- By David BoscoDavid Bosco, a Foreign Policy contributing editor and assistant professor at American University's School of International Service. He is at work on a book about the International Criminal Court's first decade.
In a few days, tiny Brunei takes over from Cambodia as chair of the regional organization ASEAN. Cambodia’s leadership was controversial, and several members accused it of yielding to Chinese influence on the South China Sea dispute. Chayut Setboonsarng considers what to expect:
As chairman, Brunei’s mandate will be to set the agenda and issue the chairman’s statements at ministerial meetings and leaders’ summits. This is a powerful tool for a country with a population of 400,000.
Observers have dismissed Brunei as a diplomatic featherweight. However, it has considerably high stakes in Asean’s success. Unlike Cambodia, Brunei is a disputant in the South China Sea. This compounds the issue and suggests that Brunei may take a stronger line against China’s claims.
How well it can persuade other Asean countries will hinge on the diplomatic prowess of its statesmen. Brunei’s Foreign Minister, Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, has famously advocated "defence diplomacy"–a doctrine that focuses on continuous dialogue and personal relationships. This may give some indication of how the Sultanate will use its status as Asean chair to approach the dispute.
Writing in the Asia Times, Richard Javad Heydarian notes that Beijing has some important leverage over Brunei:
Like Cambodia, Brunei has considerable economic ties to China. While Beijing has leveraged multi-billion dollar concessional loans, investments, and grants to woo comparatively poor Cambodia, it has also become increasingly involved in Brunei’s crucial oil and gas sector. Brunei is heavily dependent on its soon-to-be-depleted hydrocarbon resources, which currently account for around 60% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 90% of total export earnings….
In the absence of strong democratic institutions, Brunei’s ruling royal family depends heavily on hydrocarbon earnings to prop up its security apparatus and appease the population through generous welfare and subsidy schemes. China is thus not only a major customer and source of advanced offshore-drilling technology, but also a means as Brunei’s second-largest market for Brunei to diversify its highly hydrocarbon-dependent economy.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |