Yearly Archives: 2015

Regional Roundup for Week of 12.6.15

EXSE FOCUS

China Creates a World Bank of Its Own, and the U.S. Balks-NYT In setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China enlisted American allies, including Britain, even as Washington expressed skepticism. As top leaders met at a lush Bali resort in October 2013, President Xi Jinping of China described his vision for a new multinational, multibillion-dollar bank to finance roads, rails and power grids across Asia. Under Chinese stewardship, the bank would tackle the slow development in poor countries that was holding the region back from becoming the wealth center of the world. The enthusiasm didn’t last long, as the Obama administration began a rear-guard battle to minimize the bank’s influence.//Useful overview of the development of the bank. Note the banks inspiration came from a trip to Laos and observations that people there should no longer live in stilted huts. Also helpful insight into the approaches current AIIB head Jin Liqun used to recruit the UK (succesfully) and the US (unsuccessfully).

Net loss: fish stocks dwindle in Cambodia’s Tonlé Sap lake-The Guardian Despite the creation of a 200-hectare conservation area, fishing communities on south-east Asia’s largest freshwater lake fear their way of life is slipping away. Until three years ago, life around the lake was very different. Before then, much of the fishing was divided up into government-approved lots worked by commercial vessels, leaving many local people excluded. In March 2012, the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, ordered an end to the lots and opened up the waters to those living along its shores. Although the move was well received by local communities, it has raised fears that unrestricted access could destroy fish stocks. In a bid to safeguard the lake’s population and diversity, an EU-funded programme has established a 200-hectare (494-acre) fish conservation area (FCA) close to the Kampong Phluk commune, which is home to nearly 3,900 people.//govt regulators make locals pay through their teeth in the form of bribes for fishing access. No wonder there’s pressure to over-fish. Also paying a bribe to fish is seen as a vote for the CCP – one way Hun Sen’s party campaigns.

In Vietnam, a Fisherman’s Village With No Fish-The Diplomat In the Mekong Delta’s largest city, overfishing has forever altered the livelihoods of a whole community. We were in Can Tho, Vietnam’s fourth largest city and the de facto capital of the Mekong delta. We had based ourselves out of Can Tho for nearly a week, driving into the surrounding countryside each morning and afternoon, but spent very little time exploring the city. With a population of nearly 1.5 million people straddling the Song Hau river (one of the main Mekong distributaries running through the delta), Can Tho was a logical place to investigate the stories of the river in an urban context. //Gives firsthand account of Can Tho’s fishermen and the plight they are currently facing. With decreasing fish stocks in Cambodia and Vietnam, throughout the same watershed, what are the solutions to this issue of livelihood and food security?

 China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative: Outlook For OBOR and the US Rebalance-The Diplomat The Rebalance authors Mercy Kuo and Angie Tang regularly engage subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. rebalance to Asia.  This conversation with Dr. Erica Downs – Senior Analyst at Eurasia Group and former fellow in the John. L Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution – is the 22nd in “The Rebalance Insight Series.”

A ‘Critical Point’ for US Strategic Tolerance of China-The Diplomat US-China relations are caught in a critical point — poised between one paradigm and the next. n a way, the ongoing U.S.-China disputes have quite a few similarities with thermodynamic changes or chemical reactions. We may take the U.S. strategic tolerance of China’s rise — or more specifically China’s active involvements in the U.S.-led world system — as an example. China has been actively involved in international institutions over the past decades, probably with the encouragement and tolerance of the United States as long as several conditions were met: first, that China does not truly challenge the U.S. predominance; second, that China takes up its shared responsibilities under the U.S. leadership; and third, that China changes domestically (or politically in a sense) as the United States has been expecting.

ADB Loan to Enhance Urban Services in Towns Along GMS Economic Corridor-ADB ADB has approved a $100 million loan to support government efforts to boost urban and water services in Bac Giang, Mong Cai and Sa Pa, three towns located along the North-South Economic Corridor within the Greater Mekong Subregion. The assistance will finance the construction and upgrading of wastewater treatment plants, provide wastewater treatment services—including connections for thousands of households, build new pumping stations, and dredge canals to protect urban areas from periodic flooding. In Sa Pa, an international tourist destination known for its trekking routes through mountains and rice fields, the assistance will also finance general improvements to the town center public area and the drafting of a green city action plan.//As OBOR favors Mekong states other than Vietnam, the West-led ADB doubles down on Vietnamese infrastructure development. 

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

 Amid South China Sea Tensions, Japan Strengthens Ties With Philippines, Vietnam-The Diplomat

The South China Sea is a large part of Tokyo’s calculations, but aid to Manila and Hanoi has a decades-long history. As China’s construction projects and the United States’ freedom of navigation operations ratchet up tensions in the South China Sea, Japan is increasing its cooperation with other claimant states – most notably the Philippines and Vietnam. Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) plays a large role in this cooperation.

China, Thailand Sign Rail, Rice, and Rubber Deals-The Diplomat Despite disagreements on details, China and Thailand move forward with a $9.7 billion railway deal. A day after Thailand’s transport minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said that Bangkok was postponing a railway deal with China, Thailand’s deputy prime ministers, Prawit Wongsuwon and Somkid Jatusripitak, said the deal would go ahead as scheduled. Sure enough, on Thursday China and Thailand held a signing ceremony for a document outlining the framework for intergovernmental cooperation on the railway project.//much work needs to be done to understand the motivations of this rising Sino-Thai axis and implications for US relations in Thailand.

ASEAN’s New Community – Only a Small Step-The Diplomat At an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit last week, Southeast Asian leaders signed an agreement creating an “ASEAN Community.” The Diplomat reports that the “Community,” much discussed by Southeast Asian media and leaders in recent years, will be “a step towards realizing the idea of a three-pillared community to deepen regional integration first proposed in 2003 comprising an ASEAN Political and Security Community; an ASEAN Economic Community; and an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.” All the specifics of what these communities will entail have not been finalized, despite long “blueprints” proposed by ASEAN for each of the communities. The most developed idea is the Economic Community, which is supposed to be the creation of a single regional market for goods and services. //What real impact will this have on the member countries of ASEAN? Will concrete ideas come forth eventually? Stay tuned.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

 Chinese Report on Climate Change Depicts Somber Scenarios-NYT Rising seas besieging China’s economically vital coastal zones. Mighty feats of infrastructure, like the Three Gorges Dam and railway to Tibet, strained by turbulent rainfall and the melting of frozen earth. And on the Himalayan frontiers, the risk in future decades of international conflict over dwindling water supplies as glaciers retreat. These and other somber scenarios are laid out in the Chinese government’s latest scientific assessment of global warming, released just before negotiations in Paris for a new international agreement on climate change.

Paris Deal Would Herald an Important First Step on Climate Change-NYT President Obama and more than 100 world leaders will convene with thousands of diplomats on Monday on the outskirts of Paris to open two weeks of intense negotiations aimed at forging an accord that could begin to avert the most devastating effects of global warming and redefine the economy of the 21st century. If the talks fail—as they did in two previous attempts to achieve such a deal—then nations will continue on a trajectory that scientists say locks the planet into a future of rising sea levels, more frequent floods, worsening droughts, food and water shortages, destructive hurricanes and other catastrophic events.

Related: An Evolution in China’s Climate Diplomacy-The Diplomat

            Related: Raise the green lanterns-The Economist

Major powers pledge $20bn for green energy research-The Guardian The vow boosts a parallel initiative by global business leaders including Mark Zuckerberg and Ratan Tata. The US and 18 other countries have pledged to double funds for clean energy research to a total of $20bn over five years, boosting a parallel initiative by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and increasing the prospects for successful agreement at the Paris climate negotiations that start on Monday. The countries, which include the UK, Canada, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, span the biggest global economies and major emitters, oil and gas producers, and leaders in clean energy research, the White House said.

 

CHINA

 China Gives 14 Officials Jail Terms Over 2013 Oil Pipeline Blast-NYT China has sentenced 14 former officials at state energy firm Sinopec and the local government to jail for up to five years for their role in a massive oil pipeline explosion in 2013, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday. The explosion in the eastern province of Shandong killed 63 people and injured 156, and caused losses worth 751.7 million yuan (78 million pounds), Xinhua said. It said the Sinopec officials were sentenced for violating safety regulations while the government officials had failed to fully perform their duties in dealing with the blast. The explosion was one of the biggest to hit infrastructure development in China, raising questions about safety standards in the world’s second largest economy.

Exchange of Spies With China Is Positive Sign, Taiwan Says-NYT  Taiwan’s’ presidential office said Monday that a rare exchange of spies with China was a sign of improved ties between the neighbors and historic rivals. Chu Kung-hsun and Hsu Chang-kuo, two officers from Taiwan’s Bureau of Military Intelligence, were released by China and returned to Taiwan in mid-October, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement on Monday. The two men were arrested in Vietnam near the border with China in 2006 and given life sentences, which were later reduced to 20 years, according to Taiwan’s China Times newspaper, which first reported the exchange. A Chinese spy imprisoned in Taiwan, Li Zhihao, was given early parole as part of the exchange, Charles Chen, a spokesman for Taiwan’s presidential office, said in a statement.

China’s Renminbi Is Approved by I.M.F. as a Main World Currency-NYT The International Monetary Fund’s move paves the way for the currency’s wider use in trade and finance, but may add volatility to the economy. The Chinse renminbi was anointed as one of the world’s elite currencies on Monday, a milestone decision by the I.M.F. that underscores the country’s rising financial and economic heft. The move will help pave the way for broader use of the renminbi in trade and finance, securing China’s standing as a global economic power. Just four other currencies—the dollar, the euro, the pound and the yen—have the I.M.F. designation.

Related: China’s Fitful Economic Reforms-NYT

 China factory indicator at three-year low-The Guardian Purchase Managers’ Index dips to 49.6, pointing to a manufacturing slowdown and prompting predictions of a further easing of monetary policy by Beijing. A key measure of China’s manufacturing activity dropped to its weakest level in more than three years in November, underlining weaknesses in the world’s second-largest economy. It was the fourth consecutive month of decline and the lowest figure since August 2012. Investors closely watch the index as a barometer of the country’s economic health. A reading above 50 signals expanding activity while anything below indicates shrinkage. The statistics bureau blamed the disappointing figure on weak overseas and domestic demand, falling commodity prices and manufacturers’ reluctance to restock.

China’s Plan for a New, Improved Military-The Diplomat Xi Jinping just outlined an ambitious plan for military reforms, but implementation will take years. On November 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping – who also serves as chair of the Central Military Commission – announced a sweeping long-term reform plan for the People’s Liberation Army. The reforms, laid out at a meeting attended by over 200 military officials, will see streamlined command over China’s military, as well as a closer watch on corruption and graft.

China’s President Xi Visits ‘All-Weather Friend’ Zimbabwe-The Diplomat Xi’s stop in Zimbabwe provides a glimpse of the pros and cons of economic dependence on China. Chinese President Xi Jinping spent Tuesday in Zimbabwe, the first stop on a two-country trip to Africa. It was the first time a Chinese president had visited the country since 1996. Xi was welcomed to Zimbabwe by his counterpart, President Robert Mugabe. Both leaders called their two countries “all-weather friends,” and pledged to boost bilateral ties. According to Xinhua, Xi said the goals of his visit were “consolidating the China-Zimbabwe traditional friendship, deepening practical cooperation and lifting bilateral relations to a higher level.”

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar General Meet, Taking Steps Toward Sharing Power-NYT The talks were the first face-to-face foray in what will surely be complex negotiations over how Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing will govern. She is the former political prisoner whose party triumphed in elections last month. He is commander in chief of the military that jailed her for the better part of two decades. They are the two most powerful people in Myanmar, and their meeting on Wednesday was a crucial first step in a transition from a military-backed government to one in which the military will share power with the democracy activists it once oppressed.

