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  • Author: Stephen McCarthy
  • Publication Date: 02-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: While signs of democratization in a country may raise hopes of better natural resource governance, especially of forests, evidence from the Asia Pacific region in countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia demonstrates no significant relationship between a country's transition toward democracy and better forestry governance. Myanmar's transition to democracy is unlikely to counter this trend. Deeply vested interests operate within democratizing countries that outweigh the support inside governments or civil society for improving forestry conservation. Incumbents also stand to benefit directly from initiatives that promote free trade and further investment in the forestry sector at the expense of the environment and the most vulnerable in society. International organizations returning to Myanmar must fine-tune their policies to accommodate the local political economy of deforestation and should engage with elements on the periphery, dissenting voices inside the government, and a broad range of local civil society organizations. Failure to do so may exacerbate current trends and lead to future conflicts in the already volatile cease-fire areas.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Civil Society, Development, Economics
  • Political Geography: Southeast Asia
  • Author: Jefferson M. Fox, Jean-Christophe Castella, Alan D. Ziegler, Sidney b. Westley.
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: For centuries, farmers in the mountainous region of mainland Southeast Asia have practiced shifting cultivation, with plots of land cultivated temporarily and then allowed to revert to secondary forest for a fallow period. Today, more than one million hectares have been converted to rubber plantation. By 2050, the area under rubber trees in the montane regions of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and China's Yunnan Province is predicted to increase fourfold. Preliminary research suggests this massive land-use change could lead to drier conditions at the local level plus surface erosion, loss of soil quality, sedimentation and disruption of streams, and risk of landslides. And it appears that when primary or secondary forests are converted to rubber, carbon emissions are likely to increase. Despite environmental concerns, both local farmers and outside entrepreneurs are likely to continue expanding rubber plantations because of high economic returns. Production systems that provide the best balance between economic return and environmental sustainability are needed to improve the long-term outlook for the region.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Environment
  • Political Geography: Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Justina Chen
  • Publication Date: 05-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Since Malaysia Day last September, the administration of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has undertaken a whirlwind of legislative and policy reforms—making Najib arguably the most reformist Malaysian prime minister ever. Political pundits remark that the rushed reforms which were undertaken without consultation with key stakeholders are a sign that a general election is imminent, perhaps to be held in less than two months. Over the course of the last six months there have been a record number of legislative forms including: repeal of the infamous Internal Security Act; amendments to the University and University Colleges Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act; announcement of a minimum wage policy as well as the passing of the Security Offenses Bill and Peaceful Assembly Act.
  • Topic: Islam, Politics, Governance, Law
  • Political Geography: Malaysia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Yogesh Joshi
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: US President Barack Obama used his 2012 State of the Union speech to explain that evolving geopolitical realities continue to make the United States indispensable in global politics. In the Asia-Pacific this indispensability emanates, in part, from the waves caused by the rise of China. Consequently, demands for an increased US presence echo around the region. In response, the United States has renewed its commitments to Japan, South Korea and Australia, stepped up its relations with Southeast Asia, and reasserted itself as an important player in multilateral institutions including the East Asia Summit, APEC, and ASEAN. Clearly, in the 21st century, US strategic focus has shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, International Security, Power Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: David I. Steinberg
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The drumbeat against the process and the potential results of the Burma/Myanmar by-elections of April 1, 2012 for 45 seats (37, or 11 percent in the Lower House of the bicameral legislature; 6, or 4 percent in the Upper House, and 2 in regional bodies) started before the polling began and the votes were counted. Human Rights Watch said they were a step forward, but not real reform. Campaign Burma UK wrote that it was impossible for them to be free and fair. And Aung San Suu Kyi, running for a seat, said they would be neither free nor fair. The plan to undercut their significance before they took place was evident.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Democratization, Human Rights, Political Activism
