Category Archives: NEWS DIGEST

Regional Roundup for Week of 3.7.16

EXSE FOCUS

 China’s National People’s Congress: Key PointsNYT A look at the nation’s priorities for this year, and for the rest of the decade, shows an emphasis on economic pain and environmental troubles.

Related: Advisory Body’s Delegates Offer Glimpse Into China’s WorriesNYT // This includes the public dancing groups favored by many older Chinese women.

Related: Voices from the Great Hall: what China’s movers and shakers are saying as the country’s biggest political festival plays out in BeijingSCMP

Related: Black suits, grey skies: China’s national legislators are back in Beijing … and so is the smogSCMP

U.N. Toughens Sanctions on North Korea in Response to Its Nuclear ProgramNYT The Council adopted a draft resolution calling for stricter measures to curb the North’s nuclear program, but much depends on whether China will enforce it. // China is the only country that has real ability to impact N. Korea, providing immense resources to the struggling country.  In order for the new sanctions to be effective, China needs to abandon its equidistance policy between N. and S. Korea, along with other attempts to maintain stability.  Xi Jinping has proven less tolerant of N. Korea’s actions, having denounced destabilization of the region for “selfish gains” and physically distanced himself since assuming leadership.

Related: North Korea fires missile volley into sea after UN ratchets up sanctionsThe Guardian

Related: South Korea’s Nuclear TemptationThe Diplomat

Related: China Warns THAAD Deployment Could Destroy South Korea Ties ‘in an Instant’The Diplomat

Related: Philippines impounds North Korean ship, deporting crew under new UN sanctionsSCMP

As Economy Slows, Experts Call on China to Drop Growth TargetNYT A growing number of analysts say China’s practice of setting an annual target for growth actually hurts the economy and encourages officials to falsify data.

Related: China cuts 2016 growth target amid continued economy concernsThe Guardian

Related: China’s Excess Production Has Intensified Slowdown, Business Group SaysNYT

Related: HSBC Posts 4th-Quarter Loss and Comes Under S.E.C. ScrutinyNYT

In New Economic Plan, China Bets That Hard Choices Can Be AvoidedNYT China’s leaders are wagering that they can spur growth while deferring the pain of restructuring the economy.

Related: Xi Jinping’s Remedy for China’s Economic Gloom Has Echoes of ReaganomicsNYT

Related: How Not to Analyze the State of Chinese Outward FDIThe Diplomat

Related: China’s Currency Turbulence: Evidence China Lacks A Committed Economic Direction?The Diplomat

 Thai communities vow to appeal against Laos damThe Third Pole Even after losing a battle in the Thailand Administrative Court, a group of Thai villagers are not giving up. They have filed appeal after losing the first community-led lawsuit in the region to challenge a large dam on the Mekong river.

 Cambodians Raise Questions About Angkor Beer’s Involvement in Don Sahong DamRadio Free Asia An attempt by about 100 Cambodian protesters to force the Angkor Beer company to divest its stake in the Don Sahong hydropower plant in Laos fell flat on Friday when company representatives said the brewer has no involvement in the project.//The first news I’ve heard of this. Would be a shame too, if you had to give up Angkor Beer for Cambodia Breweries on ethical reasons. For reasons of taste, among others, I hope that they’re not involved in Don Sahong. 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

U.S. Proposes Reviving Naval Coalition to Balance China’s ExpansionNYT The proposal is the latest overture to India to become part of an informal network of naval powers seeking to balance China’s maritime growth. //China is becoming a greater maritime power and there are many in US and foreign policy circles that advocate for containing China. 

Related: Possible Radar Suggests Beijing Wants ‘Effective Control’ in South China SeaNYT

Related: Can Singapore Smooth China-ASEAN Relations?The Diplomat

Related: ASEAN ‘Seriously Concerned’ By China’s South China Sea BehaviorThe Diplomat

Related: Chinese Warships Visit Thailand, Cambodia on Goodwill TourThe Diplomat

Related: China, Vietnam share ‘common destiny’, says Xi Jinping in bid to calm waters amid heightened tensions over rival claims in South China SeaSCMP

US tech firms bypassing Pentagon to protect deals with China, strategist saysThe Guardian The US government has an increasingly tense relationship with Silicon Valley… yet needs its help to battle the ‘new cold war’ with China.//Resolving ‘issues of national security’ with massive profit incentives is going to be a common story in the coming years. Apple/FBI is just an opening blow. 

Related: Apple, the FBI, and the US Soft Power EdgeThe Diplomat

Related: Chinese Deals Feel the Chill From WashingtonNYT

 Why the U.S. Should Embrace the AIIBThe Diplomat There are compelling reasons for the U.S. to join China’s new development bank.//The least of which is providing assistance and counsel on maintaining responsible lending practices. Some would argue that countries like UK do a similar job. 

 Beijing: Taiwan’s president elect must recognise island is part of ‘One China’The Guardian Taiwan’s president-elect Tsai Ing-wen must respect the island’s own constitution that states Taiwan and the mainland are both part of one China, China’s foreign minister has said during a visit to Washington.

Taiwan’s TPP OdysseyThe Diplomat Domestic issues (like pork imports) pose just as much of a challenge to Taiwan’s TPP dreams as Beijing does.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Statistics From China Say Coal Consumption Continues to DropNYT The data lends further support to the view that the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide may be reaching a peak in coal consumption. // While the decrease of coal consumption is much needed news for the environment, the alternatives should be closely investigated, as well.  Hydropower is one of China’s go-to sources, and its environmental and human rights record isn’t as clean as it appears.

Related: Beijing to Raise Threshold on Red Alerts for Smog NYT

Related: China to cut 1.8m jobs in coal and steel sectorsThe Guardian // Maybe the United States should be looking towards the Chinese strategy for reducing coal.

Related: China’s pollution problem gets hairy with ‘nose-tache’ to filter smogThe Guardian // To shed a little humor on the situation…

Related: China to build ventilation ‘corridors’ in Beijing to help tackle air pollutionThe Guardian

Related: China will face pressure to do more if climate goals ‘too easy’: US official SCMP // The United States has little room to talk as it has been having trouble passing measures that would allow it to begin tackling its own recent climate pledge.

 China’s 13th Five-Year Plan emphasises ‘environmental shortcomings’ – The Third Pole ‘Environmental shortfall’ is the latest rubric to emerge from central government, by which it will deliver an economic manifesto that places environmental action at the centre.

Related: China Declares ‘People’s War’ on Pollution As Smog Envelops BeijingRadio Free Asia

A nomadic woman’s story of environmental protection on the Tibetan PlateauMekong Commons The Chinese government has sought strategies for grassland protection since 2000 until now, including various environmental conservation projects. However, there has been less attention on local people’s knowledge and their way of life and unique traditional livelihood.

 Cambodia: Smugglers Warned NYT Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that he had authorized the military to fire rockets from helicopters at smugglers of illegally cut timber.

The Tonle Sap: Cambodia’s Beating HeartThe Diplomat The Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest lake and Cambodia’s main source of protein, but all is not well on the Great Lake.//I’ve personally heard many stories of decreasing fish stocks and receding shorelines when interviewing locals on the northern shore. The lake, whose fish provides more than 60% of Cambodia’s protein, is indeed in trouble and dams upriver on the Mekong don’t help.  

No Songkran water wars, govt urgesThe Nation PM wants cooperation from public amid fears about severe drought and low water levels in country’s dams.

 Illegal wildlife trade thriving in Asia thanks to explosion of activity on social media platformsSCMP Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram are increasingly being used in Asia as platforms for the illegal trade in a range of threatened species such as orangutan and sun bears…

 How will Indonesia cope with slump in demand for palm oil? SEA Globe Indonesia’s top export is palm oil. With demand for the environmentally destructive crop falling, the future of Indonesia’s key commodity, palm oil, is under scrutiny.

 CHINA

 China Military Budget to Rise Less Than 8%, Slower Than UsualNYT The People’s Liberation Army’s budget will increase by 7.6 percent this year, the smallest rise in six years.

Related: China’s Never-Ending Military ReformsThe Diplomat

Related: Confirmed: Construction Begins on China’s First Overseas Military Base in DjiboutiThe Diplomat

Related: China’s future: academic says nation ‘at turning point that will see it stall or continue to prosper’SCMP

China Moves to Bolster Lending by Easing Banks’ Reserve RatioNYT The country’s top financial policy makers are trying to reassure the rest of the world that their handling of the economy remains on track.

Related: China cuts reserve rates for fifth time in a year – The Guardian

Xi Jinping’s News Alert: Chinese Media Must Serve the Party – NYT In visits to state news organizations on Friday, the president reiterated his policy, and he wants to curb the presence of foreign media companies.//The latest development in a worrying string of crackdowns on speech and press freedoms. The question is: what kind of criticism needs to be muzzled? What plans are in the works (or economic collapses on the horizon) that Zhongnanhai fears will lead to editorial or social unrest?

Related: China Deletes Microblog of Critic of President Xi JinpingNYT

Related: ‘Love the party, protect the party’: How Xi Jinping is bringing China’s media to heelThe Guardian

Related: Tibetan blogger jailed for ‘endangering social stability’The Guardian

Chinese Court Upholds Life Sentence for Top Aide to Bo XilaiNYT The court rejected an appeal by the aide, Wu Wenkang, who had been given a life sentence by a lower court…

In rare address, China’s president calls for new ties between officials and private firmsSCMP Chinese President Xi Jinping made a call on Friday for “new ties ­between politics and business”, encouraging officials to reach out to the private sector while keeping corruption at bay.

Related: Xi Jinping’s Virtual Political Reality – The Diplomat

Related: Xi Jinping: A Cult of Personality? – ChinaFile

 

China Labels Protesters ‘Radical Separatists,’ and They AgreeNYT Violence in the bustling Mong Kok district was the most startling sign yet of the rise of a confrontational local movement and the unlikely goal of Hong Kong independence.

Related: Politically charged Chinese art show opens in Hong KongThe Guardian

China Moves to Halt ‘Weird’ ArchitectureNYT A directive issued by the State Council and the Communist Party’s Central Committee says buildings should be “pleasing to the eye.’’ // What does a ‘weird’ architecture ban, intensified media constriction, strengthening religious regulation, cut-throat corruption crackdowns, resumed political and business alliances, and Xi’s cult of personality have in common?  The current president of China may more up his sleeve than we originally thought.  Drawing on his revolution experiences under Chairman Mao, he seems to be reverting China’s political system back to the age of intense unification under the Party, just this time with enough cash in the bank and international investment to prevent economic catastrophe or ruin.

China’s Two-Child Policy: What Next?The Diplomat There is no guarantee that the new policy will arrest China’s demographic trends.

China to build second railway line into TibetNYT China announces five-year development plan, including plan to link Lhasa with Chengdu in China’s south-west.

China’s ISIS WoesThe Diplomat With its rising overseas presence, can China sustain its policy of non-interference?

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Laos kicks off ASEAN chair – security, integration on top of agendaInvestvine Laos this week kicked off its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, with an agenda-setting meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in the capital Vientiane.

 Reporting on Life, Death and Corruption in Southeast AsiaNYT Thomas Fuller, a New York Times correspondent who is leaving the region after a decade, says one theme there keeps recurring: impunity.//A poignant retrospective from one of the top journalists and writers in the region. His reporting will be missed. 

 Vietnam’s 12th Party CongressThe Diplomat A tale of two goals: maintaining a monopoly of power and sustaining economic growth.

 With Presidential Vote Looming, Myanmar Stares at Uncharted WatersThe Diplomat While many issues remain unresolved between the military and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, further democratization is possible in the Southeast Asian country.//The next president of Myanmar will be picked this week. 

Related: Is Myanmar’s Military Behind Shadowy Cyber Attacks?The Diplomat

Related: Like South Africa After Mandela, Myanmar Needs Many Real Leaders–Not Just OneThe Diplomat

 Dozens of Burmese troops killed in Arakan, rebels claimDVB Ethnic rebel group the Arakan Army said it killed over 30 government troops in a clash in Burma’s west on Thursday evening. The Burmese army has not reported the fight or confirmed any loss of life.

Related: Burmese army extends role in Shan State conflictDVB

Related: Shan Coalition Meeting Cut Short Under Military PressureThe Irrawaddy Magazine

 The Truth About Myanmar’s Rohingya IssueThe Diplomat It is much more complex than is often portrayed by some.

Related: UN says Myanmar’s Rohingya have been left behind by election gainsSCMP

Ousted Thai PM says junta’s draft constitution is a charade – The Guardian Thailand’s former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has called a draft constitution presented by junta leaders a charade that will keep generals in power indefinitely.//Despite Thaksin having ulterior motives in this statement, it’s likely an accurate analysis of the constitution. 

Related: Why Thailand’s Next Election May Not MatterThe Diplomat

Related: Thai junta feeling the pressure? Rights group claims increased persecution of academics reveals deepening insecuritySCMP

 Obama revives anti-slavery law to target Thailand’s seafood exportsThe Guardian Seafood produced by slaves in Thailand will be among goods banned from sale in the US as Barack Obama revives laws targeting industries that use forced and child labour.//It’s about time – if your tuna comes from Thailand, it’s quite likely that it was produced using slave labor. 

Cambodia Wants China Warships: Navy CommanderThe Diplomat The Southeast Asian state is eyeing the purchase of two Chinese vessels.

Cambodia leaders step up rivalry over social media as election campaigning begins earlySCMP Cambodia’s long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen and exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy have gotten an early start to campaigning for elections in 2018, vying for “likes” on Facebook as the political role of social media grows among the country’s youthful electorate.

Malaysia Broadens Media Crackdown As Political Scandal WorsensThe Diplomat Internet freedom suffers as Najib’s embattled government tries to fight off the deepening 1MDB scandal.

Related: Is Malaysia Sliding Toward Dictatorship?The Diplomat

This week’s news digest was compiled and analyzed by Julia Zielinski, with added analysis by William Feinberg. 

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Regional Roundup for Week of 2.21.16

EXSE FOCUS

Missiles Deployed on Disputed South China Sea Island, Officials Say-NYT

The Pentagon has evidence that China has deployed surface-to-air missiles on one of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, a U.S. official said. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday, also saying that antiaircraft missiles were present on the island. Tensions over the sea have been inflamed by China’s extensive effort to build artificial islands there, intending to bolster its claim to sovereignty over most of the sea and the many reefs and islets in it.

Related: Chinese Missiles in South China Sea Underscore a Growing Conflict Risk-NYT

Related: Beijing’s missile move in South China Sea could make US think twice about getting too close-The Guardian

Related: Beijing accuses US of ‘ulterior motives in hyping up’ South China Sea missile move-The Guardian

Will ASEAN Remain Central to US Asia Policy?-The Diplomat

ASEAN centrality, or stuck in the middle? When U.S. President Barack Obama hosts leaders from the ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Monday and Tuesday, he will symbolically reinforce the concept of ASEAN centrality—traditionally the idea that the group’s diverse states should economically integrate and gradually develop a collective voice in the world. But other kinds of centrality will also be apparent as observers and officials confront regional security issues in which two of ASEAN’s strongest suitors, the United States and China, are on opposing sides./Graham Webster is on the money here when he says that the US-ASEAN Summit, especially in the context of greater US involvement in the region, is locking in the next administration to at least continue the US commitment to SE Asia. Any reversal of ‘the Pivot’ would cause great disillusionment among ASEAN members about the intentions and limits of American power in the Pacific. The US is already fighting an uphill battle of maintaining influence in SE Asia opposite to China. To abandon the project when US relations with countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are at historic highs might to irreparable damage to the American image in the region.

Related: Obama Unveils New ASEAN Economic Initiative at Sunnylands Summit-The Diplomat

Top Leadership at Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Continues to Shape Up-The Diplomat

The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank recently added five vice presidents. Since its doors officially opened for business in mid-January with the first meeting of its board of governors, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has been quick to get down to business. The development bank, the newest on the scene in Asia and a friendly competitor to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank, is looking to get its first loans off the ground to support infrastructure development across Asia.//Look for the first AIIB loans to be announced soon. Will they be for railways in Thailand (see below) or for an infrastructure project in Laos or Myanmar? Our bet’s on Laos. 

Thailand bets on China-led AIIB to finance massive infrastructure needs-East by Southeast

Will China’s AIIB-backed ‘railway diplomacy’ be enough to jumpstart Thailand’s lagging economy? On January 26, Thailand’s cabinet approved a budget of 52.82 billion baht (US$1.47 billion) to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Thailand will hold around a 1.43 percent share of the bank with payments beginning in five installments of 2.112 billion baht (US$58.90 million) due by the end of 2019. “As the country [has] aggressive plans to improve its much needed infrastructures, the AIIB would offer great opportunities in terms of more loan availability” explains Nithi Kaveevivitchai, a research economist at the Bank of Ayudhya.

