Regional round-up for week of 7.12.15

Giant steps for the future of US-Vietnam relations this week, as Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong paid a historic visit to Washington and discussed Agent Orange cleanup, the TPP, and military relations with President Obama.  It was the first time that a standing party General Secretary visited the US – Ho Chi Minh lived in the US before he became founder of Vietnam’s Communist Party.  The Chinese stock market roller coaster threatened to unravel much of the goodwill promised in Xi Jinping’s Silk Road infrastructure development projects and the AIIB – let’s keep our eye on this.  Finally Thai usurper PM Prayuth continued to prove his reputation as Southeast Asia’s biggest asshole by separating more than 50 Uighur families for life – he sent 170 women and children refugees to Turkey while dispatching their husbands back to China for likely life imprisonment.  These stories and more below.

EXSE FOCUS

After Week of Turmoil, Chinese Stocks Post Further Gains – NYTimes A week of volatility in China’s stock markets ended on a better note than many investors expected, as government policies to prop up shares seemed to have muted some of the panic among sellers. China’s Shanghai composite index jumped 4.5 percent Friday, after a similar rise on Thursday. Responding to the restored confidence and a new proposal from the Greek government for a bailout plan, regional markets followed suit. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong rose over 2.1 percent.//Recovery in China’s stock market is critical for Xi Jinping’s political aspirations both domestically and abroad.  A major crash could bankrupt his policy reform plans and reduce much capital earmarked for infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia.  This week the Indonesian media ran a headline of China poses a bigger threat to Indonesia than Greece with logic in the aforementioned vein, but the headline could read the same in each of Southeast Asia’s countries.

Related: The Problem With China’s Efforts to Prop Up Its Stock Market

Ignoring Protests, Thailand Deports About 100 Uighurs Back to China – NYTimes Thailand has sent about 100 ethnic Uighurs back to China, the country they fled, a Thai government spokesman said on Thursday. Thailand acted despite international warnings that the Uighurs could face harsh treatment in China and pleas that they be allowed to resettle elsewhere. // Point for China in Thai relations, adds to Thai gov announcement of Chinese sub deal a few weeks ago. 

ExSE analysis by Will Feinberg here.

Southeast Asia Drought Forces Farmers to Leave Fields Unplanted – Radio Free Asia A severe lack of rain and higher-than-normal temperatures in parts of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have caused some farmers to leave their fields and rice paddies unplanted, sources inside the developing Southeast Asian countries said.//Finally the rains came this week.  Overnight the Mekong rose by one meter in Vientiane – droughts and sudden rises in river levels disables the opportunity for flood retreat agriculture, a long relied on form of planting in Southeast Asia.  

Malaysian prime minister faces corruption allegations – CFR Asia Unbound Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing calls to resign after a Wall Street Journal report traced nearly $700 million of deposits into his personal bank account from the 1Malaysia Development Bhd. (1MDB), the country’s strategic development fund. Investigators have frozen bank accounts associated with the case and have raided the offices of 1MDB, while both 1MDB and Najib have denied wrongdoing. The fund, which is owned by Malaysia’s Finance Ministry, has financed itself by issuing more than $11 billion in debt. Though the fractured political opposition poses little threat to the prime minister,criticism from within his own governing party, and from political heavyweight and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, could threaten Najib’s continued leadership.

Related: self-explanatory.  

Sesan families report illness – Phnom Penh Post Villagers living downstream from the controversial Lower Sesan II hydropower project have claimed that they contracted unusual skin ailments causing large black spots on their bodies after the firm building the dam drained industrial waste into a river they use for bathing. Locals in Plok village, only a few kilometres downstream from the $800-million project in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district, have said they saw workers at the dam site using explosives near the river bank and piping industrial waste into the water earlier this year.//The costs of hydropower projects in Southeast Asia continue to rise along with unforeseen risks.

All aboard: Kunming-Vientiane Railway inches forward – East by Southeast Although a bit trite with repetition, no saying better encapsulates the major obstacle facing Laos than “geography is destiny”. The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, Laos is wedged between the vast rivers and expansive mountain ranges that demarcate its natural borders with China, VietnamCambodiaMyanmar and Thailand. Because of its lack of access to maritime trade routes, the small country has historically relied heavily on domestic subsistence agriculture with little opportunity for much international commerce. // Kunming – Singapore (really South Malaysia) rail would be HUGE win for China, and Laos must be a part of that. Beijing’s progress on this will reflect robustness of government and economy.

