Tuesday, 29 August 2017
The latest Tom Cruise blockbuster American Made has opened to rave reviews: Cruise on top form, best movie he's done in years, film of the week, Cruise flying high and so on.
Certainly questions must be being asked at Universal studios with such superlatives and the August Bank Holiday opening, why such weak to nonexistent publicity - and that with the film being in the can for over a year too.
While with director Doug Liman attached to the package - giving Christopher Nolan of megamovie Dunkirk a run for his money as one of the world’s greatest living directors - of the Bourne movie franchise, and also working with Cruise on Edge of Tomorrow, a box office hit was almost guaranteed.
The Paramount theme park in West Kent once again drifting sideways would be a huge asset for the UK entertainment industry and Bluewater retail park. Certainly Mission Impossible rides would be a novel experience.
And if the Paramount drift understandably continues then a James Bond World would be apt for Kent as 007 county - a Roger Moore Scaramanga Hall of Mirrors or Octopussy circus surely another apt shoo-in amongst the VR rides. While a Harry Potter theme park is another neglected UK asset given the global success of the books and films and computer games. Hogwarts has been a massive injection of vitality into the UK's acting talent such as East Kent's Timothy Spall and special effects industries.
Perhaps the opportunity for UK film to move beyond an ad-hoc cottage industry will be lost without political will.
JK Rowling perhaps with Bond and Cruise make a rather neglected triumvirate for UK's Creative Industries. It's almost impossible to imagine that say Disney -even before its Star Wars expansion -would have neglected the opportunities from such talent.
There's possibly an argument for both Cruise and Liman to be given UK citizenship for their consistent support of Britain's movie industry. George Osborne when Chancellor was one of the few politicians to grasp the potential of UK Creative Industries through the studio system, post-production, music, skills and training, special effects and computer games.
But why the Kent Cruise connection? The Dunkirk megamovie has obvious connections here in East Kent with the Ramsgate Little Ships rescuing UK and French soldiers off the beaches, and Operation Dynamo directed from Dover by Admiral Ramsay.
Well, American Made has a clue in its former - and rather better title - Mena.
Not the Middle East and North Africa acronym, but Mena in Arkansas, USA, the airport which Cruise's real-life character Barry Seal flew in and out of with cocaine and guns to supply both the Contras in Nicaragua and Medellin drugs cartel in Colombia.
Clearly a small out-of-the-way rural airport used for gunrunning and drugs resonates with both Manston airport here in East Kent under Infratil, and indeed Lydd and Ostend airports.
The Infratil directors are still on the run, Fitzgerald, Clarke, Bogoievski and Baker, but based in Wellington airport - yet all the other Infratil UK and EU airports and even Rotorua in NZ closed down.
Almost a dozen airports closed from the airport monitors scandal with TDC council of removing the monitors and faking the data and missing multi-million pound fines to develop Manston as another Gatwick - mere minutes flytime from the half-empty Gatwick and Stansted.
As the ludicrous scheme fell apart a wave of illegal and semi-legal activity ratcheted upwards eg KAM Air Afghan air transport somehow managing to fly undetected across Europe via Vienna to almost crashland at Manston. The bellyflop onto the houses at the runway would have incinerated its claimed cargo of Argentine polo ponies as well as the residents in a Kent Lockerbie. The airplane tail dragging off the runway into the grass leaving a knee-deep furrow.
Cruise’s Barry Seal character managed to only crashland a light plane into houses.
While UN-sanctioned airlines were clearly involved in gunrunning via Ostend into Africa. Then sanctions-busting was evident with Iran Air:
Guns via Iran for the Contras being a key facet of the Barry Seal Mena flights.
While new narco-states such as Guinea-Bissau are also a correlation to the closure of airports such as Mena as cocaine routes out of Peru and Colombia into Europe change. While Ostend gunrunning certainly fuelled the conflicts in Africa from Libya to Sudan that have resulted in four famines not from crop failure, but conflict. While the Liberia and DRC Congo conflicts would yield only blood diamonds via Ostend to Antwerp.
Ostend airport – again as blatantly as Manston or Mena - the base for Viktor Bout eventually arrested and extradited from Bangkok by Thai police and the DEA/FBI, and who also achieved movie fame as the basis of the Nicolas Cage and Ethan Hawke film Lord of War.
Hawke also filming in Ramsgate for Juliet Naked, Nick Hornby’s book rather than Shakespeare raises the issue again of the need for an East Kent Film office and studio as a counterweight to the usual Maidstone/West Kent/Chatham Dockyard focus. And promoting and regenerating the area beyond the usual handful tarmac apprenticeships. £2BN a year in tax and central government funds doesn't seem to have bought much regeneration via Kent's councils in any of the 3 Kent districts.
