Author Archives: East by Southeast

Regional Roundup: Week of 12.21.2014

The analysis is beginning to roll out from the Mekong River Commission’s Regional Consultation on the Don Sahong Dam in Laos – see below.  International Rivers, vehemently opposed to any damming on the Mekong released a series of op-eds on their blog this week – worth reading.  At the 5th GMS Summit this weekend, Chinese Santa delivered 3bn in development goodies to its Mekong neighbors to the south – at the same time its chief hydropower developer is considering to take over construction of the Don Sahong dam project.  Let’s watch carefully how this money is spent.  Would be interesting to look at the ROR on China’s overseas and cross border investment.  Much more including predictions for 2015….

 

ExSE FOCUS

 Parties polarized after consultations on Laos Don Sahong Dam – VOA Robert Mather, South East Asia head for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said there are serious questions about whether this evaluation process is worthwhile.”Three main issues – the timing of the process, the lack of clarity about really the limits of what the process is actually about and the lack of any real trans-boundary EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) discussions around, then I really don’t think you can expect the process to really yield anything meaningful,” said Maher.

Unquiet grows the Don – The Economist THE Mekong river, sustaining around 60m people, mostly rural and poor, is the world’s largest and most productive inland fishery. It is hardly surprising, then, that NGOs and downstream governments are fretting about the impact of yet another planned upstream dam. On December 11th the Mekong River Commission (MRC)—an intergovernmental body of the four riverside, or riparian, states (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam) along the lower Mekong—held a public consultation over Laos’s plan to dam the river two kilometres north of its border with Cambodia.

Along with Vietnam, Laos’s other downstream neighbour, Cambodia is unhappy with the Don Sahong dam project. Environmental NGOs, such as the WWF and International Rivers (IR), worry about the damage it could cause to communities and fisheries—particularly the Mekong giant catfish and the rare Irrawaddy dolphin. So Nam, who heads the MRC’s fisheries programme, said that there was still too little data on how the Don Sahong would affect Mekong fisheries. He also said that the engineers’ proposals to mitigate damage—diverting water away from the channel across which the Don Sahong will be built, and making two other channels wider and deeper—would fail to attract migrating fish.

The Vietnamese delegation to the MRC insists it will take five to ten years of study to know how the dam will affect fish migrating through the region. Other concerns raised include the Don Sahong’s blockage of sediment, used as fertiliser by downstream farming communities, and its effects on Si Phan Don, the tranquil archipelago in which it will be built. A lack of transboundary studies has impelled several regional NGOs to call for Laos to cancel the project.//great analysis from an old friend of the blog.  Correction: Laos currently has 23 dams on the Mekong tributary system and zero operating on the main stem.  The Xayaburi dam is about 30% complete but has not fully blocked the flow of the river..yet.

 Laos Dam Risks Damaging Mekong River, Igniting Tensions With Vietnam – The Diplomat Consultations on Don Sahong dam fail to bridge gap between Laos and neighboring states

 Opening Speech by CEO of MRC Secretariat – Regional public consultation on Don Sahong Hydropower Project – ADB

Fish migration, potential environmental impacts and transboundary effects took centre stage at MRC’s regional public consultation on Don Sahong hydropower project – ADB About 100 members of various stakeholder groups from the Lower Mekong Basin gathered in Pakse, Lao PDR for the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) regional public consultation

 Is the Mekong at a Tipping Point? – International Rivers For thousands of years the mighty Mekong River Basin has served as a life-sustaining force, supporting the livelihoods and food security of more than 40 million people in the region. The river’s rich mosaic of ecosystems supports the world’s largest inland fisheries and exceptional riverine biodiversity that is only surpassed by the Amazon River. The Mekong provides ecosystem services on a scale so vast that it’s often called the mother of all rivers.

Dams and the Politicization of Science International Rivers For almost two years, the sensational water conflict brewing in Southeast Asia was a hot topic, drawing the attention of global leaders and major newspapers. Laos was planning to build the enormous Xayaburi Dam across the Mekong River, angering downstream countries that depend on the river for food security. Prominent global politicians, including Hillary Clinton, urged Laos to act in an environmentally responsible manner. Regional leaders, especially from Vietnam and Cambodia, called for a delay in the project. I was working for International Rivers at the time, and we were constantly responding to requests from journalists who wanted to gauge how far the conflict would go.

Is the world’s biggest dam builder willing to change? International Rivers Dam-builder Sinohydro has an opportunity to prove that it values its reputation and its role as an ambassador of the Chinese state more than the short-term profits of a destructive contract, says International Rivers policy director Peter Bosshard. Since the turn of the century, Sinohydro has become the world’s dominant dam builder. The company is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with International Rivers, and prepared a strong environmental policy framework in 2011. Yet Sinohydro now considers building of the Don Sahong Dam, which would threaten a vital fish migration path on the Mekong, and other highly destructive dam projects.

 China offers $3bn in aid and loans to neighbours Reuters China has offered more than $3 billion in loans and aid to neighbours Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos to improve infrastructure and production, and to fight poverty, state media reported on Saturday.

China plans to lead by example at GMS summit WantChinaTimes China will continue to play a leading role in pursuing inclusive and sustainable development of the Greater Mekong Subregion.

 China Is Handing Out Money To Its NeighborsBusiness Insider

Spotlight: GMS eyes better connectivity, China’s bigger role Xinhua

 Mekong countries plan $30bn links Bangkok Post

Thailand – China sign two MOUs ahead of 5th GMS Summit Thailand National News Bureau.

China, Thailand boost ties with deals for rail and riceReuters

 Other countries welcome to invest in three other rail routes: Prajin – The Nation Japan, South Korea and European countries still have an opportunity to invest in Thailand’s railway systems – despite the pending 867-kilometre double-track project being allocated to China, Transport Minister Prajin Juntong said yesterday.

 ADB President Calls on Greater Mekong Subregion to Build on Achievements ADB  The President of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Takehiko Nakao, completed a two-day visit to Bangkok today, where he participated in the 5th Leaders’ Summit of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and met top officials of the host country to discuss ADB’s deepening partnership with Thailand.

 New Year’s Predictions for Southeast Asia – CFR Asia Unbound It’s that time of year again. Since I will be away between Christmas and the end of the year, this is the week for boldly making predictions about 2015 in Southeast Asia. At the end of 2015, just like this year, we can look back and see how many of my fearless predictions were right, and how many missed the mark.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China’s Charm Offensive: A Temporary, Tactical Change The Diplomat China is playing nice for now, but there are cracks in its friendly smile.//Xi has done much to improve China’s soft power image in the last 12 months. He’d get receive even more global laurels if he showed up in a Santa suit for the Christmas day press conference in Beijing.

Can China’s Gwadar Port Dream Survive Local Ire? The Diplomat China wants the Gwadar port, but impoverished locals have no interest in foreign meddling.//next project, public opinion polls at all of China’s new trading/naval ports around the world. 

Thailand-Burma in border trade talks BANGKOK POST Thailand and Burma plan to have a joint trade committee meeting next month in an attempt to boost two-way trade and investment. The move is part of the countries’ strategy to drive overall border trade volume to reach 1.5 trillion baht (US$4.5 billion) next year. The first meeting will be chaired by Thai Commerce Minister Chatchai Sarikulya and his Burmese counterpart.

Burma Last in Asean to Join Regional Infrastructure Fund  The Irrawaddy  Burma has become a full member of the Asean Infrastructure Fund, the last country of the regional grouping to gain shareholder status, the fund announced on Thursday. “It [Burma] will be able to access funding from AIF for infrastructure projects, that will be how Myanmar benefits,” said Jin W. Cyhn, the principal economist of the Southeast Asia department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which administers the fund.//Then again Burma was last to join every ASEAN institution. Perhaps the better headline is “Burma finally joins…”

Maritime Southeast Asia: A Game of Go? The Diplomat How much does the ancient game of Go, or weiqi, reveal about Chinese military strategy?

and A.: Bill Hayton on Growing Rivalries in the South China Sea NYT The BBC journalist’s latest work, “The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia,” addresses the history, politics and energy resources of the sea that has become central to China’s foreign policy.

Navy to sink two more illegal fishing boats – Jakarta Post Despite complaints from neighboring countries, Indonesia is set to continue sinking foreign ships caught fishing illegally in its territorial waters. The Indonesian Navy was scheduled to sink two more ships on Sunday at Laha, Teluk Ambon, Maluku, Navy spokesman Commodore Manahan Simorangkir said.

 Indonesia: Playing With Fire in the South China Sea – The Diplomat Indonesia’s new president could jeopardize bilateral relations and ASEAN unity with his maritime “shock therapy.”

 ASEAN Should Confront Laos On Rights Abuses: NGOs – The Diplomat Call issued on anniversary of disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone. //The whole world should confront Laos on this atrocity. Google the writings of Sombath Somphone to see how generous, creative, and inspiring he is. 

Crimson tide Southeast Asia Globe After being destroyed by the 2004 tsunami, Banda Aceh’s Lampulo fish market was rebuilt and remains a hotbed of shark fin trading. Local fishermen trawl the seas, hauling in hundreds of thousands of the creatures each year to meet the demand for shark fin soup that flows out of China and Vietnam.

 Multi-country tourist visas stalled over security worries – The Nation The idea of tourists getting one visa for six destinations in the Mekong region is tough to achieve because nations are concerned about security, Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said yesterday.//This is a reflection of general anxiety regarding the AEC 2015.  Thailand has yet to sign the Cross Border Trade Agreement which will increase flows of regional goods – reasons same, Thailand is concerned about security.

Will we see an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015? ADB Launched as a political bloc and security pact in the aftermath of the Viet Nam War, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has evolved to embrace an ambitious economic agenda. Its latest project is to establish the ASEAN Economic Community by 31 December 2015. But is this likely?

Suu Kyi still negotiating China visit DVB Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still discussing an itinerary for her planned visit to China this month. Suu Kyi’s spokesperson Phyo Zayar Thaw, himself an MP for the National League for Democracy (NLD), said: “Arrangements are still being discussed with Chinese officials. She won’t be leaving anytime soon.”

 Burmese soldiers reportedly killed near Chinese border – GoKunming  Seven soldiers were killed in an ambush near the Myanmar-China frontier last week, according to Burmese state media reports. The target of the attack was an army outpost inKunlong, a small town in the north of Shan State, located only 30 kilometers away from the border with Yunnan’s western Lincang Prefecture.

 US Congress in the Driver’s Seat on US–Burma Military Cooperation – Irrawaddy  Burma When it comes to foreign policy, among the most powerful words in any Congressman’s vocabulary are “none of the funds appropriated by this Act…” Congress used them, or a variation thereof, twice this week (Dec. 8-13) in connection with Burma policy.

Unlocking ASEAN’s Potential – Project Syndicate For decades, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been asking whether ten countries with different cultures, political systems, and levels of economic development can act in concert to expand their collective potential. Judging by their leaders’ ambitious vision for cooperation, the answer may be yes.

Thailand Turns to China – The Diplomat With a post-coup cooling of relations with the West, Bangkok is looking to its largest trading partner.//China also turns to Thailand with the prospects of big changes in the year to come.  China always saw Thai democracy as a big obstacle to bilateral relations. 

 

SUSTAINABILITY & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Asia’s fragile caves face growing development risks The Guardian The limestone caves of Southeast Asia and southwest China are home to scores of plants and animals, many of them rare. But a rise in tourism, mining, and other human activities is placing these biodiverse environments at risk, reports Environment360

Hainan gibbon ‘clinging on’ with 25 left in China The Guardian Scientists say a disease outbreak or typhoon could push world’s rarest ape species towards extinction. Scientists are racing to save a critically endangered ape species that lives only in the rainforests of southern China’s Hainan island. With 25 known individuals remaining, a disease outbreak or a strong typhoon could “massively impact” the species’s chances of survival, the scientists say.