Beware ASEAN’s Coming Economic Gloom-The Diplomat

Regional economic prospects are dimming in Southeast Asia, with unemployment expected to rise and increasing concerns over job security preoccupying many – with Malaysians in particular being the hardest hit – a survey by the Financial Times has found.

China’s Silk Road revival steams ahead as cargo train arrives in Iran-The Guardian

Goods travel 6,462 miles in 14 days as part of efforts to resurrect ancient trade route connecting east with Europe. A long-distance cargo train has travelled from China to Iran as part of an attempted revival of the ancient Silk Road, a trans-Asian trade route connecting the east to Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. The 32-container train, which arrived in Tehran on Monday, took 14 days to complete the 6,462 mile (10,399km) journey from China’s eastern Zhejiang province through Kazakhstanand Turkmenistan – one month less than the sea route from Shanghai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.// Much is riding on OBOR. But if transport times can be cut by that much for goods, the investment may be worth it. How much will that cost savings be passed on to the consumer?

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Xinjiang Region of China Bans Glacier Tourism, Citing Risk to Ecosystem-NYT

Glaciologists in China and elsewhere have said for years that climate change is the main cause of glacier erosion, which threatens the water sources of much of humanity. Officials in the far western region say that tourism is harming the fragile glaciers and that they should be observed from a distance. The Xinjiang government announced this month that it was banning tourism on glaciers across the region, which is one-sixth of the Chinese land mass.//A prudent decision by the regional government. The challenge of mitigating environmental damage caused by tourism is one that is faced across the region. Is this a decision that will be mirrored in other sites around China?

Bhutan Should Come Clean on Hydropower Megaplan-The Diplomat

Environmentalists are concerned about the nation’s secretive hydropower plans. The tiny nation of Bhutan might enjoy world renown for its environmental record, but it is overlooking concerns being raised by environmentalists over the country’s plans to construct large hydropower plants to generate 10,000 megawatts of surplus electricity for export to India. Climate Action Tracker, an independent group, rated Bhutan’s pledged contribution to the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris as “sufficient,” a rating accorded to just five countries. Soon thereafter, the carbon comparator tool of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit praised Bhutan for being an unparalleled carbon sink, absorbing three times more carbon dioxide emissions than it produces.

The Vanishing Lakes of Phnom Penh-The Diplomat

Cambodia’s capital was once home to 2 flourishing lakeside communities. Commercial land development changed everything. Luc Forsyth and Gareth Bright have set out on a journey to follow the Mekong river from sea to source. The Diplomat will be sharing some of the stories they’ve found along the way. For more about the project, check out the whole series here.//The destruction of urban wetlands is a familiar tale throughout SE Asia. See the sordid story of Vientiane’s That Luang Marsh as another example. In Phnom Penh, while Boon Kok Lake is being developed for condos and shopping, the building plans aren’t what doomed it. A boom in the urban population caused more sewage to be filtered through the lake to the point where the stench was unbearable. The utility of the lake as a place to fish for the city’s poor, however, is now gone. 

Why Reducing Ivory Demand in China Will Not Curb Poaching in Africa-The China File

“When the buying stops, the killing can too,” reads the popular slogan that WildAid uses in its anti-ivory campaign to raise awareness in China. WildAid, along with most Western environmentalists, contend that curbing demand in China for ivory is the key factor to help save the African elephant from extinction. Damien Mander disagrees. Mander is the founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation and a leader in a new movement that is militarizing the fight against illegal wildlife poaching in southern Africa.

CHINA

U.N. Rights Official Urges China to Release Detained Lawyers-NYT

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, expressed concern over a “very worrying pattern” of arrests and disappearances. The Chinese authorities have arrested more than 250 lawyers, legal assistants and activists in a crackdown that began in July.

China Telescope to Displace 9,000 Villagers in Hunt for Extraterrestrials-NYT

Thousands of villagers in Guizhou Province will relocate to make room for a $184 million telescope to detect signs of alien life and gather other data about space. The telescope will be 500 meters, or 1,640 feet, in diameter, making it by far the largest instrument of its kind in the world. The government hopes to complete it by September. Officials plan to give each person the equivalent of $1,800 for housing compensation, the report said. Guizhou is one of China’s poorest provinces.//If aliens land in China, these villagers should be first in line to meet them as part of the compensation plan. That being said, under-compensation is a huge problem in SW China, where the economic value of the environment villagers live in is often ignored. See our series on relocation in Sichuan’s Yalong River valley for more. 

Related: China’s giant telescope represents its big ambitions for science-The Guardian

Lung Cancer Deaths Soar in China’s Steel Country, Report Says-NYT

Researchers say the cause of the fourfold rise since the 1970s in Hebei Province, a steel-making center, is probably air pollution. Hebei’s air pollution is among the worst, if not the worst, in China. China is the world’s top steel producer, accounting for about half the world’s output, and Hebei is far and away China’s biggest steel maker, according to official figures. Satellite photos of northern China regularly show a miasma of smog centered on the province, home in 2013, to the six most polluted cities in the country, according to Greenpeace.

Steel is suffering like coal once did: but Cameron will not oppose China– The Guardian

America has imposed massive tariffs, but Britain’s courtship of Beijing may leave British steelmakers with no protection. A historic industry is plunged into peril as the life is slowly squeezed from it by slowing demand and a flood of cheap imports as the government merely stands by. Sound familiar? It is the grim reality facing British steelmaking. But to anyone with a sense of recent industrial history it is unlikely to come as a surprise; this was also how Britain’s once mighty coal industry was snuffed out during the late 1980s.

200 Kunming officials punished for corruption-Go Kunming

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s wide-ranging campaign against corruption shows no signs of slowing down, and the Kunming municipal government is nowhere near immune. A report released over the weekend states some 200 low-level Spring City members of the Communist Party faced at least some form of “disciplinary action” in 2015. The majority of cases involved fraud or embezzlement, and many came about due to citizen complaints. The Municipal Commission for Discipline (MCD) received nearly 6,000 tips via often anonymous emails, letters and phone calls last year concerning graft, an increase of 48 percent over 2014. The government report did not list any offender names or their individual punishments.//”Hunting tigers and swatting flies” as saying goes. Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has utterly devastated Yunnan’s officialdom.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

As Demographics in Cambodia Shift, Youth Seek Political Change-NYT

Two-thirds of the population is under 30, and that generation has outgrown the authoritarian style and patronage system of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The opposition nearly won the election, but protests over the vote led to a government crackdown. By November, the political battle had come down to a single standoff: the government threatened to arrest the opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, if he set foot in Cambodia again. Mr. Sam Rainsy, who was traveling abroad, vowed to return. For many Cambodians, the 2013 election was the biggest opportunity yet to break out of that rut. Youth like Ms. Thy Sovantha were a central part of that hope, as a demographic shift gave them a larger say than ever before.//The upcoming election could be Hun Sen’s last. But, he is one of, if not the most savvy politicians in the region and while it is tempting to count him out, Hun Sen always seems to have another trick up his sleeve. 

Bangkok bombing suspect was tortured into confessing, says lawyer– The Guardian

A Chinese ethnic Uighur man arrested in Thailand over a bombing that killed 20 people in Bangkok last year has denied charges of murder or involvement in the attack, retracting an earlier confession that his lawyer said was a result of torture. Adem Karadag, also known as Bilal Mohammed, is due to appear at a military court on Tuesday along with a second suspect, Yusufu Mieraili, to formally hear the charges. Police said both men had confessed to having a role in the 17 August explosion.//It’s unlikely that either suspect will receive a fair trial. This is a case that Beijing will want settled quickly and quietly, and with billions of baht on the table in loans, the junta in Bangkok will hesitate to do much that would anger their closest ally.

Salween Farmers Demand Government Accountability for Land Confiscation-The Irrawaddy Magazine

RANGOON — Participants at a land rights seminar in Mon State urged the incoming National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government to address past practices of land confiscation with a special court dedicated to the issue. Mon State’s Salween Eastern Farmers and Land Users Seminar was held in Moulmein for two days, from February 14-15, with over 90 representatives participating from five Mon State townships and one Tenasserim Division township, all selected for their locations east of the Salween River. Also present were Moulmein-based farmers’ organizations and civil society groups focused on land rights. At the seminar, it was demanded that farmers should be able to bring land rights cases to a special court when conflicts over ownership occur. Participants also called on the government to create a policy that would give land users the right to own land rather than simply being allowed to work on it.

This week’s news digest was compiled by Brooke Rose with added analysis by William Feinberg. 

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Regional Roundup for Week of 2.14.16

Happy Lunar New Year from ExSE! There seems a bit of controversy over the naming of this festival once popularly known as Chinese New Year – the issue is that the name’s lack of inclusivity. The US government is now calling it Lunar New Year in its public pronouncements and press releases. Rightfully so, perhaps, given that that holiday is celebrated in Mongolia, Korea,Vietnam, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Singapore and not called Chinese New Year in the home languages of those countries. But in Chinese, it’s also not popularly called Chinese New Year  – or at least uses of other forms translated as simply New Year or Spring Festival greatly outweigh the use of Chinese New Year in both the official media and vernacular uses. And as far as I know, even though the holiday falls on the occasion of the new moon marking the beginning of spring, not a single country out there uses the word Lunar New Year in its vernacular labeling of the holiday. Correct me  if I’m wrong. It’s all quite confusing. So Happy Spring Festival everyone!

Tomorrow Barack Obama will host leaders of Southeast Asian countries at the first historic US-ASEAN Summit. This is a significant step in the key strategic relationship emerging between the US and ASEAN. And both blocs have China to thank for it. In other words, for the US-ASEAN relationship, China’s regional missteps and economic woes are gifts that keep on giving.

EXSE FOCUS

 Obama’s Sunnylands Summit: Does ASEAN Really Matter? – The Diplomat OK, OK, I get the symbolism, but it is a measure of how devalued the language of diplomacy can be that US President Barack Obama would hold an unprecedented summit at Sunnylands in California with ten heads of state whose countries comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to talk of a “strategic partnership.”

Related: Time for a New US-ASEAN Human Rights Dialogue – The Diplomat

            Related: U.S. Drawing Southeast Asia Closer With California Summit – NYT

 US President Barack Obama likely to promote virtues of TPP – and independence from China – during summit with Southeast Asian leaders – The South China Morning Post A summit next week between Southeast Asian leaders and President Barack Obama is unlikely to deliver any big economic prizes, but will allow the American side to press the advantages of joining a Pacific trade pact that doesn’t include China. The meetings at Rancho Mirage in California set for Monday and Tuesday will be the first summit of its kind for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on US soil. Its special nature is intended to show the Obama administration’s commitment to countering growing Chinese influence in a region that is home to 620 million people and a US$2.6 trillion economy.

The Elephant in the US-ASEAN Room: DemocracyAsia Unbound Next week, at a summit in California, President Obama will meet the ten leaders of countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the most important regional group in Asia. The event, the first-ever US-ASEAN summit on American soil, is being touted by the White House as a sign of the importance of Southeast Asia. After all, the Obama administration has made relations with Southeast Asia a centerpiece of “the pivot,” or “rebalance to Asia,” a national security strategy that entails shifting American military, economic, and diplomatic resources to the Pacific Rim. There are indeed important reasons for holding the U.S.-ASEAN summit. Tensions are rising between several Southeast Asian nations and China, in part because of Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions in Asian seas.

Related: The Dark Heart of ASEAN – Project Syndicate

Related: Burma’s Outgoing President Cancels Visit to US-ASEAN Summit Next Week – The Irrawaddy

 The Future of US Foreign Policy: American Leadership In Asia – The Diplomat The Rebalance authors Mercy Kuo and Angie Tang regularly engage subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. rebalance to Asia. This conversation with Richard Fontaine – President of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), former Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow at CNAS from 2009-2012, previously foreign policy advisor to Senator John McCain and at the State Department, National Security Council and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and co-author of An Intensified Approach to Combating Islamic State – is the 31st in “The Rebalance Insight Series.”

 Requiem for a river: Can one of the world’s great waterways survive its development? – The Economist GUO, the driver, pulls his car to a merciful halt high above a crevasse: time for a cigarette, and after seven hours of shuddering along narrow, twisting roads, time for his passengers to check that their fillings remain in place. Lighting up, he steps out of the car and dons a cloth cap and jacket: sunny, early-summer days are still brisk 3,500 metres above sea level. Mr Guo is an impish little dumpling of a man, bald, brown-toothed and jolly. He is also an anomaly: a Shanghainese in northern Yunnan who opted to stay with his local bride rather than return to his booming hometown.//ExSE co-founder Brian Eyler gets a mention in this article which draws heavily from his 9/2015 blogpost on Cizhong and the Wunonglong dam. This article also mentions the heavy lifters working effectively on the policy side to promote sustainable solutions to the trouble of hydropower development on the Mekong.  Kudos for the Economist for choosing the Mekong as a highlight issue in the run-up to the Sunnylands meeting.

 Can China Jump-Start Its Maritime Silk Road in 2016? – The Diplomat According to the director of China’s State Oceanic Administration, China has big plans for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) in 2016. Xinhua cited SOA chief Wang Hong as saying that China will advance the MSR with an action plan this year. Wang also spoke of establishing “a China-ASEAN maritime cooperation center and a platform to boost maritime cooperation in East Asia,” according to Xinhua.

 80 Percent of Zero: China’s Phantom South China Sea Claims – The Diplomat Baudelaire said the devil’s best trick was convincing us he did not exist. China’s best trick might be convincing us its claims over the South China Sea do exist. Official rhetoric about its “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands” certainly sounds like a definitive Chinese position. And, of course, China occupies many islands in the area, its Coast Guard chases off foreign fishing vessels, and massive Chinese land reclamation projects provide new, persistent regional presence. But with the notable exception of the Paracel islands between Hainan Island and Vietnam, China has made no valid legal claim over the South China Sea.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Decision in Philippines v. China Expected in May 2016 – The Diplomat Plus, updates on U.S.-India patrols, Asian defense spending rises, and more. Weekend security links.

US decides on next ambassador to Burma – DVB The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed President Barack Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Burma on Tuesday, after the administration assured lawmakers it would not rush to ease sanctions as the country moves from decades of military rule. The Senate voted 90-0 to confirm career diplomat Scot Marciel to the post in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Currently the principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Marciel has also been ambassador to Indonesia and served in Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil and Turkey.

US urges China-Taiwan talks amid uncertainty after electionThe Jakarta Post The Obama administration says it is urging China and Taiwan to maintain dialogue amid concern that the election of an independence-leaning party on the island could heighten tensions in one of Asia’s security hotspots. A House foreign affairs panel on Asia examined the implications for Washington of the January election that throws new uncertainty over the relationship between democratic Taiwan and the communist mainland, which claims the island as its own territory, to be recovered by force if necessary.

US-India Patrols in the South China Sea? Maybe Not Just Yet – The Diplomat Early on Wednesday, Reuters published an interesting exclusive, suggesting that the United States and Indian navies are considering the idea of jointly conducting patrols in the South China Sea. It isn’t explicit if the idea under consideration is a bilateral U.S.-India freedom of navigation patrol, which would require Indian and U.S. vessels to challenge excessive maritime claims, or simply a bilateral passing exercise or other less contentious patrol. Both India and the United States support freedom of navigation, globally and in the South China Sea.
Related: US and India risk angering Beijing as they consider joint naval patrols in the South China Sea – The South China Morning Post

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

How Mekong women hone science skills – SciDevNet [MANILA] Every two weeks, Somkhith Bouridam of the National University of Laos and her assistant, Palamy Changleuxay, participate in a conference call on a project to help countries across the Lower Mekong region use satellite imagery to cope with climate change and food insecurity. The five-year project called SERVIR-Mekong is being implemented by universities in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam along with the Bangkok-based non-profit Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC).

What a New Vietnam-Russia Deal Says About the Mekong’s Future – The Diplomat It is potentially an unusual business transaction. While the prospect of a Vietnamese company taking over a Russian group in of itself is unusual, the buyout of a strategic stake in a major fish distributor is also a reflection of changing attitudes to the management of the Mekong River.

Southeast Asia facing severe drought – Southeast Asia Globe With weather experts still assessing whether this year’s El Niño is the most extreme on record, its effects are being felt across the world, not least in Southeast Asia, where prolonged drought conditions are gripping most countries. The current El Niño – a cycle of extreme weather conditions caused by warmer than average sea temperatures in the Pacific – has been of concern to governments and agencies since December 2014 when the current ocean warming began.

China’s Uphill Battle Against the Ivory Trade – The Diplomat On January 13, in his New Year policy address, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung announced a plan to ban ivory trade within the region. Zhang Li, secretary general of the China Committee for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), professor at Beijing Normal University and an expert on elephants, hopes that mainland China will keep pace and enact a national ban on ivory trading, as promised by President Xi Jinping on his inaugural visit to the U.S. in September.