 Thai Economy and Spirits Are Sagging-NYT Thailand was once the torchbearer of freedom and prosperity in Southeast Asia. But now when Thais look to their neighbors, they feel envy, not pity. Do not be fooled by the throngs of Chinese tourists clogging the entrance to the gilded Grand Palace, the roads buzzing with traffic or the plastic smiles of hostesses greeting the business lunch crowd at luxury hotels. Thailand is in a rut. The economy is moribund and Thai households are among the most indebted in Asia. “No one feels like smiling anymore,” said Sompetch Pimsri, a merchant at a fruit and vegetable market behind the Temple of Dawn, a tourist landmark along the Chao Phraya River.

Cambodians Deserve Better-NYT The Hun Sen government cracks down, but the opposition won’t rise to the occasion. Cambodia politics is in the midst of an ugly crisis. Prime Minister Hun Sen, after officially winning the 2013 election by just a narrow margin and facing months of massive anti-government protests, seemed to have regained control. Yet in recent weeks the authorities have cracked down on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, C.N.R.P.

 Vietnam bets on coal power despite rising risks-The Third Pole A heap of coal waste the size of an apartment complex looms above Do Thi Chung’s low-rise neighbourhood. One evening this July, she watched as the heap was pelted by heavy rains. Soon a river of muddy sludge was pouring downhill from the heap toward Chung’s front door, she recalled. When the water level of the landslide reached knee level, she took her children up to their home’s second level. Now her ward of this northern Vietnamese city is mostly deserted. Chung, whose husband works at a nearby coal mine, said all but seven of the ward’s 47 families have moved out. By 2030, coal is expected to contribute 56% of Vietnam’s power mix, up from 36% today. Vietnam’s embrace of coal – the fuel blamed most for climate change and a major polluter in industrialising societies over the last few centuries – is already an environmental disaster.

Lao Government Blocks Funds For Rural Road Repair in Favor of ASEAN Projects in the Capital-Radio Free Asia Government authorities in cash-strapped Laos are withholding funds urgently needed to repair flood-damaged roads in the country’s provinces, saying that available resources must be spent on improvements in the capital Vientiane ahead of regional summit meetings next year. Provincial public works and transport departments may also not draw funds assigned to other needs to carry out repairs, according to a central-government notice sent out in October, government sources told RFA’s Lao Service. Authorities are now “rushing to repair and improve roads” in the capital, Nouanta, a deputy director of Vientiane’s Public Works and Transport Department, said. “This must be done in time for the celebration of National Day on December 2 and to accommodate the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Summit in late 2016,” Nouanta said.

This week’s digest was compiled by Brooke Rose with commentary by Brooke Rose and Brian Eyler

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Regional Roundup for Week of 11.29.15

This week marks the start of the controversial case brought by Thai villagers to Thailand’s Constitutional Court over the legality of the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong river. That the case is being heard is simply a victory for civil society in Thailand and Southeast Asia. While the result likely will not end in the cancellation or postponement of the dam project, the Stimson Center’s Dr. Richard Cronin says in a recent online commentary “Regardless of what the Supreme Administrative Court ultimately decides it will be very difficult for Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand at a minimum to enter into a future Power Purchase Agreement with any foreign company or country without credible transboundary EIAs and SIAs.” Read more on this critical case representing the future of Mekong hydropower development here.

EXSE FOCUS

The Mekong river: stories from the heart of the climate crisis – The Guardian The fate of 70 million people rests on what happens to the Mekong river. With world leaders meeting in Paris next week for crucial UN climate talks, John Vidal journeys down south-east Asia’s vast waterway – a place that encapsulates some of the dilemmas they must solve. He meets people struggling to deal with the impacts of climate change as well as the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities. // As the West sits relatively unscathed from climate change, people in the Mekong are already feeling the effects. This region will change drastically in the next 50 years, this Guardian piece has great stories from locals and visuals.  

No Time for Complacency on ISIS Threats in Southeast Asia – CogitASIA The November 13 coordinated attacks in Paris by followers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which led to the death of 129 people, have revived fears of the movement’s spread to Southeast Asia, especially among the political leadership in Indonesia and Malaysia. ISIS is a threat to the region, but a manageable one. While regional governments cannot afford to be complacent about ISIS, fear-mongering can also be counter-productive. There are roughly 800-1,000 Southeast Asians who have traveled to Syria and Iraq, but not all are combatants. Some are family members and dependents of those who signed up to fight for ISIS; there is already a Bahasa-language school in Raqqa, Syria. This number also includes those detained by Turkish authorities and deported back to Southeast Asia, as well as those who have been killed. // Great and timely piece on an underreported issue. Terrorism in Southeast Asia is extremely complex and Abuza breaks it down extremely clearly and comprehensively.

UN tribunal at The Hague to rule on rival claims to South China Sea islands – The Guardian Philippines disputes China claim to sovereignty over Spratly archipelago, where Beijing is building military bases on artificial islands. Rival claims to strategic reefs and atolls in the disputed waters of the South China Sea are to go before an international tribunal in The Hague. The hearing on Tuesday – prompted by the Philippines’ claim – comes as China steps up its divisive programme of building airstrips and defences in the Spratly Islands. As well as the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei all dispute sovereignty over the mid-ocean outcrops. // China’s feeling pressure from U.S. FON exercises in the SCS and now this case. It is hard to find legal basis for a 12nm territorial sea from the features that China “occupies”; maybe China will go with the flow on this given its econ woes, or maybe it will defy international convention in order to show that it’s a strong power.

Yunnan’s Muslims: The Hui minority in Southwest China – GoKunming Of all of China’s 56 minority nationalities, the only one that qualified for such designation by religion alone, rather than language or ethnic identification, were the Hui, who are Muslim, but ethnically Han Chinese. Some of them are descendants of the first converts from coastal ports visited by Muslim Arab traders in the seventh and eighth centuries. From there they eventually spread further inland, but the main components of what would become a separate Hui identity were Muslim warriors who were part of the Mongol forces that conquered China in the thirteenth century, stayed in the country, intermarried with local women and, except for retaining their religion, adopted Chinese customs and lifestyles.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Salvador’s goes to Thailand – GoKunming “This is good grass. Somebody should graze some cows here.” “Look at that empty lot. What a waste of land. Somebody should build a building there.” “The rice here is very cheap, and of good quality.” Xiao Hui, meet Thailand. Thailand, meet Xiao Hui. A gregarious denizen of Wenlin Jie, Xiao Hui is widely known amongst foreigners residing in downtown Kunming. He’s helped many of us register at the Public Security Bureau, rain carnage upon rat infestations in our apartments, or procure some obscure metal fastener from a far-flung construction supplies market — always with a smile on his face and a semi-maniacal intensity of purpose.

Locals Urge Japan to Rule Out Burma Coal Plant Funding – The Irrawaddy Villagers have urged overseas development agencies and corporate investors in Japan not to underwrite three contentious coal power projects in southern Burma, each of which has been subject to sustained local opposition. A delegation of locals from Irrawaddy Division, Mon State and Tenasserim Division are now in Tokyo in an attempt to meet with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), along with companies that have already committed to investing in the projects. They are seeking guarantees that prospective Japanese investors will rule out funding any future coal project, in addition to the three already tied to Japanese financing and investment.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Wild things return to Angkor Wat – The Guardian Decades after poachers stripped the forests surrounding Angkor Wat of large mammals, an innovative conservation group is bringing them back. Already, Wildlife Alliance has rewilded the forest with gibbons and langurs. And more are coming. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to wake to gibbons’ song piercing the rainforest fog, you’ll know there are few sounds more haunting on our little planet. The 30-minute songs of these lesser apes – often duets between monogamous lovers – seem to combine musical elements from timber wolves, humpback whales and fire engines. But gibbons are in trouble, facing unprecedented deforestation and a booming illegal wildlife trade, and have disappeared from many parts of their range. One of these places was the world-famous Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia. Yet, thanks to innovative rewildling efforts by conservation group, Wildlife Alliance, the millions of tourists that pass through Angkor Wat every year now have a chance to hear the morning duet of gibbon lovers.

Laos counts the cost of climate change: record floods, drought and landslides – The Guardian Extreme weather risks the food security of thousands of Lao villages. At the COP 21 talks, will rich countries honour their pledge of $100bn a year by 2020 to help? Namai village in remote, mountainous central Laos has seen immense change in just 20 years. Its isolation only ended when a road was pushed up the valley in 2003, and electricity came several years later. Today Namai villagers mostly have televisions and refrigerators but they, and thousands of other communities, face a new set of problems that are forcing them to develop in ways they never imagined.

CHINA 

China and U.S. Say They’ve Made Strides in Trade Talks – NYTimes In their first top-level trade talks since President PObama hosted China’s leader in September, the United States and China said on Monday that they had made progress on sticking points, including revenbting the thefyt of trade secrets and opening the Chinese market more broadly to American multinations. Still, the lack of larger breakthroughs on bigger issues – like negotiations for a broader trade deal – contrasted with America’s improving economic ties with the rest of Asia. The two countries have been eyeing each other cautiously.

Xi Jinping Announces Overhaul of China’s Military Forces – NYTimes President Xi Jinping of China has announced a major reorganization of the nation’;s military, state-backed news media reported on Thursday, laying out plans to create new command syustems intened to integrate and rebalance land, air and sea forces into a more nimble People’s Liberation Army. Mr. Xi told a meeting of over 200 senior military officers that the changes would takje years and were essnential to ensuring that the people’s Libration Army could shoulder its increasingly complex and broad responsibilities, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

China Retools Its Military With a First Overseas Outpost in Djibouti – NYTimes China announced on Thursday that it would establish its first overseas military outpost and unveiled a sweeping plan to reorganize its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad. The outpost, in the East African nation of Djibouti, breaks with Beijing’s longstanding policy against emulating the United States in building military facilities abroad. The Foreign Ministry refrained form describving the new installation as a military base, saying that it would be sued to resully Chinese Navy ships that have been participating in the United Nations antipiracy missions.

$50bn Nicaragua canal postponed as Chinese tycoon’s fortunes falter – The Guardian The world’s biggest canal project – a $50bn interoceanic canal through Nicaragua – has been delayed, following an environmental report and a collapse in the fortunes of the Chinese businessman behind the company that planned to build it. The Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) Group announced on Wednesday that it would be another year before the start of major works on the proposed rival to the Panama canal. The company said the “design of the canal is being fine tuned”, in accordance with recommendations contained in an environmental impact assessment.

Chinese Cash Floods U.S. Real Estate Market – NYTimes Some of the Chinese money pouring into the global economy has gone into residential property, in major American cities and places like Corinth, Tex. Canyon Lake Ranch was once a playground for Christian day campers, and then was a corporate retreat with water-skiing, barbecues and cowboy shoot-‘em-up shows. Hawks now circle above 108 sunbaked acres occupied by copperhead snakes, a few coyotes, and the occasional construction truck. Soon this ranch will be a gated subdivision of 99 mini-mansions designed for buyers from mainland China. The developer, Zhang Long, a Beijing businessman, is keeping three plots to build his own estate along the side of an old rodeo arena.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA 

Indonesia Increases Security after Video Calls For Attack – Reuters via The Irrawaddy Authorities increased security across Indonesia after a video appearing on social media threatened attacks against police and other targets, police and officials said Wednesday. Security was raised at airports, the presidential palace, foreign embassies, and shopping centers in the capital after a threat was made by an Islamic militant group, said Jakarta police chief Maj. Gen. Tito Karnavian. “There will be enhanced security,” Karnavian told reporters. “But public vigilance and caution on suspicious behavior in their neighborhood is particularly important to ward off terror attacks.” The video calling for attacks on Jakarta police headquarters and the presidential palace appeared on social media, including Facebook this weekend. It was blocked by authorities on Monday.

