Yearly Archives: 2013

Regional Roundup for Week of 12.20.13

Major headlines this week included strong statements from both the U.S. State Department and Asian NGOs regarding the anniversary of the disappearance of Lao civil society activist Sombath Somphone December 15. China became the third country to land a lunar probe, and the first country in 37 years. Tensions remained high in Thailand, as protesters rejected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s proposal for new elections.


Full text of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks on Sombath’s disappearance —  The United States remains deeply concerned over the fate of Sombath Somphone, one of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s most respected civil society figures, on the one-year anniversary of his abduction. Sombath was abducted on the evening of December 15, 2012, from a Lao police checkpoint in Vientiane. This deplorable event was recorded on Lao Government surveillance cameras. Our thoughts are with Sombath’s family, friends, and the countless others in the international community who have been inspired by Sombath’s exemplary leadership and devotion to his country.

Joint statement posted by International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) by 62 international NGOs on Sombath’s disappearance —  We, the undersigned 62 regional and international organizations, express outrage over the Lao Government’s ongoing failure to shed light on the enforced disappearance of prominent activist and civil society leader Sombath Somphone. December 15, 2013 marks the one-year anniversary of Sombath’s disappearance. Sombath was last seen on the evening of December 15, 2012 in Vientiane. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that police stopped Sombath’s car at a police post. Within minutes after being stopped, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove away. Analysis of the CCTV footage shows that Sombath was taken away in the presence of police officers. This fact supports a finding of government complicity.

Obama to Nominate Max Baucus as US China Ambassador | The Diplomat — The move signals that the Obama administration will seek to focus on America’s economic relationship with China as the latter attempts to rebalance its economy to give greater weight to domestic consumption. Baucus is the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He is currently serving in his sixth term as a senator from Montana but announced earlier this year that he would not seek reelection in 2014.

Lawlessness in Borderlands Taints Myanmar’s Progress | NYT — TACHILEIK, Myanmar — The verdant fairways of the golf course outside this northeastern city in Myanmar might suggest a measure of normalcy and tranquillity — except for the handguns that some of the golfers wear. In a region known for rival ethnic armies and drug-trafficking gangs, many officials find it prudent to carry sidearms even as they play 18 holes. In the city, which sits along the border with Thailand, a picture of barely controlled lawlessness emerges, with at least eight ethnic militias patrolling the streets in different uniforms.

Yunnan Reopens 13 International Border Crossings | GoKunming — Eight years ago, China suspended several overland border crossings into neighboring countries. As of this week, thirteen of those once-popular waypoints have reopened in efforts to increase trade and boost international tourismPeople’s Daily is reporting.

In numbers: Something’s fishy | SEA Globe —  Stating that fish are a fixture of Southeast Asian life would be understating their importance to a huge degree. Our aquatic friends are everywhere. They are seen flapping about in ponds, drying out in the sun and being chopped up and added to many a main meal. Whole communities rely on the income generated by bringing in a good catch, while middlemen ramp up their prices when supplying high-end eateries with choice varieties of seafood. Fish is big business here.

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Saving Indonesia’s fisheries: Plenty more fish in the sea? | The Economist — Alor is at the centre of the “coral triangle”, 6m square kilometres of the most biodiverse oceans on earth. These waters contain two-thirds of the world’s coral species, twice the number of species of reef fish found anywhere else, and new species that are still being discovered by scientists in Indonesia. But climate change and warming oceans, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, along with pollution from coastal communities and industries, threaten the fragile ecosystems that support underwater life, as well as millions of traditional fishermen.


China Celebrates Lunar Probe and Announces Return Plans | NYT — China’s plan to send an unmanned craft to the moon in 2017 that will land and return with samples suggests that the country will continue the rapid pace of its space program.

Amid China’s Bad Air, a Reminder That Smoking Still Kills | NYT — China has about 350 million smokers, and despite efforts to reduce consumption, tobacco is still widely consumed with about half of adult males smoking regularly, according to surveys.

Fines Won’t Solve China’s Smog Problem | ChinaFile — Eight municipal governments in northeast Liaoning province have together received 54.2 million yuan (U.S.$8.9 million) in fines for failing to reach air quality standards—the first time a provincial government has imposed financial penalties on lower-level governments for pollution. “Something is better than nothing. A meaningful fine is a step in the right direction,” commented Steve Tsang, the Director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham. Nevertheless, Professor Tsang said that if the fine is modest compared to the cost saving involved in polluting, the effect of the fine will be minimal.

Africa and the Chinese Way | NYT — Beijing has signed off on rail projects across the continent, from Angola in the South, Ethiopia in the East and Nigeria in the West, heralding an infrastructure-expansion boom on a scale never seen in Africa.

Available online: Dead but not buried | The Economist — What people used to say of Harrods, a London department store, they now say of Taobao, an online Chinese retail platform: you can buy anything there. Perhaps hoping to prove the point, one company recently placed plastinated human bodies (preserved in polymers) for sale on Taobao. The company, which is asking 126,500 yuan ($21,000) per cadaver, says it is targeting medical schools and scientists, but it requires no documentation and will ship the corpse to your door (within China).

Rural Women Stage Innovative Protest for Equality | NYT — The middle-aged farming women forming a human pyramid in front of the Zhejiang Provincial People’s Government headquarters in Hangzhou last week constituted a small protest that pointed to a big problem: persistent economic and political discrimination against women in rural China, they said.

Bitcoin Value Sinks After Chinese Exchange Move | NYT — China’s biggest Bitcoin exchange was forced to stop accepting deposits in the Chinese currency on Wednesday, sending the price of the virtual money tumbling in one of its biggest markets globally. The development comes less than two weeks after China’s central bank and four other government agencies that regulate finance and technology issued a joint announcement banning Chinese financial institutions from dealing in the virtual currency.

Foreign correspondents: Personae non gratae | The Economist — The Chinese government has many ways of making life difficult for foreign journalists, but it usually does so without attracting many headlines. That is beginning to change: authorities have halted the annual visa-renewal process for at least two dozen journalists working for American media, after they wrote stories about the wealth accumulated by the families of China’s leaders. The journalists, from the New York Times and Bloomberg, a financial-news service, face being forced out of China when their visas expire this month. A mass expulsion of foreign journalists would be the first since the reform era began.

Welcome to Tchotchke Town | NYT — If it’s small, cheap and made of plastic, it can probably be found in Yiwu, a city in China’s southeastern Zhejiang province. The marketplace there, called China Commodity City, claims to be the world’s largest wholesale market for small goods, and its sprawling buildings house vast quantities of mass-produced trinkets — crafts, Christmas trees, Barbie-doll knockoffs — that are exported from there to hundreds of locations abroad.


Vietnam, the US, and China: A Love Triangle? | The Diplomat — Beijing often accuses the U.S. of attempting to drive a wedge between China and its neighbors. While the U.S. may not be actively trying to turn countries against China, it’s definitely true that the U.S. has reaped the benefits of other countries’ ambivalence toward the rising power. The U.S. has been able to capitalize on mixed feelings towards China to deepen its relations with ASEAN in general and Vietnam in particular.

Thai Retailer and Chinese Supermarket End Merger Attempt | NYT — A proposed $745 million tie-up between the Chinese supermarket operator Wumart Stores and C.P. Lotus, a retailer in China controlled by the Thai billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont, has fallen apart after the two sides failed to agree on final terms of the deal, both companies said Monday.

U.S. Forging Closer Military Ties With Philippines | NYT — Secretary of State John Kerry said here on Tuesday that the United States would give the Philippines $40 million in maritime security assistance and was negotiating with Manila to rotate more American military forces through the country, the latest signs of the Obama administration’s concerns about mounting pressure from China on its neighbors.

The Senkaku Islands as Cold War Berlin | The Diplomat — The similarities between Berlin during the early Cold War and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Island dispute today seem obvious. To begin with, the crisis has its roots in the shortcomings of the post-WWII agreements. While the San Francisco Treaty demanded that Tokyo return all the territories it had conquered, it did not explicitly name which territories these were. The fact that the U.S. maintained control over the Senkakus during the occupation period suggests that Washington did view these islands as falling under the rubric of territories that Japan had conquered. Obviously, China would disagree.


Disputed Statue to Be Returned to Cambodia | NYT — An ancient statue of a Hindu warrior, pulled from auction two years ago because of assertions that it had been looted from a temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia, will be returned to that country under an agreement signed on Thursday by Sotheby’s, its client and federal officials.

Cambodia’s garment workers needled by low wages and poor conditions | The Guardian —  Growing discontent among workers generating huge profits for scant return threatens to derail Cambodia’s garment industry. Cambodia’s garment industry is now worth $1.5bn, employing almost 400,000 workers – 90% of them young women – in more than 400 factories nationwide. The country has a reputation for fair treatment of workers, based on its labour laws, the presence of workers’ unions and a minimum wage. Most of the garment companies are contract manufacturers for overseas firms. However, according to David Welsh, Cambodia programme director for the Solidarity Centre, employees are becoming increasingly agitated that they are not profiting fairly from the spoils of their work.


To catch a queen | SEA Globe — Recent corruption scandals have ignited the debate about dynastic politics in Indonesia. But even experts are unsure of how to address this world of clandestine meetings and mystical martial-arts clans. Clan politics hold sway in dozens of Indonesia’s provinces and regencies. Siblings and spouses trade posts to skirt term limits; parents purchase elections for their children; cousins and in-laws follow their brethren into office. “They use their money and power to mobilise the people,” said Jacklevyn Manuputty, a peace activist from Maluku province.

Indonesian Cave Gives Researchers a Glimpse of Tsunami History | The Diplomat — Deep inside a limestone cave on the Sumatran coast, a team of researchers have unearthed a natural timeline of the biggest tsunamis to hit the region over the last 7,500 years. They hope that the discovery will shed light on the frequency of major disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that left more than 200,000 dead in 14 countries.


Concerns in Laos That Burma’s Opening Could Slow Tourism Growth | The Irrawaddy — Businesses in Laos, itself a nascent tourist draw, are concerned that growth in the sector could be stalled by Burma’s recent opening-up, which could see some visitors opting for one country over the other when planning holidays.

Missing Sombath Still Dogging Laos | The Diplomat — Just over a year ago, community development worker Sombath Somphone was plucked from the streets of Vientiane by police. He has not been heard of since, despite overwhelming evidence linking his disappearance to the government and its dictatorial internal security apparatus. Sombath’s disappearance has ensured human rights groups like Amnesty and HRW will be paying much closer attention to the country’s human rights record while pushing for more information on his whereabouts.


Burma frees 41 political detainees | The Guardian — Release leaves another 40 in prison with 230 still facing charges, according to campaign group. Burma has freed 41 political detainees, a government spokesman said, bringing the country close to fulfilling a pledge by President Thein Sein to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year. Their release leaves about 40 political detainees in prison, according to estimates by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The organisation said another 230 people still face charges over their political activities.

Myanmar’s Big Sister Leads in HIV Fight | The Diplomat  — An organization formed by sex workers for sex workers is making strides in reducing the rate of infections. Myanmar may have grabbed the world’s eye by opening its borders and ushering in a foreign investment surge, but one story has slipped quietly under the radar. The country has also significantly reduced the rate of HIV infections in its sex worker population from its previous high of 40 percent in females 2005, according to Population Services International (PSI) down to less than 10 percent today.