Qinghai Lake Activists Confront Chinese, Tibetan Poachers – Radio Free Asia On Feb. 12, a group of activist volunteers were attacked by poachers at a place called Chik Nga Chik after they had gone to check on reports of fishing in the lake, an area resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Friday. The poachers, who wore head coverings to conceal their identity, were later identified as Tibetans, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is really sad when some Tibetans try to protect rare fish in the lake, while others try to take those fish,” the source said. Incidents of illegal fishing have increased in recent years around Qinghai Lake, also called Kokonor, with local Tibetans stepping up monitoring activities in response, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

 

CHINA

Taiwan Blocks Leader of Uyghur Organization From Attending Conference – Radio Free Asia Taiwanese authorities have prevented the executive chairman of an international Uyghur organization from participating in a human rights conference to be held in Taiwan later this month, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said Friday. Dolkun Isa, WUC’s executive chairman, will not be able to attend the Asia Pacific Religious Freedom Forum on Feb. 18-21 because of likely pressure from Chinese authorities, the Munich, Germany-based organization of exiled Uyghur groups said in a statement. “It is a true shame that a democratic country such as Taiwan should be so influenced by the will of the Chinese government,” the statement said. “China has consistently maintained that human rights defenders—and those supporting the Uyghur community in particular—should be treated like criminals.”

 China Says Its Students, Even Those Abroad, Need More ‘Patriotic Education’ – NYT BEIJING – Chinese students, already immersed in classes and textbooks that promote nationalist loyalty to the Communist Party as a bedrock value, must be made even more patriotic and devoted to the party, even when they are studying in universities abroad, according to a new directive sent to education officials. //China already does this for students at home. Take required Marxist readings at the university level, for example. How probable will it be to successfully enforce this for Chinese students overseas? Furthermore, how will it affect relations with those host countries?

Satellite Images: China Manufactures Land at New Sites in the Paracel Islands – The Diplomat Satellite images show dredging and land filling by China at two new sites in the South China Sea, both in the Amphitrite group of the Paracel Islands, approximately 15 kilometers north-northwest of China’s military base at Woody (Yongxing) Island. Also newly visible is a helicopter base under construction at Duncan Island, another site in the Paracels, suggesting that Beijing may develop a network of bases in the South China Sea to support anti-submarine warfare helicopters, such as its recently deployed ASW Z-18F.

China’s Nuclear Industry Goes Global – The Diplomat A European nuclear plant built and operated by China? Unimaginable, one might say, as China still has to prove to be a reliable partner in operating critical infrastructure, meeting strict safety requirements, and managing the complex technology. Yet, nuclear reactors are about to be built with Chinese participation in the United Kingdom. And that is just the beginning. Chinese power corporations are initiating new projects all over the globe and have the potential to become the next big civil nuclear technology suppliers for several countries (see the map below). As this trend is assuming shape, the next decade will be critical to ensure that Chinese technology is safe and that China adheres to non-proliferation agreements.

Armed Chinese Threaten Lao Banana Workers – Radio Free Asia Armed Chinese guards are forcing Lao workers in the country’s northern Oudomxay province to labor in banana plantations contaminated with dangerous chemicals, local sources tell RFA’s Lao Service. A chief of the Nongbouadeang village in the province’s Houn district told RFA that 50 Lao workers in a Chinese-owned banana plantation in the neighboring village of Nammieng were working under Chinese overseers armed with automatic rifles.

Chinese begin big rush back home on planes, trains and automobiles as new year holiday ends – The South China Morning Post Traffic surged at China’s railway stations, airports and highways on Friday as millions of workers began their journeys back to work after the week-long Lunar New Year holiday. But many were delayed with the arrival of another cold front that brought heavy fog. The China Railway Group said it handled just over 9 million passengers on Friday, 6.9 per cent more than last year as most people travelling home would return to work on Sunday.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘It’s Fair to Say That President U Thein Sein Is Burma’s Reform Icon’ – The Irrawaddy The Irrawaddy speaks with Minister of Information Ye Htut about President Thein Sein’s five-year tenure and the media’s role in the country.

Indonesia to form special TPP team this monthThe Jakarta Post The decision whether to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be arrived at cautiously by first establishing a special committee to review the advantages and disadvantages of joining the US-led trade-pact agreement, an official has said. Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister’s deputy for international economic and financial corporation Rizal Affandi Lukman said the ministry was preparing a decree on the TPP committee. “Hopefully it can be signed soon. Our target is this month,” Rizal told thejakartapost.com in Jakarta on Tuesday. According to Rizal, the team will consist of two layers, namely government officials from relevant ministries, and public figures ranging from experts to chairmen of business associations. They will examine all terms in the trade agreement.

US, Thailand Launch 2016 Cobra Gold Military Exercises Amid Democracy ConcernsThe Diplomat On Tuesday, the United States and Thailand kicked off the 2016 iteration of the annual Cobra Gold military exercises – Asia’s largest multinational drill – amid lingering concerns by Washington about its ally’s democratic future. Royal Thai Army Supreme Commander, General Sommai Kaotira, and U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Glyn Davies, launched the 35th iteration of the annual exercise – which began as a bilateral drill between Washington and Bangkok – at the Royal Thai Navy Command Center in Sattahip district in Chonburi province.

Could improved tax collection strengthen democracy in Cambodia?Southeast Asia Globe With Cambodia starting to collect more tax, some argue it could increase political accountability in the Kingdom. Cambodia has long been lambasted for not doing enough to collect taxes. In 2006, for example, it collected a little over $600m. In recent years, attempts to levy taxes on ordinary people have been met with protest but the overall amount of tax collected has been rising. The Department of Taxation recently announced that it collected $1.3 billion in 2015, up 21.6% from the previous year. The Department of Customs and Excise – which collects taxes on imports and exports – has yet to release its figures for last year. In 2014, it collected $1.34 billion.

Cambodia’s poverty rate dropping rapidlyInvestvine The United Nations hailed Cambodia for its accomplishments in meeting its Millennium Development Goal targets in 2015. In a recent report, the UN calls Cambodia an “early achiever” performing “particularly well” on poverty alleviation. As the Cambodian economy grew on average 7.8 per cent annually from 2004 to 2014, achieving one of the fastest growth rates in the world during this period, some five million people were lifted out of poverty in the period. Cambodia’s poverty rate had been reduced to 14 per cent, down from 53.2 per cent in 2004. At the same time, an increasing number of Cambodians are entering the middle class. In 2016, Cambodia’s economic status will be elevated to the level of a lower-middle income country and the nation will be leaving the league of developing countries. //“Cambodia’s poverty rate had been reduced to 14 per cent, down from 53.2 per cent in 2004.” …based on what established standard for poverty?

The true cost of Laos’ banana plantationsSoutheast Asia Globe When Chinese businessmen offered to rent land from impoverished Laotian farmers the deal was too good to turn down. Thousands of hectares of ruined rice paddies and numerous life-threatening illnesses later, the true cost of banana plantations is finally being counted in northern Laos.

This news digest was compiled by Rachel Tritsch with analysis from Rachel Tritsch and Brian Eyler.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 1.31.16

EXSE FOCUS

China G.D.P. Growth at Slowest Pace Since 2009, Data ShowsNYT The economy grew at a 6.8 percent pace in the fourth quarter, official data released Tuesday showed — the slowest expansion since March 2009.

Related: Alibaba Searching for New Revenue SourcesNYT

Related: China’s National Bureau of Statistics Chief Falls Under Corruption ProbeThe Diplomat

Related: Yunnan chasing Beijing GDP targetsGoKunming

Related: China’s Fading Factories Weigh on an Already Slowing EconomyNYT // Growth of China’s manufacturing sector instigated mass migration from rural farming to city factories.  The lowering of the national GDP announced last August has the potential to force a second migration for those not competitive enough to make it through the bumpy transition.  Will this cause China’s economy to be dominated by a few or enable more intense ‘capitalistic’ measures amidst those who remain?

Asia Pivot: Does the US Need to ‘Rebalance Harder’?The Diplomat The Obama White House is realistically out of time to articulate a newly integrated vision for the Asia-Pacific region.

Related: Obama’s Asia Engagement Architecture: A Framework on Which to BuildThe Diplomat

Related: EU Eyes Strategic Partnership With ASEAN as New Mission Officially OpensThe Diplomat

Related: US Begins 2016 Asia Outreach With LaosThe Diplomat

Selection of New National Leaders in Laos Indicates Tilt to VietnamRadio Free Asia With the selection of new national leaders and the arrests of some old ones, Laos appears to be cementing its ties to Vietnam as it is attempting to blunt Beijing’s push to exert more influence…. // This leadership change brings the potential for a move away from massive dam construction on the Mekong to alternative energy sources.

Related: Laos’s leadership transition raises questions over regional alliancesEast by Southeast

Related: Forty years of Lao PDR: what’s next?New Mandala

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Why the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Is More Important Than TPPThe Diplomat TTIP will be the West’s last, best opportunity to set global rules as the emerging markets continue to gain ground.

What Does 2016 Hold for China-US Relations in Cyberspace?The Diplomat Sino-U.S. relations in cyberspace in 2016 will be defined by three key policies.

Related: China and Indonesia: Joint Cyber War SimulationsThe Diplomat

Related: China Finally Centralizes Its Space, Cyber, Information ForcesThe Diplomat

John Kerry Urges China to Curb North Korea’s Nuclear PursuitsNYT The secretary of state, in Beijing, warned that if necessary, the United States would take security steps China’s leaders have strongly opposed.

Related: Ahead of Kerry Visit, China Doubles Down on North Korea PositionThe Diplomat

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Is Open for Business: What Now?The Diplomat The China-led bank has opened its doors. Is the AIIB an institution of great consequence in the Asia-Pacific?//In short, yes. The question is what consequences will it have? This article focuses on the US and Japan. Their lack of participation in the bank was to be expected and the country whose actions will have the biggest consequences is that with the most money in the pot – China. What effect will the AIIB have on investment in Southeast Asia? Will the quality of economic aid change because it is coming from a multinational development bank?  

Related: China’s New Development Bank Needs Better Human Rights ProtectionsChinaFile

Related: Upholding the Asian OrderProject Syndicate

Vietnam Objects to Chinese Oil Rig in Disputed WatersNYT While the dispute raised tensions between the neighbors, it did not approach levels seen in 2014, when anti-China demonstrations turned into deadly riots.

Related: US warship sails near island claimed by China in South China SeaThe Guardian

Related: From South China Sea Island, Taiwan’s President Presents ‘Roadmap’ for PeaceThe Diplomat

Taiwan’s New Leader Faces a Weak Economy and China’s MightNYT Tsai Ing-wen, elected Saturday as Taiwan’s first female president, brings what some call a more calm and rational approach to the island’s turbulent politics.

Related: China Largely Shrugs at Shake-Up After Taiwan Elections NYT

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

A Conspiracy to Steal Secrets of U.S. CornNYT A Chinese national crawled in Iowa fields to get seed corn for a Beijing company.//For those who have read Paolo Bacigalupi’s ‘The Windup Girl’ this story will sound very familiar. 

China’s coal-burning in significant decline, figures showThe Guardian Official data shows coal use fell in 2015 across a wide range of measures as world’s largest polluter continues its transition to clean energy.

Related: China Has Done More About Pollution Than You Think (But It Must Do More)The Diplomat

Related: China is ‘Rational’ Leader on Climate Change, Says Retired NASA Scientist James HansenChinaFile

Kunming’s Stinky Lake, Beijing’s Saving WindsChinaFile Lake Dian in Kunming, the capital of southwest China’s Yunnan province, suffered greatly when, in the 1950s, Chairman Mao Zedong called on the Chinese people to “conquer nature” and reclaim land by filling lakes with soil.//Unfortunately the 1950’s isn’t the only time that Dianchi has suffered the policies of both the central and local governments. The current plans to build illegal housing developments on the shores of the lake is another example of man-made damage to the lake. 

Sharp drop in rubber price forces students out of college in SouthNationMultimedia MORE than a hundred students in Trang province were forced to halt their studies as a direct result… // Rubber demand and prices continue to fall, making the large-scale investments of the early 2000s a sore spot for farmers who converted all their land to the once booming industry.

Irrigation Efficiency Key to Meeting Asia’s Growing Food DemandsADB Across Asia and the Pacific, farmers every day wrestle with a huge challenge—how to meet the growing demand for food in the face of tightening land, water and environmental constraints.

Related: China’s bottled water industry poses new threat to precious resourcesThe Third Pole

Related: El Niño parches Asia Pacific, destroying crops and drying up water sourcesThanh Nien Daily

Thais turn on Mekong River pumps without consulting regional partnersSoutheast Asia Globe  Thailand has begun pumping water from the Mekong River into drought-affected areas in the northeast of the country in a move that could have severe impacts downstream.

Xayaburi Dam Opponents Appeal Against Administrative Court Ruling | The Nation – International Rivers Residents affected by the Xayaburi Dam living in eight provinces along the Mekong River appealed to the Administrative Court Monday against five Thai government agencies that backed the building of the dam.

Mekong River Commission Faces Radical ChangeThe Diplomat Donors have dropped their funding, forcing a radical restructuring.//A sad turn of events for the moribund organization. It has been hamstrung by its own regulations in the past decade that has left it on the sideline of hydropower debate. Lao meddling in the MRC may be a factor, but more than anything, the MRC failed its own member states by not finding sustainable solutions to development issues in the basin. Many experts in the region have long dismissed the MRC’s potential as a regional broker That being said, a severe loss of funding will affect its ability to produce significant research on the river and its tributaries, something that it’s still quite good at, despite everything else. 

Related: Waking the Green TigerChinaFile

Related: Shifting Sands in the Mekong RiverThe Diplomat

Cambodia Lags Behind 2020 Power TargetThe Diplomat The country is reportedly struggling to achieve its goal of nationwide electrification.//The cost of electricity in Cambodia is among the highest in the world. The country needs cheaper electricity as much as it needs nationwide electrification. 

Related: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh ordered to switch completely to biofuelThanh Nien Daily

Loggers Accused of Destroying Evidence in CambodiaRadio Free Asia Heaps of lumber were put to the torch this week in Mondulkiri province as logging outfits allegedly attempted to destroy evidence of illegal activity in fear of impending Cambodian government raids…

Related: Hun Sen Creates Committee to Tackle Illegal Timber Trade in CambodiaRadio Free Asia

CHINA

Chinese-Made Cars Arrive in U.S. Showrooms NYT There were snickers in 2007 when the Chinese said they would soon be making cars for the United States. It wasn’t soon, but the vehicles have begun to arrive.

Related: So What Would It Mean to ‘Beat China’ on Trade?NYT

China to Try Canadian on Spying ChargesNYT Kevin Garratt, who ran a cafe near China’s border with North Korea, will be tried on charges of spying and stealing state secrets nearly a year and a half after he and his wife were detained.

Miners in China Are Rescued After 36 Days UndergroundNYT The four men were among 29 miners caught when a cavernous gypsum mine in Pingyi County, Shandong Province, collapsed on Dec. 25. Thirteen are still missing.

Is China’s Silk Road Coming to Europe? Not So FastThe Diplomat China’s attempts to extend the New Silk Road westward have encountered problems.

Related: The ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ Is Not ‘China’s Marshall Plan’. Why Not?The Diplomat

Related: Xi’s Visit Cements Egypt’s Place on the ‘Belt and Road’The Diplomat

3 Rights Advocates Are Sentenced to Prison in ChinaNYT The advocates were sentenced to terms ranging from two and a half to five years after they were convicted of inciting subversion in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Related: China to Expel Peter Dahlin, Swedish Human Rights AdvocateNYT

Database Tracks ‘Tigers and Flies’ Caught in Xi Jinping’s Corruption CrackdownNYT ChinaFile has compiled an online visual database of all the corruption cases that have ensnared senior and low-ranking officials since Mr. Xi took power.//A comprehensive and incredibly interesting project. Kudos to ChinaFile. 

Related: China Vows to Keep up Anti-Corruption Efforts in 2016The Diplomat

China Considers Larger Role in Afghanistan Peace ProcessNYT One reason for China’s engagement is that a stable Afghanistan could become a critical transportation hub and market for Chinese goods.//Interesting. It is probable that as the One Belt, One Road is implemented more deeply, China’s abandonment of its non-interference policy will quicken (in practice, not in rhetoric). As the US knows well, trade routes don’t protect themselves. 

Related: China’s New Era of Diplomacy: Engaging in SyriaThe Diplomat

China Deepens Its Footprint in Iran After Lifting of SanctionsNYT The countries’ strategic pact gives China a western gateway to Middle East markets, and has saved Iran from international isolation and economic ruin.

Related: China’s Balancing Act in IranThe Diplomat

African Economies, and Hopes for New Era, Are Shaken by ChinaNYT Plunging prices are revealing how much nations, hailed in recent years as perhaps having outgrown their roots in raw materials, still depend on those commodities.

