US - Southeast Asia

Chronology from Sep 2019 to Dec 2019

: The Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, commanded by Rear Adm. Michael Boyle, hosts leaders of the Royal Thai Army, Navy, and Air Force to allow them to see US naval carrier operations firsthand.

: The State Department re-designates Myanmar as one of 10 “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, for having engaged in or tolerated “systemic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.” The primary reason for designating Myanmar, the only listed Southeast Asian country, is the repression of Muslim Rohingya.

: Assistant Secretary of State Stilwell visits Hanoi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the normalization of US-Vietnam relations and discuss priorities for Vietnam’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2020 and its term membership on the United Nations Security Council in 2020-2021.

: Thai police file charges against Thanathorn Juangroomgruangkit, leader of the opposition Future Forward Party, for mounting a public demonstration to protest government actions against the FFP. On Nov. 20 the Thai Constitutional Court stripped Thanathorn of his seat in Parliament for having invested in a media company while he was a candidate in the March election.

: Myanmar State Counselor Aung Sang Suu Kyi addresses the International Court of Justice in The Hague, responding to charges of genocide by Myanmar against Muslim Rohingya.

: James Richardson, State Department director of US foreign assistance resources, visits Vietnam to review US assistance under the US-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. On Dec. 13 he tours Bien Hoa Airbase, where USAID is helping to design a plan to remediate the largest remaining hotspot of dioxin contamination in Vietnam. On Dec. 5 the US and Vietnamese governments officially launched remediation operations at Bien Hoa; the US has committed to provide $300 million to restore the airbase and surrounding areas.

: US and Indonesia convene a Nuclear Security Insider Threat Mitigation Workshop in Serpong, Indonesia, bringing to completion eight years of cooperation to strengthen nuclear security in Indonesia.

: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approves a recommendation to end martial law in the southern Philippines, more than two years after the Armed Forces of the Philippines defeated militants linked to the Islamic State (IS), who took over the city of Marawi for 5 months in 2017.

: Commander of the US Pacific Fleet Adm. John Aquilino visits Thailand to strengthen relations with the Thai Navy and to witness the procession of the Royal Barge.

: The State Department designates Cambodian government official Kun Kim, his wife, and children as foreign officials involved in significant corruption under Section 7031(c) of the 2019 State Department Authorization Act. Kun Kim was a senior general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and allegedly profited from relationships with a Chinese state-owned enterprise. The Treasury Department subsequently announces that it will impose sanctions on him.

: Esper and Singaporean Minister of Defense Ng Eng Hen meet on the sidelines of the Reagan National Defense Forum in Washington and sign a nonbinding MOU to establish a Singapore Air Force permanent fighter training facility in Guam. Training will commence in 2029.

: Amb. Nathan Sales, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, visits Manila to discuss joint US-Philippine efforts to stem terrorism financing.

: Esper visits Vietnam in his new role. In a speech at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, he accuses China of using coercion against smaller Asian nations to impose its will in the South China Sea. In a meeting at the headquarters of the Vietnamese Communist Party he expresses strong US opposition to “violations of international law by China and excessive claims in the South China Sea.” Esper also announces that the US will provide Vietnam’s Coast Guard with a surplus US ship in 2020.

: Esper makes first visit to the Philippines in his new capacity. He meets Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin. In response to continued pressure from Manila to review the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, Esper reiterates the US commitment to the MDT.

: On the margins of the ADMM-Plus, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper meets Prabowo Subianto, newly appointed Indonesian minister of defense. They agree to expand military education for Indonesian armed forces.

: The 6th iteration of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus, the only official Defense Ministers dialogue framework in the Asia-Pacific region, is held in Bangkok. The 10 ASEAN defense ministers and their counterparts from the US, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Russia participate.

: The 14th East Asia Summit is held in Bangkok. Eighteen governments participated in the aummit, which was chaired by Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the 2019 ASEAN Chair. Compared to previous years, the US delegation was reduced, represented by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.

: Protesting scaled-down US representation at the EAS, seven of 10 ASEAN governments reduce their representation at the follow-on US-ASEAN Summit by sending their foreign ministers rather than heads of government.

