SOVINDA PO |
Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei, and Macau are added to US blacklist
On 19 July the United States added Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei, and Macau to its human trafficking blacklist due to a lack of progress toward stopping nonconsensual sex work and the absence of sufficient support for migrant workers.
These four countries, now on the US State Department’s Annual Trafficking Report, are now more likely to be subjected to US sanctions and penalties in response. Despite having good relations with the US, Vietnam was placed on the list for trafficking issues connected to Saudi Arabia. Cambodia was added to the list due to little progress in mitigating child trafficking and online scams/bullying. Brunei, on the other hand, failed to sentence the traffickers while Macau was reported for not providing services to trafficking victims over the past three years. The US Secretary of State argued that corruption is the main tool for traffickers to be able to maneuver through channels without appropriate attention from government agencies. Cambodia, Vietnam, and Brunei expressed their disagreement with the report, with Cambodia’s vice-chairwoman of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking stating that the government has done its best, and that its efforts were not seen by the US.
Myanmar is in the international spotlight again
Since 2021, the coup in Myanmar has garnered international attention, with little improvement in recent months. Local banks and companies in Myanmar have been ordered by Myanmar’s Central Bank to reschedule their foreign loan repayments to exert the kyat’s influence over the foreign currency. Companies, local businesses, ministries, and local governments were ordered not to use foreign currencies for domestic transactions as the value of the kyat has fallen, causing the rise in food and fuel prices. Failure to comply with this order could result in permanent discharge or license withdrawal from businesses and officers.
Myanmar’s central bank was unreachable for clarification; however, its statement has bluntly pressed the local banks to reschedule the repayment arrangements with their customers. This has caused difficulties for business owners. They have had little time to adapt to the new requirements while exporters and importers in Myanmar struggle to operate given the unbalanced currency values between the US dollar and the kyat.
While the economic situation has become more unstable, the junta also executed four democracy activists. They were accused of orchestrating terrorist acts against civilians that disrupt peace and stability in Myanmar. Ko Jimmy, Hla Myo Aung, Aung Thura Zaw―pro-democracy activists―and Phyo Zeya Thaw, a lawmaker, were executed without their families being informed of the exact date of execution. The executions were the first to be carried out in Myanmar in 30 years, sparking international condemnation including from the NUG and a denouncement from ASEAN.
The United Nations Secretary-General condemned the action and called for the release of political detainees. The EU, US, Japan, Canada, France, and many more stood strongly against this repression of human rights and international law. ASEAN strongly expressed their disappointment and condemnation of the executions, calling it a knockback to all its peace efforts in Myanmar. However, the junta has firmly rejected the accusation stressing the four activists were destabilising peace and security in Myanmar.
The current situation, in terms of both the economic and political stability in Myanmar, is in tenuous. These actions signal that the country’s peace is still far ahead, and indeed maybe even further given the increased condemnation and isolation from the international community.
The outcome of the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting
The Group of 20 (G20) Foreign Ministers Meeting was held in Bali, Indonesia from 7–8 July. Discussions focused heavily on the Russia–Ukraine war and the resulting complications to international order.
The Indonesian Foreign Minister urged for multilateral dialogue to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, concluding with calls on Moscow to end the war and reopen the grain export route. The US had directly called out Russia to cease the war and expressed concerns about the impact of the war on global security.
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, had been verbally bombarded during his time in Bali. The various confrontations during the talks led Lavrov to walk out of the meeting before its conclusion. The Russian foreign minister did, however, express Russia’s readiness to work with Ukraine and Turkey on the grain trade route. Yet, no exact date was announced.
A bilateral meeting between the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers was held to strengthen relations. China held firm to its friendly ties with Russia, despite the West’s isolation of the Kremlin. At the same time, the US also held its own bilateral meeting with French, British, and German foreign ministers to build a cooperative effort to support Ukraine in security and assistance, while also discussing the global food and energy crisis resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Some pointed to the fact that, as the G20 is not a permanent institution, legally binding resolutions cannot be issued, meaning that it can only urge for a resolution to conflict and the current grain export issue. Others heavily focused on the fact that the meeting ended with no joint statement or agreement. Indonesia―the current G20 President―praised their efforts given all players were able to attend the dialogue. The Indonesian Ambassador to the UN saw success in the meeting noting that even Lavrov’s walkout was a typical occurrence in diplomacy. This summit may be seen as a precursor to the Heads of State and Government Summit, to be held in November. Given the focus on Russia, particular attention will now be placed on how Indonesia can navigate through this difficult strategic landscape.
Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.