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Southeast Asian Sub Purchases Not Aimed at China

October 29, 2010 1 comment
Singapore's first sub, the RSS Challenger, docked at Changi Naval Base. Photo by Lucian Teo, used under a Creative Commons License.

Singapore's first sub, the RSS Challenger, docked at Changi Naval Base. Photo by Lucian Teo, used under a Creative Commons License.

By Dzirhan Mahadzir, freelance defence journalist based in Malaysia, and Malaysia correspondent for Janes Defence Weekly.

Joshua Kurlantzick has a post up on Asia Unbound about a Southeast Asian naval arms race. He argues that countries in the region are sending a message to China through their purchases of military materiel. Vietnam may be doing that. But for the other countries cited– Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia– that’s far from the case.

In fact, it is questionable whether it can even be said that there is an arms race in the region. Kurlantzick cites the Stokholm Institute for Peace Research (SIPRI) database in noting that arms spending has doubled between 2005 and 2009. I would use caution in consulting the SIPRI database for these purposes, as it does not take into account inflationary pressures and the rising cost of military equipment. SIPRI’s definition of arms is also pretty wide, including fighting ships and combat aircraft, as well as non-lethal assets such as transport planes and military training equipment. So it does not necessarily follow that spending increases documented by SIPRI represent a “race” to build up combat capabilities.

Southeast Asian nations are, however, gradually building up their conventional capabilities, befitting their increased level of development. The primary impetus for particular purchases, though, is not China, but similar purchases by neighboring states. This isn’t to say that China of no concern, but it’s not the main factor. Read more…

US-Korea Relations: Smooth Sailing in the Wake of the Cheonan (Part II)

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

By Victor Cha, Senior Adviser and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Ellen Kim, Research Associate at CSIS Korean Chair

Six-Party Talks and Exit Strategies

There was no agreement reached among countries to resume the Six-Party Talks, despite a flurry of shuttle diplomacy during the quarter.  Starting with Chinese Chief Nuclear Envoy Wu Dawei’s visit to North Korea in mid-August, China took the first step to kick off the conversation for the resumption of the talks.  Wu traveled to Seoul on August 26-28 to convey the North’s expressed hopes of returning to the negotiation table and discussed ways to resume the talks.  A week later, South Korea’s Chief Nuclear Envoy Wi Sung-lac and his Japanese counterpart, Akitaka Saiki, each flew to Washington and held a separate meeting with U.S. government officials to exchange views on the issues.  Then, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth and Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks Sung Kim took a brief East Asia tour to South Korea, Japan, and China.  Reopened dialogue channels and a series of active consultations and meetings among the representatives of the Six-Party talks triggered widespread speculations that the talks could be resumed soon.  After his meeting with Korean counterparts, Stephen Bosworth also expressed his optimism that “at some point in the not too distant future, we can be back engaged.” However, he also quickly noted that the U.S. was not interested in talking “just for the sake of talking” and urged North Korea to show its sincerity in denuclearization through meaningful steps.

Given that the U.S.-ROK policy agenda towards North Korea remains in the shadow of the Cheonan, a key precondition for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks appears to be the reengagement between the two Koreas.  After the U.S. and South Korea have taken joint military exercises and ratcheted up new sanctions on North Korea, questions have emerged in both countries as to what are their next steps and when and how they are going to move beyond the Cheonan Incident.  President Obama understands well the gravity of the Cheonan, and has made fairly clear through the NSC and State channels that the U.S. is not interested in a return to talks until the Cheonan issue is resolved to the ROK president’s satisfaction.  Should the North acknowledge the death of the 46 South Korean seamen, then a possible next step might be unofficial engagement among the U.S., ROK, and DPRK to gauge if the North is serious about returning to talks to discuss implementation of the 2005 and 2007 Bush-era denuclearization agreements.  Formal resumption of talks might then proceed on this basis.  The September 28 DPRK Worker Party’s special Congress anointed the youngest son, Kim Jong-eun, as the successor to his father, thus creating  a new independent variable whose impact on the country’s nuclear policy is yet to be known.  But the mere news of a leadership transition is not likely to change U.S. policy since this policy is based not on leadership change, but as Obama officials have often stated, on behavior change by Pyongyang regarding nuclear weapons and conventional provocations. Read more…

US-Korea Relations: Smooth Sailing in the Wake of the Cheonan (Part I)