  • Political Geography: United Kingdom, Southeast Asia, Myanmar
  • Author: Michael McConnell
  • Publication Date: 03-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: ASEAN countries have long been an important international market for US agricultural exports. The United States, in 2011, exported almost $9.6 billion of agricultural products to ASEAN, making it the sixth-largest export destination for US farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses—behind Japan ($14 billion) and just behind the European Union ($9.6 billion), but well ahead of South Korea ($7 billion). Moreover, the value of agricultural trade between the United States and ASEAN almost doubled between 2007 and 2011, with the top four ASEAN markets in 2011 for the United States being Indonesia ($2.8 billion), the Philippines ($2.1 billion), Vietnam ($1.7 billion), and Thailand ($1.3 billion). With a population of 614 million and strong economic growth, it is expected that ASEAN will continue to be an important market for US agricultural products. However, the United States is likely to face increasing competition, particularly from China, Australia, and New Zealand, all of which have free trade agreements (FTAs) with ASEAN.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Demographics, Economics, International Trade and Finance, Markets, Food
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Europe, East Asia, South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asia, New Zealand
  • Author: Sasiwan Chingchit
  • Publication Date: 02-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Burma's ongoing democratic and economic transition has created an unprecedented opportunity for India and Thailand to cooperate and strengthen economic links between South and Southeast Asia. It was therefore no coincidence that the Indian government invited Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's prime minister, to be the chief guest at the country's annual Republic Day parade on January 26. Even more symbolic was that the Thai premier's visit to New Delhi overlapped with that of Burma's foreign minister, Mr. Wanna Maung Lwin, who came to discuss progress on economic and security relations and extended an invitation to India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit his country.
  • Topic: Democratization, Economics, Government, International Trade and Finance
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, New Delhi, Burma, Thailand, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Peter Crail, Xiaodon Liang
  • Publication Date: 02-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Following a decade-long impasse, the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) is finally on a path to being endorsed by the world's five recognized nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Agreement by these nuclear powers to respect the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia and to provide legal assurances that they will not use such weapons against zone members helps to strengthen the commitment by regional states not to pursue nuclear weapons, and contributes more broadly to global nonproliferation and disarmament efforts,
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, United Kingdom, France, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Denny Roy
  • Publication Date: 01-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Taiwan's elections on January 14, which for the first time combined polls for the presidency and the legislature, displayed further positive evolution in Taiwan's now well-established democracy. The results also precluded an immediate disruption in relations between Taiwan and the PRC, which is good news in Washington. In Beijing's view, however, the goal is not stability across the Taiwan Strait, but unification. Chinese impatience might weigh more heavily on President Ma Ying-jeou, and by extension on the United States, during Ma's second term.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Democratization, Economics, Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Washington, Taiwan, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Marvin C. Ott
  • Publication Date: 01-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Southeast Asia, long quiescent in a turbulent international environment, has suddenly become the focal point of what promises to be the signature strategic contest of the 21st century—between the United States and China. But the evolving dynamic is far more complex than a simple binary face-off between an established superpower and an emerging rival. The overarching backdrop is the profound and ongoing economic transformation of Asia. Three centuries of global economic, political and military domination by the industrialized West has given way to a fundamentally new configuration. Economic modernization that began with Japan has spread to the Sinicized populations of the region and beyond, including Southeast Asia. The global center of economic gravity has shifted westward across the Pacific—and economics is the foundation of power. The world has entered the oft-touted “Asia-Pacific Century.”