Vietnam law change introduces transgender rights – AFP via The Guardian New legislation will allow those who have undergone reassignment to register under new gender as nation moves towards more progressive views on sexuality. Vietnam passed a law on Tuesday enshrining rights for transgender people in a move advocacy groups say paves the way for gender reassignment surgery in the authoritarian communist nation. People who want the operation, which is illegal, tend to have it done in nearby Thailand. The new legislation will allow those who have undergone reassignment to register under their new gender. The law will come into effect early in 2017 after 282 of 366 lawmakers voted in favour.

Fifth refugee secretly moved from Nauru to Cambodia under $55m deal – The Guardian The ethnic Rohingya man from Myanmar arrived in Phnom Penh last week under the resettlement arrangements, as Cambodian political divisions deepen. A fifth refugee from Nauru has been secretly moved to Cambodia, arriving last week under Australia’s controversial $55m deal with the south-east Asian nation. The man, understood to be an ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, arrived in Phnom Penh as always-fractious political tensions inside Cambodia escalated further, and the UN warned the country was headed towards “a dangerous tipping point”.

Interpol ramps up response to crime in Southeast Asia – Sea Globe The economic integration of Asean this month is expected to open up borders in the region, bringing the promise of more financial opportunities. But national governments and Interpol are also wary of increased cross-border crime. In an increasingly globalised and connected world, transnational organised crime continually seeks to exploit weak points in our interdependent border security architecture. Increased economic development, the movement of people and goods and closer regional integration – including in Southeast Asia – must contend with the criminal networks behind irregular migration, trafficking in illicit goods and the cross-border movement of extremists and terror suspects.

YUNNAN 

Kunming Shines At 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – PR Newswire Kunming, China was under the spotlight on Thanksgiving,November 26, 2015 in the United States as Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade presented for the first time, the spectacular scenery of Kunming and the richness of Chinese ethnic culture. Kunming, known as “the City of Eternal Spring” for its pleasant climate and flowers that bloom all year, was portrayed vividly on a float at the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City before 3.5 million people during the parade and over 50 million on television.

This week’s new digest and analysis was compiled by John Juenemann. 

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Regional roundup for week of 11.22.15

US President Obama is stealing the headlines while on a trip to twin summits in Southeast Asia this week as he continues to make good on promises to double-down the US commitment to ASEAN states.  At APEC, he stumped for continued US engagement and monitoring of the ongoing South China Sea dispute and at the ASEAN summit, he and leaders from the ten ASEAN states penned an agreement to elevate US-ASEAN to the level a strategic partnership – that means more security cooperation and deepened involvement between US and claimant states (except China) in the South China Sea issue. I’ve long said that the US will never eclipse the weight of China in Southeast Asia, given China’s gravity, but I was surprised to learn that cumulative FDI to Southeast Asia continues to outpace China and rank #1.  We can be assured that the return on that investment is much higher than China’s, and more focus should be given to what the US is investing in.  I toured a 100GW wind farm on the Mekong coastline in Bac Liue, Vietnam a few weeks ago to discover this was a GE invested project.  Later Ambassador Ted Osius described the project as win-win-win with wind – 1) US investment in 2) rural electrification in Vietnam provided by 3) sustainable energy. These are the type of projects worth doubling down on.

EXSE FOCUS

 China, Laos to Build $6 Billion Railway by 2020 – The Diplomat China aims to complete the long-awaited construction of a multibillion-dollar, high-speed rail project from southwestern China to Laos by 2020 as part of Beijing’s efforts to link itself to Southeast Asian markets, official sources confirmed over the weekend. The two countries agreed Friday to build a 40-billion yuan ($6.28 billion), 418-kilometer railway from Kunming, the capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, to the Laotian capital of Vientiane.//Officials have confirmed this project at least four times now – the hold up has been in the financing and bargaining over the size of concessions to the left and right of the train track. Currently, 50m on each side will be cleared, that includes forest resources (HUGE) going to China and then much space available for infrastructure and commercial investment.  Cutting a 100m wide swatch 418km long is unprecedented in railroad history.

Women fishers voice concerns about the Tonle Sap in Cambodia – Mekong Commons The people of the Kampong Phluk community, a seasonally-flooded wetlands on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, are facing impacts on their culture and livelihood especially from planned dams, such as the Lower Sesan 2 and the Mekong mainstream dams, and due to recent changes in fisheries management around Tonle Sap Lake. In this article, women in the community who depend on the fisheries in the lake for maintaining their families’ food source and livelihoods voice their perspectives and concerns.

Lower Sesan 2 dam putting livelihoods and environment at risk – Southeast Asia Globe The giant dam is one of the most controversial construction projects in Cambodia. The electricity-generation potential of the Lower Sesan 2 is massive but, for the Mekong River’s aquatic life and nearby villagers, the price of such progress could be colossal.

The Toxicity of Agriculture – The Diplomat In rural Vietnam we discover a disturbing connection between agricultural productivity and Mekong river pollution. Luc Forsyth and Gareth Bright have set out on a journey to follow the Mekong river from sea to source. The Diplomat will be sharing some of the stories they’ve found along the way. For more about the project, check out the whole series here.

Pacific trade pact praised, panned as Obama urges approval – The Jakarta Post The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the US and 11 other Pacific nations is drawing potential new members from Asia and criticism from those excluded, as it heads for a tough ride in the US Congress. Leaders of the trade grouping that spans the Pacific Rim met alongside a regional economic summit on Wednesday in the Philippines and President Barack Obama urged them to ratify the deal “as quickly as possible.”

Related: As TPP Leaders Celebrate, China Urges Creation of Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area – The Diplomat

Gunboat Diplomacy in the South China Sea – The Diplomat Two events in recent days have turned the tables on Chinese initiatives since 2009 in taking control of the vast waters of the South China Sea. On October 27, a U.S. guided missile destroyer passed within 12 miles of the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea (SCS) on a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FNO) which China condemned as a threat to its national sovereignty. Two days later the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China’s argument that the Court had no jurisdiction over the Philippines’ challenge to Chinese territorial claims in SCS.

Related: The Myth of a ‘Strategic Imbalance’ in the South China Sea – The Diplomat

Related: Who Is Really Overstepping the Bounds of International Law in the South China Sea? – The Diplomat

Interview: Jin Liqun of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank – GoKunming Jin Liqun, president-designate of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), believes that Bangladesh is on the right track in terms of ensuring sustainable development, and is therefore ready to provide support to infrastructure projects in Bangladesh before those in any other country. In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Jin lauded the country’s sustained economic growth and said, “This is a huge credit to the leadership of the government and also to the great people of Bangladesh.”

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

How Will Myanmar’s Elections Affect Relations With China? – The Diplomat The landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in last Sunday’s elections is a turning point in Myanmar’ s history. The NLD will have an opportunity to rule alone, given its super majority in the national parliament. How will an NLD government in Myanmar affect the country’s ties with China? Already, analysts are debating the possible impact of this new government on China-Myanmar relations. There are some legitimate worries that matters could deteriorate.

Vietnam wants good relations with China, defends sovereignty – The Jakarta Post Vietnam’s prime minister said Wednesday that the communist country will do its best to develop good relations with China, but at the same time will defend its sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea. The prime minister also called for a boost in national defense and security, and international support for its national construction and defense. Vietnam and China along with several other countries are locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where recent Chinese land reclamation projects have raised concerns.

Asean Summit: South China Sea disputes get non-claimant countries’ attentionThe Star KUALA LUMPUR: The South China Sea maritime and territorial disputes are causing alarm even among non-claimant countries, with leaders from India and Japan asking all parties to settle the issue peacefully. The topic is expected to be raised during the East Asia Summit here today as leaders from the Asean 10 meet their dialogue partners from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.

Related: Asean leaders raise concern about South China Sea island-building as China tries to keep it off the table – The South China Morning Post

US Announces Maritime Security Boost for Southeast Asia – The Diplomat The United States is boosting maritime security assistance to Southeast Asia, the White House announced November 17 as U.S. President Barack Obama kicked off a weeklong visit to Asia for the latest round of summitry. “We are increasing the maritime security capacity of our allies and partners, to respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region,” the statement said.

US, ASEAN to Ink New Strategic Partnership – The Diplomat The United States is set to elevate its relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by inking a new strategic partnership following upcoming U.S.-ASEAN consultations in Kuala Lumpur, sources confirmed to The Diplomat this week.

TPP Signatories Must Press Vietnam to Drop Proposed ‘Draconian’ Laws: Rights Group – Radio Free Asia The United States and other signatories to a major free trade agreement between Pacific Rim countries should pressure Vietnam to drop proposed laws that would allow the authorities to expand a crackdown on critics of the one party communist government, a rights group said Friday. Vietnam is using vague national security laws to stifle dissent, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement, adding that signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) must push Vietnam to halt legislation that would add even more penalties to its “already draconian criminal code.”

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

INTERVIEW – How should China decarbonise? – China Dialogue China Dialogue interviewed Teng Fei, an expert on China’s climate and energy policy and associate professor at the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University, on how China can make big cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions in the longer term following a projected peak by 2030 or earlier. Decarbonising the Chinese economy and other large emitters by 2050 is viewed as crucial if the world is avoid runaway climate change. Teng is is also a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Samoa Gets Additional Funds to Boost Hydropower, Cut Fuel Use – ADB The Asian Development Bank (ADB)-assisted, Samoa Renewable Energy Development and Power Sector Rehabilitation Project, is getting additional combined cofinance of $7.55 million to help the country cut its reliance on fuel oil and to increase energy security.

 

CHINA

After Paris Attacks, China Seeks More International Help Fighting Xinjiang Separatists – The Diplomat On November 16, in the first regular press conference after the Paris attacks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei called terrorism “a common challenge faced by all humanity” and urged “joint efforts … to address both the symptoms and the root causes of terrorism. Hong added that “double standards should be abandoned,” a reference to China’s displeasure when the West is slow to call violent attacks in China terrorist actions. Part of the world’s “joint efforts” to combat terrorism, Hong said, should involve targeting Uyghur separatists. “Clamping down on the ETIM should be an integral part of the global fight against terrorism,” Hong argued.

Chinese Debate Proper Response to Hostage’s Killing – NYT As news spread on Thursday that Islamic State militants had executed a Chinese hostage, some Chinese called on their government to send troops to the Middle East, while others cautioned that such a move could invite terrorism at home.

Related: Islamic State hostage killing: China vows justice after confirming death – The Guardian

China Says Kills 28 Suspects in Xinjiang Coal Mine Attack After 56-day ManhuntRadio Free Asia Chinese official media reported on Friday that police killed 28 members of a “terrorist group” in the mainly Muslim Xinjiang region, following a two-month manhunt for suspects in a deadly coalmine attack in September. The Xinjiang regional government’s Tianshan web portal, in a posting that included photos of armed police dressed in black patrolling against the backdrop of a mountainous, snowy landscape, said the slain group had committed “a violent terrorist attack under the direct command of an overseas extremist organization.”

China Burns Much More Coal Than Reported, Complicating Climate Talks – NYT China, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases from coal, has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data. The finding could complicate the already difficult efforts to limit global warming.

China’s Nuclear Vision Collides With Villagers’ Fears – NYT HUBIN VILLAGE, China – This placid, leafy hamlet tucked beside a dam in the countryside hardly seems like the next testing ground over China’s efforts to cut smog and greenhouse gases. But here among cornfields and crumbling stone homes skirted by persimmon trees, the government intends to build a nuclear power plant.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

An Interactive History of the Xayaburi DamInternational Rivers The following timeline gives an interactive view of the history of the Xayaburi Dam project. The first dam proposed and under construction on the lower stretch of the Mekong River mainstream in Laos, the Xayaburi Dam has faced significant opposition from local communities, Mekong Governments, the Mekong River Commission (MRC), scientists and stakeholders from around the world. Despite being under construction it continues to be the subject of lawsuits, human rights complaints and OECD Guidelines complaints.

