Regional Roundup for Week of 12.9.16

This week saw stories about natural disasters in Indonesia and Thailand, and human rights disasters in Myanmar and the Philippines. Also, Thailand has a new king, Cambodian opposition party vice president Ken Sokha is pardoned, and Trump continues to scare us all with his twitter account.


Thai Prince Becomes King—New York Times The prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn, accepted the invitation to be the king of Thailand in a ceremony on Thursday.

Related: Thailand’s long succession—New Mandala

‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’—New York Times Inside President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal antidrug campaign in the Philippines, our photojournalist documented 57 homicide victims over 35 days.//This is the most powerful piece of journalism that I have seen in a long time. The photos are very disturbing, but this piece effectively conveys the horror of Duterte’s “war on drugs.” The author writes, “I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death. What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all.”

Related: Duterte Says Trump Wished His Drug Crackdown ‘Success’

Confronting genocide in Myanmar –New Mandala Interethnic divisions in a young democracy cannot be downplayed or wished away, and it’s time Myanmar’s government and the international community acknowledge strong evidence that genocide is being perpetrated against the Rohingya and act to end it, Katherine Southwick writes.

Related: The Dark Depths of Myanmar’s Rohingya Tragedy—The Diplomat

Related: Killings, rapes, burnings: Rohingya describe their terror after fleeing Myanmar—South China Morning Post

Malaysian PM urges intervention in Arakan State—DVB Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called for foreign intervention to stop the “genocide” of Rohingya Muslims in Burma on Sunday, as he joined thousands of Rohingya protesters in Kuala Lumpur.//One of the key features of ASEAN is its commitment to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other states. The treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar is once again putting this commitment to the test. Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, human rights violations in Myanmar caused ASEAN to seriously reevaluate its principle of non-intervention for the first time since the Cold War. It was this that lead ASEAN to adopt the policy of “constructive engagement.” Read Amitav Acharya’s “Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order” for more information on this.

Related: PM Najib leads Malaysian protest against ‘genocide’ of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar—South China Morning Post

Related: Malaysia, Don’t Use Burma to Distract from Disquiet at Home—The Irrawaddy

China transforms smaller Southeast Asian neighbours with railway, power plant and property investment—South China Morning Post China’s investment is transforming its smaller Southeast Asian neighbours like never before while helping turn Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar into bigger destinations for its exports.

Joy as China shelves plans to dam ‘angry river’—The Guardian Environmentalists celebrate as Beijing appears to abandon plans to build giant hydroelectric dams on 1,750-mile Nujiang.//The author argues that economics is the most important explanation for the decision. Phillips writes, “Waning demand for power, a consequence of China’s slowing economy, and the difficulty of transmitting electricity from remote regions such as Yunnan to the rest of the country, means many believe large-scale dams no longer make financial sense.” If this is the case, we are likely to see more Chinese dam projects abandoned in the future. However, Chinese dam developers will continue to search for financially viable projects in other countries.


Trump, Taiwan and China: The Controversy, Explained—New York Times No American president or president-elect is believed to have spoken with a Taiwanese president in decades — until a fateful telephone call on Friday.

What’s Behind Growing Japan-Singapore Relations?—The Diplomat As they celebrate 50 years of ties, the two Asian states are moving ever closer amid regional and global anxieties.

Pay Attention to Australia and Singapore’s Growing Defense Ties—The Diplomat The two states share a common vision for Asian security, and are increasing cooperation to that end.

Has China offered to bail out Malaysia’s 1MDB? At what cost?—South China Morning Post China’s economic largesse to Malaysia was back in the spotlight on Wednesday following an apparent renewed effort by Beijing to bail out the Southeast Asian country’s beleaguered 1MDB state investment fund.

Related: Singapore to Ban Former Goldman Banker in Connection With 1MDB Scandal—WSJ

Demise of TPP revives RCEP—Phnom Penh Post The announcement by US president-elect Donald Trump that he intends to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement has breathed new life into the largely dormant Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a rival multilateral free trade proposal that puts China and ASEAN in leading roles.//Currently, RCEP is far less ambitious than the TPP, especially in terms of its depth of coverage on goods and services. It also lacks environment and labor standards, which were included in the TPP. For a comprehensive list of the similarities and differences, see this chart by the Asian Trade Centre.


Why the Mekong River Commission Matters—The Diplomat Despite its limitations, the body is key to ongoing efforts to save one of the world’s largest and longest rivers.

Burma Rivers Network Calls for a Halt to Dam Projects in Conflict Areas—The Irrawaddy Findings from BRN’s two-year documentation process indicate that completed and planned dam projects have diminished locals’ livelihoods and security.

Indonesia to Tackle Loss of Forests, Fires –The Irrawaddy Indonesia strengthens its moratorium on converting peat swamps to plantations in a move a conservation research group says will help prevent annual fires

Hydropower in Laos: An Alternative Approach—East by Southeast It’s time to take another look at the future of energy in Southeast Asia.

VN green energy gets strong tail wind—Mekong Eye Việt Nam is hoping to boost its renewable energy production, especially wind and solar energy, to more than 10.7 per cent of total generation by 2030, up from the previously planned 6 per cent.

How Big Banks Are Putting Rain Forests in Peril—New York Times Global lenders, sometimes flouting their own policies, have financed projects in Indonesia and elsewhere that destroy ecosystems and contribute to climate change.

