“The Missing Common Thread”, by Malcolm Cook


Commentary 2016/19, 27 May 2016 

President Obama’s latest visit to East Asia has featured two symbolic highlights; the full lifting of U.S. arms embargo against Vietnam, and the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to the Hiroshima peace park. Media coverage of the arms embargo have focussed primarily on US-China relations, undoubtedly aided by Obama’s unbelievable claim that the lifting has nothing to do with China. Coverage of the visit to Hiroshima has focussed on Obama’s stated and unrecognised desire for a world without nuclear weapons.



“A Mountain to Climb to Advance ASEAN-Russia Relations”, by Tang Siew Mun


Commentary 2016/18, 19 May 2016 

From 19 to 20 May 2016, ASEAN and Russian leaders will meet for the first time outside of Southeast Asia in Sochi, Russia to commemorate twenty years of dialogue relations. This relationship began in 1991 when Russia attended the 24th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Kuala Lumpur as a guest of the Chair. Five years later, Russia was elevated to full Dialogue Partner status.



“West Philippine Sea Redux”, by Malcolm Cook


Commentary 2016/17, 16 May 2016

On Sunday, in his first major press conference as the president-in-waiting, Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his desire for better relations with China. China’s ambassador to the Philippines will be one of the first members of the diplomatic corps to be granted a meeting with the president-in-waiting. Duterte, again, said he would consider bilateral talks with China over their territorial disputes in the West Philippines Sea. This is what Beijing has long said it wants.


“ASEAN must take the Lead to Remain Relevant in the South China Sea”, by Jason Salim


Commentary 2016/16, 12 May 2016

The US Navy conducted its third freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea (SCS) on 10 May 2016. USS William P Lawrence’s sailpast across Fiery Cross Reef elicited a strident response from China, which scrambled two fighter jets and despatched three warships to shadow the guided missile destroyer. This proves both China’s determination to entrench its position on the SCS as well as the unintended consequences of FONOPS in escalating tensions between the two major powers. If the high-stakes game of brinkmanship between China and the US is allowed to take its course, ASEAN may soon find itself in the middle of an armed clash between the two major powers.


“ASEAN Secretary-General’s Views on South China Sea”, by Termsak Chalermpalanupap


Commentary 2016/15, 10 May 2016

ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh added his voice to the chorus of sceptics on the emergence of an “important consensus” on the South China Sea (SCS) between China and three ASEAN countries – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia and Laos – during the 25th Fullerton Lecture organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore on 9 May 2016.


“Duterte, Jokowi and ASEAN”, by Malcolm Cook


Commentary 2016/14, 10 May 2016

The political ascensions to the summits of power of the presumptive president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, and first-term Indonesian president Joko Widodo are very similar in their disinterest in foreign policy in general and in ASEAN in particular.


“Adenan Strengthens Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Rule in Sarawak”, by Lee Hock Guan


Commentary 2016/13, 9 May 2016

With his inclusive policies, aided by a well-oiled party machinery, money politics and gerrymandering, Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Satem helped the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition win 72 of 82 at the 11th Sarawak state elections held on 7 May. It also benefited the BN that the opposition not only failed to unite in opposing BN, but, instead, repeatedly condemned one another for failing to compromise on seat allocations. Tellingly, the BN campaign focused largely on Sarawakian issues and indeed the corruption scandal swirling around Prime Minister Najib Razak was practically a non-factor.


“China’s Belt and Road Initiative Hits a Roadblock in Thailand”, by Tang Siew Mun


Commentary 2016/12, 5 May 2016

China was given a jolt of reality when Thailand shelved the 867km Sino-Thai rail project. Given that this link, which connected Bangkok to the north-eastern city of Nong Khai near the Laos border, formed a vital node in the Kunming-Singapore railway, Thailand’s decision threatens the future viability of this showcase of ASEAN-China cooperation.


“A Welcome Choice of Governor of Malaysia’s National Bank”, by Ooi Kee Beng


Commentary 2016/11, 27 April 2016.

The appointment of Muhammad Ibrahim as successor to Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz as Bank Negara Malaysia’s governor should be widely welcomed. Fear in the financial sector in recent months that the highly respected Zeti, who had served for 16 years as national bank governor may be replaced by a political appointee is allayed by the fact that Prime Minister Najib Razak has chosen a professional banker instead, who had been Zeti’s deputy for the last five years. This move will minimize the transitional hiccups.


“Chinese FM Wang Yi’s Remarks Rile ASEAN”, by Termsak Chalermpalanupap


Commentary 2016/10, 26 April 2016.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s remarks at the end of his official visits to Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia and Laos, whether intended or not, has the effect of undermining ASEAN’s consensus on the South China Sea (SCS) issue.