Regional Roundup for Week of 10.19.15

ExSE Focus

Vietnam’s Mekong Delta in desperate shortage of fresh water — Tuoi Tre News The General Department of Irrigation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development held a meeting on Friday in the local province of Ben Tre to discuss solutions to deal with the circumstance. Dang Van Dung, vice director of the Southern Hydrometeorology Station, told the meeting that the raining season in Vietnam came around two months late this year and raining has not occurred evenly over the region. The water level upstream Mekong River from May this year has been lower than the average level, and at some points 1 – 2 meters lower than the lowest level recorded before. // Hopefully the Vietnamese can figure out how to deal with water unavailability and salination in the delta in time to implement large-scale solutions before these sorts of shortages are the norm. 

Carter says US military will exercise its navigation rights in South China Sea — The Guardian In a rebuff to China, US defence secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday that the United States military would sail and fly wherever international law allowed, including the disputed South China Sea. Carter spoke after a two-day meeting between US and Australian foreign and defense ministers at which the long-time allies agreed to expand defence cooperation and expressed “strong concerns” over Beijing’s building on disputed islands. “Make no mistake, the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea will not be an exception,” Carter told a joint news conference. // The U.S. has been saying this for months now, where is the action? We need to sail within 12nm of these “islands” and see what happens. 
Related: South China Sea islands are only for civilian use, says Chinese general

China and India ‘holding hands’ again in Kunming — Go Kunming China and India, earth’s two most populous nations, have never had the warmest of relations. The key point of contention is always border disputes. Traditionally, the Chinese government has laid claim to portions of what India claims to be areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir. This source of diplomatic conflict escalated, most famously, in the Sino-Indian War of 1962.

China Courts Arakan National Party Ahead of Vote — The Irrawaddy A powerful ethnic nationalist politician from one of Burma’s poorest and most volatile regions said Chinese officials made him an irresistible offer during a recent visit to the country: Ask for anything, and we’ll give it to you. Beijing’s courting of Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), underscores how China is taking steps to protect its most strategic investments in Burma—twin oil and gas pipelines and a deep-sea port—ahead of an unpredictable election in the Southeast Asian nation next month.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China wants naval drills with Southeast Asia in South China Sea — Reuters China’s defense minister said on Friday that he is willing to hold joint drills in the disputed South China Sea with Southeast Asian countries, covering accidental encounters and search and rescue, striking a conciliatory tone over an increasingly tense spat. China’s relations with several Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, have been strained over Beijing’s increasingly assertive tone in pushing territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.
Related: Manila wants ASEAN to decide on naval drills

Vietnam slams China’s construction of lighthouses in East Sea — Thanh Nien News Vietnam resolutely opposes China’s construction of two lighthouses in the Chau Vien (Cuarteron) and Gac Ma (Johnson) reefs in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. The move is a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty, contrary to the common perspectives of the two countries’ leaders, which complicates the situation and escalates tension, the ministry’s spokesperson, Le Hai Binh, said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Singapore to mark 25 years of diplomatic ties — The Straits Times Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Singapore next month, capping a year-long series of celebrations to mark 25 years of diplomatic ties as well as meetings to deepen bilateral cooperation. Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said they looked forward to Mr Xi’s state visit. In their separate meetings yesterday with visiting Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, they noted the close bilateral ties and discussed areas of cooperation.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Thailand to downsize rubber plantations — European Rubber Journal The Thai government is planning to downsize some rubber plantations in the face of a severe drought, which is expected to worsen next year. A report by Bangkok Post on 6 Oct stated that the plan, which runs until 2019, will envisage renting land to farmers and paying them to grow other crops. These will be marketed via various government agencies and banks across the country.

Once a pariah, China’s orange king now adapting to digital age — Go Kunming Blossoming orange tree groves in central Yunnan are about as far as one can get from Chinese prison. And that is just how Chu Shijian (褚时健)likes it. Once convicted of embezzling hundreds of millions of yuan, the 88 year-old now owns a citrus fruit empire facing the challenges of doing business in China’s digital age. Chu is founder and CEO of a Yuxi-based fruit company, and his products are simply called ‘Chu Oranges’. His orchard’s success in breeding and growing specialty oranges has led to a common problem in China — copycat competitors marketing fruits with Chu’s name and label that were grown nowhere near his farms.

China initiates enormous Yangtze water diversion scheme — Go Kunming Although not on the scale of the Grand Canal or the Three Gorges Dam, the waterways of Yunnan province are undergoing radical changes. This is especially true in the Three Parallel Rivers Protected Areas. In the name of “development” and “drought prevention”, a new project launched in the province will divert a stunning quantity of water away from the headwaters of the world’s fourth longest river. Dignitaries and officials attended groundbreaking ceremonies for the Dian Zhong Water Diversion Project (滇中引水工程)on September 30 in Lijiang. Attendees oversaw the initial launch of a program that will divert an estimated 3.403 billion cubic meters of water annually away from the upper reaches of the Yangtze — known as the Jinsha River (金沙江). The ceremony was overseen by Provincial Party Secretary Li Jiheng (李纪恒), while a similar event was held simultaneously in Dali.

