The Philippines joins the RCEP  

The Philippine Senate ratified the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement on 21 February 2023, making it the last country in ASEAN to participate in the world’s largest free trade agreement. 

During the process, 20 senators voted in favour, one abstained, two didn’t cast their votes, and one senator voted against the decision. By joining the trade agreement, the Philippines would have access to cheaper production costs, more competitive  trade, support the existing free trade agreements, and improve physical infrastructure such as roads. The agreement will also drive the country’s integration of industrial chains and will be an important tool for economic recovery in the Asia-Pacific.  

The Philippines Senate President believed that the agreement promised the Philippines more jobs and cheaper commodities. The National Economic and Development Authority of the Philippines also  believes  that participation in the RCEP can boost the country’s growth and investment, putting it on par with other RCEP-participating countries and the world’s largest economies. However, some also warned about the impact on farmers and entrepreneurs who can be affected by joining the RCEP, while others who supported the agreement also opted for the post-pandemic economic recovery as the current priority for the Philippines. 

The ratification of the RCEP of the Philippines concluded all ASEAN members’ participation in the agreement.  

The current situation on the Thai Election Campaign 

The dissolution of the Thai Parliament by Prime Minister Prayuth, in late February, resulted in an election that will be held in May 2023. Although many existing parties were in favour of the election, two parties emerged as the most prominent – the Pheu Thai Party and the United Thai Nation Party – both of whom have begun making promises to the Thai voters.  

The Pheu Thai Party, the main opposition party led by Cholnan Srikaew, is targeting and attracting farmers with their promise to triple the farmers’ income through new technology and creating more market opportunities in agriculture. With their “Think Big, Can Do for Every Thai” policy, the party also promised to implement debt relief measures for farmers while also pledging to improve the nation’s health care program. Furthermore, the party nominated Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of the former ousted  Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as the party’s candidate for their leader. Interestingly, Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in Hong Kong to keep a closer eye on the election campaign. 

The current Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-Ocha, is a member the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party and will remain the party’s top nominee for leader. Prayuth promised to create a fund to shore up crop prices if he won the vote while also pledging to further develop, modernise, and digitalise the public services for Thais. Newly established businesses and industries will be supported by the government with the aim of earning more revenue to fund the public welfare system, while the party also promised further infrastructure development.  

During an election campaign, the UTN party’s deputy leader mentioned a quote from King Rama IX, stating that the Thai people should elect good people to run the government. Mention of the monarchy is prohibited by the Election Commission’s (EC) rules. The deputy leader realised his mistake and noted that the party could face dissolution if a complaint was issued to the EC even though the possibility of dissolution remains a question. Others urged for a peaceful and liberal election without any interference from the elites. Some even encouraged Thaksin not to pursue the idea of a homecoming during the election campaign as it could disrupt the rising Pheu Thai Party and give the UTN more leverage to gain more votes.  

The Thai election is expected to be held in early May 2023 and all eyes are on the polls and the progress of the election for the results ahead. 

Vietnam’s Parliament elected its new President  

Following the abrupt resignation of the Vietnamese President in January, the Vietnam National Assembly elected Vo Van Thuong as the country’s new president, on 2 March 2023. 

With 98.38 per cent of the vote, Vietnam’s legislature found its new President – Vo Van Thuong – who is regarded as the youngest member of the country’s Politburo and the closest person to the country’s most powerful party member – Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong. Moreover, he is also well-known for his corruption crackdown leading to many officials being investigated and forced to quit—including the former President and his two deputy prime ministers. He also currently holds a position in the Central Committee and is one of the most trusted allies of the Secretary General. 

Thuong pledged to be loyal to the people, the constitution, and his country. Many believed that the selection of Thuong is an effort to choose a new leader and to keep the party united after the previous President’s resignation. Others believe there will be no major changes in Vietnam’s approach to foreign policy but the fight against corruption would most likely continue under Thuong. 

The selection signaled stability in Vietnamese politics even though it is not quite clear how the political situation in Vietnam will evolve after his selection.   

Cambodia’s opposition leader sentenced to 27 years under house arrest 

Cambodia’s leading opposition leader – Kem Sokha – was sentenced to 27 years of house arrest by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 3 March 2023.  

Since 2017, he has been accused of secretly cooperating with the United States to oust the current Prime Minister Hun Sen who has ruled Cambodia for almost four decades. Despite his denial of all the charges against him, the verdict bans the opposition leader from voting and running as a political figure in the upcoming election that will be held in July. Mr. Kem Sokha has one month to appeal his jail sentence.  

The US Ambassador to Cambodia called the trial and sentence unjust while human rights groups condemned the verdict viewing it as an attempt from the ruling party to weaken the opposition and squash any hopes of having a genuine general election in July. The Cambodia Center for Human Rights believed the country’s judiciary is under the state’s control while Mr. Sokha’s lawyer saw this as an injustice. Although some viewed this move as a victory for authoritarian politics and weakened democracy, many supporters did not accept the result, while others strongly supported the verdict regardless.  

The jail sentence has removed a major player from competing in the upcoming Cambodian general election and the focus is now on whether the election can be considered to be free and fair. 


Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.