  • Topic: Cold War, Communism, Power Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, China, America, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Aurel Croissant, David Kuehn, Philip Lorenz
  • Publication Date: 01-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In recent decades, several East Asian nations have undergone democratic transitions accompanied by changes in the balance of power between civilian elites and military leaders. These developments have not followed a single pattern: In Thailand, failure to institutionalize civilian control has contributed to the breakdown of democracy; civil-military relations and democracy in the Philippines are in prolonged crisis; and civilian control in Indonesia is yet to be institutionalized. At the same time, South Korea and Taiwan have established civilian supremacy and made great advances in consolidating democracy. These differences can be explained by the interplay of structural environment and civilian political entrepreneurship. In Taiwan, Korea, and Indonesia, strategic action, prioritization, and careful timing helped civilians make the best of their structural opportunities to overcome legacies of military involvement in politics. In Thailand, civilians overestimated their ability to control the military and provoked military intervention. In the Philippines, civilian governments forged a symbiotic relationship with military elites that allowed civilians to survive in office but also protected the military's institutional interests. These differences in the development of civil-military relations had serious repercussions on national security, political stability, and democratic consolidation, helping to explain why South Korea, Taiwan, and, to a lesser degree, Indonesia have experienced successful democratic transformation, while Thailand and the Philippines have failed to establish stable democratic systems.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Democratization, Governance
  • Political Geography: Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, Southeast Asia
  • Author: William Case
  • Publication Date: 01-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In an influential study, Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig argue that “overarching institutional designs” (i.e., presidential, parliamentary, and dual systems) tell us less about the prospects of a new democracy than does the particular strength of the legislature. Specifically, executive abuses are best checked where legislatures are powerful, generating horizontal accountability. Indeed, Fish and Kroenig suggest that with judiciaries and watchdog agencies weak in most new democracies, the legislature is the only institution by which accountability can be imposed. What is more, ordinary citizens are better informed by the robust party systems that strong legislatures support, fostering vertical accountability. In comparing Freedom House scores with their Parliamentary Powers Index (PPI), Fish and Kroenig show clear correlations, leading them to conclude that democracies are made strong by legislatures that are empowered.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Democratization, Political Economy
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Malaysia, Asia, Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Donald Jameson
  • Publication Date: 03-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cambodia in late 2010, she told senior Cambodian government officials "this does not look like the country I have been reading about in the press." Most first-time visitors to Phnom Penh would likely react similarly. The city hosts a vibrant society, with traffic-clogged streets, a proliferation of stylish restaurants and boutiques, and buildings under construction everywhere, many of them high-rise apartments and office blocks. If the visitor were to venture outside the capital, large-scale investment in infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, with construction underway on additional projects are what greet the eye. In addition, there are extensive land clearing projects underway for new plantations to grow rubber, palm oil, cashews and other tropical products, as well as new industrial sites springing up along main transportation arteries. In short, Cambodia is clearly a country on the move economically.
  • Topic: Development, Foreign Aid, Infrastructure
  • Political Geography: United States, Cambodia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Leigh-Ashley Lipscomb
  • Publication Date: 03-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: After hundreds of years as a Portuguese colony and then decades of Indonesian occupation, Timor-Leste (East Timor) finally became independent in 2002. Since then, Timor-Leste has been in the process of building itself as a sovereign nation, fighting to shake off its tumultuous past. Timor-Leste must now decide how best to resolve issues stemming from a brief civil war and Indonesian invasion and occupation (1975–1999), including grave human rights violations on all sides of the conflict. Human rights trials in both Timor-Leste and Indonesia have produced unsatisfying results, but two separate truth commissions recommended reparations—both intrastate and interstate—as a key element of reconciliation and healing. Critical questions remain, however, concerning the value, scope, and implementation of a reparations program within Timor-Leste or between Indonesia and Timor- Leste. Only a sincere, informed, and transparent decision-making process will result in a reparations program that could be a significant and successful part of moving peace and justice forward.
