Indonesia: Last week, this blog looked at the reality of Indonesia’s capacity to aid the United States in the Islamic world. Ahead of Obama’s June visit to the archipelago, it is also valuable to consider how the Indonesian – American relationship is viewed on the Indonesian street. Recently, some right wing Muslim groups have joined forces with secular Indonesian nationalists (the former, a minority of the electorate according to the last presidential elections) to actively condemn the United States in favor of China. This new united faction includes Gen. Tyasno Sudarto, former Indonesian army chief of staff. Although neither group has traditionally had anything but contempt and mistrust for Communist China (and often ethnic Chinese in Indonesia) they now see China as a necessary counterweight to American power in the region. This perspective is opposite that held by many ASEAN nations, who are seeking closer ties with the U.S. to balance China.
While China enjoys emotional appeal as an alternative to American power and “neo-liberal” economics, it has struggled to win over constituencies more concerned with reality than ideology. For example, Indonesian industrialists and farmers, worried by the prospect of a surge in Chinese imports, have complained about a new free trade agreement that creates a huge free-trade zone comprising China, Indonesia and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.
Still, the Yudhoyono Administration has continued to advocate its long held policy of neutrality, hoping to keep good relations with the U.S. and Indonesia, at least publicly. It is likely that behind closed doors there is fear of China’s rise in the region, and frustration with the fact America’s policies and behaviors are not making it easier for the current Indonesian government to firm up its relationship with the U.S., while still appeasing their domestic base.
Malaysia: Amnesty International released a report which found that migrant workers in Malaysia undergo routine abuse and exploitation. Further, the laborers, primarily from Indonesia; India; Bangladesh; Nepal; and Myanmar, often live in conditions of extreme poverty and filth. In addition to receiving little support from the government, illegal migrants also have the added fear of caning if caught by authorities. There were 35,000 illegal aliens reported to have been caned between 2002 and 2008.
Thailand: The Red Shirts have refused to withdraw from any area of Bangkok, in fact they have been pushing into the central tourism and business districts of the city. The New York Times described the atmosphere as “festive”, but the 3-week long protest has paralyzed many parts of the Bangkok, producing a very real economic cost. Also, everything has not been peaceful, with grenade attacks and building invasions.
On the outskirts of Bangkok, protesters broke into the Election Commission building on Monday, demanding the acceleration of an investigation into charges that a large Thai company made a multimillion-dollar payment to the governing Democrat Party. The group left after securing an agreement that results would be released on April 20, more than a week earlier than scheduled.
If the Democrat Party is found guilty, the party of ruling PM,, could be dissolved.
So far, the government has not used force against the protesters. The courts have refused a government appeal for a legal ruling that would prevents protesters from gathering in the commercial areas. Red Shirts are sticking to their demands that Vejjajiva dismiss Parliament and call for new elections.