Category Archives: NEWS DIGEST

Regional Roundup for Week of 12.6.15


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. 



 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.



 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 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.”



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.


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.



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.



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 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.



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.


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.


 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.”



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.”



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.



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.



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.



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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Regional Roundup for Week of 11.2.15


 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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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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Filed under Current Events, NEWS DIGEST, SLIDER

Regional Roundup for Week of 10.26.15


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. 


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


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.


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.


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 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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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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.11.15


Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Reached, but Faces Scrutiny in CongressNYT Securing approval from Congress for the deal between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations could be the toughest fight President Obama faces in his final year in office. // The TPP could significantly decrease trade of endangered plants and animals by increasing state responsibility to follow and convict the movement of these resources across seas.

Related: What Does China Think of the TPP?The Diplomat

Related: ‘Competitors who don’t share our values’: President Barack Obama jabs China as he defends TPP dealSCMP

Related: Why Vietnam could be the biggest winner of the TPPThanh Nien Daily

Chinese Hackers Breached LoopPay, Whose Tech Is Central to Samsung PayNYT Security experts were still looking through LoopPay’s systems, but said there was no indication that Samsung’s systems had been infiltrated. // With the upcoming Paris Climate Change talks the United States continues to try and maintain peace with China despite the recent technology hacks?  Are these actions China’s way of getting back at the U.S. for the TPP?

Related: Hillary Clinton’s email server allegedly targeted from China, Germany and South KoreaThe Guardian

Related: Beware China’s Political Warfare Campaign Against US, Allies: ExpertsThe Diplomat

Related: Why the China-US Cyber Agreement May Prove DestructiveThe Diplomat

China completes construction of lighthouses in disputed South China SeaThe Guardian China has completed the construction of two lighthouses in the disputed South China Sea, the official Xinhua news agency reported, as tensions in the region mount over Beijing’s maritime ambitions.

Related: US naval manoeuvres in South China Sea risk clash with BeijingThe Guardian

Related: China ‘Will Absolutely Not Permit’ Territorial Violations in South China SeaThe Diplomat

Related: Why the US-China Summit Failed on the South China SeaThe Diplomat 

China’s yuan jumps to fourth most-used world payment currencyThe Guardian Recently devalued currency overtakes Japan’s yen in terms of world payments, and now only comes behind the US dollar, euro and pound sterling.


China’s AIIB and OBOR: Ambitions and ChallengesThe Diplomat The two ambitious projects have become an integral part of Chinese diplomacy. The AIIB will help to…boost China’s status as a global power.

Related: Is This China’s Eurasian Century?The Diplomat 

Related: US-China Military Agreements Dodge Deep DifferencesThe Diplomat

Related: How China Is Changing the UNThe Diplomat

Risk of global financial crash has increased, warns IMFThe Guardian The risk of a global financial crash has increased because a slowdown in China and decline in world trade are undermining the stability of highly indebted emerging economies, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Related: China’s economic slowdown leads World Bank to trim East Asia growth forecastsSCMP

Taiwan: Is KMT’s Dilemma China’s Opportunity?The Diplomat The Kuomintang may replace its heavily pro-China presidential candidate.

Related: China Turns Firepower to Soft Power to Win Over Tiny Taiwan-Held IslandThe Irrawaddy Magazine

Top Chinese Official Arrives in North Korea for Bilateral TalksThe Diplomat Liu Yunshan is the first high-ranking Chinese official to visit North Korea in 4 years.

Related: How the China model could help North Korea – and save Kim Jong-un – The Diplomat

Wartime sex slaves at the heart of UN battle between Japan and ChinaThe Guardian A Chinese campaign to have documents related to Japan’s use of wartime sex slaves and its bloody invasion of Nanjing recognised by Unesco has sparked a new round of diplomatic tension between Beijing and Tokyo.


Myitsone Dam has cost us $800m, says ChinaDVB Some US$800 million has already been spent on the Myitsone Dam, despite the fact that the construction project has been suspended since September 2011, according to Chinese state firm CPI, which is the major shareholder.//The original cost of the dam was estimated at $3.6 billion. Maybe those rumours of continued building at the Myitsone site have some credence. 

Related: Depression plagues dam-displaced localsDVB

Related: Paunglaung Dam Violates Norms and Destroys Lives, Study FindsThe Irrawaddy Magazine

Parts of China’s Guangdong province still without power and water five days after deadly Typhoon MujigaeSCMP Parts of western Guangdong were still struggling to restore power and water supplies yesterday, five days after the strongest typhoon in six decades swept through the region.

Related: $4.9m Repair Bill for Rail Network after Flood DamageThe Irrawaddy Magazine

Related: World Bank Forecasts Drop in Burma’s Economic GrowthThe Irrawaddy Magazine

Travel sickness: visitors turning China’s Qinghai Lake attraction into huge rubbish dumpSCMP Parts of China’s Qinghai Lake – a place of outstanding natural beauty that is one of the area’s most popular travel destinations – have been turned into huge rubbish dumps by visitors and local hotels and hostels, mainland media reports.

China is working to reach its emissions peak before 2030 deadline, analyst saysThe Guardian China may aim for an earlier greenhouse gas emissions peak before its 2030 deadline, putting a greater onus on Australia to work with its key trading partner on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, says a leading Chinese analyst.

Related: Cities in north China blanketed in smog on final days of national “golden week” holidaysSCMP

Related: Coal, Which Built a Chinese City, Now Threatens to Bury ItNYT

Chinese ‘ivory queen’ charged with smuggling 706 elephant tusksThe Guardian A Chinese woman dubbed the “ivory queen” for her alleged leadership of one of Africa’s biggest ivory smuggling rings has been captured and charged.

Cambodians March For End to Forced Evictions on World Habitat DayRadio Free Asia Evictees, monks, and activists joined the march to the National Assembly, or parliament, carrying cardboard cutouts of houses and shouting slogans, including “Cambodians need housing and land” and “We must have rights to live.” // The CPP’s continued abuse of land reform policies could jeopardize its support base in rural Cambodia for the 2018 general election.

Related: Cambodian Village Chief Threatens Arrest For Complaints Over Illegal LoggingRadio Free Asia

Smoke from Indonesian fires blankets Thai holiday island of Phuket in hazeThe Guardian The Thai holiday island of Phuket has been plunged into a poisonous grey haze caused by illegal forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

Related: Indonesia accepts international help to combat fires that have sent choking smoke drifting across the region for weeks – SCMP


Why the Mekong River Commission May Be In PerilThe Diplomat The future of the body hangs in the balance amid financial and performance concerns.//Plenty of people rightly criticize the MRC as ‘useless’ in the face of hydropower development on the Mekong. However, the MRC at the very least serves an important function as a research institution and it is in this capacity that it is vital. 