Hu tieu, a Vietnamese dish spiced with prosperity and climate change – The Guardian The rice noodle soup, a specialty of the Mekong Delta, tells the tale of the changing economy and environment in the region. Is Vietnam becoming a victim of our appetites? On a visit last month to the town of My Tho, the capital of the Tien Giang province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, I found a riverside restaurant that served the local specialty, a dish called hu tieu. It’s a delicious soup, dense with stretchy rice noodles and topped with succulent locally farmed shrimp.//The quickest way to understand climate change goes through the stomach. 

China’s farmers face major challenges adapting to climate change – ChinaDialogue China’s mainly small-scale agricultural sector, where the average farm is less than a hectare, needs significant investment and capacity building to adapt to climate change. In an interview with chinadialogue, Xu Yinlong, who is a member of the Scientific Steering Committee leading UNEP’s ‘Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation‘, explains the government’s strategy.

Using local knowledge to recover fisheries in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam – Mekong Commons  Vam Nao village is located on the riverbank of Vam Nao River in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam. The river plays a very important role in local community life, both for fisheries and agriculture. In the Mekong Delta, the Mekong River branches in to nine major rivers, and the Vam Nao River balances the water flows between two of these, namely the Tien River and the Hau River.

Greed and Resistance in Sarawak’s Rainforest – International Rivers Will dams flood out Sarawak’s indigenous cultures? Sarawak, the Malaysian province on the island of Borneo, has long been one of the six world regions with the highest biodiversity. An average hectare of Sarawak rainforest contains more tree species than all of Europe. The local Penan communities have names for more than 1300 of the plants they live with. The forest is also home to orang utans and tree leopards, hundreds of bird species, and frogs that can glide up to 20 meters through the air.

 Laos foots the bill for power-hungry Bangkok – Mekong Commons Seven months ago, in May, Bangkok’s latest shopping mall, Central Embassy, celebrated its opening with aplomb, attracting several thousand Bangkok celebrities to this glitzy affair. The 144 000 square-meter luxurious and futuristic-looking mall was described by Travel & Leisure magazine as a ‘monster of a shopping complex’. During the same month, theWorldwide Wildlife Fund warned that the construction of the Don Sahang dam in southern Laos would endanger the survival of freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, and called for a suspension of the project.

The Oil Price Opportunity – Project Syndicate Though lower oil prices may boost overall global growth, with the oil-importing advanced economies gaining the most, the impact on efforts to combat climate change could be devastating. But this decline in oil prices could also provide a rare political opportunity to introduce an explicit carbon price.

 Why Are Commodity Prices Falling? – Project Syndicate Most dollar commodity prices have fallen since the first half of the year. Though a host of sector-specific factors are at work, the fact that the downswing is so broad – as is often the case with large price movements – suggests that macroeconomic factors are at work.

 

CHINA

Story Map: What is the impact of China’s mega water diversion scheme? – Third Pole China’s South-North Water Transfer Project – the world’s largest engineering project –  will eventually pump 45 billion cubic metres of water each year from the Yangtze to the Yellow River to feed the cities and coal fields of northern and western China, which are running out of water. The amount of water diverted every year will be equivalent to a second Yellow River.//great work from Beth Walker

Housing: Why grumble? The Economist JUST how bad is China’s housing bubble? One important measure—the most important for those trying to get a foot on the property ladder—is affordability. Many believe that Chinese housing prices have soared well beyond the reach of ordinary people. There is some truth to that. But a closer look at the data reveals a more complex picture. The Economist Intelligence Unit, our sister company, created a city-level index to track the relation between housing prices and incomes across China. Two points stand out.

China’s Housing Resists Efforts to Spur Market – NYT Property developers in China are struggling to unload unsold units as potential buyers try to decide if prices will continue to fall.

Tourists Behaving Badly: China’s Image Problem – The Diplomat There is a disconnect between China’s growing national power and the international image of the Chinese people.//I’m writing this on an AirAsia flight from Kunming to Bangkok – so far so good.  Even though Chinese tourists’ action often should stand alone along with the actions of businessmen and govt officials behaving badly we have to admit there’s a growing disconnect between how the West looks out for China and the international capabilities of China’s growing power. 

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

 Cambodia investigates suspected mass HIV infection Agence France-Presse Unlicensed doctor suspected of spreading virus through contaminated needles, leaving 106 people thought to be infected. Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, has ordered an inquiry into an apparent mass HIV infection believed to have been spread by contaminated needles, as the number of suspected cases passed 100.

Thai murders: Foreign Office blocking fair trial for Burmese migrants – lawyers The Guardian Lawyers representing men accused of murdering two British tourists in Koh Tao say information about case is being withheld. Lawyers representing Burmese migrant workers accused of killing two young British tourists in Thailand have accused the Foreign Office of being complicit in ensuring the men will not receive a fair trial after officials in London refused to share any information about the prosecution case.//Coup plus murdered tourists do not bode well for tourism to Thailand which accounts for a significant portion of GDP

Thai NGOs Call for Improved Social Benefits for Migrant Workers – Irrawaddy  Burmese migrants and NGOs supporting migrants in Thailand have called on the Thai government to reform its social security system so that legally registered Burmese, Laotian and Cambodia workers in the country can gain long-term benefits from the system. Brahm Press, the director of the MAP Foundation for the Health and Knowledge of Ethnic Labor, said the group, along with half a dozen other community-based organizations, had sent an open letter to the Thai Ministry of Interior’s office at Chiang Mai City Hall and to the Thailand’s Legal Reform Committee.

The Harsh Life of Thailand’s Migrant Workers – The Diplomat Two recent cases underscore just how difficult life is for migrant workers in Thailand.

Thailand’s Twelve Turbulent Months – The Diplomat Democracy in Thailand took about 12 steps backwards in 2014.//this fall at the annual Thai Studies Conference at UWisconsin, Thongchai Winichakul proclaimed the military coup set Thailand back 2-3 generations.

Samsung could double-down on Vietnam by 2017 – Thanh Nien News Samsung has offered to raise its investment in Vietnam to US$20 billion in 2017 if their existing business here goes smoothly, according to a new government report.//Interesting that Samsung’s largest cell phone factory is in Hanoi rather than the more productive HCMC – because lower wages or need to keep close to the state?

Faced with Russian tourist drop, Vietnam resort towns cut prices – Thanh Nien News Hotels, resorts and travel agencies in Binh Thuan Province, famous for its Mui Ne beach, have agreed to cut prices to fight a dramatic decline in Russian tourists’ bookings due to the ruble’s fall.//Tourism is likely down from Hainan all the way to Phuket this holiday season.

Vietnam’s rising debt a serious concern, economists warn – Thanh Nien News After Vietnam’s public debt hit US$70 billion in late 2013, economists began to express concerns about the country’s financial future.

Power-Grid Study to Tackle Supply Problems Cambodia Daily U.S. conglomerate General Electric on Thursday inked a $1 million deal with Cambodia’s state-owned Electricite du Cambodge (EdC) to conduct a six-month study to identify weaknesses in Cambodia’s electrical grid with the aim of enhancing the reliability of the power supply.//cost of electricity in Cambodia is among the most expensive in the world – a new grid is necessary.  Investors line up.

ADB, Cambodia Sign Loans to Boost Water Supply, Tourism and Financial Sectors ADB  Cambodia’s Minister of Economy and Finance H.E. Aun Pornmoniroth and ADB today signed loan agreements totaling $67 million for three support operations to improve water supply, tourism and financial sectors.

China to Build New National Police Headquarters – Cambodia Daily The Interior Ministry on Wednesday confirmed that China will construct a new head office for the National Police in Phnom Penh at no cost in order to accommodate the expanding duties of Cambodia’s domestic security operations.// yet another eyesore to mar the skyline of Phnom Penh.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 12.14.14

Will & Brian, ExSE founders, recently returned from an 18 day field trip to Thailand and Laos with many new stories to tell and much analysis to deliver to the readership.  By far the biggest topic heard far and wide while on the river was the run-up to last Friday’s regional consultation put on by the Mekong River Commission regarding the controversial 250MW Don Sahong dam on the Mekong in southern Laos. By most accounts the regional consultation is a step in the right direction, but it’s affect will likely be minimal and hosting the event after initial construction has already begun is out of step with the MRC’s mandate and obviously too late to have a meaningful impact.  What we did confirm on our trip to Laos was that the dam builder, Malaysia’s Megafirst, has subcontracted most of the dam’s work to Sinohydro, both China’s and the world’s largest hydropower developer – perhaps a good move for Megafirst, a firm that has never built a dam, but not a good move for China in terms of its regional image and soft power projection.  No major press releases were released on Friday’s findings, so keep your eyes posted to relevant news outlets like ones listed below as well as to ExSE for analysis on this controversial project by the end of the week.

EXSE FOCUS

Stop gambling with our future: Cancel the Don Sahong dam – The Nation Today, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) is holding its first regional public consultation on the Don Sahong Dam in Pakse. We believe the Don Sahong Dam poses an unacceptable risk to regional fisheries, food security and the future of the Mekong and, as such, should be immediately cancelled.

 Related WWF to Boycott Don Sahong Dam Meeting in Laos – Cambodia Daily The World Wildlife Fund on Thursday said it would boycott a regional public consultation today over Laos’ controversial Don Sahong hydropower dam, accusing those behind the project of ignoring the potentially devastating impact it could have on Cambodia’s communities, fisheries and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

 Related MRC will hold regional public consultation on Don Sahong Hydropower Project – MRC 12-Dec consultation and online feedback submission are among channels for stakeholders to participate in the project’s prior consultation.

 Wife of Missing Lao Civil Society Leader Vows to Keep Pushing For Answers – RFA  The wife of a missing prominent civil society leader in Laos vowed to continue pushing the authorities for answers over the disappearance of her husband, who vanished under mysterious circumstances in the capital Vientiane two years ago.//Sombath disappeared two years ago today.  Those who knew Sombath are celebrating his life and works this week on the Laofab gmail group.  For more information write laofab@gmail.com 

 Related Authorities look the other way as activists disappear in Asia – The Nation The wife of missing Laotian activist Sombath Somphone says his abductors still enjoy impunity two years after his disappearance – an ugly reality across a region where powerful business interests and murky state actors stand accused of routinely “disappearing” opponents.

 

Thai Princess, Queen-to-Be, Gives Up Title – NYT Princess Srirasm, mother of a presumed heir to the Thai throne, lost her title after the recent arrests of her relatives and amid King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s health problems.

Analysis What the Turmoil in Thailand’s Palace Means for Thai Politics (Perhaps) – CFR Asia Unbound As I noted last week, Thailand has been consumed by recent news that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn appears to be on the verge of divorcing his third wife, Srirasmi, and erasing all remnants of her and her family from his life and from the royal palace. Of course, no Thai media are openly reporting this news, since saying almost anything at all about the crown prince or any other leading member of the royal family (or even about royal events that allegedly took place hundreds of years ago) can get one slapped with harsh lèse-majesté charges.//Josh Kurlantzick with interesting analysis gleaned from his SEA network as well as his reading of Andrew McGregor Marshall’s new book on the Thai royal family Kingdom in Crisis.  Essentially the crown prince’s divorcing of this third wife is a ploy to distance himself from the Red Shirt Thaksin clique (which by the way is not going anywhere anytime soon folks), and make good with the military and the  military led government.  Elite politics is on a continual slide to the conservative side in Thailand

The Year of Sustainable Development – Project Syndicate Next year represents this generation’s greatest opportunity to progress toward sustainable development. Three summits in the latter half of 2015 can reshape the global development agenda, and give an important push to vital changes in the functioning of the world economy.//by Jeffrey Sachs

 Global economy – a year of divergence looms – The Guardian The major players in the world economy all have the potential to grow at different speeds while taking divergent paths – policymakers should take note of the risks. In the coming year, “divergence” will be a major global economic theme, applying to economic trends, policies, and performance. As the year progresses, these divergences will become increasingly difficult to reconcile, leaving policymakers with a choice: overcome the obstacles that have so far impeded effective action, or risk allowing their economies to be destabilised.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

The Silk Railway: freight train from China pulls up in Madrid – The Guardian Madrid mayor welcomes first cargo train from China after epic 8,111-mile rail trip inaugurates the longest rail link in the world. The longest rail link in the world and the first direct link between China and Spain is up and running after a train from Yiwu in coastal China completed its maiden journey of 8,111 miles to Madrid.//Impressive, but how much did it cost?  Certainly the costs will be dropping into the future as long as the Sino-Russian relationship holds up.