Cambodia Denies Sam Rainsy Arrest Warrant Was Politically MotivatedRadio Free Asia Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday dismissed claims that a court decision to issue an arrest warrant for Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy was politically motivated and said his lawyer had acted alone in pursuing a defamation case against the opposition chief. Speaking to foreign diplomats and a representative for the United Nations’ human rights office, Hor Namhong said the warrant “was not triggered by [tensions between] the [ruling] Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) and the CNRP,” despite claims by rights groups and the international community linking it to the situation.

Assessment Highlights Ongoing Deficiencies of Burma’s Human Rights Commission – The Irrawaddy RANGOON — Burma’s human rights commission is at risk of being viewed as an “alibi institution” in the service of the government, according to the findings of a fact-finding mission, presented at a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday. FORUM-ASIA and Burma Partnership, together with Smile Education and Development Foundation and Equality Myanmar, led a mission to the country from Nov. 16-18 to assess the impact and effectiveness of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHCR), over a year since its reconstitution.

Ethnic aspects of the electionsDVB As anticipated, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in last week’s polls. This is a massive and historic achievement; nothing will be the same again in Burmese politics. Over the past couple of days, a number of ethnic nationality friends have been in touch to express disappointment regarding the poor showing of ethnic political parties – at least beyond parts of Arakan [Rakhine], Chin and Shan states. A large majority of Burma’s citizens voted for change: out with the military-backed government, and in with ‘The Lady’. Many citizens who identify with their ethnic nationality nevertheless voted for the long-standing symbol of opposition to military rule.

Burma Army Offensive Continues in Kachin State – The Irrawaddy RANGOON — Burma’s Armed Forces continued their offensive on Kachin Independence Army (KIA) positions in Kachin State’s Mohnyin Township on Thursday, firing artillery rounds since 7 am, according to locals.

 

YUNNAN

Grassroots forest management in Yunnan’s Xinqi – GoKunming Today, Xinqi is a pleasant village that reaps the benefits of its grassroots decision to manage and live off its forests. It produces furniture and other timber products, as well as non-timber forest products. Examples include but are not limited to honey, walnuts, mushrooms, camellia oil and other traditional soap ingredients. Where farms have not been replaced by forest, they often apply tree intercropping techniques where the trees fertilize and stabilize the soil while regulating crop humidity and moisture. Additional future income is expected from eco-tourism. A guesthouse with lots of wood features and a view of the mountains is being constructed for that very purpose, and the forests attract crowds searching for natural beauty.

China International Travel Mart generates massive interest – GoKunming Yunnan’s strategic importance in foreign relations is growing, and growing quickly. Reflecting this, a formerly pedestrian event in Kunming moved to the forefront of both economic and political relations between China and the wider world this past weekend. The 2015 China International Travel Mart (2015中国国际旅游交易会) ended November 15, concluding after three days of furious networking and international outreach.

This week’s digest was compiled by Rachel Tristch with brief commentary by Brian Eyler. 

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Mekong lessons: Reflecting on October trip to Southeast Asia

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I’ve just returned from my first business trip to Southeast Asia with the Stimson Center’s “Team Mekong.”  Below are a few lessons learned and brief observations from our visits in Bangkok, Kunming, Phnom Penh, Can Tho, Hanoi, and Saigon.

Good ideas gain currency

Before I joined the Stimson team in June, I must confess that my outlook on the future of the Mekong region was not filled with optimism. I cannot begin to describe how refreshing it is to join a team that is developing pragmatic and innovative solutions to some of the region’s toughest issues. Moreover, it’s extremely satisfying to watch the deployment of an idea gain momentum among decision makers and begin to take on a life of its own. Simply put, ideas work. At public forums in Bangkok, Kunming and Hanoi and in meetings with regional government officials Stimson’s “Team Mekong” launched a more refined version of the concept of the need for a “New Narrative” on Mekong hydropower development first mooted by my colleagues, SEA Program Director Rich Cronin and Research Associate Courtney Weatherby this March. The New Narrative challenges the current narrative that the construction of 11 dams on the Mekong’s main stem is a prevailing ‘domino theory’ of inevitability based on an emerging body of evidence. Stimson’s most recent report and its main argument can be found here, but it was encouraging to hear the idea confirmed when well informed hydropower experts placed their bets on no more than five dams, all of them above Vientiane excepting Don Sahong.

So if the Lao PDR government is banking on income generated from the construction of eleven main stem dams but only gets five in the end, shouldn’t it consider alternatives? Considering the known and unknown costs of downstream effects on fisheries and livelihoods, it seems prudent for Laos to give the entire basin development plan another look.  As a sustainable, one-country alternative to relieving the pressure of hydropower development on the Mekong’s main stem along with the unbearable downstream costs related to impacted fisheries and livelihoods, the Stimson team is continuing to develop the concept of a Laos national power grid designed for both the export of hydropower and national electrification as an alternative to Laos’ current economic development plan.

The grid would be designed to optimized trade-offs related to the food- water-energy nexus on a basin wide scale. On this trip, we received much encouragement for the national power grid concept from regional government officials, but challenges still remain in convincing Laos as to why national electrification will provide more benefits than the current plan.  As a suggestion, Vietnam, as a most concerned state in regard to downstream impacts can, share the story of the benefits of rural electrification with its neighbor through the history of its own development.  Further, Vietnam’s electricity demand is increasing at 12% year-on-year prior to the TPP and could act as a major purchaser of power generated from a Laos’s national grid.

No clear trends on the China Factor.

I see no clear evidence that China’s state-owned enterprises are trending toward improving practices in Southeast Asia or that there is a concerted move from policy-motivated concessional projects to those based on financial viability. A few firms might be making improvements here or there, but even these firms are not willing to release the details and data supporting these so-called improvements. In the case of Hydrolancang’s Lower Sesan 2 project in Cambodia, the developer claims its fish passages will be successful in protecting vulnerable fish species, but will not release the research or plans for those fish passages for public observation or scrutiny. The message for Hydrolancang and other similar Chinese dam developers hasn’t changed: “We’ve conducted 100% of research relevant to these projects, and we’re confident that all problems will be solved. You only need to trust us.” But trust is built on results and transparent public relations. China simply runs a poor track record on these factors in the Mekong region.

A surprising development is that China’s firms are playing the victim when discussing their Southeast Asian projects. Officers of these firms claim Beijing put them to task on these projects while the firms have to bear the risks and interact with prickly civil society groups, unwarranted Western criticism, and unstable host governments – the Myitsone dam serves as a case in point. Yet they fail to acknowledge the unbalanced stream of benefits granted by concessional contracts or the processes through which these benefits are gained.

Further, these firms often claim to strictly follow the laws and regulations of host countries related to environmental and social impacts. Yet weak states like Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia have promulgated little to nothing in terms of environmental or social safeguards, so these claims of being responsible legal investors are interpreted as trite and non-persuasive.

Lastly, some anecdotal evidence points to Chinese money earmarked for overseas infrastructure development drying up in this latest round of China’s economic downturn. This discovery supports emerging conversations that Chinese firms are investing in more commercially viable or “bankable” projects. However, at the same time China’s One Belt One Road initiative appears to be creating a pool for free money given out on soft terms to any firm interested in constructing a project vaguely related to the objectives of the One Belt One Road whatever they may be. When weighing whether or not China’s upcoming investment on Mekong main-stem dams in the pipeline will be based on strategic motivations or sound financial decision making, this last point is particularly concerning.

New institutional frameworks are forming to coordinate regional policy making.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Mekong River Commission is NOT the institution to solve the big issues rising the Mekong region, though it still constitutes the only treaty-based intergovernmental organization in the region, and its technical review of the Xayaburi dam and its anticipated critique of the Don Sahong project have caused both developers to delay the projects and spend hundreds of millions on significant engineering changes and additional fisheries research. But in terms of actual governmental engagement, other institutions and bilateral arrangements are beginning to fill this gap. The US-led Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), for instance, in its still nascent form aims to promote higher standards on water resource management and assessment of infrastructure development within the region. The LMI brings together the line ministries of the four MRC countries and Myanmar several times a year in working groups both on functional “pillars” and cross-cutting issues like the water-energy-food nexus, and the prime ministers of the LMI countries meet in the wings of the annual ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting, where transboundary issues and impacts from hydropower dams and other major infrastructure projects can be raised to the extent that the leaders are willing to engage on them.

In response to both the US-led LMI and the waning power of the MRC, China is assembling a multi-lateral organization for joint river basin management called the Lancang-Mekong Dialogue Mechanism (LMDM). Mekong watchers should pay attention to the outcomes of the first vice-ministerial meeting of the LMDM on November 12. Further, Cambodia is negotiating a transboundary environmental impact assessment treaty with Laos and Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are authoring new sets of environmental and social safeguards related to infrastructure development.

These frameworks are all coming together quite quickly. Yet even the US led LMI is said to be underfunded, uncoordinated, and unsure of its product. China’s forming of its own river basin organization is a welcomed foray into multi-lateral diplomacy, a realm often eschewed by the Chinese, but the intent and purpose of this organization is unclear. Serious cooperation on the use of the water and hydropower development will be highly limited so long as China refuses on national security grounds to provide downstream countries with the results of its hydrological and water quality studies, or the operation of its dams and other water releases from its monster reservoirs.  And whether or not new safeguards in the Mekong’s weakest countries will have teeth or just pay green-washing lip-service is unknown.  These developments all deserve our close attention.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 11.2.15

EXSE FOCUS

 Is Laos Building a New Illegal Dam on the Mekong River? – The Diplomat The National Assembly of Laos recently approved the concession agreement for the 260-megawatt Don Sahong hydropower project, with construction expected to begin before the end of 2015. The controversial hydroelectric project is currently the focal point of discussion surrounding development of the Mekong River given the potential negative impacts of hydropower on other sectors of the water-food-energy-livelihoods nexus.//Is it legal? Maybe. Does it need to be built? No. I’ve seen first-hand the fish pass channel that is supposed to mitigate the dam’s effects on migration and it’s highly unlikely that it will leave the vital Mekong fish stocks unaffected. For the 260Mw it’s going to produce, the Don Sahong dam is clearly not worth the costs.

Related: Laos boosts hydropower, explores coal deposits for shale gas – Thanh Nien News

Study on the Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower on the Mekong River – CGIAR The Vietnam National Mekong Committee (VNMC) would like to thank all participants for attending our Special Session on the Mekong Delta Study (MDS) at the Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy. The presentations delivered at the Forum are now available for you review.//A very useful collection of presentations highlighting the downstream impacts of hydropower dams on the Mekong on livelihoods, biological environments and fisheries.

Related: Mekong dams will wipe out fisheries, study says – The Phnom Penh Post

China May Ban New Coal-Fired Power – Radio Free Asia China’s government is reportedly considering a ban on building new coal-fired power plants, a move that could have significant effects on pollution, energy use, and jobs in the declining coal industry. On Oct. 10, a key environmental adviser told the Sydney Morning Herald that officials have been discussing a cap on coal-fired generating capacity under the next planning period for 2016 through 2020.

The Fraught Politics of the TPP – Project Syndicate This month, 12 countries on both sides of the Pacific finalized the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The scope of the TPP is vast. If ratified and implemented, it will have a monumental impact on trade and capital flows along the Pacific Rim. Indeed, it will contribute to the ongoing transformation of the international order. Unfortunately, whether this will happen remains uncertain.

Related: Indonesia Wants to Join TPP: President Jokowi – The Diplomat

US Freedom of Navigation Patrols in the South China Sea: China Reacts – The Diplomat On Tuesday the U.S. Navy finally carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificially-built islands. After months of media reports indicating Washington was coming ever closer to such patrols, the USS Lassen, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef (and possibly Mischief Reef as well), according to U.S. officials who spoke with the media.

