Thai Supreme Court Ousts Prime Minister Shinawatra

Yingluck Shinawatra’s prime ministership abruptly ended on Wednesday when Thailand’s Constitutional Court ordered her and several of her cabinet ministers to step down. The court ruled that it had been unconstitutional for her to replace her national-security chief three years ago.

The decision has the potential to spark more violence witnessed over the last several months as deep economic and political divisions roil Thailand resulting in paralysis in government. Read more “Thai Supreme Court Ousts Prime Minister Shinawatra”

China, Vietnam Trade Blows Over South China Sea Oil

China’s state media and Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry traded harsh words this week. The exchange came after the Vietnamese issued a strong protest over Chinese plans to search for oil in a disputed area of the South China Sea.

It would be the first time that China has moved its massive and mobile deepwater drilling rig into the disputed area.

Both nations have claims over the islands in questions, which Vietnam calls the Paracel and China the Xisha Islands. They waters around them are believed to contain vast quantities of oil and natural gas deposits. Read more “China, Vietnam Trade Blows Over South China Sea Oil”

Philippines, United States Sign New Defense Agreement

Aerial view of the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, August 28, 1981
Aerial view of the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, August 28, 1981 (US Navy/Larry Foster)

The United States and the Philippines signed a security agreement on Monday allowing for more American troops to be stationed in the country on a rotational basis. The deal gives the Americans greater access to many of the bases they used to maintain, including the Subic Bay Naval Base, for the next ten years.

The agreement marks a turnabout for American-Filipino relations after the United States withdrew most of their troops in 1992 in the face of local protests. It also reflects the new security environment in Asia.

On the final stop of his Asia trip, President Barak Obama appeared with his Filipino counterpart, Benigno S. Aquino III, at a news conference in Manila. Obama took pains to say the deal is not intended to contain China but to “make sure that international rules and norms are protected.”

China and the Philippines are locked in a dispute over claims to uninhabited islands and territorial waters in the South China Sea. In that light, the agreement with the United States is not unexpected. China’s military buildup is causing angst in the region. Its smaller neighbors are becoming increasingly alarmed that their security interests may be threatened without the Americans engaged in Asia. As a result, the Americans are courted by countries in Asia to be a hedge against China.

The Philippines understands it needs the United States military to protect its interest as its own navy was no match for China’s in a recent dispute.

In 2012, in Scarborough Shoal, Chinese maritime patrols had begun enforcing what they said was Chinese sovereign territory. It pushed local Filipino fishermen out of the area. With tensions rising and an armed clash likely to occur, the United States stepped in and persuaded both sides to pull back.

The agreement did not hold as Chinese ships eventually retook the area and continue to hold it today.

Against China’s large navy, the Filipino coast guard is largely helpless. Filipino fishermen for generations made their living off the Scarborough Shoal and are now no longer able to ply their trade.

In that context, it is no wonder that the United States Navy is back with a more visible presence in the Philippines 22 years after being evicted from its bases.

America, Japan Seen to Be Making Progress in Pacific Trade Talks

When President Barack Obama departed Japan last week, on the first leg of a four country Asian tour that will also take him to Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea, the headlines were that he had failed to reach a trade accord with Tokyo. The sticking point of agricultural subsidies, which have always been the major stumbling block, halted progress on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership. But American and Japanese negotiators are actually said to be making real progress on this issue with the outlines of a compromise taking shape.

If Japan and the United states come to a bilateral agreement as a prelude to broader negotiations among the participants in the Trans Pacific Partnership, it would constitute a significant development for the region and global trade. It would also give Japan’s prime minister, Shinzō Abe, his third economic reform “arrow” to stimulate the island nation’s economy and Obama a diplomatic victory as well as renewed momentum for his Asia pivot.

In addition, the United States will have provided an alternative to the supposed “Beijing Consensus,” the state centered economic model championed by China’s rise that many observers in Asia predicted would gain in popularity at the expense of free markets. Read more “America, Japan Seen to Be Making Progress in Pacific Trade Talks”

East Asia Nervously Watching Events in Crimea

When the Crimea was voting to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, President Vladimir Putin was said to be on his proverbial hands and knees offering cheap gas and other inducements to China for its support. But China decided in no uncertain terms that it would stay out of this dispute when it abstained from a resolution condemning the Crimean vote in the United Nations Security Council. China is walking a diplomatic tightrope. It wants to avoid antagonizing a key ally in Russia without siding with the West and causing repercussions in East Asia.