And certainly not in East Kent far away from London and further away from Maidstone, indeed nearer to France and Benelux.
The absence of a Kent 50M Olympic pool speaks volumes - especially with France having the nearest sports facility to East Kent. While ice rinks in Bangkok one of the world's hottest cities but none in Bolero Kent suggests idleness as well as corruption infecting Kent's body politic.
The lack of imagination if not downright corruption on the Kent Fire $1M fire station on sports land or the mega-boozer castigated in The Guardian also speaks volumes of municipal failure and clunking incompetence opening the day after one of the hottest and busiest Bank Holidays:
While the BBC Plane Drunk documentary highlighting Wetherspoons at Gatwick with a shocking 50% increase in out of hand airport drinking. Even Barry Seal flew sober surrounded by bags of cocaine.
Clearly on EKFO S though there's plenty of projects available to core fund the project whether digitising the History of Advertising Trust and British Film Institute archives before they literally crumble to dust - the flammable decay of old films being a key plot point in the Quentin Tarantino- Brad Pitt movie Inglourious Basterds. With Pitt filming World War Z in East Kent at the Discovery Park science labs clearly the opportunity is there to deliver big budget studio and location filming on cruise control.
Indeed the new UK DIT trade offices in California's Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego have UK film and TV as the remit along with the movie belt from DIT offices on the eastern seaboard from Boston to Virginia - Kent's sister state helmed by dynamic Governor Terry McAuliffe with former Governor and Senator and VP candidate Tim Kaine, and former Senator Vietnam's Jim Webb a movie expert too having written Rules of Engagement starring Tommy Lee Jones - and South Carolina.
But Cruise as Barry Seal and Mena has a disturbing variance on the Manston and Ostend crimes. For the Mena gunrunning and drug running was created and financed by the American government as part of the Oliver North Contra scandal of selling arms to Iran, to yield funds for the Contras to overthrow the Nicaraguan regime.
That an unusual twist on standard Monroe interventionist foreign policy in the USA's Caribbean and Latin American backyard over the last 100 years or so. Take your pick of Chile or Guatemala or Panama or Grenada in recent decades. Or further back Haiti, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Cuba.
But unlike say the Cuban exile armies in Florida and Guatemala with US military support plotting to overthrow Castro, Cruise's Barry Seal – and other pilots such as Gene Hasenfus who crashlanded and spilled the proverbial beans, as well as the Bolivian marching powder, to the John Kerry Congressional inquiry - would deliver arms and funds to the Contras from Mena, but on the return flight fill up the empty planes with cocaine to be sold for further funds in USA.
The US military, CIA and government directly funding and assisting drug trafficking into USA is beyond the norm and beyond the pale. While unmarked planes as at Manston or cargo planes into warzones raises issues of endangering aid workers compared to say guns only flown on marked air force flights with uniformed military.
Kerry who went on to be Presidential candidate against Barack Obama, then head of the Dept of State concluded: "there is no question in my mind that people connected with the CIA were involved in drug trafficking while in support of the Contras."
Perhaps though there's never been a better time for reversing the drugs trade - the FARC peace treaty in Colombia ends one key facet of the drugs trade, the Mexican drugs trade concentrates the problem in that nation with or without Trump's new wall.
And a new surge of US troops in Afghanistan will impact that heroin trade as does democracy in Myanmar under the Aung San regime. And the massive expansion of UK aid frees up funds for Doitung-style social projects. While UNODC regularly highlights the African nations and European ports descending into the narcotrade.
Perhaps the rather feeble UK support for Aung San's Mynamar is currently the weakest link in the chain.
The Manston crimes were slightly less blatant than Mena but clearly Charles Fitzgerald the Manston manger moving from Manston to Lydd airport suggests a lack of CAA rigeur to put it mildly. And Afghan flights wandering across all of EU airspace is also surprising as Egyptair flights taking off from Cairo to land at 3am at Manston. When the airport closed at 11pm - before the planes even set off.
DAS Air, Cargolux at Stansted and KLM off-route pollution ignored, falsified and buried by politicians and bureaucrats and police can yield only a crop of tumours. The cancer effect and explanation perhaps taking as long as Mena to come to light in Kent.
While the lack of extradition efforts by Kent Police for Infratil's directors` - and an inquiry into the Gloag-Stagecoach running of Manston - is turning a blind eye worthy of Nelson given developing Manston was a KCC and TDC and the now defunct SEEDA core aim.