Aboitiz looks at Vietnam, Myanmar as power glut hits PhilippinesThe Thanh Nien Daily Aboitiz Power Corp. will build plants in Indonesia and scout for ventures in Vietnam and Myanmar as the Philippines’ second-largest electricity producer expands in Southeast Asia while expecting an oversupply at home.

Palm oil producers call for government supportThe Jakarta Post Ongoing land and forest fires have affected Indonesia’s palm oil businesses, which are also being burdened by the weakening of the rupiah exchange rate against the US dollar.

Time for Rich Countries to Pay Their Ecological DebtThe Diplomat A call for climate justice ahead of the Finance Ministers meeting in Lima.



Graft-buster named as head of China’s spy agency as anti-corruption watchdog extends its powerSCMP A former senior official at China’s top graft-busting agency has been given the highest Communist Party job in state security, mainland media confirmed yesterday, signalling the agency is expanding its power.

Related: Former head of China’s Sinopec under investigation for corruption – The Guardian


Answering an Appeal by Mao Led Tu Youyou, a Chinese Scientist, to a Nobel PrizeNYT Dr. Tu was awarded the prize, shared with two other scientists, on Monday for the discovery of a drug that is now part of standard regimens to fight malaria.

Related: Tu Youyou: An Outlier of China’s Scientific and Technological SystemAsia Unbound

China’s top auditor says US$45b of construction projects face delaysSCMP Major Chinese construction projects worth about 286.9 billion yuan (US$45.17 billion) are facing delays because of problems such as the slow distribution of funds by local governments, the country’s top auditor said on Thursday.

Putting the Past Behind in ChinaNYT The days of China relying on export manufacturing and infrastructure construction as drivers of economic growth are gone.


‘A brighter future beckons’: China tries to get Xinjiang to join the partyThe Guardian Propaganda in overdrive as Beijing celebrates the 60th anniversary of a region that has been the setting for frictions and deadly explosions of violence.//Maybe dressing up Uighurs and Kazakhs and having them dance on stage isn’t the best way to promote ethnic stability.

Ai Weiwei Returns to Beijing to Find Listening Devices in His Studio and HomeNYT The Chinese artist and activist, who had just taken his first overseas trip in four years, said that he had uncovered several listening devices hidden around his work space and living room.


Almost homeThe Economist China In a restaurant in Qiaogang, a town in the southern province of Guangxi, a large poster of Mao Zedong—entitled “Red Sun”—hangs below one of a Vietnamese island where Wu Guangsui, the restaurant’s owner, was born.

Chinese hospitals still offering gay ‘cure’ therapy, film revealsThe Guardian Channel 4’s Unreported World finds doctors prescribing drugs and electric shocks to gay men and lesbians despite Beijing legalising homosexuality in 1997.

Academics and students march in Hong Kong against ‘Beijing crackdown’The Guardian More than 1,000 students and faculty members have marched through one of Hong Kong’s leading universities in silence to protest against what they describe as an intensifying Beijing-backed assault on academic freedoms.



ASEAN Peacekeeping Meeting Concludes in CambodiaThe Diplomat The 3rd ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network meeting was held in Phnom Penh. // An interesting development as ASEAN attempts to juggle authority with member state sovereignty. It will be interesting to see how this plays into the non-interference language of ASEAN norms.

Myanmar official accuses China of meddling in peace talks with rebelsThe Guardian A top negotiator in Myanmar’s peace talks with ethnic rebels has accused neighbouring China of derailing a nationwide ceasefire deal last week that would have brought Japan and western nations in as observers to monitor an end to decades of conflict.//Not entirely impossible, but it sounds more like a disappointed negotiator shifting blame after only eight ethnic armies signed the peace treaty. Look for more ExSE analysis on this episode soon. 

Related: Myanmar to Ink Peace Deal with Eight Armed Groups Ahead of Historic ElectionThe Diplomat


Bao Zhuoxuan, Son of Detained Rights Lawyer, Is Said to Disappear in MyanmarNYT Mr. Bao, the son of Wang Yu, a lawyer who was detained in Beijing in July, was taken from a guesthouse in Mong La, a rights campaigner said.//Mong La has always been a no-man’s land of uncertain sovereignty. He may have been taken by Chinese authorities, but if it’s Mong La, it’s just as likely that he crossed path with the gambling kingpin.

Related: Detained Chinese lawyer’s 16-year-old son disappears while trying to flee to USThe Guardian

Related: Human traffickers arrested in Burmese-Thai operationDVB

Myanmar: Opposition Leader’s StrategyNYT If the Nov. 8 vote is credible, most observers believe that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, will win the most seats in Parliament.

Related: Could Myanmar’s Elections Devolve into Disorder?The Diplomat

Related: Could Aung San Suu Kyi Be Myanmar’s Next House Speaker?The Diplomat


The Rohingya: Humanitarian Crisis or Security Threat?The Diplomat Global attention to the Rohingya issue is rising, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Related: Rohingya Trafficking Victims Endure Stress of Limbo, Stranded In Thailand The Irrawaddy Magazine

Australia Negotiating to Send Refugees to PhilippinesNYT An Australian official declined to provide details of the possible plan.

Related: Australia seeking refugee resettlement deal with Philippines, say reportsThe Guardian

Turkish man who looks like Erawan Shrine bombing suspect releasedThe Nation POLICE in Nong Khai province have released a Turkish man who was thought to look similar to a suspect in the Erawan bombing after he was found to have no involvement in the attack.

Thai Junta Picks 21-Member Panel to Write New ConstitutionThe Irrawaddy Magazine Thailand’s military government appointed a new committee Monday to write a post-coup constitution after an unpopular earlier draft was rejected last month in a move that has delayed elections until at least 2017.

Related: Dissent and dictatorship in ThailandNew Mandala

Vietnam to add new line to China-Southeast Asia rail networkThanh Nien Daily The 550-kilometer line will connect Vietnam’s central region and Vientiane, Laos.

