Category Archives: NEWS DIGEST

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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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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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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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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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.26.13


China sweeps aside civilians in rush for hydropower – The Guardian  European expertise is helping China expand its hydroelectric capacity on a scale that dwarfs similar global initiatives. The great grey wall cuts across the valley of the Jinsha river, a tributary of the Yangtze. Downstream from the dam, the yellow water gushes down the spillway from China’s third most powerful hydroelectric plant. It races on past the city of Xiangjiaba, on the border between the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, a featureless place with a maze of factories and chimneys built into the urban fabric. Its only claim to fame is the wall 200 metres high that now overshadows it.// Great overview of the immediate human cost of hydropower. 

Remembering, and Forgetting, the Flying Tigers – NYT An neglected graveyard in south China has reopened a debate over how the country remembers its World War II veterans.  Few of my Chinese friends in Kunming know much about about the Flying Tigers… A ‘Flying Tigers Trail’ tour from Kunming to Mandalay would be a great trip.

Hoy Fong’s Sriracha Hot Sauce: How It Earned a Place Beside Ketchup and Mustard – The Diplomat David Tran came to the United States in 1980, fleeing the arrival of North Vietnamese forces into his native South Vietnam. A South Vietnamese army major, Tran loaded his family onto a Taiwanese freighter, called the Hoy Fong, and embarked for a new life in Los Angeles. That ship would one day become his company’s namesake, and Tran would become the reluctant founder of a multi-million-dollar hot sauce empire, realizing the American dream without ever searching for it.// A wonderful piece on a sauce everyone uses. Tran’s story is fascinating, certainly not your normal millionaire.

China and Iran: Destined to Clash? – The Diplomat Even as the U.S. considers Iran’s nuclear program as its most immediate threat, a consensus has emerged in the U.S. foreign policy establishment that China’s rise poses the biggest long-term strategic challenge to the country. There is little indication that a similar consensus has taken hold among Iranian elites. It will.

The future of Laos: A bleak landscape – The Economist THE Airbus A320 was ordered by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, but somehow ended up as the prized possession of Lao Airlines. From a window seat flying above Laos a visitor gets a sense of the state’s weaknesses. Deforestation stretches all the way to the Chinese border. It is so recent and so extreme that scientists from Sweden’s Lund university picked Laos as a testing ground for a new method of monitoring economic activity from space.

Banyan: Across the party wall – The Economist IF THE following pressing themes remind you of China, spare a thought for Vietnam: a debate over the constitution; efforts to curb the privileges of state-owned enterprises; fury over official corruption; poorly compensated land-grabs; new restrictions on online dissent; a recognition that further economic reform is not just desirable but essential; and, in politics, evidence of fierce factional struggles among high leaders.China and Vietnam have two of the few Communist Parties still in power, so it is hardly surprising that they face many of the same problems.//Most of Vietnam’s political system modeled after China’s. Too bad they decided borrow corruption and crackdowns on dissent.

Journalist’s Call for ‘de-Americanized World’ Provokes Alarm in U.S., Fart Jokes in China – Tea Leaf Nation As fears mounted this week about a possible (and now, it seems, averted) U.S. government default, the U.S. press stumbled upon an October 13 editorial in Xinhua, China’s largest news agency, calling for a “de-Americanized world” in light of Washington’s fiscal dysfunction. News outlets including CBSUSA Today, and Bloomberg picked up the editorial, while the Los Angeles Times ran a story with the headline “Upset over U.S. fiscal crisis, China urges a ‘de-Americanized world.’

The United States Is Quietly Losing Its Innovation Edge to China – CFR  I am not a supporter of the faddish idea that America is in decline. Despite all the hullabaloo about the rise of China, the United States still boasts the most formidable military force and the largest, most innovative economy. But as a student of international studies, I am keenly aware that the rise and fall of great nations are often associated with significant historical events.//America may be losing its innovation edge but the world isn’t always a zero-sum game between China and the US. Would be interesting to see who else is taking away from the US’s innovation edge  other than China.


Court Upholds Life Sentence for Bo Xilai – NYT Though the fallen Chinese politician’s story has been full of twists, the High People’s Court in the city of Jinan did exactly what everyone expected it would do.

Response to a City’s Smog Points to a Change in Chinese Attitude – NYT Rising concern about pollution in China and a more active response signal that some officials are serious about tackling the chronic problem.

China hit by another airpocalypse as air pollution cancer link confirmed | Jennifer Duggan – The GuardianCityscapes shrouded in thick smog have become a common scene in China. Last winter, Beijing’s ‘airpocalypse‘ garnered headlines worldwide and generated much anger and debate within China. But this week, air pollution levels in the northeastern city of Harbin surpassed the previous record levels in Beijing.

Xi sets out priorities for foreign policy – The Economist President Xi Jinping called for a comprehensive strategy to engage China’s neighbours as he laid down foreign policy directions at a two-day conference that ended yesterday.

China’s PLA Marines: An Emerging ForceThe Diplomat As part of its Pacific pivot, the United States has been making substantial increases in its Asia-based forces, including a bolstering of the U.S. Marine Corps amphibious combat capabilities. One hypothetical scenario that the Navy and Marine Corps train for would be a strike against Taiwan and a possible amphibious combined force invasion carried out by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). A key spearhead of any such action would be the PLA Marines.

Expanded force supports US ‘pivot’ to Asia, says admiral – The Economist The United States has significantly increased its warship and aircraft deployments in Asia despite Washington’s budget woes, adding punch to its “pivot” to the region, a senior naval commander said.

China’s Arms Industry Makes Global Inroads – NYT From drones to frigates to fighter jets, Chinese companies are aggressively pushing sales of high-tech hardware, mostly in the developing world.

Outspoken Chinese Professor Says He Was Dismissed – NYT Xia Yeliang, an economist, believes Peking University made its decision because of his public support for democratization and criticism of the Communist Party.

Michael Sullivan obituary – The Guardian The art historian Michael Sullivan, who has died aged 96, was one of the most distinguished experts in the field of Chinese art. He had a matchless personal experience of the civilisation that became his life’s work, and amassed the leading private collection of modern Chinese art outside the country.

Author bows to Chinese censorship of his Deng Xiaoping biography – The Guardian Ezra F Vogel says it was ‘better to have 90% of the book available there than zero’ A Harvard professor and scholar of Chinese history has bowed to state censors in return for having his book distributed in China, as the gradual opening up of the country’s book market raises such issues for growing numbers of western authors.

P2P Companies: The Movers and Shakers of China’s Shadow BankingThe Diplomat Credit in China is like a leaky spigot–impossible to turn off all the way. When major banks were told to stop or slow lending this spring, shadow banking emerged to fill in the gaps.

To Save or Not to Save – Tea Leaf Nation China is known for saving money, and as the country has become wealthier, the household saving rate has increased. China’s personal saving rate has risen steadily since the mid-90s and now exceeds 50%, much higher than Germany’s 10%—considered high among developed countries—and more than ten times the United States’ saving rate (which is falling) of 4.6%.

Kunming’s illegal street racing scene – GoKunming The ongoing obsession with car ownership in Kunming has given rise to many previously uncommon occurrences. These include daily rush hour traffic jams and epic weekend gridlock along highways feeding into central Kunming. Despite the attendant inconveniences, owning a vehicle in the city has become synonymous with status.



A’ is for effort – SEA Globe Literacy and enrolment rates have improved, but Asean now faces a tougher challenge – developing quality education

Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea – The Diplomat Among the claimants and littoral states of the South China Sea (SCS), the Philippines and Vietnam have been the most vocal in expressing their alarm and concern over growing Chinese assertiveness in this strategic and resource-rich regional commons

Indian foreign affairs: Eastern promise – The Economist THE more embattled a leader is at home, the brighter the lure of foreign horizons. Manmohan Singh’s growing collection of air miles makes the point. His trip early this week to Russia, his ninth as India’s prime minister, was followed on October 22nd by one to China.

Beijing pushes India’s Singh on trade corridor – GoKunming Thursday marked the end of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to Beijing. He visited the Chinese capital for three days of high-level meetings with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克强) and President Xi Jinping (习近平) that representatives of both governments characterized as “historic”.

The big freeze – SEA Globe A cool breeze is drifting across the tropics as ice skating rinks become increasingly popular in the region. Cold air gushes into the elevator as the doors open at the tenth floor. It is a welcome respite in Cambodia, a country more familiar with the hot and humid than with the crisp and fresh.

 The lady of lost cities – SEA Globe Famed archaeologist Patrizia Zolese has already saved ancient sites in Laos and Vietnam. Now she is turning her attention to one of Myanmar’s greatest lost civilisations

Regional Cooperation in Central Asia: 12 Things to Know ADB In an increasingly integrated world, regional cooperation is key to the long-term prosperity of nations. Here are 12 things to know about regional cooperation among the countries in Central Asia and between Central Asia and its neighbors.

