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A new phase in US foreign policy, in which China is viewed as a major threat to American economic and security interests, has begun under the Trump administration. The strong anti-China sentiment is accompanied by efforts to "decouple" from China. If carried too far, they will alienate allies and friends whose cooperation the US will need in order to compete with China. In the broader American foreign policy community, there is an intense ongoing debate on how strong the push-back against China should be. Both moderates and hawks agree on the need for a "tougher" approach but differ on the degree and method of toughness. No coherent strategy has been possible partly because President Trump's thinking does not always accord with that of his own administration and partly because it is still too early in the day to come out with well-thought-out policies to support such a major change in foreign policy direction. The ongoing adjustments to global policy and strategy will therefore continue as the security focus shifts to the Indo-Pacific region. The "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" concept provides some signs of the broad direction policy may take but its vital economic dimension is still missing. There is greater recognition in Washington of the importance of Southeast Asia. Located in the middle of Indo-Pacific, it will be a contested zone between China and the US and its allies. The US will step up its public diplomacy to better promote its own narrative in Southeast Asia. Under the Trump administration, the importance of the South China Sea to the US has risen. The US will remain a powerful factor in Asia despite Trump and problems at home. China is not on an inevitable path of dominance given its own significant domestic challenges.
The Chinese diaspora, consisting of both Chinese living overseas who are citizens of China (huaqiao), and people of Chinese descent who are citizens of foreign countries (huaren), have significantly shaped the making of modern China. China's policy towards its diaspora is primarily governed by its national interests and foreign policy imperatives. However, the Chinese government has been careful to ensure that the huaqiao and the huaren fall into different policy domains: Chinese citizens living overseas are subject to China's domestic policies, while Chinese descendants who are citizens of other countries come under China's foreign affairs. Nevertheless, from the beginning, the latter continue to be regarded as kinsfolk distinct from other foreign nationals. The huaqiao-huaren distinction is often blurred in ordinary discourse and this has been a source of much misunderstanding. However, it has not been the policy of the Chinese government to blur this distinction, and it is acutely aware of the complexity of the issue and is therefore very cautious about implying any change. As such, when terms such as huaqiao-huaren are introduced in the official lexicon, they are meant to acknowledge certain historical and contemporary realities, and not to deliberately obfuscate the two categories. The use of the combined term is in fact a recognition of the clear-cut distinction between the two groups, and is meant to convey a semantic balance in which neither category is emphasized at the expense of the other. In general, since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese government has treated the diaspora as an asset, rather than a liability. The sole exception was during the Cultural Revolution when returnees, or the guiqiao, were condemned as reactionary and bourgeois elements. There is therefore a fundamental continuity in China's diaspora policy: namely, that China embraces both groups as part of a global Chinese community. Some policy shifts can be expected in future as China becomes more proactive in reaching out to its diaspora while balancing the needs and interests of Chinese abroad with the needs and interests of the Mainland.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government promised education reforms before getting elected in 2018, and presently grapples with the complexities of making good on those pledges while seeking to negotiate continuity and change with regard to the previous administration's Malaysian Education Blueprint launched in 2013. This article situates the education reforms in the context of Malaysia's highly centralized administration, embedded practices and policy initiatives of recent years. Discussion focuses on three areas-quality, equity, autonomy—where PH has more distinctly differentiated itself from its predecessor. On the quality of national schools, efforts to alleviate teachers' bureaucratic workload and enhance the schooling experience mark a positive start. However, transforming mindsets and practices will require more systemic changes, critical self-reflection, and sustained efforts on difficult matters, particularly in basic schooling and technical and vocational programmes. On equity, the government's consistent attention to Bottom 40 (B40) households progressively allocates opportunity, and continual need to address ethnic concerns poses steep challenges. However, policy responses tend to unfold in an ad hoc manner, and the balancing of ethnic interests lacks clarity and coherence. On autonomy, at the institutional level, legislative overhaul in higher education is in the works, while at the personal level, academic freedom clearly thrives more under PH administration. Meaningful and effective reform will hinge on devolution of power away from central government, institutionalization of autonomy, and depoliticization of the system.