The Philippines and Typhoon Haiyan: The winds of change | The Economist — A month after Haiyan, the other worst-affected coastal areas remain desolate. Much of the land around Tacloban, the town that bore the brunt of the storm surge, resembles old photographs of a first-world-war battlefield: hundreds of broken trees; craters of mud and debris where houses once stood; upended cars and vans.

US announces further $25m aid to Philippines after typhoon Haiyan | The Guardian — The US is to provide nearly $25m (£15.2m) in additional humanitarian aid to help the Philippines deal with the devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan last month, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said after touring the worst-hit region. Kerry flew to central Tacloban city, where he visited a food distribution centre and talked with officials and survivors. The new food aid, shelter materials, water and other supplies he announced bring the total US assistance package to $86m for one of its closest Asian allies.


Singapore: Trouble in Little India | The Economist — THEIR impeccable city is supposed to be so law-abiding that policemen are rarely seen on patrol. Imagine the shock, then, when Singaporeans woke up on December 9th to learn of running street battles in the city centre the night before. Singapore had not seen a riot since 1969.



News Analysis: In Thailand, Standing Up for Less Democracy | NYT — In a world now accustomed to democratic upheavals, including the Arab Spring and the Saffron and Orange Revolutions, the weeks of political upheaval in Thailand stand out for one main peculiarity. Protesters massing on the streets here are demanding less democracy, not more.

Trial of an Ex-Premier Raises Tensions in Thailand Further | NYT — Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former prime minister, was charged Thursday in a Bangkok criminal court with premeditated murder in a case connected to a military crackdown on protesters in 2010. Mr. Abhisit was released on bail and is not due to appear in court again until March, but the case has raised political tensions in the country amid a new round of protests in Bangkok.

Bangkok Shopping Mall Is Instagram’s Most Photographed Location for 2013 | The Diplomat —  Instagram, a Facebook-owned photo sharing app boasting more than 150 million monthly active users, recently shared its third annual top ten list of the most photographed places in 2013. In a world full of natural and man-made wonders, like the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China, it might come as a surprise that 2013’s top location was a monument to consumerism – the Siam Paragon shopping and entertainment complex in the heart of Bangkok.


To Lower Tariffs, Vietnam Pushes for Easing Trade Rules | NYT — Executives from companies that own brands like Nike, Levi’s and Zara gathered here last month in a hearing room operated by the European government, for a public briefing on the status of trade talks between Vietnam and the European Union, which began last year. For clothing and shoe companies, the negotiations between Europe and Vietnam are being watched with especially close care. Part of the reason is Vietnam’s role as an assembly line for much of the apparel worn in the Western world. Another is that Vietnam’s population also recently topped 90 million. Because the number of young people in the country is rapidly increasing, it has become an attractive growth market for apparel makers.

John Kerry returns to Vietnam to bolster US ties with south-east Asia | The Guardian —  Forty-four years after first setting foot in the country, as a young naval officer, John Kerry returned to Vietnam on Saturday, this time as America’s secretary of state, offering security assurances and seeking to promote democratic and economic reform. Making his 14th trip to the south-east Asian nation since the end of the war that profoundly influenced his political career and foreign policy thinking, Kerry is trying to bolster the remarkable rapprochement with a former US enemy that he encouraged and helped to engineer as a senator in the 1990s.

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The Kunming-Bangkok Highway’s Final Link Opens over the Mekong

The Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship bridge which connects Thailand’s Chiang Rai province to Lao PDR’s Bokeo province officially opened for business yesterday.  Although the bridge, which stretches 400 meters across the Mekong river, and surrounding customs and inspection infrastructure have been completed for a few months, the two countries set the auspicious date of December 11, 2013 or 11/12/13 as written in the international form for the bridge’s opening ceremony conducted by Thailand’s highly respected Princess Sirindhorn.


A local fisherman navigates the Mekong downstream of the new bridge (July 2012)

A local fisherman navigates the Mekong downstream of the new bridge (July 2012)

The prime benefactor from the bridge’s opening is not Thailand or Laos, but rather China as the bridge serves as the final link in the Kunming-Bangkok highway, a 1900km series of connected highways that will facilitate significant increases in container shipping trade between China and Thailand.  Six years ago overland transport between Kunming and Bangkok for container shipping was virtually impossible due to the poor quality of roads.  In China’s southwestern Yunnan province, a drive from Kunming to Jinghong, the Dai cultural capital of Sipsongpanna (Xishuangbanna) prefecture took up to 24 hours and another six hours to the Lao PDR border at Boten.   China completed its portion of the highway to in late 2007.

The Lao PDR segment of the highway connects Boten to the 4th Friendship bridge in Huayxai and cuts through 180km of the most remote parts of Laos.  In the summer rainy season of 2004 I hitched a ride on a pickup truck to travel the 180km segment which then was a single lane mud track.  We completed the tiresome 10 hour drive only after averting a serious accident and certain death when the truck spun out of control nearly pitched over a 400 meter cliffside.    China, Thailand, and the Asian Development Bank invested equal thirds in the Laos portion of the highway which opened in 2010 and dropped transportation time to three hours.

By design, the highway system links the friendship bridge to Bangkok, but despite being the strongest economy on mainland Southeast Asia, Thailand’s highway system lags behind in quality compared to China and the stretch running through northern Laos.  Improvements to Thailand’s R3 highway system which will link Chiang Rai province to all points in Thailand is ongoing but far from complete.  Thailand has promised to upgrade its national transportation and highway infrastructure but political roadblocks, corruption, and a perceived lack of momentum for regional integration at many levels of Thai government and society has discouraged those plans from synching up with China’s outwardly stretching infrastructure linkages.   When the Thai roads are finished, a container truck will be able to travel from Kunming to Bangkok in less than 18 hours.

Road widening construction on Thailand's R3 in Chiang Rai province

Road widening construction on Thailand’s R3 in Chiang Rai province

The 14 hour drive from Kunming to the friendship bridge feels like a leapfrog journey from bridge to tunnel and tunnel to bridge as the road makes its 1800 meter descent.  These two roads cut through some of the most difficult terrain on the planet and link the Chinese state to the Thai state while passing through the most ethnically diverse region in Asia.

The roads not only to build regional commercial connections between China, Thailand, and Laos through the increases of trade and investment but they also assist in expanding each of these state’s interests and systems into the once impenetrable regions of upland southeast Asia by introducing national education systems, agricultural techniques that promote mono-cropping over traditional subsistence farming, and creating avenues for ethnic and rural peoples to leave their homes and link up to national labor markets.   The opening of the bridge will increase trade in the region and will intensify and quicken the pace of social change in upland Southeast Asia and reshuffle the cultural milieu of peoples who have sought refuge from the expansionary Chinese and Thai states for centuries.

Under construction, July 2012

Under construction, July 2012

Bridge completion, December 2013

Bridge completion, December 2013

The bridge’s construction has also caused an influx of Chinese investment in Chiang Rai province mostly in real estate development, speculation on future industrial estates for manufacturing of intra-industry goods passing between China and Thailand, and the buying up of agricultural lands.  While this investment is encouraged and welcomed at the national level and by the Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce, locals are wary of the fast and growing levels of investment in the Golden Triangle Area by Chinese firms and often cite a “Chinese invasion.”  The mayor of Pak Ying Tai village, a small fishing community of 100 households located less than one kilometer south of the bridge has lamented to me on several occasions about China’s footprint in Chiang Rai as he observes year on year decreases in freshwater fish catches and sends more and more of his villagers looking for work in urban areas.

A local farmer from Pak Ying Tai village discusses his worries about community impacts of economic development

A local farmer from Pak Ying Tai village discusses his worries about community impacts of economic development

In many ways the bridge and its construction serve to represent the challenges of regional cooperation between China, Thailand, and the rest of mainland Southeast Asia.  From its conception in the late 1990s to its completion yesterday, the bridge has gone through stalled and failed rounds of negotiation and has not lacked controversy.  Groundbreaking for the 1 billion Thai baht project which is equally invested by China, Laos, and Thailand did not occur until 2010 despite a scheduled start for as early as 2006. In May 2011 Thailand pulled its portion of the construction team in order to settle a land dispute with the local Thai government accusing Chinese commercial interests of illegally purchasing land on the Thai side of the bridge.

Container trucks will no longer have to wait in line for the Mekong ferry at Huayxai in Laos.

Container trucks will no longer have to wait in line for the Mekong ferry at Huayxai in Laos.

Another obstacle to regional cooperation demonstrated by the bridge is the ease of passage through customs and inspection for both container trucks and individual travelers or tourists to the region.  Chinese trucks are not permitted to drive in Thailand, nor are Thai trucks allowed to travel through China; thus the speed of transport is slowed by the need to repackage goods at one of the border crossing points. Despite efforts of the ADB in to facilitate a shared cross border trade and transport protocol to streamline logistical flows at regional border checks in China and mainland Southeast Asia, states have been slow to adopt the measures in order to protect national markets and logistics industries.  New customs and inspections facilities at the bridge are fitted to increase the speed of transport and ease of people movement and will serve as a testing ground for these promised increases in logistical efficiencies.

Looking forward to the first six months after the bridge’s opening, the verdict will be clear on whether the bridge will serve as a strategic choke point, a gateway for win-win trade and economic development between two regional powers , or a conduit that will further challenge the structure of rural livelihoods in upland Southeast Asia.

Looking upstream at the completed bridge from Pak Ying Tai village.

Looking upstream at the completed bridge from Pak Ying Tai village.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Economic development, GMS, Mekong River, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Thailand, Uncategorized, Yunnan Province

Space and Spectacle in the Bangkok Protests

Part of the spectacle at Democracy Monument.


Bangkok has been rocked with the largest political demonstrations since 2010, with protests escalating into isolated pockets of violence.

Yesterday’s D-Day is part of the “final battle” by the anti-government protesters, with morning marches from all major rally sites converging at Government House. Prime Minister Yingluck announced that she would dissolve the lower house of Parliament, as a reported 100,000-150,000 protesters flooded the streets of Bangkok and members of the Democrat party resigned.

Clashes on so-called V-Day last Sunday left a reported five people dead and 64 injured in the confrontation between anti-government and pro-government protesters, including one who died when a bus was attacked.

Over the last two weeks, anti-government protesters occupied key ministries, government complexes and police headquarters.

The police attempted to alleviate tensions after the worst of the clashes, as they opened up barricades to major government offices – even offering roses to protesters in a symbolic gesture just days after taunting protesters and firing tear gas at crowds.

These protests showcase the complicated intersection of history, social changes, and legitimacy in current Thai politics.

And the very spaces of the rallies themselves become entry points into these deep, complex waters. What do the protests and occupied sites in the city reveal about the myriad of claims and competing political aims among the factions? What can the symbols and aesthetics of this protest tell us about what is happening and why? Continue reading

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Gary Locke, US Ambassador to China visits Kunming one day after announcing resignation

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US Ambassador to China Gary Locke paid his third visit to Yunnan province on Thursday, November 21, one day after the announcement of his unexpected resignation.  His visit was part of an investment promotion roadshow entitled “The Best of America” traveling around China’s southwestern provinces and organized by the US consulates in Chengdu and Guangzhou.  The event was hosted by provincial vice-governor Gao Feng and attended by Yunnanese business interests and officials from the provincial international trade promotion department, tourism department and public health departments.   Core economic strengths of the US were represented by CEOs and officers of Deliotte, GE, Motorola, CISCO systems, Intel, and Miller Canfield Law firm in addition to other firms.  United Airlines was also in attendance and eager to promote its new direct flight from Chengdu-San Francisco opening early 2014.