China’s Marines Conduct First Military Exercises in the Gobi DesertThe Diplomat China’s marines held live-fire drills, including a counterterrorism exercise, in Xinjiang.//The Gobi is certainly an interesting place for marines to conduct exercises. Then again, the Iraq War proved that marines can be called on to operate in deserts for years at a time. 

Related: China’s Comprehensive Counter-Terrorism LawThe Diplomat

China Is Said to Force Closing of Women’s Legal Aid CenterNYT The center opened after Beijing hosted a landmark women’s conference in 1995, and its loss represents another blow to civil society groups in China.//The situation for rights groups in China, both domestic and foreign, is getting worse by the day. 

Related: Couple’s Lawsuit Is First Test for Same-Sex Marriage in ChinaNYT

China Shutters Uyghur Websites For ‘Harming Ethnic Unity’Radio Free Asia Chinese authorities have shut down two websites aimed at the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group in recent weeks, placing their management under investigation for “harming ethnic unity”…

One ChildChinaFile Now, as China closes the book on the policy after more than three decades, it faces a population grown too old and too male, with a vastly diminished supply of young workers.

China Embraces Craft Beers, and Brewing Giants Take NoticeNYT Chinese consumers are swapping mass-produced local beers for a bevy of imports and locally brewed brands, and a merged Anheuser-Busch InBev-SABMiller aims to capitalize.//A number of ExSE friends are involved in the craft brew industry and is business has indeed been booming. When wealthy Chinese are shouting “干杯” with 45 RMB  IPAs instead of cheap 雪花啤酒, your revenue is going to jump. 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Asean set for tourism pushJakarta Post In order to build a real sense of community, Asean will for the first time launch a regional tourism campaign to promote 600 destinations to boost arrivals and income when the regional grouping turns 50 next year. // This move has the potential to greatly benefit Southeast Asia’s economies and could lead to further regional collaboration going forward.

Related: China to support Indonesia as ASEAN hubJakarta Post

Vietnam’s Communist Party Gives Old-Guard Leader a New 5-Year TermNYT The reappointment of Nguyen Phu Trong is unlikely to alter the country’s strategic balance in relations with China and the United States.

Related: Vietnam Faces Last-Minute Maneuvering for Communist Party LeadershipNYT

Kaw Thoo Lei: ‘A Peaceful Land’The Diplomat Myanmar’s Karen minority continue to fight for sovereignty over their territory.

Related: Can Suu Kyi Break Myanmar’s Ceasefire Deadlock?The Diplomat

Related: Myanmar president hails ‘triumph’ of democratic transition in final speechSCMP

Myanmar police force hundreds from factory area slums as land-grabbing grows rampant SCMP Hundreds of Myanmar families were left destitute on Tuesday after government workers used mechanical diggers to flatten swathes of Yangon slum housing as the bitter competition for land intensifies in the fast-industrialising city.//Yes, Myanmar now appears to be a democracy. But this political classification will mean nothing if the rights of its most desperate citizens are not respected. Good governance isn’t something that happens once every few years. 

Cambodia’s Hun Many Calls for Stronger US TiesThe Diplomat The son of the country’s premier urges both sides to boost relations in spite of lingering differences.

Related: John Kerry praises Cambodian revival but insists concerns over human rights and democratic process remainSCMP

Related: Southeast Asian Nations Still Fall Short on Ensuring Basic Freedoms: NGO Reports Radio Free Asia

An Art Powerhouse From North KoreaNYT The Angkor Panorama Museum is the most ambitious foreign project by the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, which employs hundreds of North Korean artists. // This is an interesting relationship in spite of the international nuclear focus.  Maybe North Korea just needs to feel a little included in the world…

Wreckage found off Thailand coast is not from missing MH370 planeThe Guardian Malaysian transport ministry says metal panel does not match Boeing 777 and cannot be part of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in 2014.

Thailand unveils draft of new constitution but authors offer little hope that it will resolve deeply ingrained divisions SCMP Thailand published a draft constitution on Friday but the official in charge of drawing it up said he feared it would not resolve long-running troubles and critics said it would produce weak civilian government under the sway of the military.//’weak civilian government under the sway of the military’ is likely what it was designed to produce. Grim days ahead for the Kingdom if this constitution is passed.

Violence Flares in LaosThe Diplomat Hmong-government violence…picked up again.

Related: Talking democracy with a Laotian dissidentSoutheast Asia Globe Magazine

7 Things to Know About the 2016 Philippine Elections The Diplomat As the Southeast Asian state prepares to go to the polls later this year, here’s a closer look at what’s at stake.

Singapore’s New Political Reforms: What You Need to KnowThe Diplomat The city-state premier has proposed key changes to the electoral system.

Democracy falters in south-east Asia as Malaysia’s PM cleared of corruption The Guardian The extraordinary decision to drop corruption investigations into Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, highlights growing concern about lack of democratic accountability in Malaysia and across south-east Asia as a whole.//How does that old adage go again…”Corruption begets corruption”

This week’s new digest was compiled by Julia Zielinski with added analysis by the Julia and William Feinberg. 

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Regional Roundup for Week of 1.18.2016

EXSE FOCUS

Dammed if they don’t: Mekong countries face crucial choice today – Thanh Nien News This region is among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Fish harvests, for instance, are already declining due partly to drought in Cambodia’s Tonlé Sap Lake, which supplies the country’s 15 million people with more than a third of their protein. The Mekong Delta and its rich agricultural lands are also under grave threat from rising sea levels, storm inundation and their vulnerability to extreme weather.

The Source of China’s Coal Dependency – NYT As far back as 2000, in an attempt to reduce coal pollution, the government unveiled a plan to replace coal-fired boilers and cooking stoves with electric heating by subsidizing the conversion to electric appliances and electricity rates. Yet 16 years on, only some 310,000 homes in central Beijing have clean heat. This is a small number considering the central district covers an area that’s less than 5 percent of Beijing’s total area and accounts for just a tenth of Beijing’s total population. //China intends to cut coal’s portion of the nation’s energy consumption by almost 2 percent in 2017 – how feasible is this, and will it affect the country’s dependency on other energy sources (e.g., hydropower)?

Southeast Asia burns up the ranks of global polluters – Thanh Nien News As Southeast Asian economies boomed last decade, so did their pollution. The region’s emissions of carbon dioxide grew more rapidly between 1990 and 2010 than any other part of the world, with the Asian Development Bank warning the associated global warming could trigger floods, water shortages and economic losses.

It’s Official: DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen Is Taiwan’s Next President – The Diplomat Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party is the opposition no more – the DPP won the presidency in Saturday’s elections in a landslide victory that resets Taiwan’s political landscape.

Related: Taiwan elects first female president – The Guardian

China’s Africa Strategy: Going Global With Infrastructure Investment – The Diplomat The Rebalance authors Mercy Kuo and Angie Tang regularly engage subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. rebalance to Asia.  This conversation with Dr. Lucy Corkin – Adviser at RMB Westport, Research Associate of the Africa-Asia Centre at School of African and Asian Studies (SOAS), University of London, and author of Uncovering African Agency: Angola’s Management of China’s Credit Lines (Ashgate 2013) – is the 27th in “The Rebalance Insight Series.”

Related: Zimbabwe: China’s ‘All-Weather’ Friend in Africa – The Diplomat

In 2016, let’s hope for better trade agreements – and the death of TPP – The Guardian The US concluded secret negotiations on what may turn out to be the worst trade agreement in decades, the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and now faces an uphill battle for ratification, as all the leading Democratic presidential candidates and many of the Republicans have weighed in against it. The problem is not so much with the agreement’s trade provisions, but with the “investment” chapter, which severely constrains environmental, health, and safety regulation, and even financial regulations with significant macroeconomic impacts.

Eight Predictions for Southeast Asia for 2016: Part 2The Diplomat What can we expect for the region in 2016?

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

The ASEAN Economic Community: The Force Awakens? – The Diplomat The agreement on the creation of an ASEAN Economic Community signed on November 22 in Kuala Lumpur by the leading nations of Southeast Asia finally entered into force with much fanfare on December 31, heralding the “awakening” of what could be defined as a new Asian power bloc. Almost echoing the European Union’s Common Market of the 1950s, ASEAN seeks to allow for the free movement of goods, services and skilled labor, a major departure from what has been considered since the earliest days of its existence as a political project for peaceful regional integration.

Related: Making ASEAN businesses happenInvestvine

The Storm Beneath the Calm: China’s Regional Relations in 2016 – ChinaFile On the surface, 2015 came to a close in a moment of relative tranquility after a turbulent year for China’s neighborhood. But the calm is misleading: the optics of regional diplomacy have become increasingly detached from the reality of the underlying tensions; this risks obscuring deepening fault lines.

Podcast: China and the West: Hope and Fear in the Age of Asia – CFR Three years into Xi Jinping’s tenure as president of China, the world is still grasping for an understanding of who he is and where he is leading the country. Dutch journalist Fokke Obbema takes us inside China in his terrific new book, China and the West: Hope and Fear in the Age of Asia, to help us consider the often competing and contradictory trends in China’s development and the challenge that the West appears to have in managing its relations with this dynamic—and often unpredictable—power.

China-led Asian infrastructure bank opens for business – The Jakarta Post China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank officially opened for business on Saturday in Beijing after a formal ceremony led by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Representatives from 57 member countries attended the opening ceremony, where China announced it would pledge $50 million to a special fund to prepare less developed countries for infrastructure projects.

Related: Xi Jinping says AIIB to boost Asia infrastructure investment – Thanh Nien News

            Related: President Xi Jinping pledges during opening ceremony for AIIB that China will devote itself to operation of new development bank – The South China Morning Post

 Philippines Pushes for Joint Naval Patrols With US in South China Sea – The Diplomat The Philippines proposed joint naval patrols with the United States in the South China Sea amidst ongoing territorial disputes between Manila and Beijing, The Philippine Star reports. During the U.S.-Philippine 2+2 ministerial consultations (See: “US, Philippines Boost Ties In Ministerial Meeting”), held in Washington D.C. on January 12, the United States committed to maintaining a military presence in the contested sea, according to the Philippine’s Department of National Defense spokesman, Peter Paul Galvez.

Thailand seeks closer Asean intel-sharingThe Nation THAILAND called yesterday for greater cooperation on exchange of intelligence among Asean countries following Thursday’s deadly terrorist attack in Jakarta. Indonesia has identified so-called Islamic State (IS) suicide bombers and gunmen as being behind the siege near a busy shopping district in the Indonesian capital that left seven dead including five attackers. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said more intelligence cooperation was urgently needed now that the IS brand of terrorism had entered the Asean region.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Reinvigorating Domestic Demand for Growth and Sustainable Development – The Diplomat Economic and financial stability in Asia is critical as we embark on the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a universal and ambitious blueprint that expands the horizons of policymaking to implement the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals, reduce the region’s collective environmental footprint and secure the resources necessary to build the future we want.

Footage of elephants in Cambodia raises hopes for Asian species in the wild – The Guardian Rare footage of an elephant herd roaming through Cambodia’s biggest forest sanctuary has signalled the success of a 14-year conservation programme and raised hopes for the endangered species’ survival. The camera trap footage, taken in the spectacular and remote Cardamom mountains, shows 12 elephants, including young, grazing and lumbering through the forest.

China’s Multipronged Green Development Target – The Diplomat China is a major player in the renewable energy market, especially in the solar power sector. It has committed to generating 150 to 200 GW of electricity from solar power and 250 GW from wind energy by 2020. Renewable energy projects will be funded in part by an increased surcharge on electricity bills of 0.019 yuan per kilowatt-hour. Clean energy producers are to be given priority over coal-fired generators in selling power to distributers and large users, in a change of policy from guaranteeing operating hours for coal fired plants.

Related: No new projects: China’s degraded Yangtze River needs protection, not construction, President Xi Jinping says – The South China Morning Post

China puts green finance high up G20 agenda – China Dialogue China as leader of the G20 this year is being tasked with delivering faster progress on green finance to steer the world towards an environmentally friendly path. China, the UN, G20 and global financial institutions will this year aim to expand a system of green bonds to pay for the US$50 trillion of investment required to meet a 2C climate goal agreed at the Paris climate summit in December. Green bonds will also be needed to fund a huge environmental clean-up following decades of rapid economic growth, particularly in large developing countries.

Roundtable: What are the benefits of China’s ban on new coal mines? – China Dialogue On the final day of 2015, China’s central government said it would suspend the approval of new mines, with the ban starting in 2016, cutting coal’s share of national energy consumption to 62.6% in 2017, down from 64.4% currently. We asked experts on China’s energy and climate polices the following question: How will this ban help China meet its CO2 and renewable energy targets, and reduce other types of pollution from the mining, transportation and use of coal?

 

CHINA

Navigating China’s New Silk Road – Project Syndicate BEIJING – Since its introduction by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the “one belt, one road” initiative – an ambitious plan to revitalize the ancient Silk Road overland and maritime trade routes linking East and West – has attracted considerable attention. And for good reason: The project, which involves more than 60 countries and quite a few international organizations, implies unprecedented opportunities – and challenges.

President Xi Jinping pledges to revamp China’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign – The South China Morning Post President Xi Jinping called yesterday for a revamp of the Communist Party’s approach to fighting corruption, while vowing to continue with the highly-publicised campaign. Addressing the annual meeting of the graft-busting agency the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, Xi said supervision inside the party had to be strengthened, and that cadres needed to look at things from a “political perspective” and be loyal to the party. “We should revamp the structure and institutions and supervision mechanism [for fighting corruption],” CCTV quoted Xi as saying as he outlined the CCDI’s agenda for 2016.

Related: Former top Chinese police official and Zhou Yongkang ally jailed on corruption chargesThe South China Morning Post

Xi’s new model army – The Economist CHINA’S biggest military shake-up in a generation began with a deliberate echo of Mao Zedong. Late in 2014 President Xi Jinping went to Gutian, a small town in the south where, 85 years before, Mao had first laid down the doctrine that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the armed force not of the government or the country but of the Communist Party. Mr Xi stressed the same law to the assembled brass: the PLA is still the party’s army; it must uphold its “revolutionary traditions” and maintain absolute loyalty to its political masters. His words were a prelude to sweeping reforms in the PLA that have unfolded in the past month, touching almost every military institution.

Beijing Builds ‘Monster’ Ship for Patrolling the South China SeaThe Diplomat China has finished construction on a second 10,000-ton China Coast Guard (CCG) cutter destined for patrols in the South China Sea, Chinese state media reports. The ship, designated CCG 3901, “has been completed recently and is ready to start protecting China’s maritime rights,” The Global Times announced. A sister ship, the CCG2901, already deployed to the East China Sea in 2015.

Young Chinese feeling on edge about environmental decline – The South China Morning Post A group of university students from southwest China showed how far they were willing to go to raise awareness on environmental protection by taking photos of themselves hanging dangerously from the edge of a building, the West China City Daily reports on Tuesday. The group of 10, all third year students studying Visual Communication Design at the Sichuan University of Science and Engineering in Zigong, took the photos in December last year.

 

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Islamic State Attack in Indonesia? A Look at the 2016 Jakarta Bombings – The Diplomat On the morning of January 14, a series of explosions and gunfire rocked the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, leaving at least seven dead and more than 20 injured. While it is still early days, the evidence so far suggests that the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is responsible. Though it is important not to exaggerate the significance of a single event, the attack highlights the growing reach of terrorists into Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim country – as well as the rising threat of militancy in Southeast Asia.

Related: Jakarta Attacks Hit Vulnerable TargetThe Diplomat

 The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Jan 16, 2016)The Irrawaddy The administration of President Thein Sein has given concessions to operate two dry ports to a regional logistics giant, the latest contract to be awarded after the election defeat of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in November. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, leaders of the National League for Democracy are concerned that projects are being rushed through before power is handed over in the coming months. The opposition party won an overwhelming majority at the polls and is set to lead the next government, which will inherit projects approved by the outgoing administration.

Shan State battles rage in tandem with peace talks – DVB As the second stage in Burma’s lurching peace process began with the Union Peace Conference in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, the absent Ta’ang National Liberation Army marked its 53rd Revolutionary Day with skirmishes against Burmese troops. Fighting in the Kutkai area of northern Shan State broke out on the afternoon of 12 January between the group’s 447/335 Regiment and the Burmese army’s 99th Light Infantry Division, according to a spokesperson for the TNLA.

Haunted by Close Call, Cambodia’s Long-Ruling PM Gears Up for Distant Election – The Irrawaddy PHNOM PENH — Cambodia won’t hold a general election for another two years. But look at Prime Minister Hun Sen, its long-ruling and mercurial strongman, and you’d think one was imminent. Hun Sen’s party narrowly won the last election in 2013 after losing seats to a resurgent opposition that shook his decades-long grip on power. Now, with a familiar mix of guile and ruthlessness, Hun Sen is stepping up attempts to boost his popularity, blunt the opposition and avert a potential disaster in 2018, say analysts.