ADB Invests to Help Drive Energy Efficiency in Southeast Asia – ADB Hospitals, hotels, shopping malls, and many other businesses in Southeast Asian countries are expected to adopt cost-effective, energy-saving solutions once positive results are demonstrated through pioneering energy efficiency projects funded by ADB

Canadian Weed Finds Export Market in Asia —  The Irrawaddy For the young Vietnamese dope smokers rolling up outside a smart Hanoi cafe, local cannabis is just not good enough. As with their Adidas caps, IPhones and Sanskrit tattoos, so with their choice of bud: Only foreign will do. Potent marijuana grown indoors in Canada and the United States is easy to buy in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, say regular smokers, and it sells for up to 10 times the price of locally grown weed. That’s perhaps surprising given that marijuana is easy to cultivate regionally, and bringing drugs across continents is expensive and risky.

Erickson and Strange: Pragmatic Partners, the Unsung Story of U.S.-China Anti-Piracy Coordination – CFR  U.S.-China maritime engagement, particularly in China’s nautical periphery, remains rife with mistrust, overlapping interests, and uncertainty. Strong official statements and emotionally charged saber rattling characterize much of the discourse in this region. In August 2012, for example, PLAN Rear Admiral and frequent CCTV commentator Zhang Zhaozhong declared that the United States would “run like rabbits” in the event of Sino-Japanese conflict over East China Sea territorial disputes. Indeed, the two maritime powers are arguably primarily competitors, as opposed to partners, in the contested Near Seas.

South Korea and Vietnam Between Beijing and Washington – CFR One of the most dramatic effects of China’s economic rise has been the potential strategic dilemma facing South Korea (and the other countries in East Asia), as it depends on relations with China as a major source of economic growth while it still relies on Washington for security. As reflected in President Park Geun-hye’s discussion of the “Asian paradox” and her Northeast Asian cooperation proposals, South Korea’s strategic preference is to avoid having to make a choice between Washington and Beijing.



Cambodian Flood Victims Drowning in Debt – The Diplomat With tears streaming down her face, 36-year-old El Sarifat describes how she is “terrified” of losing the modest wooden two-tier home she shares with 13 relatives. She returned to the house that perches on stilts over the Sangkae River, Battambong province last Friday after it was completely submerged by this year’s month-long flooding, which to date has left 134 confirmed dead.



Malaysian PM Shores-Up SupportThe Diplomat Internal elections within the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have resulted in Prime Minister Najib Razak shoring-up his support base amid increased competition from old party stalwarts and despite a poor showing at the May national poll. Among those who attempted to stamp themselves as potential future leaders were Mukhriz Mahathir, 48. The son of Malaysia’s longest serving leader Mahathir Mohammad, his political maneuvers have been widely viewed as an attempt protect his father’s controversial legacy.



President Thein Sein Will Not Seek Second Term: Shwe Mann – The Irrawaddy Burma President Thein Sein, who has steered a wave of reforms since the end of military rule, will not be seeking a second term at the next election in 2015, the leader of his party said on Thursday.

Myanmar’s Lawless LandThe Diplomat There’s no doubt that Myanmar is a country in transition. Even its harshest critics admit that the government is initiating reforms. Laws have been passed that allow participation in politics and increased media freedom. Many political prisoners have been freed, travel restrictions have been eased and ceasefire agreements have been brokered with ethnic armed groups.

Burma sectarian violence motivated by fear, says Aung San Suu Kyi – The Guardian Burmese opposition leader stops short of condemning anti-Muslim violence and insists no ethnic cleansing is taking place in Radio 4 interview. Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has stopped short of directly condemning anti-Muslim violence in the country and said that it was motivated by fear.

UN warns of ‘profound crisis’ in Arakan state – DVB The Burmese government is responsible for fuelling a “profound crisis” in Arakan state, where several bouts of Muslim-Buddhist clashes have claimed hundreds of lives since last year, according to a damning UN report released on Wednesday.

Myanmar Air Services Grow Rapidly Despite Safety Record – Reuters Passenger numbers are surging as new airlines spring up and foreign carriers rush in. Some officials and executives talk of turning Myanmar into a regional hub.

Myanmar: Police Have Theory for Blasts – AP A series of bombings in Myanmar was aimed at scaring away foreign investors, the national police chief said Friday.

Fresh protests erupt near Latpadaung copper mine – DVB Over 150 locals in central Burma’s Monywa staged another round of protests against the controversial China-backed Latpadaung copper mine on Wednesday after police and security guards began bulldozing their farms on the project site.

Karenni army signs seven-point agreement with Burmese govt – DVB The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) has signed a seven-point agreement with the government aimed at reaching a nationwide ceasefire in Burma.

Punishments Reduced, But Burma’s Harsh Online Law Remains – The Irrawaddy Burma’s restrictive Electronic Transactions Law, under which political dissidents were in the past imprisoned for sending or receiving “detrimental” e-mails, remains in place for now, though work continues to have the code revised or replaced.



Singapore’s ‘Tuition Industrial Complex’ – The Diplomat Policymakers are debating the social impact of private tuition or tutoring classes which have proliferated in recent years. The numbers are simply staggering: More than 90 percent of primary students are enrolled in after-school tuition centers while parents spend an estimated $680 million annually on tutoring services. Soon, it will be a billion-dollar industry.



Nation in mourning— The Nation Thirty-day period of mourning; thousands pay obeisance as Supreme Patriarch’s body is taken to Wat Bowonnives Vihara

Talks With Thai Insurgents Stall – CFR The Thai government recently announced that its peace talks with several representatives of the southern Thai insurgents have been postponed indefinitely. As Anthony Davis notes in an excellent piece on Asia Times, this step was hardly a surprise; since Ramadan, when there was supposed to be a temporary cease-fire, violence has once again surged in the south, while Army Commander in Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered forces in the south to take more aggressive measures.

Left to Languish, Costly Fire Trucks Present a Reminder of Thai Dysfunction – NYT As millions of dollars in never-used fire equipment decays in a parking lot, justice against two former officials convicted of malfeasance and bid-rigging remains elusive and questions of bribery remain.



In Vietnam, the Skies Are Filling – REUTERS As local competition heats up with fleet expansions, new routes and planned share offerings, the country’s airline industry is poised for a boom.
State capitalism in Vietnam: Blowing in the trade winds – The Economist BY SOME measures, Vietnam’s economy is moving at a brisk clip. The double-digit inflation that prevailed in 2011 has subsided, and exports of textiles and electronics are booming. Foreign direct investment is up by 36% year-on-year, according to Fitch, a ratings agency.Yet GDP growth is rumbling along slowly: just 5% last year, the slowest pace since 1999.


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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.19.2013

Just links this week.

ExSE Focus

China may be in much better shape than it looks – But what if the official data were wrong? That is the intriguing claim by two academics, Jun Zhang and Tian Zhu, respectively of Fudan University and China Europe International Business School, who argue that consumption has been consistently underreported. In a recent paper they find three important areas of undercounting. One is housing…Second, they say, a lot of private consumption shows up in statistics as corporate expenses…Third, and most important, they argue, GDP surveys underrepresent high earners, who may not relish the idea of officials with clipboards noting down their every expenditure…Taking these three factors together, the two academics calculate that China underestimates consumption by 10-12 percentage points.// Interesting article, even more so if true, although 12 percentage points seems a little high.

Chinese Reaches Out Again – This Time to Vietnam – China Real Time Report – WSJ Mr. Li’s Vietnam visit to Hanoi follows his visit to Thailand last week, where he signed memoranda of understanding covering trade, infrastructure development and energy. Earlier this month, ahead of major international summits in Brunei and Bali, Indonesia, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed business cooperation agreements worth a potential $5 billion with Malaysia, and $28 billion with Indonesia.//As expected, APEC conference spurs a new set of business deals for SEA states and China. Li’s visit to Vietnam, however, more about South China Sea Issue than trade. 

Chinese state media calls for ‘de-Americanised’ world after US shutdown | South China Morning Post As US politicians of both political parties (fail to find a) viable deal to bring normality to the body politic they brag about, it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanised world,” the commentary on state news agency Xinhua said… In a lengthy polemic against American hegemony since the second world war, it added: “Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated. //This article is getting a lot of play abroad. People shouldn’t conflate “de-Americanized” with “un-Americanized. Can’t say I disagree with the premise however. 