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

By Victor Cha, Senior Adviser and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Ellen Kim, Research Associate at CSIS Korean Chair

The sinking of the Cheonan remained the predominant issue in the U.S.-ROK relationship as both countries spent this quarter coordinating and undertaking punitive measures against North Korea in response to its alleged attack on the Cheonan.  The UN Security Council adopted a Presidential Statement and formally condemned the attack that led to the sinking of the Cheonan but did not directly blame North Korea.  The U.S. and South Korea held their first “Two-plus-Two” meeting in Seoul where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with Foreign Minster Yu Myung-hwan and Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young.  While countries reopened their dialogue channels to discuss the resumption of the Six-Party Talks, there still remain many challenges and uncertainties that make the future direction of the talks unclear.  Several outstanding issues of the KORUS FTA still remain to be resolved while the negotiators of the two sides expect to hold a ministerial meeting soon to strike a deal.  The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a report on U.S. attitudes toward South Korea, which highlighted that American public support for trade agreements generally, including ratification of KORUS, is lukewarm.  However, among Americans who viewed fair trade with countries like Korea as critical for U.S. interests, support for KORUS was much stronger.

Cheonan Round 1: UN Presidential Statement

Tension persisted from the beginning of this quarter as countries tried to reach agreement on the UN Security Council measure over the sinking of the Cheonan.  While tireless wrangling and unyielding negotiations between the U.S. and China continued over the language of the Presidential Statement to be issued, North Korea threatened to start a “death-defying war” if the statement condemns North Korea for the sinking of the Cheonan.  On July 9, the UN adopted a unanimous Presidential Statement where it formally condemned the “attack” on the Cheonan without directly blaming North Korea.  Sin Son-ho, North Korea’s Permanent Representative to the UN, called the statement a “great diplomatic victory” for North Korea, and South Korea was widely divided over whether the statement adequately condemned the North with some people expressing disappointment with the outcome.  The statement was well received by the U.S., and The Wall Street Journal called it “a late-hour linguistic, if not diplomatic, victory for the United States.”  U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice stated that although North Korea was not explicitly criticized, the statement’s message to North Korea was “unmistakable” and emphasized that the language was not “neutral.” The White House also stressed that the statement constituted an “endorsement” of the results of the South Korea-led Joint Investigative Group which concluded North Korea’s responsibility in the sinking of the South Korean warship.   (For more details on the Joint Investigate Group report, please refer to the previous Comparative Connections from the second quarter 2010 at http://csis.org/files/publication/1002qus_korea.pdf)  Disagreements lingered over the interpretation of the Security Council’s Presidential Statement, but at the same time, its declaration helped the U.S. and South Korea move forward and pursue independent actions against North Korea.

Cheonan Round 2: Military Exercise and New Sanctions on North Korea

The Security Council’s response cleared the way for both allies to take a series of strong measures against the North.  On July 20, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and South Korea’s National Defense Minister Kim Tae-young met in Seoul and announced that the two countries will conduct their first naval and air exercises in the East Sea for four days from July 25.  To send a strong message of deterrence to North Korea, the first joint military exercises involved an American aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, as well as 20 ships and submarines, 200 aircraft, and 8,000 military personnel from both countries.  Throughout the quarter, the U.S. and South Korea conducted two more rounds of joint naval exercises, one in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and the other in the Yellow Sea.

Another measure taken against the North in response to the Cheonan’s sinking was a new package of U.S. financial sanctions that were announced by Secretary Clinton right after the first U.S.-ROK “Two-plus-Two” meeting in Seoul.  In early August, Robert Einhorn, Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, and Daniel Glaser, the Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, visited Seoul to discuss these new sanctions with senior ROK government officials.  At the end of August, President Obama signed a new executive order authorizing expanded North Korea sanctions, targeting the country’s illicit activities such as arms sales, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, and the procurement of luxury goods.  The Treasury and State Departments also blacklisted additional entities and individuals found to be engaged in the weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

2+2 and Sanctions on Iran

There is general consensus among policymakers in Seoul and Washington that the current U.S.-ROK alliance is in the best shape it has been in recent years.  The onset of the Cheonan’s sinking brought together two already close allies to become united against North Korea and stage a “show of force.”  The first “Two-plus-Two” meeting held in Seoul between U.S. Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates and ROK Ministers Yu Myung-hwan and Kim Tae-young exemplified an “upgrade” of the U.S.-ROK alliance from a traditional military alliance forged in the wake of the Cold War to a more comprehensive one.  In a ministerial joint statement, Secretary Clinton acknowledged that the alliance “has evolved into a strong, successful and enduring alliance” and announced the ministers’ decision to complete Strategic Alliance 2015 by the next Security Consultative Meeting.