Muhammadiyah, together with the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), are seen as the two pillars of moderate Islam in Indonesia. Muhammadiyah is currently often perceived to be the more conservative of the two and to have more affinity with Islamist groups. On political issues, for instance, it is steered by Islamist imagery. On cultural issues, Muhammadiyah is often guided by old enmity towards what is called the TBC (takhayul, bid'ah dan churafat; delusions, religious innovation without precedence in the Prophetic traditions and the Qur'an, and superstitions or irrational belief). This position has placed Muhammadiyah in an uneasy relationship with both local cultures and traditionalist Islam. Three issues that were raised in 2017—the banning of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the recurrent controversy on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and the ruling of the Constitutional Court on Penghayat Kepercayaan—are issues where Muhammadiyah has been easily drawn towards Islamist and conservative tendencies.Be that as it may, Muhammadiyah remains a social movement guided by its long-held theology of al- Mā`ūn (kindness) and with a strong emphasis on social services. It is this doctrine that has prevented Muhammadiyah from dwelling on mythical or abstract issues and neutralized it against Islamism, making its members more realistic in viewing the world, more prone to distancing themselves from the utopian vision of a caliphate, from the dream of shariah as the Messiah that will solve every problem, and from the temptation to create an Islamic state.The "pragmatic Islamism" that Muhammadiyah has adopted allows it to handle social dynamics well.
The United States launched a new Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy in late 2017 after reluctantly concluding that its patient effort to engage and socialize China to the rules-based order since 1972 had failed. China's behaviour since 2009 convinced the United States that China is a revisionist power seeking to impose an authoritarian model of governance in Asia which, if successful, would end the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific as well as endanger US security and vital trade interests. The new US FOIP strategy initiative seeks to engage like-minded nations in economic, security (both traditional and non-traditional), and political governance partnerships to construct a collaborative and scalable network of relations that will be able to respond flexibly to meet a wide range of stakeholder needs and regional contingencies across the Indo-Pacific region. The United States occupies a peak organizing role in this network and works with a hierarchy of partners distributed throughout the vast Indo-Pacific to meet the economic, security, and governance capacity needs of network members at any level. The rules-based order is the "operating system" of this network approach, and so the network itself sustains the rules-based order for its members as a collective good. FOIP is more like a club that generates rules-based order benefits for its members and as such has little in common with Cold War bloc politics and containment strategy. Bearing in mind that FOIP is only in its start-up phase and is likely to gather momentum going forward; that the elements of this network strategy are already in place; and that the United States and its main FOIP partners together have considerable material, organizational, and soft power resources, one may say that its prospects for long-term sustainability and success are not bad.
Amidst successive episodes of interreligious violence in Myanmar between 2012 and 2014, interfaith dialogue emerged as a crucial conflict resolution and prevention mechanism. The 2011–16 Union Solidarity and Development Party administration often indirectly promoted the use of interfaith dialogue to defuse interreligious tensions and conflicts, though its political will was questionable. Various governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental actors have engaged in interfaith dialogue, peace, and harmony initiatives in the past seven years. The present National League for Democracy administration has more actively sought to engage in intrafaith promotion of Buddhism and in interfaith peace and harmony initiatives. Intergovernmental, international and local interfaith actors also work in the interfaith dialogue field, but their impact is relatively weak because the government remains the most important actor in Myanmar in transition. Although the National League for Democracy has largely eliminated Buddhist nationalist groups such as Ma Ba Tha, Buddhist identity politics remains influential after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army's attacks in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017 and the consequent refugee crisis. Although extreme anti-Muslim Buddhist identity politics may not see a resurgence in the approach to the 2020 general elections, it may come back in more nuanced forms. Interfaith dialogue and other training and activities for interreligious peace and harmony will thus remain relevant to the political scene.
Legal pluralism in Myanmar is a reality that is not sufficiently recognized. A lack of recognition of and clear mandates for the informal justice providers, along with the absence of coordination between these providers and the judiciary, present critical challenges to local dispute resolution and informal legal systems. This results in a high level of unpredictability and insecurity concerning the justice outcomes and in the underreporting of cases. The lack of jurisdictional clarity represents an even greater challenge in areas of mixed control and where numerous armed actors are present. Discussion of reform of the justice sector in Myanmar and debates surrounding peace negotiations and the role of the ethnic armed groups in service provision are separated. This situation reinforces the divide between ceasefire areas and the rest of the country and raises concern that the improvement of justice systems will leave conflict-affected populations behind. Recognition of and support for community-based dispute resolution are crucial to reducing the escalation of conflict at the local level. Justice systems like those of ethnic armed groups can contribute significantly to stability and order at times when the official system has limited territorial reach and is mistrusted by civilians.
The past two decades have been a time of turmoil in Thailand's religious affairs. Disputes, debates and controversies concerning the administration of Buddhism, Thailand's national religion by tradition, have erupted more and more frequently. This chronic and unresolvable conflict originates from Thai Buddhists' inability to achieve a broad consensus on religious reform. Under the governance of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta that came to power in 2014, the fierce struggle concerning Buddhist reform seemed to subside. Upholding and protecting Buddhism might be a duty of traditional Thai rulers who desire for a source of political legitimacy, but the NCPO's decisive actions concerning Buddhist institutional reform were not merely reflected respect for this tradition, but were closely intertwined with the dynamic of contending forces in Thailand's long-troubled religious politics. Conflicts between the influential religious nationalists and the Thai Sangha convinced the military government of the need to act, for the sake of national security and political stability.
