Why host ‘unseemly parade’ of Asian dictators?


The upcoming US-ASEAN summit will include leaders – like Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 25 years – who were previously considered too ruthless and repressive to be received by the US president on American soil, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick. It seems that security and economic considerations have now usurped democracy as leading determinants of US foreign policy in the region. For the people of Southeast Asia, this approach may ultimately create more risks than benefits, he writes for Project Syndicate.

Also in attendance will be leaders from one-party Vietnam, where the press is under state control and critical bloggers have been jailed, and Laos, whose ruling Communist Party denies its people basic freedoms, TIME magazine observes:

The Washington Post has described the summit as “an unseemly parade of dictators,” noting that only Indonesia’s and the Philippines’ leaders were chosen by fair democratic means.

A positive story in the region is Burma [above], where Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition won elections in November, ending decades of military rule. (The outgoing President, former general Thein Sein, announced this week that he would not attend the summit). But the bloc also includes the Sultanate of Brunei and Singapore, which has been run by the same party since 1959…..

“The risk is that the Sunnylands summit will empower and embolden ASEAN leaders who have been responsible for jailing journalists, cracking down on peaceful protesters, and dismantling democratic institutions after coups,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch….

The region is also a rare patch of good economic news — together the 10 ASEAN countries would be the world’s seventh largest economy — another reason cited for U.S. engagement.

Aaron Connelly, a researcher at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, wrote this week that the U.S. was right to deal with the entirety of ASEAN, an institution that “supports the liberal international order.” He added: “Quiet but firm conversations at the summit could support liberalization on the domestic level, too.”




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