The strength of the U.S.-ROK alliance was also put to the test as South Korea came under U.S. pressure to join its global nonproliferation campaign against Iran and impose independent sanctions on the country.  During his visit to Seoul with Robert Einhorn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Daniel Glaser strongly urged the South Korean government to make a decision, calling the South Korean participation “absolutely vital.”  Pressures mounted on Seoul particularly after Japan adopted sanctions on Iran.  The situation presented a dilemma for Seoul as Iran is Korea’s third-largest trading partner in the Middle East with the annual bilateral trade amounting to $10 billion.  More importantly, South’s heavy reliance on Iran for oil concerned many Koreans of a potential backlash from Tehran.  Internal splits within the ROK government delayed Seoul’s response to U.S. entreaties.  While the foreign ministry favored sanctioning Iran, the economic ministries were more cautious, in no small part because they remembered that sanctions by the ROK against Tehran during the George W. Bush administration resulted in immediate retaliation against South Korean businesses operating in the country.

Despite rumors that Seoul’s reluctance made Washington uncomfortable and even briefly strained their alliance, South Korea’s later announcement of its sanctions on Iran reaffirmed the resilience of the U.S.-ROK alliance and eased the anxiety of alliance managers.  The ROK government blacklisted 102 Iranian firms and 24 individuals and suspended, albeit temporarily, the Seoul branch of Bank Mellat, which the U.S. accused of conducting financial transactions related to Iran’s nuclear development activities.  The centrality of the U.S.-ROK alliance and cooperation, especially in the aftermath of the Cheonan to coordinate their response to North Korea’s provocative behavior, prevailed over South’s economic interests with Iran, experts say.  We believe, however, that the core cause for Seoul’s agreement for the Iran sanctions stemmed from proliferation concerns which overrode business interests.  The ROK could not possibly have pressed for the international community to implement counterproliferation sanctions against the DPRK but then abstain from pursuing similar policy objectives regarding Iran.

This is the first part of the Pacific Forum’s Comparative Connection available here.

Without a loosened grip, reform will elude North Korea

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

By Victor Cha, professor at Georgetown University and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

The massive Communist Party rallies in North Korea this month provided the world’s first real glimpse of that mysterious country’s next leader. Kim Jong Eun, youngest son of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, seen in pictures for the first time, was almost certainly named the successor to his ailing father through his recent promotions to the rank of four-star army general and second-in-command of the party. He is under 30 years of age.

In a country of hyper-isolation and xenophobia, the “young general” reportedly has a cosmopolitan upbringing. Believed to have been educated in Switzerland, he speaks some German and some English. He has a penchant for at least some popular Western amusements, including NBA basketball and pop music. North Korean propaganda praises him as a “brilliant genius,” wise beyond his years with “high-tech 21st century knowledge.”

On occasion in world history, courageous leaders have brought about monumental change. Does the young Kim have what it takes to finally catapult the North Korean people out of the Dark Ages?

Probably not. His youth is not the issue. His grandfather, Kim Il Sung, was only 33 when he was chosen by Joseph Stalin to be North Korea’s first leader after World War II. The young general’s father, Kim Jong Il, began climbing the party ladder at age 30, and was anointed as the successor to his father at 38. For the Kim family dynasty, picking them young is the natural requisite for 40 to 50 years of continuous rule.

The real problem is the system itself. Even if the young Kim is enlightened, there are three obstacles to reform. First, despotic regimes such as North Korea’s cannot survive without an ideology to justify their iron grip. And the ideology that accompanies the son’s rise appears to look backward rather than forward.

I call it “neojuche revivalism.” It is a return to the conservative and hard-line “juche” (self-reliance) ideology of the 1950s and ’60s, harking back to a day when the North was doing well relative to South Korea. Neojuche revivalism is laced with “songun” (military-first) ideology, which features the North’s emergence as a nuclear weapons state (Kim Jong Il’s one accomplishment during his rule). This revivalist ideology leaves no room for an opening-up, because it blames the past decade of poor performance on “ideological pollution” stemming from experiments with reform.