World set for climate disaster, say activists, as Lima talks falter – The Guardian Proposals too weak to keep global warming to the agreed limit of two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Frustrated climate campaigners have claimed that the world was on course for an unsustainable four-degree rise in temperatures, as two weeks of negotiations for a climate change agreement headed for an unsatisfying conclusion.

Related Strange Climate Event: Warmth Toward U.S. – NYT

Related At Climate Meeting, China Balks at Verifying Cuts in Carbon Emissions – NYT

Related China pledges US$20 million a year to its new South-South Cooperation Fund – The Third Pole

 

Chinese tourists who scalded Thai stewardess with hot water, noodles to be punished – SCMP Chinese authorities vowed to severely punish Chinese travellers who threw hot water and noodles on a Thai flight attendant and threatened to bomb the plane.//Waiting for a US late night pundit to start a “Chinese people behaving badly” segment.  All jokes aside, what legal grounds does the Chinese government have to charge Chinese citizens with crimes and misdemeanors occurring over Thai airspace and on Malaysia’s property (AirAsia being Malaysian owned?)

Ancient Trade Route Delivers New Opportunities to Greater Mekong Subregion – ADB A modern highway and bridge connecting three countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion are reviving an ancient trade route and bringing new life to local communities

UN report: Golden Triangle opium trade still expanding –GoKunming  A report released this week by the United Nations shows opium production in Southeast Asia continues to rise despite eradication efforts in several countries. Demand for the drug and its derivatives, specifically heroin, remains highest in China and the vast majority arrives via Yunnan province.//Ancient trade route delivers ancient products – counter to headline above.  Blame the faltering peace process in Myanmar and big Yunnan agrobusiness for this – at least for resumed opium production in Laos.  Obviously the Chinese central government doesn’t want drugs flowing in from the Golden Triangle, but provincial Yunnanese agrofirms are buying huge tracts of land in northern Laos for rubber and banana plantation and driving small farmers off their land and into opium production.  5 years ago, opium production in northern Laos was negligible, but now is beginning to thrive again.   

Kunming to Vietnam border by rail soon to be reality – GoKunming  Yunnan’s newest railroad opened this week to test traffic, indicating work is all but finished following more than five years of slow and steady construction. Although more of an extension than a dedicated line, the Mengzi-Hekou Railway Line (蒙河铁路) will soon allow freight and passenger traffic from Kunming to travel uninterrupted to an international border.//this is a big deal.  It means that you can jump on a train in Kunming at noon and arrive in Hanoi by train at 5am the following morning. 100 years ago a rail line opened parallel to this one joining Vietnam’s Haiphong port to Kunming – that ride took nearly 5 days.  The old passenger line went out of commission 14 years ago. 

Searching for Burmese Jade, and Finding Misery – The Guardian A New York Times documentary and article look at mine workers in Myanmar struggling with poverty and drug addiction even as the country’s jade industry is booming because of demand from China.//this too slows the peace process in Myanmar.

Related: The Life and Times of an Addict in Myanmar – The Guardian

Related: An Addict on the Jade Trail to China – The Guardian

 Malaysian police detain 15 Burmese over series of gruesome murders – AFP Officials suspect killing of at least 18 Burmese nationals in Penang may be result of revenge attacks over violence at home. Malaysian police have detained 15 people from Burma over a series of gruesome murders in a popular tourist destination, and believe the killings are linked to ethnic unrest in their home country, reports say.

 India and China Slug It Out in South Asia – The Diplomat India-China competition in South Asia is as hot as ever, but India could be losing out to China in important ways.

Vietnam dismisses China’s position paper on East Sea claims Thanh Nien News Vietnam’s foreign ministry condemned Thursday a position paper China has used to outline its arguments against the jurisdiction of an international arbitration case which the Philippines has been seeking to challenge Beijing’s expansive maritime claims.

Related China’s Maritime Machinations: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – The Diplomat

 

SUSTAINABILITY & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

European Union agrees to investigate Cambodian sugar industry – The Guardian Booming industry faces allegations of human rights abuses such as land grabs, forced displacement and child labour. The European Union has agreed to investigate forced displacement claims in relation to Cambodia’s troubled sugar industry. The move could see thousands of villagers compensated for illegally confiscated land and loss of earnings.

Traders welcome ‘Rubber Fund’ as good step to push up prices – The Nation Rubber traders yesterday welcomed the planned Bt420-million “Rubber Fund” as a good start to ensure a brighter outlook for their industry, hoping that it could help shore up prices of the commodity.//entire mountainsides of rubber production will go online in 2015-16 as trees reach maturity in southern Yunnan and northern Laos.  Look for a spike from the fund and then another dip when those trees go online.  The falling price of oil also further promotes the production of synthetic rubber.  

 

CHINA

Hong Kong Protesters Lose a Last Bastion, but Vow to Go On – NYT Even in their defeat, the protesters, mostly college students, left with a new sense of political identity and a willingness to challenge the power holders in Beijing.

Related: The Guardian view on the final dispersal of the Hong Kong protests | Editorial – The Guardian

 Liu Xiaobo sends message to the world: pay attention to other Chinese activists – AP Jailed Nobel peace prize winner tells friend he is doing well, has been reading and thinking and is convinced he has no enemies. The jailed Chinese Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has told an overseas friend that he is relatively healthy but wants the world to pay more attention to other Chinese activists

Allen Grane: Combating the African Wildlife Trade in China – CFR Asia Unbound Recently, the Animal Planet aired a documentary entitled “Saving Africa’s Giants with Yao Ming.” The show, developed in conjunction with the environmental non-governmental organization WildAid, depicts Yao meeting with wildlife conservationists to discuss the future of African elephants and rhinoceroses.

China’s water diversion project starts to flow to Beijing – The Guardian  £48bn scheme may provide relief to the parched north, but at what cost to the drought-ridden south and its displaced farmers? On Friday afternoon, China quietly inaugurated one of the biggest engineering projects of all time: the South-North Water Diversion, a £48bn, 2,400km network of canals and tunnels, designed to divert 44.8bn cubic metres of water annually from China’s humid south to its parched, industrialised north.

Chinese Health Care Draws Investors NYT Despite the system’s challenges, the sector is becoming one of the most popular for those seeking the next great untapped market.

A Top Target of China’s Graft Purge Gets Life in Prison NYT Liu Tienan was one of the first and most visible targets of the push by President Xi Jinping to take down both “tigers” and “flies” — powerful and minor officials.

China Announces Record Trade Surplus, Helped by Weak Oil Price – NYT The Shanghai stock market rose sharply after the data was released and has now climbed 26 percent since a rate cut on Nov. 21.

China Sets Economic Reform Targets for 2015 Diplomat The Central Economic Work Conference gave an overview of China’s economic goals for 2015. Topping the agenda: reform.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

How can ‘carpocalypse’ be avoided in Hanoi? The Guardian Vehicle ownership is status symbol in Vietnam, but congested streets are making the city unliveable. What will turn the tide?  The everyday commute in Hanoi is a test of endurance; it requires perseverance and concentration, and involves pollution, bizarre noises, and mysterious aromas. Traffic lights act more like loose guidelines for the flow of traffic, and with busy crowded streets, public buses are the most feared among bicyclists for their accelerator-happy feet.//We’ll be posting a similar article on Kunming’s traffic problems later this week.

Vietnamese blogger arrested for ‘anti-state articles’ The Guardian Press freedom group says charges are bogus. A blogger was detained in Vietnam on Saturday on anti-state charges for postings deemed critical of the government, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

World’s largest cave in Vietnam threatened by cable car – The Guardian Vietnamese are protesting plans to build a cable car through remote Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park that could carry 1,000 visitors an hour to Son Doong cave.  Plans for a cable car in Vietnam’s Unesco-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park would open up the world’s largest cave to mass tourism. But Vietnamese are protesting the project, and experts warn the environmental impact could be devastating.

US Sends Mixed Message to Burma Military –  DVB  Human rights advocates and some lawmakers say the United States is sending the wrong signal by opening the door for broader engagement with Burma’s widely criticized military just weeks after President Barack Obama assured opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that closer ties weren’t going to happen soon.

 Survey Finds Waning Confidence In Direction Country Is Headed – The Cambodia Daily Just 32 percent of Cambodians believe the country is headed in the right direction, down from 81 percent a decade ago, according to a report released on Wednesday by the U.S.-based Asia Foundation.

Cross-Border Energy Trade Powers Development in Cambodia – ADB A Greater Mekong Subregion project helps builds a transmission line from Viet Nam to Cambodia to provide a steady supply of electricity to communities and industries in the southern part of the country.

Through the eyes of a killer – SEA Globe The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s second film about Indonesia’s communist purges of the 1960s. The first film, the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, was centred on the murderers; this time the focus is shifted to the victims, who have been afraid to raise the matter for half a century.//If you haven’t seen The Act of Killing yet, do so soon.  Netflix carries it.  

Fighting fire with fire – SEA Globe One of the region’s longest-running and most intractable conflicts continues to smoulder in Thailand’s deep south. The new military government has promised peace, but one of its first moves was handing out military-grade weapons to locals

Education in Indonesia: School’s in – The Economist WITH roughly 55m students, 3m teachers and more than 236,000 schools in 500 districts, Indonesia has the world’s fourth-largest education system. But the system does not work nearly as well as it should. The country’s new president, Joko Widodo, generally known as Jokowi, hopes to change that with help from his new education secretary, Anies Baswedan, a former university president and creator of a programme that sends graduates to teach in remote areas.Like so much else in the sprawling archipelago, nothing is simple.

Malaysia Airlines appoints Aer Lingus boss as first foreign chief executive – SCMP Malaysia’s government has picked Christoph Mueller, the chief executive of Ireland’s Aer Lingus, as the new head of its beleaguered flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines.

Tourist Influx Helps Rural Lao PDR Thrive – ADB  Completion of the last overland link in the North-South Economic Corridor brings prosperity to poor provinces in the Lao PDR, a landlocked country that lies at the heart of the Greater Mekong Subregion.

 

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How’s it Going, Thailand?

In the late afternoon of May 22, 2014–about the time when many people were leaving their offices–many TV screens turned frozen. The tunes behind put many in reminiscence: patriotic songs that once were ubiquitous in Thailand 50 years ago came alive. The screen was dominated by the color of blue with “National Council for Peace and Order” appeared under five logos of the military.

A few hours passed, the screen remained the same but a different song was playing. Every channel was painted with the same six words. Occasionally, for another day or two, a young man in uniform–possibly in his forties–sat behind a table and started to read word by word from the sheet of white A4 paper in front of him. As he read along, the screen scrolled down simultaneously to show what was typed on the letter.

They were orders. More than a dozen orders were issued to Thailand with immediate effect. The head of the military, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, assumed the head of Thailand’s government. A curfew between 10pm to 5am was set nation-wide. Media was seized and controlled. All to maintain “peace and order.”