Who Will Lead Vietnam?The Diplomat Between January 20 and 28, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party is scheduled to convene its 12th national congress. The Party congress is to Vietnam in some sense what the presidential election is to the United States: It decides who the country’s next leaders will be.

2 massive Vietnam War bombs found in southern province – Thanh Nien News Military officers in the southern province of Binh Duong on Wednesday successfully moved two general-purpose bombs weighing 226 and 360 kilograms found by locals to a safer place. One bomb, which is an M81, used commonly during the Vietnam War, was found near the bank of the Dong Nai River and the other, an M83, at a construction site.

Rachel Tristch compiled and provided commentary on this week’s news digest.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 1.10.16

East by Southeast is in full gear and ready to dive into 2016. Southeast Asia’s issues are still numerous and complicated, which will give us much to ponder and analyze in the next 12 months. If you want to check out what we’re expecting for 2016 in Southeast Asia, read our predictions here

EXSE FOCUS

What’s Old is New Again: Predictions for Southeast Asia 2016-East by Southeast 

Much can change in a year’s time. In January 2015, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew was still alive, Aung San Suu Kyi’s future as leader of Myanmar was quite uncertain and East by Southeast was not making any predictions about international affairs in Southeast Asia. But again, much can change in a year’s time. 2016 will be a critical period for geopolitics in the region, as new strategic relationships are formed and existing ones strengthened.

A Preview of China-Southeast Asia Relations in 2016-The Diplomat

China’s ties with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) remain stable and bilateral cooperation will likely deepen in the coming year. China is likely to accelerate its “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) strategy, which will inevitably require cooperation with ASEAN countries. Meanwhile, China is willing to keep the South China Sea disputes stable.//China has quite the balancing act to pull off in SE Asia – striking the right foreign relations balance in order to implement OBOR would be hard enough. Doing so while maintaining sovereignty claims in the SCS might prove to be too much to handle. 2016 may be the year that China realizes that it’s over-committed to the SCS. 

Related: China’s 2016 Strategy Towards Southeast Asia-Asia Unbound

Rethinking US Asia Policy: 3 Options Between Appeasement and War-The Diplomat

The unifying theme of U.S. Asia policy has been the maintenance of a stable, liberal regional order. Yet a number of regional trends now militate against that goal: trust among regional neighbors is low; military modernization investments are rampant; territorial nationalism is growing in salience; and China continues to press its peripheral claims in ways that risk inadvertent conflict. The current configuration of U.S. policy does nothing to arrest any of these problems, yet their continuation threatens longstanding U.S. interests in Asia. So what can be done? Today, there’s still time to pursue options that eschew either war posturing on the one hand or unreciprocated conciliation on the other.

China, Laos agree to $500 million railway loan-GoKunming

Following years of inconclusive negotiations, China and Laos have finally hammered out a financing agreement for a railway project connecting Kunming to Vientiane. Although terms of the deal have yet to be made public, representatives of both countries announced this week they are now ready to move forward on the multi-billion dollar endeavor. Negotiations undertaken throughout 2015 hinged on the loan interest rates China offered its smaller, landlocked neighbor. Railway officials in Laos objected to the original figure of three percent interest on a proposed US$500 million line of credit extended by a consortium of Chinese investment banks.

 

China needs to pave ‘One Belt One Road’ with green finance, say experts-The Third Pole

China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which aims to further the country’s influence and trade links with almost 60 countries, mainly in Asia and Europe, could be a major source of environmental damage unless projects are backed by green banking, experts have told thethirdpole.net.//…Wouldn’t it be nice. This goes back to the argument of high/low standards for Chinese investment – incorporating green finance would certainly be a big step forward but it’s unlikely because it runs contrary to the trend. China’s investments abroad are typically done no strings attached (keeping in line with China’s principle of non-intervention) and with so many developing countries involved in OBOR, it’s unlikely that a high-standard, green approach will be used. 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Chinese civilian jet airliners land at disputed South China Sea island – state media-The Guardian

China Daily newspaper says test flight by two planes proves runway on Fiery Cross reef is able to safely handle large aircraft. A pair of Chinese civilian airliners have landed at a newly created island in a disputed section of the South China Sea in a test to see whether its airstrip is up to standard, according to state media. The China Daily newspaper said the jets made the two-hour flight to Fiery Cross reef from Haikou on the southern island province of Hainan on Wednesday.//A travel agent friend of mine has been posting on WeChat about new Haikou to SCS flights that he wants to organize. 

Related: China Defends Airstrip Construction in the South China Sea-The      Diplomat

         Related: South China Sea: The Story of the Tanmen Fishermen-The Diplomat

         Related: Vietnam protests after China lands plane on disputed Spratly islands-The

            Guardian

 

Everything You Wanted to Know About the USS Lassen‘s FONOP in the South China Sea-The Diplomat

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter finally comes out with a comprehensive account of the USS Lassen’s FONOP. 56 days. That’s how long it took for a senior U.S. government official to come out on the record and clarify the precise nature of the October 27 freedom of navigation operation undertaken by the USS Lassen in the South China Sea.//Look for more FONOPs this year coming to a reef near you!

Chinese share trading halt sends cold ripples across Asian markets-The Guardian

Asian markets slide to three-month low and currencies falter after China cuts market trading and devalues the yuan. Asian markets fell to a three-month low on Thursday after Chinese shares tumbled more than 7% and triggered a market closure while Beijing accelerated a devaluation of the yuan, raising the spectre of a regional currency war. The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares, which provides a rough overview of market performance across the region, dropped 1.4% to its lowest level since September.

Shades of Southeast Asia Among Hong Kong’s Missing Book Sellers-The Diplomat

Five people who are linked to a Chinese book shop in the well-known Causeway Bay shopping precinct have gone missing amid speculation they have been taken by mainland authorities. One is a British citizen another is Swedish-Chinese. The forced disappearance – a euphemism for state-sponsored kidnappings – of critics, political opposition or just plain irritants is another. Nor are those disappearances uncommon in Southeast Asia. The disappearance of agriculturalist and reformer Sombath Somphone in Laos, labor protester Khem Sophathin Cambodia and lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in Thailand are three of the more notable examples in a region mired in human rights abuses.//As China grows closer to authoritarian Thailand and Lao PDR, disappearances in those countries will increase, especially in Thailand. However, the case of Sombath teaches us that these disappearances will not go ignored, even though it has led to few answers in the Lao activist’s case.  

Where China and the United States Disagree on North Korea-The Diplomat

The recent nuclear test has exposed a deep Sino-U.S. gap over North Korea. The “artificial earthquake” in North Korea caused by its fourth nuclear test has set off geopolitical tremors in U.S.-China relations, exposing the underlying gap between the two countries that has long been papered over by their common rhetorical commitment to Korean denuclearization.

Legacy of unexploded ordnance in Indochina: Whose responsibility? Whose cost?-Mekong Commons

In late November, in Mondulkiri province, Cambodia, a tragically common incident happened. A woman was killed and three of her family members injured by a grenade that remained from the Second Indochina War. The death was the 63rd by unexploded ordinance (UXO) in 2015 in Cambodia, according to the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority. Forty years have passed since the Second Indochina War, but still hundreds of people in the region die or are injured each year by the unexploded ordnance (UXO) that remains. Many people, especially those who live in the region’s more remote areas, live with daily fear. What is the international community doing about this legacy, and why is it taking so long?//Siem Reap’s Cambodian Landmine Museum and Vientiane’s COPE Center are two places in the region doing important work on UXO issues. 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Beijing air quality improved in 2015 despite pollution alerts, authorities say-The Guardian

Environmental authorities in Beijing say the Chinese capital’s air quality in 2015 was better than the year before despite the city’s first two red alerts for pollution late in the year. China has been setting national and local targets to reduce its notorious air pollution as citizens have become increasingly aware of the health dangers. Beijing’s municipal government has been replacing coal-fired boilers with natural gas-powered facilities, forcing older, more polluting vehicles off the road, and closing or moving factories that are heavy polluters.

What’s in store for China and the environment in 2016?-China Dialogue

This year will see the beginning of China’s 13th Five Year Plan (FYP), and it need to be a good start. That means policymakers will have to apply the central government’s idea of “ecological red lines” when formulating plans, due for completion by June, for the energy sector over this period. There are several key parts of the 13th FYP that the outside world should be watching.

Thailand’s forest rangers step up training in violent ‘blood wood’ war– The Guardian

The forests of the Mekong region have become a battleground as rangers try to stop poachers from driving the Siamese rosewood tree to extinction. It’s dawn in Thailand’s Eastern forest, and the sound of combat boots echoes through the jungle mist at Ta Phraya national park’s headquarters. The stomping boots belong to forest rangers on a counter-poaching tactics course. They are training with Hasadin, a team of elite rangers formed in June 2015, whose mission is to stop the Siamese rosewood tree from being driven to extinction by poachers.

What Is the Value of the Mekong River?-The Diplomat

Putting a value on the Mekong River and measuring the impact it has on the gross domestic product (GDP) of downstream countries has for a long time been a strategic target of bureaucrats and non-governmental organizations seeking to measure and protect the world’s twelfth longest river and its contribution to regional growth. Now scientists with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) have gone much of the way in answering that. According to recent estimates, fisheries alone from the Lower Mekong Basin are valued at a whopping $17 billion a year, contributing three percent to the combined GDP of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.//What is the value of assessing the monetary worth of ecological resources? How can this number be used to influence decisions regarding dam construction along the Mekong?

Related: Wonder of the aquatic world under threat from plans for Mekong dams      The Guardian

Severe drought could be the biggest concern for this year-The Nation

Natural disasters and more severe drought brought on by climate change should be one of the biggest concerns for Thailand in 2016, |academics said. “With the weather pattern shifting more than before, seasons and weather will become more unpredictable. This is due to climate change, which will most certainly have the worst effect on our food production as it relies heavily on weather,” Tara Buakamsri, Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s campaign director, said.

CHINA 

Wall St. Slides After Chinese Stocks Plunge-NYT

Global stock markets tumbled on Monday, as further fears about a slowdown in China’s economy reignited concerns about global growth. The selling on Monday started after China released a weak manufacturing report, and continued after the United States did the same. Chinese stocks lost nearly 7 percent of their value, although they appeared to stabilize Tuesday morning. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, the main benchmark for the United States stock market, posted a decline of 1.5 percent, while European stocks fell.//This is a stock plunge that will likely repeat many times in the coming years. China’s slowdown is not finished.

Related: Relatively Stable Trading in Stocks a Day After Sell-Offs-NYT

North Korea’s Hydrogen Bomb Claim Strains Ties With China-NYT

North Korea’s announcement that it had completed a test of the weapon infuriated China, which had recently sought to forge closer ties with its reclusive neighbor. North Korea’s test of a nuclear bomb on Wednesday seemed aimed at antagonizing a familiar adversary, the United States. The army spoke of the need to ward off the “imperialist aggressors,” and a television commentator warned that foreigners were intent on destroying the country’s way of life. But North Korea’s decision had a more surprising target: China, its neighbor and chief ally for six decades, which had recently sought to forge closer ties.

Related: U.S. Prods China on North Korea, Saying Soft Approach Has Failed-NYT

Tibet in Limbo: An Exile’s Account of Citizenship in a World of Nation-States-The Diplomat

The international community needs to address the plight of Tibetan refugees. Tibet is a prime example of this 21st century phenomenon of statelessness in a world of nation-states. In fact, many parallels have been drawn between the troubled Himalayan region and stateless peoples from the Palestinians to the Kurds.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Cambodia Marks Milestone in UN Peacekeeping Contributions-The Diplomat

It is the tenth year the ASEAN state has sent peacekeepers abroad. According to Cambodian government estimates, since 2006, Cambodia has dispatched 3,372 troops, 108 of whom were female, to join UN peacekeeping operations in Chad, the Central African Republic, Cyprus, Lebanon, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria. The country currently has a total of 869 personnel deployed globally, with 853 troops and 16 military experts, according to UN contributor statistics. Like many other contributing states, Cambodia’s involvement in peacekeeping is shaped by various factors, including the pursuit of regional and international recognition.//This is certainly a nice accomplishment for Cambodia – hopefully it will be able to contribute more in the future. 

Thailand, Cambodia Could Finish New Rail Link By End of 2016-The Diplomat

Cambodian local official reaffirms desire to complete railway line within the year. Cambodia and Thailand have long sought to complete a railway line connecting them which would boost tourism and business. For Cambodia, the link would be part of a broader rehabilitation of its rail system, much of which was destroyed during civil war beginning in the 1970s. And for Thailand, it would serve as another project within the current government’s ambitious infrastructure plans.

In Myanmar, A Simple Verdict on a Flawed Election-The Diplomat

Myanmar’s November election—a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) – was a procedural success. Turnout was high, the voting process went smoothly, and there was little electoral violence. These are impressive results for a nation ruled under military dictatorship for half a century, until the country began introducing modest democratic reforms over the last few years. The November 8 election, however, has elicited a fair amount of criticism from the international community. And it’s easy to understand why.//This authors are correct – if you’re a Buddhist Bamar living in Yangon, then the November 8 elections were a great achievement for your country. If you’re a impoverished Rohingya trapped in Rakhine state, then Myanmar might not be a country that you want to live in anymore, as evidenced by the thousands who risk their lives to get to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc every year. The elections are certainly a laudable achievement from one perspective, but Myanmar has much work to do if it wants to attain ‘national reconciliation’.

Related: Myanmar: Fahrenheit 436-The Diplomat

Former Lao Finance Minister Named in Corruption Probe-Radio Free Asia

Authorities in Laos have taken into custody a former finance minister and four colleagues in connection with a scheme in which private companies cashed government bonds issued in promise of payment for work they never performed, according to a source in the one-party communist state. Phouphet Khamphounvong, Lao finance minister from 2012 to 2014 and formerly a governor of the Bank of the Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic), was arrested “at the end of December 2015 while attending a party,” a finance ministry source told RFA’s Lao Service.//Knowing the high levels of endemic corruption present in the Lao government, this arrest is more likely to be about politics than any pursuit of justice for the Lao people. The real questions – what did he do and who did he piss off? 

This week’s news digest was compiled by Brooke Rose, with added analysis by Will Feinberg.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 1.3.2016

Happy 2016 from East by Southeast! We’ve been on holiday for the past month, but have a full slate of posts starting this week. Tomorrow we will release our predictions for what is sure to be dynamic year in China-Southeast Asia-US relations. We want to take a moment to thank our news digest mafia comprised of Brooke Rose, Julia Zielinski, Rachel Tritsch, John Juenemann, and Becca Slotkin for  their diligence and insight in putting together weekly digest. And a big thanks to you, our loyal reader for caring about what’s happening on East by Southeast.~Brian and Will, the editors.

EXSE FOCUS

A ‘Special’ US-ASEAN Summit in Sunnylands in 2016? – The Diplomat A look at the significance of an upcoming meeting between the two sides next year.//no need for a question mark here, the summit is on for February 15-16, so who will show up for Myanmar? Remember the last time Obama hosted a head of state at Sunnylands? This says the US-ASEAN relationship is as important as the US-China relationship.

Nu River Saved, Jack Ma Buys Preservation Land – ChinaFile A great piece of news came from China on the night of December 16, that the Yunnan provincial government in southwest China has announced its decision to not develop hydro-electric projects on the Nu River, also known as the Salween (link in Chinese).//this has been spoken about for nearly a year, but hearing the news in official statement brings elation. Shout out to a key NGO for their work in proving the Nu River valley is actually a fault line between the Hengduan mountains and a Himalayan plate. No informed government would approve building dams on a fault line, not even China’s. 

Mekong residents to fight dam ruling – The Nation THE Administrative Court yesterday dismissed complaints over the Xayaburi Dam against five state agencies. However, the 37 plaintiffs, from eight Mekong provinces, say they will appeal further.//This could be the green light for construction of the Don Sahong Dam which was supposed to break ground in November. 

China’s Economy Starts 2016 at Slowest Pace in Years – NYT China, the world’s second-largest economy, looked set for a weak start to 2016 after activity in the manufacturing sector contracted for a fifth straight month in December.

Related: Deutsche Bank Joins Retreat From China – NYT 

Related: Opinion is divided on state of Chinese economy, but not on its importance – The Guardian 

Related: China Unveils Economic Strategy for 2016 – The Diplomat 

Related: China’s Planning Addiction – Project Syndicate

Shenzhen Landslide Casts Shadow Over China’s Success Story – NYT The frenzy in the southern city highlights the difficulties that Beijing faces as it tries to manage real estate and construction, crucial engines of the economy.