Myanmar: General Election Is Scheduled for Nov. 8 – AP via NYTimes The military, which had ruled the country since 1964, scheduled the last general election in 2010 under rules widely seen as rigging the outcome. // These elections will be test of Burma’s commitment to democracy reforms. Suu Kyi’s absence will hurt but not crush NLD’s chances, watch to see which candidate they field.

President Obama, Vietnam Party chief talk deepening of partnership at White House — Tuoi Tre News U.S. President Barrack Obama and Vietnam’s Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong have agreed to the principle of resolving disputes in the East Sea via peaceful means based on international law. The agreement was reached during a meeting held at the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 7 (local time) between the U.S. president and his guest, who is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam. // VN wants to be new US darling, almost all citizens want to be in TPP (June Pew poll). Not just hedge against China, VN wants development it can’t get from China.

              Related: Vietnam Party Chief’s Historic Visit to Washington: Establishing Strategic Trust   

Thailand’s electricity utility may be complicit in human rights violations in Myanmar’s Salween dams – Mekong Commons The building of the 241 meter high Mong Ton (also known as Tasang dam) is well underway in the Upper Salween River in the southern Shan state of Myanmar. The largest dam planned on the Upper Salween River, the US$10 billion Mong Ton dam’s reservoir  will flood at least 640 square km stretching across two-thirds of Shan State. It will produce 7,000 MW of power, 90% of which will be exported to Thailand and China. the reservoir. // 🙁

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

UN tribunal to begin South China Sea deliberation – BBC A United Nations tribunal is to begin deliberations on whether it can hear a legal challenge over territorial claims in the South China Sea. In 2013, the Philippines asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration to declare invalid most of China’s maritime claims in the disputed area. China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea angering several Asian neighbors. It says the tribunal does not have the jurisdiction to hear the challenge. If the tribunal decides it can rule on the case, the legal hearings will get under way.  // The likely mixed ruling (expected in August or September) will be an ultimate Phils win, but probably won’t stop China from doing anything as the court has no jurisdiction.

              Related: China on talks with PH: No need to drop case

              Related: 3 out of 5 Filipinos have ‘little trust’ in China – SWS poll

A Tipping Point in the US-China-Vietnam Triangle – The Diplomat The significance of Trong’s visit lies more in what it means than in what it says. For the United States, it means that the strategic gains from a close and strong relationship with Vietnam have outweighed the strategic costs of provoking China and the political costs of befriending a communist regime. For Vietnam, the trip will boost the communist regime’s legitimacy, but at the same time, the friendship with America will have political and strategic ramifications. It will affect the balance of power among the country’s elites in favor of the reformers at the expense of the conservatives, and it will irritate China. Trong’s trip means that the reformers are on the rise and the conservatives in decline. It also means that Hanoi has reached the limits of its engagement with Beijing and is now trying to reach out to Washington to broaden its options.

Cambodia’s Strategic China Alignment – The Diplomat Cambodia’s provisional alignment with China will depend on the foreign policy behaviors of Thailand and Vietnam toward Cambodia, ASEAN’s relevance in meeting the security need of its members, its capability to withstand perceived threats from neighboring countries, and the availability of sufficient support from the international community to ensure the small kingdom’s survival, sovereignty, and pursuit of prosperity. // Cambodia gets infrastructure development, an army training school, and support for neglecting human rights from China. In return China got support in the SCS during Cambodia’s 2012 ASEAN chair. 

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

New dams could drown hopes of returning home for refugees – Bangkok Post In mid-June, the Thai military government and its Myanmar counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding on energy, with an eye to expanding Thailand’s import of electricity from Myanmar, by up to 10,000 megawatts. The initial agreement also promotes overseas investment by Thai state-owned and public companies in numerous coal and hydropower projects in Myanmar, including the Hat Gyu, Ywathit, and Mong Ton dams on the Salween River. Significantly, these projects are all situated in ethnic states, namely the Shan, Kayah, Karen, and the Tanessserim divisions, which make up some of the country’s most vulnerable areas and populations.

Italian-Thai set to sign 50-year Dawei contract – Bangkok Post Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) through its subsidiary Dawei Development Co (DDC) will sign a contract with the Myanmar government by July 24 to develop and run the Dawei economic development zone for at least 50 years.

