Regional Roundup for Week of 7.26.2015

The big news this week came from Myanmar, where 153 Chinese nationals were sentenced to life imprisonment as punishment for illegal logging in the country’s Kachin state. ExSE will delve into the story and its implications for Sino-Burmese relations later this week. In other news, Cambodia’s senate passed a strict NGO law that threatens to change the way more than 5,000 organizations operate. The law will allow the government to de-register NGO’s if they’re not ‘politically neutral’. 

EXSE FOCUS

Burma sentences 153 Chinese workers to life imprisonment for illegal loggingThe Guardian China has lodged a diplomatic protest with Burma after a court sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life imprisonment for illegal logging. China’s voracious demand for raw materials has fuelled resentment in Burma towards its giant northern neighbour. Regions along Burma’s porous border with China have long been hotbeds for an illegal trade in timber to feed Chinese demand. A court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state in the north of Myanmar, handed down sentences to 155 Chinese citizens on Wednesday. Two of those convicted got 10-year prison terms, the rest life sentences. Rule of law suddenly making its way to Myanmar?Another jab at China as Myanmar moves further away from its old patron? Look for ExSE to explore the implications of this case later this week. 

Related: The Dangers of Chinese Interference in Illegal Logging Case-The Irrawaddy Magazine

 Cambodia’s Senate Passes NGO Law, Despite Ongoing Protests Against ItRadio Free Asia Ruling-party Senators in Cambodia’s parliament on Friday predictably approved a controversial law that lets the government regulate the roughly 5,000 nongovernmental organizations that operate in the developing country. A majority of Senators — 44 from the Cambodian people’s party (CPP) — passed the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), while 11 from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party boycotted the session in protest against the bill that places restrictions on NGOs and associations. The law requires all NGO’s to register activities and finances with government. Government can ‘de-register’ an NGO if it is not ‘politically neutral’. This is a strong move by the the Hun Sen government against those who most often oppose him – activists are right to worry about their future in the country. 

Reopening of US naval base in Philippines could fuel South China Sea rowInvestvine The Philippine government on July 16 announced that it will revive a US-built deep-water naval base in Subic Bay, marking the return of military presence there for the first time since George H.W. Bush was in the White House. China’s expansionist ambition in Southeast Asian waters is seen as the main instigator to the military base’s rebirth. Increasingly discordant exchanges between China and the Philippines have, according to security analysts, demanded action beyond the tub-thumping of President Aquino’s anti-China speech making. Another escalation of tensions in the SCS with no end in sight. Quite possible that US troops could be stationed at new Subic Bay base. It would be prudent for the US to avoid a military presence so close to Scarborough Shoal, situation is combustible enough. 

Daniel Russel: Remarks at the 5th Annual South China Sea ConferenceEast by Southeast On July 21, 2015 at the 5th Annual South China Sea Conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Daniel R. Russel, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the US State Department delivered a keynote speech clearly outlining the US position on China’s recent land reclamation action in the South China Sea and its implications for US-China relations.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Obama to Push U.S. Trade in Kenya as China’s Role GrowsNYTimes Central agreements may help shape a major deal for private investment in Kenya’s infrastructure, while also helping mend relations between governments. Trade between China and Africa, valued at $222 billion in 2014, has been rising swiftly and is now about three times the amount of trade between the United States and the African continent, according to figures from the World Bank and the American government.

U.S. Fears Data Stolen by Chinese Hacker Could Identify SpiesNYTimes The potential exposure of the American intelligence officers could prevent a large number of them from being posted abroad again. American officials are concerned that the Chinese government could use the stolen records of millions of federal workers and contractors to piece together the identities of intelligence officers secretly posted in China over the years.

 Laos and China to Build Bridge to Thailand as Part of Railway ProjectRadio Free Asia Laos and China will jointly build a bridge linking the Southeast Asian nation with northeastern Thailand as part of a U.S. $7.2 billion high-speed railway project that has been delayed by numerous setbacks for more than four years, a Lao government official said. Officials from both sides agreed to construct the bridge over the Mekong River to link Laos with Thailand’s Nong Khai province during a meeting in which they resolved to build the much-delayed rail line from Kunming in south China’s Yunnan province to the Lao capital Vientiane, a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport told RFA’s Lao Service. The cost of this rail line is about equal to Lao PDR’s annual GDP. Laos badly needs infrastructure improvements but vanity projects like this are not the way to go. 

Chinese ship accused of attacking Vietnamese fishing boats off central coastThanh Nien News Fisherfolk in Binh Dinh Province have said their boats were attacked by a Chinese ship while they were fishing in Vietnamese waters this week.Nguyen Nhat Ngoc, a 53-year-old captain, told local coast guards on Friday that his boat with three people aboard was at more than 15 nautical miles from the Spratly Islands on Tuesday when an armored Chinese ship chased after them.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Locals worried about plans to divert water from MekongThe Nation A NETWORK of Thais living along the Mekong River yesterday voiced their concern about a plan to divert water from the river to special economic zones. Beung Kan is one of the provinces on the banks of the Mekong River, which also runs through China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Jintana pointed out that local farmers and fishermen were already suffering from dams built upstream of the river, and hence they have a reason to worry about impacts from other big projects.

