Leaders from some of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority countries are set to meet in Malaysia’s capital on Thursday, to address issues such as Islamophobia and poverty, with the organisers insisting the event is not meant to rival the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The Singapore meeting starting Monday – the second Asean summit this year – will be Mahathir’s first since he stunned Asia by defeating his protégé Najib Razak in May elections to reoccupy the political hot seat he held from 1981 to 2003. Diplomatic observers are hoping the firebrand nonagenarian, a self-professed regionalist, will inject some vigour into the bloc…And with Asean nations facing rising pressure to take sides in the escalating US-China rivalry, some insiders in the grouping are hoping for lessons from the elder statesman on how to balance the two powers without being dragged into their respective orbits.
The fact is that China has grown strong and rich by flouting international trade rules. But now its chickens are coming home to roost, with a growing number of countries imposing antidumping or punitive duties on Chinese goods. And as countries worry about China bending them to its will by luring them into debt traps, it is no longer smooth sailing for the BRI.
Despite his aspirations to play the responsible world statesman, Xi’s foreign-policy record is filled with squabbles, misfires and unfulfilled promise. If he’s going to restore China to superpower status and cement its dominance in East Asia, he should take a cue from Chinese history about how to wield power.
With his shock victory in Malaysia’s election, Mahathir Mohamad has pulled off a political second act that few expected, joining the select ranks of politicians who have revived their careers. The 92-year-old former strongman ruled Malaysia with an iron fist for more than two decades before stepping down, but returned to political life to challenge his own former party, snatching a surprise win in Wednesday’s poll.
That Malaysia is in a funk is hardly in doubt. Najib’s rule has been marred by accusations of cronyism, most obviously the farrago over sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, in which $4.5 billion is alleged to have been siphoned off by managers and associates, according to a U.S. Justice Department probe. The prime minister denies wrongdoing.
Singapore, this year’s ASEAN chair, faces some tough tasks. It must lift confidence in the organisation and inject the inspiration it needs to overcome a ‘midlife crisis’ while encouraging favourable conditions for continued economic growth. And it must do this in a time of geopolitical turbulence while trying to balance relations with the great powers. If anyone in the region can handle such pressure, it’s Singapore.
Coming full circle on its 50th anniversary, ASEAN is now caught in a regional strategic environment similar to one that existed at its founding, defined by volatility, hostility, and superpower rivalry that pose a serious existential threat to the organization. Can ASEAN maintain its autonomy and reputation as a credible and cohesive unit capable of regional resilience in the 21st century?
ASEAN is ever beset by existential angst. The ‘A’ in ASEAN stands for Angst as well as Association. Regard this as more description than criticism. The Angst-Association of South East Asian Nations always has lots to worry about. Angst and anxiety are rational responses. The questions are constant: can the association hold together? Can it actually do anything? Will ASEAN be crushed as it’s courted by the bigger beasts of Asia? Celebrating its 50th birthday in August, ASEAN pumps out celebration.