Opening remarks were given by both Ambassador Locke and Vice Governor Gao. Both speeches highlighted the United States’ and Yunnan’s shared history of cooperation through the Flying Tigers, as well as the need for present day economic cooperation. In his remarks, Ambassador Locke boasted of the increase of China-to-US FDI under his tenure. In the past 21 months, investments from China totaled USD 18 billion, more than the past 10 years combined, an accomplishment Locke can only take partial credit for, as larger macroeconomic trends in the US and China were also important factors. Locke was also able to highlight the increase of Chinese students in the US in recent years. According to the ambassador, the number of Chinese students in the US reached 280,000 in 2012. In addition, Ambassador Locke was also able to point to decrease in wait time for US visas and a new, expanded visa office at the Chengdu consulate as notable achievements under his tenure.  Aside from pushing investment in America, Locke also promoted core American values like legal transparency, free trade and intellectual property rights, issues that have been divisive for the two countries in past years.

Photo courtesy of Allie Horick

Photo courtesy of Allie Horick

Speaking directly after Ambassador Locke, Yunnan’s Vice Governor Gao Feng also promoted bilateral trade and cooperation. In his remarks, Vice Governor Gao emphasized Yunnan’s role as China’s gateway to South Asia and Southeast Asia and its fast pace of the its economic growth. Gao pointed to the recent China-South Asia Expo as a marker of Yunnan’s rise in national and regional importance. The US delegation noted that Locke’s visit to Yunnan went very smoothly and all requests for visits to companies and government ministries were granted, including a visit to Yunnan University, where the Ambassador met with students and professors. This is in contrast to the difficulty encountered when US delegations request access in other provinces and autonomous regions in southwest China, particularly Tibet.

The roadshow was planned with the specific purpose of promoting Chinese FDI to the US, the export of medical technology to Yunnan’s developing healthcare sector, and tourism to the US.  After the Green Lake Hotel event, the delegation met mostly with potential investors from the agriculture and mining sectors reflective of these two sectors as two core pillars of Yunnan’s economy – tourism.  Locke also encouraged US investment in Yunnan tourism management systems – something sorely needed in Yunnan, and China at large, as localities struggle to protect cultural capital bases and natural endowments from the damaging onslaught of mass Chinese tourism.

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The inability of Yunnan’s medical infrastructure to keep up with the demand for medical services was apparent when the delegation was shown MRI scanner purchased from the US that had been use for 10 years at the Kunming Number One Hospital.  The machine was being used 70-80 times per day non-stop for seven days per week.  Cumulative cost of parts and supplies maintenance, all imported from the US, had greatly exceeded the original cost of the machine.

Lastly, Chinese tourism to the US was high on the list of promotion for the delegation.  In 2012, tourism to the US was the US’s top service sector export with Chinese tourists leading the way in number of tourists visiting the US in a by country breakdown.  In international trade accounting, foreign tourist visits are counted as an export due to the positive accumulation of foreign income.

Locke’s visit is recognition of the fruits of the China’s Western development program – namely economic progress to the degree that US investors are now drawn to the fast growth rates coming out of China’s southwestern provinces.  And as a result of that economic progress, Yunnanese investors have reached levels of wealth garnering capabilities to invest in the US, half a globe away.  His visit is also reinforcement of Yunnan’s strategic location as a gateway for regional investment to Southeast Asia and South Asia – a key point mentioned by both the US delegation and the provincial hosts.

Later in the day, Locke’s diplomatic rock star status was confirmed by an exuberant crowd of students at Yunnan University proud of their shared heritage with the US ambassador.  Locke returned that exuberance with hugs.   With Locke stepping down it may be a while until another US ambassador to China receives the kind of welcome received in Thursday in Yunnan.

Consensus among some of the ExSE members is that Locke may be stepping down in preparation for a high appointment related to the 2016 presidential election.  He is an extremely successful career politician with experience managing Americans’ most important bilateral relationship, domestic economic and international trade relations as US Commerce Secretary, and a successful run as governor of Washington State.  This portfolio positions Locke as a strong candidate for VP or Secretary of State under a future Democratic presidency.  Gary Locke will step down as US Ambassador to China early 2014 after taking up the post in August, 2011.


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Filed under China, Current Events, Economic development, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Uncategorized, USA, Yunnan Province

Fire, Spirits and Ritual Self-Injury in Phuket: The Vegetarian Festival

Photograph by Amy Devlin (2013).

Fireworks explode in a loud cascade in the middle of the street, but no one flinches. I watch as a young barefooted man passes me – a pair of guns are impaled in his face, the barrels poking into the open flesh of his cheeks and out of his open mouth. He’s dressed in a black costume embroidered with Chinese symbols.

He is a mah song, a spirit medium, and he’s not the only one. Throngs of men and women are parading down the street, with metal skewers, needles, and even weapons inserted into their cheeks, arms, torsos and elsewhere on their bodies. They are in trances – their heads are twitching rhythmically, eyes rolled back, and their hands are clenched. Groups of devotees reverently carry statues of the gods. As far as the eye can see, everyone is clad in white. Continue reading

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Regional Roundup for Week of 11.15.13

The devastation of Typhoon Haiyan upon the Philippines made major headlines this week. The Third Plenum also concluded this week with somewhat tepid responses from the media concerning lack of clarity over proposed reforms. Among expected  measures included changes to China’s one-child policy, however the full details of Third Plenum reforms have yet to be released.


Asia Rivalries Play Role in Aid to the Philippines | NYT — The outpouring of foreign assistance for the hundreds of thousands left homeless and hungry by Typhoon Haiyan is shaping up to be a monumental show of international largess — and a not-so-subtle dose of one-upmanship directed at the region’s fastest-rising power, China. /China upped its initial donation of approximately $100,000 USD to $1.6 million after criticism of stinginess even within state media…offering aid and relief assistance could have been an opportunity to promote Chinese soft power and improve the relationship between China and Philippines, especially in light of recent South China Sea disputes. It’s still less aid than Swedish retailer IKEA pledged ($2.7 million through a charitable foundation)./

Lessons from the Haiyan Typhoon Tragedy | The Diplomat — Haiyan proved once more that the Philippines are extremely vulnerable to the harsh impact of climate change. But it also exposed the sorry state of the country’s infrastructure, chaotic land zoning system, pre-modern weather facilities, unreliable communication facilities, and inadequate disaster preparedness programs.

Disappointment With Third Plenum Is Premature | The Diplomat — Most of the disappointment over the Third Plenum is over the lack of specifics contained in the Third Plenum’s communiqué (English translation here, courtesy of China Copyright and Media). For example, the Wall Street Journal article cited above notes of the communiqué, “the details [about how China will reform] were almost completely missing, even though the document ticked off many of the items that appear on standard lists of reform objectives for China.” But this opinion, which has been widespread since the Plenum ended, seems to have a mistaken view of what the purpose of the communiqué is.

China Tackles One-Child Policy, Death Penalty, & Labor Camps | The Diplomat — China has released the resolution detailing the CCP Central Committee’s major decisions at the Third Plenum, which was held from Saturday to Tuesday. Interestingly, initial reports from the state media highlight mostly social reform issues, some expected some less so. One of the expected decisions is that China has decided to ease its one-child policy, which since the early 1980s has restricted urban couples to one child while allowing some rural couples have two children.

JPMorgan’s Fruitful Ties to a Member of China’s Elite | NYT — A contract between JPMorgan Chase and a consulting firm run by the daughter of the former prime minister points to the bank’s strategy to build its influence in China. /A story to watch, coverage so far has been very careful to note that J.P. Morgan has not been accused of any wrongdoing (yet) but is part of a wider bribery investigation…/


China Elected to United Nations Human Rights Council | NYT — Saying it would “oppose pressure and confrontation” on the United Nations Human Rights Council and advance the cause of human rights, China was elected to it for a three-year term along with Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Russia. /Saudi Arabia actually rejected its seat, a surprising move that has been interpreted as an expression of anger at the United States./

Israel Increasingly Courting China as an Ally | NYT — Israeli officials hope to win China to their side in dealings with Iran, Syria and the Palestinians. /Prompts speculation on China’s increased international role beyond strong regional presence in Asia…although Iran’s relationship with China as its third-largest supplier of crude oil could very likely complicate Sino-Israeli relations./

Colorful History of a Power Hotel in Beijing | NYT — The Jingxi Hotel, where Chinese leaders met this week, has a colorful history hosting some of the most important gatherings in modern Chinese history. /Adds another layer to a Chinese joke that there’s no “people” in the Great Hall of the People — major policy decisions are made in the conference rooms of hotels like the Jingxi, which hosted the recent 3rd Plenum./

China’s One-Day Shopping Spree Sets Record in Online Sales | NYT — On Monday, China’s biggest online shopping company processed more than $5.75 billion in its online payments system — a record for a single day anywhere in the world, surpassing by two and a half times the total for American retailers last year on so-called Cyber Monday.

China’s children may become the drivers of environmental change | The Guardian — With growing media coverage of the harmful effects of PM2.5, personal attitudes to its impact are also rapidly changing, and many are taking the necessary precautions. Well-to-do families, young white-collar workers and those who are internationally minded are becoming increasingly unsettled about the long-term effects of living in such an unhealthy environment, and at the heart of these concerns is often the lasting damage to children’s health. Many are questioning how viable it is to raise a family in heavily polluted cities, and people speak of “hatching plans to escape Beijing” by emigrating abroad for the sake of their offspring.

Would You Like Fries With Those Spicy Pork McBites? | NYT — With competition heating up in China’s $174 billion dollar fast-food market, McDonald’s is seeking to up its game by capitalizing on the country’s increasingly voracious appetite for pigs. The result? Spicy Pork McBites. The new pork treat is in line with the overall global strategy of Western chains tailoring their menus to local tastes. 


Cyclones and climate change: The new normal? | The Economist — Regardless of its precise position in the historical hierarchy, Haiyan—like Katrina—has provoked discussion about the effects of global warming on tropical storms. Naderev Sano, the Philippines’ representative at a climate summit in Warsaw, was unequivocal, daring doubters to visit his homeland. “The trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm,” he said.

Can Myanmar and North Korea Say Goodbye? | The Diplomat — Myanmar and North Korea were long the Asia-Pacific’s odd couple. Prior to Thein Sein’s era of reform in Myanmar, the two states shared a close diplomatic relationship, often finding common ground in their shared status as militarized pariah states in the greater Asia-Pacifc region. With Myanmar having taken concrete steps away from its isolated past and towards greater global integration, will their bilateral relationship survive? Will North Korea and Myanmar continue to cooperate?

UN court awards Cambodia sovereignty in border dispute | The Guardian —  Cambodia, not Thailand, has sovereignty over a disputed promontory around a 1,000-year-old temple, the UN’s highest court ruled on Monday in a unanimous decision on a long-simmering border dispute. The international court of justice said a 1962 ruling by its judges gave Cambodia sovereignty over the Preah Vihear promontory. Thailand will have to withdraw any military or police forces stationed there.

Maid in Singapore: will Cambodian domestic workers be better protected? | The Guardian —  400 women are taking part in a pilot scheme that is sending Cambodian domestic workers to Singapore. There are more than 200,000 foreign domestic workers on the island, and if the trial goes well it could open the way for a new source of labour to sate the affluent city-state’s appetite for household help. Cambodia’s government says its workers will be shielded from abuse, but doubts linger over key welfare issues.


