Author Archives: Catherine O'Connor

Regional Roundup for the week of 7.18.14

The top stories this week included the formation of a $100 billion BRICs development bank in a major play to reshape investment in Asia and challenge Western-dominated financial institutions like the World Bank. It will be based in Shanghai and managed by India for the first five years, followed by Brazil and Russia.

In Cambodia, opposition politicians were detained and charged with insurrection following an altercation between protestors and security forces on Tuesday. The arrests come just before the anniversary of disputed elections.

Thailand has allowed former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to leave the country on the premise of joining her brother Thaksin Shinawatra (another ousted prime minister living in exile) in Paris for his birthday.

China has moved a contentious oil rig from disputed waters in the South China Sea, although tensions remain high in the region. See Brian Eyler’s analysis of how trade between China and Vietnam is likely to decrease in the coming months as an impact of these tensions.


Brics countries create $100bn bank to ease western grip on global finances | Guardian –The leaders of the Brics emerging market countries have launched a $100bn (£58.3bn) development bank and an emergency reserve fund in their first major step towards reshaping the western-dominated international financial system. The Brics group comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The bank, aimed at funding infrastructure projects in developing nations, will be based in Shanghai, and India will preside over its operations for the first five years, followed by Brazil and then Russia.

Cambodia: Opposition Politicians Are Charged With Insurrection | NYT — Six Cambodian opposition politicians were charged Wednesday with leading an insurrection movement after a clash with security forces who prevented their followers from rallying in a public park.

Cambodia: Protest Turns Violent | NYT — Opposition demonstrators disarmed Cambodian security forces and beat them with batons and flagpoles on Tuesday, two weeks before the anniversary of a disputed general election.

What Does Indonesia’s Election Standoff Mean for Indonesia’s Next President? | Asia Unbound — As I have previously blogged, unless Prabowo Subianto is able to steal four to six million votes in the days before the official vote tally is released, an unlikely possibility, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo will be declared the winner of the presidential election sometime next week. However, Prabowo is not going to go quietly.

Thai junta allows ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra to leave country | Guardian — Thailand’s junta has given permission to ousted former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to leave the country for the first time since the 22 May coup, a military spokesman said on Thursday. Yingluck is expected to travel to Paris next week to attend the 65th birthday party of her elder brother, the fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Chinese Oil Rig Near Vietnam to Be Moved | NYT — A Chinese energy company said it would move a giant oil rig from disputed waters off the coast of Vietnam, two months after its arrival raised tensions.

Stronger than the bullet | SEA Globe — Southeast Asia is a vast and complex region, comprising countries with remarkably diverse histories and cultures. Against the backdrop of rapid economic development and social transformation in several countries, some nations have adopted democratic institutions, while others have maintained stable authoritarian systems or accepted communist regimes./Great infographic of registered voters, political turnout and number of political parties across ASEAN nations./

Yunnan to spend 70 billion on infrastructure in 2014 | GoKunming — Yunnan lawmakers were busy over the past seven days, earmarking billions of yuan for building projects across the province. The vast majority of the money will be used to fund the ongoing construction of 26 major highways. Other money has been set aside for waterway maintenance and “disaster mitigation” projects.

Typhoon Kills at Least 38 in the Philippines, Heads for China | Irrawaddy — Typhoon Rammasun, the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, was heading towards China after cutting a path across the main island of Luzon, shutting down the capital and knocking down trees and power lines, causing widespread blackouts.


Russian Reliance on Chinese Loans May Blunt the Impact of U.S. Sanctions | NYT — Energy companies form the backbone of the Russian economy, and they increasingly turn to China when they need cheap capital.

Star Anchor’s Real Sin May Have Been Hypocrisy | NYT — Liberal intellectuals are offended by the detained CCTV anchor Rui Cheng’s grandstanding manner of touting the Chinese system while cozying up to Westerners.

In Expansion, BMW to Make China-Only Models | NYT — The carmaker plans to double the number of models produced in China, for a total of six, and increase capacity in the country, its biggest market.

Note to Cadres: Hands Off the Black Audi and Chauffeur | NYT — As part of its drive against corruption and waste, the Chinese Communist Party said it would stop allowing dedicated official vehicles for all but the highest-ranking government staff.

Chinese Company Wins Court Case Against Obama | Diplomat — The case sets an important precedent for Chinese companies interested in investing in the United States.

Report: China ‘hungry for drones’ | GoKunming — The United States’ extensive use of drones may capture headlines around the world, but many other countries are aggressively looking to develop their own, domestic forms of the technology. China is no exception, encouraging and increasingly funding small start-up companies in an attempt to foster innovation, China Daily is reporting.

Education in China | ChinaFile — This week on Sinica, Kaiser Kuo and David Moser are joined by Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Tsinghua Fuzhong Affiliated High School and author of Creative China, for a discussion of the education system in China.

Soccer on the Silk Road | ChinaFile — As the World Cup draws to a close, we present a photo essay by Chinese photographer Zhang Xinmin exploring the game of soccer along the Silk Road in Xinjiang, where it has a special place in Uighur education and culture. China’s forays into international soccer competition have been disappointing, at best. But, as Zhang explains below, a new generation of Uighur players traces its passion for the sport to forebears.

The 2008 Milk Scandal Revisited | Asia Unbound — Six years ago today, sixteen infants in China’s Gansu Province were diagnosed with kidney stones. All of them had been fed milk powder that was later found to have been adulterated with a toxic industrial compound called melamine. Four months later, an estimated 300,000 babies in China were sick from the contaminated milk, and the kidney damage led to six fatalities. The Sanlu Group, one of the largest dairy producers in China, was identified as the chief culprit. But as the scandal unfolded, more Chinese dairy firms became implicated.

Chinese farmers quit fields to build giant Transformers models | Guardian — The success of the new Transformers film in China has been staggering, becoming the country’s highest-grossing film ever in a matter of days. And with that success comes a thriving cottage industry: a group of farmers who have exchanged ploughs for welding equipment in order to build gigantic models of the robots from the film./Weird headline of the week./


Kerry Assures China That the U.S. Can Have Many Allies in Asia | NYT — The secretary of state sought to highlight commonalities between China and the United States after the Chinese dismissed assertions that hackers had infiltrated federal computer systems.

Vietnam’s Overdue Alliance With America | NYT — Ho Chi Minh always wanted a close relationship with Uncle Sam.

Despite oil rig removal, China and Vietnam row still simmers | Guardian — Withdrawal of rig welcomed by Hanoi and Washington, but observers still fear escalation of conflict over South China Sea./See ExSE analysis of cooling of trade relationship between China and Vietnam  stemming from SCS dispute./

Thailand’s pledge to repatriate 100,000 Burmese refugees sparks concern | Guardian — Thailand’s military government is to deport 100,000 refugees who have been living in camps along the border with Burma (Myanmar) for more than two decades, a move rights groups say would create chaos at a tense time for both countries.

Bit by bit | SEA Globe — Southeast Asia sprints toward economic unification with the highly anticipated Asean Economic Community (AEC) next year, there is little in the way of monetary policy that binds its respective member countries together. However, entrepreneurs posit that in lieu of a single legal tender, there is a new system that could make cross-border exchanges cheaper and easier than ever – digital currency.

Pakistan and China: A Precarious Friendship? | Diplomat — In contrast to the public posturing, the relationship on the ground is more complex and multilayered.