The silence from the bureaucrats and politicians is simply deafening - and all the more horrifying with Gale MP and Mackinlay MP and Wells supposedly wanting to reopen Manston yet refusing to confront the Infratil and TDC crimes.
Barry Seal ended up being pursued by the FBI, DEA, ATF and State police, yet Manston seems to warrant only a coverup. And a cargo airplane can carry an awful lot of drugs.
The book The Candy Machine How Cocaine Took over the World by Tom Feiling though provides a rigorous review of both the Mena-Contra case, and cocaine in general, with Hangars 4 and 5 at Ilopango airport in San Salvador (El Salvador with one of the world's highest murder rates) used as a trampoline to Mena by Oliver North and CIA for cocaine from Colombia and Costa Rica.
So much cocaine between 1982 and 1985 flew the Mena-Contra routes, that the wholesale price of cocaine in Baltimore and Los Angeles and Miami fell by half.
Feiling posits the view that Mena also directly fuelled the explosion in crack cocaine from the 1980's with Baltimore as a post-industrial town (shades of East Kent again) with the closure of the Bethlehem steelworks causing a social implosion as depicted in the TV series The Wire.
The Mena drugs route shifted the drugs trade away from Miami to Central America and eventually Mexico contributing to that nation’s problems and Trumpian wall.
Feiling estimates 290 tons of cocaine a year constitute the US drugs trade - that could in theory be carried by just 13 trucks - with 90% of that coming through Mexico and the 6,000 trucks at just the Laredo border crossing. Worryingly often hidden inside pineapples. While an astonishing 30% of Mexican farmland is estimated to be sown with marijuana or opium seeds - certainly also ripe for Doitung projects on crops and markets.
5,600 drugs deaths in just one year, 2008, in Mexico are in stark contrast to 2,400 US troop deaths in Afghanistan since 2001.
While the CIA collusion in Laotian heroin in the American War – Air America being a similar Mena airline and an awful Mel Gibson movie - and Afghan heroin in the Russian War are part of a dangerous pattern. Indeed the expansion of both Shan heroin in Myanmar and Afghan heroin from the current USA war has resulted in the highest ever UK and USA drugs deaths, and 1.8M US citizens are estimated to work in the drugs trade.
Clearly East Kent's small-ish 30 or so market towns aren't comparable to the inner-city decay of USA - although that is partly why the blatancy of the Manston-Infratil crimes stands out. And the lack of any effort by the $3BN a year councils symbolised by the still-empty Chatham Dockyard after 30 years except as a barren film set, or Medway with the worst primary schools in UK, and at least 2 of the UK's worst councils, all by the government's own figures, is astonishing.
Yet Kent Police have Dover Europe's largest port on their patch as well as the small harbours such as Ramsgate with Operation Kraken, and Operation Pegasus for small airports such as Lydd that are part of the EU Golden Triangle of London, Paris and Amsterdam. And 90% of illegal drugs seizures in Belgium.
Clearly the Manston crimes, beyond local government involvement, are part of a wider illegality in Frontline Kent with the UK's largest gun haul at Rochester Marina by Kent Police and numerous drugs arrests.
One reassuring aspect is Thailand now active in South to South cooperation with the Colombia and FARC ceasefire to reduce cocaine through the afore-mentioned Doitung Royal projects that have been a superb success in Thailand. But the wave of drug deaths, from amphetamines rather than heroin, under the Shinawatra regime and now the Philippines Duterte regime show the increasing threat of drugs and terrorism funding in Asia-Pacific.
The new USA troop surge into Afghanistan is in response to the failing security situation with essentially the loss of Helmand fought and bled over by UK troops, and all points out of Kandahar. Just 600 troops in Kabul something of a failure of UK and NATO resolve as is the flow of heroin actually increasing.
This week's Sunday Times details the potential collapse of Afghanistan and certainly a Taliban takeover without NATO troops. And Pakistani safe havens for the Taliban is astonishing for a Commonwealth nation. Osama Bin Laden killed just yards away from the Pakistani Sandhurst hardly suggests a NATO and Commonwealth united front.
While, UK success in bus exports to one side for the moment, in Mexico the wave of drug crime has destabilised the whole nation and surely calls for greater UK support.
Indeed Lincolnshire Police have begun scoping out Operation California which should encompass both road safety expertise sharing - a sort of CHiPs with everything - all the more important with the dawn of autonomous vehicles on UK roads next year from Silicon Valley, and drug crime coordination in USA and Latin America and the Caribbean Commonwealth, with Kent Police and Cheshire Police.