Brunei to Release First Commercial Film | The Diplomat — With live music and alcohol banned, there’s not much to do in the tiny sultanate – except to visit one of its five movie theaters. Hollywood blockbusters, as well as films produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, dominate the screens – but that could change in 2014 with the release of Brunei’s first commercial feature film. The country’s last film, made in the 1960s, was a guide on how to be a good citizen produced by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.


Global Fund halts contracts over bribes for bednets in Cambodia | The Guardian — Investigation finds two international companies paid Cambodian officials for deals to supply anti-malaria bednets.  The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has suspended contracts with two international firms that supplied mosquito bednets over “serious financial wrongdoing” in Cambodia.


U.S. Offers Reward in Wildlife-Trade Fight | NYT — Taking a page from the battle against international drug cartels, the United States announced on Wednesday a $1 million reward for information to help dismantle one of Asia’s largest wildlife-trafficking syndicates. In what officials said was the first time such a reward had been offered, the State Department said it was targeting a syndicate based in Laos. Investigators say the syndicate is headed by a Laotian businessman, Vixay Keosavang, who was the subject of an article in The New York Times in March.


Naypyidaw Authorities Block NLD Poll on Constitutional Reform | Irrawaddy — Authorities in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw are preventing Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) from conducting a public opinion poll on the need for constitutional reform, a NLD lawmaker said on Friday.

Police Open Fire, Injure 7 Protesters at Burma’s Letpadaung Mine | Irrawaddy — Seven protesting farmers were injured Thursday evening as police opened fire into a crowd at the controversial Chinese-backed copper mining project in Letpadaung, Sagaing division, witnesses said. Villagers say they were attempting to set up a second protest camp to oppose the restarted mining project, which they fear will cause damage a Buddhist structure in the same area.

Myanmar: 69 Political Prisoners Freed | NYT — Myanmar’s president on Friday pardoned 69 political prisoners as part of a promise to free all such detainees by the end of the year. Most of those newly freed are members of ethnic minorities, said Ye Aung, who is on the government’s political prisoner scrutiny committee.


The horror after Haiyan | The Economist — A picture of the amount of death and destruction caused began to emerge only after the storm had swept out over the South China Sea, heading towards Vietnam. Witnesses spoke of corpses littering the wrecked city of Tacloban, on the east coast, which felt the full force of the storm. They spoke of dazed survivors wandering streets strewn with debris, begging for help. “From the shore and moving a kilometre inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami,” said the interior secretary, Manuel Roxas, after inspecting the destruction from a helicopter. “I don’t know how to describe what I saw.”

Death After the Typhoon: ‘It Was Preventable’ | NYT — During five days in a Philippine hospital, a 27-year-old farmer and family breadwinner received virtually no care and died, in essence, of a broken leg.


Anonymous Could Be Caned in Singapore | The Diplomat — Six members of Anonymous face hefty fines, jail and in some cases a possible caning after being arrested and charged in Singapore for defacing websites, including one linked to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and spray-painting graffiti identifying the international hacking and protest group.


Banyan: Blowing the whistle | The Economist — To the shrill peeps of ubiquitous whistles, protesters have yet again crowded Bangkok, the capital, brandishing portraits of Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s long-serving king, revered but frail. What has so far been a peaceful movement earlier this month seemed to threaten the survival of the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister. Her tactical retreat has probably saved it. But the political divide looks as unbridgeable as ever, and as dangerous to Thailand’s stability.

Jammin’ in the Jungle: An “Elephant Orchestra” Performs in Thailand | The Diplomat — At a conservation center in Lampang, Thailand, one American musician has taken the role of conductor for a very special musical ensemble – an “elephant orchestra” that makes music with specially designed instruments tailored to their large size. The elephants play a variety of instruments using their trunks – from giant drums and xylophones to customized harmonicas.


Vietnam’s Disappointing New Constitution | The Diplomat — The repercussions of poor governance in Vietnam are such that the system of governance and constitutional structure need to be fundamentally changed. The challenge is great, and any transformation will depend entirely on the political willingness of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).

First Wild Saola Sighting in 15 Years Gives Conservationists Hope | The Diplomat — One of the world’s rarest animals was caught on camera in Vietnam earlier this week, sparking excitement and optimism in conservation circles around the world. The saola, which resembles an antelope despite being more closely related to oxen, wasn’t discovered until 1992. Until this week, a living specimen hadn’t been spotted in the wild in 15 years.

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China’s Bridgehead Strategy and Yunnan Province

Editor’s note: Liu Jinxin wrote this essay to debunk the myth that China’s bridgehead strategy is militaristic or expansionary in nature.  As a chief architect of this strategy, he seeks to demonstrate that developing Yunnan province into a bridgehead will increase international trade flows and deliver long-term regional security.  This translated essay currently guides top-level foreign policy makers in China in implementing economic strategies along its borders with Southeast Asia.  


Yunnan province's border crossing with Vietnam at Hekou/Lao Cai

Yunnan province’s border crossing with Vietnam at Hekou/Lao Cai

The definition of a bridgehead?

According to the Modern Chinese Dictionary, a bridgehead (桥头堡) is a military term that refers to a strategic chokepoint on the field of battle and particularly refers to a fortified structure that defends and controls a bridge or ferry crossing. In economic terms, bridgehead refers to a strategic forward position on a political or economic front line. The term bridgehead appeared for the first time in an official national level Chinese policy document called “Eastern Bridgeheads” in July 1994 which confirmed the Shandong cities of Rizhao and Lianyugang as the bridgehead terminus of the Eurasian landbridge.

In the economic research of landbridges, a bridgehead is a key concept that acts as a port and facilitates the ease of transportation. Bridgeheads are also international centers of shipping, finance, and information which together form an integrated international center of trade. From a logistical and supply chain system perspective, a bridgehead serves basic support to the Eurasian landmass. It is a city or a region that sits on a strategic position on the logistical and supply chain and serves the specific purpose of controlling the flow of resources along international trade routes. The basic characteristics of a bridgehead are its powers to control, develop, and influence.

The power to control

The power to control suggests capabilities levels of secure logistical flows. This can be understood in narrow and broad senses. From a narrow sense, secure logistical flows are conditional to the degree of market openness.  The survival and development of logistical flows must not be threatened by the power of a government to regulate or control it. From a broad sense, a state’s security and international security are guaranteed by engaging in logistical activities. The capability of a state’s secure logistic flows is determined by its capacity to control strategic resources, logistics routes, linkages, and its industrial supply chain.

Linking with the similar strategic logistic routes, resources, and supply chain structures of neighboring states, a concerted logistics system can deliver harmony and mutual trust as well as a collective security that realizes long term stability. Fostering mutual trust, mutual benefit, and equality work together to form a new worldview for security and protects the security of individual states as well as respects the security concerns of other states.  Mutual trust also promotes collective security.


The power to develop 

Developmental power is preconditioned by the construction of logistic routes, linkages and supply chain structures, the developmental needs of economic corridors, and mutual benefit and cooperation. This power can help states share development trajectories, share prosperity and harmonious development, and eliminate security threats at their root. States should place the promotion of shared development as the method for solving global development imbalances and fostering sustainable development. To revolutionize international financial systems, oppose trade protectionism, and promote regional economic cooperation, developing countries should establish development modes that foster interdependence, deliver effective beneficial outcomes, and seek to erase poverty. Developing countries should expand trade with each other, open markets to each other, and increase the level of south-south cooperation.


The power to influence

Influential capabilities rely on a state’s degree of openness and tolerance, strengthening of the construction of a national culture, making positive contributions in international cooperation, solidification of geo-cultural space, promotion of geo-cultural integration, ability to cooperate harmoniously, and mutual progress with its neighbors. States should respect the rights of other states to determining their own development paths by admitting differences in cultural traditions, social systems, and value systems. States should actively promote and provide guarantees to human rights, and increase dialogue to eliminate misunderstandings. States should initiate a spirit of openness and tolerance, make use of the development modes of other states in a comparative and competitive fashion, and seek collective development despite differences.


The functionality of China’s bridgeheads

The central government has required Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Zone, Yunnan province, and other frontier provinces and zones to open the construction bridgeheads along national borders to implement a stable and prosperous frontier region. To deliver prosperity, the bridgeheads should:

1) Be a foundation of protecting border security and stability

2) Take measures under the conditions of high technology to serve as a front line in partial wars and non-traditional security issues

3) Support efforts to rapidly develop ethnic and national zones through new economic modeling

4) Expand the promotion of international/regional cooperation with neighboring states and extend degrees of openness by forging ahead as zones of experimentation.

5) Serve as a transit and storage point for national energy resources.

From a spatial perspective, Xinjiang acts as a bridge between the East and the West; it is the new Eurasian landbridge’s thoroughfare, and as a “west gate,” it serves the opening of China’s northwest region to Central Asia and Europe.

Yunnan opens China to the Southwest connecting two oceans, the Pacific and the Indian as well as East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. It is the linkage point between China’s southwest, the Southeast Asian peninsula, and the South Asian Subcontinent, and is the starting point of the Yangtze River Delta economic zone as well as the Pearl River Delta economic zone. Yunnan acts as the core belt of the China-South Asia Economic Circle and the China-Southeast Asia economic circle. It is the main connective channel between China and the Indian Ocean and is China’s core zone in the Greater Mekong Subregion. More importantly the province serves as a key trade passageway for goods and services passing from China to South Asia and the Southeast Asian peninsula.


Core Values

China’s bridgeheads are a result of major changes in geo-strategic international structure. The concept is part of China’s key diplomatic principles which pledge to be a good neighbor, a prosperous neighbor, and a secure neighbor. It is also reflective of China’s active pursuit of being a responsible world power. The core values of the bridgehead strategy are:

1) To foster an infrastructure development strategy that expands participation in the world market and establishes interdependence, while constructing mutually beneficial win-win relations with its neighbors

2) To highly prioritize unity among ethnic peoples and social stability by promoting cultural diversity and shared developmental progress

3) To respect  public opinion and the will of peoples in neighboring countries, and respect their value systems by promoting cooperation and exchange between peoples and democratic equality

4) To acknowledge the guidance of international voices and place equal importance on China’s international image and economic benefit

5) To safeguard the benefit of overseas Chinese and Chinese businessmen abroad

6) To value strategic resources, strategic routes, the shared security of strategic industrial supply line

7) To promote the construction of low carbon footprint urban areas and the use of clean energy by promoting an economic society that delivers harmonious, stable, and secure sustainable development

8) To promote the construction of a harmonious new world order and the active promotion of new kinds of partnerships with neighboring countries

9) To resolutely protect free and fair global trade and investment climates, and maintain the free flow of products, investment and services

10) In the long term, to promote sustainable growth, coordinated concerns, advocate tolerance to total adjustment, and promote balanced growth

Global economic balances can only be reached through sharing benefits and needs between developing and developed states.


Yunnan province as China’s southwest bridgehead

The southwest bridgehead is the front line of China’s interaction with the Indian Ocean, and its purpose is to construct a series of overland pathways given China’s southwest connects to South Asia and Southeast Asia trade routes. The bridgehead’s purpose is also to construct a base facing South Asia and Southeast Asia that supports export processing and the facilitation of international and domestic production, and the Kunming international land port economic zone.