China’s Role in the Middle East | Diplomat — Dr. John Calabrese on what’s at stake for China in Iraq and Beijing’s strategy for Middle East engagement.

China-Africa relations hurt by bad Chinese behaviour, says ambassador | Guardian — China’s foreign ministry has condemned the behaviour of some Chinese citizens in Africa following its ambassador to Tanzania giving an uncommonly frank newspaper interview in which he decried the “bad habits” of his compatriots.


Cambodia’s politics: The vision thing | Economist — A YEAR after a general election which the opposition said was stolen, the stand-off continues. On July 15th protests turned violent when demonstrators against the government of Cambodia’s strongman, Hun Sen, attacked security forces. Three leaders from the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) were arrested and denied bail. They face charges of insurrection.

Will Adidas garment workers share in its World Cup profit? | Guardian — With Adidas set to make 2bn from football related sales, the Cambodian garment workers behind its merchandise are still fighting for a fair wage.

Roll out the red carpet | SEA Globe — Southeast Asia’s rapid economic development has generated a wealthy elite with an appetite for high-end luxury products. These hungry consumers exist even in Cambodia – one of the world’s poorest countries. “Why Cambodia? We had this inherent demand that already existed here for Rolls-Royce and it got to a scale where it was so big that we had to act,” said Paul Harris, Asia-Pacific regional manager for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “Otherwise, we would have dissatisfied our clients,” he added./The base model retail price starts at $450,000, including taxes./


Indonesia’s election: The quick count and the long | Economist — On July 9th, for just the third time in the country’s history, voters directly chose their president, in the world’s largest single-day election. […] In the end, however, nothing is certain until the election commission releases the official results. The process could stretch out even beyond July 22nd, if the election is challenged the court has until August 22nd to announce its ruling.


Daily Report: A Tech Scene Develops in Myanmar, Using the Cellphone Grid | NYT — Limited telephone and Internet infrastructure, and decreasing smartphone costs, mean most of Myanmar’s 60 million people will experience the Internet first through cellphones.

Mandalay’s Chinese Muslims Chilled by Riots | NYT — The historical tolerance shown by bygone Buddhist rulers is unraveling in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, as antipathy between Buddhists and Muslims continues to spread.

Myanmar Court Sentences Journalists to Prison and Hard Labor | NYT — Burmese journalists said the jail terms in connection with an article about possible chemical weapons production were a blow to recently won freedoms.


Thailand: Celebrated Elephant Killed | NYT — Poachers have killed and sawed the tusks off a 50-year-old elephant that performed in Thai royal processions and was featured in Oliver Stone’s 2004 movie “Alexander.”


Strategic Trust, an Oil Rig and Vietnam’s Dilemma | Diplomat — Vietnam is forced to decide between territorial integrity and its relationship with China.

World Cup Postcard From Hanoi | NYT — In Hanoi, a government-imposed midnight curfew made it difficult to find a place to catch the day’s action as it began to unfold in Brazil, where it is 10 hours earlier. But the curfew could not deter die-hard fans, and bettors.

Here is da news: how rappers hope to switch on Vietnam’s young generation | Guardian — Despite government suspicions, a Hanoi-based hip-hop band is taking a novel approach to broadcasting current affairs bulletins.

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Regional Roundup for the week of 7.9.14

Indonesians go to the polls today to elect a new president, choosing between populist governor Joko Widodo and former army general Prabowo Subianto to lead the world’s 3rd largest democracy.

China has detained 3 Vietnamese fisherman in the South China Sea, further souring relations this summer. China has also attempted to gain leverage with Myanmar, the current chair of ASEAN, ahead of a planned meeting  this month with ASEAN and Chinese diplomats.

Xi Jinping visited South Korea this past week in a state visit regarded as a move to counterbalance American influence and further distance South Korea’s relationship with Japan.


All aboard | SEA Globe — The planned high-speed railway between Singapore and Kunming in China could be the catalyst for even greater Chinese influence in the region.

China Reaches Out to Myanmar on Maritime Dispute | NYT — Myanmar is enjoying some new diplomatic clout, leading China to court the country as Beijing presses its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Burmese hardwoods logged to brink of extinction | GoKunming — While swaths of virgin rainforests have been cleared to feed China’s growing appetite for luxury wood, there are some regions, like Myanmar’s remote northern forests, that have remained heretofore intact. This is about to change, predicts a new study, as loggers advance on the “final frontier” for tropical hardwoods in Southeast Asia.

The Victims of China’s Soil Pollution Crisis | ChinaFile — Soil pollution has received relatively little public attention in China. Despite the fact that it poses as big a threat to health as the more widely covered air and water pollution, data on soil pollution has been so closely guarded that it has been officially categorized as a “state secret.”

Shadow of Brutal ’79 War Darkens Vietnam’s View of China Relations | NYT — Memories of a short but ferocious conflict between Vietnam and China in 1979 permeate the current sour relations between the two Communist countries now at odds over contested waters in the South China Sea.

An Online Shift in China Muffles an Open Forum | NYT — A turn from the microblogging service Sina Weibo to the Facebook-like WeChat has reoriented the nation’s social media landscape from public to semiprivate communication.

China’s Fallen Mighty | ChinaFile — The fallen are sorted into three levels based on their positions within the Politburo—the highest leaders, including Hua Guofeng, Hu Yaobang, and Zhao Ziyang; members of the Politburo Standing Committee, including Wang Dongxing and Hu Qili; and ordinary members of the Politburo, including Wu De, Chen Xilian, Ji Dengkui, Chen Yonggui, Chen Xitong, Chen Liangyu, and Bo Xilai. Skip to the interactive timeline

The final countdown | SEA Globe — After ten years of stability, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s two terms in office, voters in the world’s third-largest democracy will head to the polls on July 9 for a single-round presidential election that will decide Indonesia’s next leader.

Indonesia: A Bigger Role in the South China Sea? | Diplomat — As Indonesia goes to the polls, the expectations of its international partners are growing.

ISIS: A Threat Well Beyond the Middle East | Diplomat — The success of militants in Iraq may be inspiring radicals in Southeast Asia.

Kunming Railway Station attackers charged in mass stabbings | GoKunming — In March of this year, a group of men and women armed with knives descended on the crowded Kunming Railway Station. Their ensuing rampage left 29 civilians dead and 143 injured in what is one of the most violent coordinated attacks to occur in China in recent memory. Four people accused of perpetrating the violence have been formally charged and will soon stand trial, Xinhua is reporting.


Peripheral diplomacy: Balancing act | Economist — CHINA’S dilemma in Asia is how to balance the peaceful rise it says it wants with its desire for more regional influence.

Scorn for ‘Tiger Xu,’ From Official and Unofficial Sources | NYT — Chinese state-run newspapers and social media users alike are expressing contempt for Xu Caihou, a retired senior general expelled from the Communist Party over corruption allegations

China Expels 3 Officials in Corruption Inquiry | NYT — The expulsions of the three men, who had ties to the former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, were the latest sign that officials may announce charges against Mr. Zhou himself.

What About China’s Selfless Officials? | Diplomat — The same system that fostered heroically selfless Chinese officials also creates an atmosphere for corruption.

US academic barred from China after speaking out over detained scholar | Guardian — Elliot Sperling, a Tibetologist at the University of Indiana, was turned back on arrival at Beijing airport this weekend and ordered to board a flight returning to the US. No reason was given for the cancellation of his 90-day tourist visa, but he believes his vocal support for Tohti was responsible.