Kent Police's Innovation Fund begun with Deputy Chief Brandon's Las Vegas Predictive Policing hasn't yet rolled out and is perhaps more fitted to some of the larger Commonwealth nations such as Jamaica that wouldn't necessarily know of it or fund it themselves. Nor has community activity been prioritised as yet by Charlton Athletic or Arsenal that provide future teen BMXers FA Cup and Olympics sports opportunities beyond drug running.
And those honest Mexican or British Virgin Islands or Colombian or Peruvian - or USA - police might well appreciate British police contacts.
Feiling's book details the growth of Jamaican Yardies: Operation Airbridge by UK-Jamaican police found 25% of passengers arriving from Jamaica were carrying cocaine, with over 400 Jamaican female drugs mules in UK prisons, and Feiling interviewing one in Cookham prison in Kent. Yet still Jamaica seizing a record 3.7 tons of cocaine in 2002.
While East Kent is familiar with the drugs supply chain of banks and accountants - along with dodgy lawyers and barristers and judges such as Grabiner's One Essex Court - that UK still hasn't prevented in the Commonwealth: British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands all fronting mysterious Kent property developments and secret directors to much shuffling of feet and umming and ahhing by the councils and police.
Add in Turks and Caicos or Bermuda or nearer to home Jersey and Gibraltar and Isle of Man and you have the UK pretty much facilitating the entire money laundering industry for the drugs trade in USA's backyard. Monroe would be turning in his grave.
Clearly as with Jamaica, UK police could close down much of that Commonwealth activity almost instantly - the UK Supreme Court being the Supreme Court of most of the Caribbean Commonwealth, although the existence of the death penalty in some of those nations but not UK rather makes a mockery of that legal process - and certainly even more rapidly with the support of Bolivian generals or Mexican and Peruvian police and politicians and civil society.
While Thailand's ACT anti-corruption activity is far more advanced than UK and another Doitung template available for export.
Thailand and Doitung has proved that the drugs war can be won in the long-term through a mix of policing and crop markets, and where UK could support too, in medicare. The medicalisation of say cocaine use would, without contributing to the drugs tourism that even Amsterdam is rowing back on, also reduce much of the cultural glamour.
Tom Cruise on location in London for Mission Impossible 6, despite nursing an injured knee from his stunt work can revel in some of the best reviews of his career and has moved Kent into cruise control in flagging up the drugs war.
If the Latin American drugs trade, and USA drugs trade, certainly at Mena and the Contras, was American Made, then the Manston-Infratil crimes are made in UK and NZ.
Time for Change
Thursday, 24 August 2017
With both Mexico and Thailand as top 5 UK growth economies for trade and tourism the news of 90 London buses to Mexico is a great result for UK.
Indeed London bendy buses also being donated to Sudan is another superb result with increased DFID UK aid and Kent's Royal Engineers and JCB support, to help that nation fend off famine and conflict. As well as making real the Cape to Cairo road and rail network - and cargo airstrips - from Nairobi in Kenya to Lake Nasser in Egypt.
A link that is also vital in opening up the Eastern seaboard of Africa to India and ASEAN along with OBOR investment in ports from Djibouti to Dhakar. And Sudan long hampered with the problem of being the nation with the fewest roads.
And surely the glut of Thai rice pledge cereals - and normal harvest surplus - should more quickly and profitably find its way to hungry mouths in Bangladesh and India and East Africa? Four famines in Central Africa is a monstrous failure of UNSDG30 and UNFAO and Commonwealth efforts for zero famine.
But back to Mexico, and 90 Arthur Dennis buses is a terrific effort by Liam Fox UK Trade Minister while battling the silliness of Brexit. As well as dealing with an over-reliance on bureaucratic mega-trade deals that hardly deliver a bean in real terms, and can't be delivered until - if at all - UK has left the EU, transition period and all.
Slovakia's PM has already spoken out for the EU27 - and 48% of UK citizens - against UK cherry-picking aspects of EU membership or even assuming part of Brexit is done until it is all agreed.
Having your cake and eating it just isn't on the EU's Brexit menu.
Prime Minister May herself, just back from holiday for the opening of Parliament, was rightly bussed in to the Dennis factory on BBCTV news to celebrate the contract - and no doubt encouraging wiser business heads such as Grant Shapps, former Tory Chair, and Andrew Mitchell, former DFID head, with crossparty support for such trades.
A specific bus contract - or any other bilateral trade contract such as food or services or tourism - is perfectly viable beyond pie-in-the-sky-someday-never mega-trade deals. The Brexit fault lines have revealed a UK over-reliance on mega all-inclusive all-encompassing trade deals. Indeed Minister Fox isn't resting on his laurels in Mexico, but already banging the drum for UK plc in USA with VP Pence, and in Panama.