Related: Migrant Workers in Shenzhen Bear Brunt of Landslide – NYT 

Related: China Detains 12 People Over Shenzhen Landslide, Police Say – NYT 

Related: Shenzhen official who rubber-stamped waste dump that triggered massive landslide takes his own life – SCMP 

Related: Is the Shenzhen landslide the first of many more? – The Guardian

China Passes Antiterrorism Law That Critics Fear May Overreach – NYT Opponents who had seen a draft version said it grants broad new powers that could be abused to monitor peaceful citizens and steal commercial secrets.

   Related: China’s New Anti-Terrorism Law – The Diplomat

Microsoft to Notify Users of Government Hackings – NYT The company joins Google, Facebook and others in disclosing when users of email and other services have probably been targeted by hackers working on behalf of governments.

Related: Microsoft to start notifying victims of ‘state sponsored’ hacking – The Guardian 

Related: China’s Cyber Turn: Recognizing Change for the Better – The Diplomat

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Enters Into Force: What Next? – The Diplomat The AIIB’s Articles of Agreement entered into force, taking the China-led development bank one step closer to operational status.

Related: Philippines to (Finally) Join China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank – The Diplomat

China says countries will follow Britain’s lead to become best friends with Beijing – The Guardian More western countries will follow Britain in improving ties with China, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has said, describing relations with London over the past year as a “bright spot” in China’s diplomacy.

Related: Justin Trudeau and Canada-China Relations – The Diplomat

The DPP’s Agenda for Contributing to Regional Stability – The Diplomat Claims that the DPP lacks clarity on sovereignty issues are disingenuous.

Related: China, the U.S. and the Coming Taiwan Transition – The Diplomat 

Related: Taiwan’s opposition leader highlights risk of close ties with China as election looms – SCMP

 Philippine ‘Freedom Voyage’ Lands on Disputed Island in South China Sea – The Diplomat Defying China and the Philippine government, an activist group lands 47 people on Thitu Island.

Related: Vietnam Reveals New Drone for Patrolling the South China Sea – The Diplomat 

Related: Who Is Militarizing the South China Sea? – The Diplomat

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

China and Climate Change: Three Things to Watch After Paris – The Diplomat China has made its promises. Will it now deliver?

Related: China Pipelines Sold Far Below Cost – Radio Free Asia

Related: China’s Nuclear Power Debate – The Diplomat 

Related: Ex-premier Li Peng’s daughter Li Xiaolin quits top power job – SCMP 

Related: China’s west tries to harness more of its wind power – Chinadialogue

In the Dirtiest Cities, Air Pollution Forces Life Changes – NYT Residents of some of the world’s most heavily polluted cities shared their experiences dealing with the daily challenges and consequences.

Related: Toxic smog brings nightmare ‘white Christmas’ to Beijing – Thanh Nien Daily 

Related: Hiding in Plain Sight as Beijing Disappears Into Blanket of Smog – NYT 

Related: Companies in South China See Opportunity in Beijing’s Smog – NYT // The difficulty China has had landing its economic struggles of the past several months is not aided by the country’s past ‘development at all costs’ strategy and disregard for its environment.  As banks and other companies begin to second-guess their investments in the once growing power house, China’s financial ministers have the crucial role of determining how they will use the seven percent yearly GDP goal as a means of stabilization and not stagnation resulting in backwards progress. 

Related: Forecasting China’s smog seen as business opportunity for IBM and Microsoft – The Guardian // Of course, every situation offers the opportunity for exploitation via entrepreneurship…

Cambodia PM Stands by Hydropower, Dismisses Critics as ‘Extremists’ – The Irrawaddy Magazine Cambodia’s prime minister defended his government’s energy policy on Wednesday and hit back at environmentalists opposed to hydropower plants by suggesting their electricity be cut off and they should use resin torches instead.//I’d pay to see Hun Sen and Gen Prayuth throw down in a shouting match focused toward NGOs and journalists. 

Locals in deep South fight plan for coal-power plant – The Nation People in Pattani province and neighbouring areas yesterday have set up a network to take action against the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Songkhlaâs Thepha district.

Related: Pollution fears: Malaysia may suspend bauxite mining, threatening supplies to China – SCMP

Related: Smog, drought, litter bugs and unpopular coal-fired plants take centre stage – The Nation

 Myanmar told to embark on wind energy – Investvine Myanmar in its quest to increase power production could adapt renewable energies such as wind energy and at the same time enticing investors in the green energy sector to the country…

Convoy of Lao Trucks Transports Logs to Vietnam, Despite Ban on Timber Exports – RFA Laos has continued to transport logs from its forests to Vietnam, despite a government ban on timber exports that took effect in August…

CHINA

China: Trapped Miners Found – NYT Rescuers on Wednesday found eight surviving miners who were trapped for five days after a mine collapsed in eastern China.

Related: Dozens Are Feared Dead After a Landslide in Myanmar – NYT

China Plans a New Silk Road, but Trade Partners Are Wary – NYT Beijing’s effort to revive ancient trade routes is causing geopolitical strains, with countries like Turkey increasingly worried about becoming too dependent on China.

Related: Between Bullying and Flattery: A Theory on Chinese Politics – The Diplomat 

Related: China’s Xi vows to push reforms while expanding global role – Thanh Nien Daily

China Says It Is Building Its Second Aircraft Carrier – NYT This vessel, unlike the first, will be produced entirely using the country’s own designs and technology, the Defense Ministry said.

Related: Investigators Blame Violent Weather for Yangtze Cruise Ship Disaster – NYT 

Related: China’s Economic Miracle, As Seen Through Its Trains – The Diplomat

Related: Chinese Company Wins Contract for Deep Sea Port in Myanmar – The Diplomat 

Related: 12 Things to Know about the Impact of Infrastructure in Asia – ADB

China’s new two-child policy legislation formally comes into force – SCMP Married couples in China will from Friday be allowed to have two children, after concerns over an ageing population and shrinking workforce ushered in an end to the country’s controversial one-child policy.

Related: China passes first domestic violence law – The Guardian 

 China appoints new military top brass in overhaul aimed at boosting professionalism – SCMP China has appointed three new commanders to head the land forces of the People’s Liberation Army and the new Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force, as part of the military overhaul to promote talented officers.

Related: China’s sweeping military reforms to strengthen grip of Communist Party, says army newspaper – SCMP

China Telecom boss Chang Xiaobing quits amid corruption crackdown – The Guardian Head of one of biggest state-owned companies steps down days after being detained for ‘severe disciplinary violations’.

Related: Xi Jinping tells Chinese leadership that families must set example on corruption – The Guardian 

Related: Feng shui-loving government official thrown out of the Communist Party in China – SCMP 

Related: Beleaguered Kunming metals tycoon missing – GoKunming

 Conviction of Pu Zhiqiang Affirms China’s Resolve to Muzzle Rights Lawyers – NYT Mr. Pu is one of the leading figures in an independent legal movement that has managed to blossom over more than a decade despite numerous obstacles.

Related: Friends fear for Chinese Christian lawyer spending Christmas behind bars – The Guardian

Related: China’s Christians Told To Keep a Low Profile This Christmas – Radio Free Asia

Fifth man working for publishers critical of Chinese government goes missing – The Guardian Lee Bo, the chief editor of a Hong Kong firm known for producing books on Chinese politics has become the company’s fifth employee to go missing.

Related: China Frees 2 Brothers of U.S. Reporter for Radio Free Asia – NYT 

Related: ‘Rule the party strictly!’: Chinese president ‘Big Daddy Xi’ makes rap debut – The Guardian 

Related: Weibo warriors – The Economist: China  

Related: French journalist accuses China of intimidating foreign press – The Guardian

 Zimbabwe to make Chinese yuan legal currency after Beijing cancels debts – The Guardian Zimbabwe has announced that it will make the Chinese yuan legal tender after Beijing confirmed it would cancel $40m in debts.

 China’s Navy takes part in joint exercise off Australian coast – Thanh Nien Daily Australia walks a diplomatic tightrope between the U.S. and China.

Related: The Emerging China-Kazakhstan Defense Relationship – The Diplomat

Related: Mystery Cloaks a North Korean Pop Band’s Canceled Beijing Dates – NYT

 The Politics of Tibet’s Poisonous Religious Divide – The Irrawaddy Magazine The doctrinal schism that the Chinese Communist Party is using to hound the Dalai Lama arose long ago in the internecine politics of his own school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Related: How China’s Communist Party Waged Class Struggle in Tibet – Radio Free Asia

 China to provide subsidies to replace government housing – Jakarta Post China’s housing minister said on Monday that governments will stop building rental housing units to accommodate migrant workers and people displaced by demolitions or renovations of urban residences or shantytowns.

Related: Related: China’s president warns that economic stimulus is ‘not the answer to nation’s challenges’ – SCMP

SOUTHEAST ASIA

 Asean launches EU-style economic bloc – but will it work? – SCMP Southeast Asian nations officially launched an EU-inspired economic bloc Thursday aimed at boosting the region’s trading clout and attracting more investment, but analysts said a true single market was still a long way off.//No.

Related: An ASEAN devoid of its community – New Mandala 

Related: SE Asia stocks: most markets set for losses in 2015, Vietnam outperforms – Thanh Nien Daily

After Victory in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi Quietly Shapes a Transition – NYT Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has kept the country guessing on details of the transfer of power to her democracy movement from the military establishment.

Anti-Smuggling Teams Abolished: Commerce Ministry – The Irrawaddy Magazine The government’s mobile task force teams, which aimed to clamp down on the country’s thriving illegal border trade, have been abolished, the Ministry of Commerce announced on Wednesday.

Kachin IDPs Endure Bitter Cold Snap on Sino-Burma Border – The Irrawaddy Magazine About 1,800 Kachin internally displaced persons (IDPs), living in makeshift shelters along the Sino-Burma border, are enduring freezing conditions with minimal supplies, aid workers said.

Thailand: 2 Sentenced to Death for Murders of British Tourists – NYT The verdict follows an investigation and trial that were mired in controversy, including allegations of police incompetence, mishandling of evidence and torture of the suspects.

Related: Thailand defends investigation into Britons’ murder after Myanmar protests – The Guardian

Thai junta tightens grip on justice system with ‘black site’ for civilian suspects – The Guardian The Thai junta has set up a “black site” at a Bangkok army base to hold people deemed threats to national security in what lawyers and rights groups say is an unprecedented expansion of the military’s control over the criminal justice system.

Related: Thailand’s junta releases poll showing 99.3% of citizens happy with its performance – The Guardian

Suspected Muslim rebels in southern Thailand attack government office and shoots official in head – SCMP Suspected Muslim insurgents attacked police and a government office in Thailand’s deep south on Tuesday, killing one official as they seized hostages, police said.

King’s dog Tongdaeng dies of old age – The Nation Tongdaeng (Copper) died peacefully while sleeping…//no longer will people have to humiliate themselves by bowing to a dog. Unless the thing had pups.

Related: Madness and loyalty in Thailand – New Mandala

Cambodia textile factory offers new model to improve workers’ lives – The Guardian South-east Asia’s garment industry has a bad name but decent wages, childcare and labour rights are high priorities for one company breaking the mould…peppered with references to sustainability, empowerment, development and opportunity.

Lawyer of Two Cambodian MPs Files Second Complaint Against Their Attackers – Radio Free Asia The lawyer of two Cambodian opposition lawmakers who were brutally attacked by a group of protesters outside the National Assembly in late October filed a second complaint with the Phnom Penh municipal court on Monday against the masterminds of the assaults.

Hun Sen’s Son Sets Sights on Cambodia’s Top Office – Radio Free Asia Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youngest son said Wednesday that he intends to succeed his father in the authoritarian Southeast Asian country’s top office, although he did not specifically mention his plans for the next general elections in July 2018.//Kind of like Rand Paul, but not kind of like Rand Paul. The Cambodian People’s Party continues to remind us that it’s a communist party at heart. Princelings abound in Asian politics – and blood matters – think Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Laos, among others…

Bangladeshi fisherman testifies in human trafficking case hearing – The Nation PUBLIC prosecutors yesterday brought a 23-year-old Bangladeshi fisherman to testify in the first session of the advance hearing into the human-trafficking case involving Rohingya and other migrants at Bangkokâs Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court.

Malaysia Passes Controversial National Security Law – The Diplomat On December 22, the Malaysian Senate passed a controversial national security bill that the government says will strengthen its ability to counter rising threats and critics have slammed as a blow to democracy and human rights.

This week’s digest was composed by Julia Zielinski with analysis and bad humor from Julia Zielinski and Brian Eyler.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 12.6.15

EXSE FOCUS

China Creates a World Bank of Its Own, and the U.S. Balks-NYT In setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China enlisted American allies, including Britain, even as Washington expressed skepticism. As top leaders met at a lush Bali resort in October 2013, President Xi Jinping of China described his vision for a new multinational, multibillion-dollar bank to finance roads, rails and power grids across Asia. Under Chinese stewardship, the bank would tackle the slow development in poor countries that was holding the region back from becoming the wealth center of the world. The enthusiasm didn’t last long, as the Obama administration began a rear-guard battle to minimize the bank’s influence.//Useful overview of the development of the bank. Note the banks inspiration came from a trip to Laos and observations that people there should no longer live in stilted huts. Also helpful insight into the approaches current AIIB head Jin Liqun used to recruit the UK (succesfully) and the US (unsuccessfully).

Net loss: fish stocks dwindle in Cambodia’s Tonlé Sap lake-The Guardian Despite the creation of a 200-hectare conservation area, fishing communities on south-east Asia’s largest freshwater lake fear their way of life is slipping away. Until three years ago, life around the lake was very different. Before then, much of the fishing was divided up into government-approved lots worked by commercial vessels, leaving many local people excluded. In March 2012, the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, ordered an end to the lots and opened up the waters to those living along its shores. Although the move was well received by local communities, it has raised fears that unrestricted access could destroy fish stocks. In a bid to safeguard the lake’s population and diversity, an EU-funded programme has established a 200-hectare (494-acre) fish conservation area (FCA) close to the Kampong Phluk commune, which is home to nearly 3,900 people.//govt regulators make locals pay through their teeth in the form of bribes for fishing access. No wonder there’s pressure to over-fish. Also paying a bribe to fish is seen as a vote for the CCP – one way Hun Sen’s party campaigns.

In Vietnam, a Fisherman’s Village With No Fish-The Diplomat In the Mekong Delta’s largest city, overfishing has forever altered the livelihoods of a whole community. We were in Can Tho, Vietnam’s fourth largest city and the de facto capital of the Mekong delta. We had based ourselves out of Can Tho for nearly a week, driving into the surrounding countryside each morning and afternoon, but spent very little time exploring the city. With a population of nearly 1.5 million people straddling the Song Hau river (one of the main Mekong distributaries running through the delta), Can Tho was a logical place to investigate the stories of the river in an urban context. //Gives firsthand account of Can Tho’s fishermen and the plight they are currently facing. With decreasing fish stocks in Cambodia and Vietnam, throughout the same watershed, what are the solutions to this issue of livelihood and food security?

 China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative: Outlook For OBOR and the US Rebalance-The Diplomat The Rebalance authors Mercy Kuo and Angie Tang regularly engage subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. rebalance to Asia.  This conversation with Dr. Erica Downs – Senior Analyst at Eurasia Group and former fellow in the John. L Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution – is the 22nd in “The Rebalance Insight Series.”

A ‘Critical Point’ for US Strategic Tolerance of China-The Diplomat US-China relations are caught in a critical point — poised between one paradigm and the next. n a way, the ongoing U.S.-China disputes have quite a few similarities with thermodynamic changes or chemical reactions. We may take the U.S. strategic tolerance of China’s rise — or more specifically China’s active involvements in the U.S.-led world system — as an example. China has been actively involved in international institutions over the past decades, probably with the encouragement and tolerance of the United States as long as several conditions were met: first, that China does not truly challenge the U.S. predominance; second, that China takes up its shared responsibilities under the U.S. leadership; and third, that China changes domestically (or politically in a sense) as the United States has been expecting.

ADB Loan to Enhance Urban Services in Towns Along GMS Economic Corridor-ADB ADB has approved a $100 million loan to support government efforts to boost urban and water services in Bac Giang, Mong Cai and Sa Pa, three towns located along the North-South Economic Corridor within the Greater Mekong Subregion. The assistance will finance the construction and upgrading of wastewater treatment plants, provide wastewater treatment services—including connections for thousands of households, build new pumping stations, and dredge canals to protect urban areas from periodic flooding. In Sa Pa, an international tourist destination known for its trekking routes through mountains and rice fields, the assistance will also finance general improvements to the town center public area and the drafting of a green city action plan.//As OBOR favors Mekong states other than Vietnam, the West-led ADB doubles down on Vietnamese infrastructure development. 