The EU has threatened to suspend Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) status for Myanmar, under which the country's exports can enter Europe without any tariffs or quotas. The official reason cited by the EU is a growing concern over human rights violations and issues around labour rights in Myanmar. If this threat were to be carried out, the business sector that will be most affected is Myanmar's burgeoning garment sector, which employs around 700,000 people, most of whom are women. The principal worry in Myanmar is that if EU buyers and brands have to start paying tariffs to import Myanmar-made garments, then they will opt to shift their sourcing to other countries. Without GSP, Myanmar's garment exports may no longer be price competitive. As one of the few manufacturing sectors in Myanmar to employ semi-skilled women, many of whom migrated from poor rural areas, the garment sector has come to play an important socioeconomic role in the country. Whether or not the EU decides to withdraw GSP status, Myanmar's garment sector faces a number of challenges. How Myanmar's policymakers and garment industry leaders respond to global industry trends will be just as important, in the long run, in determining the sector's commercial sustainability.
Military enterprises, ostensibly set up to feed and supply soldiers, were some of the earliest and largest Burmese commercial conglomerates, established in the 1950s. Union Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) are two profit-seeking military enterprises established by the military after the dissolution of the Burma Socialist Programme Party in 1988, which remain central players in Myanmar's post-2011 economy. Military conglomerates are a major source of off-budget revenue for the military and a main employer of retired soldiers. Yet few veterans receive more than a small piece of the profits from UMEHL. The vast bulk of formal dividends instead disproportionately benefit higher ranking officers and institutions within the Tatmadaw. Military capitalism entrenches the autonomy of the Tatmadaw from civilian oversight. Despite this, obligatory or semi-coerced contributions from active-duty soldiers are a source of cash flow for UMEHL, effectively constituting a transfer from the government budget to the military's off-budget entities. The most significant source of livelihoods support for most veterans is the service pension dispersed by the Ministry of Finance and Planning (MoPF). Despite delivering suboptimal welfare outcomes for most soldiers and veterans while eroding the legitimacy of ceasefires, successive governments since 1988, including Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) administration, have entrenched military capitalism by encouraging commercial activities of armed groups that enter into ceasefire agreements. Extending military pensions already paid by the Ministry of Planning and Finance to retired members of armed groups could deliver a far more consistent and tangible "peace dividend" than the commercial extraction of resources from ceasefire areas. More balanced civil-military relations, and fairer social outcomes for military personnel, will rely on civilian-led state institutions delivering effective and substantive welfare support beyond the commercially oriented welfare arrangements of military conglomerates.
China's engagement with ASEAN over the South China Sea, from the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to the ongoing negotiations on the Code of Conduct (COC), exhibits a dynamic continuum with two constants: 1. Dismissal of any legally binding instrument that would constrain China's freedom of action; and 2. Persistent territorialization of the SCS despite Beijing's simultaneous diplomatic engagement with ASEAN. The continuity is juxtaposed with elements of change in China's engagement with ASEAN, as afforded by the former's growing power and influence. This metamorphosis is manifested in China's efforts to undermine ASEAN unity, robustly assert its claims in the SCS, and use economic statecraft towards ASEAN member states in return for their acquiescence. China's more "active" engagement in the COC over the past three years is tactical and does not signify a fundamental change in its long-term strategy that seeks to eventually establish its sovereignty and control over the SCS based on the nine-dash-line (NDL). The divergent positions between China and some ASEAN member states on the COC, especially its scope of application, self-restraint elements, legal status and dispute settlement mechanism, are not easy to reconcile. The COC may end up being a non-binding political document with a general scope of application, which will have little effect in regulating the contracting parties' behaviour.
The shift in the framework of Australia's strategic thinking from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific reflects the primary focus on the maritime environment in the coming decades and the expectation that over time India will become more embedded in the strategic dynamics of the Asia-Pacific. India is in the midst of a major geopolitical repositioning, as it pursues a hard-headed national interests-based policy and builds stronger strategic ties with a wide range of countries including the United States and its allies in the region. The region is entering a potentially dangerous phase in U.S.–China relations. China's rise needs to be managed not frustrated; balanced not contained. Constructing that balance and anchoring China in a new multi-polar strategic equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific is the big challenge of our time. More and more individual Southeast Asian countries are being pulled into China's orbit: not with enthusiasm or conviction but because they see that the economic cost of opposing China's agenda is too high. The United States is so far doing little to change this.