Surely that other notable Scot, former Foreign Minister Alex Salmond should be coopted into UK and Scots trade activity for a more united kingdom, rather than treading the boards at the Edinburgh Fringe. The hotel and plane minibar might be drained of IrnBru, but it would certainly ramp up broader UK trade efforts.
EKFOS aside, the UK trade offices in San Diego and Los Angeles must also be best placed to capitalise on UK film and television success whether mega movies such as Dunkirk or mega series such as Downton Abbey or quirkier UK efforts. Not to mention the oft-neglected UK computer games and special effects industries that put the kapow into much of Hollywood. Many UK companies without support against the headwinds of Brexit and a softer economy, could jump the Brexit ship to Dublin or Berlin or Amsterdam.
While much of the USA pharma industry stretching from Boston to South Carolina must be ripe for further investment in UK whether focused on lesser known cancers such as liver and colon, or the modern plagues of dementia and diabetes. Or even the old-fashioned plagues of TB and HIV.
And the 90 buses represent only a part of the 5,000(!) London buses driving around Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand etc - the Mexican deal not just including aircon but training and parts and engineering support.
Inter-city buses in Latin America might well be best left to the repurposed USA school buses that I recall threading their way down through the PanAmericana from California to Mexico and Guatemala and Belize and Honduras and Peru.
But surely UK buses should be at the forefront of Latin America's megacity metropolitan bus services? The UK -German car industry could well give General Motors a run for its money in Latin America, with a strategic brand review of Landrover Jaguar and VW.
And UK activity with Bangkok rail is also feted in the Minister Fox contracts.
With the Bestlin 489 Bangkok buses parked at Customs for breaching ASEAN trade deals, and the saga of the Bangkok fire engines, surely UK and Thailand should move into a higher gear on transport? Even on sharing train and metro/tube expertise - particularly now HS3 the hispeed route across UK, from Liverpool - perhaps Britain's coolest city - to City of Culture Hull, is prioritised over HS2 the vertical Y-route from London to Manchester to Newcastle.
Why shouldn't Thailand also capitalise on the volume of new Bombardier carriages that will be required for those routes? Kent's HS1 route from the Channel Tunnel to London and the 2012 Olympics stadium has been a huge and proven success in speed and comfort in both the hispeed and regular trains.
While Lord Heseltine is helicoptered in to keep The City on track with the Thames Gateway Coastal Kent project around Docklands and Ebbsfleet Garden City with Paramount theme park.
That theme park currently seems Mission Impossible - but delays open the door to Disney and Warner's Harry Potter, both giant magnets for UK tourism nestled next to Bluewater, Europe's largest shopping centre. A part of such access will no doubt be tweaks including the regular train commuter route from Kent through to France and Benelux.
That rail service will be a boon too for connecting Kent and Benelux hospitals to share expertise and reduce waiting times - with Kent's rather beleaguered NHS this week gaining a shot in the arm as one of 11 UK areas to gain Whitehall support for increasing overseas medical staff, with 2,000 nurses and doctors required.
Surely that’s an opportunity for both Thailand and Philippines to gain special priority visas and English language training without UK plundering their health services or universities? Minister Fox as an NHS doctor would no doubt be keen to ensure those health contracts and even Operation Smile cleft palate surgeries or Moorfields eye hospital franchises, are a roaring success in ASEAN too.
With the new Bangkok bus route changes with English letters and colour-coded routes surely there's never been a better time for UK and Thailand to work together. Not just on the buses themselves - and aircon should certainly be welcomed by Bangkokian commuters - but also Thai and English language websites and mobile apps and bus shelter real-time information.
While the engineering and servicing training and parts packages that would grow Thailand's autoparts industry too?
One could argue that UK's Crossrail and Chunnel tunneling expertise - both projects, along with The Shard and Docklands and Thames Gateway the largest construction projects Europe has ever seen - would be ideally placed for Thailand's monsoon storm drains and sewers?
While an open top double decker would be a boon for Bangkok's tourist industry - just as the launch of East Kent's open top bus between the world's first seaside resorts of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate, is a sure sign of Summer. And the London tourism open top buses from Madame Tussaud's to Big Ben are a great way to see London.
The Mexican bus export deal with London's limeys, surely means there's also room for one more up top - if not 489 - with Thailand's buses and trains?
Saturday, 19 August 2017
With the founding of ASEAN celebrated from the Bangkok Declaration last week of 8th August 1967 surely a more critical overview of ASEAN is needed - and reflections on the next 50 years?