The next day, the young man was accompanied by a young woman, each had a few sheets of white paper in front of them. They switched to read over a hundred plus names of high position leaders who were summoned by the new Thai leader. These people were demanded to report within 24 hours.

At this time, no domestic news was reporting what was happening to Thailand. Much of the updates were acquired via social media and foreign news agencies. Videos of uniformed soldiers’ invasion into many media offices were recorded and posted online. People were furious at what was happening. But they were only those who were following the coup’s movement at every step. Others whose main–and possibly the only–channel of news was the television, remained sheltered with messages by the NCPO.

The violence has not broken up yet. Some wanted their voices to be heard so they gathered by Bangkok’s core to claim their stance. Bangkok Arts and Culture Center became the first occupy, followed by the Victory of Monument, and a famous conspicuous shopping street the following days. The “No-Coup” crowd had their signs written and their mouths taped black. A few hours later, the military came to disperse the crowd and instead claimed the territory theirs with their arms. For the next couple days, Bangkok continued to be surprised by more crowds in various spots around the city yelling “No Coup!” Other provinces started to see crowds gathering in the city centers. “No Coup” movement became contagious.

Human rights groups issued their statements condemning the coup and demanding summoned individuals to be released or returned. But their voices never made it to the television. Other Thais–whose source of news wasn’t only the television–reprimanded these protestors as “destroyer of peace.”

The nation is still divided and fragmented.

A week–and months–after the coup’s entrance, every local channel still had NCPO’s logo audaciously pressed at the top right corner. Media was mostly reporting financial news and showing nightly soap operas. Updates on the coup were briefed on May 28, 2014 to foreign media with a strong confirmation that Thailand was too unstable for an election. The last coup last two and a half years before an election of recycled familiar faces.

Hidden in the midst of the coup’s dominating scene over Thailand, rural folks and environmentalists are facing another layer of turmoil overpowering their livelihoods. The new authority is pushing Thailand’s newest Power Development Plan and forest/land kleptocratic programs to the decision-maker’s plate while Nature-dependent communities are squeezed off the cliff. Deals are being made behind closed doors and those who dare to say different risk being detained by the armed force.

We will keep our promises. Give us some more time. And our beautiful country will return…” This new song, composed by the coup leaders, has become Thailand’s most played song on TVs, radios, public media. Mornings, recess, mid-days, afternoons, late afternoons, nights, midnights, twilights, dusks, dawns.

Six months is how long the coup has taken over. The clock is still ticking.

Thailand no longer has a constitution. If you want to hold an event commenting or expressing your different views on the nation’s policy, either ask for a permission in advance or risk being arrested. Or might as well, just self-censor your existence.

But some university students can no longer remain patient. 5 students, each wearing a black t-shirt with a word on it jumped between a crowd of khaki uniforms and the stage where Prayuth Chan-Ocha was orchestrating about “drought and water management plan for E-san.” Five persons to challenge the military’s order which prohibits an assembly of 4+ persons group. An index, a middle finger, a ring finger to symbolize your support for the “No Coup” wave. A combination of these components will conceal your freedom in the police and the military’s territory.

This is Thailand’s time to test its people. No one knows when fear will stop pressing our faces to the ground. No one knows when curiosity will trigger someone to start questioning reality. Indeed, no one knows if most people will just forget and move on, leaving the minority screaming–in mute.

The author of this essay is a concerned Thai citizen choosing to publish anonymously.  

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Regional Roundup for Week of 11.9.2014

EXSE FOCUS 

US-China Relations: Attitude and Attitudes The Diplomat Obama’s second trip to China is a good opportunity to set a new course in bilateral relations.

 Defining a ‘New Type of Major Power Relations’ The Diplomat Heading into the APEC Summit, the U.S. and China may need to narrow their interpretation of the concept.

 Obama, Asia, and Democracy Asia Unbound It’s nice, in a way, to see issues one has worked on appear in major, globally important publications. This past week, just before President Obama’s trip to Asia, the Banyan column inThe Economist, a column that focuses on Asia, detailed the Obama administration’s general disinterest in issues related to democracy and human rights in Asia.

 To China, Shift in Obama’s Political Fortunes Eclipses U.S. Economic Gains NYT When President Obama visits China on Monday, authorities there are likely to dwell more on his electoral reversals than on the robust American economy, analysts say.

 The U.S. and China’s Competing FTA’s During APEC The Diplomat The U.S. is uninterested in ceding power in a more comprehensive regional trade agreement.// Interesting to look at the TPP from a strategic perspective. Many potential Asian members (Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan) have territorial disputes with China, conspicuously absent in the negotiations. Meanwhile, the US is the TPP cheerleader this side of the Pacific. 

 Beijing attempts to cut air pollution for APEC summit Guardian Factories, schools, offices and building sites to be closed and cars part-banned as city hosts world leaders including Obama and Putin. To Beijing’s 21 million residents, the city’s air pollution is a health hazard. To the city’s leaders, it’s an embarrassment. So as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (Apec) begins this week in the city, authorities have been scrambling to keep the air clean, temporarily restricting the operation of cars, factories, construction sites and even crematoriums. 

So Long Deployment, Hello Employment: Redefining the Rebalance to Asia The Diplomat John Kerry’s definition of the U.S. rebalance to Asia is far different from Hillary Clinton’s original description.

 The New Silk Road: China’s Marshall Plan? The Diplomat China’s plan for massive investments along the New Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road is a bid for diplomatic clout.//China’s int’l economic development plan is certainly attractive, and not just for countries like Nepal or the Maldives. Indonesia just joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank this week, much to the US’s chagrin.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Authorities break up China-Vietnam telecom scam GoKunming During a time of tense and increasingly complicated political relations, China and its southern neighbor Vietnam are still finding ways to cooperate, at least in the realm of law enforcement. Police from both countries announced Tuesday they have jointly broken up a cross-border telecommunications swindle that bilked its unwitting victims out of at least two million yuan.

The Tyranny of SE Asia’s Establishment The Diplomat The “old middle class” in Southeast Asia is turning against democracy in a bid to protect its interests.

China’s Uighur Unrest Is Opportunity for Afghans NYT With new aid and investments, Beijing seems to be coming to grips with Afghanistan’s role in its national security.

China and Japan, in Sign of a Thaw, Agree to Disagree on a Disputed Island Group NYT The countries’ leaders gave the first public declaration they are trying to roll back a long standoff that has inflamed nationalist sentiments and damaged economic ties.

Chinese President’s Delegation Tied to Illegal Ivory Purchases During Africa Visit NYT At a time when China says it is trying to root out corruption, a report accuses President Xi Jinping’s delegation of colluding with corrupt Tanzanian officials to smuggle ivory.// You won’t find this coming from Xinhua. Awful if true. Local friends often talk about how Xi’s clique is just as corrupt as the rest – this is a pretty shocking example.

Mexico revokes multibillion-dollar rail contract with China Reuters Mexico has sought closer ties with China but the revocation of the project is an embarrassment ahead of a state visit next week. Mexico has revoked a contract for a multibillion-dollar, high-speed passenger rail link from a Chinese-led consortium after its uncontested bid sparked complaints, souring a state visit to China next week by President Enrique Peña Nieto.

 

SUSTAINABILITY & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

China’s EIA Industry Rife with Fraud ChinaFile A farce played out at an environmental impact assessment (EIA) firm in the southern city of Shenzhen when inspectors called round in early October, this year. //The Sino-Burmese pipeline’s EIA is a complete sham in addition to the refineries and side projects that come with it.

Counting the Varied Costs of China’s Dependence on Coal NYT A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Chinese partners puts a monetary price on the problems created by the energy source, like air pollution.

China and Russia Said to Block Creation of Antarctic Marine Reserves NYT International talks in Australia on establishing two marine reserve areas, each larger than Texas, in the waters around Antarctica ended in failure on Friday.

China-based companies turn blind eye to water risks third pole Big companies are more aware of water risk but are still not doing enough about it, and companies in China are falling behind. Companies based in China lag behind global counterparts in terms of addressing water risks, according to CDP’s annual water survey based on data supplied by big companies worldwide.

Snails devour paddy fields in Irrawaddy delta DVB A plague of imported snails has destroyed more than 1,000 acres of rice fields in Irrawaddy Division’s Dedaye Township, farmers told DVB this week.

Japan-China relations strained over illegal coral poaching Guardian Tokyo presses Beijing to act on poaching near Ogasawara islands, warning that Chinese boats will not be allowed to shelter there from coming typhoon

 

CHINA

Investment flows: Going out Economist A big reason for its fast economic growth is that China has been a magnet for the world’s investment capital. Over the past two decades, China attracted more foreign direct investment (FDI) than any country save America. So the recent prediction made by the Centre for China and Globalisation, a Beijing think-tank, that this year China’s outbound investments would exceed its inbound ones, is noteworthy.

China’s Questionable Economic Power Project Syndicate The World Bank recently announced that China’s economy will surpass that of the US this year, measured according to purchasing power parity. But this is far from a holistic depiction of China’s global economic standing. //It’s much better to be a healthy economy than a large one, though ‘healthy’ isn’t an adjective that could be used to describe either country right now.

In Beijing, Clearer Views Hide Real Life NYT Determined to show a cleaner version of Beijing, the Chinese authorities have ordered dozens of temporary changes that are upending daily life.

Britain soft on China over Hong Kong crisis, says Chris Patten Reuters Territorys last British governor says Beijing is being allowed to spit in the face of handover pact because of trade fears. Britain is not putting enough pressure on China to stick to its side of an agreement on the transfer of Hong Kongs sovereignty because it is worried about damaging trade links, the former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten has said.

 

NEWS FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA

 Festival ends on a high note Phnom Penh Post Third day of races wrapped up the formal part of Cambodia’s Water Festival yesterday – and a number of high-ranking officials were left enjoying the spoils of success after vessels they sponsored were winners.

 On the River, CPP Bosses Become Racing Rivals Cambodia Daily The captain blew his whistle, startling his oarsmen out of their resting places, and ordered them to gather under a ragged tarpaulin strung between three trees in the mud. Here they would discuss Water Festival racing tactics for Srey Mao Kraing Yov, the boat named and sponsored by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Cambodian-American Wins US State House Seat Phnom Penh A former refugee whose family fled the Khmer Rouge regime became the first Cambodian-American legislator in the U.S. after being elected as a state representative in Massachusetts Tuesday.

 Thailand: Man Gets Over 2 Years on Charge of Defaming King AP A Thai court sentenced Akkaradet Eiamsuwan, 24, to two and a half years in prison on Tuesday for posting a message on Facebook that the court said insulted King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Suu Kyi calls for critical eye on reforms DVB Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday that the country’s reform process has stalled.

Myanmar Policy’s Message to Muslims: Get Out NYT A government plan to resettle Muslim minorities who cannot meet strict standards for naturalized citizenship has spurred a major exodus, rights groups say.

Myanmar Not Yet Attracting U.S. Companies Asia Unbound As President Barack Obama arrives in Myanmar next week for the East Asia Summit, he will find less optimism not only about the political situation but also about Myanmar’s economic future. As I noted last week, when Obama first visited Myanmar in 2012, it was at the height of the country’s political reform process. Since then, the process of political reform has deteriorated, so much so that President Thein Sein last week held a kind of emergency summit with top civilian and military leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. //Promised political and economic forms are all fine, but if you’re persecuting a minority to no end, still fighting a civil war and your country lacks basic rule of law, businesses might be hesitant to invest.

Burma’s state security forces profit from trafficking Rohingya Muslims Guardian Authorities are earning $7,000 per boatload in exchange for passage out to sea. Burmas state security forces are profiting directly from the trafficking of stateless Rohingya Muslims, earning up to $7,000 per boatload in exchange for passage to sea, a human rights group has found.