Vietnam has officially admitted its failure to achieve industrialized economy status by 2020. This failure is partly due to its inability to grow a strong local manufacturing base and develop key strategic industries. The participation of Vingroup, the country's largest private conglomerate, in the automotive industry has sparked new hopes for Vietnam's industrialization drive. The company, through its subsidiary Vinfast, aims to become a leading automaker in Southeast Asia with an annual capacity of 500,000 units and a localization ratio of 60 per cent by 2025.Challenges that Vinfast faces include its unproven track record in the industry; the limited size of the national car market; the lack of infrastructure to support car usage in Vietnam; the intense competition from foreign brands; and its initial reliance on imported technologies and know-hows. However, Vinfast enjoys certain advantages in the domestic market, including the large potential of the Vietnamese automotive market; its freedom as a new automaker to define its business strategies without having to deal with legacy issues; Vingroup's sound business and financial performance and its ecosystem; strong support from the Vietnamese government; and nationalist sentiments that will encourage certain Vietnamese customers to choose its products. If Vinfast is successful, it will boost Vietnam's GDP growth and reinvent the country's automotive industry. Its success will also contribute significantly to the realization of Vietnam's industrialization ambitions and bring private actors into the centre stage of the economy. If the company fails, however, it will cause considerable problems for both Vingroup and the Vietnamese economy.
Malaysia established the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) to facilitate the development of e-commerce and the country's small and medium enterprises' (SMEs') exports. The data revealed thus far indicates an increasing number of SMEs coming on board the DFTZ e-commerce platforms. The publicly disclosed data focus on the value of exports achieved but do not show whether these are from new or existing exporters or whether they are re-exports. They also do not highlight Malaysia's imports through the zone. The overall trend signals that Malaysia is losing its bilateral revealed comparative advantage in exports to China, as well as an increasing use of imports for exporting to China. While the DFTZ facilitates both exports and imports, differing standards and customs processes in different export destinations, including China, will require Malaysian SMEs to know and understand the standards and customs processes governing imports in each export destination involved. Imports are also encouraged by the de minimis rule, which allows duty- and tax-free imports of up to RM800 into Malaysia. Overall, imports can help enhance the competitiveness of Malaysian SMEs, expand choices for Malaysian consumers, as well as facilitate re-exports. A clearer understanding of the role of DFTZ in facilitating trade will require more detailed data collection, and a closer investigation of the imports going through the zone, and their uses.
While facing international pressures relating to Rakhine State, and under tense civil—military relations, political parties are preparing for the 2020 Myanmar general elections. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the ruling party, is taking a more democratic platform focusing on the creation of a democratic federal union, while the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) adopts a more nationalist approach, emphasizing the prevention of foreign interference regarding Rakhine State. Taking lessons from the 2015 Myanmar general elections, and in order to effectively contend with the NLD and the USDP, the ethnic political parties are at the same time merging into single parties and new political parties are now also being registered at the Union Election Commission. The current situation indicates more uncertainty in politics and economic downturns, and many indicators suggest that the NLD is now in a defensive position. But be that as it may, because of Aung San Suu Kyi's personality cult following and the ingrained hatred for the military dictatorship, the NLD is still expected to receive the majority seats in Bamar-dominated regions. It may be at risk in ethnic-dominated states nevertheless.
Although Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's earlier government (1981–2003) limited the powers and privileges of Malaysia's nine hereditary rulers, the political influence that they could exercise was still evident in the "Perak Crisis" of 2009, which also generated public debate about royal rights. In recent years, public wariness in Malaysia about politicians has helped the rulers present themselves as alternative sources of authority. "Monarchical activism" has been especially evident in the state of Perak, dating from 1984 when Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah, who was until then Malaysia's Lord President, was installed as the thirty-fourth ruler. In 2014, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah. Sultan Nazrin Shah has presented himself as a modern, educated and approachable ruler who consistently endorses the rule of law and is aware that public support for the monarch is highly dependent on meeting expectations in regard to ethical conduct and good governance. This paper argues that although Sultan Azlan Shah and Sultan Nazrin Shah have embraced the idea of a "new" Malaysian monarchy that actively responds to changing political and social contexts, two issues with especial relevance to the situation today can be tracked through the history of Perak's royal line since its inception in the sixteenth century. The first, arguably now of lesser importance, concerns royal succession. The second issue, still highly important, involves the ruler's relationships with non-royal officials and with elected representatives and the public at large.
