Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ink By The Barrel



“Underlying all of this is China’s irritation that Singapore, though it professes to look both ways and doesn’t want to make invidious choices, is deepening its relationship with the US,” said Alex Neill, an Asia-Pacific security fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore. “On [Singapore prime minister] Lee Hsien Loong’s recent visit to DC he was afforded the highest of honours and access, what came out of that was an enhanced defence relationship.” 


“I don’t want to use the word ‘spy,’ I don’t want you to look at it in a pessimistic way,” the major general said. “If somebody spreads distorted information which can harm society in the future, then we have to help notify the relevant government agencies.”

Plus:

Is the Philippines' 'war on drugs' fuelling an HIV epidemic?

Asia’s poor choking on filthy air

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Back Foot

Wait...where do we stand?

Enlargement of SCO means that member states in Central Asia are to transit from the familiar and easy-to-understand Central Asian regional dimension to a larger, Asian one. Central Asian republics and mainly Uzbekistan fear this enlargement because it could marginalise their role within the organisation and also decrease their influence on decision-making within SCO. They may be then exposed to the impact of the Sino-Russian geopolitical strategies to a larger extent.
As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization looks to expand, some fear being swept up in larger conflicts (link)

This peace deal that was being negotiated for two years has generated serious concerns about the signals it sends. At one level, apprehensions remain about the substantive execution of this peace deal. At another level, the clauses of the peace deal are being seen as having set a wrong precedent to follow. In addition to the probable, direct impacts of the peace deal, it is also being opined that the brokering of an accord between the HEM and Afghan government might have a deleterious impact on the prospects of negotiating with the Taliban. While it cannot be said with certainty that the Taliban – which has already refused to negotiate unless its demands are met – will further distance itself from the peace process, but given the rivalry that has persisted between it and the HEM, it is highly likely that the Taliban will not follow in its footsteps.
Afghanistan's peace accord with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar may be more trouble than its worth (link)

Not only are foreign visits by Modi and his diplomats being leveraged for defense sales, India is also fast tracking indigenous production of defense equipment. It has ordered BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture between the DRDO of India and Russia (which produces the missiles), to expedite sales of the missile to five countries – Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Chile and Brazil. Requests from 11 other countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and United Arab Emirates are under consideration.

This flurry of activity is unnerving China which especially sees the sale and purchase BrahMos missile – reputed to be the world’s fastest cruise missile with a top speed of up to three times the speed of sound – as “destabilizing.”
India as Arsenal of Democracy (link)

Second, there is a question of utility. As elaborated above, submarines are great when it comes to sinking huge warships in naval battles. However, the maritime security threats that Indonesia faces today are not from imperial navies. They come from illegal fishing and piracy. Submarines are useless when it comes to low-intensity operations. Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti’s explosive measures against illegal fishing boats reflects the gravity of the problem. Indonesian waters are plentiful with fish, yet due to illegal fishing, Indonesia stands to lose US$20-25 billion per year. Seeing such grave losses, it would make more strategic sense to invest in enhancing surface capabilities, such as fast patrol boats, rather than in submarines.
"Submarines are the new bling, everybody wants them." Indonesia cannot have them (link)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Game Theory: Fuck You, Buddy




Chinese officials seem to recognise that volatile leaders can swing in more than one direction. Moreover, anti-China nationalist sentiment is widespread in the Philippines and among the military leadership, constraining Duterte’s ability to compromise. His high approval ratings – 91% at the end of July – do not ensure that his harsh domestic policies or swings in foreign policy will not come back to haunt him.

China can do away with the sense of physical ownership of real/property assets; it can focus on the services attached to production factors they need not have title to, and thereby rise to be a world power peacefully in the 21st century.

The Japanese business community clearly believes that political and security issues do affect Japan’s economic relationship with China. Only 8 per cent of Japanese support Japan’s long-standing principle of ‘keeping politics and economics separate’ (seikei bunri). In contrast, 40 per cent believe Japan should scale down its business interests in China if the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute deteriorates over the long term.
Amy King on the hardening Japanese business consensus towards China (East Asia Forum, link)

Yet there is no nation in southeast Asia better positioned to provide the counter-weight to China and Russia that America needs in the South China Sea than the world’s fourth-most populous country, one that’s not only strategically located in the region but growing economically in ways that will increase its ability to assert its interests. And there is no nation in the world that provides a more powerful example in this era of global extremism and instability than the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy which, at 250 million strong, proves every day that democracy and Islam can not only co-exist, but thrive. 
If the story of the Obama years was about America’s supposed pivot to Asia - which critics say is sinking—the story of the next eight years needs to be America’s pivot to Indonesia. And after two years of false starts and concerns about his leadership, Jokowi is ready for his close up. And not a moment too soon.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Shared Identity