Related: China faces mounting pressure over maritime claims – The Jakarta Post

The UK: A Success Story for China’s Educational Soft PowerThe Diplomat In an op-ed for Times Higher Education last week, Imperial College London President Alice Gast proudly proclaimed U.K. universities to be “China’s best partners in the West.” Though largely a rhetorical reference to the strategic choice made by her nation’s leaders to become China’s best friend, Gast’s statement hits the nail on the head when it comes to China’s current soft power development in the U.K.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

ASEAN’s Big Year Offers Little to Celebrate – The Diplomat A grand entrance by the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), when it launches in less than nine weeks, onto the world stage was supposed to herald the dawning of a prosperous new age for the more than 600 million people who live within the region. But the political realities are already delivering a different, unwanted take. Bad? Even Southeast Asia’s harshest critics are trying hard not to crow over the latest debacles, for fear of tempting fate with the region’s notoriously thin-skinned leaders.

Vietnam, Philippines Near New Strategic Partnership – The Diplomat On October 21, Vietnam and the Philippines convened the eighth meeting of their bilateral cooperation committee. The deliberations focused on specific measures for advancing collaboration as the two ASEAN states are expected to lift ties to a strategic partnership next month.//This agreement has everything to do with South China Sea issues and it’s no coincidence that it happens after the US made its pass-by last week. Team America gets tighter. 

Vietnam, Cambodia advance border province cooperation – Thanh Nien News Vietnam and Cambodia Wednesday agreed on directions and measures to bolster cooperation between their border provinces and effectively settle arising and complex issues, the Vietnam News Agency reported. The eighth meeting on border province cooperation and development, held in Ho Chi Minh City October 27-28, was co-chaired by Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng.

China’s president to visit Vietnam amid South China Sea tension – The South China Morning Post President Xi Jinping will visit Vietnam next week amid heightened tension in the South China Sea that has weighed on ties between the neighbours. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing on Thursday Xi would visit Vietnam on November 5-6.

U.N. Urges Inquiry Into Attack on Cambodian Opposition LawmakersNYT The United Nations expressed concern on Friday over a crackdown on Cambodia’s political opposition, urging an independent and thorough investigation of a mob attack this week that seriously injured two opposition lawmakers.

Indonesia’s leader says his country to join Asia trade pactThe Jakarta Post Indonesia’s leader looked to cement his nation’s growing ties with the United States, declaring after a meeting Monday with President Barack Obama that Southeast Asia’s largest economy intended to join a sweeping U.S.-backed Pacific Rim trade deal.//The TPP makes sense for Jokowi and the US should take this opportunity work hard to make this happen. 

America’s Society Is Wealthier Than China’s – And It Doesn’t MatterThe Diplomat One quick, simplistic way to compare China and the United States: China has a wealthy state and a poor society, while America has a poor government but a wealthy society. Yet the average American enjoys a considerably higher standard of living than the average Chinese. Some analysts argue this huge gap in private wealth ensures that China is not poised to overtake the United States as the world’s top economic power and therefore China is not a threat to American global pre-eminence in the foreseeable future. This analysis, however, is flawed.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Forest Management Group Strips Vietnamese Rubber Company of Certification – Radio Free Asia A global forest management organization has stripped a Vietnamese rubber company of its certification after finding that the state-owned entity committed human rights violations and illegally destroyed thousands of acres of forest for rubber plantations in Cambodia. The U.S.-based Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international nonprofit organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests, publicly announced the decision Monday after finding evidence that Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG) had illegally seized land from local villagers in Cambodia and decimated at least 50,000 hectares (123,600 acres) of forest.

Cambodia: peaceful direct action has saved one of our most beautiful forestsThe Guardian An environmental activist explains how a grassroots campaign has stalled the building of a dam in Cambodia.//One of the growing number of success stories for grassroots environmental groups in SE Asia. Curious that as SE Asia sees a weakening of democratic institutions, grassroots orgs gain more power. 

Vietnam launches its largest hi-tech research and development centerThanh Nien News The center are expected to produce hi-tech mechanical devices, energy-saving chips and solar panels.

CHINA

 China to allow all couples two children to counter aging population – Thanh Nien News China will ease family planning restrictions to allow all couples to have two children after decades of a strict one-child policy, the ruling Communist Party said on Thursday, a move aimed at alleviating demographic strains on the economy.//I remember asking people on the street in Beijing about this policy 5 years ago for Chinese class. The vast majority said that the policy would continue for at least another 10 to 15 years. There’s no quick fix to China’s looming demographic problems, but this is a start. I know plenty of government employees (who would lose their job before the policy change) who are getting ready for their second child now. 

Related: Q. and A.: Mei Fong on the Impact of China’s ‘One Child’ Policy – NYT

 Chinese lawmakers among nearly 900 people arrested in anti-corruption crackdown this year in Shanxi province – The South China Morning Post Chinese police have arrested nearly 900 suspected members of 150 organised crime gangs, including lawmakers – all from the same province – so far this year, mainland media has reported.

 China’s Fifth Plenum: What You Need to Know – The Diplomat The CCP’s fifth plenum laid out the plan for China’s development over the next five years.

 Chinese president Xi Jinping’s trusted general in line for top PLA roleThe South China Morning Post The top decision-making body of the Communist Party is to use its ongoing meeting in Beijing to vet top candidates to lead the military after 2017. The Politburo Standing Committee would use its fifth plenum to consider who would lead the Central Military Commission (CMC) after that date, sources close to the army said.

 China’s Meritocracy Vs. Western Democracy – The Diplomat Is China’s meritocracy actually a better alternative to Western-style democracy?

 Innovation with Chinese Characteristics – Project Syndicate SHANGHAI – China’s slowing growth has dominated global economic news this year – and for good reason. Beyond being the world’s second-largest economy, China is the largest manufacturer and consumer of raw materials; so any sign of weakening there is bad news for the global economy. But, while concerns about growth certainly merit attention, they should be viewed in the context of China’s longer-term economic trajectory, especially its emergence as a global hub of innovation.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Cambodian Opposition MPs Beaten as Political Truce Falters – The Irrawaddy PHNOM PENH — Two opposition lawmakers were beaten outside Cambodia’s parliament on Monday during a demonstration in support of the ruling party, witnesses and the opposition said, in the first case of violence since a political truce broke down in July.

The Truth About Myanmar’s New Ceasefire Agreement – The Diplomat The recently concluded nationwide ceasefire agreement is a step in the right direction.//It is a step in the right direction. The question is “Is it a big enough step to maintain stability through the political changes of the next few months. 

‘I can’t take it anymore’: Desperation drives Indonesian residents from epicentre of Southeast Asia’s haze crisis – The South China Morning Post When the smoke from forest fires turned a thick, acrid yellow, casting an apocalyptic glow over Palangkaraya, Kartika Sari decided to grab her child and flee the Indonesian city at the epicentre of the haze crisis smothering Southeast Asia.

 Vietnam commits to ASEAN’s goal to end forest fire haze in 2020 – Thanh Nien News Environment ministers from Southeast Asia have agreed to a five-year plan to end Indonesian forest fire haze that has persisted every year and sickened hundreds of thousands this year.

Too hot to work: climate change ‘puts south-east Asia economies at risk’ – The Guardian Rising temperatures and humidity due to climate change are likely to increase the number of days with unsafe “heat stress”, putting south-east Asia at great risk of significant drops in productivity, a research firm said on Wednesday. South-east Asia over the next three decades could lose 16% of its labour capacity due to rising heat stress, which could cause absenteeism due to dizziness, fatigue, nausea and even death in extreme cases, the British firm Verisk Maplecroft said.//Not only will this temperature rise put stress on workers, it will put stress on regional food security, as a dramatic rise in temperature will decrease fish stocks and rice yields.

Lao Officials Investigate Massive Increase in Illegal Logging – Radio Free Asia A leaked report by an international environmental group revealing huge increases in illegal logging in Laos with an implication of government collusion has prompted officials in the small Southeast Asian nation to take action to examine discrepancies in timber export and import figures with China and Vietnam.

 Police submit shrine bomb report with military courtThe Nation The official report into the August 17 Erawan Shrine bombing, which also encompasses the Sathorn Pier bombing the following day, has been submitted to the chief military prosecutor by Pol Lt-General Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul, acting deputy police chief.

Vietnam on track to replace China as new manufacturing hub: experts – Thanh Nien News With increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into its manufacturing sector, Vietnam stands a great chance of leaping ahead and replace China as the new production center, experts have said. They were speaking at a conference recently organized by the State Bank of Vietnam in collaboration with the World Bank. Victoria Kwakwa, the World Bank’s Country Director for Vietnam, said FDI flows into Vietnam’s manufacturing sector has rapidly increased over the past 10 years and will possibly rise more.

YUNNAN

China’s first provincial ‘tourism police’ approved for Yunnan – GoKunming Over the past decade, the domestic tourism industry has grown to become one of China’s most potent economic drivers. As money poured into sightseeing destinations, an accompanying growth in fraudulent and coercive schemes emerged. Yunnan, where many of the most blatant cases have taken place, was recently chosen to lead a pilot program establishing the country’s first provincial tourism police force. The Yunnan Tourism Police Corps officially (YTPC) came into being October 28, jointly created by the National Tourism Bureau and officials representing the provincial government.

 Study: Modern-day southern Chinese, SE Asians, from Yunnan – GoKunming The world of anthropology is experiencing some tumultuous upheavals these days. First, a trove of ancient bones uncovered in South Africa threatened to rewrite human evolution, and now a Chinese academic believes his research shows the modern day residents of southern China, most of Southeast Asia and eastern India are descended from a common patriarchal figure who once lived in what is today Yunnan province.//Linguistically, it’s clear that the Bamar, the Thai, Lao and Shan, among a host of upland ethnic groups all passed through Yunnan on their way to their modern-day homes. 

Rich Man, Pu’er Man: A Fermented Tea’s Steep Ascent – ChinaFile Beginning in the 1990s, tea connoisseurs from Taiwan, who enjoyed naturally aged pu’er grown decades earlier in Yunnan and stored in the form of compressed cakes, started to travel to Xishuangbanna to learn the origin of the tea, celebrating the link to Chinese history and the notion of artisanal production. Their interest helped convince local officials and businesspeople to try to revive traditional tea production, meanwhile promoting pu’er tea as the distilled essence of rural virtue and simple beauty; in effect, drinkable nostalgia.

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A More Comprehensive Partnership: What the US should seek from Jokowi’s visit

This is Indonesian President Joko Widodo's first visit to the US since taking office more than a year ago. Photo used under Wikimedia commons license.

This is Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s first visit to the US since taking office more than a year ago. Photo used under Wikimedia commons license.