Laos plane crash leaves dozens dead| The Guardian An aircraft has crashed into the Mekong river in Laos, killing 39 people. A Lao Airlines official said the plane had crashed at about 4pm local time near Pakse, Champasak province, which is on the borders of both Thailand and Cambodia. Thai television showed a photograph of the ATR 72 turboprop plane partly submerged in shallow water on a stretch of the Mekong, the tail severed. Another television channel showed what appeared to be several bodies on the bank of the river. A television station in neighboring Thailand said 39 people had been killed. Lao Airlines is the national carrier of the communist state and has operated since 1976. Its aircraft carried 658,000 passengers last year and it has a fleet of just 14 planes, mostly propeller-driven. It operates on seven domestic routes and has international flights to China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.// Terrible accident, ExSE wishes to express its condolences to the victims’ families and friends.

Infrastructure spending in Thailand: Fast train coming | The Economist The centrepiece of the spending plan is a network of high-speed railway lines to connect the country’s four main regions with Bangkok. (Smaller dollops of cash are to be earmarked for roads and ports.) Two of the lines are part of a broader plan to link China’s Yunnan province with Singapore…China has been looking for reassurances from Ms Yingluck’s government that Thailand’s future really can be expected to pull into the station by 2020. That is when China plans to connect Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to Thailand. In the meantime China plans to sink $6.2 billion into a passenger and freight railway that will run from Kunming to Vientiane, tunnelling through 196km of mountains to get there.//Controversial project in both Thailand and Laos. If completed it would completely transform the region, and if not, could sink the Lao economy. Good primer for those interested.  


China Consumer Prices Rise 3.1% as Factory-Gate Deflation Eases – Bloomberg The consumer price index rose 3.1 percent from a year earlier, the bureau said. That exceeded the 2.8 percent median estimate of 44 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News and compared with a 2.6 percent gain in August. Producer prices fell 1.3 percent from a year earlier. The median projection of analysts was for a decline of 1.4 percent after a 1.6 percent drop the previous month

Alibaba to transform China’s ‘e-conomy’ with $500 billion marketplace | Reuters CEO Jonathan Lu says Alibaba expects to nearly triple the volume of transactions on its marketplaces to about 3 trillion yuan ($490 billion) by 2016, overtaking Wal-Mart Stores Inc as the world’s biggest retail network. …”The old companies that aren’t willing to transform will be wiped out by competition,” said Zeng Ming, Alibaba’s chief strategy officer. “Most traditional retailers now understand if they don’t move online, their time is limited.” Analysts predict e-commerce will account for a fifth of total retail sales in China within 5 years, up from just 6 percent last year.

China May Allow Foreign Firms to Sell Shares in Free-Trade Zone – The proposed platform, effectively an over-the-counter market, is likely to serve as a test for the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s international board, which would allow foreign companies to sell shares via initial public offerings ahead of listings in China. Shanghai Equity Exchange, in which Shanghai Stock Exchange owns 29%, is considering developing a platform that would enable foreign companies registered in the free-trade zone to sell shares, the second person said. A time frame hasn’t been specified.

Guangdong Eyes a Huge Free Trade Zone of Its Own – Caixin The government of Guangdong Province is mulling a free trade zone that would include its special economic zones, Hong Kong and Macau, an official in Shenzhen says. Tao Peng, director of the trade promotion department of the Shenzhen Qianhai Administration Bureau, said Guangdong will propose a plan to the central government. The plan involves a free trade area that links the Shenzhen Qianhai Special Economic Zone, the Guangzhou Nansha Special Economic Zone, the Zhuhai Hengqin Special Economic Zone, Hong Kong and Macau.

Can Wuhan, With Its Auto Factories, Become the Detroit of China? – China Real Time Report – WSJBut in its quest to become the Chinese auto capital, this city on the front line of China’s manic drive to rapid urbanization is also learning that the combination of too many cars and too many people can be toxic. “Congestion is everywhere. Subways and elevated highways are being built along the vital streets, narrowing the four-lane roads into two-lane ones, while electric bicyclists always intrude into the motorways,” said Li Fuyuan, a 33-year-old taxi driver in Wuhan. Even compared with other cities in the midst of their own construction boom such as Xian, the scale of building in Wuhan is staggering.

Why Xi’s APEC Summit Remarks Are Being Misinterpreted – Caixin–Hu Shuli Unfortunately, some commentators took their analysis of Xi’s words too far, and concluded that they were in fact anti-reform and anti-West. What is the cause and intention of such misinterpretation? At heart, it reflects people’s doubts that reform and opening up is the right path for China. At every step of the road to opening up, interest groups have opposed such efforts and seized on people’s fear of change to create a false mood of nostalgia for the “good old days.” As a result, many people have begun to doubt if reforms are truly needed, and if the government’s resolve to undertake them is truly firm. Xi’s speech in Bali will help to dispel some of these doubts.

China: Urbanization and Hukou Reform | The Diplomat However, genuine and substantive change will only come if hukou reform is pursued as part of a comprehensive and coherent urbanization strategy that addresses rather than ignores many of the related but highly contentious issues. It seems whether this will happen is currently the subject of fierce debate inside the Communist Party. If agreement can be forged and hukou reform is tackled alongside much-needed changes to land and fiscal policy then it looks likely China’s new urbanization strategy will play an important part in shifting the country to a more sustainable development path. If not, further urbanization will in all likelihood only exacerbate many of the already serious problems facing China.

Religion as the Solution to China’s Moral Decline Hard Pill to Swallow for Communist Party – China Real Time Report – WSJ As longtime China watcher Karla Simon notes in an impressive new book, “Civil Society in China: The Legal Framework from Ancient Tiems to the ‘New Reform Era,’” China has already begun to see a proliferation of nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations that  express values based on ethical, cultural, scientific, religious and philanthropic principles.  By the end of 2012, Simon writes, there were about 460,000 social organizations registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Some are closely linked to government agencies, while others have greater autonomy. But she estimates there are probably around “ten times that many” in existence.

Yet Another Way to Mock China’s New Rich – Tuhao isn’t a new term. Combining the character tu, which means dirt or soil, with the character hao, which can mean despotic or bullying, it is translated in many dictionaries simply as “local tyrant.” Until recently, the phrase had been most commonly associated with a popular slogan used by the Communists during the 1930s: da tuhao, fen tian di (打土豪、分田地), meaning “overthrow the local tyrants and divide the land.” But in a bit of clever wordplay — a national pastime in China — Internet users have managed to deploy this traditional term with Marxist overtones against the new class of wealthy businessmen and officials, and their relatives, who are thriving in what is still supposed to be a socialist nation marching toward an egalitarian utopia. The tu now draws on its colloquial use as a synonym for unrefined or vulgar, and hao picks up a new tone from the Chinese phrase fuhao (富豪), which means rich and powerful.

New Report Says 15% of Corruption Accusations Against China’s Officials Are Made by Mistresses – China Real Time Report – WSJ China’s official Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday that mistresses served as accusers in 15% of corruption cases recently exposed online. The Xinhua report was based on a study conducted by the Center for Public Opinion Monitoring at the government-backed Legal Daily newspaper and was based on an analysis of 26 allegations of corruption made online between January and September. The study found that merchants made up the biggest share of accusers at nearly 27%. Others included businessmen, journalists, other officials and ordinary Internet users. The study didn’t say how many of the allegations were proven to be true.

A Muzzled Chinese Artwork, Absent but Speaking Volumes – The Ullens Center decided that the current chill on expression in China — most obvious in the detentions in recent months of freewheeling commentators on China’s microblog sites — made it unlikely that “Silence” would be accepted, said the director of the center, Philip Tinari. The entire show would have been put at risk if “Silence” were submitted for approval, he said. Similarly, the organizers of a current show of Andy Warhol’s works at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing said they decided in advance not to hang Warhol’s well-known depiction of Mao.

China’s red tape goes under the knife – Xinhua The discipline watchdog of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has begun the second stage of its campaign to cut red tape in its system. The second wave will run until June next year, and target regulations or normative documents from the founding of the New China in 1949 to 1978, according to a statement by the CPC’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) on Sunday. The move will give the commission a clear picture of the existing regulatory situation and clarify the fight against corruption using legal weapons.

Govt offers 5b yuan to fight pollution |Society | The central government said on Monday it is offering a total of 5 billion yuan ($818 million) in financial rewards to Beijing and its neighboring provinces to fuel their fight against air pollution. The Ministry of Finance announced that the special budget is up for grabs among Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding areas of Hebei, Shanxi and Shandong provinces as well as the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, where the air quality did not meet national standards for nearly two-thirds of August.

Yunnan awash in hydropower| GoKunming A decade of frenzied dam building in Yunnan is beginning to serve its intended purpose, at least in terms of electricity generation. The province has been aggressively pursuing a plan to position itself as a renewable energy provider not only internally but for other regions of China and now neighboring Southeast Asian countries.