...more Australians considered education, health, the economy and domestic violence as a very or somewhat important issue facing Australia than terrorism/national security, refugees/asylum seekers, or immigration. A significant chunk of Australians may support the notion of banning Muslim immigration, but it's not clear it's a policy priority for anyone outside a very small segment of the population.
Australians generally don't care for immigration. But they may not care about it as much as more pressing issues 


“Singaporean voters are mature enough to vote objectively”. He added: “A minority race candidate can also be elected as president if he or she is a good candidate in the eyes of the electorate. There is no need to amend the constitution to ‘reserve’ certain presidential elections for them.”
Observers ask whether a new constitutional amendment in Singapore to make it easier for minorities to become President is necessary, or just tactical


In another sign that lines are blurring, Koh said fishing boats have attracted suspicion for being painted like navy patrol vessels. What if, he said, fishermen get drawn into the maritime nationalism and take on the role of vigilantes?
China's "Militia-Fishermen" are just one example of the hybridization of political conflict in the South China Sea


While the government in relatively affluent Dili is obsessed with large-scale projects, it is neglecting the patient micro-work that could uplift the impoverished rural bulk of the population through programs like education for coffee growers and repairs to their roads.
Familiar fallacies pose pitfalls in East Timor economic development

Friday, September 23, 2016

No Big Deal

Please Remain Calm
The recent naval exercises demonstrate Russian support for China. Their implications are significant and should be monitored, but they should not be exaggerated. Apart from Russia’s desire to balance its relations with other regional partners, there are also signs that both Russia and China are aware of the sensitivity surrounding their actions. The fact that the exercises took place just east of the port of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province, and not near to the contested Spratly islands, is an indication of a conscious decision on the part of Russia and perhaps even China not to push the boundaries too far. While this geographical restraint may be partly due to logistics, it certainly also signifies a diplomatic choice. 
In effect, Russia and China are playing a balancing act in their bilateral relationship: they show mutual support on issues that are important to both, but gingerly navigate around other contentious matters in each other’s backyard. Just as Russia has not protested against Chinese economic influence in Central Asia, Beijing seems to be quiet on Moscow’s move towards regional cooperation in Southeast Asia. 
Some Say The Sino-Russian Alliance May Not Be All That. It's certainly not as deep as some represent


Limited attention on the Asia-Pacific need not obfuscate the reality that this region can be a critical node for more effective, dignified and durable action on migrants and refugees. Concerted progress in the region on trafficking, disaster preparedness and the new Bali Process consultation mechanism can be a catalyst for greater global ambition. 
Asia has seen large forced migration flows in the past. But there has been a respite in the last year. Nevertheless, the continent is home to the world’s largest-known stateless group, the Rohingya. 
Asia also hosts the world’s largest group of undocumented labour migrants and the most refugees and displaced people of any region. It includes, in Afghanistan, the world’s second-leading producer of refugees and second-largest source of refugees into Europe. 
The top-ten countries most at risk from sea-level rises and climate-induced displacement are in the corridor from India to the US. 
The brief period of calm in Asia presents policymakers with the space to deal more effectively with human trafficking, asylum-seeker protection and refugee status determination, and to improve regional co-operation. They must take decisive action to deal with the issues at hand and prepare the region for what’s likely to come.
Despite the Mediterranean holding world attention, the Indo-Pacific is the real theatre for progress on migration issues


OBOR unarguably offers great potential for the GCC. Even though it is a Beijing-led project, it is impossible for China to do everything by itself. There are plenty of opportunities for GCC businesses and sovereign wealth funds to evaluate investments that are mitigated by Chinese support. Although some observers are measuring GCC gains or losses carefully in comparison to Iran, the Gulf approach to the Chinese initiative must not be founded solely upon regional rivalry, especially as the volatile political environment and problematic government regulations in some Gulf States pose challenges for Chinese investors. Zhao thinks that Chinese companies will have to be cautious in marching into these new markets. This does not mean China will bypass the Middle East, but it will certainly take a gradualist approach and increase its investment incrementally as it becomes more familiar with the local environment. Security challenges will require Beijing to play a more active role in these issues, or at least pressure relevant stakeholders to resolve their rivalries; according to China’s special envoy to the Middle East, Gong Xiaosheng, OBOR could contribute significantly to the Middle East peace process.
China's New Silk Road presents opportunities for Gulf states, but the Devil is in the Details


