of 146 countries in Gallup’s well-being survey. Only 2 percent of Cambodians described their lives as “thriving” in a recent Gallup well-being survey, the lowest of 146 countries surveyed. Forty-six percent of respondents in neighboring Thailand and 30 percent in Vietnam answered in the affirmative, while Laos came in just above Cambodia, with 3 percent. The poll surveyed 1,000 people over the age of 15 in each country. Cambodian government spokesperson Ek Tha responded by saying the government is “doing its best” as the country recovers from 30 years of conflict.
Nike asks International Labor Organization to investigate factory faintings. Nike April 12 asked the International Labor Organization’s industry monitoring body Better Factories Cambodia to investigate two mass faintings the previous week at its Sabrina factory. Nike officials met with Better Factories Cambodia, which is devising an action plan to prevent similar incidents in the future. Mass faintings at factories are not uncommon in Cambodia; more than a dozen factories experienced mass fainting incidents in 2011. Overwork and poor ventilation are believed to be the primary causes.
Cambodia signs $60.3 million loan package from Asian Development Bank. Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance April 4 signed a loan package for flood relief from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) valued at just over $60 million. The ADB will provide $55 million, while the remainder will come from AusAID, Australia’s foreign aid agency. The funds will support projects rebuilding infrastructure and encouraging economic growth in areas affected by last year’s devastating floods, the worst flooding in a decade.
Forty-eight charged in underage prostitution scandal. Forty-eight men were charged April 27 with having paid sex with an underage girl. The high-profile case gained widespread attention for the scale and profile of the men involved. They included nine public servants, a former school principal, a former bank executive, and the grandson of a movie and real estate tycoon. Although prostitution is legal in Singapore, having paid sex with anyone under 18 is an offense that carries a maximum seven-year jail term and a fine.
Singapore ranked Asia’s most livable city. A new study by ECA International released April 17 ranked Singapore as Asia’s most livable city out of 49 cities surveyed. Japan’s Kobe city was in second place, followed by Hong Kong. The study also ranked Singapore the best city globally for Asian expatriates.
Thailand and China pledge cooperation to boost security along Mekong River. Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao agreed during an April 17 meeting to work together with Laos and Myanmar to maintain joint law enforcement along the Mekong River. Nine Thai soldiers are currently on trial for allegedly killing Chinese sailors in the Golden Triangle region of the Mekong in October 2011. Yingluck promised “severe punishment” if the soldiers are found guilty.
Japan pledges $7.4 billion in aid to Mekong region. Japan will provide the five Mekong area countriesThailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar—with $7.4 billion in official development assistance over the next three years. Japan’s prime minister Yoshihiko Noda made the announcement April 21 during a Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo with leaders from the five countries. The funds will be earmarked for infrastructure projects.
Brunei and Turkey strike defense cooperation agreement. Brunei and Turkey have signed a defense cooperation agreement that includes technology transfer and cooperation in research on weapons platforms and systems. The deal was announced during an April 10 visit to Turkey by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah aimed at improving the bilateral investment environment and lowering visa requirements.
CAE to open $100 million helicopter training center in Brunei. Canadian aerospace company CAE announced April 16 that it would create a joint venture with Brunei’s Ministry of Finance to establish a helicopter-simulator training facility in Brunei. The facility is slated to have five simulators and several classrooms. CAE also signed a services contract for $170 million to service several of Brunei’s military helicopters.
“This post originally appeared on the Center for Strategic and International Studies cogitASIA blog.”
Letters that do not contain full contact information cannot be published.
Letters become the property of AseanAffairs and may be republished in any format.
They typically run 150 words or less and may be edited
submit your comment in the box below