World Briefing: China Sentences 113 to Prison in Xinjiang Region | NYT — Courts in the western region of Xinjiang sentenced the defendants for a wide range of crimes, including organizing and taking part in terrorist organizations, state media reported.

Ramadan, Beijing style | Economist — In China Ramadan this year comes against the backdrop of increased violence perpetrated by Uighurs and a government line which more strongly than ever attributes it to radical Islam and international jihadism. In Xinjiang, authorities have reportedly taken steps, as they have in years past, to discourage Ramadan fasting among ordinary people and ban it outright for many party members, government workers and school children.

China’s Christians fear new persecution after latest wave of church demolitions | Guardian — Once a hub of Christianity, worshippers in Wenzhou fear their faith is facing its biggest threat since the Cultural Revolution.

China Takes Step Toward Freeing Currency from State Control | NYT — Beijing has let banks set their own exchange rates for the renminbi in over-the-counter transactions.

Memo From Hong Kong: Uphill Fight for a Territory’s Democracy Movement | NYT — Hong Kong’s huge pro-democracy march underscored the determination of many of its residents to preserve their freedoms but also brought some challenges to light.

Hard Choices for Family Planners and Parents | ChinaFile — As the adjustments take full effect and the nation’s dandu—the Mandarin word meaning “family in which either parent is an only child”—exercise their newly acquired freedom of choice, unexpected challenges to the government’s family-control policies are starting to emerge.

Why Are Chinese Cyberspies Targeting US Think Tanks? | Diplomat — Chinese hackers broke into U.S. think tanks to access information about U.S. plans for Iraq.

Economic Scene: China’s Hurdle to Fast Action on Climate Change | NYT — The existential question in Beijing remains whether China can simultaneously cut carbon emissions while pursuing strong economic growth.

Pangolin and porcupines on sale in Chinese market despite jail threat | Guardian — Porcupines in cages, endangered tortoises in buckets and snakes in cloth bags are among the rare wildlife on open sale at a Chinese market, despite courts being ordered to jail those who eat endangered species.


China Detains 6 Vietnamese Fishermen | NYT — The detention of the six fishermen in waters claimed by China and Vietnam comes as tensions continue to be high over the disputed waters.

Q. and A.: Lyle Goldstein on China and the Vietnamese Military | NYT — With friction rising in the South China Sea, Professor Goldstein, of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, discusses the current state of Vietnam’s military and Chinese perceptions of it.

Chinese President’s Visit to South Korea Is Seen as Way to Weaken U.S. Alliances | NYT — The visit to Seoul by President Xi Jinping of China appears to be aimed at disrupting the alliances the United States has developed in the region.

China Woos South Korea With Pandas | Diplomat — Two pandas accompanied Xi Jinping on his visit to South Korea.

China’s Charm Offensive Toward South Korea | Diplomat — China’s charm offensive toward South Korea could have implications for the U.S.-ROK alliance.

Brides for sale: trafficked Vietnamese girls sold into marriage in China | Guardian — When Kiab turned 16, her brother promised to take her to a party in a tourist town in northern Vietnam. Instead, he sold her to a Chinese family as a bride. The ethnic Hmong teenager spent nearly a month in China until she was able to escape from her new husband, seek help from local police and return to Vietnam.


Virginity for sale: inside Cambodia’s shocking trade | Guardian — On the margins of the sex industry, an ugly market in virginity has emerged in Cambodia in which rich and powerful men coerce desperate mothers into selling their daughters’ innocence.

Cambodia Heads Upmarket with Style and Hun Sen | Diplomat — The threat of losing access to designer retail is not enough to win back Cambodia’s voters for the prime minister.

Stuck in the middle with you | SEA Globe — Cambodia’s struggle for self-assertion is a balancing act, with parallels to the 1960s when Prince Sihanouk tried to safeguard his nation’s neutrality in the Vietnam War.

Second fiddle: Kem Sokha | SEA Globe — Kem Sokha has been a prominent human rights activist and head of his own party, but will his biggest challenge be as second-in-command to his former political rival?


Indonesian Candidate Masters a System He Is Said to Disdain | NYT — For a candidate accused of questioning the value of democracy, Prabowo Subianto appears to be a highly efficient campaigner.

After Barrage of Personal Attacks, Indonesian Presidential Election Tightens | NYT — As voters prepare for Wednesday’s election, the race between a populist governor and a former army general is considered too close to call.

World Briefing: Indonesia: Life Sentence for Ex-Justice | NYT — The former chief justice of the Constitutional Court was sentenced to life in prison for corruption, the heaviest sentence ever for graft in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.


Rocket Festival of Laos | Diplomat — The annual Laotian Rocket Festival is colorful, explosive, and occasionally dangerous.


Malaysia Is Sending More Ships to Search for Jetliner | NYT — The Malaysian government said Sunday that it would step up efforts to search the southern Indian Ocean for Malaysia Airlines’ missing Flight 370.


In Myanmar, the Euphoria of Reform Loses Its Glow | NYT — More than three years after Myanmar’s ruling generals propelled the country on an ambitious journey toward democracy, security forces are back on the streets.

Buddhist-Muslim Mayhem Hits Myanmar’s No. 2 City | NYT — The authorities in Mandalay imposed a curfew after a surge in religious violence, incited by reports that a Muslim man had raped a Buddhist woman.

Expect Skepticism as Thein Sein Pledges to Act Against Riot Instigators | Irrawaddy — In a speech broadcast on state radio Monday night, Burmese President Thein Sein vowed to take action against the instigators of recent riots in Mandalay, but the pledge will be met with a cautious reception. This skepticism is understandable as the president and government failed to take action after previous violence that rocked major Burmese cities Meiktila, Lashio, Pegu and Sittwe.

Jade Mines to Resume Operations in Kachin State: Burmese Govt | Irrawaddy — In northern Burma, where the vast majority of the world’s jade is produced, mining companies will soon be allowed to resume operations, following a two-year hiatus due to armed conflicts.


Aquino: The First Filipino Nobel Laureate? | Diplomat — The Philippine president has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Not everybody is happy about it.


Leaning on Thailand’s Junta | NYT — Sanctions against the junta could prove surprisingly effective in the push to restore democracy.


Agent Orange Legacy Scourges Vietnam | Diplomat — Decades after the Vietnam War, victims wither away with scant efforts being made to tackle the deadly chemicals.

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Regional Roundup for the Week of 6.28.14

Not a good week to be a top official in China — three more high-ranking officials have come under investigation for corruption, including: Liu Tienan, former head of the National Energy Administration; Wan Qingliang, the Communist Party chief for Guangzhou; and Su Rong, Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

The Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) joint naval drills began this week in Hawaii, with China taking part for the first time. Easing tensions and enhancing cooperation between navies is one of the major objectives of RIMPAC, however China’s recently updated map of the South China Sea and continued scuffles with both Vietnam and the Philippines may undermine these goals.


China Unveils New Map of South China Sea | NYT — A vertical map representing China’s claims in the South China Sea shows two disputed clusters of islands entirely within Chinese territory.

China-Philippines Duel Over a South China Sea Code of Conduct | Diplomat — Both countries are developing their South China Sea strategies, neither of which has much to do with ASEAN.