Related: Malaysia, Singapore Begin ‘Next Phase’ of High-Speed Rail ProjectThe Diplomat

Cambodia to displace thousands of Vietnamese people on Tonle Sap River: reportThanh Nien Daily An official claimed about 90 percent agreed to move, but a man representing many families said most of them want to stay.//These Vietnamese residents are not citizens of Cambodia and cannot own land, hence living in the middle of the Tonle Sap. This displacement would poke a tiny hole in the theory that the Vietnamese run Cambodia and act with impunity. 

Malaysian plane wreckage claimed to be found in southern PhilippinesInvestvine Police authorities…ordered an investigation into reports that Filipino island residents discovered a wreckage of a Malaysian plane deep in the forest of the southern Philippine.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.3.2015


Vietnamese journalist jailed on charge of spying for China – Guardian A Vietnamese journalist was found guilty of spying for China on Wednesday (30 September) and sentenced to a six-year jail term by a Hanoi court after a three-hour trial, his lawyer told Reuters.

           Related: China arrests two Japanese men on spying charges – Guardian

Human rights charges filed against Thein Sein – Reuters Muslim rights activists have filed a lawsuit in the United States against Burma’s President Thein Sein, accusing him and several ministers of human rights abuses against minority Rohingya, just a few weeks before an historic general election. While this is unlikely to have any legal repercussions internationally, it does send a message if the lawsuit is successful. The real issue would be sanctions being restarted in response to the Rohingya situation, but this too is unlikely. A antidemocratic crackdown after elections would start the wheels turning, however. 

Wanda opens 15 billion yuan Yunnan resort – GoKunming China’s richest man is looking to expand his gargantuan real estate empire by diversifying into the tourism industry.

Lao Officials Balk at China’s Loan Terms For Railway Project – Radio Free Asia Lao government officials have expressed concern about the interest rate on a U.S. $500 million loan from China to build a multibillion-dollar, high-speed railway through the Southeast Asian nation, and have asked political leaders to negotiate a lower rate, a high-ranking Lao official said. Any deal for this railway is unwise at this point. Lao PDR just doesn’t need a highspeed rail network at this stage. If it is going to happen, high interest loans should be avoided, though.

Armed groups split on signing of peace pact – DVB Only seven of 19 delegations attending the second day of a summit of ethnic armed organisations today in Chiang Mai have agreed to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement with Naypyidaw.


The Trans-Pacific Free-Trade Charade – Project Syndicate As negotiators and ministers from the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries meet in Atlanta in an effort to finalize the details of the sweeping new Trans-Pacific Partnership, some sober analysis is warranted. The biggest regional trade and investment agreement in history is not what it seems­.  Regardless of how many feel about the little-known details of the TPP, the agreement has been signed. Now, the ratification process will begin. 

          Related: TPP talks snagged over Malaysia’s stand on SOEs – The Star

It’s Official: China, Not Japan, Is Building Indonesia’s First High-Speed Railway – Diplomat China’s offer to build the Jakarta-Bandung line without requiring funding from Indonesia was the tipping point.

ASEAN to Step Up Fight Against Transnational Crime – Diplomat Malaysia pushes for stronger regional response at a key regional meeting.

Asia-Pacific Impacts of the New Global Development Agenda – Diplomat The 2030 Agenda has vital implications for Asia and the Pacific.
Thai-Burma border trade booms – Bangkok Post Cross-border trade between Thailand and Burma through the Mae Sot-Myawaddy checkpoint totalled more than 60 billion in the fiscal year just ended, a rise of 12.3 percent over the 2013-2014 year, a senior customs official said on Thursday. Border trade will only continue to grow with the signing of the ethnic group ceasefire in Myanmar. 

Q. and A.: Eugenio B. Bito-onon Jr. on China’s Island Expansion– NYT Mr. Bito-onon is the mayor of Pag-asa, a small island off the west coast of the Philippines that is one of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which are claimed by both China and the Philippines.

          Related: Taiwan nearly finishes construction of lighthouse on Vietnam’s island: report – Thanh Nien

Asian markets fall as fears deepen over China slowdown – Guardian Wall Street losses drag down Tokyo and Shanghai indexes with Asia-Pacific markets at lowest level since June 2012

          Related: Slowdown Continues for China in Factories– NYT

          Related: Vietnam Must Better Manage Trade Imbalance With China: Economist– Radio Free Asia

ASEAN, Japan to Boost Fight Against Terrorism, Cybercrime– Diplomat Tokyo’s assistance sought in countering grave threats.


China’s New Blueprint for an ‘Ecological Civilization’– Diplomat China wants local officials to stop ignoring the environment in favor of the economy.

           Related: China’s climate policies: how have they performed, and where do they need to go? – ChinaDialogue

Domesday scenario – Economist A nationwide carbon-trading scheme, to be set up in 2017, is the most visible example of a broader trend in China towards using market mechanisms in environmental matters.

Govt approves Bt721 million for two drought-busting projects – The Nation A Cabinet meeting, presided over by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, yesterday approved a budget of Bt721 million for two projects to tackle next year’s drought, Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said yesterday.

          Related: Water Security in Asia: Strong Infrastructure for Healthy Communities – Diplomat

          Related: Farmers to be told to skip dry-season rice crop – The Nation

China’s sponge cities: soaking up water to reduce flood risks – Guardian From permeable roads to rooftop gardens, cities are investing in ways to harvest rainwater

SE Asia Seeks New Strategy to Fight ‘Slash and Burn’ Haze Problem – Irrawaddy The haze has caused health problems, flight delays and school closures across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in what has become an annual ordeal that has defied attempts by governments, businesses and green groups to tackle it.

The Return of China’s Environmental Avenger – Diplomat Pan Yue, China’s most outspoken, innovative, and articulate environmental official, is back in action.

Rubber farmers want subsidy – The Nation Rubber farmers, suffering from the slumping rubber price, want the government to approve a rubber-subsidy project to ensure the price would be at Bt60 per kilogram, Sunthorn Rakrong, leader of the country’s rubber growers’ networks, said yesterday.

Southern residents say leaking dam a disaster waiting to happen – Thanh Nien But officials in An Giang Province shrug that off

Ministry committed to maintaining vaccine reserves – The Nation Thailand has enough vaccines on hand for emergency situations, especially during an outbreak, as the country aims to produce its own supplies and join other Asean countries in exchanging knowledge for the health security of the region.