For leaders of large Asian countries, the United States is the focus for fall 2016. After India’s Narendra Modi and China’s Xi Jinping both visited the US in September, Indonesian President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo landed on US soil this week, for the first time since he took office a little more than a year ago. Today, Indonesia sits at an important crossroads as it engages with the US and China, all while forging its own identity in Southeast Asia. During Jokowi’s visit, the US should build on its existing comprehensive partnership with Indonesia by strengthening bilateral security and defense ties and continuing to court Indonesia economically, specifically in light of the newly-agreed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Washington should also push Jakarta to use its perennial leadership role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to advocate for democratic and human rights norms in the region.
Since the Suharto era, the US and Indonesia have maintained close security ties. This facet of the bilateral relationship should be augmented during this month’s visit. Jokowi aims to make Indonesia a maritime power that serves as a strategic and economic link between the Indian and Pacific oceans. The US should help Jokowi realize this goal by providing assistance as Indonesia plans to create a coast guard independent of its navy. This assistance could come in the form of the US Coast Guard training its Indonesian counterpart and possible joint exercises in 2016. Moreover, as the world’s maritime superpower, the US has much to offer Indonesia as it looks to upgrade its own capabilities. A new strategic dialogue focused on maritime security would serve to strengthen bilateral ties and help Jakarta attain its maritime goals.
Additionally, Indonesia has struggled with piracy throughout the archipelago and is host to a low-level insurgency in its western islands. Recently, more than 500 Indonesians have traveled to the Middle East to join the Islamic State (IS). The US should offer to assist Indonesia in combating both off-shore piracy and terrorism through an agreement for enhanced cooperation on terrorism and intelligence sharing.
In Jokowi’s visit, the US also has an opportunity to enhance economic ties with Indonesia. The country of 250 million has great economic potential; however the first year of the Jokowi presidency has been marked by low growth rates and disappointing economic stimulus packages. Jokowi desires to attract investment from US businesses, however regulatory red-tape and a penchant for economic nationalism has scared away foreign enterprises in the past. To solve this issue and benefit both sides, Washington and Jakarta should lay the groundwork for a new bilateral investment agreement.
In addition, the US should continue to court Indonesia to join the TPP. With negotiations recently concluding in Atlanta, now is the perfect time to remind Indonesia of the economic benefits of joining the trade pact. In the past, the Indonesian response to the TPP has been lukewarm, though fears of falling behind its neighbors in attracting foreign direct investment could spur Jakarta to reconsider the treaty.
Lastly, Washington should not miss this chance to encourage Indonesia to continue its leadership role in ASEAN. As the regional bloc’s largest country and strongest democracy, Indonesia holds a special place among the member states and its past efforts have shaped political transitions in places like Cambodia and Myanmar. The US should push Jokowi to continue to advocate for democratic and human rights norms in the region, especially at a time when these institutions are under renewed peril in Thailand and Myanmar. Additionally, ASEAN member states face a threat from Chinese
expansion in the South China Sea. A strong Indonesia is necessary if ASEAN is able to stand-up to its northern neighbor’s provocations.

 

After more than five years, the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership could use a refresher and Jokowi’s visit to the US provides the perfect opportunity. By enhancing military-to-military ties, pushing for a new bilateral investment treaty and encouraging Indonesia to continue its leadership in ASEAN, the US can develop Indonesia into a robust regional partner capable of supporting the United States’ interests in Southeast Asia.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.26.15

EXSE FOCUS

Thousands of refugees expected to take to boats for new life as Asia’s monsoons end-The Guardian UNHCR expects surge of ‘irregular’ migrants fleeing Bangladesh and Myanmar to use ‘sailing season’ to reach southern south-east Asian countries Thousands of “irregular” migrants fleeing Bangladesh and Myanmar are expected to board boats for new countries in coming weeks as the end of the Asia’s south-west monsoon season reopening the Bay of Bengal-Andaman Sea route to south-east Asia. In three years, the number of people boarding rickety fishing boats – leaving Myanmar and Bangladesh for countries further south in south-east Asia – has nearly tripled to 63,000 people last year, UN figures show.//Yes the election is coming, but so is the flood of refugees. And according to a new Al Jazeera special, they are refugees of a legitimate genocide happening in Arakan state. But kudos to Hillary for ‘opening up’ Myanmar, right? Is there a correlation to freer speech in Myanmar and the genocide of Rohingya, much of it fueled by anti-Muslim hate speech? Something to look into.  

Related: Thousands of Rohingya refugees to flee by boat in ‘looming disaster’, Amnesty warns-The Guardian

 Examining the Flaws of a South China Sea Code of Conduct-The Diplomat A South China Sea Code of Conduct presents several challenges. The South China Sea has turned into a hotspot for potential regional conflicts in recent years. Nonetheless, parties concerned have already tried their best efforts to establish certain mechanisms to prevent crisis and reduce tension together. The first significant initiative was the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea”, known as the DOC, signed by all the members of the ASEAN and the People’s Republic of China on November 4, 2002.

Cambodian Villagers Demand Compensation For Expected Impact of China-Backed Dam– Radio Free Asia Villagers in northern Cambodia’s Oddar Meanchey province on Tuesday urged the government to suspend construction of a Chinese-backed dam until they are promised compensation for flooding they say will inundate area communities, forests and farmland if the project is allowed to proceed. The villagers from Oddar Meanchey’s Chong Kal district told RFA’s Khmer Service that Chinese developer Sinohydro had recently transported various pieces of equipment to nearby Phnom Atoar to assist in building the Steung Sreng II dam and demanded authorities suspend construction. If the government is unwilling to compensate them for the losses they expect to incur, authorities should develop a plan to mitigate the potential impact of flooding caused by the dam, said the residents of Sras Keo village, in Chong Kal’s Pong Ro commune.//These dams cause companies like Sinohydro quite a bit of trouble, but the payoffs (literally) can make the projects worth it. New trends are coming to dam-building in SE Asia, however. 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China, Cambodia Boost Cooperation During Hun Sen’s Visit-The Diplomat What did Cambodia’s premier achieve during his week in Beijing? While in China, Hun Sen attended the Global Tourism Economy Forum Macao 2015, the Asian Political Parties’ Special Conference on the Silk Road, the 2015 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum, and the 6th Xiangshan Forum – China’s newly upgraded security forum that some characterize as Beijing’s answer to the Singapore-hosted Shangri-La Dialogue. But the highlight of the trip was his meeting with president Xi on October 15, which saw the signing of several agreements.

The US-China South China Sea Showdown-The Diplomat U.S. freedom of navigation operations could take the U.S.-China relationship past a point of no return. The United States and China are hurtling toward a showdown over Freedom of Navigation in the the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy is poised to sail near seven artificial islands China constructed in the Spratly archipelago over the past two years as a means to challenge any excessive or illegitimate Chinese sovereignty claims there.//They came, they sailed, no one died. Lots of chest-beating on China’s part, and a handful of nationalist netizens calling for war in reaction to the sail-by, but war is still unlikely. 

Related: China’s Maritime Trap-The Diplomat

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Rapid Economic Growth in China Is Chipping Away at Coastal Wetlands-NYT A report adds to rising concerns that China’s decades of rapid economic growth have caused possibly irreversible damage to the environment. Coastal wetlands in China have vanished at an alarming rate because of the country’s economic development, and current economic plans could diminish them to below the minimum needed for “ecological security,” including fresh water, fishery products and flood control, according to a report released Monday by Chinese scientists and an American research center. The report, based on 18 months of research, says “the primary driver for the reduced area of coastal wetlands is the large-scale and fast conversion and land reclamations of coastal wetlands.”

Related: China’s Boom Has Hurt Wetlands, Threatens Extinction of Rare Birds– China File

China’s panda sanctuaries at risk from illegal logging, says Greenpeace-The Guardian Investigation found 1,280 hectares of natural forest illegally razed, endangering homes of more than 30% of world’s pandas. Illegal loggers are ransacking sanctuaries in southwest China that are home to more than 30% of the world’s pandas, according to a Greenpeace investigation. The two-year study found that more than 1,800 football pitches of natural forest in a Unesco world natural heritage site had been illegally razed.

Time For Southeast Asia to Address its Climate Problem-The Diplomat Though transboundary haze pollution and the El Niño phenomenon are often reported these days across Southeast Asia, these issues deserve greater attention from regional leaders. These are no longer national problems that local politicians can easily address through rhetoric; the situation already demands a stronger action which can be effectively realized through regional cooperation. The haze has become an annual problem involving Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. This year, the haze is darker and more hazardous than ever; but this time it has reached the skies of south Thailand and some parts of southern Mindanao in the Philippines. //Do the U.S., China, and other high CO2 emitting countries largely responsible for human-induced extreme weather patterns owe the nations of Southeast Asia assistance? Or is this truly Southeast Asia’s “Climate Problem”?

A ‘less defensive’ China can help spur global climate deal-China Dialogue The engagement of China and the US has been a major breakthrough in international climate change negotiations and has set the stage for a successful outcome at talks in Paris in December, according to climate experts. Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama demonstrated game-changing political will by pledging to tackle emissions at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Beijing last year, a panel convened by website Climate HomeE3G and consultancy PwC told a press conference in London on Thursday. “You would not have had a US-China agreement unless the two countries were really clear about where they wanted to go and had the conviction to get there,” said panellist Pete Ogden, a former director for climate change and environment policy at the White House.

CHINA 

In a Region Disturbed by Ethnic Tensions, China Keeps Tight Lid on a Massacre-NYT More than 50 people, most of them Han Chinese, were killed in a rampage at a coal mine in the far west Xinjiang region last month, but almost nothing is being said about it. Armed with only knives, the assailants struck at the coal mine in the dead of night, first killing the security guards and then setting upon the miners as they slept in their dormitory beds. Before the Sept. 18 rampage was over, more than 50 people were dead, at least five of them police officers, and dozens more had been wounded, according to victims’ relatives and residents. Most of the victims were Han Chinese who had been lured to this desolate corner of the far west Xinjiang region by the prospect of steady work and decent pay.//Songs and dances about ethnic unity do little to address real issues of ethnic autonomy and economic equity in Xinjiang. Post-Erawan, Beijing was always going to keep a lid on this story, but how much longer is denial going to keep a lid on the problem?

China’s Growth Slows to 6.9%-NYT The weak result compares with 7 percent growth in the previous two quarters, but was slightly better than the 6.8 percent economists had forecast. China’s economy grew 6.9 percent in third quarter from a year ago, as a deepening industrial rout and slumping stock market pushed growth to its slowest quarterly pace since the global financial crisis of 2009.

China Turns to Online Courses, and Mao, in Pursuit of Soft Power-NYT Offerings on a range of subjects could expose millions of overseas students to Chinese culture, if worries about academic freedom, quality and propaganda can be overcome. When Ms. Cabrera began watching the lectures on edX, a popular online education platform owned and administered by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was disappointed. Each class opened with a patriotic video montage. Talk of Mao’s errors was minimal, restricted to the Communist Party line. The professor, a faculty member Tsinghua, one of China’s most prestigious universities, seemed eager to mimic Mao himself, dressing in a tunic suit and referring to Maoism as a “magic bullet” for the party.

2 Chinese Diplomats Shot to Death in Philippines-NYT A Chinese citizen has been arrested in the shooting in the central city of Cebu, which also left the consul general, Song Ronghua, wounded, officials said. The assailant, who was identified by the police as Li Qinglong, was arrested. The police had also detained his wife, Gou Jing, a Chinese national, in connection with the shooting.

China GDP forecast to be just under 7%-The Guardian Economists are predicting the slowest growth rate in the country since the depths of the financial crisis. The importance of China to the global financial system is to be illustrated again on Monday as the world’s second-largest economy releases its estimate of third-quarter gross domestic product. China’s president Xi Jinping acknowledged concerns about the strength of his country’s economy on the eve of a state visit to the UK. The report follows the crash of world stock markets in August on fears about the country’s economic robustness. Economists are now forecasting the slowest Chinese growth rate since the depths of the financial crisis.

Errors revealed at Chinese nuclear firm seeking to invest in UK plants-The Guardian Huge quantity of protective steel was left out of initial construction of China General Nuclear Corp’s first reactor, built close to Hong Kong in 1987. One of the Chinese nuclear power firms pushing for a stake in the UK’s energy industry left out hundreds of critical steel rods when building its first reactor near Hong Kong in 1987 because workers misread the blueprint. The missing parts were added in a higher layer of the foundation, with extra steel to reinforce them, after the extraordinary mistake was discovered. The plant has now been operating safely for more than two decades.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Myanmar’s Jade Trade Is a $31 Billion ‘Heist,’ Report Says-NYT The secretive industry driving armed conflict and rampant drug abuse was worth as much as $31 billion in 2014, almost half of the nation’s entire gross domestic product, according to a report. Myanmar’s jade trade, a secretive industry driving armed conflict and rampant drug abuse, was worth as much as $31 billion in 2014, almost half of the Southeast Asian nation’s entire gross domestic product, according to a report released on Friday. Fueled by soaring demand from the growing Chinese middle class, Myanmar’s largest jade quarries, in the war-torn northern state of Kachin, have long been a source of bloody conflict.

