Regional Roundup for Week of 10.13.16


Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) passed away this afternoon at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital. The 88-year-old monarch led Thailand for 70 years. Prime Minister and military junta leader Prayut Chan-ocha said that Thailand will hold a one-year period of national mourning and that flags will fly at half-mast for the next month. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was named as successor in the early 1970s and is expected by many to ascend the throne.

The East by Southeast team extends our sincere condolences to our Thai contributors and all of our Thai readers. 

King Rama IX oversaw great changes in Thailand over his seven-decade reign. He was seen domestically as a stabilizing force in the country during its many periods of political turbulence and multiple coups, the most recent coming in 2014. However, critics argue that the palace has played a central role in the country’s coups and human rights abuses.

King Rama IX’s death opens the door for a long-feared period of instability in the kingdom. The king’s health has been deteriorating for years and questions over his eventual death and the succession plan swirled in the background of the 2014 military coup. The Crown Prince is largely disliked by Thais and whether or not he will actually succeed the throne is still unknown. Prime Minister Prayut was quoted as saying the Crown Prince did not want to be proclaimed king immediately, first desiring “to take some time to mourn, together with the people of Thailand.”

This delay has raised questions over succession plans. Powerful members of the royal advisory Privy Council are known to find the Crown Prince unfit to rule and his sister, Crown Princess Sirindhorn, is seen by many as a more popular choice for the next monarch or regent. The following few months will be crucial for the future of Thailand and the region and a smooth transition of power, while desirable, is not entirely likely. 

EXSE FOCUS

What now?—New Mandala With news of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s ailing health, Llewellyn McCann outlines three key developments to watch after his reign ends.

Related: What the Death of Thailand’s King Means, and What’s Next—The New York Times

Related: PM: Nation is in its greatest sorrow, expects new King by tradition—Bangkok Post

Dozens Believed Killed as Violence Erupts in Myanmar—New York Times The bloodshed in Rakhine State, home to members of the Rohingya Muslim minority, was set off by attacks on police posts.

Related: Escalation of violent clashes involving troops in Myanmar’s Rakhine state leaves twelve dead—South China Morning Post

Related: ‘Groupism’ and sectarian violence in Arakan—DVB

Gov’t, Vietnam exchange blame on logging—Phnom Penh Post Cambodian conservation officials spoke publicly for the first time on Monday about what they described as nearly three years of corrupt practices by their Vietnamese counterparts in facilitating the multibillion-dollar illicit trade in Siamese rosewood. //Cambodia is taking serious steps to combat illegal logging in its borders, but it can’t do it alone. Similar commitment must come from its regional partners, particularly Vietnam, which accounts for much of the demand for illegal Cambodian timber from.

Related: Ministry eyeing wood stockpiles, says Samal—Phnom Penh Post

Related: Multiple timber busts in busy weekend for Forestry Administration—Phnom Penh Post

Behind Duterte’s Bluster, a Philippine Shift Away From the U.S.—New York Times The move is a radical departure for a country that has historically been the most dependable American ally in Southeast Asia, and could undermine President Obama’s foreign policy

China’s new rules for Xinjiang ban parents from encouraging or forcing children into religion—South China Morning Post Parents and guardians in China’s heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang who encourage or force their children into religious activities will be reported to police, the government said on Wednesday while unveiling new education rules// Very interesting. We should watch closely to see how these new laws are legitimized and enforced by the Chinese government.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

US is bright spot for Southeast Asia as its exports to China drop—South China Morning Post After years of looking to China as a source of growth, Southeast Asian countries are turning their attention back to the world’s largest economy on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

Washington Should Stop Militarizing the Pacific—New York Times China’s leaders feel their country has the right to be the main power in the neighborhood.

Russia Seeks to Reopen Military Bases in Vietnam and Cuba—New York Times The Russian deputy defense minister said that the Kremlin was working to re-establish the former bases, which closed in 2002.