China’s Guangxi Rocked by Another Blast After String of Parcel Bombs – Radio Free Asia As authorities in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi scrambled on Thursday, China’s National Day, to deal with the aftermath of 17 parcel-bomb explosions that went off the day before, a township in the area was rocked by an 18th blast, residents said. This bombing was the work of a disgruntled local citizen, not Uighur militants. These attacks are quite common in rural China. 

       Related: Difficult to Buy a Gun in China, but Not Explosives – Irrawaddy

Death Toll in Xinjiang Coal Mine Attack Climbs to 50 – Radio Free Asia The death toll in a knife attack orchestrated by alleged “separatists” at a coal mine in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has climbed to at least 50 people—including five police officers—with as many as 50 injured, according to local security officials who say nine suspects are on the run.

          Related: China’s ‘Protracted War’ in Xinjiang – Diplomat

China’s $3 Billion Message to the UN: Yes, We Are a Responsible Power – Diplomat By pledging monetary and military aid to the UN and developing world, China is trying to counter old criticisms. An important first step.

China punishes 249 officials for laziness during corruption crackdown – Guardian Some officials have preferred to dither over approvals for major projects so as to avoid scrutiny, leading to sackings, demotions and warnings

Xi Jinping Adviser Has Long Pushed for Powerful Leadership – NYT An article by Wang Huning offers clues on how the party has been trying to reshape itself to lead the world’s second-largest economy without ceding authoritarian control.

The ‘Gatekeeper’ in Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle – NYT Ding Xuexiang has emerged as the latest notable entrant into the Chinese president’s core group of advisers. Mr. Ding was serving as the head of the Shanghai party committee’s General Office in 2007 when Mr. Xi arrived there.

Chinese Official Faults U.S. Internet Security Policy – NYT The official, Hao Yeli, said removing developing countries’ ability to control public opinion through Internet controls and surveillance would not result in more openness.

Xi and Obama Should Make a BIT Breakthrough – ChinaFile Both countries can certainly take the opportunity to speed up talks on a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) to strengthen trade ties.


Lao Court Jails Polish Activist Following Online Criticism of Government– Radio Free Asia A court in Laos has sentenced a Polish activist to nearly five years in prison after he posted criticism of the Lao government online, according to state media, drawing criticism from a diplomatic official who said the defendant was never given access to an attorney. Frightening times in Laos. This activist is not the only falang posting criticism of the government online. 

          Related: Laos in the Spotlight Again Over Human Rights – Diplomat

          Related: US elevates Thailand to best child-labour category – The Nation

Myanmar’s Election: The ‘Real Burmese’ Dilemma – Diplomat A bias for “real Burmese” candidates (and against minorities) threatens the legitimacy of Myanmar’s upcoming election.

          Related: ‘We see, we come, we conquer’- Arakan National Party – DVB

Kachin militia yields to allow political campaigning – DVB An incumbent upper house MP and militia leader in Kachin State’s Special Region 1 who banned parties from campaigning in his constituency has yielded to pressure to abide by electoral regulations.

          Related: Election 2015: Polls won’t open in Karen State’s east – DVB

Gang of four: Cambodia’s new political parties – SEA Globe Four new political parties have entered the fray in Cambodia since the start of the year. And it’s not just the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party in their sights, but the opposition too.

Cambodian Opposition Senator Sent Back to Prison as Trial Adjourns – Radio Free Asia A Cambodian court unexpectedly adjourned the trial on Friday of jailed opposition senator Hong Sok Hour, postponing the proceedings for five days and refusing his request to be released on bail due to ill health.

Vietnam Is Changing… And So Is the Balance of Power in Asia – Diplomat All signs point to intense internal debate on leadership and foreign policy.

Princess to donate salary to Chulachomklao academy – The Nation HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is planning to donate the more than Bt26 million in salary and other remuneration she has received from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy (CRMA) over the past 35 years to the CRMA Foundation for educational purposes and development of the academy.

Cambodia boosts its $2-billion casino industry – Investvine The Cambodian government granted licenses for 10 new casinos in the third quarter of this year, raising their number to 75, according to Ros Phearun, a deputy director general of the financial industry department at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

          Related: Vietnam casinos earn $61 million last year: report – Thanh Nien

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.26.2015

One week after the Lao government confirmed construction would begin on the Don Sahong dam in southern Laos, ripples of rumors are leaking that the Lao government might soon commence the notification process for the Pak Beng dam, 100km north of Luang Prabang. Yet another domino to fall in Mekong hydropower development or if built will Pak Beng be a tipping point for regional governments to react with stronger measure against Laos’s plans to become the battery of Asia with little consideration to downstream impacts. Pak Beng’s developer is China’s Datang Corporation. This will mark China’s first official foray into building dams on the mainstream, although it is likely Sinohydro will be awarded the contract for Don Sahong by year’s end.


Xi Jinping of China Arriving in U.S. at Moment of Vulnerability-NYT The chill on the Chinese economy has eroded some of the sheen attached to Mr. Xi, and some analysts say he may want to project an especially strong image when holding talks in the United States. China’s economy has slowed more abruptly than policy makers have appeared ready for, alarming investors around the world. The government overestimated its ability to keep stock prices aloft, spending billions to bolster the Chinese markets. Mr. Xi’s ambitious reform agenda, including an effort to revive a bloated state sector, has yielded few concrete results.//With the Pope stealing all the thunder earlier in the week, the Xi visit hardly felt like happened aside from an announcement of China’s carbon cap-and-trade program and a few empty promises on cyber-security.  Where was the pressure on the South China Sea, Obama?

Related: Conflict Flavors Obama’s Meeting With Chinese Leader-NYT

Related: Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle Offers Cold Shoulder to Western Officials-NYT

Related: The Obama-Xi State Visit: Any Room for Human Rights?-The Diplomat

Related: 6 Takeaways from Xi Jinping’s US Visit-The Diplomat

Related: Xi Jinping Hears Tough Complaints of American Business-NYT

Xi Jinping Pledges to Work With U.S. to Stop Cybercrimes-NYT The president faced a crowd concerned over China’s barriers to market access, rampant commercial cybertheft and the imposition of intrusive security measures. President Xi Jinping pledged in a speech here on Tuesday night to work with the United States on fighting cybercrime, saying that the Chinese government was a staunch defender of cybersecurity.“The Chinese government will not in whatever form engage in commercial theft, and hacking against government networks are crimes that must be punished in accordance with the law and relevant international treaties,” Mr. Xi said in an address to American business executives. //According to a Guardian article (Xi Jinping says China is not guilty of cyber attacks as he prepares for US visit), Xi denied that China was responsible for cybercrimes—will be interesting to see, if and when Obama applies related economic sanctions.