“My spirit is there”: life in the shadow of the Mong Ton dam—Mongabay The Mong Ton is the largest of five dams planned for Myanmar’s stretch of the Salween River. If it is built, traditional ways of life, and areas of global ecological significance, will be gone forever.

Off-grid solar to help Myanmar bring electricity to all by 2030—The Guardian In a country where only 16% of rural homes have power a government-led scheme is bringing electricity to thousands of villages


32 dead in China’s second major coal mine blast in a week—South China Morning Post Thirty-two miners were confirmed dead on Sunday in the second coal mine explosion in a week on the mainland, state-run media reported.


The end of cheap labour in Southeast Asia?—Southeast Asia Globe As the International Labour Organisation kicked off its 16th annual Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting today, Maurizio Bussi, director of the ILO country office for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, spoke to Southeast Asia Globe about the challenge of turning the region’s economic growth into social progress

Burma suspends sending of migrant workers to Malaysia amid diplomatic rowDVB The Department of Labour in Naypyidaw on Tuesday ordered overseas employment agencies to temporarily stop sending migrants to Malaysia amid rising tensions between the two countries over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in western Burma.

Related: Myanmar bans workers from going to Malaysia as Rohingya crisis grows—The Star


Kofi Annan, in Myanmar, Voices Concern Over Reported Abuses of Rohingya—New York Times Mr. Annan, the former head of the United Nations who leads a commission that was formed to study conditions in restive Rakhine State, urged security services to follow the “rule of law.”

Related: Myanmar’s Leader Faulted for Silence as Army Campaigns Against Rohingya—New York Times

Related: Aung San Suu Kyi accuses international community of stoking unrest in Myanmar—The Guardian

Obama Lifts Some Sanctions Against Myanmar—New York Times The low-key announcement came despite the fact that Myanmar’s army is in the midst of a brutal campaign to drive out the Rohingya, a Muslim minority.

Shan State MPs vote to designate Northern Alliance ‘terrorists’—DVB In an emergency session on Wednesday, the Shan State legislature passed an urgent proposal to designate as “terrorist organisations” the four ethnic armed groups fighting with Burmese government forces in the state’s north.

Shan State Peace Talks Fall Apart—The Irrawaddy ‘Now let’s go back to our territory and launch this war again,’ says TNLA Col Tar Phone Kyaw, as talks fail to materialize.


Thailand to Investigate BBC over Profile of New King—The Irrawaddy ‘Authorities have to pursue the matter. It is their duty to pursue anything that is against the law,’ says Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

Related: Prayut takes aim at BBC Thai over report—Bangkok Post

Severe Flooding in Southern Thailand Kills 14—The Irrawaddy Severe flooding due to heavy rain in southern Thailand has killed 14 people, including five students.


Philippine vice-president resigns, promises to lead opposition to Duterte policies—South China Morning Post Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo vowed on Monday to spearhead national opposition to extrajudicial killings and other flashpoint issues surrounding President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial anti-crime crackdown.

Related: Philippines Vice-President resigns due to differences with Duterte administration—Investvine

Who built Marcos’ tomb?—New Mandala Asia’s oldest democracy is starkly divided, as Filipinos’ disappointment in post-EDSA democracy leads to disillusionment and, for some, a rise in authoritarian nostalgia, Cleve Arguelles writes.

Growing insecurity in Muslim Mindanao—New Mandala Five months into Duterte’s presidency, there are worrying signs that the long-running peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front may be off track, Nathan Shea writes.


Cambodia’s King Grants Royal Pardon to Kem Sokha—RFA Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha received a royal pardon on Friday, freeing him from serving a five-month jail sentence and setting the stage for an easing of a year of political tensions as the authoritarian Southeast Asian country heads into election in 2017 and 2018.

Boom built on ‘slavery’—Phnom Penh Post The use of debt bondage to trap workers in “modern day slavery” is widespread in many of Cambodia’s brick-making factories, indicates research by rights group Licadho, whose findings suggest the Kingdom’s recent building boom is built on the illegal practice.

Shifting Idylls: Urban-Rural Dynamics in Cambodia—The Diplomat A closer look at how the city and the countryside – and perceptions of them – are evolving.


Najib’s fear campaign—New Mandala The Malaysian Prime Minister’s ruthless tactics to hold onto power at all costs demonstrate that he is the one who is most afraid while his people are willing to fight on, Bridget Welsh writes.

Related: Why Malaysian PM Najib Razak is playing the race card—South China Morning Post


Indonesia Earthquake Kills Almost 100 in Aceh Province—New York Times The temblor had a preliminary magnitude of 6.5 and struck while many were asleep.

Related: Indonesian government declares state of emergency after quake leaves thousands displaced in Aceh province—South China Morning Post

Indonesia Muslims Push to Jail Christian Politician Accused of Blasphemy—WSJ Conservative groups held the second mass rally in a month against the capital’s Christian governor for allegedly insulting the Quran, stoking tensions in a city on edge following recent arrests linked to Islamic State.

Related:  Has Jokowi handed a strategic victory to radicals?—New Mandala

Indonesia’s Inward Turn—The Diplomat The country’s focus on domestic priorities is a loss for ASEAN and the world.

Jokowi wakes up the leviathan—New Mandala Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is turning state-owned enterprises into ‘strong buffaloes’ to drive his economic development strategy. But, not everyone is happy, not least the country’s private sector. Kyunghoon Kim explains why.

This week’s news digest was curated by Gabriella Neusner.

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