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Obama’s pivot to Asia is dead. Despite the Trump administration’s confrontation with North Korea dominating headlines for the past several weeks, in the back channels of a major regional summit, diplomats all whispered the same thing, the pivot was over.

f anything, Trump’s obsession with North Korea and the administration needing a win on foreign policy matters means that he has softened his stance towards China, a nation he once accused of unfair trade practices and currency manipulation.

Trump has been effusive in his praise of his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in recent weeks, calling him a strong leader and someone that he got along with very well.

What it means for regional players attending a conference like the ASEAN summit is that China can freely flex its muscles and assert its influence over individual members.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Chairman’s statement on Saturday which recapped the 3-day summit.

Despite four of the ten members having serious issues with Beijing over the South China Sea, the statement released was, as an Indonesian senior diplomat bluntly put, “soft.”

As the US pulls away from the region and with a growing recognition by Trump that he would have to cede some influence to coerce China to his aid on the Korean peninsula, individual ASEAN members were more vulnerable than ever to China’s bidding.

Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar, countries with no stake in the South China Sea, have already courted Beijing for investment and arms with the understanding that it would need to vote Beijing’s way on certain matters.

The Philippines, as host of the summit, softened its stance considerably on China and did not press for confrontation with the superpower in any of the closed-door meetings despite having won an arbitration hearing at the United Nations which invalidated Chinese claims to the South China Sea.

The softer stance reflected President Rodrigo Duterte’s previous statements that he was willing to negotiate with China and his recognition of Beijing’s influence and deep pockets.

While the chairman’s statement did mention the South China Sea the timorous set of generalities may as well not have been published at all.

The leaders of ASEAN are due to meet in again in Manilla in November of this year. As per tradition, the second ASEAN summit of the year will also play host to the East Asia Summit.

With both Trump and Xi (and Putin) due to arrive for the talks, it will be interesting to see how much ground Trump gives in order to advance his own foreign policy agenda. Until then, the United States pivot to Asia is effectively dead.

Aeon Mall plans bold Asean expansion

Posted by pakin On March - 24 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

AEON MALL, the leading Japanese retail group, aims to create a strong footprint in Asia and become the No-1 retailer in Asean by investing in about 10 new shopping malls in the region, including one in Thailand, by the end of the decade.

“Under our 2020 strategy, we are planning to open five new shopping malls in Jakarta, after entering the 250-million-strong market with our first Aeon Mall in Indonesia last year. Meanwhile, the company is also adding three more branches in Ho Chi Minh City, and another in Hanoi,” Mitsugu Tamai, director and executive general manager for Aeon Mall’s Asean division, said yesterday.

The company is also studying the feasibility of business development in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, and hopes to have its first Aeon Mall property in Thailand by 2020, he said.

Asked about the possible location and investment format for a Thai venture, Tamai suggested that an appropriate site would possibly be in the outskirts of Bangkok due to urbanisation and the growth of communities in such areas, while the project would be undertaken either though its own investment or via a joint venture.

Besides Aeon Mall BSD City in Indonesia, Aeon Mall currently operates at 24 locations in Malaysia and has one other shopping mall in Asean – in Phnom Penh – while another will soon be opened in the Cambodian capital.

In the new Phnom Penh project, Bangkok-based Major Cineplex Group is continuing its collaboration with the Japanese retailer to open another Major Cineplex operation at its second Aeon Mall in the country.

Vicha Poolvaraluk, chairman of Major Cineplex Group, said his company was investing about Bt200 million on a new theatre consisting of 10 screens, including an IMAX laser theatre, and 20 bowling lanes.

Other Thai companies – S&P, Fuji Restaurant, Jaspal and Black Canyon Coffee – are also interested in opening branches at the new mall.

Aeon Mall’s new project, which occupies an area of 100,000 square metres in Phnom Penh’s Pong Peay district, is scheduled to open in the first half of 2018.

Apart from Asean, the leading Japanese retailer is also focusing on China as a key destination for its overseas business expansion.

It currently has 11 shopping malls in the huge Chinese market.

“By 2020, we hope to have more than 10 per cent of our revenue contributed by overseas business, up from 2 to 3 per cent now.

Due to aggressive outlet expansion, the company aims to see a 120-per-cent year-on-year increase in terms of revenue from overseas markets,” Tamai said.

Aeon’s overall revenue came in at about ฅ8 trillion (Bt2.49 trillion) last year.

Obama, Asean leaders discuss trade, South China Sea

Posted by pakin On February - 17 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama gathered with leaders from Southeast Asia on Monday to strengthen trade ties and form a common stance over the South China Sea in a summit that the White House hopes will solidify US influence in the region.

