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Jokowi President

Jokowi New President

23 July 2014

Jakarta’s governor Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo has won the presidential election with 53 percent of the vote, as the the General Elections Commission announced on Tuesday. His rival, former General Prabowo Subianto, received 47 percent of the almost 135 million votes cast in the 9 July election. 

Even before the final results were announced, Prabowo withdrew from the race, claiming that the voting process had been irregular and that fraud had taken place. Prabowo’s spokesman said they were preparing to appeal to Indonesia’s constitutional court. Such an appeal has to take place within 3 days of the announcement of the election results. Analysts believe that Jokowi’s margin of 6% would suffice even if some irregularities were to be found. A ruling has to be made by 22 August.

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Japan reinterprets defence part of constitution

3 July 2014

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet has approved a reinterpretation of Japan’s constitution to extend the Self-Defence Forces’ powers to ‘collective self-defence’. This could enable Japan to support a close ally in case of an attack - such as for instance shooting down North Korean missiles fired at the US. It could also lead to greater Japanese participation in UN peacekeeping roles and potentially EU CSDP missions.

The proposal still has to pass the parliament, in which Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) holds an absolute majority. By reinterpreting the constitution instead of revising it, Abe avoids the need of a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet followed by holding a public referendum.

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Thai Military

EU Suspends Ties with Thailand

23 June 2014

At their meeting on 23 June EU foreign ministers expressed concern about the situation in Thailand, agreed to suspend official visits and postpone the signature of the PCA.

Ministers called on the military leadership ‘to restore, as a matter of urgency, the legitimate democratic process and the Constitution, through credible and inclusive elections’. The Council emphasised that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms must be upheld. It also urged the military authorities to free all political detainees, to refrain from any further arrests for political reasons and to remove censorship.

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Queen Li

Li Keqiang Visit Boosts UK-China and EU Ties

23 June 2014

Last week’s three day visit to the UK by Premier Li Keqiang demonstrated a further deepening of relations between both countries. This was perhaps best symbolised by the Queen inviting the Chinese Prime Minister to tea at Windsor Castle, an honour rarely bestowed on foreign dignitaries who are not head of state.

The royal diplomatic tea party was a clear demonstration of the Sino-British rapprochement after the UK was frozen out of contacts with senior Chinese politicians as a result of David Cameron meeting the Dalai Lama in 2012.

Speaking before his visit Li said that he had three main reasons for visiting the UK at this time; to deepen economic cooperation; to learn from Britain’s experience in modernisation; and to change misperceptions and ease misgivings about China.

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Ashton ROK

Ashton Visits Korea

24 May 2014

On 23 May HRVP Ashton visited Korea for meetings with President Park and Foreign Minister Yun. The visit had been scheduled two months ago but had been postponed because of the crisis in Ukraine.

Ashton said that she viewed the EU’s strategic partnership with Korea as a model as it covered economic, political and security cooperation. One of the highlights of the visit was the signature of a new crisis management agreement which will allow Korea to participate in the EU’s CSDP missions.

Among the foreign policy issues discussed were Iran, Syria, Ukraine and the situation in North East Asia including President Park’s peace and cooperation initiative. The Korean side briefed Ashton on the situation in the DPRK and the prospects for a resumption of talk with Pyongyang.

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Russia-China Gas Deal

22 May 2014

Russia and China signed a long-awaited gas supply agreement in Shanghai on 21 May. With Presidents Putin and Xi looking on, the heads of Gazprom and the CNPC signed a deal that will see Russia supply 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to China each year after 2020 for 30 years under a contract valued in excess of $400 billion.

It is the biggest contract in Russian history and with Russia facing economic sanctions by the West there was a clear political element to the deal which has been ten years in the making. 

The talks had always stalled on the price and although no details of pricing were revealed it is likely that China struck a hard bargain, taking advantage of Russia’s diplomatic isolation, its own gas finds in Sichuan and the booming LNG market. China has also started importing gas from Turkmenistan and Myanmar. Most analysts think that China will be paying much less than Europe pays for Russian gas.

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Thai Military Stages Coup

21 May 2014

After declaring nationwide martial law on 20 May, the Thai military took control of the whole country on 22 May. Even though army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha did not use the word ‘coup’ in his televised address, the constitution was suspended along with all television and radio stations. In what is the country’s second military takeover of an elected government in the last decade, 155 people, including politicians and activists, were banned from leaving the country. A curfew was established from 10pm to 5am and gatherings of more than five people banned.

General Prayuth, who is now acting Prime Minister, said the seizing of power was necessary ‘in order for the country to return to normality quickly, and for society to love and be at peace again’.

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Abe in Bxl

Japan’s PM Abe visits EU

7 May 2014

On 7 May Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited the EU for talks with President Barroso and President van Rompuy. The Brussels stop was part of a wider European tour with the PM visiting Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Portugal and Belgium. He also met the NATO secretary general for talks on closer cooperation in security affairs. The EU visit concentrated on progress in the negotiations for an EU-Japan free trade agreement and a strategic partnership agreement to cover cooperation in global political issues.

Abe’s European tour came right after President Obama’s visit to Japan in which political and economic issues also featured highly on the agenda. Tokyo managed to secure a statement from Obama that the disputed Senkaku Islands were also covered by the US-Japan defence alliance. But there was no agreement on the TPP negotiations that are already several months passed their deadline.

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Yingluck sacked

Yingluck Sacked by Court

7 May 2014

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been removed from office by a ruling of the Constitutional Court on 7 May. According to the court’s ruling, Yingluck had abused her power when she removed Thawil Pliensri as secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC) in 2011. Along with her, nine members of the cabinet who had been part of the decision to transfer Thawil had to leave.

A meeting by the caretaker cabinet following the court decision decided to appoint Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisarn as acting caretaker prime minister.

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled on 7 March that Thawil’s transfer in 2011 had been unjust and that he should be reinstated. Following this ruling, a group of senators led by Paiboon Nititawan filed a petition to the Constitutional Court questioning Ms Yingluck\'s right to remain in office.

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Obama Abe

Obama Walks Tightrope in Asia Visit

1 May 2014

President Obama performed a difficult balancing act during his four nation trip to Asia including Japan, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. On the one hand he had to demonstrate that Washington’s commitment to their defence remained one hundred percent whilst on the other hand not seeking to antagonise China. Beijing was not on the itinerary this time but the President will visit Beijing in the autumn. The President explained the main purpose of his trip was to demonstrate that ‘the US was renewing our leadership in the Asia.’ Obama made little progress, however, on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which remains blocked by Japan’s refusal to allow greater market access on agriculture while Obama does not have (fast track) trade promotion authority. Obama’s trip also coincided with the aftermath of the tragic ferry accident in Korea and the missing plane from Malaysia.

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