Eight Predictions for Southeast Asia for 2016: Part 2

 
 

6. Of All Southeast Asia Issues, Only Myanmar and the TPP Will Be Discussed in the U.S. Presidential Campaign

Although there are several Republican and Democratic candidates with foreign policy experience, Southeast Asia will mostly go unmentioned during the U.S. presidential primaries and general election. The two exceptions: Myanmar and the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which include Brunei, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia, and may in the future include the Philippines and Indonesia as well. Although the Trans-Pacific Partnership seemed to be almost completed in 2015, by the end of the year, congressional leaders were calling for it to be delayed until after the 2016 elections. The agreement will undoubtedly be debated on the campaign trail, as a majority of the candidates currently in the race have expressed opposition to the deal. In addition, since Hillary Clinton has highlighted U.S. rapprochement with Myanmar as a triumph of her tenure as secretary of state, the question of whether Myanmar is actually a success story of U.S. diplomacy will undoubtedly come up in presidential debates too.

7. Cambodia’s Political Situation Will Further Deteriorate

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Cambodia’s fragile political truce broke down in 2015, with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party once again dominating politics and the opposition facing bare-knuckles state power. Old criminal charges were revived against many opposition politicians, including the opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, who is in exile, apparently afraid to return to the kingdom. Mobs attacked opposition politicians outside parliament, and Prime Minister Hun Sen, the longest-serving non-royal ruler in Asia, made clear that he would not be standing aside when elections are held again in 2018 for parliament. Hun Sen is one of the savviest, toughest political operators in the world, and he got what he wanted from the 2015 truce with the CNRP—control of parliament even though the opposition had made big gains in the 2013 parliamentary elections, and a reduction in international pressure on Phnom Penh to work with the opposition. Now that the pressure is off, and campaign season is getting going again, Hun Sen’s government may well press charges against more opposition leaders. It also may essentially prevent Rainsy from returning to Cambodia.

8. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung Will Become General Secretary

As Asia Sentinel recently reported, the Vietnamese Central Committee’s process of deciding the next slate of Party leaders appears to be hitting more bumps than usual. Although the Central Committee was supposed to meet throughout the summer and fall of 2015 and reach consensus behind closed doors before the Party’s 12th Congress, planned for late January, the Congress could potentially be delayed for months. According to several Vietnamese analysts, opponents of Dung, who want the Party to move more slowly on economic reforms, are trying to stop him from becoming General Secretary. Some conservatives are furious that Dung has presided over Vietnam’s plan to join the TPP, which would force Hanoi to liberalize some state enterprises and upgrade labor rights. (According to an analysis by the Peterson Institute, the TPP also would be a boon for Vietnam, the poorest country in the agreement—that in the period up to 2025, Vietnam’s exports would grow by 37 percent more if it was in the TPP than if it was not.)

But Dung appears to believe that he can win a majority of support among the Vietnamese leadership, although he cannot campaign openly. Instead, a letter purportedly written by Dung to several senior colleagues was leaked, probably by Dung supporters, to a prominent Vietnamese political blog that is surely read by most of the Party elites. In the letter, Dung defends himself against a range of charges, including mismanaging the Vietnamese economy. The prime minister probably does enjoy enough support to finally prevail. Indeed, when the 12th Party Congress is finally held, expect Dung to be named General Secretary.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. This post appears courtesy of CFR.org.

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