Naval gazing: Sea change | Economist — China has sent ships to Hawaii to take part in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) military drills for the first time. RIMPAC, which began on June 26th, is the largest naval exercise in the world, with 25,000 personnel from 23 countries, including America, Australia, India, Indonesia and South Korea.

Champion of Chinese farmers’ rights jailed for forging official documents | Guardian — Villagers pack the court to applaud woman given two years in prison for trying to prevent land grabs and illegal demolition.

Hekou’s 600 million yuan “boondoggle” | GoKunming — The media in Yunnan, and around the country, is often overly fond of splashy headlines containing enormous investment figures. The articles that follow are generally paeans to a modernizing society and the wonders of Chinese-style capitalism. Failure is rarely chronicled. That is far from the case in Hekou (河口), which is currently receiving plenty of negative journalistic buzz due to a development project provincial officials have deemed an embarrassing and costly “boondoggle”.

Chinese minister makes first visit to Taiwan | Guardian — China has sent a ministerial-level official to Taiwan for the first time, for four days of meetings to rebuild ties with the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.

Uighur Scholar Will Fight Charges of Separatism in China, Lawyer Says | NYT — Ilham Tohti, a critic of Beijing’s policies in the ethnically divided region of Xinjiang, said through his lawyer that he was innocent.

New Signs That China Is Scrutinizing Foreign NGOs | NYT — A notice that briefly appeared on a local government website describes a “penetrating” security review of foreign nongovernmental organizations in China.

Chile Scraps Dam Project in ‘Greatest Triumph of the Nation’s Environmental Movement’ | Common Dreams — The rejection of the project follows an 8-year campaign led by the Patagonia Defense Council (PDC) coalition, which includes International Rivers, the Natural Resources Defense Council and local citizens and community groups and had highlighted the risks of the project and need for Chile to choose a truly sustainable energy future. Incredible story out of Chile. Many environmental advocates in SE Asia might look to the PDC as an example of how international NGOs and local stakeholders can cooperate for a sustainable energy policy. 


China’s Anticorruption Campaign Moves to a Powerful Party Seat | NYT — The Communist Party chief of Guangzhou, who wields considerable influence, has been held for investigation by the disciplinary commission.

Former Top Official in China to Face Graft Trial | NYT — Liu Tienan, who headed the country’s energy administration, is the latest target of President Xi Jinping’s moves against corruption.

Top Political Advisor Investigated for Graft | ChinaFile — A vice chairman of the country’s top political advisory body is being investigated for “serious violations of discipline,” the Communist Party’s anti-graft fighter says. The Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) did not provide details of Su Rong’s alleged crimes, but the phrase usually means graft.

Antarctica via France, and Other Tales of Official Expense-Padding | NYT — An Antarctica tour that somehow included visits to Chile and France was among the infractions described in reports on 37 Chinese government departments and agencies released this week by the National Audit Office.

Official suicides: Unnatural deaths | Economist — On June 24th Wei Jianghong, chairman of a large state-owned copper smelter and a delegate to the national legislature, jumped to his death from a building in Anhui province. It was at least the 62nd publicly known “unnatural” death of an official or employee of a state-run entity since the beginning of 2013, according to Chinese media reports, and at least the 32nd suicide among those deaths.

China sends dissidents on free holidays | Guardian — As top Communist leaders gathered in Beijing the veteran Chinese political activist He Depu was obliged to leave town on an all-expenses-paid holiday to the tropical island of Hainan, complete with police escorts. It is an unusual method of muzzling dissent, but He is one of dozens of campaigners who rights groups say have been forced to take vacations sometimes featuring luxurious hotels beside sun-drenched beaches, trips to tourist sites and lavish dinners courtesy of the authorities.

32 Terrorist Groups Smashed in Xinjiang, China Says | NYT — A crackdown that began in May in the far western region of China has resulted in hundreds of terrorism suspects being sentenced, state media reported.

Chinese Involvement in Global Jihad | Diplomat — Interactions between Uyghur militant groups and other terrorist networks pose a growing concern for China.

Hong Kong’s Democracy Supporters Chafe at Inequality and Beijing’s Sway | NYT — An informal vote on how to select Hong Kong’s leader reflects resentment that the Beijing-oriented political-business machine is rigged against the people.

China’s Growing Hegemonic Bent | Diplomat — More and more, China is engaging in the same kind of hegemonic actions it has always denounced in others.

The Debate Over Confucius Institutes | ChinaFile — Last week, the American Association of University Professors joined a growing chorus of voices calling on North American universities to rethink their relationship with Confucius Institutes, the state-sponsored Chinese-language programs whose policies critics say are anathema to academic freedom. We asked contributors to discuss the debate.

Meet the Chinese women standing up to inequality | Guardian — In the past couple of years, performance-art style actions often cheeky or humorous, always eye-catching have raised awareness of the challenges facing women in China. Twenty-somethings staged Occupy the Men’s Toilets to challenge the lack of female facilities, shaved their heads to highlight higher college admission requirements for female applicants, and donned wedding dresses daubed with red to focus attention on domestic violence.

Chinese dog-eating festival backlash grows | Guardian — Number of animal rights activists descending on Yulin may be small, but opposition against eating dog meat has broadened.

World Cup Scores Big in China | Diplomat — Despite an awkward time difference and the absence of a Chinese team, the World Cup is drawing a huge audience in China.

Obituary: Yang Qinglong, China’s original oil baron | GoKunming — Although perhaps little known to the public, Yang Qinglong (杨庆龙) was a giant in the world of Chinese energy. His outsized reputation as an indefatigable international power broker and eccentric bureaucrat has been described by those he worked with as “legendary”. Reuters China has reported Yang passed away on June 22, following a fight with cancer. He was 62 years-old. A member of the Bai nationality, Yang was born in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in 1951. He graduated from Yunnan University with a degree in Chinese Language at the age of 23. Rising steadily through the ranks of the provincial bureaucracy, Yang was named Shenzhen section chief of the government-controlled firm Yunnan Electronics in 1988.


Mapping the Risk of Bird Flu’s Spread | NYT — The H7N9 strain of avian influenza poses a threat to several other parts of Asia, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India, according to a new study.

Changing Dynamics in Myanmar Impact Bangladesh’s Geopolitics | Diplomat — Myanmar’s opening to democracy and investment are changing Bangladesh’s economic and security strategy.

U.S. Catfish Program Could Stymie Pacific Trade Agreement | NYT — Ten Asian and Pacific nations have complained that the Agriculture Department’s catfish inspection program, which was added to the 2008 farm bill, violates international law.

U.S. Chided for Delays Over Treaty on Weapons | NYT — Though the United States is the biggest contributor in helping to rid land mines from old conflict zones, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines said it still has not signed an international treaty.

China and the US: Destined to Cooperate? | Diploamt — Geography, economics, and energy will all push America and China closer together.


Jump right in: Ratanakiri | SEA Globe — The cool night air of Ban Lung, Ratanakiri’s provincial capital, provides a pleasant reprieve from Cambodia’s balmier climes. Sandwiched between borders with Vietnam and Laos, the Kingdom’s northeastern frontier is home to some of its most untamed countryside, and its sparsely populated villages are a far cry from the crowded streets of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.


Malaysian Jet Was in Controlled Flight After Contact Was Lost, Officials Suspect | NYT — Investigators now believe that altitude data that guided earlier searches was unreliable and that the plane was likely not seriously damaged before its final descent.