Establishing Kunming as an inland economic zone will strengthen logistical flows coming from South Asia and Southeast Asia, create a tourism base for national culture, a commerce base, export processing base, and modern agriculture base as well as an information platform. This platform will come together through the increased progress of the yearly Kunming trade fair, China-South Asia fair, and the creation of different cooperation forums. The central objective is to turn Yunnan province into China’s platform for communicating with Southeast Asia and South Asia. Through creating this window, Yunnan can facilitate the building of trust between China and South Asia and Southeast Asia, and demonstrate the fruits of reform as well as Chinese culture by promoting mutual understanding and friendship. Yunnan can become a demonstration zone for how China can open to its neighbors.

The influence of a bridgehead extends outwards and is continuously stretching its limits. In China this includes two major regions.


A bridgehead to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia includes the 10 ASEAN states of Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Myanmar and the non-ASEAN state of East Timor. In total this region covers 4.5 million square kilometers, supports a population of 580 million, has a combined GDP of $1.9 trillion USD and a total trade of approximately 2 trillion USD. The creation of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Zone in 2010 created a free trade area of 13 million square kilometers and a combined population of 1.9 billion. It is the largest populated free trade zone in the world and the largest free trade zone among developing countries.

China and ASEAN states are linked by mountains and rivers and share advantages by having varied distribution of resources, differences in specialization of industrial processes, complementary strengths, and an enormous potential for cooperation. As trade between China and ASEAN states increases at a rapid rate so are rates of investment. China is ASEAN’s 4th largest trading partner and ASEAN is China’s 5th largest trading partner. ASEAN has been established as a priority zone for attracting Chinese FDI and is one of the outward investment zones for Chinese industries. ASEAN is also a major market for Chinese labor, and China is winning an increasing amount of engineering contracts in ASEAN.

To date China and ASEAN trade relations have already entered a “Golden Era” and as China and ASEAN open their markets to each other, the ASEAN-China Free Trade Zone will enter a substantive phase. These contributions will bring robust commercial opportunities as the Southeast Asian peninsula is a major global agricultural production area and a critical zone of emerging industries.


A bridgehead to South Asia

The South Asian subcontinent (by way of the BCIM economic zone which includes Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar) is the geo-strategic fulcrum between the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. At the same time, it is zone of choice for the secure channeling of China’s energy resources. The South Asian Subcontinent is also known as the Indian Subcontinent and is comprised of the Indian peninsula, the Indus river plateau, and the downstream plains of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers covering an area of 4.3 million square kilometers. It supports a population of 1.2 billion on 10% of the Asian continent. Its northern reaches are formed by the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges and its southern limits are the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Its western borders are limited by the Iranian plateau, and its eastern frontiers are the mountainous eastern regions of India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

The severity of South Asia’s natural landscape has prevented integration and the historically its cultures have been relatively closed-off to each other. This has produced divergent sentiments of independence in the region. The South Asian subcontinent includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and does not include Sri Lanka or the Maldives. Its major rivers are the Indus, Ganges, and the Brahmaputra. Major agricultural products are wheat, rice, cotton, hemp, cane sugar and tea. Resource endowments include coal, mica, zinc, and gold.

An international pathway can be built from Yunnan through Myanmar to give China direct access to the Indian Ocean and its benefits will promote good neighborliness and the strengthening of border areas. Frontiers serve the specific functions of national defense and economic and cultural exchange. Sharing borders with Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Vietnam, Yunnan province serves as the connective link between China, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. It offers an alternate route to the passage of goods through the Straits of Malacca and is the fastest land route for goods to travel from China to South Asia, the Indian Ocean, Europe, and Africa.

Due to its advantageous geographical position, the province can facilitate huge market potential with partners in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Lastly, because of its history of friendly exchange with its neighbors, Yunnan province serves as the ideal representative for diplomatic connections.

The construction of international pathways will do much to improve the state of transportation and shipping and can only expand and deepen the political, economic, and cultural cooperation between China and Southeast Asian states. Building these pathways and supporting the bridgehead strategy will develop regional economic cooperation between China, Southeast Asian, and South Asian states, strengthen the relationship of good neighborliness, and bring stability and peace to China’s border areas.


Filed under ASEAN, China, DOCUMENTS, Economic development, GMS, Laos, Mekong River, Myanmar/Burma, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Thailand, Vietnam

Regional Roundup for Week of 11.9.13

Big events this week included a bombing November 6th outside a Communist Party building in Taiyuan, Shanxi, as well as continuing developments from the October 28 Tiananmen Square explosion. More important topics of the week: China’s Third Plenum conference, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and the growing controversy over Thailand’s proposed amnesty bill.

On the agenda for the Third Plenum: rural land reform, state-owned enterprise reform, and private market development in China among many other rumored issues. Look for further coverage on ExSE regarding how Third Plenum reforms will impact China’s relationship with Southeast Asia.


As Plenum Starts, an Economist Sees Crisis Ahead | NYT — China faces a crisis unless big economic changes are accompanied by a political overhaul, a respected Chinese economist says as Communist Party leaders prepare to meet on the nation’s economic future.// Plenum outcomes announced today.  Let the flurry of analysis begin!

Communist Party rules out political reform ahead of third plenum | SCMP — The Communist Party ruled out any significant political reform a day before the historically significant Central Committee third plenum gets under way, saying it will reinforce the pillars of the party’s leadership and ideological control.

What to Watch for at China’s ‘Third Plenum’ | The Diplomat — While there has been much speculation about what the upcoming Third Plenum meeting might yield in terms of concrete reforms, little is known for sure. China’s state news agency and avid reader of The Diplomat, Xinhua News Agency, is expected to announce the results of the Plenum upon its conclusion on Tuesday. Of course, the Third Plenum could fizzle this year and not produce the kind of groundbreaking reform many expect it to deliver; in any case, whatever changes are announced will take years to materialize given the CCP’s tendency to implement reforms gradually. /

Tiananmen blast shows China faces rise in violent dissent – and repression | The Guardian — Two attacks on Communist party targets suggest Beijing faces a increase in attacks on its rule from a variety of disaffected people. First came the car crash and explosion in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Then came multiple blasts outside Communist party offices in a northern city. Two fatal incidents in 10 days – just ahead of a major party meeting that begins on Saturday – have highlighted the challenges facing China’s leaders despite years of pouring cash into tightening security and preventative measures.

China is Pivoting to Central Asia — but Is Washington Paying Attention? | The Atlantic — Beijing’s deepened connections to the energy-rich countries on its Western border represent a significant geopolitical shift—one the U.S. ignores at its peril. Though it has received comparatively little attention, one of the most profound geopolitical trends of the early 21st century is gathering steam: China’s pivot to Central Asia.

Typhoon Haiyan the biggest yet as world’s tropical storms gather force | The Guardian — Haiyan may be strongest ever to hit land so far but as the oceans warm the power of storms is rising. When typhoon Haiyan – known in the Philippines as Yolanda – pounded into the islands of Samar and Leyte at 4.40am after picking up speed on a 900-mile track across the Pacific, the US navy’s warning centre, JTWC, in Honolulu, calculated its winds to be gusting at up to 235mph (380kph). This would make it the fourth most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded and possibly the strongest to have ever hit land.

Thailand will drop controversial amnesty bill if senate rejects it, PM says | The Guardian — Thailand’s prime minister has defended a political amnesty bill that has sparked large protests in Bangkok, but suggested her party will drop the legislation if it is rejected by the senate. Opponents of the bill say it is designed to bring the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra back from a self-imposed exile. After being overthrown in a 2006 military coup, Thaksin fled to avoid serving a two-year prison sentence for corruption.

Burma Economy to Grow 6.8% in 2014: World Bank | Irrawaddy — Burma’s economy is set to grow an estimated 6.8 percent next year, placing it among Southeast Asia’s fastest growing economies, although rising inflation threatens the poor, the World Bank said on Wednesday. Expansion would be driven by energy and commodities exports, foreign investment, services and construction and growth would exceed the 6.5 percent achieved in the fiscal year that ended on March 31, the Bank said.//How sure are we of these numbers?  Much of the economy is unaccounted for and untaxed. 


China’s Latest Corruption Target: Overseas Real Estate | The Atlantic — China’s corrupt officials and crooked businessmen have smuggled billions of dollars overseas, much of which has ended up in real estate in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom—particularly in high-end neighborhoods in London, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and Toronto. Now the Chinese government is embarking on a worldwide hunt to seize the properties with help from foreign governments, according to asset recovery and anti-corruption specialists.

Why China’s New Rich Want to Emigrate | The Diplomat — China Merchants Bank (CMB) and Bain & Company recently published the 2013 China Private Wealth Report, which uses rigorous statistical modeling to quantify China’s newly rich and their investments. In this report, they use the term “China’s High-Net-Worth Individuals (HNWIs)” to describe an emerging class, defined as individuals with at least 10 million RMB (approximately US$1.6 million) in investable assets. According to the survey, 56 percent of respondents in this group said they are considering emigrating, or already emigrated from China. Another 11 percent said they did not plan to emigrate themselves, but their child was either considering or had already finished the emigration process. This is striking because it basically indicates that three out of five wealthy mainland Chinese are looking to leave the country.//not just the wealthy are emigrating

China’s air pollution blamed for 8-year-old’s lung-cancer | The Guardian — From cancer villages to lung-choking pollution, the impacts of China’s pollution problems on its citizens are becoming more and more publicised. But nothing is quite so shocking as an 8-year-old girl being diagnosed with lung cancer which her doctor says is a result of air pollution. According to a report on the People’s Daily website, the girl lived beside a busy road and was exposed to PM2.5 pollution, fine particulate matter considered to be dangerous because it lodges deep in the lungs and can enter the blood stream.

If You Think China’s Air Is Bad … |NYT — Drinking water has become a casualty of rapid industrialization. Measured by the government’s own standards, more than half of the country’s largest lakes and reservoirs were so contaminated in 2011 that they were unsuitable for human consumption. China’s more than 4,700 underground water-quality testing stations show that nearly three-fifths of all water supplies are “relatively bad” or worse. Roughly half of rural residents lack access to drinking water that meets international standards.

Chinese State Media: U.S. Bullying ‘Obsolete’ | ChinaFile — Stop being a bully, and start respecting the rule of the global village. That’s the takeaway from a November 1 editorial in Chinese state media, which castigates the United States in the wake of revelations that the NSA has tapped the phones of thirty-five foreign leaders, a development severe enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to aver the United States has gone “too far.”

China eyes Antarctica’s resource bounty | The Guardian — China’s colossal red icebreaker, the Xuelong or Snow Dragon, embarked on a 155-day expedition to Antarctica on Thursday. The voyage marks China’s 30th trip to the continent, and many of the 256 crew are scientists hunting meteorites. Also onboard are construction materials to establish the country’s fourth Antarctic research station, Taishan, which is to be located in Australian-claimed territory, a vast area of East Antarctica that houses an unknown wealth of coal, iron ores, manganese and hydrocarbon.