Second, true reform in the post-Kim Jong Il era would require the courage to loosen the political instruments of control that allow the regime to keep its iron grip on the people. The dilemma the young Kim faces is that he needs to reform to survive, but the process of opening up will undeniably lead to the end of his political control. This was perhaps the most important lesson North Korea learned from the end of the Cold War.

Finally, even if Kim Jong Eun is an enlightened leader who has the courage to attempt such reform, he will be dealing with a generation of institutions and people who are the most isolated in North Korean history. The generals, party officials and bureaucrats of the Cold War era were far more worldly than those of the post-Cold War years. Kim Il Sung’s generation was able to travel freely to East Bloc countries. Kim used to vacation with Communist leaders such as East Germany’s Erich Honecker and Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu. By contrast, Kim Jong Il’s generation saw Ceausescu executed and the Chinese Communist Party almost lose power in Tiananmen Square. The generation of leadership the young son will inherit sees nothing comforting about the outside world.

The revolution in North Korea died long ago, but the young son will be forced to cling to the outdated core ideological principles that worked during the Cold War. It is no coincidence that in recent months Kim Jong Il has frequented factory towns that were the center of North Korea’s mass worker mobilization (Chollima) movements of the 1950s. It is no coincidence that NKEconWatch’s Web site, which has the best Google Earth imagery of the North, has reported the rebuilding of chemical and vinylon factories that were the heart of Cold War-era Pyongyang’s now decrepit economy.

Neojuche revivalism is untenable in the long term. Mass mobilization of workers without reform can succeed only with massive inputs of food, fuel and equipment, which the Chinese will be increasingly relied upon to provide. China seems content to backstop its communist brethren for the time being, but donor fatigue will eventually set in. Beijing officials confide that the regime would last only through the calendar year without the Chinese lifeline.

The North Korean leadership changes will not lead to changes in U.S. policy. The Obama administration’s focus is rightly on denuclearization, given the threats posed by proliferation to the United States and its allies in the region. The revelations last week about the restarting of North Korean activities at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facilities suggest that Pyongyang wants more, not fewer nukes. Moreover, the United States does not know enough about the leadership transition to shape it in any meaningful way. We do not know, for example, whether the leadership changes represent the beginning or the end of a power transition. U.S. policy must stay the course, focused on sanctions but holding open the avenue for negotiations should the young general seek to kick his father’s nuclear addiction.

This article was originally published in the Washington Post on October 15, 2010 and can be found here.


ASEAN now Important to Japan’s Future

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

By Kavi Chongkittavorn, Editorial writer for The Nation newspaper and Chairman of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance

What is the prospect for Japan, a declining economic power supported by the U.S., also a declining superpower? The most frequently heard answer is: Please ask China! For the time being, the Senkaku incident was a wakeup call for Japan as it has shattered its confidence resulting from economic development since 1965. Like rubbing salt into the wound, the incident took place a few weeks after China overtook Japan as the world’s No. 2 economic power in mid-August. For the country that once used to provide huge amount of aid to China, China’s rapid ascension has caused a huge psychological blow to Japan.

Indeed, it was pretty depressing to be in Japan at this moment. Stay at a hotel in front of the Imperial Palace, one continues to hear loud speakers belonging to ultra-right-wing groups blasting and calling Japan to arm. Views from the Japanese academy, journalists and common people, however, were not militant but, nonetheless, they share similar grim views of their country’s future.

It must be the first time after post-World War II that the Japanese people have ever exposed to this kind of collective vulnerability and hopelessness. Talk to them long enough, they would tell you that they have low expectation in their government to manage the economy or protect national sovereignty. Suddenly so it seem, the Nihonjin have lost the can-do spirit of the past that has made the Land of Rising Sun great.

Only the government officials think better days are ahead of them. But they admitted many new initiatives need to be taken before Japan’s pre-eminent status could be restored, be it in politics or economic. Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara minced no word during the interview last week in his office that after the spate with China, Japan must further strengthen the Japan-U.S. security alliance and its relations with ASEAN.

He reiterated that the bilateral security pact is a public goods that has served as a bedrock for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan has yet to elaborate the plan to strength the U.S.-Japan security alliance. Maehara, who is known for tough views against China, described Beijing’s reactions during the fishing boat collision early September as “eccentric.” The foreign minister suggested that Japan would cooperate with the international community, through multilateral diplomacy, in encouraging China to behave as a responsible international stakeholder.