Philippines’ defence minister says military can cope without US aid—The Guardian Lorenzana’s remarks suggest he is following other top government officials in rallying behind maverick president Duterte’s tough anti-US agenda//Since Duterte began making waves with his controversial anti-American remarks, we’ve been reassured  by experts who say that Duterte does not have much support for his anti-American agenda within the government’s ministries and that the working relationship between the US and the Philippines will remain strong.  Do the statements of the Philippines’ defense minister mean than individuals within the government are warming to Duterte’s foreign policy agenda?

‘America has failed us’: Foreign Secretary Yasay explains why the Philippines wants to break away from US—South China Morning Post The Philippines’s top diplomat said President Rodrigo Duterte is seeking an independent foreign policy for the country because “America has failed us” in the decades since it gained independence from its former colonial master.

South China Sea Disputes Are On Duterte’s China Agenda Ahead of Visit, But to What Ends?—The Diplomat Can Duterte make China a workable offer concerning the South China Sea disputes?

Philippine Government Eyes Chinese Investment Ahead of Duterte Visit to Beijing—The Diplomat

South China Sea: Indonesian Military Stages Massive Natuna Sea Exercise—The Diplomat Indonesian President Joko Widodo observed the exercises, underlining the importance of the Natuna Islands.

Related: Indonesia air force holds major military drill at South China Sea islands—South China Morning Post

Obama and Indonesia: Strong Progress But an Uncertain Future—The Diplomat The U.S. has done its part to deepen relations; the ball is now in Indonesia’s court.

China-Thailand Relations in the Spotlight with Activist Deportation—The Diplomat A recent incident has raised questions about how beholden Bangkok is to Beijing.

Chinese president to touch down in Cambodia as nations consolidate ties—Southeast Asia Globe Cambodia is edging increasingly close to China, as the superpower lavishes aid on the Asean nation that has proved a robust ally in the South China Sea dispute

India in ASEAN—New Mandala As Washington’s influence in the region wanes and the China factor increases, New Delhi needs to build lasting strategic and economic ties with Southeast Asia, write Tridivesh Singh Maini and Maithili Parikh.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Coal outgrows hydropower—Phnom Penh Post As Cambodia’s demand for electricity grows and domestic energy production increases, new data released from the Ministry of Mines and Energy yesterday show that coal-fired energy generation surpassed hydroelectricity for the first time last year.

Biomass power plants affect health: study—The Nation A recent study on health risks from biomass power plants in Surin province has confirmed that nearby residents are being exposed to tiny dust particles in amounts that exceed the level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Thousands flee fighting near site of dam backed by Thailand—The Nation Nearby villages flooded with refugees facing imminent crisis.

Authorities divert water in effort to prevent Bangkok flooding—The Nation

Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday authorities would try to divert water runoff and floodwater to minimise the impact on Bangkok.//Flood policy is fraught with complicated and controversial decision-making that often end up in outcomes that protect the most economically “valuable” regions at the expense of less valuable regions . For this reason, flooding is increasingly being thought of as an environmental justice issue. Concerns over the environmental justice dimensions of flood risk management will only become more pronounced in the region as climate change makes rainy seasons wetter and dry seasons drier.  

ADB Loan for Enhanced Flood Risk Management In Banten, MalukuADB The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $109 million loan to support flood risk management for communities in the Banten and Maluku provinces of Indonesia to enhance preparation for future threats while ensuring infrastructure meets high standards of resilience.

NGO urges halt to Kaiduan Dam project—The Star  A proposed dam project in the south-western Papar district should be scrapped following the arrests of two Sabah Water Department officials for alleged graft, says an NGO representing the affected communities near here.

Mass fish death in Mae Klong river prompts official investigation Thai PBS The investigation team led by Samut Sakhon governor and director of the Veterinary Medical Aquatic Animal Research Center (VMAARC) – Chulalongkorn University inspected the river and some fish cage farms along the river yesterday and tested the quality of the water.

CHINA

Taiwan’s President Calls for New Talks With Beijing—New York Times In her first National Day speech, Tsai Ing-wen emphasized that Beijing should acknowledge the island’s choice to become a democracy.