Related: The Limits of a US-China Cyber Deal-The Diplomat


What’s behind Beijing’s drive to control the South China Sea?-The Guardian On 26 May, CNN broadcast an unusual clip of a US navy intelligence flight over the South China Sea. The P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane – one of the newest weapons in the Pentagon’s arsenal – had taken off, with a CNN reporter on board, from Clark airbase in the Philippines, once part of America’s largest overseas base complex during the cold war. After about 45 minutes, the plane reached its first target – which had, until recently, been an obscure, almost entirely submerged feature in the Spratly Island group. Fifteen thousand feet below, dozens of Chinese ships tossed at anchor. Their crews had been working day and night for weeks, dredging sand and rock from the ocean floor to fill in a stunning blue lagoon – turning a 3.7-mile-long reef that had only partially revealed itself to the daylight at low tide into a sizable man-made island nearly 1,000 miles away from the Chinese mainland.

Related: The Truth About US Freedom of Navigation Patrols in the South China Sea-The Diplomat

Why ASEAN Economic Community Can’t Ignore the Environment-The Diplomat While the EU has relied on the unbridled supra-nationalism of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), that unsung hero responsible for ensuring the harmonization of standards for all member states, the ASEAN economic community shies away from such lofty institutions. And unlike the EU, ASEAN emerges in a completely different historical age, one where concern for the environment goes hand-in-hand with growth. Without the strong hand of the ECJ orchestrating the binding common standards that put the word ‘sustainable’ in ‘sustainable development,’ ASEAN risks sending its already embattled ecosystem off a cliff. The Southeast Asian region is home to some of the world’s most magnificent and biodiverse rainforests, but today these countries’ environments are being increasingly threatened with environmental disasters that have yet to be addressed seriously.

China’s ‘Silk Road’ Initiative Is at Risk of Failure-The Diplomat The Silk Road Initiative is the major project for Chinese President Xi Jinping. On every state visit and within every diplomatic forum, he has promoted his idea of “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR). Beijing wants to create China-centered infrastructure networks in order to expand its own economic and political influence in Eurasia. But the time when the country was able to make economically unprofitable investments on the basis of political motives is long gone. Beijing had intended to invest more than $900 billion in infrastructure expansion in Eurasia. However, the money is now needed to stabilize its stagnating economy and nervous financial markets. China‘s currency reserves decreased drastically in August.//China is forgiving debt to poorer developing countries. However, if the Silk Road doesn’t work, how will China find new markets for imports and inputs to keep its economy going? Without new infrastructure development deals how can China export its excess steel capacity? Setting up markets with central Asia is much less risky than doing it in Africa. Are China’s choices narrowing?

Averting a China-Vietnam Military Clash-The Diplomat The risk of a military confrontation between China and Vietnam is rising. Although the two countries have enjoyed close party-to-party ties for decades, since 2011 they have both asserted conflicting claims to the South China Sea. Beijing claims 90 percent of the sea as its exclusive economic zone. China has repeatedly moved oil rigs into disputed areas, dredged and occupied parts of the disputed Paracel Islands, and constructed at least one and potentially multiple airstrips, possibly for military use, in the Spratly Islands.//Chinese think tanks are discussing this possibility more and more frequently.


Fading Coal Industry in China May Offer Chance to Aid Climate-NYT The subject of greenhouse gas emissions will be on the table when President Obama hosts President Xi Jinping of China at the White House. Across China’s grimy coal heartland, mines have fallen silent, reduced production or shut down. Miners, owners and officials here wonder whether boom times will return for the “black gold” that has fed the nation’s craving for cheap but dirty energy. “I think it’s finished,” said Wang Jinwang, a longtime miner whose salary has been cut by one-fifth.

Enacting Cap-and-Trade Will Present Challenges Under China’s System-NYT With its heavy-handed interventions, poor statistics and corruption, China will need years to build a market that substantially cuts emissions, experts said. American officials have applauded President Xi Jinping’s commitment to a national market for greenhouse gas quotas as a breakthrough in environmental cooperation. But to work well, Mr. Xi’s pledge, made at the White House on Friday, will demand big changes from a Chinese government accustomed to heavy-handed intervention and skewed statistics. It will take years of effort to build a substantial market that plays a major role in curbing emissions, and even then, it could founder, like similar initiatives elsewhere, experts said.

Related: What You Need to Know About China’s Cap-and-Trade Announcement-The Diplomat

Related: Why the US-China Climate Deal Matters-The Diplomat

China and US agree on ivory ban in bid to end illegal trade globally-The Guardian The two largest markets for illegal ivory agree to enact a nearly complete ban on the import and export of ivory to help reduce the loss of elephants to poaching. While differences on cyber security and talk of sanctions dominated the headlines for Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to the US, the two countries also signed up to a major agreement to end the global trade in ivory. The ban would cover “significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies” as well as unspecified “significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.” // Collaboration between China and the U.S. is absolutely necessary to end illegal wildlife trade; however, the details from this agreement appear vague and lack specific action. Stay tuned to see if any action ensues as a result of this agreement.

Related: Pressure to halt Hong Kong ivory trade increases after US-China deal-South China Morning Post

Rethinking Hydropower: Reflections on the Lower Sesan 2 Dam-CGIAR The Cambodian government has collaborated with private companies to build dams in the Sesan River, a lower Mekong River tributary which flows through Central Vietnam and northeast Cambodia. The much-anticipated 400-megawatt dam, also known as the Lower Sesan 2 dam project, has an investment of $816 million and was started in November 2012. Primarily owned by China’s Hydrolancang International Energy and Cambodia’s Royal Group, the dam is being built on a section of the Sesan River in Stueng Treng province in Cambodia’s northeast. Most of the electricity will reportedly be sold to state energy provider Electricite Du Cambodge (EDC) or exported to Vietnam under a 40-year contract.


Osborne kicks off China visit vowing to be Beijing’s best friend-The Guardian Despite criticism for ignoring growing human rights crisis, chancellor determined for UK to be ‘best partner in the west’. George Osborne has started a five-day tour of China by vowing to make Britain Beijing’s “best partner in the west” despite accusations that the Tory government is cosying up to the Communist party and ignoring a growing human rights crisis and the fight for democracy in Hong Kong. “Where some people are cautious about getting more involved in China, we say quite the reverse. We want to get more involved with China,” Osborne said during a brief question and answer session in Beijing on Sunday that was moderated by Chinese state media.