Thai Court Holds Hope for Transboundary Justice in the MekongInternational Rivers The closely-watched lawsuit filed by Thai Mekong communities against the Xayaburi Dam’s power purchase agreement (PPA) reaches a critical juncture Friday, as it is the final day that the Administrative Court will accept evidence into the case. Should the court overturn the agreement, construction on the dam would likely be suspended. 

Silence of the DammedMekong Commons In the ongoing controversy over the costs and benefits of hydropower in the Mekong River basin, there is much debate among governments, private business and civil society especially in Thailand and internationally. But one voice seems to be always silent in this debate: that of the local communities of Laos in whose country at least two mainstream Mekong dams are being built or planned and who will face the brunt of the projects’ impacts.

Cash-strapped farmers forced to watch crops wither awayThe Nation AS THE Chao Phraya River Basin runs out of water for farmland, rice farmers are running out of cash. Without water, farmers can do nothing but leave their plants to wither. Without crops, they have no source of certain income. As a result, many farmers have turned to loan sharks to get money to fill their family members’ hungry stomachs. This means the longer the drought crisis, the deeper they will plunge into debt. Based on the grim weather forecasts, there is a risk the drought may drag on for years.

Government water projects set in motionThe Nation THE GOVERNMENT will revive 12 water resource management projects worth more than Bt30 |billion for implementation in 2015-16 to ensure that the country will not face another water shortage over the next decade. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said these projects include construction of more water reservoirs and irrigation systems using the annual investment budget plus some state borrowing. In the longer term, he said, the government needs to conduct a feasibility study on water usage resources in neighbouring countries.

Dawei’s coastal calm disrupted by Thailand’s industrial plansMekong Commons The Dawei Special Economic Zone (DSEZ) in the Dawei district of Tanintharyi Region is a planned massive multi-billion-dollar project that includes a deep-sea port, heavy industries and extensive transport links. The project has met resistance due to its right violations, land grabbing and potentially enormous ecological impacts on coastal livelihoods. Hundreds of farmers have already lost land to the project, but tens of thousands more would be required to give up farmland if the project continues.

Will China ‘export’ GHG emissions through overseas investment?China Dialogue Climate change is now firmly at the top of the agenda, especially in China. The world’s largest polluter wants to become an example of a less carbon-intensive economy, one which embraces renewable energy, makes the transition away from coal and has the capacity to capture carbon instead of emit it. But can China ‘decarbonise’ its economy, and what does cutting carbon domestically mean for the rest of the world? Besides being the world’s leading carbon emitter, China is also responsible for major emissions outside its own borders, many of which result from infrastructure projects in Latin America.

Pollution From Copper Mining in Northern Laos Destroying Local LivelihoodsRadio Free Asia A company operating a copper mine in northern Laos’ Oudomxay province is polluting the local environment and destroying the livelihoods of residents, according to villagers, who have called for officials to investigate the firm. A resident of Sawang village, in Oudomxay’s Namo district, told RFA’s Lao Service that domestic firm CNP Exploration Mining and Import-Exports Company had been digging for copper in the area, ruining the local water.

CHINA

Top Chinese Official Is Ousted From Communist PartyNYTimes Ling Jihua, a top aide to China’s former president, was also removed from public office and will be prosecuted on corruption charges. The charges against the official, Ling Jihua, 58, are the result of an internal investigation begun last December by the party’s Politburo, which found evidence that he took bribes, committed adultery and improperly hoarded a large amount of state and party “core secrets,” according to a report by the state-run Xinhua news agency. Ling first entered the hot seat when his son was notoriously killed in a car crash racing Ferraris around Beijing in 2012. Ling reportedly denied his son was invovled and tried to cover up the incident, paying off two women who were involved in the crash to keep silent. The downfall of Ling Jihua, former top aide to Hu Jintao, further proves that no one is safe from Xi’s anti-graft force. Prosecution of such high officials only causing the Chinese rumour mill to churn more – is Xi aiming for a higher target like Ling’s old boss? 

China’s Global Ambitions, With Loans and Strings AttachedNYTimes The country has invested billions in Ecuador and elsewhere, using its economic clout to win diplomatic allies and secure natural resources around the world. Where the Andean foothills dip into the Amazon jungle, nearly 1,000 Chinese engineers and workers have been pouring concrete for a dam and a 15-mile underground tunnel. The $2.2 billion project will feed river water to eight giant Chinese turbines designed to produce enough electricity to light more than a third of Ecuador.

 Trial of Chinese Rights Campaigners on Subversion Charges ContinuesNYTimes The proceedings in the southern city of Guangzhou against the three defendants, who have been held for over a year, resumed after a monthlong halt. The trial of three prominent rights campaigners, including a lawyer, on charges of inciting subversion continued on Friday in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, amid a sweeping crackdown on human rights lawyers that has drawn international condemnation.