In many ways, Bangladesh is still fighting the battles of 1971. The domestic political tension between the two Begums — Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Opposition leader Khaleda Zia — itself emanates from a debate over ‘who owns the narrative of 1971, and who secured freedom’, as Salil Tripathi, the author of a book on Bangladesh’s modern history, puts it. 
India played a part in these events; it has been considered Delhi’s most successful neighbourhood intervention. But the intervention did not create the kind of pliant state that Delhi would have hoped. As India prepares to engage with another internal movement in Pakistan, the experience offers lessons.
As we wrote earlier, Bangladesh' violent history is catching up with her. However, India also played a role and still has lessons to learn

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Asia's Unbalanced Spin Cycle


Given these seemingly coordinated Russian geopolitical advances in the world to the detriment of the U.S.-led alliances, it would be legitimate to wonder whether Abe, by going out of his way to court Putin in the desperate hope of solving the long-standing territorial issue, will not simply play into the latter’s cold global strategic calculations, all the while ruining G7 solidarity. The fact that Tokyo and Moscow have started a dialogue on security matters can only confirm Washington’s suspicion of a Russian effort to drag Japan away from the United States, strategically speaking.

“In my view, the danger that someone will be wrongfully convicted or a violent felon will be set free is imminent because of these prosecutorial practices in Honolulu,” Holcomb said. “This is a real world consequence of government secrecy.”
Honolulu criminal lawyer Richard Holcomb is on a crusade against prosecutorial misconduct in Hawaii's courts - and now new evidence has given it legs. Nick Grube reports http://www.civilbeat.org/2016/09/are-honolulu-prosecutors-covering-up-police-misconduct/

Indonesia demonstrates that in battling terrorism, democracy and serious efforts to gain legitimacy from the people before taking action are still necessary as part of a grand narrative to counter ISIL. 
Abubakar Eby Hara on how the evolution of Indonesia's state away from 
despotism has made the country more resilient against terror compared with her neighbors http://www.eastwestcenter.org/publications/democracy-and-the-legitimacy-indonesia’s-counter-terrorism-policy

One statement that I’ve heard repeated over and over again as I’ve traveled these routes is: “X years ago there was nothing here.” From the west of China to the east of Europe, new large-scale infrastructure is being built as the economic dynamics of Eurasia are undergoing a fundamental transition.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Legacies Meant To Be Broken

Original image courtesy legaciesofwar.org Programs Donate
A joint visit to Beijing should have been a challenge for local government heads to accomplish on their own initiative and resources, because officials at county and special municipality levels do not have guaranteed access to channels of communication with Chinese officials, the official said. 
However, a meeting organized by the TAO would be able to guarantee the necessary access to high-level Chinese officials, as well as create the parameters for what could and could not be discussed, with the group “not having to do anything beyond show up,” the official said.In response to the delegation’s call for expanding cross-strait tourism and cultural exchanges, Beijing issued an eight-point statement in less than a day, the official said. 
“The clever and speedy way in which the meeting was handled shows that the TAO had invested heavily in it,” the official said. 
(Some Say) recent KMT delegation to China orchestrated by Beijing (Taipei Times)

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2016/09/21/2003655548

It’s no coincidence that Renho’s detractors are the same people who are against allowing a female emperor. “Pure blood” ideology is at the root of Yawata’s philosophy — the “scoop” about Renho’s dual nationality was merely a delivery device. The law means nothing to them because their faith is invested in an occult mythos about the unbroken Imperial line. Kosugi insists these beliefs amount to “racism,” since they limit the rights of some people born and raised in Japan due to genetics. Asahi reported on July 6, 2014 — well before the Renho controversy — that the pure blood faction wants to kick out permanent Korean residents as well as anyone with dual citizenship by making all Japanese sign a loyalty oath. They are not just rightists, said the paper, they are “anachronisms.”
Uyoku fulminations against Renho come from an atavistic, venal, and unfortunately poorly contested tradition in Japanese politics (Japan Times)

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/09/17/national/media-national/renho-pure-blood-mythos/#.V-F3qjtd3N4