Like the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) was known for having its bastion in Johor, with the state containing the highest number of parliamentary seats contested and won by the party. Two features of the MCA stand out: (1) its relative resilience in that its near elimination in other states since 2008 did not occur in Johor until the recent 14th General Elections, and (2) that most MCA presidents had some connections to Johor, either as having been born in Johor, contested in a Johor constituency, been chairman of the Johor state liaison committee, or a combination of three. Although historical institutional linkages such as the New Villages and the Chinese guilds and associations (CGAs) gave the MCA a strong footing in Johor initially, changing political and socioeconomic circumstances gradually eroded the part's support among the Johorean Chinese. As it began to lose appeal as an individual party, the MCA Johor had to depend on a strategy of mixed voter pooling so that the significant loss of support from the Chinese could be compensated for by the Malay electorate that was until recently highly supportive of the Barisan Nasional (BN). The strategic dependence of the MCA on the UMNO was rendered void when the latter was defeated in the state. As it stands, the revival of the part's standing both within Johor and nationally is far from certain.
The Indonesian government has tried to defeat terrorist groups and uproot radicalism, both through military and cultural-ideological approaches. The recent attack at Mako Brimob Depok, West Java, and the bombing in Surabaya, East Java, however, have shown that radical Islam and terrorist groups are not defeated yet. Killing terrorist does not always mean killing terrorism. It could even have the opposite impact, i.e., strengthening and fertilizing the radical ideology. The government, being aware of this, has been supporting Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in promoting Islam Nusantara, widely believed to be the ideological antidote for radicalism and terrorism. Proponents of Islam Nusantara believe that radical ideology contradicts the character traits of Islam Nusantara, i.e., peaceful, smiling, tolerant, moderate, and accommodative to culture. Radicalism and intolerance are commonly seen in NU circles as being disseminated by transnational movements such as Hizbut Tahrir and Salafi-Wahhabi groups. Though not terrorist groups, they do teach intolerant and exclusive religiosity which provides a breeding ground for terrorism. Among Indonesian Muslims, including NU, Islam Nusantara has received varied responses and been met by resistance. The emergence of NU Garis Lurus and the concerted efforts to debunk Islam Nusantara by some preachers are among the forms of activities that seek to undermine Islam Nusantara. The introduction of Islam Nusantara is further hampered by the attitude of some of its proponents who emphasize its exclusivity by identifying Islam Nusantara only with NU. Barring its current limits, Islam Nusantara has the potential to become an exceptional form of Islam or a template for tolerant Islam that can be emulated by Muslims in other parts of the world, especially in terms of its ability to accommodate local culture and multiculturalism.
In recent times, the United States, Japan and Australia have all promoted extremely similar visions of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific as the central organizing concept to guide their efforts in the region. The concept is essentially a reaffirmation of the security and economic rules-based order which was cobbled together after the Second World War - especially as it relates to freedom of the regional and global commons such as sea, air and cyberspace, and the way nations conduct economic relations. Be that as it may, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific is an updated vision of collective action to defend, strengthen and advance that order. It signals a greater acceptance by the two regional allies of the U.S. of their security burden and takes into account the realities of China's rise and the relative decline in dominance of the U.S. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member states continue to delay any definitive response to the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept. Although its principles are attractive to many ASEAN member states, long-held conceptions of ASEAN centrality and its meaning gives the organization apparent reason for hesitation. The reasons include fears of diminished centrality and relevance, and reluctance to endorse a more confrontational mindset being adopted by the U.S. and its allies - including the revival of the Quadrilateral grouping with India - with respect to China. The reality is that while ASEAN and major member states are focused primarily on the risks of action, there are considerable risks of inaction and hesitation. The current era will either enhance or lessen the relevance of ASEAN in the eyes of these three countries in the years ahead depending on how the organisation and its key member states respond. Indeed, this Trends paper argues that ASEAN is more likely to be left behind by strategic events and developments if it remains passive, and that the ball is in ASEAN's court in terms of the future of its regional 'centrality'.
Despite decades of industrialization, Johor remains an agricultural powerhouse. The state is Peninsular Malaysia’s largest contributor to agricultural gross domestic product, and its official agricultural productivity is Malaysia’s third highest. Johor’s agricultural strengths lie primarily in product specialization, namely the farming of oil palms, various fruits and vegetables, poultry, pigs, cut flowers, and ornamental fish. Johor’s production clusters have taken decades, if not centuries, to build up their regional dominance. Urbanization, often blamed for diminishing agriculture’s importance, has actually helped drive Johor’s farm growth, even until the present day. Johor’s agricultural sector will persist for at least another decade, but may become even more specialized.