Facing a Flood of Junk Text Messages in China | NYT — Measures to curb unwanted text messages would have widespread public support in a country with 1.2 billion mobile subscribers and where each mobile number receives an average of one junk text a day. /At LEAST one per day./

China and Hollywood by the Numbers | ChinaFile — Hollywood studios now make more money selling movie tickets in China than in any other market outside North America. Wanda, China’s largest real estate developer, bought AMC, the second-largest movie theater chain in the United States, and is also investing in making movies of its own. China is building theaters and adding movie screens at a rate not seen in the U.S. in decades, and Chinese audiences are ballooning. /Includes statistics of just how much money Chinese audiences generate for American studios. From January 1 to September 30 , 2013 U.S. films imported into China grossed $1.1 billion dollars, compared to the $1.6 billion generated by Chinese language films during the same period./

China demands ‘positive images’ in return for access to markets | The Guardian — A senior figure in the Chinese film industry outlined the conditions it is setting for Hollywood to gain access to its lucrative box-office revenues, central among which is more “positive images” of the country and its culture. /It will be interesting to watch how American film producers plan to attract Chinese audiences…plans for at least 4 more “Kung Fu Panda” movies are in the works./


A Chinese Company Wants to Build a New York City…In South Africa | The Atlantic — A Chinese property company has pledged to build South Africa a new financial hub. On Nov. 4, Shanghai Zendai unveiled plans to transform Modderfontein, a manufacturing district in eastern Johannesburg, into a multi-use financial center “on par with cities like New York … or Hong Kong,” said Zendai chairman Dai Zhikang. The firm said it will spend about $7.8 billion on the development over the next 15 years.

China’s Central Asia Overtures: Why Now? | The Diplomat — Much has been made of China’s re-engagement with Central Asia. While others have commented on what China wants in the region, or why it is elevating its relations with the Central Asian republics, perhaps there is a more important question: Why now? Why has China made Central Asia a priority in 2013, and not last year, or the year before? I suggest there are three reasons why China has chosen to deepen engagement with its Central Asian neighbors at this time: the selection of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) by a consortium of European energy companies; the 2014 NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan; and to increase competition with leverage against Russia.

Asia’s Palestine? West Papua’s Independence Struggle | The Diplomat — West Papua’s struggle for independence from Indonesia has long been ignored by the international community. The international community has largely ignored West Papuans’ pleas for sovereignty and Indonesia’s human rights abuses against them. This is due in no small part to Indonesia’s four-decade media blackout in the region, however number of recent high profile events are helping to change this. /

Taiwan signs trade deal with Singapore | SCMP — Taiwan signed a free trade agreement with Singapore on Thursday that will scrap taxes on Taiwanese exports and give a filip to trade worth some US$28 billion last year, as the island looks to broaden its international profile and reduce dependence on China.


 Weaving A Better Future in Cambodia | ADB — Vocational skills and social training open new windows of opportunity for women in Siem Reap. /These kinds of economic and social empowerment programs often have significant community impact beyond individual women, and can be a critical tool to fighting poverty at a local level./


Australia ends asylum boat stand-off with Indonesia | SCMP — Australia said on Saturday it will take a boatload of asylum-seekers at the centre of a high-seas stand-off with Indonesia to its Indian Ocean outpost of Christmas Island.


Sombath Disappearance Could See a Review of EU Aid to Laos | The Diplomat — The European Union has put the case of the prominent development worker Sombath Somphone back on the international agenda, threatening to review foreign aid to Laos after officials there failed to offer a credible explanation for his disappearance 11 months ago.

The tubing party is over in Vang Vieng, but tourism has managed to stay afloat | SEA Globe — Vang Vieng is located in the middle of the jungle landscape of northern Laos, about 180 kilometres north of the capital Vientiane. Nearly 120,000 partying youths used to descend on the provincial city every year, however in 2011 there were nearly 30 deaths, prompting the provincial government to play the role of party-pooper. Now, organising hikes, rafting, cycling and climbing tours in the surrounding mountains is Vang Vieng’s new tourism strategy, and it seems to be working. /Having visited Vang Vieng in the summer of 2011, developing a much less rowdy and dangerous tourism scene is in the interests of both tourists and residents./


Burma’s Police Get EU Training on Crowd Control | Irrawaddy — Burma’s police are for the first time receiving training from the European Union, which is providing the Southeast Asian nation’s law enforcement personnel with instruction on crowd control tactics. A team from the 27-nation bloc began training about 500 police officers on Monday, according to Ko Ko Aung, a Rangoon Division police chief. The course, which began this week in Rangoon, will last 18 months and includes training on handling mass protests and personnel deployment strategies, as well as human rights education and the provision of riot gear.

Risks and Opportunities for Burma’s Economy as Climate Change Bites | Irrawaddy — Two new international reports warning of the economic consequences of climate change for Southeast Asia have emerged just as Burma, backed by European Union funds, begins a program to mitigate impacts. One of the reports suggests that Burma—already labelled a country in “extreme risk” if temperatures rise as predicted—will be wedged between neighbors whose capital cities face serious disruption in the future. The Thai capital Bangkok, which has close and growing business links with Rangoon, and the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka are rated in top five most at risk cities in the world due to the effects of climate change. /The impact of climate change on regional economies is a critical emerging concern, especially in regards to food security and rice production in particular./

Natural Beauty Blighted by Myitsone Dam, Locals Say | The Irrawaddy — The Myitsone region was once famous for tourism, with the natural beauty of mountains, hills and the rocky riverbank. Local residents say tourists are now rarely seen there. Khin Maung, who lives in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, remembers traveling to the Irrawaddy when he was younger. “The beauty of the Irrawaddy was amazing,” he says. “About 50 years ago, when we were children, dozens of peacocks lived on the mountains and would fly into river…But now we no longer see peacocks in the Irrawaddy. The water was so clean in the past. Now you can see muddy water.”


Philippines Struggles to Assess Damage From Deadly Typhoon | NYT — Philippine rescue workers struggled Saturday to grasp the human toll and physical devastation from a powerful typhoon that ripped through the country the day before, killing more than 100 people in a southern city inundated by the storm, according to officials. /Officials had hoped that the speed of the storm would prevent widespread flooding and mudslides, sadly there still appears to be extensive damage in less-developed areas and likely large loss of life./


Singapore PM’s website hacked by ‘Anonymous’ activist group | SCMP — The websites of Singapore’s president and prime minister have been hacked after it vowed to crack down on activist group Anonymous, which is demanding greater internet freedom.


Bangkok’s volunteer rescuers race to road crashes | The Guardian — Despite a fear of ghosts, amateur ‘basic teams’ attend to injured and dead before police and medics arrive to earn good karma. /Fascinating profile on “ambulance chasers” in Bangkok. Thailand operates two-tiered emergency medical services, with teams of volunteers as primary responders and more advanced life support if necessary. Also watch the short video “The Bodysnatchers of Bangkok”

Unrest in Thailand: Politics from Abroad | The Economist — Thais are in the streets, protesting a controversial amnesty bill. It is a bad moment for democracy in the country, and for its leaders. /In-depth video report on recent political demonstrations and protests in Bangkok sparked by proposed amnesty bill for Thaksin Sinawatra, and the possible impact of widespread protests on political climate in Thailand./


Vietnam begins mass evacuation as super typhoon Haiyan approaches | SCMP — Vietnam has started evacuating over 100,000 people from the path of Super Typhoon Haiyan, state media said on Saturday, after the storm tore across the Philippines leaving scores dead and devastating communities.

Vinashin Bailout: Vietnam Tries Everything But a Free Press | The Diplomat — Vietnam will offer $626 million of government-guaranteed bonds at the Singapore Stock Exchange to help Vinashin shipbuilders repay foreign creditors stung by the company’s addiction to debt. The company is also being rebranded and will in the future be known Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (SBIC). SBIC will run eight yards focused on shipbuilding, repair and conversions and be charged with the restructuring of 234 companies that Vinashin controls through asset sales, debt for equity swaps and mergers.


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The Godfather of the Golden Triangle: Lo Hsing Han, Obituary

Most crime bosses and drug barons never reach old age, unless they end up behind bars serving a life sentence. More often than not they are eliminated in a hail of bullets fired by either a police sharp-shooters or from a rival gang.

But  Lo Hsing Han ,the former ‘King of the Golden Triangle’ heroin trade  who survived several decades of opium wars in the Shan state and became one of the world’s ‘Most Wanted Men’, amazingly defied the odds to become an octogenarian. He died in Yangon on July 6th 2013 aged 80.

Nor did this legendary drug-trafficker die in lonely obscurity shunned by society. His lavish funeral was a VIP affair attended by former generals, two cabinet ministers, and hundreds of well-wishers from Burmese high society.

They paid tribute to his rare metamorphosis from a notorious drug-kingpin to a respected business tycoon, the founder of the Asia World Group that has become a dominating pillar of the Myanmar economy. He is also credited with being the key player in establishing the nation’s economic dependence on narco-profits in the 1990s.

Lo was born around 1935 into a poor ethnic Chinese family in the Kokang district of the Shan state northern Myanmar.

His career in the opium trade began in the 1960s not as an outlaw, but as the leader of a Yangon–sanctioned militia, the KKY, under the auspices of General Ne Win’s dictatorship.

The militias were supposed to fight Shan rebel armies and the Burmese communist guerrillas but expended most of their energy on taxing and protecting mule convoys carrying huge sacks of opium. Thanks to a complex chess-board of   nationalist rebels, opium warlords, the Burmese army and communist guerrillas backed by China, anarchy reigned supreme in the Shan state.

After the 1967 Opium War, Lo Hsing Han emerged as the big winner and consolidated much of the opium trade under his command, still enjoying the blessings of the Ne Win regime.

But the regime came to realise that their home guard KKY militias were a failure and started to disband them in 1973, prompting Lo to abruptly change sides and team up with his former enemies the SSA rebels –the Shan State Army.

During the next 20 years the Lo Hsing Han real–life story was packed with more intrigues, changing allegiances and betrayals, than a John Le Carre novel.

British film-maker Adrian Cowell filmed his classic ‘Opium Warlords’ (‘screened on ITV in 1974), after spending more than nine months trapped in the Shan jungles. It featured for the first time an interview with Lo, the legendary warlord.

Lo, the drug trafficker warlord, unexpectedly offered a diplomatic deal to end the narcotics trade in Burma, by offering to sell the whole opium harvest to the US government in exchange for a mere $12 million. It was taken seriously in Washington by a US congressional committee.

DEA agents based in Thailand arranged for Thai Police to pick him up inside Burma with a message that high-ranking US officials had agreed to talks in Chiangmai.  However after the Thai helicopter collected him from inside Burma, he was stunned to be immediately arrested upon arrival in Thailand July 1973.

US law enforcement plans were confounded by the sudden deportation of the prize catch to Yangon. Some Thai officials clearly wanted to stop Lo Hsing Han from talking. Many high-ranking Thai police and military officials were on Lo’s extensive payroll, which helped to grease the smooth transportation of narcotics delivery by road from the Shan state to Thai ports, without being intercepted by police checkpoints.

The Ne Win regime promptly indicted him for treason and he was sentenced to death. In another twist to the saga, the verdict was soon set aside in favour of an 8 years jail term, much of it served comfortably under house arrest. Then in 1980 amnesty was granted and he returned to Lashio in Shan state.

The military junta’s intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt had spotted an opportunity to recycle the resourceful man from Kokang, who had contacts with everybody in the ethnic mosaic of the Shan state, to work for the regime in a new capacity.

A 1989 mutiny inside the communist BCP proved to be a major game-changer, which allowed Lo Hsing Han to play his newly assigned role as a broker of ceasefires.

His contacts with all the Shan, Kokang and Wa rebel armies helped General Khin Nyunt to conclude a series of ceasefire agreements, and in return the military junta happily re-licensed Lo to resume the opium and heroin trade in opposition to rival drug warlord Khun Sa, who was still fighting the government under the banner of Shan nationalism.

In 1992 Asia World Corporation was set up in Yangon as a family partnership between Lo Hsing Han the chairman and his son US- educated Steven Law, the managing director.

The company’s portfolio included: import-export business, bus transport, property development and Rangoon’s port development.

