President Obama cancelled his visit to Southeast Asia last week — something about a budget stalemate and government shutdown. Lost was a chance for face time with the leaders of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Meanwhile, China’s President Xi Jinping had a banner week in Southeast Asia. Malaysia rolled out the red carpet. And in Indonesia he became the first foreign leader to address parliament, where he proposed a new ‘maritime silk road’ for trade between China and Southeast Asia.
A lot of people along Obama’s scrapped itinerary were looking forward to the launch of a new regional anti-corruption campaign. The United States still packs enough moral authority to make the anti-graft case. And that message would have played well in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines — countries battling both security concerns and entrenched corruption.
President Xi’s domestic anti-corruption campaign is impressive but still too new to export. In a few years, China may have the credibility to lead global anti-graft efforts. For now though, when the U.S. doesn’t show up to talk about fighting sleaze, there’s no one else to do it.
As if to remind Washington what it missed, Indonesia’s independent anti-corruption commission last week arrested a justice from the country’s highest court. He was charged with taking bribes of at least $250,000 from a party to a case.
It takes guts to arrest a supreme court justice, no matter what country you’re in. Too bad President Obama wasn’t there with some good words about those who refuse to back down when it comes to doing the right thing.
Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.