What is certain is that East Asians are watching China’s actions closely for indications of its future policy in regards to the disputes it has in the East and South China Seas with its smaller neighbors. Read more “East Asia Nervously Watching Events in Crimea”

Snap Elections Fail to Put Thailand’s Political Crisis to Rest

Despite snap elections on Sunday, Thailand’s two largest political forces remain at a stalemate and with class and ethnic divisions deepening, tensions remain high across the country.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling Pheu Thai party was almost guaranteed to win a majority with the opposition Democrats boycotting the vote. They insist on constitutional reforms before participating in any more elections, knowing that otherwise Pheu Thai, which is most popular in the rural north of the country, will stay in power.

Opposition protesters have occupied large parts of Bangkok, the capital, surrounding key government buildings and virtually shutting down the government. Last week, thousands of police forces were deployed in and around Bangkok and a state of emergency was declared after violence had prevented some early voting. Read more “Snap Elections Fail to Put Thailand’s Political Crisis to Rest”

Vietnam Expected to Loosen State Controls, If Carefully

The international community is keeping a close watch on Vietnam’s National Assembly as it is convening a month-long session to decide the extent to which it will amend the Constitution. The session is expected to end next week with lawmakers believed ready to give the go ahead on loosening the communist country’s economy, finance and investment laws.

The big question is: will the government take on its vested interests and reform the heavily indebted state-owned enterprises? Read more “Vietnam Expected to Loosen State Controls, If Carefully”

Thai Government Destabilized by Protests, Border Dispute

Thailand’s benchmark equity index fell for a third day in a row this week, closing down 2.06 percent to 1,375.86 on Thursday and reaching an eleven week low. The country is tense with thousands of protesters in Bangkok, the capital, and elsewhere around the country, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra following the introduction of an amnesty bill.

In addition, an ancient land dispute has relations with Cambodia simmering again. With parliament in gridlock, Thailand’s internal and external political conflicts are at risk of overheating and threatening the stability of Shinawatra’s government only two years after she was elected. Read more “Thai Government Destabilized by Protests, Border Dispute”

Vested Interests Could Stymie China’s Economic Reforms

China’s ruling Communist Party last week outlined a series of reforms not seen in the country in decades. The changes are as deep and significant as many analysts expected beforehand as China is forced to change its economic model in order to keep growing while maintaining stability and single party rule.

The third plenary session of the party’s Eighteenth Central Committee in Beijing decided, among other things, to further liberalize trade, investment and price controls, extend land rights to farmers, give migrant workers access to education and health care, improve food and environment regulations, end the labor camp system and relax China’s one-child policy.

The broad array of proposed reforms signals that President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, who came to power during a leadership transition earlier this year, are serious about jolting the party into changing course. The challenge, which their predecessors also faced, will be implementing them. Vested interests have benefited much from the current system and are resistant to change. Read more “Vested Interests Could Stymie China’s Economic Reforms”

America, Vietnam Deepening Cooperation to Balance China

In an historic meeting at the White House in Washington DC on Thursday, President Barak Obama announced with Vietnam’s president Trương Tấn Sang by his side that bilateral relations between the former rivals will be upgraded to a comprehensive partnership.

In his remarks, President Obama called it “the steady progression in US-Vietnam relations.” Indeed, the progress since 2005, when a slew of business contracts was signed, has been profound with the United States now Vietnam’s largest export market. With unprecedented cooperation, in a wide array of sectors, it appears that a new era in American-Vietnamese relations has begun.

The agreement stops short of a mutual defense treaty, similar to the one America has in place with Japan and the Philippines, but the breadth of sectors now open for cooperation will touch about every area of society. They include political and diplomatic relations, defense, trade, science and technology, education, the environment, health, tourism and war legacy issues. Read more “America, Vietnam Deepening Cooperation to Balance China”