The AP says:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday that the U.S. would participate in three Southeast Asian military exercises next year.
Panetta was in Cambodia for talks with his counterparts from 10 Southeast Asian nations in advance of President Barack Obama’s visit next week.
The defense chief said the exercises will be a humanitarian and disaster relief exercise hosted by Brunei; a counterterrorism exercise co-sponsored by the US and Indonesia; and a maritime security exercise led by Malaysia and Australia.
The New York Times reports:
The United States on Friday reaffirmed its military ties with the authoritarian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, a former Khmer Rouge commander, but Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also warned the country about its long record of human rights abuses.
Following my post yesterday about President Obama’s upcoming Southeast Asia visit this weekend, I wanted share another story on U.S. engagement with the region.
The Wall Street Journal reports today that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “has ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review military ethics training in the wake of a series of investigations that involve high-ranking military officers’ conduct…”
Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok earlier Thursday after renewing the U.S.’s military relationship with treaty ally Thailand, Mr. Panetta said he isn’t aware of any additional government or military officials who received emails from Ms. Kelley.
The scandal has emerged as a major embarrassment for the U.S. military establishment, overshadowing not only Mr. Panetta’s trip to Australia, Thailand and Cambodia, but also Mr. Obama’s scheduled visits to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, where he plans to attend a major regional summit. The U.S. “pivot” back to the Pacific is a hallmark of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, and analysts expect Washington to step up its bid re-engage with East Asia over the next four years.
Among other things, the visits to the region of top U.S. leaders are expected to focus on finding a common approach with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on resolving competing territorial claims with China in the South China Sea. The U.S. also hopes to improve military-to-military cooperation in the region, including with the armed forces of Myanmar, until recently viewed with deep suspicion by Washington for its North Korea-backed weapons program.
“Given the rising military power of China and ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, there was a consensus—within Washington, anyway—that America has to increase its military presence in Southeast Asia,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “Expect a lot more ship visits, training exercises with the armed forces of Southeast Asia and capacity building support, especially with the Philippines, which is the weakest link in the Asean chain.”
I wanted to point out a few stories ahead of President Obama’s upcoming Southeast Asia trip.
Obama will be Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia from Saturday November 17 through Tuesday November 20.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok provides details on Obama’s itinerary:
In Thailand, he will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck to mark 180 years of diplomatic relations and reaffirm the strength of our alliance. In Burma, the President will meet with President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi and speak to civil society to encourage Burma’s ongoing democratic transition. In Cambodia, the President will attend the East Asia Summit and meet with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The Bangkok Post says:
Despite the 12-hour time difference between Washington DC and Bangkok, US President Barack Obama will not even set foot in his hotel until after the day’s business here is finished.
The US president will arrive on Sunday afternoon at Don Mueang airport and travel directly to the Grand Palace where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be waiting for him, a city police source said.
They will travel on to Siriraj Hospital where they will have an audience with His Majesty the King, the source added.
Mr Obama would then travel to Government House to have dinner with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said the source, adding that after the dinner, he would have a meeting with about 600 US embassy staff at Chulalongkorn University’s sports complex.
At the end of the day, Mr Obama would check in at the Four Seasons Hotel on Ratchaprasong Road.
Obama will speak at Yangon University on Monday, according to the The New York Times.
The scars of military rule run deep at Yangon University — decrepit buildings, broken sidewalks and mold everywhere. But with plans for President Obama to visit on Monday, hundreds of workers have converged in an urgent effort to spruce up the campus. Mr. Obama’s trip to Myanmar will be the first by an American president, and the authorities are creating something of a Potemkin campus to greet him.
Meanwhile, and an op-ed in today’s Times by Bill Richardson and Mickey Bergman surveys political reforms in Myanmar:
After meeting with an array of leaders in Myanmar, we believe that Thein Sein is committed to transitioning to democracy. But the jury is still out on whether the reform effort will succeed. This is not a revolution like we’ve seen in Middle East countries during the last two years. This is a calculated and contained process — a reform movement from within. On the one hand, it has to be slow and deliberate to allow for governing capacity to be built, as well as to prevent those who prefer the status quo from blocking change, and to keep oligarchs from seizing control and plundering Myanmar’s abundant natural resources. On the other hand, it does need to move quickly so that the population will feel the benefits of reform. Success will rely heavily on full engagement and investment from abroad.
And Lewis M. Simons writes in an op-ed about Obama’s “Asian-style diplomacy”:
As President Obama heads to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos this week and next, intent on reversing China’s drive to tighten its grasp on Southeast Asia, he is exercising an uncannily Asian-style diplomacy.
By moving calmly into China’s backyard, without threats or in-your-face muscularity, he is proving himself adept at playing by Asian rules. How subtle of him. And smart.