Google is returning to China? It never really left-The Guardian Google Analytics has continued to transmit data across the Great Firewall despite other services being blocked. With Google reportedly in talks with Chinese authorities about opening a new Android app store, speculation is rife that an agreement could see government-approved apps would come automatically installed on Google’s Android smartphones designed for the Chinese market. Many interpret this step as Google planting a seed for its eventual return to China after exiting the Chinese market five years ago – yet our research at the University of Pennsylvania shows that Google has never completely left.

China manufacturing index falls to six-year low in September-The Guardian Global investors unsettled as survey shows China’s factories cut output, staffing and prices at a faster pace as both new export orders and overall new orders fall. Chinese manufacturing activity fell to its lowest in more than six years in the latest sign of the slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy, according to a survey released on Wednesday. The latest data was worse than economists had expected and unsettled global financial markets. Uncertainty about the extent of China’s slowdown has been on the radar of investors, particularly after the Federal Reserve mentioned China as one of its reasons for not raising interest rates last week.

Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, One Year Later-The Diplomat It has been a year since Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” first fanned hopes that we were witnessing a people power movement capable of pressuring the Central Peoples’ Government into fulfilling the democratic promise of Article 45 of the Basic Law. The Umbrella movement has now all but fizzled out, of course. Public support for the movement waned as the protests caused economic disruption, and activists were eventually cleared out of the streets by December.


In Myanmar, Peace for Ethnic Rights-NYT If the government wants its nationwide cease-fire signed before the election, it must grant ethnic minorities more autonomy now. For months, the government of Myanmar has been touting progress on a nationwide cease-fire deal, claiming it is a major step toward ending the country’s long-running armed conflicts. But the latest summit meeting on Sept. 9, attended by President Thein Sein and representatives of more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, ended inconclusively.

Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape: Vibrant, But Uncertain-The Diplomat On September 8, Myanmar entered a two-month election campaign period, the culmination of at least a year of excitement, political intrigue, and wrangling among different players. The United States and other international players have been concerned that the elections, expected to take place on November 8, will not be entirely free and fair. But a closer look reveals a very dynamic and fluid picture.

Thailand Blames Uighur Militants for Bombing at Bangkok Shrine-NYT The national police chief was the first top official to explicitly attribute the attack to members of the aggrieved minority in western China. Nearly a month after the deadliest bombing in recent Thai historyThailand’s national police chief made his most explicit comments on Tuesday about who carried out the attack here and why. The perpetrators, he said, were linked to Uighur militants, radical members of an aggrieved ethnic minority in western China, who struck to avenge Thailand’s forced repatriation of Uighurs to China and Thailand’s dismantling of a human smuggling ring.

Related: Thai police say Uighur trafficking ring behind Bangkok bombing-The Guardian

Related: Thai police say first arrested suspect is the Bangkok bomber-The Guardian

Cambodia activists pin hopes on apps to turn tide of violence against women-The Guardian Women’s groups in Cambodia are using the youth obsession with technology to try to change attitudes in a society where many think domestic violence is normal In Phnom Penh’s bustling cafes, hip-looking young people hunch over their mobile devices. According to Dany Sun, a women’s rights activist likewise armed with a smartphone, this relatively new trend is representative of modern Cambodia. But the technological progress, Sun observes, has not been accompanied by advances on gender equality. Traditional attitudes and cultural norms, which portray women as subservient and inferior to men, continue to underlie the country’s harrowing statistics on violence against women.

Phnom Penh, City Interrupted-The Diplomat Few cities have a more troubled past than Phnom Penh. Once known as the Paris of the East, it was thrown into chaos near the end of the Cambodian civil war, and in 1975 lost its entire population (over 2 million) during one of history’s most atrociously sadistic social experiments. Four years later, Vietnamese troops chased the murderous regime out of Phnom Penh and into isolation, and Cambodia began the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding. This included re-populating a ghost city, the once-vibrant capital where only a few foragers and scofflaws remained to survive on what the exodus left behind.

Lao Officials Fail to Enforce Government Ban on Timber Exports-Radio Free Asia A recent ban on the export of raw logs imposed by the Lao government to increase the value of processed wood products is not being enforced in the country’s southern provinces because some national leaders are involved in timber smuggling, a civil society official with knowledge of the situation said. Although Vientiane imposed the export ban on Aug. 18, hundreds of trucks in Champasak, Salavan, Sekong and Attapue provinces, which have more timber than do the northern provinces, are continuing to transport wood to neighboring Vietnam around the clock, the official, who requested anonymity, and locals told RFA’s Lao Service.


Yunnan’s place in Xi Jinping’s United States trip-GoKunming Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the middle of his first state visit to the United States this week. While the subject of Yunnan was most likely not high on the list of priorities during the president’s first major stop, a small gesture signaled good news for growing business links between the US and his country’s southwestern-most province. On the eve of Xi’s arrival, a Starbucks press release and announced the company hopes to “connect our cultures and people across China and the US”. While a press release and the drinking of a single cup of joe may seem small gestures, coffee has come to have great significance in one of China’s poorest provinces. According to news service Xinhua, Yunnan produces 99 percent of all coffee grown in the country. The industry is expected to generate at least US$5.6 billion in annual revenue by 2020, to a great extent based on Starbucks’ projected store growth.

Animal traffickers busted with 1.4 million yuan in contraband-GoKunming Police in western Yunnan have taken three people into custody suspected of trafficking and selling endangered animal products. The arrests took place in Dehong Prefecture (德宏) following a month-long investigation. More than 200 items were seized, including tiger pelts, rhinoceros horns and ivory. Investigators opened the case in late July after receiving an anonymous tip. The haul of confiscated goods included tiger claws and teeth, tiger skins, red deer antlers, rhino horns, snake skins and jewelry believed to have been carved out ofelephant ivory. Police estimated the seized items to be worth a combined 1.39 million yuan (US$218,000).

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


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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.21.2015


Solving Southeast Asia’s drug problemEast by Southeast The Obama administration has once again named Myanmar and Laos to its list of twenty-two countries determined to be major drug trafficking countries or major drug transit countries. The White House memo, issued on Monday, noted that Myanmar “failed demonstrably during the last twelve months to make sufficient or meaningful efforts to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.” The United States, however, did extend Myanmar a National Interest Waiver to promote democracy and avoid reduction of aid to Burma as a result of the designation.