But it was Singapore ‘s decision to get into bed with the Lo family’s Asia world conglomerate with a stake in two new luxury hotel through the government’s investment arm GIS, that garnered most international attention.

According to research based on all the available date of Myanmar’s trade investment and revenue in the fiscal year 1995-6, no less than US$600 million income in the state treasury could not be accounted for.

This conspicuous gap in Myanmar’s bookkeeping at a time when their official economy was on the rocks, points to only one plausible explanation–a generous infusion of narco-dollars from the Golden Triangle coming from Lo. One of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs had come to the rescue of a faltering economy in dire straits.

The grand wedding of  Steven Law to Singaporean business partner Cecilia Ng in 1996  clearly helped to cement the growing ties between the military junta, Asia World, and Singapore investors..

The Lo family’s guest of honour was Hotels and Tourism Minister Lieut. General Kyaw Ba, accompanied by four more cabinet ministers, and two planeloads of wedding guests from Singapore. The special charter flights not only carried the bride’s relatives, but also investors from representing one of Asia’s most important financial hubs.

US officials claimed that half of Singapore’s investments in Myanmar have been tied to Lo’s family.

It was far more than a grand wedding bash. It symbolised Lo Hsing Han’s metamorphosis from a drug baron to a corporate respectability, and his acceptance by investors from a key member of the Asean business community.

Asia World established three subsidiaries in Singapore jointly run by Steven Law and his wife Cecilia Ng (Ng Sor Hong) she allegedly also runs an underground banking system facilitating money-laundering and safe tax havens for narco-dollars.

Although Singapore is proud of its mandatory death penalty for small-time narcotics couriers and heroin addicts, both father and son travelled freely in and out of the island city state.

Steven Law and his father had become VIPs in Burma, and welcome business partners in Singapore, but they were forbidden to enter the United States since 1996 on “suspicion of involvement in narcotics trafficking.”

Under new US sanctions imposed in 2008 Asia World and six of its subsidiaries were blacklisted and similar sanctions were applied by the UK.

But these sanctions have done little to hinder Asia World‘s dynamic expansion. The company built on the illicit black economy has thrived,  and currently  partners major companies from mainland China in several mega-projects including an oil and gas pipeline, a deep sea port at Kyaukpyu, and the controversial Myitsone dam project.

Another irony is that Lo was closely connected to Taiwan’s military intelligence for 30 years, and deployed his Shan and Kokang soldiers to fight against Beijing-backed Burmese communist party.

Asia World has its financial foundations built on the law of the Burmese jungle and the 3 Gs :Guns, Gold and Goons. But  Lo’ s legacy will casts a long shadow over the aspirations of many groups to move the economy out of the hands of the cronies, and towards a respect for environment, human rights and the development of a democracy.

This account of the Life and Times of Lo Hsin Han provided the basis for the obituary published in The Economist in July, 2013.


Filed under China, Cold War, Mekong River, Myanmar/Burma, Singapore, SLIDER

Regional Roundup for Week of 10.31.2013

October 28 Tiananmen Square Incident

China blames East Turkestan Islamic Movement for Beijing attack | The Guardian – China’s top security official has blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for organising the suicidal vehicle attack that killed five people in the heart of Beijing this week.

Meng Jianzhu, chief of the commission for political and legal affairs of the ruling Communist party, named the group in an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television when he was in the capital of Uzbekistan attending a regional security summit and seeking co-operation on counter-terrorism.

“The violent terrorist incident that happened in Beijing is an organised and plotted act. Behind the instigation is the terrorist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement entrenched in central and west Asian regions,” Meng said, in video footage aired on Thursday by Phoenix.

Meng gave no further detail, and the alleged terrorist group has not claimed responsibility.

Q. & A.: Philip Potter on the Growing Risk of Terrorism in China |NYTimes – In a forthcoming paper for Strategic Studies Quarterly, Philip Potter, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, writes that the dichotomy between China’s tough security posture in Xinjiang and the comparatively open society of the country’s east has created an incentive for attacks in cities like Beijing. In an email interview, he analyzed the history of separatist violence, the divide between the “two Chinas” and the likelihood that further crackdowns would exacerbate resentment in Xinjiang.

Seeing a Turning Point for China’s Thinking on Terrorism | Sinosphere – One of China’s leading experts on counterterrorism and foreign policy predicted on Thursday that the fiery crash of a vehicle three days earlier near the Chinese leadership’s compound at the edge of Tiananmen Square would lead to a broad reassessment of domestic security and China’s diplomacy.

Yang Jiemian, the president emeritus of the prestigious, government-financed Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the attack was an important moment for Chinese domestic and foreign policy.

“It will be quite a big impact on China — China will rethink its actual institutions and measures against terrorism,” he said Thursday in brief remarks after delivering a speech and taking questions in Hong Kong. “Tiananmen is symbolic, so this incident is symbolic.”

The Strangers | ChinaFile – If Xinjiang’s troubles seemed remote to residents of Beijing, the October 28 attack brought them much closer to home. “This is the first time that I’ve ever felt so close to a terrorist attack,” remarked one user of Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. Another tweeted, “My God, they can do this in front of Tiananmen? I’m very worried all of the sudden, how do they prevent this type of attacks in the future? Vehicle inspections?”

Uighurs, mostly Turkic-speaking Muslims living in Northwest China, are one of the country’s fifty-five officially recognized ethnic minorities. Anestimated 10 million Uighurs live in Xinjiang, making up approximately forty percent of its population, and bristle under heavy-handed restrictionsplaced on their language, religion, and way of life. Han officials there often fail to learn functional Uighur, and traditional Uighur male gatherings calledmeshrep are often banned as “illicit” or dispersed by police. // Excellent longform profile on Uighur/Han tension with nuanced explanations of historical conflicts and cultural differences.


Kunming Environmental Court toiling in obscurity|GoKunming  – A Kunming court established to try cases exclusively regarding the environment is still struggling to make a name for itself five years after being founded. In a story originally published by newspaper City Times, the Kunming Environmental Court is characterized as understaffed and largely unknown to the general public.

The idea to create the Kunming Environmental Court was originally proposed in September 2008 as news of heavy arsenic contamination in Yangzonghai (阳宗海) was breaking. The court is now subsidiary to the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court.

At the time of the Yangzonghai scandal, legal experts bemoaned the fact that Yunnan had no institutional body to deal with crimes against the environment. The China Environmental Law Blog characterized the Yangzonghai case as symptomatic of an enforcement problem:

[quote]…this wasn’t a case of turning a blind eye to polluters, it was a failure of the regulatory system to provide sufficient disincentives to pollution. In other words, the lake is polluted with arsenic because even maximum penalty amounts are so “trivial” that it makes economic sense to “pay to pollute.”[/quote]

Report: Yunnan drug war “extremely dangerous”|GoKunming – Yunnan has long had trouble policing its 966-kilometer border with Myanmar. Stemming the flow of drugs out of the Golden Triangle into the province is costly, time-consuming and has, in the past, been confused by a tangle of legal issues.

Increased international cooperation began in 2011 between the drug enforcement agencies of China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand following the murders of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River. Cross-border police collaboration has been credited with multiple high-profile seizures. Despite such successes, drugs continue to flow across Yunnan’s border, and by the size of recent busts, appear to be arriving in record quantities.

Drug-resistant malaria spreading through SE Asia | GoKunming – The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a drug-resistant disease has the potential to imperil millions unless immediate international action is taken. Although not new to science, the virulence of the strain has surprised health officials, who now say hundreds of millions of dollars are necessary to contain and combat further spread of the disease.

Malaria prevention efforts in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) have made significant strides in the past 15 years. The area, which is made up of Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s Yunnan province, have seen the incidence rate of malaria decline by 80 percent since 1998. This is due largely to increased cooperation between the seven countries, as well as an influx of money from international donors.

The WHO is now warning a strain of malaria resistant to artemisinin-based drugs — the standard prophylaxis used worldwide in the treatment of the disease — has developed in Thailand and Cambodia. If the spread of such a strain is left uncontained it could endanger the lives of millions in the GMS, Micronesia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Gearing Up for an Ultramarathon in Southwest China | Sinosphere – Long-distance running is increasingly popular in China, and 42-kilometer marathons in the big cities draw many participants. On Saturday, runners of the Dali 100, an ultramarathon of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, would pass through the lush heart of the Cangshan. More than 60 runners had signed up to run 100 kilometers and more than 80 to run 50 kilometers, [on a course] up to 4,092 meters, more than 13,400 feet, above sea level, equal to the heights of some of the highest peaks in the continental United States.


Chinese Communism and the 70-Year Itch |The Atlantic – China’s government is approaching an age that has often proven fatal for other single-party regimes. Will Xi Jinping make the necessary reforms to avoid a crisis?

The Seven Year Itch fashioned a classic American romantic comedy around the notion that after seven years of marriage, a spouse’s interest in a monogamous relationship starts to wane. There is an interesting parallel in politics; specifically, the life span of one-party regimes, though in this case we might call it the “70-year itch.” When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Communist Party had been in power for a little more than 70 years. Similarly, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled in Mexico from its founding in 1929 until its defeat in the 2000 elections—71 years.  Several of today’s remaining one-party authoritarian regimes have been in power 50 to 65 years, and there is good reason to think that they, too, are now facing the “70 year itch.” Part of the problem is that revolutionary one-party regimes like those in China, Vietnam, and Cuba cannot survive forever on the personal charisma of their founding leaders.

China’s Clean-Air Drive Likely to Take a Long Time | NYTimes – China’s pollution, while extremely severe, is not unique, and efforts by other countries, like Britain and the United States, to conquer dirty air may hold lessons for China’s future.

The Chinese government is working on the problem and recently announced new limits on pollutants along with a promise of increased monitoring. Public awareness has spiked, a necessary step toward ending the crisis. But the overriding message from other nations is a discouraging one: Serious change can take decades, especially when pollution is a byproduct of economic growth.

Another Look at the Empress Dowager Cixi, This Time as the Great Modernizer | Sinosphere  – Jung Chang presents the subject of her biography as neither the cruel despot nor the easily manipulated ruler that the Chinese Communist Party and other critics have long portrayed.

Changing the economy: The long weekend |The Economist – Running the world’s biggest country requires sacrifice. For the Communist Party’s top 376 officials on its central committee, the sacrifice includes the occasional weekend. From Saturday November 9th until the following Tuesday, they will gather in Beijing for the third time since Xi Jinping became head of the party nearly a year ago. The “third plenum”, as this meeting will be called, is the new leadership’s chance to lay out its stall on economic reform. In the past similar gatherings have shaken the world. The third plenum in 1978, for example, sealed Deng Xiaoping’s authority over the party, allowing his vision of “reform and opening up” to prevail. Another third plenum, in 1993, set the stage for a ruthless shake-out of loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Hopes of Market Reforms in China Tempered by Political Realities | Sinosphere – China’s leaders head toward a major policy-setting conference next month bearing heady expectations that they have encouraged, and a proposal from a prominent government research organization has magnified speculation that they will embrace bold pro-market overhauls. The grinding realities of politics, however, are likely to force proponents of such overhauls to settle for more modest changes, experts said.