Building Collapse in Chinese City of Wenzhou Kills at Least 22—New York Times The toll makes it one of the deadliest episodes of its kind in recent years. Six people have been pulled from the rubble, including a 3-year-old girl.

China Jails Environmental Activist For ‘Revealing State Secrets’—RFA Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Hunan have jailed a prominent environmentalist on charges of “revealing state secrets” in a move that activists said is likely a form of political revenge.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Vietnam Arrests Mother Mushroom, a Top Blogger, for Criticizing Government—New York Times Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a co-founder of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, has challenged leaders over topics including a dump of toxic chemicals.

Vietnam declares US-based activist group is a terrorist organization—The Guardian The Viet Tan is accused of training operatives and the government says the California-based organization instigates violence

Vietnam Ramps Up Trade Talks Amid Economic Uncertainty—The Diplomat Things don’t seem to be looking that good for Hanoi.

Thailand steps up security after warning of Bangkok bomb plot—The Guardian Increased police patrols at airports and tourist hotspots amid suspicion armed group may be plotting attacks near capital

Rice exports rebound firmly in September—Phnom Penh Post Cambodian rice exports soared by 54 percent year-on-year in September, after failing to meet last year’s levels for six consecutive months from March through August

Cambodia’s CNRP Again Boycotts Parliament—RFA Less than two weeks after promising to end a months-long legislative boycott of Cambodia’s National Assembly, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) backed away from its pledge on Friday, citing unspecified threats to opposition lawmakers.

Another case added to long list of Rainsy suits—Phnom Penh Post The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has issued yet another summons for Sam Rainsy, demanding the opposition leader appear at court to face questioning over a new incitement case.

Reconciliation in Rakhine State—New Mandala Now that a state of emergency has been lifted, Myanmar must come up with immediate solutions on local orders that oppress the state’s minority groups, writes Thulasi Wigneswaran.

Govt prepares for repatriation of 90 refugees—DVB Around 90 residents of the Nu Po refugee camp in western Thailand have signed up for official repatriation to Burma.

When Silence Hurts More Than a Bullet—The Irrawaddy

Malaysia’s secular versus religious divide—New Mandala The uneasy co-existence of civil and Sharia law in Malaysia and the polarising ethnic and religious divides within its population could be improved by establishing an independent mediation committee

Is Duterte ‘Nation-Building’ in the Philippines?—The Diplomat Whether his efforts to use simplified history and us-versus-them narratives is a good way to build a nation is another question.

Inside Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug purge: how local residents work with Philippine police to compile ‘hit lists’—South China Morning Post Barangay officials are the foot soldiers in a war on drugs that has led to the killing of more than 3,600 people since Duterte took office in June

Philippine president Duterte’s next campaign: public smoking ban—South China Morning Post Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is turning to another battle aside from illegal drugs: smoking

Progress in the Philippine Peace Process Under Duterte—The Diplomat

The initiative is arguably a silver lining in the president’s controversial tenure thus far.

Is Singapore ready to join the fight against Isis?—Southeast Asia Globe  After a planned attack on Marina Bay Sands was foiled, Singapore’s government is taking the fight to the Islamic State

Will the Village Law change rural Indonesia?—New Mandala Indonesia’s new Village Law has been hailed as a game-changer for rural areas and people. But a long-term view shows that it may not deliver all that it promises, writes Jacqueline Vel.

Southeast Asia Still Has Weak Information Security Against Cyber Threats—The Diplomat With the huge increase in internet use, Southeast Asia is more prone to attacks from outside sources.

Related: Indonesia, Singapore Talk Terror, Cyber in Defense Meeting—The Diplomat

ASEAN centre to tackle animal-borne illnesses—Phnom Penh Post Cambodia joined other Southeast Asian countries earlier this week in a commitment to establish a new ASEAN centre to tackle diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, for which exposure is common in the Kingdom’s rural areas.

BOOK REVIEWS

Review of “The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam” by Christopher Goscha—CFR In forty years, the relationship between the United States and Vietnam has swung about as widely as is possible.

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