Arrests at Malaysian Rare Earths Refinery Protests | Diplomat — Locals and activists fear the refinery, operated by an Australian company, will generate radioactive waste.

Ann Osman: Goddess of War | SEA Globe — Three years ago, 27-year-old Ann “Athena” Osman, a Muslim from Malaysia’s Sabah state, started training in mixed martial arts (MMA). Since then, she has joined the roster of ONE Fighting Championship, Asia’s largest MMA organisation, and is fast becoming an inspiration in her home country


In the Darkness of Myanmar’s Camps, Lighter Moments of Life | NYT — Adam B. Ellick, a senior video journalist at The Times who made a documentary with the columnist Nicholas Kristof about Myanmar’s oppressed Muslim minority, found a few uplifting moments.

Religious Extremists Target Myanmar Film Festival | Diplomat — Organizers withdraw a documentary about a friendship between a Buddhist and a Muslim following threats.

Burma to Purchase Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Fighter Jets | Diplomat — According to local media, Myanmar will become the first foreign purchaser of the Sino-Pakistan jointly produced fighter.


U.S. Phasing Out Its Counterterrorism Unit in Philippines | NYT — American Special Forces will continue to help Philippine security forces counter a smaller, lingering Islamist threat, but the size of the mission will drop to a dozen or so advisers from its current 320 service members.

Corruption in the Philippines: Over a barrel | Economist — The Philippine police had clapped two senators in jail by June 26th and had two secure hospital rooms ready for a third as they began rounding up politicians accused of stealing public funds. The round-up is rocking the political establishment. It appears to reinvigorate President Benigno Aquino’s campaign against corruption.


Prison threat from Thai junta for Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun | SEA Globe — Along with other prominent Thais who live outside the country and are critical of the military junta who took over the government of Thailand in a coup d’état on 22 May, Dr Pavin is wanted by the regime and has been threatened with two years in prison if he does not surrender.

Is the Thai Junta Targeting Cambodian Migrants? | Diplomat — The military could be cracking down on illegal migrants as part of a wider program.

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Regional Roundup for the Week of 4.4.14

News emerged this week of protests in Maoming, Guangdong over a proposed paraxylene chemical plant, echoing similar protests that took place in Kunming last spring. Reports of police violence towards protestors as well as images of the protest and unconfirmed rumors of fatalities spread quickly on Chinese social media before being censored.

Australian and Chinese search teams announced a possible underwater signal by the “black box” flight recorder from Malaysia Airlines 370. The search for the missing plane has increased in urgency as the recorder’s batteries have a lifespan of approximately thirty days. Any surface debris that could yield clues to the plane’s disappearance would likely have drifted far from an actual crash site, thus increasing the significance of the recent underwater “ping”.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday agreed to hear the anti-corruption case filed against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, allowing her two weeks to defend herself to the court on charges that she abused power in 2011 by transferring the head of national security. Shinawatra still enjoys broad support from poor and rural areas of Thailand, as shown by a demonstration of support on Saturday outside Bangkok that drew “tens of thousands” of people.


Protests against chemical plant flare up in southern China | Guardian — The protests began last Sunday in the city of Maoming, where officials plan to build a chemical plant to make paraxylene, a petrochemical used to make plastic bottles and fabrics, but which can be toxic if ingested. Protests against paraxylene plants are not uncommon in China, but this one is unusual because images of police brutality on Sunday incensed many who saw them online before they were deleted by censors.

China petrochemical plant may be halted after protests | Jennifer Duggan  | Guardian — Following protests that resulted in clashes between demonstrators and police, officials in a city in southern China have said plans for a controversial petrochemical plant will not go ahead if the majority of the city’s residents object.

Maoming Protests Continue in Southern China | Diplomat — The protests have also spread geographically, branching out to other cities in Guangdong. Following Tuesday’s protest in Guangzhou (the capital of Guangdong province), around 20 protestors gathered in Shenzhen on Thursday to protest the PX plant. South China Morning Post reported that the Shenzhen protestors were “taken away by police” after about 10 minutes.

MH370: possible black box ‘pings’ spur on search for missing airliner | Guardian — Australian and Chinese vessels have both picked up acoustic “pings” that could be from the black box of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, search officials have announced.

Thais Rally in Support of Beleaguered Prime Minister | NYT — The government supporters said they were prepared to thwart any move to dismiss Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who faces mounting legal cases that could lead to her removal from office in coming weeks.

Thai Protesters Rally, Reviving Drive Against Leaders | NYT — After a lull, critics of Thailand’s prime minister marched in Bangkok, seeking to force her out.

Leader of China Aims at Military With Graft Case | NYT — China charged Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan with financial crimes and abuse of power in a case seen as part of an effort to tighten the party’s control over the military.

Philippines and China in Dispute Over Reef | NYT — China accused the Philippines of illegally occupying its territory after a Philippine vessel resupplied a ship that has been stranded on a tiny reef for 15 years.

Vietnam and Cambodia tell Laos to stop $3.5bn Mekong River dam project | Guardian — Vietnam urged Laos to halt construction of a $3.5bn (£2.2bn) hydropower dam on Mekong River pending further study, environmental activists said on Friday.

Growing up in rural Yunnan: Tony’s story | GoKunming — Meet Tony. Right now, he is an eighth grade student at Dachaoshan Middle School in one of the poorest areas in Yunnan. Despite his mother’s suicide, his father’s severe alcoholism, his poor household, his lack of fluent Mandarin and the smoky coal stove next to the bed he shares with his grandmother, Tony works hard every single day for a better future.

Yunnan governor reaches out to Bangladesh | GoKunming — The governor of Yunnan has been busily visiting nearby countries in an effort to increase international business conducted in the province. Most recently, Li Jiheng (李纪恒) traveled to Bangladesh to meet leaders there and urge them to use Yunnan as a gateway to Chinese commerce and investment while also pushing a long-proposed trade scheme.


China seizes $US14.5bn assets linked to ex-spy chief Zhou Yongkang – report | Guardian — Chinese authorities have seized assets worth at least 90bn yuan ($US14.5bn) from family members and associates of retired domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who is at the centre of China’s biggest corruption scandal in more than six decades, two sources said.

China’s Former Leaders Tell Xi To Halt Anti-Corruption Campaign | Diplomat — Former Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are reportedly pushing for an end to Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign.

Chinese Regulator to Conduct Stress Tests | NYT — After an increase in bad loans last year, the China Banking Regulatory Commission notified banks of the tests, though it did not reveal details on how they would be conducted.

DealBook: A Muddy Tract Now, but by 2020, China’s Answer to Wall St. | NYT — A largely empty expanse in Shenzhen is the setting for a financial experiment that could have a huge impact on the world’s second-largest economy. But so far it is just a bold blueprint.

China Extends Tax Break Program to Spur Economy | NYT — China’s cabinet decided to continue the breaks for small and very small enterprises through 2016 and said it was considering significantly broadening them.

Junk Bond Default a Sign Of China’s Slowing Growth | NYT — A construction materials maker was unable to meet interest payments on bonds in the latest sign that slowing economic growth is hurting companies and investors.

China’s Air Pollution Reporting is Misleading | ChinaFile — China’s air pollution is being reported in a misleading way, blocking public understanding and enabling official inaction […] Based on the qualitative assessment scale in the Ambient Air Quality Index Technical Regulations,   “moderately polluted” cities can officially report up to 365 days of “excellent or good” air quality.

