PHNOM PENH – Going by the sometimes breathless reports about how well Vietnam has done out of the US-China tariff joust, a reader would be forgiven for thinking that an authoritarian single-party state where farmers make up 40% of the workforce has been transformed into a kind of scaled-up Singapore, which despite its small size usually sucks in around half the annual foreign investment bound for Southeast Asia. The numbers in so far suggest that Vietnam’s trade war triumph is indeed nigh. Its economy grew by just over 7% in 2018 – though that has dipped a notch, according to government statistics, to around 6.7% so far this year. But even that slight fall-off will nonetheless make for high growth – due in part to record levels of foreign investment, including some business seemingly diverted to Vietnam as American tariffs add to the cost of exporting to the US from China. “Following the US-China trade tensions, there is evidence of companies making adjustments to avoid the high tariffs situation,” said Bansi Madhavani, economist at ANZ Research, part of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. According to Madhavani’s counterparts at Maybank Kim Eng, part of Malaysia’s Maybank, Vietnam “is emerging as the biggest beneficiary” of those adjustments, “with FDI [foreign direct investment] registration up by +86% in the first quarter of 2019”.
KUALA LUMPUR — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has singled out China for its “extreme hostility” to religion and accused the ruling Communist Party of demanding “that it all alone be called God.” Pompeo was speaking at the release of the U.S. Government’s 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom on June 21. “In China, the government’s intense persecution of many faiths — Falun Gong practitioners Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists among them — is the norm,” Pompeo said. “The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. The party demands that it alone be called God.”
JAKARTA — America’s quirky electoral college system is meant as “a compromise between election of the president by a vote in Congress and election of the president by a popular vote of qualified citizens,” according to the U.S. National Archives. “In a global perspective, the most common format is a two-round system. This involves the public choosing between a greater range of candidates to begin with. The finalists (usually two) then go head-to-head for the presidency in a final vote,” said Toby Green, an elections expert at the University of East Anglia. The system helps ensure the dominance of the two main parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. In 1992, although independent candidate Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote nationwide, he did not win any electoral college votes. The overall national vote does not usually equal the electoral college vote outcome. For example, Barack Obama win 51% of the nationwide vote in 2012, but 61% of the electoral college vote. In 2008, Obama won 53% of the popular vote but 68% of the electoral college vote. In four elections since 1800, the winning president has lost the popular vote — the last time in 2000 when George W. Bush won a cliffhanger election by getting Florida’s electoral college votes.
KUALA LUMPUR — It must have been through gritted teeth, but Malaysia’s troubled Prime Minister Najib Razak affected a sanguine air when asked about his reaction to U.S. President Barack Obama’s comments on the recent crackdown on dissent during their meeting on Nov. 20. “Malaysia is committed to reforms,” Najib said.The Malaysian prime minster added that he is “taking into account some of the president’s views” on freedom of speech and the role of civil society in a democracy — a contribution Obama sees as significant given that while in Kuala Lumpur he also met with the organizer of a demonstration in August demanding Najib’s resignation. Since a narrow 2013 election win, Najib has overseen the charging of hundreds of journalists, activists, cartoonists and lawmakers with sedition, while opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been sent back to jail for allegedly sodomizing a male colleague — a criminal offence in Malaysia. “Najib has been in a touchy mode since the May 5, 2013 general elections. He does not seem to take criticism very well, and so I imagine that Obama meeting opposition people upset Najib,” said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.
YANGON – Standing next to Suu Kyi on Nov. 14, Obama said that barring the NLD leader “doesn’t make much sense.” But he did not raise the issue when speaking later at Yangon University. Nor did Suu Kyi’s eligibility come up during an hour-long question and answer session with students after the speech. Opinions differ about the importance of the clause. Lamin Oo, a Myanmar filmmaker whose name was mentioned by Obama during his speech, said afterwards that “if that issue was an important one for [young people] it would have come up in questions.” However, Kyaw Thu, a former actor turned philanthropist, said the constitution should be changed to allow Suu Kyi stand. “Obama should push for this with Thein Sein,” Kyaw Thu said.
BANGKOK — Five days of joint US-Vietnam naval exercises that started Monday in Vietnam are the latest signals of growing cooperation between the one-time enemies.But as the US and Vietnam draw closer, the communist government’s human rights record is raising questions among activists whether the US is sufficiently vocal about political, economic, and free speech violations in Vietnam, a single party state.According to Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch: “There is a real need for sustained US pressure on Vietnam to free political prisoners, respect freedom of expression and the vibrant blogosphere that is making Vietnam one of the fast growing users of the Internet in South East Asia, and repeal repressive laws that Hanoi uses to quash individuals and groups that the government doesn’t like.”