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: 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
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.