Read more…

The Second US-ASEAN Leaders Meeting: Pitstop or Plateau?

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catharin DalpinoVisiting Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and Joan M. Warburg Professor of International Relations at Simmons College

Perhaps the most significant achievement of the second US-ASEAN Leaders Meeting co-chaired by the United States and Vietnam on September 24 was that it happened at all. For several months, the timing and venue of the event were a source of debate and concern. As the 2010 chair of ASEAN, Vietnam extended an invitation to President Obama to visit Hanoi and to conduct the second US-ASEAN summit there. However, Obama’s crowded Asia travel schedule this year, which includes Japan, South Korea, India, and a long-delayed visit to Indonesia, cast doubt on that prospect from the beginning. When it became clear that the meeting would be held in the United States, the choice was between Washington, where US-ASEAN relations would register a higher profile, and New York City, where many ASEAN heads of state had already been scheduled for the United Nations General Assembly.

In early September, Washington settled on New York. If that venue made logistical sense, it also obviated the need for US policymakers to issue a permit to Burma’s foreign minister and representative at the summit, Nayan Win, to travel beyond his 25-mile limit to participate in a meeting in Washington. This decision would have been controversial in some quarters of the Washington policy community. Last-minute suspense emerged on the ASEAN side when Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono decided not to attend the summit, deploying Vice President Boediono in his stead. Although he cited a scheduling conflict, many view Yudhoyono’s decision as a criticism of Washington’s handling of the summit and of Obama’s multiple postponements of his visit to Indonesia.

It may be a sign of lingering mistrust that, for a brief period, these low-level diplomatic skirmishes obscured the very real advances in US-ASEAN relations in recent years: the creation of the position of US Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs; the negotiation of a US-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA); the introduction, at Washington’s urging, of joint humanitarian response exercises under the auspices of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); the US accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Commerce (TAC); more robust and high-level US participation in the ARF; and the establishment of an annual US-ASEAN Leaders meeting. Moreover, stronger US-ASEAN relations have afforded the United States a stepping stone to an enhanced role in the Asia Pacific region. Signing the TAC has led to Washington’s entry into the East Asia Summit (EAS), to be formalized in 2011 with President Obama in attendance. Furthermore, EAS membership will also have an immediate and positive impact on US-ASEAN relations, as the United States and ASEAN countries can now schedule summits on the margins of the annual EAS meeting. Although summits are highly scripted and seldom yield surprises, insights into some key issues are embedded in the language of the encyclopedic joint statement from the US-ASEAN Leaders Meeting:

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Text: Prime Minister Najib’s Presentation of 2011 Budget on 15 October 2010

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Full text of PM Najib’s Budget 2011 speech

TRANSFORMATION TOWARDS A DEVELOPED AND HIGH-INCOME NATION

Mr. Speaker Sir,

I beg to move the Bill intituled “An Act to apply a sum from the Consolidated Fund for the service of the year 2011 and to appropriate that sum for the service of that year” be read a second time.

INTRODUCTION

1.Praise be to Allah, for enabling me to table the 2011 National Budget. Indeed, this is a significant budget. This Budget is a precursor in our final efforts towards achieving Vision 2020, which is 3,365 days or 9 years, 2 months and 17 days away.

2.On this auspicious Friday, I present a budget that lays the foundation for Malaysia to become an advanced nation. Over the last 18 months, the Government has taken measures to propel the country towards becoming a developed and high-income economy.

3.The 2011 Budget is formulated with firm determination to bring significant changes to the nation’s development and the well-being of the rakyat. This transformation process is holistic, encompassing economic, social and political aspects.

4.The Government upholds the concept of 1Malaysia as the fundamental philosophy in driving the nation’s development path. The Government Transformation Programme or GTP and Economic Transformation Programme or ETP will be a guiding force in this journey. The six National Key Result Areas (NKRA) and the New Economic Model with its eight Strategic Reform Initiatives will be the framework for the nation’s economic transformation. The implementation of the development programmes will be realised through the 10th and 11th Malaysia Plans (10MP and 11MP).

5.The era of “the Government knows best” is over. Therefore, in formulating this Budget, the Government consulted and took into considerations views from various parties comprising the public and private sectors, focus groups, media, 1Malaysia blog as well as lab sessions.

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