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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