Why Beijing isn’t using the Erawan Shrine bombing to its advantageEast by Southeast A connection between Uyghur militants from China’s northwest and the August 17th bombing of Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine has been confirmed. Thailand’s police chief made the link explicit during a news conference Tuesday. While the geopolitical consequences of the connection remain to be seen, Beijing could still stand to benefit from the Erawan bombing. However, fears over domestic implications may keep China from using the attack to their advantage.

Related: Bangkok Bombing: Uighur human trafficker revenge motiveThe Bangkok Post

China building third airstrip on disputed East Vietnam Sea islets: expertTuoi Tre News China appears to be building a third airstrip in contested territory in the East Vietnam Sea, a U.S. expert said on Monday, citing satellite photographs taken last week. The photographs taken for Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank on Sept. 8 show construction on Da Vanh Khan (Mischief Reef) – one of several artificial islands China has created in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago. The images show a rectangular area with a retaining wall, 3,000 meters (3,280 yards) long, matching similar work by China on two other reefs, Da Xu Bi (Subi Reef) and Da Chu Thap (Fiery Cross Reef), said Greg Poling, director of CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI). Looks like China’s pledge to stop building and expanding in the SCS hasn’t resulted in anything substantial. PS: congrats to Greg Poling, one of most knowledgeable on SCS issue and new director of CSIS AMTI.


An unelected dictatorship, Thailand’s government finds China more amenable than AmericaThe Economist PRAYUTH CHAN-OCHA, Thailand’s prime minister, sometimes resembles a ham actor ad-libbing his way through an audition for a role as an unhinged dictator. “You cannot oppose me. No one will let you do that!” he told reporters this month, before threatening to deal with critics by taping their mouths shut. His junta then briefly detained a well-known journalist for publishing articles that “could cause confusion” (on release, he promptly quit his job). Thailand’s lurch back into autocracy complicates its relations with its long-standing ally, America, which has repeatedly called for the restoration of democracy. China, however, has no such qualms. Its relations with Thailand have never been better. China likes to play the “friendly to the dictator” card in SE Asia. Something the U.S. should watch out for: if things turn sour with the U.S., countries can always turn to good ol’ China for support, so the U.S. has only so much wiggle room in its pivot.

Vietnam Cozies Up to Japan in South China Sea StrategyThe Wall Street Journal Vietnam is again building up ties with other countries to help its territorial claim in the South China Sea, this time dispatching the chief of its ruling Communist Party for talks in Japan this week. General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, who arrives in Tokyo on Tuesday [article date: September 14], in recent months has played a noticeably more visible role in Vietnam’s efforts to broaden the dispute in the contested waters, where China last year towed an oil-exploration rig into an area claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi.

Japan pledges patrol vessels, loans to VietnamThanh Nien News Japan pledges to provide Vietnam with 200 million yen (US$1.6 million) in non-refundable aid to buy Japanese used patrol ships for its maritime safety in the 2015 fiscal year, according to a joint statement issued Tuesday following Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to Japan. Trong arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday for a four-day official visit at the invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two sides issued the statement on a “joint vision” for their relations after the talks between Trong and Abe, Vietnam News Agency reported. This deal is very similar to Japan’s June deal with the Philippines, when Philippines Pres. Aquino visited Japan, compared Xi to Hitler in the Diet, and then got patrol boats and possibly surveillance aircraft. The Japan – VN – Phils anti-China axis conveniently complements U.S. interests in the SCS.

Balancing act: Vietnam may find itself hosting Barack Obama and Xi Jinping within days of each otherSouth China Morning Post Vietnam may be forced to perform a delicate balancing act should President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart, Barack Obama, visit within the same timeframe, as expected, later this year. No exact dates have been fixed for Xi’s visit – which will be the first in 10 years by a Chinese president. Hanoi’s invitation for Xi to visit was accepted last year but sources say Beijing only recently confirmed that Xi would come by the end of this year. Vietnam might find itself the prettiest girl in the ballroom as she’s courted by China and the U.S.

Premiers of Vietnam, Laos pledge priority for bilateral rapport developmentTuoiTre News Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Laotian counterpart Thongsing Thammavong have agreed that the governments of the two countries will keep giving top priority to the promotion of their countries’ special relations. They reached the agreement during their talks in Vientiane on September 14 to discuss measures to beef up comprehensive cooperation between Vietnam and Laos, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

Marine police claim ‘self defence’ in firing on Vietnamese fishermenThe Bangkok Post Thai maritime police said they opened fire on a Vietnamese fishing boat while trying to intercept another vessel in waters near Malaysia last week, a clash Vietnamese state media said killed a fisherman and wounded two others. Officials from the two countries were quoted on Wednesday giving starkly different accounts of the incident and Vietnamese Communist Party media said it could eventually be addressed at the diplomatic level.

Party line on border? UnityThe Phnom Penh Post Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday told his lawmakers to consult with the party and get their facts together before speaking out on the sensitive Vietnam border issue, according to a spokesman. Addressing his troops after almost a month abroad, the Cambodia National Rescue Party president stressed that work would continue on determining whether Cambodia had lost land to Vietnam but called for a more unified and considered approach, said CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith.


Kunming-based think tank fighting Myanmar forest lossGoKunming via ExSE A new project promoting agroforestry as a sustainable alternative to current farming practices in the uplands of Myanmar is underway. Led by the World Agroforestry Centre‘s East and Central Asia regional program, and approved by the country’s Minister of Environmental Conservation and Forestry (MECF), the undertaking aims to reforest mountainous landscapes prone to degradation.


Xi Jinping, Chinese Leader, Has Weighty Agenda and Busy Schedule for U.S. VisitNY Times President and Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping will arrive next week for his first state visit, with meetings with tech leaders in Seattle, with President Obama in Washington, and an address to the United Nations in New York. For China, a priority will be bolstering Mr. Xi’s stature at home, and the events planned should play well on Chinese television. These include meetings in Seattle with American business executives, a 21-gun salute on the White House lawn and a state dinner, followed by Mr. Xi’s first speech before the United Nations in New York.

Obama Hints at Sanctions Against China Over CyberattacksNY Times Remarks by President Obama seemed to represent a ratcheting up of what has until now been a quiet effort to warn the Chinese that the United States will not tolerate recent breaches. President Obama warned on Wednesday that his administration was ready to take action against China over online attacks carried out by Beijing or its proxies, publicly raising the specter of sanctions a week before President Xi Jinping arrives in the United States for a state visit.