Laos’ Internet Law Undermines Free Speech Diplomat It appears the law gives the government broad scope to treat legitimate criticism as criminal.

On permanent parole Economist A FOUR-YEAR battle ended yesterday, when Singapore’s highest court upheld the constitutionality of Section 377(a) of the country’s penal code, which renders any man convicted of committing “or abet[ting] the commission of…any act of gross indecency” with another man liable to two years in prison. Tan Eng Hong first challenged the law in September 2010, after he was charged under 377(a) for having oral sex with another man in a public-toilet stall.

 

YUNNAN

Child trafficking ring uncovered in Yunnan GoKunming Over the weekend, authorities working in Yunnan took dozens of people suspected of being involved in a large-scale child trafficking ring into custody. While conducting raids, police also rescued 11 youngsters presumed by officers to be on their way to China’s east coast, where they would be sold to new families.

 

 

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In Anti-Corruption Campaign, Top Yunnan Officials Pay Steep Price for Graft, Political Relationships

During dynastic times, Yunnan was known as a place where disgraced mandarins were sent to live out their days and where the local officials maintained a large degree of independence from the capital. As the saying goes, “the heavens are high and the emperor is far away.” However, as new highways and railroads have linked Yunnan to the rest of China over the past century, Beijing is not as distant as it used to be, and the days of the province’s freewheeling officials seem to be at an end. If that were ever in doubt, a recent string of high profile corruption cases have confirmed Beijing’s grip on its representatives in the land south of the clouds.

President Xi Jinping

Since President Xi Jinping took office more than a year ago, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has undertaken the herculean task of ridding itself of graft, collusion and anything that would diminish the public’s already low level of trust in its leaders. By going after both high-ranking party leaders and petty bureaucrats, or ‘swatting flies and hunting tigers’ (拍苍蝇,打老虎) in the modern parlance, the current anti-corruption drive has yielded impressive results.

To date, over 50 high level party members have been arrested, 182000 government officials punished, and as of July 2014, 6,000 officials have been placed under investigation this year. Among the ‘tigers’ caught in the campaign are former mayor of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, former Minster of Railways, Liu Zhijun, former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission Xu Caihou and former Minister of Public Security, Zhou Yongkang, also a member of the Politburo Standing Committee under Hu Jintao.

Thousands of officials from every region have been swept up in the campaign and Yunnan Province has indeed seen its fair share, with hundreds of local public servants investigated since the 18th Party Congress almost two years ago. However, in recent months, a number of high profile officials in the province have found themselves in the cross hairs of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Shen Peiping

Shen Peiping, former vice-governor of Yunnan Province

The first major official to fall was Shen Peiping, former vice-governor of Yunnan Province. Shen, a native of Baoshan, Yunnan, worked in various government posts before becoming Mayor of Pu’er City in 2007. Dubbed ‘Mayor of Tea’, Shen gained fame in promoting the local Pu’er tea to the rest of China and the world, leading to quick economic development of the region. However, Shen was also known locally for his heavy-handed tactics in dealing with petitioners and shady relationships with local businessmen.
After spending a little over a year as the vice-governor, Shen was officially investigated in March of this year and in August, he was charged with using his post for personal benefit, accepting large bribes and committing adultery. Traditionally, intra-Party disciplinary investigations almost always lead to a court case, where the conviction rate is above 99%. Therefore, few expect Shen to recover from these accusations.

It was not long after Shen Peiping’s investigation began that Kong Chuizhu, a personal friend, began his demise, albeit under much more scandalous circumstances. The provincial vice-governor from 2003 to 2013, Kong was known to share mistresses with Shen Peiping and the two would often frequent high-end brothels together. For Kong, the consequences were grave.

Kong Chuizhu

Kong Chuizhu, former vice-governor of Yunnan Province

Following the announcement that Shen was being investigated in early March, Kong, in Beijing attending meetings at the time, attempted suicide in his hotel room. The attempt, however, was unsuccessful and Kong was admitted into a Beijing hospital for recovery. Following medical tests, he was found to be HIV positive. The central government immediately opened an investigation on Kong and ordered him back to Yunnan to lay low while undergoing treatment. Two months later, he unsuccessfully attempted suicide for a second time and was admitted into the Provincial Armed Police Hospital. Finally, Kong jumped to his death from his hospital window on July 12.

Days after Kong Chuizhu’s death, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced it was investigating Zhang Tianxin, former Party Secretary of Kunming. Zhang’s Party membership and posts were immediately revoked as a result of the investigation.
Zhang, the CPC Party Chief of Yunnan’s Wenshan Prefecture from 1999 to 2006, was apparently involved in corrupt practices in the prefecture’s mining industry. In addition, it is significant to note that Zhang was taken down just two weeks after an exposé aired on CCTV revealing plans for a number of illegal housing developments on the shores of the famously polluted Lake Dianchi, plans that Zhang reportedly approved.

That Zhang Tianxin was investigated is not surprising to many Yunnanese.  According to one local government employee who wished to remain anonymous, “Everyone knew Zhang Tianxin and (former Yunnan Provincial Party Secretary) Bai Enpei were corrupt. Once (the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection) started looking at Yunnan, they were done.”

Zhang Tianxin, former Party Secretary of Kunming

Indeed, Bai Enpei did not have much time left. On August 29, it was reported that an investigation was being opened on him and that he was suspected of “serious discipline and law violations,” Party jargon for ‘corruption’.

Bai, Provincial Party Secretary from 2001 to 2011, oversaw a period of rapid growth for the province. He was a vocal supporter of hydropower development and campaigned intensely in favor of damming western Yunnan’s Nu River, also known as the Salween. Following 10 years as the CPC’s top man in Yunnan, Bai assumed the post of deputy secretary for the Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee.

His tenure there, however, was cut short. According to a report from YiCai, the former vice-secretary for the People’s Political Consultative Conference of Yunnan, Yang Weijun submitted to Beijing an official complaint regarding Bai’s corruption in mid-August in which he detailed Bai Enpei’s extensive dealings in selling off mining contracts in the province.

In the most grievous case, Bai sold sixty percent ownership of China’s largest zinc and tin mine for a mere one billion yuan, despite the mine having an estimated value of fifty billion yuan. The shares were sold to a relative of Liu Han, a Sichuanese mining tycoon and close friend of Zhou Yongkang. Mr. Liu was sentenced to death earlier this year for murder, among other charges.

A map of Bai Enpei's relationships with other corrupt officials. An asterisk next to the name indicates that official has been investigated. (Infographic originally produced by Sohu.com August 2014)

A map of Bai Enpei’s relationships with other corrupt officials. Click to enlarge. (Infographic originally produced by Sohu.com August 2014)

As the above infographic shows, Bai Enpei was at the center of corruption among Yunnan’s political elite and closely tied with Zhou Yongkang and Liu Han. What’s more, when Bai was the party secretary of Qinghai from 1997 to 2001, he had dealings with Jiang Jiemin, a former executive of the notoriously corrupt Sinopec who is currently under investigation for embezzlement of state funds. Many of Bai’s former colleagues from his days in Qinghai have also met the same fate as him and currently face investigation by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Bai Enpei, former Party Secretary of Yunnan Province

Bai Enpei, former Party Secretary of Yunnan Province

The dominoes did not stop falling with Bai Enpei, however. In mid-October 2014, state media announced that Yunnan Party Secretary Qin Guangrong had been relieved of his duties and would be replaced by sitting governor, Li Jiheng. Qin will now assume the post of vice-secretary of the State Organs Work Committee. However, local Kunmingers interviewed see the job transfer as more of a demotion with possible serious consequences. “(Qin’s) new position is meaningless, he has no power there. The central government just put him there until he’s formally charged… and that should be coming soon,” Yang Mouren, a local teacher, claimed. He may be right. While Qin was well-liked by many locals, he had close ties to a number of disgraced officials and it is probable that like his colleagues, Qin also had his hands in corrupt resource deals. However, unless he is formally investigated, details regarding any corruption Qin took part in will not be publicly released.

Qin Guangrong (R) with his replacement as Yunnan Party Secretary, Li Jiheng (L)

Qin Guangrong (R) with his replacement as Yunnan Party Secretary, Li Jiheng (L)

With so many high officials, and hundreds of local bureaucrats, investigated, it’s clear that the central government has its sights on Yunnan’s corrupt officialdom. But, with countless other corrupt officials scattered across China, many locals are asking ‘Why Yunnan?’ The reasons are twofold.

The first has to do with Yunnan’s natural resources. Of the two provinces that have so far been cleaned out by Beijing, Yunnan and Shanxi, one important commonality is their abundance of resources. With such wealth in natural resources come opportunities for massive corruption. In the case of Shanxi, its army of ostentatiously wealthy coal bosses were known nationwide, as were their close relationships with their political patrons. At the same time, Yunnan’s reserves of aluminum, lead, zinc and tin are the largest in China and it’s clear from the cases of Bai Enpei and Zhang Tianxin that provincial power brokers were heavily involved in the illegal distribution of these resources.

Also significant is the fact that all of the high officials mentioned in this article have ties to the disgraced Zhou Yongkang and his mining tycoon friend, Liu Han. With his power base in Sichuan, Zhou’s influence on officials in neighboring provinces, including Yunnan, was deep. Shen Peiping, Bai Enpei and Qin Guangrong especially were known to belong to the same political clique that formed under Zhou Yongkang. Shen and Qin were heavily rumored to engage in business with Zhou’s family members worth tens of millions of renminbi, while Bai Enpei sold off control of a western Yunnan mine to Liu Han’s family at a cut rate. In addition, Bai and Qin were Zhou Yongkang’s unofficial hosts when he visited the province in 2007, and Bai accompanied the Politburo Standing Committee member on his 2011 trip to Laos, all implying very close relations. For their part, Kong Chuizhu and Zhang Tianxin were intimately connected to Bai Enpei and as his power grew in the province, so did theirs. As is often the case within Chinese bureaucracy, underlings rise and fall with their leaders. Bai Enpei, and those who came up with him, were intimately connected to Zhou Yongkang; they are now paying the price for their political associations.

Former Minister of Public Security, Zhou Yongkang

Former Minister of Public Security, Zhou Yongkang

Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive has rocked the national bureaucracy, clearing out the upper echelon of Yunnan politicians in the process. It isn’t just top officials that have felt the squeeze however; there have been noticeable effects for local bureaucrats as well. According to one university administrator who wished to remain anonymous, his college’s office environment has changed in the past year. As he explained, “Before, you just had to show up, sit in your office, drink tea and chat with the other teachers from time to time. Now, a lot of people are very nervous at the school because we’re known to be pretty corrupt.” However, the corruption crackdown has led to some unexpected opportunities. “I actually have more freedom with my job now. Because all of the higher officials are so worried about their own jobs, I can consult for other companies on the side, and they’re too busy to notice. Plus, I wasn’t too corrupt to begin with so I’m not worried.”

The changes may not be over yet, however. When asked about corruption in Yunnan, locals still doubt the effect of the current campaign. “In Yunnan, nine out of ten officials are corrupt,’’ Mr. Yang, the school teacher, claims “and it’s the same everywhere else in the country. The story isn’t over yet.”

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Regional Roundup for Week of 6.8.14

Vacation time is over.  Time to get back to blogging.