By the time war broke out in Sri Lanka, fisheries on the Indian side had begun to show signs of strain. Around the same time, in an effort to clamp down on smuggling, the Sri Lankan government enacted strict limits on its northern fishermen, prohibiting night fishing and restricting them to 10-horsepower outboard engines (later raised to 15), which left them bound to the shoreline. Even as they aided Sri Lankan refugees in finding safe harbor on the Indian side of the strait, Indian fishermen took advantage of the political chaos, crossing into Sri Lanka’s territorial waters to exploit their largely abandoned marine resources. That’s when violence on the strait began in earnest. 
In Rameswaram, I heard it said repeatedly that Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen are like brothers. But even siblings will come to blows when there’s not enough food on the table.
Waning supply has Indian and Sri Lankan Prawn fishermen in the Palk Strait at each other's throats (Slate)


The lack of diversification of the Mongolian economy away from commodities has been the primary trigger for its economic collapse. In 2013, mining accounted for nearly 90 percent of the country’s total exports. Mongolia has felt acute economic pain as a result of the diminishing economic growth and demand next door in China, its largest economic market and investor. But even with a slow recovery in global commodity prices, Mongolia faces immense challenges as it tries to rebound. Cumbersome mining regulations and a lack of transparency have also driven many foreign investors away.
Mongolia as exemplar of the Resource Curse (World Politics Review)


"You bombed our country, therefore we had to leave it and come here and we became part of you," explains Phitsamay Uy, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. "You educated us to know what our civic duties are. And this is how we contribute back. To make America great again, we're going to make America accountable for the actions they've done.”
PRI's Otherhood on how the secret war in Laos created a new generation of Americans who reformed Southeast Asia policy

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

As the Sun Burns The Ground



On one level, Kashmir is a proxy war between Pakistan and India. But that isn't the only level
The conflict in Kashmir is not just between Pakistan and India, but also between militant groups in the region seeking autonomy from Indian rule. Those groups include Hizbul Mujahideen, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which seeks independence for Kashmir, and Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terrorist group with connections to Islamabad and the 2008 Mumbai attacks. 
However, sectarian divisions and political ideology only provides half the answer to the conflict in Kashmir. Why is Kashmir so important to India, Pakistan, and China?The answer is the glaciers and fresh water they provide to the region and to India. The glacial waters that flow through Kashmir provide water and electricity to a billion people in India. Pakistan also relies heavily on glacial waters flowing from the region to prop up its agricultural sector. 
With a growing population and increased need for electricity, India has looked to the region to develop more hydro facilities. Pakistan fears that India may divert water necessary for irrigation, and use water as a weapon against Pakistan.
Kashmir is thus a major national security issue for both nations, the control of which could pose an existential threat to the other.

“The government actually has a very narrow band of options, and even those are not without a certain amount of risk,” says Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution in New Delhi. 
Covert action, such as cross-border raids on militant camps or training centres, could send a signal to Pakistan but would do little to cool public anger at home.India could also shell Pakistan positions across the disputed Kashmir border – as both sides have done in past years – at the risk of drawing retaliatory shelling and further weakening a 2003 ceasefire agreement. 
Airstrikes against Pakistani army posts or Jaish-e-Mohammad facilities are also a possibility, though would come with significant risk of casualties from Pakistan’s air-defence system, geared towards that very kind of Indian attack. 
“All options come with latent risks and latent costs, but the short answer is there are no good options, and if there were, they would have been explored already,” Jaishankar says. 
Yet if the Indian government can ride out the public anger, a restrained, diplomatic response might be its wisest route.

Perhaps conscientious voices in India can help point out a fundamental truth about the Kashmir conflict: irrespective of what the Indian government thinks Pakistan has done or is doing, the Kashmir dispute is rooted in a people’s genuine rejection of control by the state of India. Denying that is a hallmark of generations of Indian leaders, but it is a truth that has not changed.
The situation in the Valley at present is quite grim. Hence, the top priority has to be to defuse it, and all efforts at present should be directed towards that. Although the situation will come under control in due course, it will leave many scars which will take time and require extra efforts to heal. 
The most crucial issue is how the government of India should deal with separatist elements. Separatists in Kashmir include both pro-Pakistan and pro-independence elements – who have different agendas. Clubbing them together under the label ‘separatists’ and dealing with them as a single entity does not seem to be a wise step. The pro-Pakistan and pro-independence elements should be clearly identified and dealt with differently. The Supreme Court of India has also, in a different context, objected to loosely labelling any one ‘separatist’ and ‘terrorist’, and we should abide by that. 
As far as pro-Pakistan elements are concerned, efforts should be made to marginalise them by giving wide publicity to the treatment meted out to ethnic minorities in Pakistan. Explaining to Kashmiris how the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani regime treated Bengali Muslims and how it continues to treat Balochis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Muhajirs and even the people of PoK – especially Gilgit-Baltistan – will certainly weaken the hold of pro-Pak elements. There should be no room for any talks with these elements, nor should any facility be extended to them – other than those required by the rule of law. With regard to pro-independence elements, however, the government should be open to engaging with them if need be. Further, the fact that Islamabad is against independence and is striving only for the merger of the region with Pakistan should repeatedly be reiterated to them – thus highlighting  the fact that the Pakistani establishment has a totally different agenda.