As Blockade Against Sarawak Dam Continues, OECD Complaint Results in Unprecedented Agreement – International Rivers The blockade to stop the Baram Hydroelectric Dam in Sarawak, Malaysia from being built is now entering into its 21st month, standing as a testament to the strength, determination and hope of thousands of women and men, prepared to go up against all odds. Up to 20,000 indigenous people, known collectively as the Orang Ulu, or upriver people, would be displaced if the proposed 1,200 megawatt (MW) dam moves ahead. Much of the land to be inundated is considered the customary territory of the Orang Ulu. The blockade effort began in October 2013 and consists of two separate sites set up at road access points in the area of the proposed dam.

 

CHINA

Chinese Authorities Detain and Denounce Rights Lawyers – NYTimes At least five lawyers from a firm that specialized in rights cases have been detained and accused of running a criminal syndicate to smear the Communist Party and “create social turmoil” through their litigation, state-run media said on Saturday.

Mass Evacuation in China as Typhoon Chan-Hom Hits Coast – NYTimes A typhoon swept along the coast of eastern China on Saturday, whipping up high waves, intense winds, and rain that forced the crowded commercial region to suspend flights and evacuate hundreds of thousands of residents.

The Big Story Behind China’s New Military Strategy – The Diplomat As China reemerges as one of the globe’s leading powers, just what type of actor it will be on the world stage has become a subject of intense debate among China watchers and the broader public. With tensions rising to what one eminent China scholar has called a “tipping point” in U.S.-China relations, the Chinese government released its first-ever white paper on military strategy just before the fourteenth annual Shangri-La Dialogue was held in Singapore this past weekend. Since 2012, Beijing has indeed become more assertive in proximate waters, and the paper underscores determination to strengthen Chinese “strategic management of the sea.”

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Outcry as Malaysia’s human trafficking record brings praise from US — Reuters Country could now sign up to Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but advocates say Malaysia continues to face human trafficking issues. The United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centres, US sources said on Wednesday, a move that could smooth the way for an ambitious US-led free-trade deal with the south-east Asian nation and 11 other countries. The upgrade to so-called “tier two watch list” status removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama’s signature global trade deal. // U.S. reps have said they’ll introduce bills to stop this if it isn’t changed. How will Obama get around it for TPP?

Seven dead and dozens injured in attacks in Thailand’s south Agence France-Presse More than 6,300 people have been killed in the conflict pitting troops and police against rebels seeking greater autonomy for three Muslim-majority provinces. Three people were killed and a dozen injured in four separate bomb blasts in Thailand’s war-torn deep south, police said on Saturday, while another four died from shooting and arson attacks. More than 6,300 people have been killed in near-daily conflict pitting troops and police against rebels seeking greater autonomy for the three Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia since 2004.

Vietnam After 2016: Who Will Lead? – The Diplomat Every five years, the Vietnamese Communist Party holds its National Congress. Among other important policy issues, the party congress chooses the central leadership teams, to govern both the party and the country. If the 11th party congress (2011) is any guide, the new Central Committee, which will be elected by all delegates at the coming 12th party congress (to be held in 2016), will select a new general secretary (Tng Bí Thư), a new Politburo (B Chính Tr), a new Secretariat (Ban Bí Thư), and a new Central Commission of Inspection (U Ban Kim Tra Trung Ương).

Why people don’t buy insurance in Asia – ADB Blog Insurance is often viewed as a product of the sophisticated, capitalistic system of the West, and those who are outside this cultural group are less likely to value insurance protection. Asians, who rely on informal insurance such as a family network, are thus typically less focused on buying insurance

Kokang conflict reveals ethnic strife unlikely to end after cease fire – East by Southeast Many things in Myanmar are changing – the economy, the government, infrastructure. Others, like violent ethnic conflict, seem destined to stay the same. For the past three months, the government of Myanmar has been fighting the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), an ethnic rebel army based on the country’s border with China. The MNDAA are predominantly made up of ethnic Kokang fighters. The Kokang are ethnically Han Chinese and the live in Kokang region, in Myanmar’s Shan state.

 

YUNNAN

New Research: Rubber Expansion Threatens Biodiversity and Livelihoods – East by Southeast  Xishuangbanna prefecture in China’s Yunnan province has seen an explosion of rubber cultivation in the past 15 years. Increasing amounts of environmentally valuable and protected land are being cleared for rubber plantations that are economically unsustainable, new research suggests. More widespread monitoring is vital to design policy that protects livelihoods and environments. The research was recently published in Global Environmental Change and constitutes a joint effort by scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) East and Central Asia office, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the University of Singapore and the East-West Center.

This week’s news digest was compiled by John Jeunemann with analysis by John Jeunemann and Brian Eyler.  

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