Former Secretary-General and Bangkok governor candidate Khun Surin Pitsuwan detailed many of the celebratory points in his Manila speech.
Certainly the evolution of ASEAN from a Cold War anti-Communist alliance at the height of the American War in Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos in 1967, between only Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore - in effect replacing SEATO and ASA - to a South East Asia-wide grouping of 10 nations is a success in itself.
But is Mr Surin’s overview too positive - does the ASEAN giant have feet of clay? Celebratory bureaucratic beanfeasts, backslapping and bunfights and vague exhortations of unity are all well and good, and preferable to the blood-drenched paddy fields of the past. But is process leading content?
And is that unity down to ASEAN as an organisation?
ASEAN's first 17 years involved no wider sense of Asian unity - indeed Thai and Filipino military contingents served in Vietnam. While Vietnamese incursions into Laos and Cambodia were repeated for decades – the current Laos and Cambodia military dispute a disturbing reminder of when Asia was a less peaceful place.
And ASEAN had no united voice for decades on either the SLORC military regime in Myanmar, nor China's invasion of Vietnam in 1979, nor, of concern for the future, the Chinese seizure of the Paracels in 1974.
Indeed the present day South China Sea dispute of Paracels and Spratlys are the elephant in the room for ASEAN.
A Chinese empire may well replace the Western empires that fittingly and finally ended with the withdrawal of the first Western empire of Portugal from Macao in 1999.
While the earlier Chinese takeaway of Hong Kong in 1997 from UK still leaves an unpleasant taste, both with UK’s failure to establish democracy rather than a cod-council junta, and now the Chinese arrests of the Umbrella Movement dissidents for democracy.
And on trade ASEAN has a mixed record to say the least - the AEC only just scraped into being at the end of 2015 rather than the beginning, and is still more of a bureaucratic paper tiger than a resurgence of the tiger economies of pre-ASEAN days that most Asians must surely be banking on for future growth.
While ASEAN's weak social record is perhaps symbolised by the baying of the mob and the last chopper from Pattaya as ASEAN ministers fled their summit in 2009. The death penalty moratorium by Malaysia this week on mandatory death sentences for drugs is a positive move for ASEAN human rights. Yet not regionally coordinated by ASEAN.
While HIV and Malaria and TB still not overcome in ASEAN again not for lack of funds available not major pharma companies such as Pfizer or institutions such as Ford Foundation and even Cabbages and Condoms movements.
And the latter is surely a major gap in ASEAN policy in cultivating a Civil Society culture beyond the State or Military: groups such as Greenpeace or Red Cross and Ban Krut and Klity Creek.
If the intention is for ASEAN to be an Asian EU in reducing conflict, and coordinating and improving economic and social policy then much remains to be done. So far the roadmap looks to be full of blind alleys and U-turns rather than a superhighway of turbocharged tech and souped-up agricultural trade.
The EU had rather different beginnings to ASEAN in originating with the specific intention to end the tribal conflicts of Europe that post-1945 had reduced the place to rubble again. The important - then - sharing of resources such as coal and steel between Benelux, France and Germany was driven by Schuman's ESCS removing the need for conflict over those resources where possible.
Strasbourg and Flanders and the Saar Rhineland changed hands for years for their coalfields and steelworks as much as for imperial vanity as economics. The P22 US Navy 1950’s gunboat berthed in Ramsgate harbour is a reminder of USA Marshall Aid and peacekeeping after WW2.
Brexit may well have sounded the death-knell for the Little England approach, compared to greater unity, yet paradoxically has highlighted the need for substantial reform of the EU as an organisation beyond just a warm fuzzy feeling of European unity.
The EU office in Bangkok though is woefully underused by ASEAN for a trade impetus courtesy of the European taxpayer, everything from agricultural produce to automotive parts. And isn’t an ASEAN Space Agency overdue? Australia's Woomera rocket ranges would be a fitting site for UK and Commonwealth cooperation with even the Space Ladder project.
Although UNSDG30 and Philippines is something of an ASEAN success certainly compared to UK’s damning report by House of Commons on UK's limited efforts so far.
And, Brexit silliness aside, the EU has successfully created a Europe-wide series of reforms whether draining the wine lake or reducing the wasteful food mountains of agricultural and fisheries policies. And as of this Summer, now synergising mobile phone roaming charges.
I’ve urged a Sarajevo Shift of EU institutions East for greater peace and prosperity for the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Flanders for example is more than capable of driving Belgian prosperity without every EU institution such as the new NATO headquarters being clustered around the oyster bars and caviar cafes of Brussels-Midi.