EXSE FOCUS

Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were – ChinaFile Twenty-five years ago to the day I write this, I watched and listened as thousands of Chinese citizens in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square dared to condemn their leaders. Some shouted “Premier Li Peng resign.” Even braver ones cried “Down with Deng Xiaoping and the Communist Party.” Before long, on the night of June 3–4, the People’s Liberation Army crashed into the square, rolling over the tents pitched there by industrial workers who had joined in the protests, and mowing down unarmed demonstrators. Until then, crowds in the square had walked wherever they pleased rather than standing on one of the numbered paving stones in that vast space. For decades, those who went there to see and hear national leaders were instructed to stand on a particular stone and shout prescribed slogans. But in May 1989, students and ordinary people were engaged in something the Communist Party has never been able to tolerate: zifade, “spontaneous” demonstrations.//Entire section below dedicated to Tiananmen at 25

What Has Gone Wrong in Southeast Asia? – Asia Unbound What has gone wrong in Southeast Asia? Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, many countries in the region were viewed by global democracy analysts and Southeast Asians themselves as leading examples of democratization in the developing world. By the late 2000s, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore all were ranked as “free” or “partly free” by the monitoring organization Freedom House, while Cambodia and, perhaps most surprisingly, Myanmar had both taken sizable steps toward democracy as well. //The political conversation has shifted from democracy to economic development.  China’s rise has a lot but not everything to do with this.  A widening income and social gap is empowering urban elites to take tighter control amid perceptions of resource depletion and narrowing opportunities.  

Hunger Games salute banned by Thai military – Guardian Groups opposing 22 May coup banned from displaying three fingers in the air as Thai junta clamps down on protest.//more below in the Thailand section

A Chinese Monroe Doctrine? Project Syndicate Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s upcoming visit to India is about more than getting acquainted with the country’s new government. The leaders of both countries will be taking one another’s measure, and their conclusions will determine how the relationship between the world’s two most populous countries evolves.//Many Chinese for decades have seen countries to its south as populated by its ‘little brown brothers.’  This perception is part of an ill-informed and historically inaccurate view of a China-centric Asia and also reflects dominant Confucian values.   

Securing the Rule of Law at Sea – Project Syndicate The sources of instability in the Asia-Pacific region include not only the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but also – and more//By Japanese PM Shinzo Abe

The Climate Domino – NYT The E.P.A.’s proposed rules on carbon should start a chain reaction that leads to steps to limit climate change around the world.//Hopefully China dives in headfirst as the second global demonstrating power

Obama’s Foreign Policy Book – NYT Here are a few working titles for the president’s consideration.

Obama Success, or Global Shame? – NYT On this year’s “win-a-trip” journey, one man living under an ignored apartheid sends out a message to the world: We are suffering. Will anyone respond?//Obama continues to ignore the obvious in Myanmar

Dust-up at the Shangri-La – Banyan TEMPERS frayed rather alarmingly at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual forum for Asia’s defence establishments, held in one of the eponymous hotels, in Singapore. First Japan and then America criticised China. Then China reciprocated in furious terms. The 13th dialogue, from May 30th to June 1st, could hardly have been better timed to deal with the region’s security anxieties. Over the past six months the level of concern about China’s aggressive pursuit of disputed territorial claims has been increasing steadily, at least outside China.

China Accuses U.S. and Japan of Incitement – NYT A senior Chinese military official’s remarks followed speeches by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Japan’s prime minister faulting China for maritime disputes with its neighbors

U.S. Sway in Asia Is Imperiled as China Challenges Alliances – NYT As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Singapore, the Obama administration’s Asia policy appeared to be turning into a street fight, with the United States playing referee.

Are Cooler Heads Prevailing in the East China Sea? – Diplomat China and Japan appear motivated to find common ground after last weekend’s fireworks.

China and the U.S.: Whose Strategic Mistake? – Diplomat China had best keep in mind that no one has a monopoly on making strategic mistakes.’

China’s Maritime Provocations – ChinaFile Last weekend I attended the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering of Asian, European, and American defense and military officials and strategic experts in Singapore hosted by the London International Institute of Strategic Studies. China sent a large and well-disciplined contingent of People’s Liberation Army officers, government officials, and think tank experts who were instructed what to say in the various sessions.

U.S. Imposes Steep Tariffs on Importers of Chinese Solar Panels – NYT The Commerce Department, ruling in a long-simmering trade dispute, said manufacturers had benefited from unfair subsidies.

China’s Solar Panel Production Comes at a Dirty Cost – NYT A solar panel made in China would have to be in service as much as 30 percent longer than a European model to compensate for the extra energy used in its production, an American study found.

As Ties With China Unravel, U.S. Companies Head to Mexico – NYT With costs rising rapidly in China, American manufacturers are looking to Mexico with an eagerness not seen since the early years of the North American Free Trade Agreement.//Are perceptions of rising oil costs driving US imports closer to home?  Why aren’t Vietnam (TPP?), Cambodia, Bangladesh, etc in the consideration?

China Escalating Attack on Google – NYT The Chinese authorities have blocked global versions of the company’s search engines, and Gmail, Calendar and Translate have been affected.//It’s bad here folks, all google applications now require a VPN for smooth access. 

Global Times Editor Apologizes to Chinese Veterans Over Online Post – NYT Hu Xijin had suggested that some soldiers in China’s 1979 war with Vietnam shirked participation in “dare-to-die” squads that carried out risky, suicidal missions. The official newspaper of the military said that was “nonsense.”

Beijing Seems to Be Warming Toward Aung San Suu Kyi – NYT There are new signs that a long-awaited visit to Beijing by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar opposition leader, may be getting closer.//About time and very necessary.  ASSK has never signalled her China policy and a new Myanmar cannot move forward without a strong connection to China (as well as robust connections to the rest of the world.)  This is not a signal that the US Pivot to Asia is failing.  

China’s Demand Threatens Rare Hardwoods in Mekong – NYT A new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency says that illegal logging and corruption have contributed to the near extinction of Siamese rosewood, a rare tropical hardwood found in the Mekong region.//Kunming and other parts of Yunnan have warehouses full of these timber products.  Few consumers here are aware that theses types of wood are illegal.

Scientists warn against China’s plan to flatten over 700 mountains – Guardian Environmental consequences of removing hills to create more land for cities not considered, academics say in Nature paper. Scientists have criticised China’s bulldozing of hundreds of mountains to provide more building land for cities.  In a paper published in journal Nature this week, three Chinese academics say plan to remove over 700 mountains and shovel debris into valleys to create 250 sq km of flat land has not been sufficiently considered environmentally, technically or economically.//700 nails standing out among all others?

Flying squirrel and eyeless spider discovered in Greater Mekong – Guardian Over 300 new species of animals, fish and plants found in the forests surrounding Mekong river in 2012-13, WWF says. A series of high-flying creatures, including giant flying frogs and squirrels and a parachute gecko, are among the hundreds of exotic new species recently discovered in the greater Mekong region in southeast Asia.//Kudos to WWF, only more reason to back the WWF’s 10 year moratorium on hydropower projects in the Mekong region.  

Energy independence, national security and another reason for sustainability – Guardian Events such as the Ukraine crisis and hostilities between China and Vietnam are driving home the old lesson that fossil fuels and peace don’t mix. Why doesn’t anyone do anything about the situation in Ukraine?//Advocate for structural change; increase energy efficiency; decrease usage and people like Putin won’t get their way – at least when it comes to fossil fuels. 

China to limit carbon emissions for first time, climate adviser claims – Guardian Absolute cap to come into effect, climate adviser says on the day after US announces ambitious carbon plan. China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, will limit its total emissions for the first time by the end of this decade, according to a top government advisor. He Jiankun, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, told a conference in Beijing on Tuesday that an absolute cap on carbon emissions will be introduced.//Good move! But can we believe the numbers?  Where are the demonstration zones?

 New wave of drug-resistant malaria threatens millions – Guardian Scientists in south-east Asia call for pre-emptive strike in Burma jungle to contain resistant strain spreading to India and Africa.  When an intense fever overcame 50-year-old Daw Cho Cho last spring, she took the same steps as when she last had malaria.//Urbanization on the rise and fewer wetlands around those urban spaces in Southeast Asia will only exacerbate this problem.

 Saving Asia’s Farm Lands from Climate Change with Salt-resilient Rice-ADB The first harvest of salt-tolerant rice variety in Taytay, in the Philippine island of Palawan, may pave the way for local farmers to reclaim lands lost to saltwater intrusion and protect the livelihood of coastal communities.//What about the nutritional value of this new rice strain?  

 

6/4 TIANANMEN AT 25

 A Time-Lapse Map of Protests Sweeping China in 1989-ChinaFile Twenty-five years ago in the southern Chinese province of Hunan, a group of small-town high school students listening to shortwave radio heard news of a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators nearly 1,000 miles away in the capital of Beijing. Although it was late at night and pouring rain, they grabbed metal washbasins and took to the streets, clanging the pots and shouting, “There’s been a massacre!” For the next two days, they demonstrated, with factory workers joining their ranks. They handed out fliers and hung a banner in front of the town cinema showing the official government tally (later revised downwards): “300 dead, 7,000 wounded.”

 Why Tiananmen Doesn’t Disappear – Asia Unbound There are few dates in contemporary history that are as universally acknowledged as June 4, 1989, the day of the Chinese military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. Yet what is the significance of this date twenty-five years later? Certainly there is no consensus: from the Global Times to the New York Times, Tiananmen elicits vastly different understandings of what transpired then and what it means today. Yet there is value in acknowledging these different understandings of history and hopes for the future, in large part because they so clearly inform the present. Moreover, the story of Tiananmen continues to evolve. New voices are emerging that want to be heard.

 A ‘Modern-Day Knight’ Who Helped Fleeing Tiananmen Activists – NYT Chan Tat Ching, 70, is a small-business man in Hong Kong. But 25 years ago, he created a lifeline for fugitives escaping the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

 Exiled Rally Leader Says He Slipped Into China – NYT The return of Zhou Fengsuo, who helped lead the 1989 protests, came despite China’s intensified security measures on the anniversary of the crackdown.

Q. and A.: Wu’er Kaixi on Tiananmen’s Hopes and Taiwan’s Achievements – NYT The 1989 student leader discusses why he chose to live in Taiwan, how he sees its system surpassing older democracies in the West and the future of relations with Beijing.

 25 Years Later, Student Leaders Witness Freedoms Fought for in Tiananmen – NYT In Taiwan, comrades from the 1989 pro-democracy movement in China see the kind of democratic transformation they had hoped to launch at home.

Tiananmen Square, the Turning Point That Wasn’t: A Q. & A. With Nicholas Kristof – NYT  Nicholas Kristof looks back on the site of pro-Democracy protests in China 25 years ago, and on his own career.

On Tiananmen Anniversary, China’s Military Touts Its Strength – NYT As thousands elsewhere mark the 25th anniversary of the killings at Tiananmen Square, the the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the Chinese military newspaper, published an editorial calling for a stronger, more robust military posture.

 Resigned to Dreary Fate, Students Awoke as Word Spread From Beijing – NYT In the Yangtze River city of Wuhan, students cowed by repression boldly took to the streets in support of the uprising at Tiananmen Square.

 Smuggling Remembrance Into Tiananmen Square – NYT The virtual silence around the crackdown in Beijing on June 4, 1989, was pierced again this year by imaginative Chinese Internet activists.

 With Choice at Tiananmen, Student Took Road to Riches – NYT Xiao Jianhua, the leader of the official student union at Peking University in 1989, sided with the government and found wealth and favor.

Tiananmen, Forgotten – NYT My generation of young Chinese can’t afford to look back or consider the larger issues that bedevil our society.

 Q. and A.: Louisa Lim on the Pivot Point for China’s Contemporary History – NYT The author of a new book on the Tiananmen massacre argues that it was crucial to understanding today’s China.//We need to see Contemporary China as having a few pivot points – Deng Xiaoping ascendance was more critical for China today than 6/4/89 but we cannot deny the impact of the CCP buckling down and corporatizing (Red Inc.) post 1989.  Much of China’s modern security state can be derived from the 6/4/89 moment.  