Related: Myanmar’s military elite and drug lords run £20bn jade trade, report says-The Guardian

Myanmar Military Clashes With Rebels in Shan State– Radio Free Asia Government troops launched a fresh attack on rebel soldiers in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state Wednesday as an election official announced that polling stations may be relocated due to safety concerns in the area ahead of a vote scheduled for early next month. The fighting erupted near Loilen district’s Monghsu township headquarters of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N)—the armed wing of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP)—causing Shan villagers to flee to safety, SSPP spokesman Lt-Col Sai La told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Cambodia’s battle against malaria put at risk as expenses row holds up funds-The Guardian Amid rising malaria cases, the Cambodian government refuses to sign agreement for Global Fund grant over requirements to account for travel and hotel costs Cambodia’s fight against malaria is at risk of being derailed because of a dispute over expenses payments between the Cambodian government and the Global Fund, the biggest donor to the country’s malaria programme. The row comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that malaria cases in Cambodia have increased significantly in the last year.//For those who would disagree, this is proof that corruption kills. 

Unlicensed Cambodian medic on trial for infecting more than 100 people with HIV-The Guardian Village practitioner Yem Chhrin faces charges of murder and intentionally spreading HIV for his reuse of needles. An unlicensed medical practitioner who infected more than 100 villagers in north-west Cambodia with HIV by reusing unclean needles went on trial on Tuesday, facing three charges including murder, a defense lawyer said. Yem Chhrin faces up to life in prison if found guilty of murder, intentionally spreading HIV and practising medicine without a licence, his lawyer, Em Sovann, said by telephone.

Is Myanmar’s Election Doomed to Fail?-The Diplomat Are Myanmar’s highly anticipated general elections, widely touted as “historic” by diplomats, pundits and media, doomed to fail just like previous polls? A surprise proposal floated this week by the military-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC) to postpone the November 8 polls has raised troubling questions about the military-backed quasi-civilian government’s commitment to the electoral process and rang alarm bells in Western capitals invested in a successful democratic transition through the ballot box.//Free and fair elections don’t make a ‘successful democratic transition’, and they don’t make a stable business environment either. The twin (and related issues) of the Rohingya genocide and the civil war in the east have to end before anything can be considered successful. 

A Dozen Trafficked Migrants Freed From Thai Fishing Boat-The Irrawaddy Magazine A dozen migrant workers from Burma who were sold into slavery on a Thai fishing boat were rescued this week by a joint team of officials and rights advocates on the shore of Thailand’s Trang Province. Following a five-month investigation, a task force comprising the Thai Department of Special Investigation and the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), under the aegis of the Burmese Embassy, secured the release of the twelve men, some of whom had been confined as laborers on fishing vessels for as long as 15 years.

Vietnam, Philippines Near New Strategic Partnership-The Diplomat Manila and Hanoi held a meeting ahead of a much-anticipated signing next month. On October 21, Vietnam and the Philippines convened the eighth meeting of their bilateral cooperation committee. The deliberations focused on specific measures for advancing collaboration as the two ASEAN states are expected to lift ties to a strategic partnership next month.

Vietnam economy forecast to be 17th-strongest in the world by 2025-Investvine Vietnam’s economy, which currently ranks 55th globally by GDP, will grow to rank 17 by 2025, predicts US investment house Goldman Sachs in a recently published forecast, saying that the country’s GDP will rise from currently $186 billion to $450 billion in just ten years.

Southeast Asia Set to Suffer for Months as Indonesia Fails to Douse Fires-The Irrawaddy Magazine Indonesian forest fires that have caused choking smoke to drift across Southeast Asia are spreading to new areas and are unlikely to be put out until next year, experts said on Monday. Indonesia has come under increased pressure from its neighbours to contain the annual “haze” crisis, which is caused by slash-and-burn agriculture practices, largely on Sumatra and Kalimantan. But it has failed to put out the fires, with “hot spots” growing in eastern parts of the country and industry officials and analysts estimating the smoke will last until early 2016.

YUNNAN

Yunnan ramps up shale gas production-Go Kunming China’s relationship with new natural gas extraction methods has seen its ups and downs over the past few years. Expected technological breakthroughs have been slow to materialize. Nonetheless, the country’s largest oil producer announced breakthroughs in its Yunnan gas block, perhaps ushering in a new phase in China’s stalled shale gas sector.

 Yunnan border zone slated to cost 200 billion yuan-Go Kunming Investment and development money continues to pour into southern Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna. Weeks after the largest resort in the province opened near the city of Jinghong, prefectural officials unveiled plans for a new economic zone with an eye-popping price tag. The Mengla Economic Zone, according to plans approved this summer by the Yunnan Development and Reform Commission, will span 4,500 square kilometers, centered aroundMengla County (勐腊县). Initial estimates place the cost of the multi-purpose undertaking at 200 billion yuan (US$31.4 billion). The zone spans 240 as-yet unclear projects reportedly focusing on the sectors of agriculture, education, logistics, processing, tourism and transportation.

The preceding news digest was compiled by Brook Rose, with analysis by Ms. Rose and William Feinberg. 

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Yunnan border zone slated to cost 200 billion yuan

New infrastructure projects, like the Kunming-Singapore Railway, will be passing through southern Yunnan on their way to Southeast Asia.

New infrastructure projects, like the Kunming-Singapore Railway, will be passing through southern Yunnan on their way to Southeast Asia.

Investment and development money continues to pour into southern Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna. Weeks after the largest resort in the province opened near the city of Jinghong, prefectural officials unveiled plans for a new economic zone with an eye-popping price tag.

The Mengla Economic Zone, according to plans approved this summer by the Yunnan Development and Reform Commission, will span 4,500 square kilometers, centered around Mengla County (勐腊县). Initial estimates place the cost of the multi-purpose undertaking at 200 billion yuan (US$31.4 billion). The zone spans 240 as-yet unclear projects reportedly focusing on the sectors of agriculture, education, logistics, processing, tourism and transportation.

The latter of the these is perhaps most important to national planners. Connecting cities in Yunnan to Southeast Asia by rail has long been a goal of the Bridgehead Strategy, which looks to integrate the province’s economy more closely to those of its international neighbors. Mengla County borders Laos and is one key component in plans to build a web of railway lines by 2020 which will further connect Southeast Asia with Kunming.

Progress, however, has been slow on multiple fronts. The Kunming-Singapore Railway — the main trunk line of the planned network — was once expected to open in 2015. However, due to ongoing financial disagreements between China, Laos and Thailand, completion projections have been pushed back at least five years.

In that time, a branch railway along the recently opened Kunming-Hekou line will be extended 500 kilometers south to the border town of Mohan (磨憨) in Mengla County. When finished, the railway will pass from Yuxi through Pu’er, Jinghong and Mohan before linking up with a 44.5 billion yuan (US$7 billion) Chinese-built high-speed line running to Laos’ capital, Vientiane.

The newly announced Mengla Economic Zone appears to be a very expensive kick-starter of sorts. Its launch is not only aimed at furthering Chin’s Bridgehead Strategy, but also seems designed to convince Laos — which is wagering half its annual GDP on the railway project — that Chinese intentions are serious and longstanding.

Regardless of the effects on Laos, the economic zone is another enormous financial shot in the arm for largely rural Xishuangbanna. Less than one month ago, real estate conglomerate Wanda opened a 15 billion yuan (US$2.36 billion) resort and development area of its own in the prefecture. The goal for such a sizable investment, in the words of company chairman Wang Jianlin (王健林), is to “…revolutionize Yunnan’s tourism industry“. One way or another, it looks as if sleepy Xishuangbanna is in for drastic changes in the coming years.

The preceding article was written by Patrick Scally and originally posted on GoKunming. It is republished here, in its entirety, with full permission from the author. 

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Report: “Mismanagement” stalling building projects across China

Work continues on the Darui Railroad in western Yunnan Image credit :cr8gc

Work continues on the Darui Railroad in western Yunnan. Image credit: cr8gc

Hundreds of highway and railroad projects are facing delays or otherwise running far behind originally envisioned construction timetables. This, according to a report issued by China’s National Audit Office, is a result of local governments improperly managing infrastructure funds — actions thought to have a direct effect on the country’s stalling economy.

In total, the audit of projects nationwide looked into 815 infrastructure programs across the country. More than 20 percent — 193 in total — were found “to be experiencing significant implementation lags due to a lack of funds or poor initial planning.” Together, the behind-schedule ventures represent government investment of 287 billion yuan (US$45.2 billion).

The architects of China’s economy have traditionally relied heavily on state-funded building projects as a means to revitalize the financial system in times of decline. Therefore, those lagging behind schedule due to mismanagement or misuse are seen as harming the economy in two ways, according to the audit. Not only are funds not being spent as quickly as they are authorized, but the benefits to localities through which new infrastructure projects pass must wait idly for any expected economic uplift.

In Yunnan, this is especially true in the province’s west. A railroad from Dali — traveling through Yongping, Baoshan, Mangshi and terminating at Ruili on the Burmese border — was originally expected to be completed in 2014. It will provide some of the most populated regions in western Yunnan direct rail access to Kunming for the first time ever. However, due to cost over-runs and awkward mountainous terrain, the line is now expected to open as late as 2019.

In an effort to speed up construction along the single-track Darui Railroad (大瑞铁路), Beijing injected a further five billion yuan (US$788 million) in annual funding for the endeavor beginning in 2012. The 335 kilometer railway is 75 percent tunnels and bridges, making for difficult surveys and slow progress, especially in places where engineers must dig under theGaoligong Mountains.

The railway was first conceived of in 1938 as a way to connect Kunming with the British colony of Burma. The outbreak of World War II scuttled those plans. However, they have since been resurrected as one part of the massive BCIM trade corridor, which Beijing hopes will one day provide an overland link between Kunming and seaports on the Indian coast some 2,800 kilometers away.

This post was originally published on GoKunming and written by Patrick Scally. It is reprinted here, in its entirety, with permission from the author. 

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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.19.15

ExSE Focus

Vietnam’s Mekong Delta in desperate shortage of fresh water — Tuoi Tre News The General Department of Irrigation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development held a meeting on Friday in the local province of Ben Tre to discuss solutions to deal with the circumstance. Dang Van Dung, vice director of the Southern Hydrometeorology Station, told the meeting that the raining season in Vietnam came around two months late this year and raining has not occurred evenly over the region. The water level upstream Mekong River from May this year has been lower than the average level, and at some points 1 – 2 meters lower than the lowest level recorded before. // Hopefully the Vietnamese can figure out how to deal with water unavailability and salination in the delta in time to implement large-scale solutions before these sorts of shortages are the norm. 

Carter says US military will exercise its navigation rights in South China Sea — The Guardian In a rebuff to China, US defence secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday that the United States military would sail and fly wherever international law allowed, including the disputed South China Sea. Carter spoke after a two-day meeting between US and Australian foreign and defense ministers at which the long-time allies agreed to expand defence cooperation and expressed “strong concerns” over Beijing’s building on disputed islands. “Make no mistake, the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea will not be an exception,” Carter told a joint news conference. // The U.S. has been saying this for months now, where is the action? We need to sail within 12nm of these “islands” and see what happens. 
Related: South China Sea islands are only for civilian use, says Chinese general

China and India ‘holding hands’ again in Kunming — Go Kunming China and India, earth’s two most populous nations, have never had the warmest of relations. The key point of contention is always border disputes. Traditionally, the Chinese government has laid claim to portions of what India claims to be areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir. This source of diplomatic conflict escalated, most famously, in the Sino-Indian War of 1962.

