May 26, 2022
The Latest on Southeast Asia
In Tokyo on May 23, President Biden announced the formation of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). The framework will bring together the United States and a dozen other Indo-Pacific countries. The agreement will cover both traditional and digital trade standards, decarbonization and infrastructure, supply chain resiliency, taxation, and anti-corruption.
The actual contents of IPEF will be negotiated over the next year or more, but in the meantime, the administration got a win by securing participation from every country invited to join. That includes 7 of the 10 ASEAN members—Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—along with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and, most surprisingly, India.
President Biden also made headlines in Tokyo when he responded unambiguously in the affirmative when asked by a reporter if the United States would “get involved militarily to defend Taiwan.” While the White House quickly walked back the statement, it is yet another sign that U.S.-China tensions in the region will not ease anytime soon.
Another marquee item from the summit included a new joint maritime domain awareness effort that will provide partners across the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, and Pacific with near real-time radio frequency data to identify illegal fishing, maritime militia, and other illicit actors at sea.
In other news, the former transport minister of Thailand, Chadchart Sittipunt, won the election for the Bangkok gubernatorial race in a landslide. He garnered over 1.3 million votes and won a majority in all 50 Bangkok constituencies. Unlike other provinces in Thailand where the governor is appointed rather than elected, this election marked Bangkok’s return to popular voting for the first time since 2013. Chadchart has been preparing for this election since he left the Pheu Thai Party (PTP), the main opposition party, in 2019 and has run an active social media campaign since. Out of the 4.4 million registered voters in Bangkok, one million are millennials, and 700,000 young people became eligible to vote for the first time in this election. Chadchart ran on a progressive platform, including addressing climate change, increasing the quality of life in the city, supporting emerging technology, and economic recovery while preaching promises of unity among the populace.
Chadchart’s win comes as no surprise as opinion polls consistently showed him in the lead during the campaign season. His position as an independent helped him stand out among the 30 other candidates and distance himself from the PTP, which has witnessed low support in the capital in the past. Chadchart’s main opposition was Aswin Kwanmuang, the former governor of Bangkok and an independent candidate seen as a stand-in for the military-aligned Palang Pracharath party. The election acted as a litmus test for reformist versus conservative and pro-government attitudes in the city. Chadchart received non-partisan support, reflecting the city’s enthusiasm to support political change.In the vote for city council, PTP won a plurality of the seats, 19 out of 50, while Palang Pacharath won just 2. The vote in Bangkok is not necessarily representative of the national political environment, but Chadchart’s victory will certainly make the current government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha nervous ahead of national elections in 2023.
For more political, economic, and security analysis on the region, check out our blog series, The Latest on Southeast Asia.