Middle East Oil Fuels Fresh China-U.S. Tensions – China’s rise as a dominant buyer of Middle East oil presents a conundrum for it and the U.S. For China, it means its economy depends in part on oil from a region dominated by the U.S. military. When tankers depart Persian Gulf terminals for China, they rely in significant part on the U.S. Fifth Fleet policing the area. For Washington, China’s oil thirst means justifying military spending that benefits a country many Americans see as a strategic rival and that frequently doesn’t side with the U.S. on foreign policy.

Turkey missile deal shows China’s growing Mideast clout | ReutersMixing commerce and geopolitics, experts say, is at the heart of Beijing’s approach. Chinese officials have become regular visitors to most Mideast states while a range of regional leaders including Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah have all visited China. The aftermath of the “Arab Spring” and Washington’s abandonment of longtime proxies such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, some analysts say, has left some governments keen to find alternative allies. Even longtime U.S. partners feel the draw.

China and Iran: Destined to Clash?| The Diplomat Even as the U.S. considers Iran’s nuclear program as its most immediate threat, a consensus has emerged in the U.S. foreign policy establishment that China’s rise poses the biggest long-term strategic challenge to the country. There is little indication that a similar consensus has taken hold among Iranian elites. It will. Indeed, as Iran has been preoccupied with the U.S. and its allies over the past decade, China has quietly established a growing presence along all of Iran’s borders. In none of these places are Iran and China’s interests perfectly aligned. In some cases, particularly the Middle East, they are starkly at odds. Consequentially, should Iran avoid a conflict with the U.S. in the next few years, it’s likely to find China to be its most menacing threat in the future.


China’s Charm Offensive Signals a New Strategic Era in Southeast Asia | Center for Strategic and International Studies Developments in Asia over the past week show that the trade agenda will forge ahead, with or without the presence of a U.S. president. Negotiations for the 16-member RCEP are getting under way, while China has its own mechanisms for expanding commerce with major ASEAN economies. In this context, it becomes more necessary than ever for the United States and the other 11 negotiating parties of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to conclude their agreement by the year-end target and for Washington to deliver on its intention to make trade the building block of its engagement in Asia.

Chinese Reaches Out Again – This Time to Vietnam – China Real Time Report – WSJ Mr. Li’s Vietnam visit to Hanoi follows his visit to Thailand last week, where he signed memoranda of understanding covering trade, infrastructure development and energy. Earlier this month, ahead of major international summits in Brunei and Bali, Indonesia, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed business cooperation agreements worth a potential $5 billion with Malaysia, and $28 billion with Indonesia.

Premier seeks talks over dispute |China-Vietnam Ties | Premier Li Keqiang said in Hanoi on Monday that peacefully handling the South China Sea issue matters in the big picture of economic cooperation between China and Vietnam. Observers said Li has sent a clear signal during his three-day visit to Vietnam that bilateral negotiation is the “only worthy way” for resolving disputes, and worsening the situation will only harm the interests of Vietnam itself. “Whether the South China Sea issue is properly handled or not is not only an emotional matter between the two peoples, but also a matter of politics and security circumstances for expanding large-scale cooperation, including infrastructure investment,” Li told General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong.

China, Thailand translate “familial affection” into concrete cooperation – Xinhua The Chinese premier called for full play of the mechanism of an economic and trade committee between the two countries, and closer cooperation in such areas as economy, trade, investment, agricultural trade and processing, and electricity. China is also willing to actively participate in the construction of high-speed railways in Thailand and promote regional inter-connectivity. In order to deepen financial cooperation, Li encouraged the enterprises of the two countries to settle bilateral trade in RMB, and explore the increase in the size of bilateral currency swap, saying that China will consider the establishment of RMB clearing banks in Thailand…China is now the largest trading partner of Thailand, with bilateral trade reaching nearly 70 billion U.S. dollars last year and targeting 100 billion dollars by 2015.

Brunei Caps Off a Solid Year at ASEAN’s Helm| The Guardian The ASEAN Summit ended in Brunei on a high note with leaders of the 10-nation trading bloc striking the right note with China over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea and reaching an agreement on how best to combat the dreaded haze and promises to forge deeper ties.

Will There Be Another Asian Economic Meltdown?| Asia Unbound Since the middle of this summer, emerging markets, particularly in Asia, have witnessed massive sell-offs of their bonds, enormous slides in their stock markets, and investors dumping their currencies as fast as they can. Many Asian and foreign analysts of Asian nations now worry that the easy credit masked huge problems in the foundations of emerging economies, and that Asia could witness an economic and financial crisis similar to the devastating meltdown that crushed the region in the late 1990s. This time, such a crisis would be even tougher for the world to withstand: emerging markets are far larger than they were 15 years ago, and a crisis in Asia could take down the entire international economy.

Malaria in Asia and the Pacific by the Numbers| ADB The Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, for which ADB is hosting the secretariat, is being launched in response to the urgent need to reduce the burden of this disease in the region. Here’s a by-the-numbers look at the status of malaria in Asia and the Pacific.

0.3% of GDP Would Protect East Asia from Climate Change – ADB Report| ADB About 12 million people in 23 East Asian cities are at risk from rising sea levels, severe storms, and more intense drought caused by climate change that could jeopardize $864 billion in assets, a new report from ADB warns.

Why should the US be involved in Asia? | The Jakarta Post On regional security, Washington will be better off negotiating a new power sharing arrangements with Beijing, instead of seeking to contain the rise of China by rounding up its allies and friends in the region. One forum these two giants can use to prevent the polarization of Asia into two camps is the annual East Asia Summit, where they can address security concerns jointly with other medium powers in Asia, including ASEAN. For their part, ASEAN countries could help ease the escalating tension in the South China Sea by resolving their overlapping territorial claims with one another. Asia would welcome a US policy that will, of necessity, be vastly different from the 2011 pivot, and one that is more realistic and less gung-ho.–The writers are senior editors of The Jakarta Post and former editors-in-chief of the newspaper. They are Class 1979 and Class 2004 of the Nieman Fellowship program for journalists at Harvard University. Siagian was formerly Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia.

India-China visa row erupts ahead of PM Singh’s visit to Beijing | Reuters Two teenage female archers from Arunachal Pradesh, who were due to participate in the World Archery Youth Championships in Wuxi, were barred from boarding a Guangzhou-bound flight late on Thursday. China refuses to stamp visas on Indian passport holders from disputed territories, but staples them instead, a practice that infuriates India. At times, even Chinese companies, like China Southern Airlines involved in Thursday’s incident, reject such visas.

U.S. gives tacit backing to Philippines in China sea dispute | Reuters “All claimants have a responsibility to clarify and align their claims with international law. They can engage in arbitration and other means of peaceful negotiation,” Kerry told leaders at the East Asia Summit in Brunei, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

China, India look to Burma’s abundant rice fields| DVB Burma is aggressively looking for foreign investment in its rice sector to help the country regain its status as a prominent rice exporter. Currently, rice production in Burma is below potential partly due to fluctuating prices and constant farmer debts. The Irrawaddy Delta in Burma is larger than Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, and foreign investment in the region could boost Burma’s rice production and exports significantly.

Malaysia to establish marine corps, naval base close to James Shoal – IHS Jane’s 360 According to the statement, the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) base will be established at Bintulu on the South China Sea (SCS) to protect the surrounding area and oil reserves. Unstated by the minister is the base’s proximity to James Shoal, which is 60 n miles away and was the location for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) exercises on 26 March that were the most recent example of China asserting its claims to most of the SCS.

Asia’s Lands of Charm and Cruelty|NYT Close calls, lessons learned: Tales from two decades of traveling and listening.

Reforming the Cambodian People’s Party| The Diplomat Although the challenges are tremendous, the CPP has avenues by which it can win back what it lost in the recent election. The good news for the party is that some of those who have switched their allegiance to the CNRP simply want to punish the CPP for its failure to deliver on its past promises. They are less interested in an actual change of government. People are outraged by the fact that many are struggling to live even at a subsistence level, while party elites enjoy glamorous lifestyles. They just don’t see the benefits of the so-called double-digit economic growth trickling down to them; what they see instead is growing inequality. Worse, the CPP seems to have lost touch on this issue: its leaders frustratingly argue that they have achieved much during their time in government, contrary to the evidence in front of many voters.


Cambodian Hero and Socialite “Fabricated” Sex Trafficking Stories| The Guardian Illegal orphanages that beef-up numbers by accepting children who are in fact not orphans, the bribing of witnesses to testify in their favor in relevant court cases, allegations of bribing officials and turning charities into industries with expats funded by exorbitant pay packages are all common complaints. Then came Afesip – an NGO that rescues children who have been trafficked for sex. Its president is Somaly Mam, whose celebrated work has won international awards. Afesip initially entered the public spotlight and attracted enormous financial and celebrity support largely on the strength of the testimony of a young woman called Meas Ratha. Somaly Mam’s problem – according to a special report by the Cambodian Daily – is that Meas Ratha has now come forward and admitted that as a 14-year-old she was coached into making up the story for a documentary designed to help win Afesip support among the foreign financial donor community.


