ASEAN and the Japan-China dispute
"The South China Sea is an important issue not only for the claimants but all of Asean and other states that access the area and the large volume of sea traffic. It is not however the only issue for Asean as a group with China -- there are many other ties in economic and other issues. Brunei as the new chairman for Asean well recognizes the issue as well as the context and will I think make every effort to handle the issue moderately, fairly and neutrally.
"On Japan-China disputes, these must be kept as a separate issue. While Japan is always welcome, and the new Abe adminstration's re-emphasis on SE Asia is timely, no Asean member should allow this to be seen as an emerging effort against China."
Prof Simon Tay is Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).
French intervention in Mali
"The French military intervention in Mali which began Friday 10 January is a high-stakes decision, the biggest foreign policy decision taken by President François Hollande since his inauguration in mid-2012. Domestically, near-universal support across the political spectrum for the French intervention accepts the action as necessary to stop AQIM [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], already entrenched in the north, from capturing the capital Bamako, and exporting terror to France and other Western countries. 700 French soldiers are on the ground and the number is expected to swell to 3000. In France, the only major criticisms of the intervention were by former PM Domique de Villepin, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon from the far-left. They felt that the French state was acting unilaterally and beyond a UN-mandated plan.
Like the Franco-British intervention in Libya, the success of Operation Serval will depend not only on material and logistics support from friendly and neighbouring countries (including the UK, US, west African states and even Algeria for airplane overflight and refuelling), but also diplomatic support from ECOWAS, the EU and the UN, and local support from the populations affected. There are about 6000 French citizens in Mali and 30,000 French people in the Sahel (French-speaking Africa south of the Sahara).
Several French civilians have been taken hostage by religious extremist groups in the past few months. These soft targets, and strategic installations in France itself, are at risk of violent reprisals if the French attempt to suppoprt the Malian government against the takeover of the country by Islamic extremist, goes badly wrong. France needs the UN-mandated ECOWAS intervention force to organise quickly so that the intervention can develop into a more international, broad-based effort at stemming extremist forces from turning Mali (a country almost twice the size of France) into a failed state and base for terrorist groups."
Dr Reuben Wong is a Council Member of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).