  • Topic: Ethnic Conflict, Human Rights, International Affairs, Reconstruction
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Raymond Burghardt
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Vietnamese and Americans joined together in Hanoi last December for a happy celebration, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the entrance into force of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement signed in December, 2001. The gathering of current and former trade negotiators, diplomats, and business leaders exchanged witty anecdotes about who had been the toughest negotiator. However, the main focus for both American and Vietnamese participants was on the positive prospects for future US-Vietnam relations across the spectrum of trade and strategic common interests.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Cold War, International Trade and Finance, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, America, Vietnam, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Jefferson Fox
  • Publication Date: 12-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Over the last half-century, public policy has affected land-use practices across the borders linking China, Thailand, and Laos. Political and economic reforms have facilitated labor mobility and a shift in agricultural practices away from staple grains and toward a diverse array of cash crops, rubber being one of the foremost. China has promoted the conversion of forests to rubber agroforestry in southern Yunnan--profitable for farmers, but a concern in terms of biodiversity and long-term viability. In Thailand, the response is at the other end of the spectrum as the government's concerns about land-use practices and watershed management have led to policies that dramatically constrain land-use practices and limit tenure rights. In Laos the future is not yet clear. Government policies provide weak support for both private land ownership and protected areas. In a global environment where national policy has such a dramatic effect on land use and land cover, the factors behind land-use change merit close examination.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Economics, Migration, Labor Issues
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Thailand, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Michelle Staggs Kelsall
  • Publication Date: 09-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In late 2008 the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) committed to creating a human rights body, which emerged as the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (ICHR), the terms of reference (TOR) for which have since been adopted. Although the TOR for the commission currently outlines a primarily advisory rather than an enforcement role, the very existence of the ICHR has the potential to act as a trigger to further discussion on human rights issues in member states and open avenues for further action. To take maximum advantage of this opportunity to further the human rights agenda in ASEAN member states, it is essential that critical early decisions are made carefully so as to leave the most latitude for future action. While some observers are concerned that the ICHR lacks teeth, the fact that all ten ASEAN governments have agreed to implement a human rights commission is remarkable and is an essential first step toward ASEAN's stated goal of respecting and protecting human rights.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Human Welfare, International Organization, Regional Cooperation
  • Political Geography: Israel, Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: A. Terry Rambo
  • Publication Date: 05-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Southeast Asia faces enormous challenges in managing its agricultural and environmental resources, from global warming to biodiversity loss. But chances for effectively addressing these issues may be hampered by the wide acceptance of four basic assumptions that guide the way we think about problems of managing agriculture and the environment. These assumptions form an interlinked system of thought that privileges the traditional and local over the modern and cosmopolitan. When taken to an extreme they lead to the view that traditional farmers are always right and that modern science is the cause, rather than a possible cure, of the serious environmental problems associated with agricultural development in Southeast Asia. Although when first proposed these assumptions were a radical alternative to the conventional thinking, in recent years they have themselves become the new conventional wisdom.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Development, Environment
  • Political Geography: Southeast Asia
  • Author: Joseph Chinyong Liow
  • Publication Date: 09-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Both Thailand and the Philippines are home to Muslim minorities which have been engaged in persistent, at times virulent, conflict with the central Thai and Philippine governments for decades. While these drawn-out internal conflicts have primarily been ethno-nationalist in character, they appear to be taking on a more explicit religious dimension as a result of a range of factors. These include the failure of secular nationalism in achieving the ends of the respective rebellions, the resultant search for alternative (and presumably more effective) ideological impetus, the role of exogenous stimuli and catalysts such as the radicalization of local mujahideen volunteers involved in the international jihad waged in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation, and the impact of post-9/11 events on Muslim worldviews. Against the backdrop of ongoing international concern for Islamic terrorism, which is increasingly manifesting itself as a transnational phenomenon built on collaboration between jihadi terrorist and militant groups that capitalize on grievances throughout the Ummah, interest in the religious character of local conflicts, such as those under scrutiny in this monograph, have, not surprisingly, taken on greater urgency. Accordingly, what was not previously seen to be conflicts with decidedly religious contents are today being increasingly portrayed and understood in numerous policy, media, and security studies circles as a phenomenon driven and defined by Muslim radicalism, militancy, and international jihadi terrorism.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Government, Religion
  • Political Geography: Thailand, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Piers Blaikie, Joshua Muldavin
  • Publication Date: 06-2004
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: How we arrive at knowledge—and how we draw on knowledge to make policy—have been the subject of vigorous debate and analysis. Simple models of expertise and action are gradually yielding to a more complex vision of how truth speaks to power and power talks back. The Himalayan region—where scientists, statesmen, and citizens confront a unique set of environmental challenges and political legacies—provides a powerful case study. For more than a century, it was believed that over-use by local farmers and pastoralists threatened fragile mountain and river environments. Beginning in the colonial era and continuing into the present, governments have strictly curtailed traditional land-use practices. In the 1980s, scholars began to question the science on which those restrictive laws were based. But new science has not, in most cases, led to new policy. This disconnect inspires questions about the nature of both science and policy, their influence on each other, and whether each could benefit from greater openness to the insights of people who fall outside the narrow roles of expert and politician.
  • Topic: International Relations, Development
  • Political Geography: Asia, Australia/Pacific, Southeast Asia