:      The State Department releases progress report on implementation of the US whole-of-government strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, presented on the margins of the East Asia Summit (EAS) by Keith Krach, undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy Security and the Environment.

:      2019 Indo-Pacific Business Forum, co-chaired by Thailand and the United States, opens in Bangkok. It brings together nearly 1,000 government officials, private sector actors, and analysts to expand cooperation in areas such as energy, infrastructure, and the digital economy. On the margins of the forum, the US and ASEAN announce that they will begin formal negotiations to streamline customs procedures through the ASEAN Single Window.

: Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback visits Thailand to deliver remarks at the 5th Annual Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference.

: US Department of Justice announces that it has struck a deal to recoup $1 billion in funds allegedly looted from the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) by fugitive financier Jho Low, by seizing assets Low was holding in the US, including a private jet and real estate in Beverly Hills. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad responded with a statement that Malaysia would file a claim on the forfeited assets.

: On his way to the East Asia Summit in Bangkok, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell makes two first-time trips to Southeast Asian countries in his new capacity. He visits Myanmar Oct. 27-30, which trip includes Rakhine State where he meets government and community leaders, as well as with victims of violence in the ethnic conflict. In Malaysia Oct. 30-Nov. 1, Stilwell follows an agenda that touches on the full complement of policy areas in the US-Malaysia relationship.

: Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, visits Singapore, his first trip to the country in his current capacity.

: Joko Widodo is inaugurated as president of Indonesia for a second term, after winning the April 2019 election with 55.5% of the popular vote against Prabowo Subianto. He is sworn in under high security, since an Islamic State-linked bombing plot related to the election was foiled in the early summer. On Oct. 23 Joko announces his new Cabinet, with a surprise appointment of former general Prabowo Subianto as defense m,inister.

: US and Philippine navies and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force conduct Third Annual Maritime Training Activity Sama Sama. The exercises feature both shore-based and at-sea activities.

: US and ASEAN convene first session of the US-ASEAN Cyber Dialogue in Singapore, co-chaired by the United States and Laos, and addresses 5G technology, the digital economy, and cyber capacity building.

: Marines and sailors from the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit participate in Tiger Strike exercises in Malaysia to promote interoperability between US and Malaysian armed forces.

: Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce visits Thailand and Myanmar. In Bangkok she attends the 2019 Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) meeting. In Myanmar she delivers remarks on elections and the importance of democracy at the American Center in Yangon.

: US announces an additional $127 million in humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh, as well as to internally displaced Rohingya in Rakhine State. Since the outbreak of violence in Rakhine in August 2017, the US has contributed $669 million in humanitarian aid.

: US House of Representatives passes HR 3190, the Burma Unified Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2019, which seeks to tighten sanctions on Myanmar and strengthen support for the Muslim Rohingya. The bill is under consideration by the Senate.

: On the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Donald Trump and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong renew the 1990 US-Singapore Memorandum of Understanding Regarding United States Use of Facilities in Singapore, extending the agreement for another 15 years.

: Idaho National Guard soldiers and airmen participate in an expert exchange with members of the Cambodian Armed Forces at the UN Peacekeeping Operations Center in Phnom Penh. They trained with member of Cambodia’s Peacekeeping Directorate preparing to deploy to several countries for mine clearance activities.

: Senior leaders of US Army Pacific and the Royal Thai Army come together for a handover of Stryker helicopters, which Thailand purchased through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The Strykers are symbolic of the restoration of full military-to-military relations following Thailand’s general elections in March 2019.

: Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis Fannon travels to Thailand to attend the ASEAN Ministers of Energy meeting and related regional energy conferences. Fannon’s trip was also intended to advance the new Japan-US Mekong Power Partnership (JUMPP) announced in August 2019.

: The first ASEAN-US Maritime Exercises are conducted, involving eight warships, four aircraft from seven countries, and more than 1,000 personnel representing the 10 ASEAN member states and the US. Co-led by the US and Thai navies, the exercises had shore-based activities in Thailand, Singapore, and Brunei and a sea phase in international waters, including the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea.

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