CHINA

In a Region Disturbed by Ethnic Tensions, China Keeps Tight Lid on a Massacre — NY Times Armed with only knives, the assailants struck at the coal mine in the dead of night, first killing the security guards and then setting upon the miners as they slept in their dormitory beds. Before the Sept. 18 rampage was over, more than 50 people were dead, at least five of them police officers, and dozens more had been wounded, according to victims’ relatives and residents. Most of the victims were Han Chinese who had been lured to this desolate corner of the far west Xinjiang region by the prospect of steady work and decent pay.

Britain to Put Commerce With China First in President Xi Jinping’s State Visit — NY Times The British chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, chose an unusual destination during a trip to China last month, flying to the restive region of Xinjiang, where human rights groups accuse Beijing of persecuting the minority Uighur population. Preparing for a state visit to Britain by President Xi Jinping of China, who is to arrive Monday, Mr. Osborne was hoping to secure contracts for British construction companies in an ambitious project under which Xinjiang is to become a gateway for roads, rails and pipelines linking China to Europe through Central Asia. // If U.S. could get over its reluctance to get close to business interests, its brands and companies would be much more prevalent in Asia. This is especially important as China develops the Silk Road. That said, the Xinjiang link to EU via Silk Road rhetoric is much stronger than to the U.S.

Xi Jinping plays down China’s economic ‘growing pains’ — The Guardian Xi Jinping has acknowledged that China’s leaders are concerned about the economy, but described the problems as “growing pains”, as he prepared to leave for his first state visit to the UK, bringing with him billions of pounds of planned investment. In the wake of stock market jitters that rocked China and the wider region recently, and with imminent growth figures likely to confirm the slowest growth rate since 2009, the Chinese president said China was looking to external deal-making with countries such as Britain as a way of diversifying its economic base.

China GDP forecast to be just under 7% — The Guardian The importance of China to the global financial system is to be illustrated again on Monday as the world’s second-largest economy releases its estimate of third-quarter gross domestic product. China’s president Xi Jinping acknowledged concerns about the strength of his country’s economy on the eve of a state visit to the UK. The report follows the crash of world stock markets in August on fears about the country’s economic robustness. Economists are now forecasting the slowest Chinese growth rate since the depths of the financial crisis.

A very Chinese coup — The Economist TO MANY foreigners, Li Keqiang’s appointment as prime minister in 2013 was a reassuring choice for a job they assumed would involve day-to-day running of the world’s second-largest economy. A trained economist, he had played a big role in helping the World Bank and a government think-tank produce a joint report calling for bold economic reforms. A few years earlier, as a provincial leader, he had helped two areas achieve faster growth (which he daringly calculated by measuring electricity consumption, rail cargo and loans—rather than by using the government’s “man-made” statistics). Likonomics, as even some state-controlled media took to calling it, looked pretty likeable. This summer it seemed less so. Apparent blunders by economic policymakers shook global confidence in China. In July the Communist Party clumsily attempted to prop up the country’s plunging stockmarkets—a largely futile move which it eventually abandoned. Soon after, without warning or immediate explanation, the People’s Bank of China devalued the yuan by 2%, triggering a wave of panic selling across world markets.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Possible Political Scenarios Following Myanmar’s November Elections — cogitASIA A variety of outcomes are possible in the wake of Myanmar’s general elections on November 8 and each of them has different potential implications for political jockeying. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) are the primary contestants, while ethnic political parties and the military will play a key role in determining who takes leadership positions in the new parliament and government. A two-stage competition will determine who will be the next president. After a successful nomination from either the lower or the upper house of parliament, or the military, the presidential candidates need to win a total of 332 votes between the two houses, or 67 percent of the total.
Related: Vote cancellation in conflict areas higher than in 2010

Malaysia and US to step up intelligence exchange and cooperation — The Star Online MALAYSIA and the United States will step up the exchange of information and intelligence to combat violent extremism, threats on cyber security and transborder crime. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said cooperation in this area was the focus of his discussions with the main intelligence agencies in the United States. Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, met CIA director John O. Brennan and FBI deputy director Mark F. Guilano on Wednesday afternoon, the first day of his official visit to Washington DC. // Hopefully U.S. intel has been keeping an extremely close eye on Malaysia and the region much earlier than this announcement. ISIS has its eyes on the less (easily) governed parts of SE Asia. 

