Abe’s Rousing Reprise

They call Shinzo Abe “recycled” because during the past decade, he spent less than a year serving a very forgettable term as prime minister of Japan. And today he is premier again.

Last month, Abe led his party to a landslide election victory on a campaign promise to get tough on China and resurrect a Japanese economy that had been brain dead for almost three decades.

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New ‘Swing States’

Move over BRICS, CIVETS and all you floaters in the geopolitical alphabet soup. The “Swing States” are rising! Make way for them! That’s the buzz in international circles these days.

The term “Swing State” doesn’t refer to the nine battleground states in the US presidential election that produced the votes that gave Barack Obama another four-year residency in the White House — although they did inspire the appellation.

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Surin’s Challenge

This month, Surin Abdul Halim bin Ismail Pitsuwan of Thailand turns over the office of Asean secretary-general to Le Luong Minh of Vietnam. And already you can hear a loud chorus in media and diplomatic circles proclaiming that Surin is a tough act to follow. Pity the guy who succeeds him.

Well, I don’t. Le Luong Minh, you will soon find out, is no palooka. Like Surin, he is a veteran diplomat with a truckload of accomplishments. He may not have Surin’s star power but, hey, not even Michael Jordan won basketball games all by himself. What’s important is the quality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations team that is formed during Minh’s tenure. And that team will only be as good as the 10 member nations will make it.

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Fearless Forecast

Kim Jung-un, the North Korean leader, who is also the Chinese People’s Daily’s “sexiest man alive,” ended this year with a bang. He had ordered a successful rocket launch into space that put an object into an impressive 500-kilometer orbit. Warned by everybody not to do it as it would escalate tensions in the region, he did it anyway. Nobody was amused, not even his Chinese patrons. The fury of the US, Japan and South Korea, all proven to be within reach of the Hermit’s Kingdom’s rockets, knew no bounds.

But that consolidated Kim’s leadership. With his throne secure and the military under his thumb, he well may now start North Korea on a path of economic reform, a la Deng Xiaoping. Far-fetched? Anything is possible in the year of the water snake.

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KL’s ‘Baghdad Bob’

Zainuddin Maidin, former information minister of Malaysia, described by observers as “a nobody who wants to be somebody again,” has found a new career: slinging outrageous barbs at famous Indonesians. He hopes this new career will salvage him from oblivion.

He started with former President BJ Habibie. In his column in Utusan Malaysia, a daily that’s identified with the ruling party, he wrote that, like Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Habibie sold out to foreign powers and was “a traitor to his nation” and a “dog of imperialism.” Naturally, that triggered uproar in Indonesia.

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Obama’s Tears

US President Barack Obama couldn’t hold back the tears when he went on TV on Friday and sent condolences to those who lost their loved ones in the massacre of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut last week. Twenty children — aged 6 and 7 — and seven adults, including the gunman’s own mother, were killed in that carnage.

If you’re a father — like Obama, like I am — you would be stricken with grief and anxiety. Any of those children could have been yours. You’d want to reach out to all those who lost a child, a sibling or a parent in that tragedy. Our hearts are broken.

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Not an Empty Chair

On the night of Aug. 30 earlier this year, Clint Eastwood, Hollywood’s macho icon and conservative activist, stood in the limelight of the packed US Republican National Convention. He had placed an empty chair to his left and imagined an utterly failed President Barack Obama sat on it. Then he gave the furniture a merciless but incoherent tongue-lashing.

The witless act went viral. Overnight he became the laughingstock of the American electorate and helped President Obama win a second term. A new word was born: “eastwooding.”

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Beyond Symbolism

Last week in New York, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa cast Indonesia’s vote in favor of Palestine’s bid for non-member state observer status. After the vote — which favored Palestine 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions — he told the press that the upgrade of Palestine’s status in the UN righted a historic wrong and would increase the momentum of the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

It was vindication for Indonesia, which campaigned hard for the Palestinian bid.

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Sealed With a Kiss

“ You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss,” sang the gravelly voiced Louis Armstrong in the immortal movie, “Casablanca.” That may be so in most cases, but when the kisser is newly re-elected US President Barack Obama and the kissed is Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, something’s gotta give in geopolitics.

Hence, to the neocons who predicted that Obama’s pivot to East Asia wouldn’t survive November and that it would be unceremoniously eclipsed by bloody turmoil in the Middle East: eat your hearts out, babes.

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Jazzing Up a Forum

Democracy is like motherhood. Everybody is for it; in most circles, if you denigrate it people will wonder what planet you come from.

So some people are asking, what is the point of holding the annual Bali Democracy Forum, Asia’s sole intergovernmental forum on democracy, if the most it can achieve is the elaboration of the obvious? Moreover, because the forum does not allow finger pointing, its proceedings will often leave you with pious statements by representatives of authoritarian regimes pretending to aspire to become democracies.

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