Laos air crash: rescuers lack equipment to find bodies| The Guardian Only 17 victims have been retrieved from the Mekong river as divers search in vain for plane’s fuselage

Lao PDR submits notification on Don Sahong Hydropower Project| MRC The Lao Government has notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to proceed with the development of the Don Sahong Hydropower Project in the Siphandone area of Southern Laos.


Soaring Crime Rate Takes a Growing Malaysia by Surprise| NYT Once one of Asia’s safest cities, Kuala Lumpur now finds that most residents have a story about a purse snatching, a burglary or worse.

In Malaysia, It’s Two Words for One God|The Guardian “They are allowed to use the word ‘Allah,’ also in our worship, prayers, we use the word ‘Allah’ without any difficulty, as much as in the Middle East,” Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of The Herald, told a regional broadcaster. He has vowed to appeal the decision in Malaysia’s High Court arguing a ban on the word in his Catholic publication was unconstitutional.


Chinese president meets Myanmar defense chief – Xinhua Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s Defense Services, on Wednesday in Beijing. Xi, also chairman of the Central Military Commission, hailed the bilateral relationship and described China and Myanmar as “good neighbors, good friends and good partners.”

World Briefing | Asia: Myanmar: More Mysterious Explosions| NYT Three bombs went off in eastern Myanmar, killing one person and wounding six, the latest in a series of unexplained explosions. The police have arrested four people, but it is unclear who is responsible for the blasts. style=’orphans: auto;text-align:start;widows: auto;-webkit-text-stroke-width: 0px; word-spacing:0px’ v:shapes=”_x0000_i1027″>

World Briefing | Asia: Myanmar: Police Have Theory for Blasts| NYT A series of bombings in Myanmar was aimed at scaring away foreign investors, the national police chief said Friday. v:shapes=”_x0000_i1026″>

Hold fire, if not ceasefire| Banyan Aung Min, the gung-ho minister in charge of all the negotiations with Myanmar’s various ethnic rebels on the fringes of the country, has managed to sign ceasefire agreements with 14 of the relevant ethnic groups, leaving only two outstanding: the Kachins and the Palaung.

U Sein Win, Champion of Myanmar Press Freedom, Dies at 91|AP Mr. Sein Win, who was the Associated Press’s Yangon correspondent from 1969 to 1989, was jailed three times during his career but lived long enough to see censorship lifted.

The Philippines

Death toll in Philippines quake reaches 110| The Nation Cebu – The death toll from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the central Philippine island of Bohol reached 110 Wednesday with only three people pulled alive from rubble.


Singapore and the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter| The Diplomat A densely populated island nation sitting at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore sits at a choke point along the vital sea lines of communications between the economic powerhouses of East Asia with the Middle East and, further afield, Europe. Its deepwater port is the lifeblood of a booming economy, while world-renowned Changi International Airport serves as a vital Asian air hub for travellers throughout the globe. With so much to defend and so little strategic depth (the main island measures just 723 square kilometers or approximately 277 square miles), Singapore has responded by building a powerful military, widely regarded as among the best in Asia. Singapore joined the F-35 program in February 2003 as a Security Cooperative Participant (SCP). As an SCP, Singapore is believed to be able explore configurations of the JSF to meet its unique operational needs and form its own program office. However, the island nation’s interest in the STOVL variant started to catch the eye only in 2011, when Rolls-Royce revealed that Singapore had launched studies aimed at considering the F-35B.


Rihanna’s sex show tweet leads to third Thai arrest| The Guardian “Authorities found out about this bar the morning after Rihanna tweeted about it, but we were not able to catch them violating the law until Saturday night,” the local district chief Weera Kerdsirimongkon said. “We had been waiting for them and finally caught them red-handed.”

Floods in East ‘will last 6 weeks’| The Nation Flooding in the eastern provinces looks likely to drag on till the end of November.

Bringing peace home in the deep South| The Nation REPORTING TO Thai authorities under a new peace initiative called “Bring People Home”, men subject to security-related arrest warrants in Yala province – in areas where insurgents are active – could see their lives return to normal, with the opportunity to travel freely, both domestically and abroad.

US Budget Crisis Hits Home for Burma-Thai Border Refugees| The Irrawaddy Though Washington has sent its federal employees back to work after a 16-day crisis of governance, Burmese refugees in Thailand who were preparing to resettle in the United States are still finding those plans put on hold a day after most US government services resumed. Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok, confirmed to The Irrawaddy that resettlement flights have been temporarily suspended due to developments in Washington. “Our partners working in the resettlement program in Thailand have been informing the affected refugees. Everything should resume once the shutdown is resolved,” Tan said on Thursday. “Should” being the operative word. As of Friday, an official at the US Embassy in Rangoon said the program for refugees in camps along the Thai border remained on hold, despite the resumption of most federal government services on Thursday.


State capitalism in Vietnam: Blowing in the trade winds| The Economist Yet the government’s legitimacy hinges on making life better for the country’s 90m people. In recent months, officials have started to plan substantial economic reforms. Encouraging signs include an April resolution by the party’s Politburo that made economic integration its top priority, and recent debates among Vietnamese lawmakers over how to “equitise”, or partially privatise, SOEs. Nguyen Tan Dung, the prime minister, also pledged in September to treat the country’s 1,300 SOEs like private companies and raise from 30% to 49% the share in any local bank that foreign investors may own.

Mourning a People’s Hero| NYT General Giap was honored as a symbol of decency, dignity and rectitude that no longer exist in the ranks of Vietnam’s leaders.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.12.13

The big news this week was the media coverage of the China’s influence and the Barack Obama’s absence at the APEC and ASEAN meetings.  The media’s approach called for some soul-searching in understanding China’s and the US’s role in the region, but what actually happened at the meetings got buried beneath the tabloids.  Look for ExSE’s analysis of last week’s happenings later this week.

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ExSE FOCUS – This new section recommends essential articles and highlights top issues unfolding in the region.

With Obama MIA, China Touts Multipolar World – The Diplomat While the cat’s missing, the mice will build economic and political ties to hinder U.S. interests in Asia. The APEC summit in Bali and the East Asia Forum meeting in Brunei went Obama-less due to a Republican-led hissy fit that shut down the US government a week ago. In the meantime, China is pushing its economic interests and pushing back against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.// Multi-polarity will not happen without major restructuring

Obama’s Canceled Trip to Asia: How Much Did It Matter? | ChinaFile A ChinaFile Conversation

Obama: China benefits from missed trip, U.S. credibility suffers | Reuters At a news conference on Tuesday, Obama said he should have been able to make the trip to help advance a trade agreement and present a counterweight to China. “I’m sure the Chinese don’t mind that I’m not there right now,” he said. “There are areas where we have differences and they can present their point of view and not get as much push back as if I were there.” //How does US credibility suffer? Beware of empty statements

Obama’s Absence Leaves China as Dominant Force at Asia-Pacific Meeting – NYT China’s president, Xi Jinping, made no reference to President Obama in a long, tightly scripted speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting on Monday// More unqualified modifiers *dominant*

Chinese media crow over Xi’s ‘star’ performance, Obama’s no-show – The Washington Post BEIJING — Chinese media gloated Tuesday over President Xi Jinping’s “star” performance at an Asia-Pacific trade summit in Indonesia that his American counterpart was unable to attend. //How else would a victimized state-sponsored media couch this opportunity?

Obama must make amends after Asia trip cancellation | The A-List–Kurt Campbell Despite the disappointment stemming from the president’s absence in Asia, it is important to remember that the critical advantage that the US enjoys in Asia is a collective desire, among Asians and Americans both, for an enduring American role in the region. //WISDOM

The Pivot Under Pressure – The Diplomat Senior U.S. administration officials have been at pains in recent weeks to demonstrate how Washington’s strategic focus is shifting from the military quagmires of the greater Middle East to the dynamism of Asia. It’s a tough sell, and there is reason to doubt that America’s allies and friends in the region are buying it. Even before the cancellation of President Barack Obama’s Asia trip, which would have included the APEC and East Asia summits, doubts about U.S. focus were rising.

