US - Southeast Asia

Chronology from Jan 2019 to May 2019

:   State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale travels to Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Japan.  In Jakarta he marks the 70th anniversary of US-Indonesian relations.  In Thailand Hale confers with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials on Thailand’s role as the 2019 ASEAN Chair.

: Indonesia arrests 12 of 14 Vietnamese fishermen who were on a boat fishing in the Natuna Sea. The Indonesian Navy reports that one of the two Vietnamese Coast Guard boats that arrived rammed the Indonesian patrol vessel. The Vietnamese fishing boat sinks on site.

:   Chinese President Xi Jinping hosts the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.  Southeast Asia sends the second-largest contingent of top leaders.

:   State Department protests the decision by Myanmar’s Supreme Court to uphold the sentences of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

:   US signs a Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam to contain dioxin remaining from Agent Orange spraying during the Vietnam War.  Washington commits $183 million to the project, which will take 10 years.  USAID also signs a “memorandum of intent” to assist Vietnamese living with disabilities believed to be tied to dioxin exposure.

:   Indonesia holds general elections. For the first time, a single election allows the country’s 180 million voters to choose a president, legislators, and provincial officials on the same day, making it the largest election in human history.  Official results will be announced May 22, but “quick count” polls indicate that incumbent President Joko Widodo defeated Prabowo Subianto.

: Washington (State) National Guard and the Washington Emergency Management Division participate in the first Malaysian Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Civil-Military Course, organized by the Malaysian Armed Forces.

: US INDOPACOM Commander Adm. Davidson makes his first official visit to Vietnam with stops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to meet officials including Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich, signs an agreement on disabilities assistance, and oversees the launch of a “US-funded project on dioxin contamination remediation at Bien Hoa airport.

:   US and Thai naval forces conduct Guardian Sea exercises in the Andaman Sea, emphasizing anti-submarine warfare.

: Two military helicopters attack a village in Rakhine state on a mission to “(crack) down on the Arakan Army’s terrorist activities.” The number of fatalities is unclear due to conflicting reports, but victims are identified as Rohingya refugees.

:   State Department issues a statement critical of Brunei’s decision to implement Phases Two and Three of the Sharia Penal Code, which contain penalties of death by stoning for gay sex and adultery.

:   Representatives from all branches of the US armed forces and the Armed Forces of the Philippines conduct the 35th iteration of the Balikatan (“Shoulder to Shoulder”) exercises.  The two militaries are joined in some phases by the Australian Defense Forces.  The exercises include 28 major combined or joint interoperability events, focusing on counterterrorism, amphibious operations, live-fire, urban operations, and aviation operations.

:   United States and Laos host the 32nd US-ASEAN Dialogue in Washington, co-hosted by State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs W. Patrick Murphy and Lao Deputy Foreign Minister Thongphone Savenphet.  They discuss the importance of maritime security to regional stability, combatting maritime plastic pollution, and illegal fishing.

:   Ninth US-Laos Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue is held in Washington, D.C.  Topics include fostering a free and open Indo-Pacific, upholding the rule of law in the South China Sea, and countering transnational crime.   Laos currently serves as the US country coordinator within ASEAN.

:   Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a confirmation hearing for David Stilwell, nominated to be assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  In his testimony, Stilwell reaffirms ASEAN centrality in Asian regional affairs and promises to strengthen US security relations with the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam.

: Seven pro-democracy parties form a coalition to secure a majority in Thailand’s House of Representatives to oppose the military-backed National Council for Peace and Order.

:   Thailand holds general elections.  By the end of April, no official results are announced, in part due to uncertainty in the Election Commission on the methodology for counting votes.

:   US Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph Donovan unveils the new US Embassy in Jakarta, which will house the US Mission to Indonesia and the US Mission to ASEAN.  He is joined by Chargé Jane Bocklage, who heads the US Mission to ASEAN in the absence of a confirmed US ambassador to ASEAN.

:   The 25th round of Cope Tiger exercises, a set of multilateral field training exercises among the air forces of the US, Singapore, and Thailand, are held in Thailand.  The three services fly a combined total of 776 sorties and focused on air superiority, command and control, close air support, interdiction, electronic warfare, and tactical airlift.

:   Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) introduces the Southeast Asia Strategy Act into Congress.  The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Florida) would require the secretaries of state, defense, and commerce to submit a multi-year strategy for engagement with Southeast Asia to Congress.  The bill is referred to committee for action.

:   United States, Japan, and Indonesia host a conference on Indonesia’s need for liquified natural gas (LNG).  Government and private sector participants from the three countries discuss proposals for future projects to help meet Indonesia’s energy needs.

:   President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un meet in Hanoi.  The summit draws favorable attention to Vietnam.

:   US Navy fleet replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe and UK Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose conduct maritime security and logistics training in the South China Sea.

:   Thailand and the US host the 38th iteration of the Cobra Gold exercises, involving 29 full participants, with China and India participating in civic action elements of the program.

: Spokesperson for the Philippine government announces that the US pledged $5.75 million in intelligence support to assist counterterrorism efforts in the Philippines.

: Myanmar’s Parliament agrees to form a committee that will consider amending the “undemocratic” portions of the country’s military-drafted Constitution.

:   US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim and Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana open a newly constructed warehouse for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in at Cesar Basa Air Base, the first major project under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).  The two countries have identified future EDCA projects in four other locations.

:   On the southern Philippine island of Jolo 20 are killed and 111 wounded when two bombs explode in a cathedral during Sunday Mass.  The Islamic State claims responsibility for the bombing through online bulletins.

: Thailand’s Election Commission announces that the first official general election since the military coup in 2014 will take place on March 24.

: US Pacific Air Forces and Philippine Air Force conduct the seventh iteration of the Bilateral Air Contingent Exchange-Philippines (BACE-P) at Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga.

: Spokespersons for Myanmar’s military announce that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi ordered security forces to launch an offensive against the Arakan Army.  Suu Kyi claims that if she did not order the military to attack the Arakan Army, “the international community would accuse her of religious prejudice for attacking the Muslim guerrillas of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army but not Buddhist rebels who committed similar actions with similar goals.”

:   US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast and South Asia Joseph Felter visits Cambodia to meet Cambodian defense officials to discuss strengthening US-Cambodian military-to-military relations.  Felter emphasizes to Ministry of Defense Secretary Gen. Neang Phat that advances in military cooperation will depend in part on institutional reform in Cambodia, dropping charges against opposition leader Kim Sokha, and allowing civil society and media to operate freely.

:   US State Department issues a statement expressing deep disappointment that the convictions of Reuters reporters and Pulitzer Prize winners Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are upheld by the Yangon High Court.

: Arakan Army attacks four police posts in the Buthidaung area in northern Rakhine, killing 13 policemen and injuring nine on the 71st anniversary of Myanmar’s independence from British rule.  An Arakan Army spokesperson says the attack was a response to a Myanmar military offensive against the Arakan Army that had also targeted civilians.

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