Chinese Billionaire’s Trial Scrutinized for Links to Ex-Official | NYT — Analysts say the trial of Liu Han is an outgrowth of efforts to investigate an even bigger target, who ran the domestic security apparatus for a decade.

Gay Activist Sues the Chinese Government for Defamation | Diplomat — Xiang Xiaohan filed suit after the Hunan government refused to register his LGBT organization.


Hunt for Jet’s Black Boxes Is a Race Against Time | NYT — Only days are left before the batteries on the flight data and cockpit voice recorders on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet are set to die.

Chinese Travel Agencies Write Off Malaysia | Diplomat — Two Chinese online ticketing websites, eLong and announced that they would “stop booking flights by Malaysia Airlines indefinitely starting from March 27 – till it reaches agreement with the families of passengers on board MH370.” Several other agencies have followed suit, according to Times of India.

More than 100,000 protesters rally in Taiwan against trade pact with China | Guardian — More than 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital on Sunday as a two-week-long campaign against a trade pact with China gathered steam, piling further pressure on the island’s leader.

Burmese-Thai Border Trade Increases Through Myawaddy | Irrawaddy — The volume of trade through the busiest crossing on Burma’s border with Thailand is rising, according to the Karen State chief Minister, who predicted an increasing flow of goods as cross-border links improve.

Affluent Wine Buyers in Asia Find Their Confidence | NYT — An adventurous and increasingly educated crowd is fueling a boom in fine wines in China and elsewhere in Asia, though prices have come down.

Beijing’s Arctic Play: Just the Tip of the Iceberg | Diplomat — China has clearly signaled that it has a strong interest in the Arctic region.

Asia’s Next BRICS? | Diplomat — As growth in the BRICS slows, many of the new economic stars are from the Asia-Pacific.


World Briefing: Cambodia: Illness Spreads at Factories | NYT — Scores of garment workers have fallen sick this week at factories in Cambodia, including two that produce clothing for the sportswear groups Puma and Adidas, workers and the companies said Thursday.

World Briefing: Cambodia: Protest Rally Thwarted | NYT — Police officers on Monday beat antigovernment protesters who defied a ban on public demonstrations to demand a license for what would be Cambodia’s first opposition television channel.

Holy activism | SEA Globe — “A bundle of sticks can’t be broken,” according to an old Cambodian proverb. It is a philosophy that underpins a network of media-savvy monks who defy the authorities by speaking out against social injustice.


Indonesia’s elections: Democracy’s big bang | Economist — As organized human efforts go, it is a big one. Nearly 190m Indonesians out of a population of about 250m are eligible to go to the polls on April 9th to elect a new parliament.

The Fight to Save Indonesia’s Forests | Diplomat — Indigenous Dayak communities are in a battle to preserve ancestral forests.

World Briefing: Indonesia: Payment Spares Maid in Saudi Arabia | NYT — Indonesia has agreed to pay $1.8 million to prevent one of its citizens from being executed in Saudi Arabia, just days before she was to be beheaded for killing her employer.


Transcript From Lost Jet Is Released By Malaysia | NYT — The dialogue covers 54 minutes, from just before Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur to the last contact the pilots had with air traffic personnel.

Chinese tourist and hotel receptionist kidnapped in Malaysia | Guardian — Six men armed with pistols are said to have raided the Singamata Reef resort late on Wednesday before fleeing in a speedboat. A police report said the Chinese victim was a 28-year-old woman from Shanghai, while the receptionist was a 40-year-old woman from the Philippines.


Religious Tensions Cloud Myanmar Census | NYT — The nationwide count has been criticized because the government has denied members of a long-persecuted Muslim minority the right to identify themselves as Rohingya.

Burma census: Rohingya anger at snub video | Guardian — Burma’s first census in over 30 years has been overshadowed by disputes centring on ethnicity. The country’s minority Rohingya Muslims have expressed their grief at not being allowed to classify themselves as ‘Rohingya’ on census forms, while Buddhists in Rakhine state threatened to boycott the census if the term was permitted.

Total Breakdown in Myanmar’s Arakan State | CFR — Over the weekend, according to Radio Free Asia and other news reports, nearly all international aid groups operating in western Myanmar’s Arakan, or Rakhine, State, fled the state capital or hid in police stations and other (supposedly) secure locations. They had to flee or hide as mobs of angry Arakanese Buddhists attacked several aid workers, and threatened many other offices of international aid agencies.

Myanmar’s “E-Libraries” Bring Students Up to Speed After Military Rule | Diplomat — After years of isolation under strict military rule, students at the University of Yangon and University of Mandalay will now have uncensored access to a wide range of learning materials.


Philippines stands by rejection of Beijing’s claims to South China Sea | Guardian — The Philippine president has defended his country’s arbitration case against China’s sweeping territorial claims over the oil-rich South China Sea. Benigno Aquino III said the intention was peacefully to protect his nation’s territory and sovereignty, rather than to provoke Beijing.


In Thailand, Some Foresee a Coup by Legal Means | NYT — Several judges and officials involved in cases against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government have had antagonistic relationships with her party.

Second world war bomb kills seven in Bangkok | Guardian — Workers at a scrapyard in Thailand’s capital accidentally detonated a large bomb believed to have been dropped during the second world war, killing at least seven people and injuring 19 others, police said.

Thailand’s Deadly Highways | Diplomat — Nearly 50 people die each day in road accidents during Thailand’s two most popular festivals.


Competition Intensifies in Vietnam’s Aviation Sector | NYT — The private VietJet Air is making a strong push just as Vietnam Airlines, the state flag carrier, plans a long-awaited initial public offering.

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Regional Round Up for 3.7.2014

By far one of the biggest stories this week was the deadly knife attack that occurred the night of Saturday, March 1st at the Kunming train station. Starting with reports on Weixin and other social media sites Saturday evening, the violence has been covered extensively in both Western and Chinese media. Because of the significance of this event, East by Southeast has prepared a news digest focusing solely on the attack in addition to our regular regional round-up. The additional coverage can be found via this link.

All of us at East by Southeast express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those directly impacted by the train station attack, as well as appreciation for the support we’ve received in the past week.


Blowing Away the Smog in Beijing, Politically Speaking | NYT — The annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference are underway in Beijing, and both groups are regarded by many Chinese as not truly representative of the people.

Beijing Goes Quiet on Rise of Local Security Budgets | NYT — Saying the data “is still being collected,” the Chinese Finance Ministry has declined to release figures on local security spending, a major component of a domestic security apparatus that has grown bigger than the military.

Trafficking of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims shifts to Malaysia | Guardian — Human traffickers are holding hundreds of Rohingya Muslims captive in houses in northern Malaysia, beating them, depriving them of food, and demanding a ransom from their families, according to detailed accounts by the victims.

Burma allows Médecins Sans Frontières to resume work but not in Rakhine | Guardian — Médecins Sans Frontières has been allowed to resume work in parts of Burma, but not in the strife-torn state of Rakhine, the medical aid group says.

Asian Development Bank failing in mission to protect poor and vulnerable | Guardian — According to a 180-page report released late February on a project to repair Cambodia’s rail system, ADB is not, however, adhering to its own polices and procedure in these areas. The bank’s internal watchdog, the Compliance Review Panel (CRP), said management needed to undergo a “mind-shift” in the way it deals with vulnerable populations.