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

 Amid South China Sea Tensions, Japan Strengthens Ties With Philippines, Vietnam-The Diplomat

The South China Sea is a large part of Tokyo’s calculations, but aid to Manila and Hanoi has a decades-long history. As China’s construction projects and the United States’ freedom of navigation operations ratchet up tensions in the South China Sea, Japan is increasing its cooperation with other claimant states – most notably the Philippines and Vietnam. Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) plays a large role in this cooperation.

China, Thailand Sign Rail, Rice, and Rubber Deals-The Diplomat Despite disagreements on details, China and Thailand move forward with a $9.7 billion railway deal. A day after Thailand’s transport minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said that Bangkok was postponing a railway deal with China, Thailand’s deputy prime ministers, Prawit Wongsuwon and Somkid Jatusripitak, said the deal would go ahead as scheduled. Sure enough, on Thursday China and Thailand held a signing ceremony for a document outlining the framework for intergovernmental cooperation on the railway project.//much work needs to be done to understand the motivations of this rising Sino-Thai axis and implications for US relations in Thailand.

ASEAN’s New Community – Only a Small Step-The Diplomat At an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit last week, Southeast Asian leaders signed an agreement creating an “ASEAN Community.” The Diplomat reports that the “Community,” much discussed by Southeast Asian media and leaders in recent years, will be “a step towards realizing the idea of a three-pillared community to deepen regional integration first proposed in 2003 comprising an ASEAN Political and Security Community; an ASEAN Economic Community; and an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.” All the specifics of what these communities will entail have not been finalized, despite long “blueprints” proposed by ASEAN for each of the communities. The most developed idea is the Economic Community, which is supposed to be the creation of a single regional market for goods and services. //What real impact will this have on the member countries of ASEAN? Will concrete ideas come forth eventually? Stay tuned.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

 Chinese Report on Climate Change Depicts Somber Scenarios-NYT Rising seas besieging China’s economically vital coastal zones. Mighty feats of infrastructure, like the Three Gorges Dam and railway to Tibet, strained by turbulent rainfall and the melting of frozen earth. And on the Himalayan frontiers, the risk in future decades of international conflict over dwindling water supplies as glaciers retreat. These and other somber scenarios are laid out in the Chinese government’s latest scientific assessment of global warming, released just before negotiations in Paris for a new international agreement on climate change.

Paris Deal Would Herald an Important First Step on Climate Change-NYT President Obama and more than 100 world leaders will convene with thousands of diplomats on Monday on the outskirts of Paris to open two weeks of intense negotiations aimed at forging an accord that could begin to avert the most devastating effects of global warming and redefine the economy of the 21st century. If the talks fail—as they did in two previous attempts to achieve such a deal—then nations will continue on a trajectory that scientists say locks the planet into a future of rising sea levels, more frequent floods, worsening droughts, food and water shortages, destructive hurricanes and other catastrophic events.

Related: An Evolution in China’s Climate Diplomacy-The Diplomat

            Related: Raise the green lanterns-The Economist

Major powers pledge $20bn for green energy research-The Guardian The vow boosts a parallel initiative by global business leaders including Mark Zuckerberg and Ratan Tata. The US and 18 other countries have pledged to double funds for clean energy research to a total of $20bn over five years, boosting a parallel initiative by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and increasing the prospects for successful agreement at the Paris climate negotiations that start on Monday. The countries, which include the UK, Canada, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, span the biggest global economies and major emitters, oil and gas producers, and leaders in clean energy research, the White House said.

 

CHINA

 China Gives 14 Officials Jail Terms Over 2013 Oil Pipeline Blast-NYT China has sentenced 14 former officials at state energy firm Sinopec and the local government to jail for up to five years for their role in a massive oil pipeline explosion in 2013, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday. The explosion in the eastern province of Shandong killed 63 people and injured 156, and caused losses worth 751.7 million yuan (78 million pounds), Xinhua said. It said the Sinopec officials were sentenced for violating safety regulations while the government officials had failed to fully perform their duties in dealing with the blast. The explosion was one of the biggest to hit infrastructure development in China, raising questions about safety standards in the world’s second largest economy.

Exchange of Spies With China Is Positive Sign, Taiwan Says-NYT  Taiwan’s’ presidential office said Monday that a rare exchange of spies with China was a sign of improved ties between the neighbors and historic rivals. Chu Kung-hsun and Hsu Chang-kuo, two officers from Taiwan’s Bureau of Military Intelligence, were released by China and returned to Taiwan in mid-October, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement on Monday. The two men were arrested in Vietnam near the border with China in 2006 and given life sentences, which were later reduced to 20 years, according to Taiwan’s China Times newspaper, which first reported the exchange. A Chinese spy imprisoned in Taiwan, Li Zhihao, was given early parole as part of the exchange, Charles Chen, a spokesman for Taiwan’s presidential office, said in a statement.

China’s Renminbi Is Approved by I.M.F. as a Main World Currency-NYT The International Monetary Fund’s move paves the way for the currency’s wider use in trade and finance, but may add volatility to the economy. The Chinse renminbi was anointed as one of the world’s elite currencies on Monday, a milestone decision by the I.M.F. that underscores the country’s rising financial and economic heft. The move will help pave the way for broader use of the renminbi in trade and finance, securing China’s standing as a global economic power. Just four other currencies—the dollar, the euro, the pound and the yen—have the I.M.F. designation.

Related: China’s Fitful Economic Reforms-NYT

 China factory indicator at three-year low-The Guardian Purchase Managers’ Index dips to 49.6, pointing to a manufacturing slowdown and prompting predictions of a further easing of monetary policy by Beijing. A key measure of China’s manufacturing activity dropped to its weakest level in more than three years in November, underlining weaknesses in the world’s second-largest economy. It was the fourth consecutive month of decline and the lowest figure since August 2012. Investors closely watch the index as a barometer of the country’s economic health. A reading above 50 signals expanding activity while anything below indicates shrinkage. The statistics bureau blamed the disappointing figure on weak overseas and domestic demand, falling commodity prices and manufacturers’ reluctance to restock.

China’s Plan for a New, Improved Military-The Diplomat Xi Jinping just outlined an ambitious plan for military reforms, but implementation will take years. On November 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping – who also serves as chair of the Central Military Commission – announced a sweeping long-term reform plan for the People’s Liberation Army. The reforms, laid out at a meeting attended by over 200 military officials, will see streamlined command over China’s military, as well as a closer watch on corruption and graft.

China’s President Xi Visits ‘All-Weather Friend’ Zimbabwe-The Diplomat Xi’s stop in Zimbabwe provides a glimpse of the pros and cons of economic dependence on China. Chinese President Xi Jinping spent Tuesday in Zimbabwe, the first stop on a two-country trip to Africa. It was the first time a Chinese president had visited the country since 1996. Xi was welcomed to Zimbabwe by his counterpart, President Robert Mugabe. Both leaders called their two countries “all-weather friends,” and pledged to boost bilateral ties. According to Xinhua, Xi said the goals of his visit were “consolidating the China-Zimbabwe traditional friendship, deepening practical cooperation and lifting bilateral relations to a higher level.”

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar General Meet, Taking Steps Toward Sharing Power-NYT The talks were the first face-to-face foray in what will surely be complex negotiations over how Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing will govern. She is the former political prisoner whose party triumphed in elections last month. He is commander in chief of the military that jailed her for the better part of two decades. They are the two most powerful people in Myanmar, and their meeting on Wednesday was a crucial first step in a transition from a military-backed government to one in which the military will share power with the democracy activists it once oppressed.

 Thai Economy and Spirits Are Sagging-NYT Thailand was once the torchbearer of freedom and prosperity in Southeast Asia. But now when Thais look to their neighbors, they feel envy, not pity. Do not be fooled by the throngs of Chinese tourists clogging the entrance to the gilded Grand Palace, the roads buzzing with traffic or the plastic smiles of hostesses greeting the business lunch crowd at luxury hotels. Thailand is in a rut. The economy is moribund and Thai households are among the most indebted in Asia. “No one feels like smiling anymore,” said Sompetch Pimsri, a merchant at a fruit and vegetable market behind the Temple of Dawn, a tourist landmark along the Chao Phraya River.

Cambodians Deserve Better-NYT The Hun Sen government cracks down, but the opposition won’t rise to the occasion. Cambodia politics is in the midst of an ugly crisis. Prime Minister Hun Sen, after officially winning the 2013 election by just a narrow margin and facing months of massive anti-government protests, seemed to have regained control. Yet in recent weeks the authorities have cracked down on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, C.N.R.P.

 Vietnam bets on coal power despite rising risks-The Third Pole A heap of coal waste the size of an apartment complex looms above Do Thi Chung’s low-rise neighbourhood. One evening this July, she watched as the heap was pelted by heavy rains. Soon a river of muddy sludge was pouring downhill from the heap toward Chung’s front door, she recalled. When the water level of the landslide reached knee level, she took her children up to their home’s second level. Now her ward of this northern Vietnamese city is mostly deserted. Chung, whose husband works at a nearby coal mine, said all but seven of the ward’s 47 families have moved out. By 2030, coal is expected to contribute 56% of Vietnam’s power mix, up from 36% today. Vietnam’s embrace of coal – the fuel blamed most for climate change and a major polluter in industrialising societies over the last few centuries – is already an environmental disaster.

Lao Government Blocks Funds For Rural Road Repair in Favor of ASEAN Projects in the Capital-Radio Free Asia Government authorities in cash-strapped Laos are withholding funds urgently needed to repair flood-damaged roads in the country’s provinces, saying that available resources must be spent on improvements in the capital Vientiane ahead of regional summit meetings next year. Provincial public works and transport departments may also not draw funds assigned to other needs to carry out repairs, according to a central-government notice sent out in October, government sources told RFA’s Lao Service. Authorities are now “rushing to repair and improve roads” in the capital, Nouanta, a deputy director of Vientiane’s Public Works and Transport Department, said. “This must be done in time for the celebration of National Day on December 2 and to accommodate the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Summit in late 2016,” Nouanta said.

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

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Regional Roundup for Week of 11.29.15

This week marks the start of the controversial case brought by Thai villagers to Thailand’s Constitutional Court over the legality of the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong river. That the case is being heard is simply a victory for civil society in Thailand and Southeast Asia. While the result likely will not end in the cancellation or postponement of the dam project, the Stimson Center’s Dr. Richard Cronin says in a recent online commentary “Regardless of what the Supreme Administrative Court ultimately decides it will be very difficult for Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand at a minimum to enter into a future Power Purchase Agreement with any foreign company or country without credible transboundary EIAs and SIAs.” Read more on this critical case representing the future of Mekong hydropower development here.

EXSE FOCUS

The Mekong river: stories from the heart of the climate crisis – The Guardian The fate of 70 million people rests on what happens to the Mekong river. With world leaders meeting in Paris next week for crucial UN climate talks, John Vidal journeys down south-east Asia’s vast waterway – a place that encapsulates some of the dilemmas they must solve. He meets people struggling to deal with the impacts of climate change as well as the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities. // As the West sits relatively unscathed from climate change, people in the Mekong are already feeling the effects. This region will change drastically in the next 50 years, this Guardian piece has great stories from locals and visuals.  

No Time for Complacency on ISIS Threats in Southeast Asia – CogitASIA The November 13 coordinated attacks in Paris by followers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which led to the death of 129 people, have revived fears of the movement’s spread to Southeast Asia, especially among the political leadership in Indonesia and Malaysia. ISIS is a threat to the region, but a manageable one. While regional governments cannot afford to be complacent about ISIS, fear-mongering can also be counter-productive. There are roughly 800-1,000 Southeast Asians who have traveled to Syria and Iraq, but not all are combatants. Some are family members and dependents of those who signed up to fight for ISIS; there is already a Bahasa-language school in Raqqa, Syria. This number also includes those detained by Turkish authorities and deported back to Southeast Asia, as well as those who have been killed. // Great and timely piece on an underreported issue. Terrorism in Southeast Asia is extremely complex and Abuza breaks it down extremely clearly and comprehensively.

UN tribunal at The Hague to rule on rival claims to South China Sea islands – The Guardian Philippines disputes China claim to sovereignty over Spratly archipelago, where Beijing is building military bases on artificial islands. Rival claims to strategic reefs and atolls in the disputed waters of the South China Sea are to go before an international tribunal in The Hague. The hearing on Tuesday – prompted by the Philippines’ claim – comes as China steps up its divisive programme of building airstrips and defences in the Spratly Islands. As well as the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei all dispute sovereignty over the mid-ocean outcrops. // China’s feeling pressure from U.S. FON exercises in the SCS and now this case. It is hard to find legal basis for a 12nm territorial sea from the features that China “occupies”; maybe China will go with the flow on this given its econ woes, or maybe it will defy international convention in order to show that it’s a strong power.

Yunnan’s Muslims: The Hui minority in Southwest China – GoKunming Of all of China’s 56 minority nationalities, the only one that qualified for such designation by religion alone, rather than language or ethnic identification, were the Hui, who are Muslim, but ethnically Han Chinese. Some of them are descendants of the first converts from coastal ports visited by Muslim Arab traders in the seventh and eighth centuries. From there they eventually spread further inland, but the main components of what would become a separate Hui identity were Muslim warriors who were part of the Mongol forces that conquered China in the thirteenth century, stayed in the country, intermarried with local women and, except for retaining their religion, adopted Chinese customs and lifestyles.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Salvador’s goes to Thailand – GoKunming “This is good grass. Somebody should graze some cows here.” “Look at that empty lot. What a waste of land. Somebody should build a building there.” “The rice here is very cheap, and of good quality.” Xiao Hui, meet Thailand. Thailand, meet Xiao Hui. A gregarious denizen of Wenlin Jie, Xiao Hui is widely known amongst foreigners residing in downtown Kunming. He’s helped many of us register at the Public Security Bureau, rain carnage upon rat infestations in our apartments, or procure some obscure metal fastener from a far-flung construction supplies market — always with a smile on his face and a semi-maniacal intensity of purpose.

Locals Urge Japan to Rule Out Burma Coal Plant Funding – The Irrawaddy Villagers have urged overseas development agencies and corporate investors in Japan not to underwrite three contentious coal power projects in southern Burma, each of which has been subject to sustained local opposition. A delegation of locals from Irrawaddy Division, Mon State and Tenasserim Division are now in Tokyo in an attempt to meet with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), along with companies that have already committed to investing in the projects. They are seeking guarantees that prospective Japanese investors will rule out funding any future coal project, in addition to the three already tied to Japanese financing and investment.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Wild things return to Angkor Wat – The Guardian Decades after poachers stripped the forests surrounding Angkor Wat of large mammals, an innovative conservation group is bringing them back. Already, Wildlife Alliance has rewilded the forest with gibbons and langurs. And more are coming. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to wake to gibbons’ song piercing the rainforest fog, you’ll know there are few sounds more haunting on our little planet. The 30-minute songs of these lesser apes – often duets between monogamous lovers – seem to combine musical elements from timber wolves, humpback whales and fire engines. But gibbons are in trouble, facing unprecedented deforestation and a booming illegal wildlife trade, and have disappeared from many parts of their range. One of these places was the world-famous Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia. Yet, thanks to innovative rewildling efforts by conservation group, Wildlife Alliance, the millions of tourists that pass through Angkor Wat every year now have a chance to hear the morning duet of gibbon lovers.

Laos counts the cost of climate change: record floods, drought and landslides – The Guardian Extreme weather risks the food security of thousands of Lao villages. At the COP 21 talks, will rich countries honour their pledge of $100bn a year by 2020 to help? Namai village in remote, mountainous central Laos has seen immense change in just 20 years. Its isolation only ended when a road was pushed up the valley in 2003, and electricity came several years later. Today Namai villagers mostly have televisions and refrigerators but they, and thousands of other communities, face a new set of problems that are forcing them to develop in ways they never imagined.

CHINA 

China and U.S. Say They’ve Made Strides in Trade Talks – NYTimes In their first top-level trade talks since President PObama hosted China’s leader in September, the United States and China said on Monday that they had made progress on sticking points, including revenbting the thefyt of trade secrets and opening the Chinese market more broadly to American multinations. Still, the lack of larger breakthroughs on bigger issues – like negotiations for a broader trade deal – contrasted with America’s improving economic ties with the rest of Asia. The two countries have been eyeing each other cautiously.

Xi Jinping Announces Overhaul of China’s Military Forces – NYTimes President Xi Jinping of China has announced a major reorganization of the nation’;s military, state-backed news media reported on Thursday, laying out plans to create new command syustems intened to integrate and rebalance land, air and sea forces into a more nimble People’s Liberation Army. Mr. Xi told a meeting of over 200 senior military officers that the changes would takje years and were essnential to ensuring that the people’s Libration Army could shoulder its increasingly complex and broad responsibilities, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

China Retools Its Military With a First Overseas Outpost in Djibouti – NYTimes China announced on Thursday that it would establish its first overseas military outpost and unveiled a sweeping plan to reorganize its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad. The outpost, in the East African nation of Djibouti, breaks with Beijing’s longstanding policy against emulating the United States in building military facilities abroad. The Foreign Ministry refrained form describving the new installation as a military base, saying that it would be sued to resully Chinese Navy ships that have been participating in the United Nations antipiracy missions.