Monday, September 19, 2016

The Acme of Skill



Ashley Townsend on how to block Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea without forcing them into a corner:

Given that China has yet to begin reclamation work on Scarborough Shoal, or to deploy military assets to its existing outposts, concerned nations like the US and Australia could issue deterrent threats in advance for greater effect. 
Australia, for instance, could commit to launching freedom of navigation operations – either alone or with the US – if China proceeded with any of these initiatives. Another possibility could be to outline a plan to chaperone Southeast Asian coastguards or fishing boats in the event that China returned to more overtly coercive tactics in disputed waters. 
Such threats should be communicated privately, so as to reduce the audience costs that Beijing would face domestically for conceding ground in the South China Sea.


Sher Alam Shinwari describes the impending blowback from Pakistan's expulsion of Afghan refugees:
(Civil society and rights activists) say that sudden repatriation of Afghan refugee would only fill Afghans with bitter memories despite the fact that Pakistan (provided them with aid). 
Experts believe that forced repatriation of Afghan refugees will backfire in deep socio-economic impacts on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. They are of the opinion that in early 80s after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the mass exodus from the neighbouring country into Pakistan created many social, political and economic problems for local people and the government.


Now out of power, Myanmar's military-backed USDP party is fracturing. Seth Aung Myint:
The dispute came to a head last August. As party chairman, Shwe Mann had control of the selection of election candidates. A USDP news conference in Nay Pyi Taw on August 12 was told that Thein Sein would not be among the party’s candidates. The response came within hours. During a midnight meeting at USDP headquarters in the capital, Shwe Mann was ousted as party chairman in a putsch that saw his factional supporters also removed from leading positions in the party. 
Despite Thein Sein and his supporters regaining control of the party, they were well aware that most members of its central executive and central committees were factional supporters of Shwe Mann. A minor reshuffle at last month’s party conference, at which Thein Sein unexpectedly relinquished the chairmanship, would not have resolved the factional rift. The reshuffle was aimed at providing the final solution to the factional conflict.
http://frontiermyanmar.net/en/a-wounded-usdp-looks-to-the-future


Finally, Maher Sattar on how Thailand's impending turnabout on drug policy will stand out in the region:
General Paiboon Koomchaya, Thailand's justice minister, has becoming increasingly vocal in his view that the country's drug policy "has been wrong the whole time", and has been calling for drug abuse to be treated as a health issue, instead of a crime. 
To get a sense of how unusual this is, compare this with nearby Philippines, where most estimates of the death toll from Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs have now passed 3,000. 
At least 1,500 people have been killed in the Philippines by the police themselves - the rest by vigilantes inspired by Duterte's hard-talking, no-quarter stance on drugs.
http://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2016/09/duterte-leaf-thailand-drugs-playbook-160918092613446.html

Friday, September 16, 2016

Same As It Ever Was

Astana: Unique, but the same
Central Asian watchers herald a cycle of leadership transition, but not much may actually be happening. Aktan Rysaliev on the facile shakeup in Kazakhstan:
Nazarbayev was enthused by his own shakeup, calling it an appropriate reaction to the demands of the times. The rearrangement will increase public wellbeing, boost economic indicators and ensure national security, the president said, according to a statement on his website. Nazarbayev said the changes had brought in a new generation of officials, including some educated under the Bolashak scholarship program, which has funded the studies of many young Kazakhstanis in universities around the world. Aidos Sarym, political analyst and head of the Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly Foundation, was more sanguine. “It is unlikely that there have been fundamental changes in the state system. It is more likely that the authorities understand what is going on in the country and what tasks they face. The government cannot but see that society is demonstrating its unhappiness with the economic situation, and this while the cabinet seems to have lost interest in its job,” Sarym said.