Trial By TV: What Does a Reporter’s Arrest and Confession Tell Us About Chinese Media? | ChinaFile – The latest ChinaFile Conversation focuses on the case of Chen Yongzhou, the Guangzhou New Express journalist whose series of investigative reports exposed fraud at the Changsha, Hunan-based heavy machinery maker Zoomlion. Chen later was arrested and then, last weekend, exposed himself (and his newspaper) in a nationally televised confession as a recipient of bribes from unidentified third parties paying him for his reports on Zoomlion. Ever since Chen admitted his wrongdoing, Chinese netizens’ discussion of Chen’s case has included speculation [Chinese link] that Chen was targeted by the company he exposed. But who was paying him? Was it Zoomlion’s chief competitor, Sany? What do we make of confessions given on state television rather than in a court of law?

Bo Xilai May Have Gotten Off Easy |ChinaFile – Given the patterns of sentencing of other officials convicted of taking similarly large sums of money through bribes and graft, Bo Xilai’s sentence was comparatively light. Hu Jintao removed more officials from office for corruption—both in absolute numbers and on a yearly basis—than did his predecessor, Jiang Zemin. The officials who fell during Hu’s era were subject to stiffer penalties than their Jiang-era counterparts.

Innovation in China |ChinaFile – In China, innovation has become one of those political buzzwords which—like harmony—seems to mean anything and everything to the Central Propaganda Department. So much so that we find it difficult to walk down the streets in Beijing now without getting accosted by giant character banners encouraging us to economic feats of creative daring. But how much of what passes for innovation in China is actually the least bit innovative?

Gaming China’s Art Market With Expert Forgeries | Sinosphere – All over China, hundreds, if not thousands, of workshops are producing replicas of ancient relics and artifacts, in bronze, ceramics, jade and silver. Some workshops specialize in paintings made in the style of an ancient master, using old paper, inks and seals. While many objects are marketed for what they are — high-quality replicas, or imitations of old works — experts say the most sophisticated pieces are good enough to fool connoisseurs and often sell at Chinese auction houses, helping fuel this country’s booming art market.

Popular pastimes: Dancing queens | The Economist – A man in Changping, on the edge of the capital, had allegedly fired a shotgun into the air and set loose three Tibetan mastiffs to scare away a group of women whose public dancing annoyed him. The man was arrested, but received much sympathy online. Groups of people, often older women, dancing in public, are an increasingly common sight in Chinese cities. In the early morning and evening they set up loudspeakers in parks or squares to exercise, gossip and show off a little. They call it guangchangwu, or “square dancing”, after the venues where they meet. Many people grumble about the grannies and their throbbing music. Altercations often break out.

Don’t Expect Golf to Catch On in China | Asia Life – Both Chinese and Western entrepreneurs have spent at least a decade now trying to give golf some momentum in the world’s most populous nation. There are more major golf events held in China than ever before. The biggest stars are dropping by to play exhibitions annually, and a handful of Chinese golfers are making appearances in the sport’s biggest tournaments.  But despite the brilliance of Liang Wen-Chong, Guan Tianlang and a few other up-and-coming stars, golf is not catching on as either a spectator sport or, especially, a participatory sport in China.


Australia Said to Play Part in N.S.A. Effort | NYTimes – Australia, a close ally of the United States, has used its embassies in Asia to collect intelligence as part of the National Security Agency’s global surveillance efforts, according to a document leaked by the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden and published this week in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.  The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted angrily on Thursday to the assertions in the document, which also said that the American Embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai and Chengdu operated special intelligence gathering facilities, and it demanded an explanation from the United States.

A Game of Shark and Minnow |NYTimes Multimedia – Ayungin Shoal lies 105 nautical miles from the Philippines. There’s little to commend the spot, apart from its plentiful fish and safe harbor — except that Ayungin sits at the southwestern edge of an area called Reed Bank, which is rumored to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas. And also that it is home to a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, the small detachment of Filipino troops stationed there struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation. Of all places, the scorched shell of the Sierra Madre has become an unlikely battleground in a geopolitical struggle that will shape the future of the South China Sea and, to some extent, the rest of the world. // Excellent multimedia presentation highlighting the complexities of South China Sea dispute.

Claws and fire | Southeast Asia Globe Magazine – With the global shift of power continuing its easterly migration, India is attaching greater importance to its historical relations with Vietnam, a gateway to one of the world’s most promising trading blocs: ASEAN.

The Curious Case of India and China | India Ink – During his recent visit to China, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India said that when the two Asian giants shake hands, the world takes notice. Although the statement stands true, the real question to ask is whether the media and the security and diplomatic community in the two countries make much of this handshake. It can be argued India-China relations comprise a slew of missed opportunities, and these two have added yet another chapter to this narrative.

Wikipedia China Becomes Front Line for Views on Language and Culture | NYTimes – Even innocuous topics have become controversial for Wikipedia editors from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and compounding the issue are language differences. Wikipedia editors, all volunteers, present opposing views on politics, history and traditional Chinese culture — in essence, different versions of China. Compounding the issue are language differences: Mandarin is the official language in mainland China and Taiwan, while the majority in Hong Kong speak Cantonese. But mainland China uses simplified characters, while Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional script.That has led to articles on otherwise innocuous topics becoming flash points, and has caused controversial entries to be restricted.


Brunei Becomes First East Asian State to Adopt Sharia Law |ASEAN Beat – This week, Brunei made waves across Southeast Asia when Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced that he would move his nation towards implementing Islamic Sharia law into its national penal code. The Sultan has ruled Brunei since 1967 and possesses absolute executive authority as head of state. While Sharia had previously existed in Brunei in the form of an Islamic court, its role was mainly restricted to dealing with family law and disputes. Notably, the new penal code will only be applicable to Muslims–about two-thirds of Brunei’s 420,000 residents. Under the new penal code, violators will be subject to brutal capital punishment including having their limbs severed for theft and stoning for adulterers.


Cambodian Protests Continue, Hun Sen Open to Talks | ASEAN Beat – Cambodia’s political opposition has wrapped-up three days of peaceful protests and marches on foreign embassies, demanding international support for its push to have an independent inquiry conducted into the controversial results of the July 28 elections. The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) insists the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen cheated at the poll, which gave opposition leader Sam Rainsy 55 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, still a sharp improvement over its previous standing.

Last Words From the Khmer Rouge as Tribunal End Nears | ASEAN Beat – Ever since Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the United Nations for help in constructing a legal process capable of putting surviving leaders of the dreaded Khmer Rouge in the dock, Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal has never been far from controversy. In closing arguments on the final day of the current Khmer Rouge trial, former Brother Number Two and the communist party chief ideologue Nuon Chea, 87, blamed the government in Hanoi, as well as Vietnamese and American infiltrators, for atrocities committed here during their 1975-79 rule and the period that followed, when the country was occupied by Vietnamese troops. Nuon Chea said that he and the Khmer Rouge were not responsible for the killings, nor deaths attributed to starvation and forced labor.


In Indonesia, a Push for Prohibition Strikes Fear | NYTimes – A draft bill submitted to Indonesia’s Parliament earlier this year that called for a ban on alcohol in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country has stirred unease among the country’s predominantly moderate Muslims and fear among those who make their living in tourism, from upscale hotels in the capital, Jakarta, to beach bars and theme restaurants on the resort island of Bali.

Indonesia Accused of Using Australian Helicopters in West Papua ‘genocide’ | The Guardian – Helicopters supplied by Australia were used by Indonesia in a “genocidal” crackdown on civilians in West Papua in the 1970s, a new report has claimed. The report, conducted by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, says two Iroquois helicopters from Australia were among the aircraft deployed by the Indonesian military in the central highlands of Papua in 1977 and 1978.


Letter from Laos: river reverie | The Guardian – A brief moment during a journey on the Mekong river brings together women from two different worlds.


Malaysian University Lauds North Korean Economic Policy | ASEAN Beat – A Malaysian university has doffed its cap to North Korea and awarded its latest dear leader, Kim Jong-un an honorary doctorate in economics. A simple ceremony was held earlier this month to confer the title, which raised more than a few eyebrows in academia and on the diplomatic circuit. Privately-run HELP University made the conferment. It’s President, Paul Chan, said the decision was all about building a bridge to reach the North Korean people with “a soft constructive approach” when dealing with leaders of the hermit kingdom. Predictably, the government’s mouth piece, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) lauded the PhD while ignoring the plight of its own people and the economic policies that saddled them among the poorest in world – earning less than $1,300 a year each.

Public enemies | SEA Globe Editorial – Gang warfare has gripped Malaysia, and while authorities have upped their game against organised crime, little is being done to address the roots of the problem. Statistics released by the police show that there were 15,098 murders and robberies in the first half of this year, fanning the flames of public fear over organised crime.“A large portion of violence is related to organised groups,” said Teoh El Sen, a Malaysia-based journalist at Astro Awani television news channel, who has been following the gang issue for years. “Gang fights occur on a daily basis. The objectives of unorganised groups are simple and their capabilities are limited compared to gangs.”


Military MP Says Army Chief Could Become Candidate for President |Irrawaddy News Magazine – The leader of Burma’s military lawmakers has said the group wants to nominate current Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing for president following the 2015 elections. The plan is possible because the country’s president is elected by Parliament, where military officers hold a quarter of the seats.

Burma’s Ethnic Groups Split Over Constitutional Reform | Irrawaddy News Magazine – The question of what to do about the nation’s military-drafted Constitution is dividing Burma’s ethnic minority groups, with some in favor of completely scrapping the charter and drafting a new one from scratch, while others would like to see the existing Constitution amended.

Burma’s Treasure Hunt: $10M Expedition to Recover World’s Largest Bell | ASEAN Beat – A Burmese businessman and politician has announced that he will pay $10 million for an expedition to recover the Dhammazedi Bell – a legendary bell that has been missing for more than 400 years, thought to be at the bottom of the Yangon (Rangoon) River. Khin Shwe, the owner of one of Burma’s largest construction and real estate firms – as well as a member of the Upper House of parliament – follows a long line of “treasure hunters” who have failed to locate the 270-ton bell, said to be the largest in the world.


Why Singapore Doesn’t Count the Poor | ASEAN Beat – Singapore, one of the richest countries in the world, has 20 billionaires and 188,000 millionaires. But curiously, the government doesn’t know the exact number of its poor households. Maybe Kishore Mahbubani, a former diplomat, was correct when he wrote in 2001 that poverty has already been eradicated and that there were no longer “homeless, destitute or starving people” in Singapore. But this seems a bold claim to make in light of the recently documented hardships faced by many ordinary Singaporeans. Perhaps it’s more accurate to mention that the lack of poverty data is related to the government’s refusal to define the country’s poverty line.


Thai Amnesty Paves Way for Thaksin’s Return | ASEAN Beat – Controversial legislation that will grant an amnesty for thugs, politicians, protesters and military personnel caught up in the anti-government demonstrations of recent years has been passed by the Thai parliament. The bill will also allow for the return home of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand Tops Foreign Worker Satisfaction Survey | ASEAN Beat – Expats have heaped praise on Thailand, ranking the country number one in a survey of the overall “experience” for foreign workers. The survey, conducted by HSBC, contains feedback from more than 7000 expatriates living in nearly 100 countries. Thailand was said to be the easiest country for a foreign worker to set up, integrate and make friends.Thailand was also named as the most cost-effective country, due to the low cost of living but generally higher earning potential. About 60 percent of respondents added that Thai food and culture contributed to a healthier lifestyle.

Wanted: wealthy tourists | SEA Globe –  Thailand’s tourism authority is now eager to attract credit card-toting tourists, rather than the guidebook-bearing travellers who have frequented the Kingdom for the past two decades. The tourism and services sector currently represents 50.3% of national GDP and 44.5% of total employment, according to the finance ministry, although Thailand’s appeal has varied little in the past 20 years.



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