Indeed the potential relocation of the European Medicines Agency from London to cities such as Paris or Frankfurt or Dublin highlights both the economic incoherence of Brexit and the potential and clamour Sarajevo Shift to the Balkans.
But certainly the ceremonial nonsense of shuttling the EU between Brussels and Strasbourg every few months is ripe for cancellation.
Surely ASEAN for the next 50 years should be looking at such a range of improvements?
Surely it’s monstrous that in the world's rice basket - Thailand alone being the second largest rice producer after India - there is no ASEAN Rice Plan for the region’s staple crop and 500M mouths? The ASEAN rice mountain must be unsustainable with 40% - yes a horrifying 40% - malnutrition in Cambodia and Laos and outrage of Philippines now being a net rice importer.
AS an aside, al the more concerning with this Summer's harvest glut in Latin America no doubt left to spoil and rot despite not one but four African famines.
Khun Surin’s tweaks to the financial system with an ASEAN Bank and Fund by and for ASEAN is simply adding to the plethora of funds that already exist with ADB, AIIB, UNFAO etc etc. An ASEAN fund could easily be raised through the existing ACMF stock exchanges. Shouldn't a Malnutrition Fund be first on the agenda?
ASEAN’s fine words don’t seem to be translating into action for Asia's still-hungry peoples. Process over content is the danger.
And isn’t even the task of a United South East Asia still undone without Timor-Leste formally recognised and road-mapped in its aim of accession by 2020?
Or even an ASEAN response and support for Papa New Guinea and Solomon Islands to cruise faster beyond their current political and social unrest and yet more grinding poverty and hunger? North Korean missiles raining down on Guam must be the least of their worries.
ASEAN is even silent on the appalling spectacle of street kids barefoot and unschooled in its main cities such as Phnom Penh or Manila. If Vietnam has lifted itself from the African-style poverty driven by war then the trade embargos of the 1980’s then still much of ASEAN has not.
While even basics such as mobile phone roaming across ASEAN must be an easy prosperity injection for tech giants such as True given the EU's example to follow?
Astonishingly there is no ASEAN Tourism Plan given the importance of that trade to almost every ASEAN nation - ASEAN silence on the absolute monarchy of bling-bling-oil-rich Brunei is matched only by tourist disinterest. But with Thailand’s 10% of GDP and 30M tourist visitors and forecasts of 5M from Cambodia ASEAN’s lobster-red tourism gold is slipping through its fingers with only an ad-hoc ASEAN Tourism Year every now and then.
It wouldn’t be more fun in the Philippines without tourism, or the extra 10% of GDP in expat remittances, and Manila’s dynamic infrastructure guru Karen Jimeno of the Dept of Public Works and Highways can’t build the sewers and monsoon drains and drinking water plants for tourists and residents all by herself.
ASEAN’s coordination and delivery of hispeed rail has been too long delayed: Cambodia's links to HCMC and BKK only now underway and this week’s announcement of the Malaysia east-west railway linking Thailand's eastern seaboard and border through to western straits of Malaysia.
Similarly the lack of a rail route between Vientiane and Vinh is a strategic weakness in connecting Laos' capital with the Vietnamese deep sea ports - and surely too it’s a key strategic aim for Vietnam for expanded trade with its main port Haiphong and capital link to Hanoi, so near to Hainan’s Chinese submarine base?
ASEAN Peacekeeping could be a useful initiative both in ASEAN aid and Resilience and wider UN peacekeeping- as with the end of UK troops in Germany a too-large military sat in barracks is merely a drain on both the economy and society. The EU Battlegroups are in effect a cost-effective alternative to a standing EU Army with national militaries coordinating on a 6 month rota - although even there they have never been actively deployed.
An ASEAN response on the North Korea nuclear and ICBM threat only now is weak in the extreme with Guam targeted - and with Russia Bear bomber threats as in UK and Netherlands. Seoul and Tokyo as well as Beijing and Taipei are all in range of targeted or accidental missile strikes and radiation. But further afield perhaps Bangkok or Singapore or ASEAN HQ in Jakarta may be next in line for Kim Jong-Un’s ICBM threats horrifically apt given the commemoration this month of the nuclear airbursts over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
New Zealand’s dynamic former PM John Key spoke in London at Asia House on New Zealand's past as Britain’s Farm and of course the threat of being merely China’s Farm in the future.
Indeed Australia and New Zealand should be at the forefront of a revived Commonwealth Asia group working with ASEAN. Over the next 50 years it’s not inconceivable that those nations may join the organisation rather than the alphabet soup sub-groupings of ASEAN plus 3 and plus 6 etc. Is the EU as ASEAN-27 a thing? Would it be of use?