Despite Crackdown, Chinese Lawyers Vow to Press for Human RightsNY Times “Braving the wind and rain, we will travel together,” read a statement signed by 276 lawyers across China. The lawyers said they would continue to work for legal rights in China, using a phrase from Shi Jing, or Book of Odes, a collection of poetry from around 3,000 years ago, to express their feelings about the current situation: “The wind and rain are dark, the cocks crow incessantly.” The crackdown on lawyers prompted Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, to say in Geneva on Monday that he was “concerned about the detention and interrogation in recent months of more than 100 lawyers in China, in connection with their professional activities, and by the adoption of new laws with far-reaching implications for N.G.O.s.”

China’s energy giant Sinopec to sell off hotels and ditch cars in graft crackdownReuters Chinese state-owned energy giant Sinopec Group will sell off most of its hotels by the end of 2017 and get rid of more than 4,000 company cars as part of efforts to root out corruption and waste, it said on Monday. Since President Xi Jinping’s appointment in 2013, the government has cracked down on official corruption and extravagance in China, where the flaunting of personal and often illicit wealth and wasteful public spending have led to widespread criticism of the party. Part of general shift away from SOEs, hopefully this move will improve efficiency in Sinopec. But are SOEs really what’s wrong with China’s economy? 

Home Prices Rise in China for Fourth Consecutive MonthReuters Average new home prices inched up 0.3 percent in August from the previous month, the fourth consecutive month they had gains, offering hope that the ailing property sector is becoming less of a drag on the slowing economy. Let’s hope this has to do with increasing demand for houses and not some sort of meddling… 


FBI Probes Malaysia Development FundWSJ The FBI has opened an investigation into allegations of money-laundering related to a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, a person familiar with the matter said. The scope of the investigation wasn’t known. It is the latest in a series of international investigations related to the fund that have been revealed in the past several weeks. The international investigations center on entities related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which was set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 to help drive the economy. The fund is having difficulty repaying more than $11 billion of debt and is at the center of investigations that are destabilizing the government. Wow! Bad news for Najib. Though a Malaysian government probe found that WSJ’s July allegation that $700m from 1MBD ended up in Najib’s bank account wasn’t true, this problem isn’t going away. Malaysia’s Attorney General got fired after trying to investigate Najib; expect more heads to roll in the coming months as the investigation goes up the power hierarchy… Najib can’t fire the FBI.

It’s Not 1997: Southeast Asian Currencies Slump Isn’t a CrisisBloomberg Southeast Asian currencies are tumbling, and that may be a good thing. Indonesia’s rupiah and Malaysia’s ringgit have fallen to levels hit during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, leading a decline in the region’s currencies. The drop won’t spark the same economic meltdown this time around, according to analysts who watched the disaster unfold almost two decades ago. In fact, it could be a healthy realignment that helps boost exports.

Grace Poe: I offer myself as your president – Rappler Senator Grace Poe, in the past months the front runner in presidential preference surveys, announced on Wednesday night, September 16, her bid for the highest post in the 2016 elections. Before thousands of supporters and her family and friends at the University of the Philippines Bahay ng Alumni, she said: “Kayong lahat ang pinaghuhugutan ko ng inspirasyon. Kayo ang nagbibigay sa akin ng lakas na i-alay ang aking sarili sa mas mataas na paninilbihan sa bansa.” (I draw inspiration from each and every one of you. You give me the strength to pursue a higher calling for our country.) Poe is riding on popular support from her father, who many Filipinos believe had the presidency stolen from him by former President Arroyo in 2004. But current and extremely popular president Aquino wants current Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, whose popularity is low, to win. Will the Filipino tradition of personality politics carry through the 2016 elections?

Malaysian police fire water cannons at Malay protestersAP via Yahoo News Police fired water cannons at ethnic Malays who turned unruly Wednesday at a pro-government rally that many fear has the potential to provoke racial trouble in this multiethnic nation with large Chinese and Indian minorities. The rally — a collection of several marches that converged on a central field near Parliament — was ostensibly called to emphasize the dominance of Malays in Malaysia, as well as to support the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is under pressure to resign over a $700 million financial scandal. But the rally is also being seen as a challenge to the country’s Chinese- and Indian-origin residents, who participated in large numbers in an anti-Najib rally on Aug. 29 and 30.

TPP Trade Talks Appeal, Says SomkidThe Bangkok Post Thailand is interested in joining the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact being touted by the United States, but needs to study the terms and conditions of the new trade bloc first, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak says. “We are very interested but we must weight ht eadvantages and disadvantages carefully,” Mr Somkid told the Bangkok Post. The 12-member trade bloc’s economic activities represent around 40% of the global economy. Expressing interest put Thailand “on their radar screen,” he said. Let’s see if they get the TPP signed and implemented before other countries start joining …

More than 100 scrubbed from final candidate listThe Myanmar Times November’s election, promised to be the most free and fair in over half a century, prompted a deluge of applicants; 6189 potential candidates representing 92 political parties as well as independent pollsters submitted their credentials to the UEC. After an application and scrutiny period complicated by devastating floods, the UEC’s delayed list enumerated 6065 candidates, with the ruling party one of just a few to have escaped the district commission’s inspection unscathed.
Related: Principle over Detail in NLD Election ManifestoThe Irrawaddy
Related: Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape Vibrant, but Fraught with Uncertainties – cogitASIA

National scene: Indonesia, UAE sign deal on weapon production –The Jakarta Post Indonesia has agreed to grant licensing of SS2 assault rifles to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to enable the latter to produce and market the weapons. Under an agreement between Indonesian state-owned arms maker PT Pindad and the UAE’s Continental Aviation Services, the UAE becomes the official distributor of the Indonesian weapons in the Middle East.

Speaker vows to pass BBL before end of the monthThe Philippine Star Leaders of the House of Representatives said yesterday they would exert all efforts to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which seeks to create a new autonomous region in Mindanao, before the end of the month. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the ad hoc committee that drafted the proposed law, issued the statement during the opening of the exhibit of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in the House of Representatives. The BBL would do much to develop Mindanao, which as of now lags behind the rest of the Philippines. Anti-Muslim sentiment, incited after a January massacre of over 40 police officers, continues to hamper the BBL’s chances of passing.

This week’s news digest was compiled by John Juenemann, who also added analysis. 

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