PHNOM PENH — The trial of a Khmer Rouge prison commandant who oversaw the deaths of at least 12,000 people has wrapped up. But in his final statement, Kang Guek Eav, also known as Duch, stunned the court by asking for an acquittal. It was a complete about-face from a desperate man who had acknowledged he was guilty of crimes against humanity and breaches of the Geneva Conventions, although claiming he acted under orders and amid fear of retribution. The three Cambodian and two international judges declined the request and ended the trial. Sentencing is expected early next year. In […]

JAKARTA, Indonesia — As a country often referred to as an example of a moderate Muslim-majority state in the region, Malaysia has been raising eyebrows worldwide lately. A string of incidents has recently underlined tensions between the Muslim majority and the Christian and Hindu minorities, and otherwise painted the country with more Islamic colors. These have included Muslims protesting against Hindu temples by parading in front of one carrying a cow’s head; fathers converting their children to Islam without informing the mother; housewives sentenced to whippings for daring to drink a beer; and pop concerts being banned. But more worrisome […]

The Berlin Wall was quite literally the prop on which the entire Soviet security structure for Europe rested. When it fell, Moscow’s continuing illusions that Eastern Europe could somehow be maintained as a belt of neutral states separating the Russian heartland from the West collapsed like a house of cards. And yet the edifice had appeared so solid, so permanent. In the euphoria that followed the fall of the Wall — and which was again on display during the 20th anniversary celebrations — we forget that prior to 1989, the division of Europe into two blocs, East and West, was […]

BANGKOK — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent appointment of Thailand’s former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, as an economic adviser was the diplomatic equivalent of precision bombing, whose shockwaves have sent relations between the neighboring Southeast Asian nations into a tailspin. But as the dust settles, observers say it is unclear who actually benefited from the increased tensions between Thailand and Cambodia. Thaksin — who was ousted by a military putsch in September 2006 and has been a polarizing figure in Thai politics ever since — is on the run from a two-year jail term for corruption handed down by Thailand’s […]

Gripped by simmering cross-border tensions, a dysfunctional democracy and collective unease over the health of the monarchy, Thailand has seen its status as a major power in Southeast Asia and its influence in the wider region cast under a harsh light recently. The most recent political shockwaves to roll through the Bangkok establishment emanated from ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who having fled a jail term for corruption, continues to goad his enemies from exile — this time by accepting a job offer from the Cambodian government as an economic adviser. At a carefully stage-managed press conference last week, with […]

Australia and the Asian Security Puzzle

Over at the Interpreter, Hugh White writes that despite its (predictable) drawbacks, the F-35 remains the best option for Australia’s air force. White’s argument echoes the major outlines of the Australian defense debate, which Craig Snyder examined in his WPR Strategic Posture Review for Australia. Essentially, that boils down to whether Australia has a vocation to compete with “Asian major powers” (White’s term that I assume refers to China, India and Japan), or just with the lesser powers on its periphery in Southeast Asia. I’m flagging the article not so much to wade into that debate myself, but rather to […]

This Week’s WPR Video Highlights

Here are a few of the week’s highlights from WPR’s video section: As Germany celebrates 20 years since the Berlin Wall crumbled, some vintage footage from PBS’ NewsHour provides a look back to what policymakers and pundits of the day were thinking. From utter shock and surprise to apprehension, then-Sens. Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn, arms negotiator Paul Nitze, former National Security Adviser Walt Rostow, and former ambassador and economist John Galbraith explore what this new East Germany might look like. So, how did they do? In Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s latest dig at Thailand’s current government, Cambodia has […]

Cambodia-Thailand Dispute Could Get Worse

Al-Jazeera interviews South-East Asia Expert Larry Jaga in light of rising tensions between Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodia refuses to extradite former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to Thailand, citing political motives as the reason for extradition. But political reasons, Jaga notes, could be motivation on both the part of Thailand and Cambodia. Jaga believes Thailand would prefer to keep talks bilateral, while he thinks Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen may enjoy the attention of the South East Asian community if talks should become multi-lateral.

Winning the Cold War by Losing Asia

Hugh White argues that the first step to winning the Cold War was losing the Vietnam War. If so, it adds even more significance to the arrival yesterday in Da Nang, Vietnam, of Cmdr. H.B. Le as the commanding officer of the USS Lassen. Le left Vietnam in a fishing boat in 1975, at the age of five. Something to ponder for those who argue that losing isn’t an option. White’s piece, which offers five other thought-provoking observations, is the most insightful thing I’ve read so far on the fall of the Berlin Wall (admittedly not a lot, since I’ve […]

In a speech heralding the formation of his 37-member cabinet last month, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono lauded his new team as “credible and accountable,” and expressed confidence in its abilities. “You are the chosen ones . . . and I consider you to be capable of doing your duties as members of the Second United Indonesia Cabinet,” Yudhoyono said. However, many experts did not join in Yudhoyono’s glowing encomium, and with good reason. After Yudhoyono’s landslide re-election victory in July, many observers had expected him to seize on his overwhelming (60.9 percent) electoral mandate to surround himself with a […]

DENPASAR, Indonesia — Since the ouster in 1998 of the Suharto regime, Indonesia’s process of democratization has made remarkable progress. The peaceful re-election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this year for a second five-year term served as the latest chapter, adding yet another layer of political stability to the country’s democratic advances. However, an extraordinary saga that sees the country’s independent anti-corruption commission (KPK) locked in a battle for survival against the police and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) is an indicator of some of the difficulties the country still faces in its quest to grow into a mature democracy. […]

Yesterday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs Kurt Campbell wrapped up what he called an “exploratory mission” to Burma by meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy advocate kept under house arrest by the Burmese regime. The two-day visit, during which Campbell also met with the country’s prime minister, comes nearly a month after U.S. Sen. Jim Webb became the highest-ranking U.S. official to date to meet with the junta, and a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Obama administration’s plan to engage with the reclusive military junta that rules […]

U.S. and the Philippines Share a Complicated Relationship

As an American colony for 50 years, the Philippines has come to regard the United States as both a friend and at times an enemy to their interests. As a Filipino labor force faces difficulties trying to emigrate in hopes of earning more money in the United States, their families back home enjoy American fast food and basketball. WorldFocus’ Mark Litke reports.

China and Myanmar Connect Via Pipeline

A new gas pipeline connecting Myanmar and China will provide some ofChina’s most landlocked parts of the country with natural gas whilestrategically avoiding the crowded Malacca Straits in order to securean uninhibited supply of energy. As Myanmar and China move forwardwith the plan, onlookers voice concern that the lucrative businesstransaction will make it even harder to influence the military regimein Myanmar.