1MDB adviser Goldman Sachs facing FBI, DoJ probe, says WSJ – The Malaysian Insider The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Justice are examining Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s role in allegations of corruption and money laundering at state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), The Wall Street Journal reported today. The US inquiries are at the information-gathering stage, and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Goldman Sachs, the paper reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Investigators “have yet to determine if the matter will become a focus of any investigations into the 1MDB scandal”, WSJ quoted a spokeswoman for the FBI as saying. // It’s been suggested that Deloitte also turned a blind eye to this scandal that continues to unravel. 

Philippines battered as Typhoon Koppu barrels in — BBC News A powerful typhoon is battering the northern Philippines, with at least one person dead, several missing and thousands forced to flee their homes. Typhoon Koppu made landfall near the town of Casiguran on the island of Luzon on Sunday morning, bringing winds of close to 200km/h (124mph). The vast weather system toppled trees and power lines, triggering floods and landslides. Koppu has since weakened but officials fear further flooding. With the typhoon moving slowly, heavy rain is likely to fall in the same areas for several days.

Hope Fades for Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law — cogitASIA Philippine lawmakers on September 23 set December 16 as the new deadline for passing the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), after their earlier plans to approve the draft legislation before the congressional recess from October 10 to November 2 unraveled. There is, however, a possibility that the proposed law, which will implement the peace agreement between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), will not get passed at all. Even if it does limp through the Philippine Congress, the prospects of its implementation appear slim. // Mindanao (poorer than rest of Philippines) won’t get its act together unless it’s governed well, the BBL will help. It won’t pass, but should. 

Philippines’ Aquino says wants to join Trans-Pacific Partnership — Channel News Asia Philippine President Benigno Aquino said on Wednesday (Oct 14) he wanted the country to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) since most countries that signed up for the trade pact were existing allies. Southeast Asia’s second fastest growing economy is not among the 12 parties in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that aims to cut trade barriers and set common standards, from Vietnam to Canada. But it has been invited to join the second round of countries, Aquino said. “We really want to participate in it,” Aquino told a business forum organised by Forbes magazine. // Nice to hear this from Aquino, but will take years for the Philippines to abide by all of the TPP’s rules. 

Miriam Santiago: Bongbong Marcos is my running mate — The Rappler Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago confirmed that Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr is her running mate. After a speech in Pasay City, Santiago was asked if the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was her vice presidential bet and she said, “Yes.” “I think we mutually chose each other, our two camps. We happen to cross each other, the telephone lines happen to cross each other. It’s coincidental. One camp was calling the other camp,” Santiago told reporters on Thursday, October 15.

Philippine Military Says Kidnapping Video Appears to Be Authentic — NY Times A Philippine military spokesman said on Wednesday that a recently posted video of foreigners kidnapped on the island of Mindanao in September was being verified but appeared to be authentic. The video shows two Canadians and a Norwegian man begging for their lives as masked men displaying Islamic State flags threaten them. “A technical team is validating it,” the spokesman, Col. Restituto Padilla Jr., said of the clip on Twitter, which lasts more than two minutes and also appears to show a fourth hostage, a woman from the Philippines, who does not speak. “No group has been identified with finality, and none have claimed responsibility.”

Singapore Eases Monetary Policy as Growth Sputters — The Wall Street Journal Singapore became the latest Asian nation to take policy action to support its sputtering economy as China’s slowdown casts an increasingly large shadow on growth prospects in the region. Singapore’s central bank put the local currency on a slower pace of appreciation Wednesday, easing its currency policy for the second time this year. The decision coincided with news that the island state had narrowly avoided falling into a technical recession, with the economy reporting a tiny expansion. // Singapore is a nice macro curiosity – only country to do monetary policy with exchange rates. Good plan too, expect further easing in Singapore when Fed finally raises rates later this year or early next. 

US urges Prayut to hold quick election — The Bangkok Post Glyn Davies, the new United States ambassador to Thailand, urged the government on Thursday to quickly organise the next general election while confirming that Thailand remained an important US ally. Mr Davies informed reporters of his message after meeting Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai at the Foreign Ministry for about an hour on Thursday. The US still attached importance to its relations with Thailand which had continued for over nine generations. It considered Thailand as a regional ally with comprehensive cooperation covering security, social and civil affairs, law enforcement and environment, the ambassador said.

Indonesian President Calls for Calm After Church Attack in Aceh — NY Times President Joko Widodo of Indonesia appealed for calm on Wednesday in the fractious province of Aceh after a man was shot to death during a brawl set off by the razing of a Christian church. Aceh, on the northern tip of the western island of Sumatra, is among the most religiously conservative regions of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. It is the only province authorized to apply Islamic law.

This week’s Regional Roundup was prepared with added analysis by  John Juenemann. 

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