Opening day | Economist — China has opened the annual full session of its parliament, the National People’s Congress, in Beijing. If the past is any guide, the proceedings will be tightly controlled and will not feature any dramatic legislative votes during the ten-day session.

Red Lights Dim in China’s Sin City | NYT — China is in the throes of the harshest anti-vice campaign in years, and the crackdown is taking a toll on the economy of Dongguan, a southern city of more than eight million people.

China Declares ‘War Against Pollution’ | NYT — Facing growing dissatisfaction from citizens about high pollution in China, the premier, Li Keqiang, declared in his work report Wednesday that the government he leads would “declare war” on pollution.

Chinese Workers at IBM Factory on Strike Amid Company Sale | NYT — More than 1,000 workers from a Shenzhen site being sold to Lenovo took to the streets in the latest sign of growing labor activism in China

China Announces 12.2% Increase in Military Budget | NYT — China announced that it was increasing its military budget for 2014 to almost $132 billion. The expansion is being closely watched by other nations in the region and by the United States.

Home Prices in China May Hurt Families | NYT — Chinese households have an overwhelming share of their assets in their homes, and any slump in prices could lead to widespread anger, findings say.

Kashgar Journal: China Remodels an Ancient Silk Road City, and an Ethnic Rift Widens | NYT — China has razed thousands of traditional homes as it modernizes Kashgar, and the results underscore the divide between the government and the Muslim ethnic minority, the Uighurs.

China Prioritizes Ukraine’s ‘Ethnic Groups’ Over Its ‘Territorial Integrity’ | Diplomat — China has stopped voicing support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, which could set a dangerous precedent.

Putin to Visit China In ‘Near Future’ | Diplomat — President Xi told Putin he is looking forward to his visit during a phone call discussing Ukraine.

Op-Docs: ‘Chinese, on the Inside’ | NYT — Catie and Kimberly were adopted from China by a couple from Maine, who attempt to pass on a culture they’ve never known firsthand. /With the departure of Ambassador Gary Locke and one commentator’s snide remark calling him a “banana”, this short documentary

The Gary Locke Effect: Does Race Matter for a US Ambassador? | Diplomat — Gary Locke, the first Chinese-American ambassador to Beijing, faced taunts and barbs because of his race.


Emerging, but No Longer a Mother Lode of Profits | NYT — Multinational corporations that crowed for years about their presence in booming emerging markets are now blaming turmoil in those regions for dents in their bottom lines.

Thai seafood industry censured over Burmese migrant’s trafficking ordeal  | Guardian — Thailand is the third-largest exporter of seafood in the world, sending nearly a billion euros (£8.2m) of fish to Europe and more than $1.5bn to the US each year. However, allegations of slavery and forced labour have dogged the sector in recent years.

China to Foreign Fishing Boats: ‘Get Out’ of South China Sea | Diplomat — Hainan’s Party Chief confirms that authorities are confronting foreign fishing vessels in the South China Sea.

Sri Lanka’s Growing Links with China | Diplomat — Trade, investment and a strategic Indian Ocean location bring the two countries closer together.

Take it to the bank | SEA Globe — Banking in Southeast Asia is a bipolar industry that reaches all manner of extremes – nearly 100% of Singaporeans over the age of 15 have a bank account, whereas less than 5% of Cambodians in the same age bracket do. Naturally, this has a lot to do with people’s incomes.


Cambodia: Challenges of Democratic Consolidation | Diplomat — Cambodia needs to press ahead with reforms to consolidate its young democracy.

Back to back, they face each other | SEA Globe — Both sides of Cambodia’s political divide need to address the concerns of voters and replace rhetoric with action


‘Act of Killing’ Film Fails to Stir Indonesia | NYT — The film recounts in graphic detail the killings of an estimated 500,000 or more Indonesians during state-sponsored purges of suspected Communists and their sympathizers in 1965 and 1966.

Surabaya Journal: Pointing Fingers Over Heavy Death Toll at an Indonesian Zoo | NYT — The municipal zoo in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, where more than 100 animals have died since last summer, has drawn calls for its closing.


Mekong mission: Impossible | SEA Globe — After last year’s fatal Lao Airlines crash, a hastily assembled local dive team was scrambled. Their story is a remarkable feat of human endurance and teamwork


Malaysia’s Anwar Convicted of Sodomy, Political Future in Doubt | Irrawaddy — A Malaysian court convicted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy and sentenced him to five years in prison on Friday, shattering his plan to take control of the country’s richest state and stoking political tension in the Southeast Asian nation following a divisive national election last year.


Rise in Bigotry Fuels Massacre Inside Myanmar | NYT — Violence against the Rohingya minority has presented a test for Myanmar’s leaders, who have done little to rein in the ethnic killings even as they pursue broad political and economic reforms.

Burmese villagers exiled from ancestral home as fate of dam remains unclear | Guardian — The Myitsone dam project lies unfinished in Kachin state, northern Burma, caught in a tug of war between the Burmese government and a powerful Chinese corporation. 12,000 Kachin villagers remain in exile as a political and military drama plays out over the fate of the dam.

Preserving Indian Heritage in Myanmar | Diplomat — Yangon was once a center for India’s independence struggle. Can the heritage be preserved?


Filipino families destitute after typhoon Haiyan find shelter in jail | Guardian — When the typhoon came, it made short work of the prison. It ripped the roof off and dismantled some of the cells. You might have expected the prisoners to have made off into the night. But while several did take advantage of their newfound freedom, they did so only to find their destitute families and bring them back to the unusual refuge of the half-intact prison building.

Fashion designers in Philippines support communities with sustainable textiles | Guardian — While a new wave of Philippine designers use indigenous materials and social enterprise to support communities, textile innovation could also address consequences of Typhoon Haiyan


Singapore tops world’s most expensive cities list for 2014 | Guardian — Singapore kicks Tokyo from most expensive city in the world to sixth – and there are lots of other surprises

The state of the city | SEA Globe — Many of Singapore’s poorest citizens must suffer in silence due to the absence of an official poverty line and meagre government support

Sex and the Lion City | SEA Globe –Singapore, where prostitution is legal but paying for sex with a girl aged under 18 is against the law, has a thriving vice industry – despite its manicured image. According to the US’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2013, the island is a destination for women and girls coerced into the sex trade from countries including China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.


Thailand’s protests: Dismantling the barricades | Economist — AT LAST it looks as though the street protests designed to oust Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, are running out of steam. After more than four months of relentless sit-ins and government shutdowns, the leader of the insurrection, Suthep Thaugsuban, has dismantled most of his various protest sites around the capital, retreating to a single encampment in central Bangkok.

Shutting down the shutdown | Economist — Fifty-three days after anti-government protesters vowed to “shut down” the world’s most-visited city in a bid to “restart” Thailand, they have been forced to quit their programme. Or perhaps rather to “minimise” its window: from the city streets to a public park in Bangkok.


Vietnamese blogger jailed for two years for ‘abusing democratic freedoms’ | Guardian — A Vietnamese blogger, Truong Duy Nhat, has been sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state and on the legitimate rights and interests or organisations and citizens.”