plus Pierre-Olivier Bussieres and Matthew Holland on succession in Uzbekistan:
For all the country’s many problems, the new leader will benefit from the fact that few people inside or outside Central Asia will want to do anything to further political instability in Uzbekistan right now — least of all Nursultan Nazarbayev. Kazakhstan’s 72-year-old president may well be hearing time’s winged chariot hurrying near with the news from Tashkent. He has had a worrying year himself, with his country eyeballing anaemic growth and having weathered extremely rare public protests on land reform. There have even been shootings of police in Aktobe and Almaty. 
Tajikistan’s President Rakhmon and Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov both run nations strapped for cash amid falling gas prices and remittances from Russia, with the latter hitting Kyrgyzstan too. A suicide bombing in Bishkek Tuesday has also no doubt underlined the Kyrgyz government’s own fear of terrorism. Stability in Uzbekistan is deemed crucial by the region’s capitals, even if they might each have axes to grind with Tashkent going forward. 
Outside Central Asia too, there is no desire for regime change. The US and the UK have sold arms to the Karimov regime despite its rights record, and Washington’s half-hearted objection to Tajikistan’s destruction of the Islamic Resistance Party shows that realpolitik is favoured in this region. Beijing will also want security, along with assurances that China’s purchases of natural resources from the region are secure. The curve-ball could be Russia, which might be tempted to ‘offer’ support to Uzbekistan during its transition, though this would come with strings attached — either in the form of Russian armed forces on their soil or a commitment to joining the Eurasian Economic Union. Moscow would be hoping to find the new president more pliable and less deft than Karimov.


Meanwhile, Vietnam may be chafing under the burdens of traditional alliances with China and Russia, but the US remains officially an inconvenient suitor for the rebound. Enter India. Helen Clark:
Right now Vietnam's other two comprehensive strategic partners, Russia and China, are engaged in joint patrols in the South China Sea, in a non-alliance worrying much of Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and of course, the United States. These patrols will likely annoy Hanoi (which has acquired Russian submarines partly in response to Chinese aggression). It seems shared China worries may have also helped push India and Vietnam closer together. 
The new high-level partnership works well for both nations. A tenet of Vietnamese foreign policy is multilateralism and that has become particularly clear of late. diverse partnerships. Even as China flexes its terrritorial muscles, Vietnam's historic pull toward that remains strong. Recently both Vietnam's defense minister and PM have headed to China, and the two nations have talked widely on traditional friendship and ties, and a solution to maritime issues. Yet the current climate has also been pushing Vietnam to increase its ties across the board (it also forged a strategic partnership with the Philippines in 2015, the third such partnership after the US and Japan), reducing is reliance on just a few nations. 
India is a good and rather obvious choice for stronger ties. There is a long history of friendship between the two (as there is between Russia and Vietnam), and the nations have had diplomatic relations for 45 years. India opposed the invasion of Vietnam and its founding of the Non-Aligned Movement earned it points in Vietnam, which has been a member since 1976. There has been good defense cooperation for some time. Vietnam's trade with India is higher than with Russia (US$5.6 billion versus US$4 billion), and the two also signed an agreement on cooperative oil exploration in the South China Sea five years ago, a move that upset China. On India's part, its old friend Vietnam is an important spot in India's own 'pivot', its Act East Policy, a point underlined in the joint statement issued during the recent visit to Hanoi.


Finally, Tang Siew Mun has six takeaways from the recent ASEAN summits:
That the summits went smoothly was due to Laos' commendable stewardship, which surprised many Asean watchers. Given that it remains highly dependent on China for trade and investment, Laos was expected to pander to Chinese interests. Instead, it showed that strategic proximity with China and the objective dispensation of Asean chairing duties were not mutually exclusive propositions... 
...Asean and China worked hard to avoid a showdown, which would have left all parties red-faced if a fallout were to occur during the Commemorative Summit to mark the silver jubilee of Asean-China Dialogue Relations. Asean was also eager not to allow the South China Sea issue clout and dominate bilateral ties... traditional Chinese diplomatic practice of marking these auspicious occasions with generous displays of soft power, such as pledges to increase bilateral trade and the launching of new educational initiatives, were noticeably absent. Was Beijing showing its displeasure to Asean? 
Never has there been a US president in recent memory who is as respected and well-liked throughout South-east Asia as him. Unfortunately, for all his hard work, his swansong comes at a time when many doubt US strategic endurance in the long run. Recently, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke candidly of these doubts when he said in Washington last month at a reception jointly hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce and the US-Asean Business Council that "Asian countries want America to be engaged, but we need to know that this engagement will be sustained, we need to know that agreements will be upheld, and that Asia can depend on America".