Asia stocks down as China manufacturing weakensThe Associated Press Asian stock markets were rattled Friday by cautious earnings outlooks from U.S. companies and a further deterioration in Chinese manufacturing.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

 Thai officials among more than 100 charged with human traffickingThe Guardian Army general, politicians and police among those charged after dozens of bodies, believed to be of migrants, exhumed from abandoned camps. Thailand’s state prosecutors are pressing charges against more than 100 people, including an army general, in a multinational human trafficking scandal that came to light after dozens of bodies were discovered in the south of the country earlier this year. The sweeping investigation, in which 15 Thai state officials were implicated, began after 36 bodies, believed to be those of migrants from Burma and Bangladesh, were exhumed from abandoned jungle camps near the Thai-Malay border in May. The Thai army has long been rumored to be involved in human trafficking related to sex and fishing trades. 

Related: Thailand Charges 72 With Human Trafficking Crimes Ahead of U.S. ReportNYTimes

Thailand’s Junta Pushes Back Election Date AgainThe Diplomat Despite protestations, the coup leader appears to be settling into power. Since taking power in a coup in May 2014, the junta has repeatedly delayed planned elections, claiming that the country needs greater stability before a poll will be held or that the new constitution is not yet finished. After vowing elections in 2016, the deputy chairman of the junta-created legislature now reportedly has declared that elections will not be possible until 2017, since it will take so long to print the new charter and deliver written copies of it across Thailand.

A Thai House DividedNYTimes Tensions within the military-royalist establishment will complicate the royal succession in Thailand. A rift is growing within Thailand’s military-royalist establishment, threatening the country’s stability and undermining prospects that the upcoming royal succession will unfold smoothly. On one side is an old guard of senior officers who gradually consolidated power during the long reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. On the other is a new guard from a semi-autonomous elite military unit at the service of Queen Sirikit, which includes the leaders of last year’s coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Many believe that the 2014 coup was carried out for the express reason of keeping order during the transition period following the King’s death. That Gen. Prayuth’s junta government is causing instability is neither ideal nor surprising. 

Political implications of Thailand’s royal successionNew Mandala The imminent passing of the 87-year Thai monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, will send tectonic shock waves through Thailand’s body politic. Bhumibol, the world’s longest-serving monarch, is a pillar of Thai politics. During his reign Thailand emerged as a $390 billion economy, a middle income state. If nothing else, his passing creates an enormous vacuum in Thai politics and there is palpable fear about Thailand’s future without him. The uncertainty is real because the succession has the potential to upend Thai politics.

The ‘boat people’ crisis won’t end until Burma stops persecuting the RohingyaThe Guardian Boat departures have slowed for now, but are expected to resume as the regime steps up its relentless ethnic cleansing. Ebadullah can barely stand. Twenty-six years old and from Burma, he’s weak and weathered, but wants to talk. “If someone tried to move in the boat, they would beat us,” he said. “Those who didn’t move were beaten, too.” Armed gangs have promised jobs and lump-sum payments to families left behind, and have crammed approximately 150,000 men, women, and children — mostly Rohingya Muslims like Ebadullah — into modern-day slave ships. Where is the international pressure against Myanmar for the Rohingya crisis? Nowhere to be found as long as there’s money to be made. 

Related: 155 boatpeople returned to BangladeshDVB

Cambodian court jails 11 opposition activists for ‘insurrection’The Guardian Eleven Cambodian opposition members and activists have been jailed on insurrection charges, including three who received 20-year sentences, a defence lawyer has said. Rights groups said the draconian penalties, for taking part in clashes in July 2014 over the closure of a key protest site in the capital, were imposed as leader Hun Sen intensifies efforts to smother dissent in a kingdom he has led for more than three decades.

YUNNAN

World’s largest solar maker invests in YunnanGoKunming Solar power is shining a renewed spotlight on Yunnan. Last week, Trina Solar announced an agreement with Yunnan Electric Power Design Institute to supply solar cells capable of producing 51 megawatts of electricity. These panels will be the first installment of a larger plan to populate some tea-growing areas in Xishuangbanna with photovoltaic generators.The proposed solar farm will eventually reach a capacity of 100 megawatts (MW), enough to power roughly 36,000 homes annually. Despite its tremendous size, all of the electricity has been reserved exclusively for large tea plantations within the prefecture. The power will be utilized to run well-water pumps and irrigation systems already in place within the farms.

Extreme summer weather wreaks havoc around YunnanGoKunming Walking through Kunming on a warm sunny day, a casual observer would find little trace of the drought that parched much of the province for half a decade. Running water and frequent rains stand in stark contrast to the water shortages once a constant nuisance for residents of the Spring City. Other parts of Yunnan, however, are not so lucky, experiencing wildly juxtaposed weather, including flash floods and scorching droughts.

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

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