The Pivot Lives On, With or Without Obama – The Diplomat As expected, the cancellation of U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Southeast Asia to attend a host of bilateral and regional meetings has been simplistically and sensationally framed as a blow to the administration’s “pivot” to Asia and a victory for an ascendant China.  There is but a grain of truth in all this. Perceptually, Obama’s absence does compound worries about the sustainability of America’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific given its fiscal irresponsibility and political dysfunction back home. And substantively, the president has missed a golden opportunity to reiterate his commitment to Asian regionalism as well as shore up key bilateral relationships, most notably with Malaysia and the Philippines.  //More wisdom

America and Asia: Not being there – The Economist It’s that silly-shirt moment, but where’s Barack? TWO regional summits in Asia this week will be remembered not for their outcomes but for Barack Obama’s failure to turn up. They are symbols of regional co-operation, but Mr Obama’s no-show turned them into symbols both of gridlocked politics in Washington and of the difficulties facing Mr Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific.

China’s Foreign Policy Debates – The Diplomat President Obama recently canceled his trips to attend the APEC Summit in Indonesia, the East Asia Summit in Brunei, and his planned visits to the Philippines and Malaysia. In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping has concluded visits to Indonesia and Malaysia, and attended the APEC Summit. In Obama’s absence, Xi’s presence at the summit was that much greater

Mind Your Own Business – By Shen Dingli | Foreign Policy Why America needs to fix its problems at home before messing around in Asia. //In an interconnected world fixing problems at home requires “messing around” in Asia for both China and the US.

Li Keqiang’s turn to play starring role in Obama’s absence | South China Morning Post Beijing is likely to take further advantage of the absence of US President Barack Obama from major Asian regional summits to bolster its influence in the region when Premier Li Keqiang attends the East Asia Summit in Brunei today.

Full text: Premier Li Keqiang Gives Joint Written Interview To Media from ASEAN Countries – Xinhua 

More than jihadism or Iran, China’s role in Africa is Obama’s obsession |  – The Guardian here America brings drones, the Chinese build roads. Al-Shabaab and co march in lockstep with this new imperialism. Countries are “pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world”, wrote Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, in 1898. Nothing has changed. //The colonial approach has been modified, but pitting China against US at equal status in a revitalized Great Game is a gross inaccuracy – and very dangerous.   

Like some fox hair with that? China digests latest food scandals – The Guardian Stomach-churning cases range from ring selling cooking oil made from discarded animal parts to gang selling meat products from animal waste. It’s a gourmet recipe for an indictment: take chicken anus, duck feathers and fox hair. Process it into counterfeit cooking oil. Distribute widely. Even in China, a country frequently racked by food safety scandals, this has been a bad week. On Wednesday, a court in eastern China’s Jiangsu province sentenced 16 men to prison for processing and selling 5,000 tons of recycled cooking oil made from a melange of discarded animal parts.//this moral calamity goes beyond the need for rule of law

US signs nuclear technology deal with Vietnam – The Guardian John Kerry says agreement will allow US firms to invest in energy market in Vietnam, where annual growth is at 5%. The United States and Vietnam have signed a pact allowing the transfer of nuclear technology to the south-east Asian country, opening the way for US investment in the burgeoning industry.// China builds highways, the US transfers technology – there is a clear difference in capabilities.  teach a man to fish….

River geomorphology: Divided by five – The Economist BY BUILDING dams in the Himalayas, Chinese engineers are tinkering with one of the world’s great sets of watersheds. Five great streams—the Red River, the Yangzi, the Irrawaddy, the Salween and the Mekong—flow within about 180 kilometres (110 miles) of one another from the south-eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, separated by parallel mountain ranges, before charging off to empty eventually in different seas. Yet research suggests that before this plateau began to rise, 50m years ago, at least two of these streams, and possibly more, were one. // Perhaps there is some truth to the Lake Chiang Mai myth (all great SEA rivers originating from one lake)

Chairman of world’s largest producer of tin arrested for accepting bribes – The Guardian Authorities in China have arrested Yunnan Tin’s chairman Lei Yi in the latest example of the country’s crackdown on corruption. Chinese authorities have arrested and charged the chairman of the world’s largest producer of refined tin, Yunnan Tin Co, over allegedly accepting bribes, a provincial government said, in the latest example of the country’s crackdown on graft. President Xi Jinping wants to make fighting corruption a central plank of his new administration, saying the problem is so severe it could affect the ruling Communist party’s survival.//Yunnan once again in the international news.  Yunnan University implied as a money laundering institution.



China: Urbanization and Hukou Reform – The Diplomat Since taking office, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has repeatedly emphasized the role further rapid urbanization will play in China’s development strategy. Consequently, it is widely predicted that policies to spur urban growth will headline the major economic reform plan expected at November’s crucial third plenary session of the 18th Central Committee.

The new gas guzzler – The world has just passed a historic milestone: China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest oil importer. After decades as the world’s biggest market for the international oil trade, America is ceding that position, the US Energy Information Administration said this week. The implications for international relations and global security are profound.

Sip of Death Plagues Cancerous River Villages – Caixin a decades-long health calamity continues to grip Huangmengying, a Henan Province community of about 2,500 straddling the Huai River, where Dr. Wang practices and researchers have been monitoring conditions for at least eight years. Despite tangible evidence of progress in cleaning up the polluted water blamed for countless deaths and disease, Huangmengying’s name is still on a grim list of so-called “cancer villages” in the river basin region.

Xinhua president meets foreign news media leaders – Xinhua The first WMS, held from Oct. 8 to 10 in 2009, was co-launched by Xinhua and eight other media organizations including the News Corporation, The Associated Press, Thomson Reuters, ITAR-TASS, Kyodo News, the BBC, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and Google Inc. The Al Jazeera Network and the New York Times Company joined the presidium in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Li introduced the agendas for the upcoming Presidium Meeting and outlined ideas for the future development of the WMS. Foreign media leaders lauded the WMS as an important platform for exchange and cooperation among world media outlets and hailed Xinhua’s contribution to this mechanism.

China Shadow Banking Sector may Hit $3.35Trl, Says Govt. Think Tank-Caijing China’s shadow banking sector could be valued at 20.5 trillion yuan ($3.35 trillion) at the least at the end of last year, compared with an official figure of 14.6 trillion yuan ($2.39 trillion), according to a government think tank report. The size of the shadow banking sector has been expanding quickly since 2010, said the report, released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on Tuesday.

IMF’s Zhu Says China Has Tools to Deal With Debt Levels – Bloomberg The Chinese government has room to deal with rising debt levels, which has become a “serious concern,” according to Zhu Min, a deputy managing director at the International Monetary Fund. While debt accumulation by companies and local government is “way too high,” the government has a lot of “policy buffer,” including $3.5 trillion foreign reserves, to resolve the problems, Zhu, a former deputy governor at People’s Bank of China, said at a panel during the IMF meeting in Washington yesterday. The government has already taken actions to curb borrowing, reducing the chances for an economic “hard landing,” he said.

China raises hurdles for foreign banks – China is raising the hurdles for foreign banks, more than tripling the amount of capital that new entrants to the country must post and limiting the derivatives operations of those already on the ground. But at the same time, the Chinese regulator also has offered foreign lenders much-desired clarification about how they can sell bonds in the domestic market, issue credit cards and offer overseas investment products to their clients on the mainland.

American Execs Say China is Getting Expensive, and Profitable – Corporate Intelligence – WSJ More than 90% of respondents said their China business is profitable, the highest level since the survey was started. Overall, though, sentiment hasn’t changed much from the “tempered optimism” of recent years. Companies say that a range of longstanding problems – such as delays in licensing and other market barriers – generally have not improve

Jiangsu court jails sellers of ‘cooking oil’ made from gutter waste | South China Morning Post A Chinese court on Wednesday jailed one man for life and sentenced more than a dozen to up to 15 years in jail for producing and selling cooking oil made from gutter waste, the latest food safety scandal to fuel public mistrust.

Wooing China’s Princelings by Minxin Pei – Project Syndicate Simply put, elite Western colleges and universities, having identified China as a top market for fund-raising and high-end network-building, regard the princelings as a valuable investment. Nurturing ties with China’s political elite is good business, and the princelings can help open doors.

Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy? – Christine Gross-Loh – The Atlantic But the society that Michael Puett, a tall, 48-year-old bespectacled professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, is describing to more than 700 rapt undergraduates is China, 2,500 years ago. Puett’s course Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory has become the third most popular course at the university. The only classes with higher enrollment are Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science… Why are so many undergraduates spending a semester poring over abstruse Chinese philosophy by scholars who lived thousands of years ago? For one thing, the class fulfills one of Harvard’s more challenging core requirements, Ethical Reasoning.