 China to deport Tiananmen Square artist Guo Jian for visa fraud – Guardian Australian national arrested during clampdown on 25th anniversary of protests to be expelled after 15 days in custody. An Australian artist among scores detained by Chinese authorities around the 25th anniversary this week of the deadly suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests is to be deported for visa fraud, it was announced on Friday.

Hong Kong commemorates Tiananmen Square anniversary – in pictures – Guardian  Hong Kong is the only place on Chinese soil where large scale events to commemorate the 047 June crackdown are held – an annual evening vigil was held in Victoria Park with various commemorations and protest happening during the day. It is 25 years since the infamous military repression of the fledgling pro-democracy movement in China

Tiananmen Square: 25 years since protesters massacred by Chinese troops video report – Guardian The Tiananmen Square massacre is remembered 25 years on with commemorations in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Hundreds are believed to have died when troops opened fire on student-led protests on 3 June 1989.

 Tiananmen square protests and crackdown: 25 years on – Guardian As Beijing seeks to quell discussion of 1989, three protesters and an expert on Chinese politics discuss how the massacre has shaped today’s China, the alternative courses that the country might have taken and the prospects for political reform. Twenty-five years after the bloody military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, China is seeking to quell all discussion of the massacre by locking up, charging or harassing artists, scholars, lawyers, bloggers and relatives of victims.

 Stuart Franklin: how I photographed Tiananmen Square and ‘tank man’ – Guardian The Magnum photographer tells his story of the 1989 protests, from peaceful demonstration to bloody crackdown, the iconic ‘tank man’ and how hamburgers gave him his big break. At the start, Tiananmen Square had the atmosphere of a festival. Most people couldn’t see the hunger strikers they saw the crowds marching with banners and music being played. Lots of things were surprising about the events in Tiananamen Square, even the demonstration itself. It’s pretty rare in Chinese history for people to get together at the centre of a government square and defy the leadership.

 

CHINA

China Trade Figures Point to Weaker Domestic Demand – NYT China’s exports gained steam in May, data showed on Sunday, but an unexpected fall in imports signaled weaker domestic demand that could hurt the world’s second-largest economy.

World Bank Says China’s Growth Is on Track – NYT The country is expected to reach its target of 7.5 percent this year, but its government was urged to keep up overhauls to fix debt problems. //what looks like expansionary fiscal policy and currency weakening continue to prevail.  Looks more like the Hu/Wen government 

Rise in Chinese Factory Activity Helps Lift Asian Stocks – NYT China continues to show signs of an economic revival, raising hopes that Beijing’s measures to bolster growth are having an impact.

 China Sentences Scores in Xinjiang for Acts of Terror – NYT The accused were convicted on charges including intentional murder, arson and participating in terrorist activities, with nine people sentenced to death. Three others received

 Xinjiang Hospital Asks Staff Not to Fast During Ramadan – NYT A health department in Yinin, in far western Xinjiang, says a local hospital has asked its Muslim workers, including members of the region’s ethnic Uighur and other groups, not to skip meals during Ramadan, to prevent work accidents.//This has been happening for decades.  

Tibetan leader calls on China to end ‘repressive policies’ – Guardian Lobsang Sangay, elected leader of Tibetan ‘government in exile’, urges China to return to talks on autonomy. The elected leader of the Tibetan “government in exile”, based in India, has called on China to end “repressive policies” he blames for pushing 130 Tibetans to burn themselves alive in protests.

Twenty-nine more arrests in China amid crackdown after deadly attacks – AP Attacks since October have been blamed on extremists who are inspired by jihadi ideology and seek to overthrow Chinese rule. Chinese authorities have announced 29 more arrests in a massive crackdown in the north-western region of Xinjiang following a series of deadly attacks blamed on Islamist extremists.

 The Chinese technology companies poised to dominate the world – Guardian From PCs to smartphones, Chinese firms are outgrowing their home market and making their mark internationally. As we walked into Huawei’s offices in Shenzhen, southern China, our English guide paused for a moment. “When the FT came here, they wrote a story about how there were beds under the desks, and this meant that everyone must be working incredibly long hours,” he said. “Quite wrong.”

Ukraine Seeks Stronger China Ties – Diplomat Ukraine’s incoming government has already begun a charm offensive towards China.

To Defeat America, China Must Respect Human Rights – Diplomat China’s best path to facing its domestic and foreign challenges is to grant its people greater freedom.

The Gaokao Exam: A Tough Test for China – Diplomat Debates over the grueling pre-college exam highlight fundamental issues facing Chinese society.

Chinese Grads Shunning Government Careers? – Diplomat Apparently a career in public service has become less enticing from Xi Jinping’s corruption crackdown.

A glimpse into the life of a Kunming fruit seller – GoKunming For a fruit seller in China, it’s impossible to deny that the hours and work are demanding. And yet you can judge by the smile on her face that Zheng Hui (郑慧), a fruit vendor at my favorite Guandu wet market, is a woman who loves her occupation.

Interview: Environmentalist Li Yuan – GoKunming First and foremost, Kunming native Li Yuan (李元) is a newspaper journalist. She has worked for The Spring City Evening News for 15 years as a reporter, editor and project manager. She is currently involved with the paper’s New Media Department. In addition to her formal work, Li has been engaged in a bewildering number of cultural and social issues for the last decade.

Hiking from Daju to Lugu Lake, part 1 – GoKunming Editor’s note: Adam Kritzer is a longtime Dali resident and founder of ClimbDali, a company offering guided outdoor trips and adventures in Dali and greater Yunnan. I set off with Yang Xiao of Red Rock Adventures for Lijiang, with plans to hike from Daju Town (大具) to Lugu Lake. The trip was part of a larger project to create the longest continuous hiking route in China. Thus far, a route from Xizhou to Lugu Lake — via ShaxiShuhe, and Tiger Leaping Gorge — has already been completed.Hiking from Daju to Lugu Lake, part 2 – GoKunming//Thankfully more than a few entrepreneurial eco-tourism providers are creating world-class trekking routes in Yunnan.  I returned last week from a fabulous trekking trip to Nepal wishing for Yunnan to develop trails like in the Nepali Himalaya.  In many way treks through Yunnan’s highlands are the same if not better than Nepals and there are many low hanging fruit for the right tourism developers.  Look for a new section on ExSE focusing on ecotourism in Yunnan and all of mainland Southeast Asia in the coming weeks.

 

REGION

Philippines Reports Chinese Ship Movement Around Disputed Reefs – NYT Philippine officials said Chinese ships were photographed near two areas in the South China Sea that could be used to reclaim land and build structures.

Vietnam Says Video Shows Chinese Ship Intentionally Sinking Boat – NYT Vietnam has released video of a clash at sea last month that it says shows a Chinese vessel in disputed waters intentionally ramming and sinking a smaller Vietnamese fishing boat.

What India Gets Wrong About China – Diplomat India’s misinformed attitudes about the 1962 Sino-Indian war have hampered India-China relations for decades.

Free Speech Under Attack in Southeast Asia – Diplomat Mainstream and social media are increasingly the target of state censorship in the region.

China May Build ‘Artificial Island’ in South China Sea – Diplomat The island would be used as a military base to enforce a South China Sea air-defense identification zone.

 

CAMBODIA

‘Indiana Jane’ and the Looted Temples of Koh Ker – Diplomat Cambodia has begun to see the return of national treasures looted during its Civil War.

Detained Factory Workers in Cambodia Are Released – AP A Cambodian court on Friday convicted almost two dozen factory workers and human rights activists for instigating violence during protests early this year but then released them under suspended sentences.

Released, but hardly free – Banyan THE government of Cambodia’s eternal prime minister, Hun Sen, has been waging an assault on public dissent since January 3rd. That was the day Cambodian security forces in the capital shot dead four garment workers who had been striking over the minimum wage. Mr Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has placed bans on public gatherings, driven opposition supporters from the (unfortunately named) Freedom Park, and deployed baton-wielding thugs to beat protesters and detain union leaders.

Activist Resigns Amid Charges of Fabrication – NYT The activist, Somaly Mam, left the foundation bearing her name after Newsweek and others questioned her accounts about her past as a victim of the sex trade.

Giant Development in Cambodia Hinges on Chinese Buyers – NYT  Builders of more than 1,000 condominiums in a 250-acre development underway in Phnom Penh hope to attract foreign investors, especially cash-rich Chinese.//Written by former long-time Kunminger Chris Horton.  

 

INDONESIA

The consummate diplomat: Marty Natalegawa – SEA Globe As national elections loom, Indonesia’s foreign minister talks regional diplomacy and the need for sensitivity in negotiation.Standing out from the grey-suited pack in his natty pinstripes and trademark thick-rimmed glasses, Marty Natalegawa is not your regular Southeast Asian official. Contrary to type, he has been quietly shaping the region without resorting to megaphone diplomacy.

 

MYANMAR/BURMA

The People vs. The Monks – NYT Never before have so many lay Buddhists in Myanmar pushed back against the monks.

There’s a Kind of Hush – NYT The Myanmar government has doubled down on its repression of Muslims and some scholars think it approaches genocide.

 

THAILAND

In Thailand, Growing Intolerance for Dissent Drives Many to More Authoritarian Nations – NYT Since the military coup last month, academics and activists have been driven to flee a nation once considered a liberal haven in Asia.

Critics of Thai junta warned by police over potentially divisive online posts – AP Warning comes after police tracked the IP address of an activist after he posted on Facebook calls for anti-coup protests. Thai police warned online critics of the military junta on Friday that they will be tracked down if they post political views that could incite divisiveness, the latest reminder about surveillance of social media in post-coup Thailand.

Thai junta ‘brings happiness to the people’ with parties and selfies – Guardian Government seeks to solidify its position in the face of protests following May coup. Are you in need of a pick-me-up? How about a free haircut or hot meal? A dance show by women in PVC miniskirts? Perhaps a chance to pet a pony?

Mockingjay movement: Thai protests meet the Hunger Games – in pictures – Guardian Anti-coup demonstrators are using the Mockingjay hand gesture made famous by the film The Hunger Games as a sign of resistance against the military coup in Thailand

The Thai protesters’ Hunger Games salute shows a lack of political thought | Jonathan Jones – Guardian Most films are mass entertainment, not a manual for changing the world. At least the clenched fist of Marxist revolutionaries meant something. The crowd have their arms held out in unison, each hand forming a three-finger salute. The concrete and steel architecture of power surrounds them but they are as one in their arcane gesture of freedom.

Understanding Thailand’s Coup: Past, Present and Future – Diplomat U.S.-based editors Ankit Panda and Zachary Keck speak with Serhat Ünaldi about the Thai political crisis.

Tense Times in Thailand – Diplomat Hoping to destroy the pro-Thaksin forces once and for all, the military is taking a much tougher line this time around.

Come on, get happy – Banyan A FEW days after the country’s return to despotism, a reporter asked Thailand’s new military dictator about a timetable for elections. General Prayuth Chan-ocha snapped at him, and stormed off the stage. The junta later summoned two journalists for asking “inappropriate” questions.

Thailand’s military sets out emergency measures to put its stamp on economy – Reuters Price caps on fuel, cheap loans and insurance scheme for rice farmers among urgent actions put to coup leader. The military junta running Thailand has drawn up a list of emergency measures such as price caps on fuel and loan guarantees for small firms to kick-start an economy threatened by recession after months of political turmoil.

Thai junta chief declares 15 months of ‘reforms’ before general elections – AFP General Prayuth Chan-ocha says coup necessary to restore stability to kingdom after a decade of political turmoil. Thailand’s junta chief on Friday ruled out an election in the country for at least a year to allow time for political “reforms”. He also defended the military coup after growing international alarm.