$50bn Nicaragua canal postponed as Chinese tycoon’s fortunes falter – The Guardian The world’s biggest canal project – a $50bn interoceanic canal through Nicaragua – has been delayed, following an environmental report and a collapse in the fortunes of the Chinese businessman behind the company that planned to build it. The Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) Group announced on Wednesday that it would be another year before the start of major works on the proposed rival to the Panama canal. The company said the “design of the canal is being fine tuned”, in accordance with recommendations contained in an environmental impact assessment.

Chinese Cash Floods U.S. Real Estate Market – NYTimes Some of the Chinese money pouring into the global economy has gone into residential property, in major American cities and places like Corinth, Tex. Canyon Lake Ranch was once a playground for Christian day campers, and then was a corporate retreat with water-skiing, barbecues and cowboy shoot-‘em-up shows. Hawks now circle above 108 sunbaked acres occupied by copperhead snakes, a few coyotes, and the occasional construction truck. Soon this ranch will be a gated subdivision of 99 mini-mansions designed for buyers from mainland China. The developer, Zhang Long, a Beijing businessman, is keeping three plots to build his own estate along the side of an old rodeo arena.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA 

Indonesia Increases Security after Video Calls For Attack – Reuters via The Irrawaddy Authorities increased security across Indonesia after a video appearing on social media threatened attacks against police and other targets, police and officials said Wednesday. Security was raised at airports, the presidential palace, foreign embassies, and shopping centers in the capital after a threat was made by an Islamic militant group, said Jakarta police chief Maj. Gen. Tito Karnavian. “There will be enhanced security,” Karnavian told reporters. “But public vigilance and caution on suspicious behavior in their neighborhood is particularly important to ward off terror attacks.” The video calling for attacks on Jakarta police headquarters and the presidential palace appeared on social media, including Facebook this weekend. It was blocked by authorities on Monday.

Vietnam law change introduces transgender rights – AFP via The Guardian New legislation will allow those who have undergone reassignment to register under new gender as nation moves towards more progressive views on sexuality. Vietnam passed a law on Tuesday enshrining rights for transgender people in a move advocacy groups say paves the way for gender reassignment surgery in the authoritarian communist nation. People who want the operation, which is illegal, tend to have it done in nearby Thailand. The new legislation will allow those who have undergone reassignment to register under their new gender. The law will come into effect early in 2017 after 282 of 366 lawmakers voted in favour.

Fifth refugee secretly moved from Nauru to Cambodia under $55m deal – The Guardian The ethnic Rohingya man from Myanmar arrived in Phnom Penh last week under the resettlement arrangements, as Cambodian political divisions deepen. A fifth refugee from Nauru has been secretly moved to Cambodia, arriving last week under Australia’s controversial $55m deal with the south-east Asian nation. The man, understood to be an ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, arrived in Phnom Penh as always-fractious political tensions inside Cambodia escalated further, and the UN warned the country was headed towards “a dangerous tipping point”.

Interpol ramps up response to crime in Southeast Asia – Sea Globe The economic integration of Asean this month is expected to open up borders in the region, bringing the promise of more financial opportunities. But national governments and Interpol are also wary of increased cross-border crime. In an increasingly globalised and connected world, transnational organised crime continually seeks to exploit weak points in our interdependent border security architecture. Increased economic development, the movement of people and goods and closer regional integration – including in Southeast Asia – must contend with the criminal networks behind irregular migration, trafficking in illicit goods and the cross-border movement of extremists and terror suspects.

YUNNAN 

Kunming Shines At 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – PR Newswire Kunming, China was under the spotlight on Thanksgiving,November 26, 2015 in the United States as Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade presented for the first time, the spectacular scenery of Kunming and the richness of Chinese ethnic culture. Kunming, known as “the City of Eternal Spring” for its pleasant climate and flowers that bloom all year, was portrayed vividly on a float at the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City before 3.5 million people during the parade and over 50 million on television.

This week’s new digest and analysis was compiled by John Juenemann. 

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Regional roundup for week of 11.22.15

US President Obama is stealing the headlines while on a trip to twin summits in Southeast Asia this week as he continues to make good on promises to double-down the US commitment to ASEAN states.  At APEC, he stumped for continued US engagement and monitoring of the ongoing South China Sea dispute and at the ASEAN summit, he and leaders from the ten ASEAN states penned an agreement to elevate US-ASEAN to the level a strategic partnership – that means more security cooperation and deepened involvement between US and claimant states (except China) in the South China Sea issue. I’ve long said that the US will never eclipse the weight of China in Southeast Asia, given China’s gravity, but I was surprised to learn that cumulative FDI to Southeast Asia continues to outpace China and rank #1.  We can be assured that the return on that investment is much higher than China’s, and more focus should be given to what the US is investing in.  I toured a 100GW wind farm on the Mekong coastline in Bac Liue, Vietnam a few weeks ago to discover this was a GE invested project.  Later Ambassador Ted Osius described the project as win-win-win with wind – 1) US investment in 2) rural electrification in Vietnam provided by 3) sustainable energy. These are the type of projects worth doubling down on.

EXSE FOCUS

 China, Laos to Build $6 Billion Railway by 2020 – The Diplomat China aims to complete the long-awaited construction of a multibillion-dollar, high-speed rail project from southwestern China to Laos by 2020 as part of Beijing’s efforts to link itself to Southeast Asian markets, official sources confirmed over the weekend. The two countries agreed Friday to build a 40-billion yuan ($6.28 billion), 418-kilometer railway from Kunming, the capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, to the Laotian capital of Vientiane.//Officials have confirmed this project at least four times now – the hold up has been in the financing and bargaining over the size of concessions to the left and right of the train track. Currently, 50m on each side will be cleared, that includes forest resources (HUGE) going to China and then much space available for infrastructure and commercial investment.  Cutting a 100m wide swatch 418km long is unprecedented in railroad history.

Women fishers voice concerns about the Tonle Sap in Cambodia – Mekong Commons The people of the Kampong Phluk community, a seasonally-flooded wetlands on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, are facing impacts on their culture and livelihood especially from planned dams, such as the Lower Sesan 2 and the Mekong mainstream dams, and due to recent changes in fisheries management around Tonle Sap Lake. In this article, women in the community who depend on the fisheries in the lake for maintaining their families’ food source and livelihoods voice their perspectives and concerns.

Lower Sesan 2 dam putting livelihoods and environment at risk – Southeast Asia Globe The giant dam is one of the most controversial construction projects in Cambodia. The electricity-generation potential of the Lower Sesan 2 is massive but, for the Mekong River’s aquatic life and nearby villagers, the price of such progress could be colossal.

The Toxicity of Agriculture – The Diplomat In rural Vietnam we discover a disturbing connection between agricultural productivity and Mekong river pollution. Luc Forsyth and Gareth Bright have set out on a journey to follow the Mekong river from sea to source. The Diplomat will be sharing some of the stories they’ve found along the way. For more about the project, check out the whole series here.

Pacific trade pact praised, panned as Obama urges approval – The Jakarta Post The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the US and 11 other Pacific nations is drawing potential new members from Asia and criticism from those excluded, as it heads for a tough ride in the US Congress. Leaders of the trade grouping that spans the Pacific Rim met alongside a regional economic summit on Wednesday in the Philippines and President Barack Obama urged them to ratify the deal “as quickly as possible.”

Related: As TPP Leaders Celebrate, China Urges Creation of Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area – The Diplomat

Gunboat Diplomacy in the South China Sea – The Diplomat Two events in recent days have turned the tables on Chinese initiatives since 2009 in taking control of the vast waters of the South China Sea. On October 27, a U.S. guided missile destroyer passed within 12 miles of the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea (SCS) on a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FNO) which China condemned as a threat to its national sovereignty. Two days later the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China’s argument that the Court had no jurisdiction over the Philippines’ challenge to Chinese territorial claims in SCS.

Related: The Myth of a ‘Strategic Imbalance’ in the South China Sea – The Diplomat

Related: Who Is Really Overstepping the Bounds of International Law in the South China Sea? – The Diplomat

Interview: Jin Liqun of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank – GoKunming Jin Liqun, president-designate of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), believes that Bangladesh is on the right track in terms of ensuring sustainable development, and is therefore ready to provide support to infrastructure projects in Bangladesh before those in any other country. In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Jin lauded the country’s sustained economic growth and said, “This is a huge credit to the leadership of the government and also to the great people of Bangladesh.”

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

How Will Myanmar’s Elections Affect Relations With China? – The Diplomat The landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in last Sunday’s elections is a turning point in Myanmar’ s history. The NLD will have an opportunity to rule alone, given its super majority in the national parliament. How will an NLD government in Myanmar affect the country’s ties with China? Already, analysts are debating the possible impact of this new government on China-Myanmar relations. There are some legitimate worries that matters could deteriorate.

Vietnam wants good relations with China, defends sovereignty – The Jakarta Post Vietnam’s prime minister said Wednesday that the communist country will do its best to develop good relations with China, but at the same time will defend its sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea. The prime minister also called for a boost in national defense and security, and international support for its national construction and defense. Vietnam and China along with several other countries are locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where recent Chinese land reclamation projects have raised concerns.

Asean Summit: South China Sea disputes get non-claimant countries’ attentionThe Star KUALA LUMPUR: The South China Sea maritime and territorial disputes are causing alarm even among non-claimant countries, with leaders from India and Japan asking all parties to settle the issue peacefully. The topic is expected to be raised during the East Asia Summit here today as leaders from the Asean 10 meet their dialogue partners from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.

Related: Asean leaders raise concern about South China Sea island-building as China tries to keep it off the table – The South China Morning Post

US Announces Maritime Security Boost for Southeast Asia – The Diplomat The United States is boosting maritime security assistance to Southeast Asia, the White House announced November 17 as U.S. President Barack Obama kicked off a weeklong visit to Asia for the latest round of summitry. “We are increasing the maritime security capacity of our allies and partners, to respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region,” the statement said.

US, ASEAN to Ink New Strategic Partnership – The Diplomat The United States is set to elevate its relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by inking a new strategic partnership following upcoming U.S.-ASEAN consultations in Kuala Lumpur, sources confirmed to The Diplomat this week.

TPP Signatories Must Press Vietnam to Drop Proposed ‘Draconian’ Laws: Rights Group – Radio Free Asia The United States and other signatories to a major free trade agreement between Pacific Rim countries should pressure Vietnam to drop proposed laws that would allow the authorities to expand a crackdown on critics of the one party communist government, a rights group said Friday. Vietnam is using vague national security laws to stifle dissent, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement, adding that signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) must push Vietnam to halt legislation that would add even more penalties to its “already draconian criminal code.”

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

INTERVIEW – How should China decarbonise? – China Dialogue China Dialogue interviewed Teng Fei, an expert on China’s climate and energy policy and associate professor at the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University, on how China can make big cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions in the longer term following a projected peak by 2030 or earlier. Decarbonising the Chinese economy and other large emitters by 2050 is viewed as crucial if the world is avoid runaway climate change. Teng is is also a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Samoa Gets Additional Funds to Boost Hydropower, Cut Fuel Use – ADB The Asian Development Bank (ADB)-assisted, Samoa Renewable Energy Development and Power Sector Rehabilitation Project, is getting additional combined cofinance of $7.55 million to help the country cut its reliance on fuel oil and to increase energy security.

 

CHINA

After Paris Attacks, China Seeks More International Help Fighting Xinjiang Separatists – The Diplomat On November 16, in the first regular press conference after the Paris attacks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei called terrorism “a common challenge faced by all humanity” and urged “joint efforts … to address both the symptoms and the root causes of terrorism. Hong added that “double standards should be abandoned,” a reference to China’s displeasure when the West is slow to call violent attacks in China terrorist actions. Part of the world’s “joint efforts” to combat terrorism, Hong said, should involve targeting Uyghur separatists. “Clamping down on the ETIM should be an integral part of the global fight against terrorism,” Hong argued.

Chinese Debate Proper Response to Hostage’s Killing – NYT As news spread on Thursday that Islamic State militants had executed a Chinese hostage, some Chinese called on their government to send troops to the Middle East, while others cautioned that such a move could invite terrorism at home.

Related: Islamic State hostage killing: China vows justice after confirming death – The Guardian

China Says Kills 28 Suspects in Xinjiang Coal Mine Attack After 56-day ManhuntRadio Free Asia Chinese official media reported on Friday that police killed 28 members of a “terrorist group” in the mainly Muslim Xinjiang region, following a two-month manhunt for suspects in a deadly coalmine attack in September. The Xinjiang regional government’s Tianshan web portal, in a posting that included photos of armed police dressed in black patrolling against the backdrop of a mountainous, snowy landscape, said the slain group had committed “a violent terrorist attack under the direct command of an overseas extremist organization.”

China Burns Much More Coal Than Reported, Complicating Climate Talks – NYT China, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases from coal, has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data. The finding could complicate the already difficult efforts to limit global warming.

China’s Nuclear Vision Collides With Villagers’ Fears – NYT HUBIN VILLAGE, China – This placid, leafy hamlet tucked beside a dam in the countryside hardly seems like the next testing ground over China’s efforts to cut smog and greenhouse gases. But here among cornfields and crumbling stone homes skirted by persimmon trees, the government intends to build a nuclear power plant.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

An Interactive History of the Xayaburi DamInternational Rivers The following timeline gives an interactive view of the history of the Xayaburi Dam project. The first dam proposed and under construction on the lower stretch of the Mekong River mainstream in Laos, the Xayaburi Dam has faced significant opposition from local communities, Mekong Governments, the Mekong River Commission (MRC), scientists and stakeholders from around the world. Despite being under construction it continues to be the subject of lawsuits, human rights complaints and OECD Guidelines complaints.

Cambodia Denies Sam Rainsy Arrest Warrant Was Politically MotivatedRadio Free Asia Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday dismissed claims that a court decision to issue an arrest warrant for Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy was politically motivated and said his lawyer had acted alone in pursuing a defamation case against the opposition chief. Speaking to foreign diplomats and a representative for the United Nations’ human rights office, Hor Namhong said the warrant “was not triggered by [tensions between] the [ruling] Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) and the CNRP,” despite claims by rights groups and the international community linking it to the situation.

Assessment Highlights Ongoing Deficiencies of Burma’s Human Rights Commission – The Irrawaddy RANGOON — Burma’s human rights commission is at risk of being viewed as an “alibi institution” in the service of the government, according to the findings of a fact-finding mission, presented at a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday. FORUM-ASIA and Burma Partnership, together with Smile Education and Development Foundation and Equality Myanmar, led a mission to the country from Nov. 16-18 to assess the impact and effectiveness of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHCR), over a year since its reconstitution.

Ethnic aspects of the electionsDVB As anticipated, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in last week’s polls. This is a massive and historic achievement; nothing will be the same again in Burmese politics. Over the past couple of days, a number of ethnic nationality friends have been in touch to express disappointment regarding the poor showing of ethnic political parties – at least beyond parts of Arakan [Rakhine], Chin and Shan states. A large majority of Burma’s citizens voted for change: out with the military-backed government, and in with ‘The Lady’. Many citizens who identify with their ethnic nationality nevertheless voted for the long-standing symbol of opposition to military rule.

Burma Army Offensive Continues in Kachin State – The Irrawaddy RANGOON — Burma’s Armed Forces continued their offensive on Kachin Independence Army (KIA) positions in Kachin State’s Mohnyin Township on Thursday, firing artillery rounds since 7 am, according to locals.

 

YUNNAN

Grassroots forest management in Yunnan’s Xinqi – GoKunming Today, Xinqi is a pleasant village that reaps the benefits of its grassroots decision to manage and live off its forests. It produces furniture and other timber products, as well as non-timber forest products. Examples include but are not limited to honey, walnuts, mushrooms, camellia oil and other traditional soap ingredients. Where farms have not been replaced by forest, they often apply tree intercropping techniques where the trees fertilize and stabilize the soil while regulating crop humidity and moisture. Additional future income is expected from eco-tourism. A guesthouse with lots of wood features and a view of the mountains is being constructed for that very purpose, and the forests attract crowds searching for natural beauty.

China International Travel Mart generates massive interest – GoKunming Yunnan’s strategic importance in foreign relations is growing, and growing quickly. Reflecting this, a formerly pedestrian event in Kunming moved to the forefront of both economic and political relations between China and the wider world this past weekend. The 2015 China International Travel Mart (2015中国国际旅游交易会) ended November 15, concluding after three days of furious networking and international outreach.

This week’s digest was compiled by Rachel Tristch with brief commentary by Brian Eyler. 

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