China Courts Arakan National Party Ahead of Vote — The Irrawaddy A powerful ethnic nationalist politician from one of Burma’s poorest and most volatile regions said Chinese officials made him an irresistible offer during a recent visit to the country: Ask for anything, and we’ll give it to you. Beijing’s courting of Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), underscores how China is taking steps to protect its most strategic investments in Burma—twin oil and gas pipelines and a deep-sea port—ahead of an unpredictable election in the Southeast Asian nation next month.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China wants naval drills with Southeast Asia in South China Sea — Reuters China’s defense minister said on Friday that he is willing to hold joint drills in the disputed South China Sea with Southeast Asian countries, covering accidental encounters and search and rescue, striking a conciliatory tone over an increasingly tense spat. China’s relations with several Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, have been strained over Beijing’s increasingly assertive tone in pushing territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.
Related: Manila wants ASEAN to decide on naval drills

Vietnam slams China’s construction of lighthouses in East Sea — Thanh Nien News Vietnam resolutely opposes China’s construction of two lighthouses in the Chau Vien (Cuarteron) and Gac Ma (Johnson) reefs in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. The move is a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty, contrary to the common perspectives of the two countries’ leaders, which complicates the situation and escalates tension, the ministry’s spokesperson, Le Hai Binh, said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Singapore to mark 25 years of diplomatic ties — The Straits Times Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Singapore next month, capping a year-long series of celebrations to mark 25 years of diplomatic ties as well as meetings to deepen bilateral cooperation. Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said they looked forward to Mr Xi’s state visit. In their separate meetings yesterday with visiting Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, they noted the close bilateral ties and discussed areas of cooperation.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Thailand to downsize rubber plantations — European Rubber Journal The Thai government is planning to downsize some rubber plantations in the face of a severe drought, which is expected to worsen next year. A report by Bangkok Post on 6 Oct stated that the plan, which runs until 2019, will envisage renting land to farmers and paying them to grow other crops. These will be marketed via various government agencies and banks across the country.

Once a pariah, China’s orange king now adapting to digital age — Go Kunming Blossoming orange tree groves in central Yunnan are about as far as one can get from Chinese prison. And that is just how Chu Shijian (褚时健)likes it. Once convicted of embezzling hundreds of millions of yuan, the 88 year-old now owns a citrus fruit empire facing the challenges of doing business in China’s digital age. Chu is founder and CEO of a Yuxi-based fruit company, and his products are simply called ‘Chu Oranges’. His orchard’s success in breeding and growing specialty oranges has led to a common problem in China — copycat competitors marketing fruits with Chu’s name and label that were grown nowhere near his farms.

China initiates enormous Yangtze water diversion scheme — Go Kunming Although not on the scale of the Grand Canal or the Three Gorges Dam, the waterways of Yunnan province are undergoing radical changes. This is especially true in the Three Parallel Rivers Protected Areas. In the name of “development” and “drought prevention”, a new project launched in the province will divert a stunning quantity of water away from the headwaters of the world’s fourth longest river. Dignitaries and officials attended groundbreaking ceremonies for the Dian Zhong Water Diversion Project (滇中引水工程)on September 30 in Lijiang. Attendees oversaw the initial launch of a program that will divert an estimated 3.403 billion cubic meters of water annually away from the upper reaches of the Yangtze — known as the Jinsha River (金沙江). The ceremony was overseen by Provincial Party Secretary Li Jiheng (李纪恒), while a similar event was held simultaneously in Dali.

CHINA

In a Region Disturbed by Ethnic Tensions, China Keeps Tight Lid on a Massacre — NY Times Armed with only knives, the assailants struck at the coal mine in the dead of night, first killing the security guards and then setting upon the miners as they slept in their dormitory beds. Before the Sept. 18 rampage was over, more than 50 people were dead, at least five of them police officers, and dozens more had been wounded, according to victims’ relatives and residents. Most of the victims were Han Chinese who had been lured to this desolate corner of the far west Xinjiang region by the prospect of steady work and decent pay.

Britain to Put Commerce With China First in President Xi Jinping’s State Visit — NY Times The British chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, chose an unusual destination during a trip to China last month, flying to the restive region of Xinjiang, where human rights groups accuse Beijing of persecuting the minority Uighur population. Preparing for a state visit to Britain by President Xi Jinping of China, who is to arrive Monday, Mr. Osborne was hoping to secure contracts for British construction companies in an ambitious project under which Xinjiang is to become a gateway for roads, rails and pipelines linking China to Europe through Central Asia. // If U.S. could get over its reluctance to get close to business interests, its brands and companies would be much more prevalent in Asia. This is especially important as China develops the Silk Road. That said, the Xinjiang link to EU via Silk Road rhetoric is much stronger than to the U.S.

Xi Jinping plays down China’s economic ‘growing pains’ — The Guardian Xi Jinping has acknowledged that China’s leaders are concerned about the economy, but described the problems as “growing pains”, as he prepared to leave for his first state visit to the UK, bringing with him billions of pounds of planned investment. In the wake of stock market jitters that rocked China and the wider region recently, and with imminent growth figures likely to confirm the slowest growth rate since 2009, the Chinese president said China was looking to external deal-making with countries such as Britain as a way of diversifying its economic base.

China GDP forecast to be just under 7% — The Guardian The importance of China to the global financial system is to be illustrated again on Monday as the world’s second-largest economy releases its estimate of third-quarter gross domestic product. China’s president Xi Jinping acknowledged concerns about the strength of his country’s economy on the eve of a state visit to the UK. The report follows the crash of world stock markets in August on fears about the country’s economic robustness. Economists are now forecasting the slowest Chinese growth rate since the depths of the financial crisis.

A very Chinese coup — The Economist TO MANY foreigners, Li Keqiang’s appointment as prime minister in 2013 was a reassuring choice for a job they assumed would involve day-to-day running of the world’s second-largest economy. A trained economist, he had played a big role in helping the World Bank and a government think-tank produce a joint report calling for bold economic reforms. A few years earlier, as a provincial leader, he had helped two areas achieve faster growth (which he daringly calculated by measuring electricity consumption, rail cargo and loans—rather than by using the government’s “man-made” statistics). Likonomics, as even some state-controlled media took to calling it, looked pretty likeable. This summer it seemed less so. Apparent blunders by economic policymakers shook global confidence in China. In July the Communist Party clumsily attempted to prop up the country’s plunging stockmarkets—a largely futile move which it eventually abandoned. Soon after, without warning or immediate explanation, the People’s Bank of China devalued the yuan by 2%, triggering a wave of panic selling across world markets.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Possible Political Scenarios Following Myanmar’s November Elections — cogitASIA A variety of outcomes are possible in the wake of Myanmar’s general elections on November 8 and each of them has different potential implications for political jockeying. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) are the primary contestants, while ethnic political parties and the military will play a key role in determining who takes leadership positions in the new parliament and government. A two-stage competition will determine who will be the next president. After a successful nomination from either the lower or the upper house of parliament, or the military, the presidential candidates need to win a total of 332 votes between the two houses, or 67 percent of the total.
Related: Vote cancellation in conflict areas higher than in 2010

Malaysia and US to step up intelligence exchange and cooperation — The Star Online MALAYSIA and the United States will step up the exchange of information and intelligence to combat violent extremism, threats on cyber security and transborder crime. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said cooperation in this area was the focus of his discussions with the main intelligence agencies in the United States. Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, met CIA director John O. Brennan and FBI deputy director Mark F. Guilano on Wednesday afternoon, the first day of his official visit to Washington DC. // Hopefully U.S. intel has been keeping an extremely close eye on Malaysia and the region much earlier than this announcement. ISIS has its eyes on the less (easily) governed parts of SE Asia. 

1MDB adviser Goldman Sachs facing FBI, DoJ probe, says WSJ – The Malaysian Insider The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Justice are examining Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s role in allegations of corruption and money laundering at state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), The Wall Street Journal reported today. The US inquiries are at the information-gathering stage, and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Goldman Sachs, the paper reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Investigators “have yet to determine if the matter will become a focus of any investigations into the 1MDB scandal”, WSJ quoted a spokeswoman for the FBI as saying. // It’s been suggested that Deloitte also turned a blind eye to this scandal that continues to unravel. 

Philippines battered as Typhoon Koppu barrels in — BBC News A powerful typhoon is battering the northern Philippines, with at least one person dead, several missing and thousands forced to flee their homes. Typhoon Koppu made landfall near the town of Casiguran on the island of Luzon on Sunday morning, bringing winds of close to 200km/h (124mph). The vast weather system toppled trees and power lines, triggering floods and landslides. Koppu has since weakened but officials fear further flooding. With the typhoon moving slowly, heavy rain is likely to fall in the same areas for several days.

Hope Fades for Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law — cogitASIA Philippine lawmakers on September 23 set December 16 as the new deadline for passing the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), after their earlier plans to approve the draft legislation before the congressional recess from October 10 to November 2 unraveled. There is, however, a possibility that the proposed law, which will implement the peace agreement between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), will not get passed at all. Even if it does limp through the Philippine Congress, the prospects of its implementation appear slim. // Mindanao (poorer than rest of Philippines) won’t get its act together unless it’s governed well, the BBL will help. It won’t pass, but should. 

Philippines’ Aquino says wants to join Trans-Pacific Partnership — Channel News Asia Philippine President Benigno Aquino said on Wednesday (Oct 14) he wanted the country to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) since most countries that signed up for the trade pact were existing allies. Southeast Asia’s second fastest growing economy is not among the 12 parties in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that aims to cut trade barriers and set common standards, from Vietnam to Canada. But it has been invited to join the second round of countries, Aquino said. “We really want to participate in it,” Aquino told a business forum organised by Forbes magazine. // Nice to hear this from Aquino, but will take years for the Philippines to abide by all of the TPP’s rules. 

Miriam Santiago: Bongbong Marcos is my running mate — The Rappler Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago confirmed that Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr is her running mate. After a speech in Pasay City, Santiago was asked if the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was her vice presidential bet and she said, “Yes.” “I think we mutually chose each other, our two camps. We happen to cross each other, the telephone lines happen to cross each other. It’s coincidental. One camp was calling the other camp,” Santiago told reporters on Thursday, October 15.

Philippine Military Says Kidnapping Video Appears to Be Authentic — NY Times A Philippine military spokesman said on Wednesday that a recently posted video of foreigners kidnapped on the island of Mindanao in September was being verified but appeared to be authentic. The video shows two Canadians and a Norwegian man begging for their lives as masked men displaying Islamic State flags threaten them. “A technical team is validating it,” the spokesman, Col. Restituto Padilla Jr., said of the clip on Twitter, which lasts more than two minutes and also appears to show a fourth hostage, a woman from the Philippines, who does not speak. “No group has been identified with finality, and none have claimed responsibility.”

Singapore Eases Monetary Policy as Growth Sputters — The Wall Street Journal Singapore became the latest Asian nation to take policy action to support its sputtering economy as China’s slowdown casts an increasingly large shadow on growth prospects in the region. Singapore’s central bank put the local currency on a slower pace of appreciation Wednesday, easing its currency policy for the second time this year. The decision coincided with news that the island state had narrowly avoided falling into a technical recession, with the economy reporting a tiny expansion. // Singapore is a nice macro curiosity – only country to do monetary policy with exchange rates. Good plan too, expect further easing in Singapore when Fed finally raises rates later this year or early next. 

US urges Prayut to hold quick election — The Bangkok Post Glyn Davies, the new United States ambassador to Thailand, urged the government on Thursday to quickly organise the next general election while confirming that Thailand remained an important US ally. Mr Davies informed reporters of his message after meeting Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai at the Foreign Ministry for about an hour on Thursday. The US still attached importance to its relations with Thailand which had continued for over nine generations. It considered Thailand as a regional ally with comprehensive cooperation covering security, social and civil affairs, law enforcement and environment, the ambassador said.

Indonesian President Calls for Calm After Church Attack in Aceh — NY Times President Joko Widodo of Indonesia appealed for calm on Wednesday in the fractious province of Aceh after a man was shot to death during a brawl set off by the razing of a Christian church. Aceh, on the northern tip of the western island of Sumatra, is among the most religiously conservative regions of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. It is the only province authorized to apply Islamic law.

This week’s Regional Roundup was prepared with added analysis by  John Juenemann. 

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