 

VIETNAM

Back to business – Banyan QUIET industry has returned to industrial parks in southern Vietnam where foreign-owned factories were looted and set alight on May 13thand the small hours of May 14th. On a June 3rd visit to several industrial parks in Binh Duong province, an epicentre of the May mayhem, machines hummed and workers could be seen peaceably zipping about on motorbikes. Lorries rolled through factory gates en route to seaports in and around nearby Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s business capital.

For One Woman, ‘Uighur-Vietnamese Days’ in China – NYT Subjected to verbal harassment after anti-Chinese rioting in Vietnam in May, Thanhtu Dao wrote that she can understand how Uighurs feel when they are blamed by Han Chinese for the violent acts of individuals from their ethnicity.

In Vietnam, Paying Communities to Preserve the Forests – NYT The country is the first in Southeast Asia to make ecosystem payments a national policy through a 2010 law that established an incentive program.//Another opportunity for Vietnam to lead the way as a regional environmental champion.  However, Vietnam still continues to exploit as much as it preserves – a major difference from China however is that Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party has seemed to have tied its political future to the quality of Vietnam’s natural environment.  

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Terrorists or Refugees?: Case of ‘Uighur’ Migrants Unsolved in Thailand

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

In the past two weeks, close to 300 suspected Uighur migrants were discovered in the jungles of southern Thailand. Since their discovery and apprehension by Thai authorities, accusations of terrorism and rebuttals to these claims have flown.

Quoting an unnamed source attached with Thai police, the Bangkok Post published an article claiming that the migrants were indeed Uighurs. They intended to use Thailand as a transit point to go to Turkey, where they would be trained in terror tactics that could be used in their native China and elsewhere.

Recently, two groups of migrants have been found in the south of Thailand. The first, discovered March 12 at a rubber plantation near Songkhla, was a group of 219 people, containing dozens of women and children. Another group of 77 were arrested near a school in Sadao district on the 20th of March.

The same source alleged that the migrants were identified as Chinese Uighurs and not Turks, as they have claimed, by bus tickets and items that had Chinese writing on them. “Immigration police are not stupid,” the police source added.

Turkey has sent diplomats to southern Thailand to verify the migrants’ claims of Turkish nationality. The migrants were able to speak with diplomats when interviewed, however when met by an interpreter from the Thai Immigration Bureau they could not communicate well. “The interpreter believed they could not speak Turkish,” the source said.

A named source, Thai Immigration Bureau chief Lt. General Panu Kerdlarppol, refused to give any specific details regarding the migrants’ nationality or ethnicity. However, historically and geographically, it would make more sense that they were Uighur. Thai authorities have been aware of a Uighur migrant presence in the country since last year.

In December 2013, 112 refugees were arrested in the country’s south and are now being held at a detention center. Thirty of the migrants have so far been positively identified as Uighurs. Following the arrests, Lt. General Panu met with Chinese authorities in Kunming about the issue.

There are some, however, that dispute claims of the migrants’ nefarious motives. Speaking through the Phuket Wan Tourism News, the New York-based Human Rights Watch dismissed the accusations.

‘The groups in question are composed of significant numbers of small children, and more than a few pregnant women,” Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch, said today, ”so one wonders how unnamed police sources have suddenly somehow jumped to a conclusion that these people are ‘terrorists.”

Mr. Robertson links these claims of terrorism to Thailand’s treatment of asylum seekers in the past. Starting in 2009, hundreds of Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar began regularly washing ashore on Thailand’s western coast. These refugees, fleeing ethnic violence in their home, were also labelled as terrorists. Oftentimes, they were pushed back out to sea by units of the Thai navy.

”It seems pretty clear that Thai officials have some ulterior motives in trying to tar this entire group with the ‘terrorist’ label,” Mr Robertson said.

He believes the end game is to deport the migrants to China, ”I suspect that such ‘terrorist’ accusations are a prelude to some Thai government officials trying to force these groups back to China in what would be a clear violation of international law,” Mr Robertson surmised.

Migrants claiming Turkish nationality were also arrested in Malaysia this month, though no further word on their situation has been released.

 

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‘Uighur’ Refugees Arrested in Thailand, Malaysia: Part of a Larger Trend?

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Last week, East by Southeast, in a piece hypothesizing the motives of the Kunming train station attackers, made the connection between Uighur asylum seekers, Yunnan and Southeast Asia. In the analysis, ExSE posited that Thailand was a likely destination for Uighur refugees as they made their way from Xinjiang, through Yunnan and into Myanmar or Laos. This past week, two separate incidents in near the border of Thailand and Malaysia occurred that appear to confirm this hypothesis.

News was released on Thursday that Thai authorities had rescued 200 people from a human smuggling camp in the south of Thailand. During a raid on Wednesday, police discovered 200 people imprisoned in a camp suspected to be used for human trafficking.

The group, which includes 78 men, 60 women and 82 children, at first claimed to be Turkish, despite having no documents to confirm that. However, they have now been identified as ethnic Uighurs from China by a US-based organization.

With their identities confirmed, Thailand has faced calls to not to deport the refugees, with the US State Department also weighing in.

“We are concerned about Uighurs generally (and) welcome reports that these Uighurs were rescued,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Friday. “We’re encouraging Thailand to make sure their humanitarian needs are met.”

US-based Human Rights watch also urged the Thai government not to deport the refugees. “Thai authorities should realize that Uighurs forced back to China disappear into a black hole,” Brad Adams, the organization’s Asia director said in a statement.  “They need to allow all members of this group access to a fair process to determine their claims based on their merits, not on Beijing’s demands.”

Refugees on the way to a Thai detention center

Refugees on the way to a Thai detention center

Despite these calls, dozens of the refugees were sentenced for illegal entry by a Thai court on Saturday, with each person assessed a fine of 4,000 baht ($124). For now, the men will be taken to an immigration detention center and the women and children will be taken to a shelter, according to Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot.

In a possibly related story, 62 people were arrested just across the border in Malaysia last week. Like the group caught in Thailand, the Malaysian also claimed to be Turkish refugees. The group of alleged Turks were found near the border fence during routine patrols early Thursday morning Deputy Superintendent Sivam of Malaysia’s General Operations Force said in a statement.

Despite their claims of Turkish nationality, those arrested were not carrying valid travel documents or identification papers and historically, there has been a small, if nonexistent presence of illegal Turkish immigrants in the region. In light of this and the arrests in Thailand, some in the media believe that the alleged Turks might in fact be Uighurs from China. If so, this would mark the largest number found in Southeast Asia to date.

If both groups arrested are indeed Uighur refugees, their escape to Southeast Asia wouldn’t be without precedent. Since Cambodia deported 20 Uighurs back to China in 2009, there have been a string of similar deportations in the region. In 2010, Lao PDR deported a group of seven Uighur refugees back to their native Xinjiang in northwest China and in 2011 and 2012, Malaysia deported separate groups of refugees to China. Each deportation case has been heavily criticized by rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Human rights groups fear that once repatriated, Uighurs face a grim future of long prison sentences and possible torture. Refugees deported back to China from places like Pakistan and Cambodia have all faced life prison terms upon their return.

The threat of prison is likely a reason why those arrested in Thailand and Malaysia have claimed to be Turks when discovered. Instead of admitting to Chinese nationality and facing the possibility of deportation back to China and likely prison time, the refugees opted for claiming another nationality. Seeing that the Uighur population is nearly all Muslim and speaks a Turkic language, claiming Turkish citizenship was a natural choice.

However, as is the case with both groups of refugees, these people’s true identities have yet to be discovered. If they aren’t Turks, are they really Uighurs? If they are Uighurs, how did they get to the Thai-Malaysian border and why did they come this far? Was Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country with labor shortages, the final destination? If both groups are indeed Uighur, this would mark a new level of southward migration for Uighur refugees. Might this also tie them to Kunming train station attackers, as East by Southeast hypothesized? For now, these are only questions, but ExSE will be searching for answers.

 

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The Kunming Train Station Attack: A Hypothesis

In answering the question “Why was Kunming chosen as the site of last Saturday’s attack?”consider the following:

In response to a police crackdown in Hotan, Xinjiang beginning in the summer of 2013, a large group of Uighurs attempted to make their way to Laos through Yunnan. Instead of escaping to Southeast Asia as refugees as planned, thirty were arrested at the border along with dozens of others throughout the province. Warrants were issued for those who were not immediately caught, and a detailed most wanted list was made public. At least eight remained at large and as time passed, hope for the release of their compatriots or relatives and their own escape to a foreign refuge grew smaller. With warrants out for their arrest and a heavy police presence in Xinjiang, returning home was impossible. Without local ID cards, settling down in Yunnan would prove just as difficult. Out of viable options, the group of eight decided to make a brutal last stand, taking out vengeance on the province where their plans failed. Gathering what little resources they could find in Kunming, the group planned to strike where they would be able to cause the most damage. And so on March 1, 2014, five people walked into the Kunming Train Station with knives and terror ensued. Continue reading

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Filed under China, Current Events, Kunming Train Station Attack, SLIDER, Yunnan Province

Kunming Train Station Attacks: The Media’s Response

 

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It’s Monday night, local time, and more than a day has passed since Kunmingers and the rest of the world awoke to news of Saturday night’s terrorist attack at the Kunming Railway Station. In that time, local residents, concerned citizens, the media and the world at large have begun the process of digesting what happened and what it all means. In this short time, reports have gone from panicked messages on mobile chat apps to full articles in the international press and an ongoing discussion on Twitter and Weibo. A few narratives have emerged, each with their distinct angle on the attack and some focused solely on the reaction to them.

Many of the first stories that were published were strict accounts what happened, such as this report from the BBC. The BBC story is representative in describing only the scene at the train station and eyewitness accounts of the attack. Similar stories were found on the websites of most news outlets.

The Chinese press, like the international press, only reported accounts of the scene at first, but stressed the official response, with most articles carrying quotes from President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Today, much of the coverage focused around security measures,  the efforts of medical teams in Kunming, and Chinese citizens’ response to the attacks.

Another narrative in the Chinese press was one of anger towards the foreign media for their treatment of the incident. One hotly discussed essay was this one from Xinhua News. Both the US Embassy and CNN drew Xinhua’s ire for downplaying the importance of the attacks. CNN put quotation marks around the word ‘terrorists’ in its first article on the incident while the US Embassy’s official statement failed to identify the attackers as terrorist. Xinhua was not the only one angry with the US Embassy, with thousands of Chinese criticizing the US online as well. In addition, this graphic from the People’s Daily online edition made for an intense discussion on both Twitter and Weibo.

A third strain of coverage of the incident centered around the bigger picture for China’s minority populations going forward. This article from Reuters looks at the possibility for increased tension between Uighurs and the majority Han population. A 2013 ChinaFile article by James Palmer, republished yesterday by Foreign Policy, was another article looking at ethnic tensions in Xinjiang that made the rounds on Twitter over the past 36 hours. The discussion around both articles has focused on whether or not the Kunming attacks are a harbinger for a new wave of crackdowns in Xinjiang and it’s a conversation that is sure to develop over the next days and weeks.

One line of discourse that has been missing from coverage is that of local Kunmingers. As often happens with events like these, the details and reactions of those most affected are discarded for larger implications and trends. Whether it be another short-lived skirmish over media bias towards China or the continuation of a long discussion on ethnic tensions in China, what locals think might be lost in the shuffle. Some interesting storylines that should be followed are: how Kunming as a city heals from the attacks; the language locals use to talk about the attack and what we can learn from that; how Kunming’s Uighur and Hui Muslim populations have been affected by the attacks; and how these attacks fit in the larger picture of ethnic relations in Yunnan. These are all critical questions and East by Southeast will do its best to find answers to them in the coming days. At the same time, we encourage our readers to reach out and tell us how they have been affected by the attacks what they see as important in the aftermath of such an event.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Kunming Train Station Attack, SLIDER

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