Point of no return | SEA Globe — Young Vietnamese are flocking abroad to study, often leaving their homeland for good. With their acquired skills and knowledge the economy could reach new heights

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The Unlikely Story of Pastor Yang Congguang

Pastor Yang Congguang and his wife

Pastor Yang Congguang and his wife

It’s lunchtime in Mae Salong, a small village perched on the spine of mountains that trail south from China’s Yunnan province to divide Thailand and Myanmar. The restaurant sign is in Thai, but the menu is written in traditional Chinese, offering peanut-flecked pad-thai noodles and steamed chicken jiaozi dumplings finished with tea grown in the surrounding hills.

Throughout the meal, English, Thai, Mandarin, and a local Akha dialect mingle along with the food, a cultural confluence that reflects the town’s unique history. Officially now called Santakhiri by the Thai government, Mae Salong is perhaps best known for its role as a heroin trading outpost and as a base for remnants of Chinese Kuomintang forces who refused to surrender to the Communists. Even today, the village has a distinctly Chinese flavor, where a dialect similar to Yunnan’s is spoken at stores, restaurants serve Yunnan-style food, and Mandarin language instruction is an option for public education.

The village of Mae Salong

The village of Mae Salong

The local economy now relies on tea production and cultural tourism surrounding the local Akha highland hill tribes rather than heroin, however the Kuomintang heritage of many villagers remains an enduring legacy. Pastor Yang Congguang of the local Baptist Church is one such resident of Mae Salong.

Pastor Yang was born in 1956 in Luxi County in Yunnan Province, during what he calls “an era of war” that followed him around through childhood and much of his adult life. By the time he was two years old, Yang had already been registered by the government to join the army upon adulthood, along with his two older sisters. Yang’s parents decided to flee to Burma, hoping to escape increasingly dismal prospects in China.

Yang’s father, a farm veterinarian, went first in 1957 to a village in Kokang in northern Burma settled by other ethnic Chinese. The head of the village there owned some 3000 horses, and his father’s skills were highly sought after. However, the Chinese population of the village were not the majority Han ethnic group like Yang’s family, but the Lisu people, one of the many ethnic groups of upland Southeast Asia.

Yang’s father found the Lisu not at all as he had imagined “backwards” minority people to be. He was impressed how many of the Lisu, especially the Christian population, did not smoke, drink or gamble, and furthermore were educated enough to read. Yang’s father told the chief that he wanted to bring his family to the safety of Kokang, and that if the villagers prayed for the family’s safe passage, they would all convert to Christianity.

Yang supervising construction of his new church.

Yang supervising construction of his new church.

By this time it was 1958, and leaving China had become increasingly difficult and dangerous. Yang’s extended family, numbering sixteen people in total, required three trips and traveling only at night through the forests. During the final trip, it rained hard all night just before they were to cross the border and the group lost the right path. When the sun came up, his father realized they were very close to the only road across the border, manned by a PLA checkpoint. Despite the danger of trying to cross during the day, Yang’s father decided to take the risk. At the border, chance had it that checkpoint patrol house was empty, although the stationed soldiers had built a small fire. Yang’s uncle stopped briefly to warm his hands, telling the group to go on ahead. Today, Yang estimates that his family must have had only a few minutes’ window of time to sneak across the border.  His uncle did not rejoin the group and was never seen nor heard from again.

Once in Burma, the Yang family reached Kokang safely and converted to Christianity as promised. The Kokang authorities did not permit education in Chinese, so Yang learned through studying the Bible. In Kokang the family had a few years of peace, until 1966 when the Burmese Communist party swept into the northern border region, beginning a period of civil unrest as well as tumult in Yang’s life. The family moved further south, to an area in Burma populated by the Shan (Dai) ethnic minority, where they stayed for three years until once again the Burmese communists arrived. The Yang family to Lashio in the eastern Shan state, and then again even further south to an area with very few ethnic Chinese.

Yang’s adolescence occupies a murky place both in memory and time, a period of transience and uncertainty that also coincided with the rise of the heroin trade in Southeast Asia. Former Kuomintang soldiers clashed with Burmese communists, with unrest and violence spilling across the borders of Thailand, Burma, and Yunnan. During these years, Mae Salong sprung up as both a drug trading outpost and a refuge for Kuomintang soldiers recruited by the Thai government to counter Communist threats.

A homegrown depiction of the KMT's path of flight from China to Mae Salong

A homegrown depiction of the KMT’s path of flight from China to Mae Salong

“It was like trying to escape from a jaguar only to run into a tiger,” says Yang. “My parents didn’t want me or my siblings to grow up to be soldiers, so every time the armies came we left. But everywhere we went, they kept coming.” In 1973 he reluctantly joined the Kuomintang for a little over a year and fought against the Burmese. During this time, his faith kept pushing him to seek a different path. “I kept thinking some verses were especially speaking to me – that I should rather be a guard outside the house of God than live in the opulent tent of an evil person. The army for me meant living in an evil person’s tent,” he remembers on his decision to desert.

Yang escaped across the Salween river to Thailand at great personal cost. His commander came to his family’s house, and threatened Yang’s father to make him return. Yang’s father refused, and was taken away by the army along with nearly everything from their house, which was then burned. Yang’s brother escaped to the forests, but Yang found out later that the army shot his father by the side of the road.

For six years Yang drifted, stateless and without identity like many Yunnanese refugees in Thailand, feeling both immense guilt at the death of his father and a responsibility to lift his family back on their feet. He worked odd jobs to try and make money, “but life had no color, and I thought God had perhaps forgotten me.” But in 1981 he received an opportunity to enroll in Bible college in Bangkok, and a new beginning. His first job afterward was working at a church in Mae Salong, the village known for its KMT heritage.

Today Yang is the pastor at the Mae Salong Baptist Church and with a wide smile proudly shows off a gleaming new building opened just this past year.  Over the past three decades, Pastor Yang has developed his own parish into a congregation made up of two hundred families who travel over the hills and footpaths to his church for worship, schooling, and community programming.  In the early 1990s, Pastor Yang and his wife built a single room church with the little donations they could gather from local villagers and began offering free Chinese language education to Yunnanese, Akha, and Lisu families who could not afford tuition at the state sponsored school.


Mae Salong's new Baptist Church

Mae Salong’s new Baptist Church

The newly built church has eight large classrooms for free Chinese language and free primary education classes taught by a cohort of regional volunteer teachers from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and mainland China. Many of the students are Akha, as most of the Chinese residents of Mae Salong can now afford to attend school further down the mountain, reflecting a growing assimilation with Thai culture as more and more move away from the village to bigger cities. Yet Yang remains confident that his church and school can serve as a bridge between the past and present, as well as provide opportunities to educate the Akha residents of Mae Salong. Yang says the students are not required to be Christians to attend the school.  The Baptist Church also has a healthy relationship with the small Yunnanese Muslim population of Mae Salong, sharing access to public water resources and cooperating to bring a new pipe to the village. Yang is content, and although his life is modest he finds fulfillment serving his community.

Pastor Yang and Mae Salong may share a history that began in an era of war, but more importantly they both have a future supporting a community where multiple cultures can mix, and peacefully coexist.  “Life is good,” he smiles while looking over the town, across the green ridges of tea terraces and mist-covered mountains towards the border of Myanmar some fifteen kilometers away.

(from left) Pastor Yang with ExSE contributor Zhou Dequn and Ashi, the first of his family to attend college after matriculating through Yang's school

(from left) Pastor Yang with ExSE contributor Zhou Dequn and Ashi, the first of his family to attend college after matriculating through Yang’s school

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