Shanghai’s Careful Steps Forward – Caixin  The significance of this development cannot be overstated. Over the past decade, the progress of Chinese reforms has been stalled by entrenched interest groups fighting against change. This year, however, there has been a decided push to reinvigorate reforms by opening up the economy, and the top-level support for the Shanghai plan has been widely welcomed. Clearly a major plank of the leadership’s reform drive, the Shanghai free trade zone could well mark the third major milestone in the liberalization of the Chinese economy, following the establishment of the special economic zones in the 1980s, and the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001…The 28.78 square kilometer free trade zone in Shanghai is only a start. Whether or not it succeeds will have huge implications for the nation. Meanwhile, its launch alone is sure to spur many more reformers to act.

What Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone Bodes For China – Council on Foreign Relations The Shanghai Free Trade Zone, a new enterprise district that could spark wider economic reforms in China, is Beijing’s vision of a “full-blown, efficient marketplace,” says China expert Daniel Rosen. The eleven-square-mile area, which broke ground on September 29, promises convertibility of China’s currency and freer flow of capital, but many details are still unclear. Still, Rosen says that “for now, the most important element of the nascent zone is that it signals so clearly what Beijing thinks the new endpoint for regulatory conditions should look like.”

Questions Arise About Beijing Support for Free-Trade Zone –  Mr. Li’s no-show has raised questions about whether economic reformers in China really are back in charge again. Instead of flying down himself, Mr. Li sent his commerce minister—one of the least powerful members of his cabinet—a move that suggested to some that the zone had been effectively demoted or that it was a focus of top-level disagreement. The symbolism matters a great deal because the outlook for the world’s second-largest economy hangs partly on the free-trade zone’s success. And its opening comes just before a key Communist Party meeting in November that will set out the government’s economic agenda for the next 10 years.

Foreign banks shun China’s Shanghai free-trade zone amid uncertain rules | South China Morning Post “One concern that many foreign banks have is whether we really need to make the free-trade zone branch completely separate from our existing branches in China,” said one banker, referring to the CBRC requirement that foreign banks in the zone have completely distinct systems of internal compliance, risk management and human resources from their operations in the rest of the mainland.

China’s Bo Xilai Formally Appeals Corruption Conviction – Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party heavyweight sentenced to life in prison last month, has formally filed an appeal against his conviction for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, according to a person with direct knowledge of the case. An appeal had been widely expected as Mr. Bo vigorously denied all charges during his trial in August. It is unlikely to affect the outcome, which is almost certain to have been decided by the party’s top leadership, according to lawyers and party insiders.

Three Sage Points About China – James Fallows – The Atlantic Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Sidney Rittenberg, in Seattle, about his six-plus decades of involvement in U.S.-Chinese affairs, including the 16 years he spent in solitary confinement in prisons of Mao’s China. This week, also in Seattle, he received at age 92 a “Lifetime Achievement” award from the Washington State China Relations Council . In a terse four minutes, from time 17:00 to 21:00 below, he offers what I consider several sage points for stable and productive relations between the countries.

China’s Economy, Back on Track – NYT Momentum for reform is growing. So is the leadership’s will.

The challenge of China as a science and technology superpower | The Guardian The US must press Beijing on anti-competitive practices and espionage, but it also needs to get its own house in order. The United States-China science and technology relationship is shaped by a central paradox. Reducing climate change, preventing pandemics, and developing new energy sources are all challenges that require global solutions. Moreover, the science that will be the foundation of any technological fixes is increasingly collaborative, spanning different disciplines, institutions, and geographical locations. At the same time, science and technology are an essential component of national economic competitiveness and military power.

China’s South-North water diversion middle route – in pictures – The Guardian A year from now, the middle section of the South-North water diversion is expected to begin operation, channelling water from the south to the arid northern region

Ma Jun: China needs to do its bit to combat climate change – The Guardian The well-known environmentalist talks about the links between local pollution and global warming, and how China is a contributor, but also vulnerable to impacts. The same day that the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that human activity is dominant cause of climate change, a cloud of grey smog shrouded the view from the window of the office of Ma Jun, one of China’s most well-known environmentalists and director of the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs (IPE).




Kerry, in Asia, Urges Focus on Law in China Disputes – NYT In Brunei, the secretary of state said maritime disputes with China should be solved according to international legal principles, not by making individual deals.

Kerry to push China, SE Asia to discuss sea dispute | Reuters U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will press Southeast Asian leaders and China to discuss the South China Sea dispute at an Asian summit, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, despite Beijing’s reluctance to address the issue in public forums. Kerry arrived in Brunei on Wednesday for an annual East Asia Summit (EAS) and talks with leaders of Southeast Asian nations and, separately, met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the summit.

What’s in a Name? In the South China Sea, it Seems, Quite a Lot – Southeast Asia Real Time – WSJ Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, however, opted to call it “this sea known by many names” in remarks on Wednesday to other Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders in Brunei. In case no one was clear on what he meant, he added a geographic descriptor placing it, “west of the Philippines, east of Vietnam, north of Malaysia, south of China.”

Brunei Caps Off a Solid Year at ASEAN’s Helm – The Diplomat The ASEAN Summit ended in Brunei on a high note with leaders of the 10-nation trading bloc striking the right note with China over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea and reaching an agreement on how best to combat the dreaded haze and promises to forge deeper ties. A new system to deal with the annual haze will involve the sharing of digitized land-use maps and concession maps of fire-prone areas that cause haze. The data will be shared among the governments of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand.

Myanmar in Lead Role at a Regional Meeting – NYT At the close of the East Asia Summit, Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, formally assumed responsibility for hosting the meeting a year from now.

Pacific Rim Leaders Urge New Focus on Global Trade Talks – NYT In a strongly worded statement, leaders at the Pacific Rim economic summit meeting suggested that the global trade talks known as the Doha round risked

Fast train coming – The Economist IN THE grand concourse of Bangkok’s main train station, Hua Lamphong, the future is on display. Hulking billboards announce the impending arrival of high-speed trains and an age of international connectedness. For those who happen not to pass through the capital, a two-month road show called “Building the Thai Future 2020” is touring the provinces to keep people abreast of the government’s plans for the country’s railways and other infrastructure.

United States Makes Right Decision to go Slow on Military Cooperation with Myanmar – CFR Asia Unbound Last week, the Obama administration announced that, despite the rapid warming of ties between the United States and Myanmar, the former military dictatorship would not get any American military assistance in the fiscal year 2014. (Of course, as it stands now, there will be no U.S. budget in the fiscal year 2014!) As the Irrawaddy reports, the administration has taken this step because the Myanmar military allegedly still uses child soldiers, which makes it ineligible for U.S. military aid.



In Indonesia, Environmentalists See a Disaster in the Making – NYT  Conservationists say rapid clearing of virgin forest in Aceh Province, which had one of the world’s richest ecosystems, threatens endangered species and could trigger flooding.



ADB, Norway to Help Draw Up Rules for New Electricity Era in Myanmar – ADB ADB and Government of Norway will help Myanmar overhaul its ageing electricity regulations, clearing the way for sector reforms and a new era in power supply



Singapore Plans ASEAN Bid for 2030 World Cup – The Diplomat Singapore is planning to lead an ASEAN bid and host the 2030 World Cup. Given the extraordinary support soccer enjoys among 600 million people in Southeast Asia and the advanced plans to forge a single economic and cultural bloc in the region, such a plan should enjoy widespread support. Zainudin Nordin, President of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), said Singapore has set the target for hosting the World Cup as part of a combined bid for the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).



Life lessons: taking on Thailand’s shocking drowning statistics – The Guardian Nearly 2,650 children drown in Thailand per year. At our school on the Cambodian border, we decided things had to change. The leading cause of death in children aged one year and over in Thailand is drowning. Nearly 2,650 children a year die this way, and it was on learning of these statistics that staff at our school, the Triam Suksa school in Soi Dao on the Thai-Cambodian border, decided things had to change.

Getting away: Chiang Mai’s Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden – GoKunming When many tourists think of Thailand their eyes immediately glass over as they imagine white sand beaches and azure blue seas. But the country has more to offer for those not hell-bent on attending full moon parties or diving with whale sharks. As an ever-increasing number of Chinese tourists are discovering, northern Thailand, devoid of seaside resorts and so far immune to all-night rave culture, has its own considerable charms. In the mood for mountains and forests as opposed to sea and sand, we again found ourselves in Thailand’s former Lanna capital, Chiang Mai. Only a 90-minute flight from Kunming, the city offers visitors a host of sightseeing options. Many of these, such as tiger petting zoos and trips to see “long neck” Kayan villagers, are of dubious provenance and yet often packed to capacity.



Op-Ed Contributor: For America, Life Was Cheap in Vietnam – NYT The Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap is remembered for his acceptance of enormous casualties. But American commanders were no less brutal.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.29.2013

Apologies for all who were looking for a news digest over the weekend, a part of the ExSE team were traveling in southern Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. Brian and William were able to visit tea and rubber plantations in the area – look for posts concerning these industries in the coming weeks.

