See More on Facebook

Diplomacy

Thailand faces tough job as Asean chair

Trade conflicts, a more assertive China and the South China Sea issue will dominate headlines relating to the bloc.


Written by

Updated: February 6, 2019

As Asean chair this year, Thailand must enhance the region’s cooperation amid growing US-China tensions that threaten to go beyond mere trade conflicts, international-relations experts said at a peace forum in Bangkok yesterday.

“The tension between China and the US is unlike the tension between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War,” said Yan Xuetong, chief of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University. He is also secretary-general of the World Peace Forum in Beijing.

Yan was speaking at a forum titled “An Uneasy Peace: China in a Divided World”, where he addressed the changing geopolitical dynamic between China and the US, and what that entails for Asean.

“Instead of focusing on military accumulation, ideological conflicts and nuclear threats, competition between the superpowers China and the US will be in the realms of economics and technology,” Yan said, calling the rivalry an era of “uneasy peace”.

The economic dispute between the two countries is only one aspect of the conflict and will be followed by technological tensions, he added, citing the recent arrest of Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, in Canada.

Thanks to President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, the US has been playing a smaller role in international politics, retreating from regions such as Asean. However, China lacks the capacity to take the United State’s place in international politics, which now leaves Asean members with the manoeuvring ground to take charge of their region’s management, Yan said.

The international relations expert agreed that Asean has been presented with an important opportunity to drive forward the cohesive integration of the region during the apparent geopolitical power vacuum.

Yan further suggested that while Trump’s inward-looking foreign policy has led to a general decline in multilateral relations around the world, the Asean region is an exception. Multilateral negotiations such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) and the Lanchang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) are still promising, he said.

Other participants agreed that there was a window for Asean multilateral cooperation to grow.

“For this reason, Thailand’s position as Asean chair is extremely important, as it will set in motion the necessary diplomatic and trade initiatives to cope with the changing world order,” said Kavi Chongkittavorn, senior fellow of the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) Thailand, and former chief editor at Myanmar Times.

One of Thailand’s most ambitious goals as the chair is to conclude the RCEP negotiations, which has been going on for seven years.

If successful, RCEP will be the largest multilateral trade deal in history, between the 10 Asean member countries and China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The key challenge for Thailand in negotiating the RCEP agreement will be to bind together China and India, the two superpowers that have conflicting interests, Kavi added.

“Completing the RCEP is not just significant for Thai trade, but it is also symbolic of Thailand’s commitment to push forward the notion of ‘Asean Centrality’,” he said later in an interview on the sidelines of the forum.

According to the Department of Trade Negotiations, the US-China trade war has made Thailand and other countries in the region determined to conclude the mega-trade pact’s negotiations by the end of this year.

Kavi believes that even though the negotiations have been dragging on for the past seven years, RCEP will finally be concluded in 2019 under the current external pressures.

“Our handling of the RCEP will say whether Asean is still relevant in the geopolitical field as a region. It will also improve Thailand’s image internationally for being able to reconcile opposing interests of various superpowers into a single mega-trade pact,” he said.

However, Yan has a more sobering view of the RCEP negotiations.

“Due to the sheer size of the deal and the conflicting interest of the economic powerhouses involved, the chances of concluding RCEP by the end of this year are slim, as are other regional negotiations that will be set in place,” he said.

“However, Thailand must keep the dialogue on issues such as RCEP on the table during its chairmanship to ensure that the region remains as one entity and that cooperation in the region continues to progress gradually.”



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Cod Satrusayang
About the Author: Cod Satrusayang is the Managing Editor at Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy

Iran sanctions alarm Korean petrochemical sector

Korea, major player in crude oil market, seeking alternative countries would drive up costs. As the US is set to end sanction exemptions for countries buying oil from Iran, South Korean petrochemical companies are anticipated to struggle in having to reduce their Iranian oil supplies. From May 2, eight nations, including Korea, Japan, China and India, will be banned from buying oil from Iran as the US government’s 180-day waiver ends. Iran is the fifth-largest exporter of crude oil to Korea, following Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the US and Iraq. Imports of crude oil from Iran to Korea accounted for 8.6 percent of total imported crude oil in February, according to Korea National Oil Corp. “We were a bit shocked. We didn’t expect a complete ban. Every company (affected) will be busy securing condensate, which is not abundant in the market,” said an anonymous official of a local firm in the petroc


By The Korea Herald
April 24, 2019

Diplomacy

PM Imran’s statement in Iran comes under intense opposition attack

Khan said in Tehran that Pakistan has been used as a staging area for attacks in Iran. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s public acknowledgement in Tehran that terrorists had in the past misused Pakistani territory to undertake attacks against Iran came under a blistering attack by the opposition in the National Assembly on Tuesday. Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari defended the prime minister, saying his statement was being quoted out of context. In an unprecedented, albeit bold move, Imran, while speaking at a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after a round of talks on Monday, had said: “I know Iran has suffered from terrorism [perpetrated] by groups operating from Pakistan. …we [need to] have trust in each other that both countries will not allow any terrorist activity fr


By Dawn
April 24, 2019

Diplomacy

Iran, Pakistan pledge to combat terrorism

Prime Minister Imran Khan met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Presidential Palace in Tehran on Monday. During their meeting, Prime Minister Imran — who is on a two-day official visit to Iran — discussed the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and ways to further ties in diverse fields with President Rouhani, Radio Pakistan reported.


By Dawn
April 23, 2019

Diplomacy

Kim to visit Putin in Moscow

The meeting will take place soon according to North Korean state media. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will soon visit Russia for his first summit with President Vladimir Putin, state media reported Tuesday. Kim “will soon pay a visit to the Russian Federation at the invitation of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation,” according to the Korean Central News Agency. “They will have talks during the visit.” = The KCNA, however, did not provide when and where they will meet. Kim and Putin are widely expected to meet in Russia’s Far East city of Vladivosto


By The Korea Herald
April 23, 2019

Diplomacy

A regime change in the Maldives

It remains to be seen how recent elections will change geopolitical realities in the island nation. Earlier this month, a former president of the tiny Indian Ocean island nation of Maldives who was hounded and forced into exile after he lost power came back with a bang. 11 years after multi-party elections were mandated by the 2008 Constitution, ex-president Mohammed Nasheed was exultant as the results of the parliamentary polls came in. His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had won a two-third majority. The MDP, led by his close associate and President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohammed Solih who himself had narrowly won the September 2018 presidential poll, got 65 seats in the 87-member People’s Majlis (Parliament). Nasheed termed the victory “a new, yellow dawn” (the MDP’s party colour is a bright yellow) for the country, speaking in the capital Male after the results. But such


By Ishan Joshi
April 21, 2019

Diplomacy

NK’s new weapons development a message to Seoul, US

Pyongyang also asks that Pompeo be removed from future negotiations. North Korea on Thursday reported the development of a new tactical weapons system, adding uncertainty to the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula. According to the North’s Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attended the testing of a newly developed guided tactical weapons system on Wednesday, and applauded the development as having a “very big significance” in strengthening the country’s military capabilities. The KCNA also quoted Kim as saying that “active progress in our own weapons systems is a very good development,” and claimed Wedn


By The Korea Herald
April 19, 2019