While an extra 5M Chinese or Indonesian immigrants to Wagga-Wagga or Wellington would be a drop in the ocean but make the Antipodes fully Asian from Captain Cook’s European Imperial blip of the last 230 years.
On law and order ASEAN is far from arresting on the drugs surges in the Golden Triangle and from Dawei to Davao and the outrageous comedy of errors over the Red Bull cop killer case highlights a need for both an ASEAN arrest warrant and coordination with Europe and USA. Europol’s new EU Most Wanted campaign must surely be relevant for sunny hideouts across Asia-Pacific whether Phuket and Boracay or Brisbane’s Gold Coast.
Greater coordination on drugs and terrorism: Duterte and Shinawatra regimes responding aggressively to the surge in drug deaths. While Khun Bam of UNODC:
highlights the rapid terrorism surge with returnees from Syria and open sore on Europe’s flank in Libya - Australian universities are very active on counter-terrorism research and long ago highlighting the threat of low-tech vehicle attacks as in London and now Barcelona.
While the porous borders of Syria and Sulu Sea must be ripe for ASEAN and Commonwealth coordination on terrorism? The dynamic highlights of Khun Bam and Australia’s excellent university chairs will be only so much e- paper waste without action.
And as Khun Anchalee pointed out in her article: ASEAN must walk the Climate talk:
Climate is surely a massive failing in ASEAN to provide a coordinated and comprehensive Climate Change response - not just resilience with 50% of deaths from natural disasters of typhoons and earthquakes across Asia-Pacific.
The forest fires and farmland hazes that the EU has been woefully underprepared for in recent months - with fires in Portugal (4,000 troops and firefighters and 64 deaths) and France and Balkans again – shows up the lack of fire brigade coordination and helicopters and transport aircraft that is simply embarrassing for the EU as an economic superpower.
And blazing a trail for ASEAN not to follow – although Bangkok’s fire engine woes and bus and train overhauls could well do with UK and EU coordination. One bright spot for Sudan despite being the world’s fewest roads subject to JCB and Royal Engineer activity is an influx of London buses. The scandal over the $2M Ramsgate fire station hard to justify beyond vanity bloat and as with live animal exports and Pav and Pleasurama routinely mixing both corruption and an East Kent democratic deficit.
ASEAN is far too weak on reversing protection and reseeding of its forests and fisheries that make up the green lung of the planet through Jakarta and Java to Mindanao and Myanmar.
Tourism is even weak on developing a UNESCO World Heritage plan - do the ancient civilisations of Asia still only warrant just 37 sites compared to 31 in UK – including this year’s designation of the Lake District albeit with Kent’s Pegwell Bay under attack?
Alastair Campbell, formerly of 10 Downing St and still a Burnley supporter, writing in the New European cited the potential for newer EU nations such as Albania for political and economic support, even Sports Tourism with a Tour D'Albania cycle race of the sort that has evolved beyond France and Flanders to UK in recent years with the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour de Canterbury here in East Kent.
One could ask where is the ASEAN Sports or Sports tourism Plan?
Certainly the huge potential is there with both SEA games and Asia Games and I attended the Phuket beach games recently which was superb and food for thought on the potential for East Kent with the success of the Margate UK volleyball championships. Beach polo on the Blue Flag beaches may be a bridge too far at the moment but surfing and skateboarding and sports climbing ahead of the Tokyo and Los Angeles Olympics is a distinct possibility.
Yet ASEAN dropping the ball with Hanoi failing to deliver the 2019 Asian Games confusingly rescheduled to both 2018 and Indonesia, and now Manila and the 2019 SEA Games cancellation only just being reversed, doesn’t inspire confidence nor does the lack of a co-ordinated response for an ASEAN Olympics at some time this century, now Paris and Los Angeles are (almost) confirmed for 2024 and 2028. Not Sydney again so soon?
Surely UK and ASEAN broadcasters could be active on the current SEA Games broadcasts as well as culture and language programming for the future? Bangkok bus overhauls with English language letters are fine in delivering English as the ASEAN lingua franca but concerning if they cannot be read by most people.
HALO trust and the 2025 landmine deadline is relevant for Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Philippines is beyond ASEAN’s current efforts. UK’s Princess Diana’s work on landmines and fashion is a baton taken up by dynamic royals such as Cambodian and Californian Princess Soma.
ASEAN's 50th is certainly worth celebrating but won't the candles on the birthday cake for even its 60th be burning lower without more active efforts from the likes of Mr Surin?