For those in China, ExSE wishes you a happy National Day! Most should have the week off to travel – feel free to send us pictures and reports of what you see, we always like to know what our readers are up to.

Lastly, we will (finally) be releasing ExSE 2.0 on 10/8. Look for a fully redesigned interface, better organization of topics and much more exciting content. All of us at ExSE are very excited about the new release, as I’m sure our readers are too. Once you’ve given it a good lookover, feel free to share your thoughts and opinions, we’re always looking for ways to improve.


Xi stresses CPC criticisms, self-criticisms – Xinhua | Xi Jinping, leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC), has urged leading officials to constantly relay criticisms and self-criticisms to improve capabilities to find and solve their own problems. “Criticisms and self-criticisms are forceful weapons to solve contradictions within the Party,” said Xi, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, while participating in sessions held between Sept. 23-25 as part of the ongoing “mass line” campaign. During the sessions, standing committee members of the Party Committee of north China’s Hebei Province examined their own conduct, laid out major problems, analyzed the causes and set down plans for rectification. “Our weapons for self-protection and disease treatment shall not be discarded,” Xi said.

Pursuing Graft Cases at Higher Levels, Chinese Leader Risks Unsettling Elites – “What’s going on can be called shaking the mountain to scare the tiger,” said Professor Ding, citing a Chinese expression meaning a show of strength to warn others. “It’s also about Xi consolidating control over the key parts of the system,” Professor Ding said. “It says to Zhou Yongkang, ‘We are in the process of collecting all the evidence of people close to you, and if you don’t keep yourself disciplined, we can do more.’ Others will also understand that warning.”

With Official’s Conviction, China Calls Attention to Its Crackdown on Corruption – Mr. Bo is likely to disappear from public life for decades, at least, ending a career in which he defied the staid ways of Chinese politics and reinvented himself as a populist defender of socialist virtues. China’s state-run news media portrayed the judgment as proof that the party leadership under Xi Jinping is determined to end the bribe-taking, graft and brazen self-enrichment that have fed widespread public disenchantment with officials. “The resolute legal punishment of Bo Xilai fully demonstrates that there are no exceptions before party discipline and state law,” said a commentary published Monday in the party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily. The commentary was repeated by many Chinese news Web sites. “No matter who is involved, they will all be investigated to the end and will all be sternly punished according to the law,” the commentary said.

Shamed former railways minister Liu Zhijun tried to bribe his way to power | South China Morning Post Liu had set his sights on being a state councillor or vice-premier, one rank higher than his ministerial position. The document gives a rare glimpse into rampant money-for-power deals on the mainland. It is the first time an official at such a senior level has confessed to trying to further his career through bribery. It also raises questions about who Liu tried to bribe, given that he was already a powerful politician and that only a handful of people could have helped him.

Translation: New Round of Reforms has Already Begun with PetroChina Corruption Crackdown | An Optimist’s Guide to China Below is my translation of an article by Qiu Feng, the head of research at the Unirule Institute of Economics. The article appeared in the Economic Observer (H/T Sinocism), and discusses how the recent corruption crackdown on PetroChina is really the first move in major economic reforms to come. Qiu gives a very harsh judgment on economic reforms under Hu-Wen (saying they stalled and then even regressed), but he seems optimistic about what Xi and Li will push at the 3rd Plenum and beyond.

What books do Chinese leaders read? | South China Morning Post A top 10 reading list published by the State Organs Work Committee of CPC Central Committee offers a rare glimpse into one of the intellectual pursuits of China’s ruling elite.. The books voted to the top 10 list were chosen from among 103 titles, mostly non-fiction, recommended to party leaders and high government officials by the State Organs Work Committee over the past five years, a Beijing News report revealed on Thursday. Continue reading

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.21.2013

For millions across the region and around the world, Thursday marked Mid-Autumn Festival, a harvest holiday that has its origins in Ancient China. For those of you celebrating, ExSE wishes you a happy Mid-Autumn Festival. Enjoy  your mooncakes!

In regional news, Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded a very successful trip to Central Asia. Energy and trade deals were signed between China and the Central Asian states in a move that likely secures China’s economic supremacy in the region for some time to come. Within China, the government’s anti-corruption anti-online rumour campaigns are in full swing and the verdict in the Bo Xilai case is expected tomorrow (Sunday).

As mentioned last week, ExSE is in the process of a makeover. Expect the new and improved website to debut in the next few weeks. As we are improving the outward look of the website, we’re also looking to improve content and are in the market for new contributors. If you have any interest in writing for East by Southeast, please email us at


Analysis: China eyes private funds to tackle bad-debt buildup, avoid bailout | Reuters analysts think the official non-performing loan ratio of less than 1 percent is a considerable understatement. Most analysts put it in the 3 to 6 percent range, but Reuters estimates based on official data shows that their current capital and loan-loss provisions would suffice even if more than a fifth of their loans went bad. But much of the potential risk lies outside of the official banking system. Goldman Sachs has said that under its worst-case scenario credit losses for the entire system could reach $3 trillion, or a fifth of forecast GDP in 2016, though actual losses would probably be considerably lower.

Shanghai Trade Zone Said to Open This Month as Li Tackles Reform – Bloomberg An opening ceremony for a Shanghai free-trade zone to test economic reforms is planned for this month, with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang set to officiate, two people with knowledge of the matter said. The event may be on a day from Sept. 27 to 29, depending on Li’s schedule, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter. The Shanghai Daily reported yesterday that the zone will officially open Sept. 29, citing Wang Xinkui, director of the city’s counselor’s office.

Tencent Market Value Tops $100 Billion on China Internet Growth – Bloomberg Shenzhen-based Tencent, which went public in 2004, is the largest Internet company in Asia and has a market capitalization greater than SoftBank Corp. (9984), McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) and Boeing Co. (BA) It trails a handful of technology companies worldwide, including Apple Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Facebook Inc. (FB)

Petroleum and Purges–Sinica Podcast The Beijing rumor-mill is back on overdrive. With the trial of Bo Xilai only barely concluded and the country now openly speculating on the length of the disgraced politician’s likely sentence, factional battles targeting Bo’s remaining supporters have moved center-stage, as the government has launched an anti-graft probe into the country’s petroleum industry…Joining us to discuss these rumors are two outstanding observers of modern Chinese politics: Bill Bishop from Sinocism, and Jeremy Page from the Wall Street Journal. Continue reading

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.14.2013

The slow creep of internet suppression in China has turned into a full-on campaign this week as China detailed punishments of up to three years in jail for the spreading of rumors on social media sites.  Related to this campaign, yesterday multi-millionaire civil society activist Wang Gongquan was detained in Beijing.  The CCP is trying to control the commanding heights of the media as its leadership attempts to unroll comprehensive reform plans later this fal.  But this top-down, arbitrary supression puts social media users and the social media industry in a holding pattern full of fear and uncertainty.  Further, blogger and author Joshua Kurlantzick suggests in an article listed below that China’s internet suppression tactics are diffusing into Southeast Asia.  For those of us living in the region, the connections are not hard to link together.

The World Economic Forum meets this week in Dalian, the city that Bo Xilai built, but the real meeting that regional watchers should keep an eye on is this weekend’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting and energy/trade deals that come forward from it.  More articles on the SCO meeting below.

Yunnan province made international news as well as Luliang county, near Qujing was found to be cooking its economic reports to the tune of $850 mn over it’s actual economic output.

ExSE is still working on its facelift which we hope to unveil by the end of the month.  We’d like to expand into blogging on a wider range of issues in the region as well as attract a few Laos and Vietnam specialists.  Avid readers, we are also hoping to expand our book review category.  If you are interested in joining the ExSE team, already 20 strong, feel free to email at



Multi-millionaire investor detained in China’s crackdown on activists – The Guardian Campaigners warn that Chinese police are cracking down on activists after ‘gathering crowds’ arrest of Wang Gongquan. Chinese police have detained a multi-millionaire investor in what human rights campaigners warned is a broadening crackdown on activists.Wang Gongquan was taken into custody by up to 20 Beijing police officers on Friday on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order”, according to supporters. His friend Xu Zhiyong, a well-known lawyer and leading member of a grassroots grouping supporting civil society, was formally arrested on the same charge last month after weeks in detention.

Some of China’s Prominent Internet Voices – NYT A look at leading microbloggers on Weibo and some of their messages.

Crackdown on Bloggers Is Mounted by China – NYT Hundreds of microblog users across the country have been arrested for what Communist Party officials call malicious rumor-mongering online.

China’s Diabetes Epidemic – CFR Asia Unbound These days we’ve been used to China being the land of “the first,” “the largest” and “the highest.”  However, not all of these superlatives are worthy of praise.  China now has the largest diabetic population in the world (114 million), according to a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Continue reading

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