On the subject of Cambodia and Hun Sen, Mark McDonald writes in the IHT:
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Southeast Asia this week, promoting American commercial interests in Singapore, reinforcing the U.S. military alliance with Thailand and putting the presidential imprimatur on democratic reforms in Myanmar.
But their stop in Cambodia for a regional summit meeting next week will be diplomatically stickier: Photo opportunities with Hun Sen, the authoritarian prime minister of Cambodia, will be hard to avoid.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak has in an op-ed in today’s Bangkok Post about the recent ASEAN meeting in Cambodia. He says:
The post-mortems of the failure by Asean to agree on a hitherto routine joint statement after their 45th Ministerial Meeting are coming in thick and heavy. Recriminations and acrimony are crisscrossing the region, the shockwaves being felt and analysed across the Pacific and to the Atlantic.
The annual ministerial joint communiques are as old as Asean itself. Its unprecedented absence is thus a serious setback for the 10-member organisation, a crucial blow to its credibility and coherence in the lead-up to its much-vaunted Asean Community by 2015. While the diplomatic damage incurred in Phnom Penh will be glossed over in Asean capitals, serious and effective efforts beyond damage-control are needed before the Asean summit and its related top-level meetings with other major partners are held in November.
What transpired in the Cambodian capital on July 13 is still not completely clear and confirmed. But it is widely accepted that Asean’s inability to stand jointly on even a diluted position was attributable to Cambodia’s disagreement with the Philippines and Vietnam. As the rotating chair of Asean for 2012, Cambodia refused to include specific references to the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, which is being hotly disputed by the Philippines and China. Vietnam also wanted to include wording on its right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as sanctioned by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. In other words, both Manila and Hanoi have rejected and challenged Beijing’s claims over practically the entire South China Sea, through which more than half of global shipping passes. Apart from the Philippines and Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also are Asean claimants of parts of the sea vis-a-vis China.
Thitinan says ASEAN’s “regional mix” is structurally different from the recent past” for at least three reasons:
…First, China’s posture is much more assertive and less hedged, as evident on South China Sea issues and beyond…
Second, the US is more engaged as opposed to the previous decade. Its rebalancing means certain Asean members can rely on the US’s new posture to hedge and leverage vis-a-vis China…
Third, Asean’s internal coherence is not what it used to be…
Worth a read.
Elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal‘s Southeast Asia Real Time had a story last week on the fallout from the meeting.
An interesting story in today’s Wall Street Journal looks at what the U.S.-Taiwan jet issue means for the South China Sea dispute and China’s relations with Southeast Asian nations:
The Philippines and Indonesia shook off any concerns over a U.S. decision to forego selling new fighter jets to Taiwan, despite fears it could signal a reduction in American support for the region as China expands its military power.
The U.S. decision, reported Monday by the Wall Street Journal, means the Obama administration will upgrade Taiwan’s 146 Lockheed Martin F-16 A/B jets rather than selling it 66 new C/D models that the island has been seeking since 2006, according to a congressional official. Southeast Asian officials were watching the outcome closely to see how the U.S. would balance its growing commercial relationship with China with its commitment to help defend Taiwan against possible aggression from China. It is a subject of intense interest in Southeast Asia given ongoing disputes between many of its countries and China, especially over territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea.
The Bangkok Post has this short item:
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) country members are ready to jointly bid to host the Fifa World Cup in the next 13 years, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said at the 15th Asean Summit on Sunday.
And here’s more from the Jakarta Globe:
Hua Hin, Thailan. Southeast Asia may make a coordinated bid to host the soccer World Cup, with countries sharing hosting rights, a senior Thai official said on Friday.
“Together we have 580 million people, together we would rank as the fifth-largest country in the world,” Thai Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said. “Why not?” The deadline for submitting bids for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals passed last February and it was unclear whether the Association of South East Nations was looking beyond those tournaments.
Asean groups Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Brunei, the Philippines, and Indonesia, which has submitted a bid to host the 2022 finals.
Eight of the 10 countries could each host a group of four teams in the competition, Korn said, adding that Japan and South Korea had set a co-hosting precedent in the 2002 World Cup.
BBC: “Asean opens with economic agenda”
The 10-member Association of South East Asian nations (Asean) has started a summit meeting in Thailand.
They will discuss how to address the impact of declining global demand on their export-dependent economies.
This is the first summit since Asean implemented a charter making it a legal entity more like the European Union.
But human rights groups say there is still no mechanism for dealing with routine abuses inside Asean member states like Burma and Vietnam.
With some Asean members dependent on exports for as much as three quarters of national income, the global economic crisis hangs over this summit meeting like a thunder-cloud.
But there is not much the member states can do to soften the blow – whereas human rights groups say they should be doing a lot more to give their new charter teeth so that fellow members can be held accountable for abuses of their citizens.