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama gathered with leaders from Southeast Asia on Monday to strengthen trade ties and form a common stance over the South China Sea in a summit that the White House hopes will solidify US influence in the region.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in the meeting that finding solutions to an economic downturn, notably in the Asean region, was a priority for the US and Asean.

The two sides should open their respective economies to each other, he said.

The Asean-driven Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the US-dominated Trans Pacific Partnership could complement each other, he told the summit.

On Monday the leaders were slated to focus on economic issues, including discussion of the TPP, which includes four Asean members: Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. Others are interested in joining, and the White House wants to make sure the pact takes effect.

The US is preparing to unveil a plan to set up centres in Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta as part of an effort to help promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Asean, according to Singapore’s The Straits |Times.

Each centre – likely to be set up within the US missions in each city – will help coordinate existing US programmes and channel US business investment in the region, as well as develop new projects.

It will be part of an initiative known as Asean-US Connect that is aimed at enhancing US economic engagement in the region.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch urged the Obama administration to object to human-rights violations in countries such as Cambodia and Thailand during the summit.

The president touched on the issue without specifics during his remarks. Thai people in the US staged their respective rallies in California in support or against Prime Minister Prayut, who seized power in 2014 in a coup.

While the pro-Prayut group expressed their gratitude to him, the anti-junta group denounced the action to topple the elected government.

How to make Thailand the educational hub of Asean

Posted by pakin On January - 25 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

TRANSFORMING Thailand into Asean’s educational hub within the next five years is the ultimate goal of Suphachai Chearavanont, co-chairman of a working panel on basic education and leadership development under the Joint Public-Private Steering Committee.

But to achieve that ambition, the country needs to start building a favourable landscape now, with world-class laboratory facilities, massive funding from both the state and private sectors, and top researchers, plus attractive incentives from the government to make all this happen.

“Our long-term goal is to make Thailand the Asean educational hub. We have to begin by defining which research areas are important to the future of the world. The researches that are important to the world future are biotechnology, digital technology, robotic technology, or nano-technology,” the True chief executive officer said in an interview with The Nation.

He said Thailand had good fundamentals for doing research in the biotech, digital and robotic arenas. The country needs to set up open and world-class lab facilities to conduct research in these areas.

Suitable universities should be selected to host each of these labs, while the state and private sectors step in to provide support and incentives. The labs will also enlist top local and international academics to strengthen their work.

Suphachai estimated that setting up one lab would require funding of US$1 billion, so focusing on three areas would mean an investment of $3 billion (Bt108 billion). The government could allocate this funding from the annual education budget of Bt500 billion. If it did so, there is a chance that the three universities hosting the labs would see their rankings move up.

If all of the above could be realised, parents from all over Asean would send their children to enrol in these universities, which would make Thailand the centre for producing competent human resources in the region, said Suphachai, who also serves as vice chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group.

But this is the long-term plan. For now, his working panel is focusing on the immediate plan of reforming the country’s basic education.

He said that to reform education, four areas had to be improved: transparency in the educational system, evaluation processes, learning methods, and the human resources that could help lead the changes, including school principals.

He said citizens and private companies could donate money to help schools, as they were eligible for tax deductions, but they might feel hesitant to do so, as they could not easily check how schools spend their donations and how they were performing. Once people could be confident about schools’ transparency, he believed a massive number of people would be happy to provide financial help to them.

He added that school principals had to be evaluated and at the same time rewarded, according to their performance. The parents in each school’s area should also be encouraged to take part in this evaluation to create engagement between schools and communities.

He suggested that recruitment of foreign principals would help boost the education system. If the country wants Thais well versed in foreign languages, it must be willing to spend on hiring foreign teachers.

Moreover, teaching and learning methods should be changed from one-way communication to two-way, moving away from urging children to memorise text towards encouraging them to ask questions.

Students should be encouraged to engage in debate among themselves, while teachers assume the roles of facilitators and encourage the students to build up their potential. In Suphachai’s opinion, the learning process should be child-centric.

“When children ask ‘why’, they will then go on to do research or Google, and that is a life-long perspective of the entire learning process,” he said.

To accelerate these changes, he said the private sector could play a major role by becoming what he calls “dedicated sponsors” of their preferred schools and provide them with mentors to see what these schools really need. The mentors would also work closely with the principals to improve school performance.

The working panel has passed its plans on to Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and Education Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan. Dapong chairs the team in the working panel from the state sector, while Suphachai chairs the private-sector team.

Among the top executives in Suphachai’s team are Isara Vongkusolkit, chairman of Board of Trade and Thai Chamber of Commerce, and Kan Trakulhoon of Siam Cement Group. The panel is working out more details of the plans before submitting them to Somkid in the next couple of weeks.

Suphachai said that when the immediate plan is approved, the government would deploy it in a large number of schools.

The working group on education is one of 12 joint public-private-sector working groups appointed by the government last month to help it steer the economy.

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