Arduous economic recovery in post-conflict East Timor

Next generation takes the reins of development to move troubled tropical paradise away from its bloody past.

Published by Al Jazeera English, June 23, 2015

By Tom Benner

Dili, East Timor – Following his first 100 days in office, the new prime minister of East Timor marvelled at how the peaceful transition of power from his predecessor stood in stark contrast to the young nation’s turbulent past.

“Since independence, East Timor has come a long way,” said Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo in a speech at the 2015 East Timor Development Partners Meeting.

“We have moved from a fragile country overcoming the ghosts of our traumatic past, to a nation that is consolidating the foundations of our state,” the prime minister said. Continue reading …

War of words heats up over South China Sea conflict

At Singapore summit, critics accuse China of setting a confrontational tone and undermining Asia-Pacific security.

Published by Al Jazeera English, May 31, 2015

By Tom Benner

Singapore – While rival claims over the South China Sea fishing grounds and shipping lanes go back centuries, China’s intensifying land reclamation and island-building in the Spratly archipelago and other contested waters is an escalating global dispute.

China laid out its ambitions for a bigger naval presence far from its coasts last week, prompting concerns that Beijing will back up its claims to new territories by flexing its military muscle in one of the world’s most strategic waterways.

Critics from around the world attending Asia’s top defence summit over the weekend accused China of setting a confrontational tone, undermining security in the Asia-Pacific, and hurting diplomatic efforts to resolve competing claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, and other nations surrounding the resource-rich sea. Continue reading …

JFK Legacy Today: How the late president transformed US–Japan relations

Published by The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Journal, May 2015 issue.

AR6659-A                                  20 June 1961 Meeting with Prime Minister of Japan. Japanese Ambassador to US Koichiro Asakai; President Kennedy; Secretary of State Dean Rusk; Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Zentaro Kosaka; Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda; US Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer; James J. Wickel, interpreter. Oval Office, White House. Credit

20 June 1961
Meeting with Prime Minister of Japan. Japanese Ambassador to US Koichiro Asakai; President Kennedy; Secretary of State Dean Rusk; Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Zentaro Kosaka; Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda; US Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer; James J. Wickel, interpreter. Oval Office, White House.
Credit: White House Photographs, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

By Tom Benner

TOKYO – Robert F. Kennedy stood on the stage of Waseda University’s Okuma Auditorium and looked out on an audience erupting in chaos.

It was February 6, 1962, and President John F. Kennedy’s younger brother—also the attorney general and JFK’s trusted adviser—had been dispatched to Tokyo to smooth over US–Japan relations, at a time when anti-US sentiments were running high.

His mission encompassed laying the groundwork for the president’s much-anticipated trip to Japan in 1964, which would have been the first visit by a sitting US president. Continue reading …

ASEAN Economic Community: Global economic powerhouse in the making

Published by The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Journal, April 2015 issue.

Credit: Deloitte Southeast Asia

Credit: Deloitte Southeast Asia

By Tom Benner

The unveiling of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an economic community will take place on December 31. When the 10 countries that make up ASEAN join forces as a common market—the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)—there will be inevitable comparisons to the European Union.

As an integrated regional economy, the member states of the AEC—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—will comprise the world’s seventh-largest economy. Continue reading …

Have halal guide, will travel: Muslim consumers and their mighty dinar

Published by Nikkei Asian Review, April 23, 2015

By Tom Benner

A'qilah Saiere

A’qilah Saiere

SINGAPORE — When final-year students at Wheelock College in Singapore prepare for their stay on the home campus in Boston, in the U.S. state of Massachusetts, they get a list from the previous year’s seniors showing where to buy halal groceries, find kabob stalls and go to pray.

That list, says A’qilah Saiere, who made the trip in 2013, grows longer with each year, making it much easier for the college’s Muslim students to meet their food and prayer needs while away from home.

“A huge part of being a Muslim is to travel, to see the world and to appreciate its beauty,” the 22-year-old preschool teacher said. “Knowing that there are these options for you makes everything easier and more comfortable. You definitely feel more confident that when you travel, you don’t have to worry you’ll never find halal food.” Continue reading …

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91

Published by Al Jazeera English, March 23, 2015

Singapore – Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern-day Singapore, has died. He was 91.

The former prime minister, who had been hospitalised in intensive care for severe pneumonia since early February, died early on Monday morning in Singapore General Hospital.

Incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s office announced seven days of mourning in the city-state ahead of a state funeral next Sunday.

Lee is widely considered to be single-handedly responsible for Singapore’s unique success story, the architect behind its fantastic transformation from glorified fishing village into one of the world’s economic powerhouses. Continue reading …

Camelot in Tokyo

Japan celebrates JFK’s legacy with former President Bill Clinton

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaking at a symposium in Tokyo, describes the lasting impact of John F. Kennedy's leadership.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaking at a symposium in Tokyo, describes the lasting impact of John F. Kennedy’s leadership.

Published by Nikkei Asian Review, March 19, 2015

TOKYO – Camelot is alive and well in Tokyo. Political leaders including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined academics, government officials, media pundits and even an astronaut to praise the legacy of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and his lasting impact on modern life.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation on Wednesday hosted its first international symposium on the late president, titled “The Torch Has Been Passed: JFK’s Legacy Today.”

The event took place at a fully packed Okuma Auditorium at Waseda University in Tokyo, where President Kennedy’s brother, then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, delivered a lecture to students in 1962. Kennedy had dispatched his brother to Japan at a time of anti-American student protests in Japan; Robert calmed an angry crowd of students at Waseda (and Japanese television viewers at home), and his trip marked a turning point in U.S.-Japan relations, wrote Dartmouth College scholar Jennifer Lind, who attended Wednesday’s event.

Kennedy had hoped to be the first sitting U.S. president to make a state visit to Japan in 1964, but was tragically assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, in his third year in office while on visit to Dallas, Texas. Continue reading …