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So Many Southeast Asia Top Events, So Many Questions

by Joshua Kurlantzick
July 20, 2014

A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 10, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters). A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 10, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

The past week has been so busy with events, both tragic and hopeful, related to Southeast Asia, that I barely have time to keep up with the news.  A few short thoughts:

1. Is Prabowo Going to Concede?

No way. Prabowo Subianto is now tacitly hinting in interviews that, on July 22, he might be declared the loser of Indonesia’s presidential election, and he is now using interviews to argue that, whatever the result announced on July 22, it is likely a fraud. This is a shift from his earlier position stating simply that he was going to win. On July 22 he will expand on his fraud argument and file a case to the Constitutional Court. Jokowi – and Indonesia – better be prepared for a long and drawn-out legal contest.

2. Should Malaysia Airlines Have Used a Different Route for MH17?

Obviously, most of the news about MH17 has focused, naturally, on who brought down the plane, who was behind the missile strike, the grief of relatives of the dead, and the long-term implications for great power politics in Eurasia. There has been a kind of truce in Malaysian politics, as everyone in Malaysia is stunned by the tragedy; this kind of truce did not happen with the previous disaster, the disappearance of MH370 – opposition politicians and many commentators (including myself) blasted the Malaysian government for their inept handling of MH370. I think that this truce in Malaysian politics is likely to break down next week, as relatives of the dead from MH17, already angry at what they perceive as government stonewalling about information (though I think that the Malaysian government has done nothing wrong this time around), ask more forcefully why Malaysia Airlines was still flying through airspace above war-torn eastern Ukraine. True, some other Asian carriers also had continued flying through this airspace, probably because it was the cheapest way to get from Europe to Southeast Asia, but other regional carriers, like Qantas and Cathay Pacific, had been avoiding eastern Ukraine’s airspace for months now. Expect family members to put more pressure on the Najib government this week to more fully explain why MH17 was still flying the route.

3. Does China’s Moving a Rig out of Disputed South China Sea Waters Matter?

Last week, China moved the China National Petroleum Corporation rig in waters disputed with Vietnam to an area of the South China Sea closer to China. The decision defused, to some extent, the growing tension in the South China Sea between China and Vietnam, which had sparked riots in Vietnam and clashes on the waters. The move was touted by some Southeast Asian analysts as a sign that China is adopting a more moderate approach to South China Sea disputes. Some speculated that Beijing might even be willing to finally agree to a formal code of conduct on the sea or to address Southeast Asian countries’ concerns through international arbitration. (The Philippines has taken its sea dispute with China to international arbitration, but China thus far has essentially refused to respond to the arbitration.)

I really doubt that China is going to modify its South China Sea stance in any substantial way. Beijing is never going to agree to go to international arbitration, which would set a precedent that could be used by other countries in disputes with China over seas or land borders. And there are no signs that China is going to make any real moves toward a formal code of conduct on the South China Sea either. Instead, the removal simply signals that, for now, Beijing wants to cool tensions with Hanoi, Manila, the United States, and Jakarta, which also was becoming increasingly angry over Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea. Expect no change in Beijing’s position that it claims most of the South China Sea, and expect another rig to be moved into disputed waters in the next six months to a year.

4. Is Yingluck Shinawatra Going to Return to Thailand?

Thailand’s junta last week allowed Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to leave the country to attend a party for her brother Thaksin in France. She took her only child with her. During her absence from Thailand, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) recommended that Yingluck be indicted for dereliction of duty in relation to the former government’s rice subsidy program. The former prime minister, ousted by the May coup, has vowed to return to Thailand to fight the charges. I’m not so sure that will happen. In Paris, Yingluck’s brother, in exile himself, might counsel her to stay abroad as she is almost sure to be found guilty as long as the junta runs the country.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Cathy Yang

    Surprised by determined resistance from Vietnam and somewhat of an outward expression of displeasure from international communities, China tactically retreats but their next move will be more intense. The real impact on Chinese policy change will come when a counter-force consolidation takes place: led by Australia, Japan and India, minimally 2 more key regional members (Indonesia and Singapore) of ASEAN must join the Philippines and Vietnam to form not only a military alliance but a complete economic blockade of Chinese economy. The rest will be handled by internal Chinese politics, itself.

  • Posted by Juan Manuel Lopez

    I think both the US and the EU should do much more to support democracy in Thailand and boycott the military dictators. Substantial sanctions should be considered and enforced, and sport provided to democratic forces both within the country and in exile. A despotic, military ruled Thailand would become a Chinese client in the dangerous geopolitical context in the Asia -Pacific. For these reasons we must denuncie dictatorship and systematic transgression of human rights by the Royalist junta and work for an early return of democracy and freedom to that lovely country

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