Regional Roundup for Week of 8.16.2015

EXSE FOCUS

China Moves to Devalue the Yuan – WSJ China’s central bank devalued its tightly controlled currency, causing its biggest one-day loss in two decades, as the world’s second-largest economy continues to sputter. Chinese authorities said the change would help drive the currency toward more market-driven movements. The move also signaled the government’s growing worry about slow growth. A shift toward a weaker currency could help flagging exports at a time when many other efforts to boost the economy haven’t proven very effective. // Malaysian ringgit and Indonesian rupiah are also falling on this news. Besides showing Chinese weakness, falling Asian currencies might spur US Fed to delay rate hike this fall.

Tianjin, a Port in China, Is Rocked by Explosions That Killed DozensNYT At least 44 died and hundreds were reported injured in the blasts, which caused a huge fireball in the city, about 90 miles east of Beijing. Thunderous, fiery explosions at a warehouse containing hazardous goods traumatized this northeast port city late Wednesday, killing at least 44 people, injuring at least 400, shattering glasss on scores of high-rise buildings and causing other extensive damage. The force of the blasts registered on earthquake scales and was felt miles away.

Related: SCMP: Survivor pulled from shipping container 62 hours after blasts rock Chinese city of Tianjin, as death toll rises to 104

Shwe Mann Removed as Ruling Party Chairman Amid Midnight Reshuffle – The Irrawaddy Burma’s ruling party leadership was reshuffled amid confusion and high tension in Naypyidaw on Wednesday night, with the party’s chairman Shwe Mann removed from his post and replaced with party vice chairman Htay Oo, according to sources close to the matter. Security was tight outside the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) headquarters in the nation’s capital and outside the residences of several top party officials as the political maneuverings took shape late into the night and early morning.//Look for ExSE analysis on this news tomorrow. 

Related: CogitASIA: Shwe Mann’s Fall from Power a Mixed Blessing for Myanmar
Related: RFA: Myanmar Ruling Party Reshuffle Smacks of Junta-Era Purge: Analysts

Japan’s leader stops short of WWII apology  – The Washington Post Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his remorse for all those who died as a result of Japan’s World War II actions on Friday — the eve of the 70th anniversary of his country’s surrender — but avoided explicitly repeating the apologies of his predecessors. In a carefully phrased statement that Abe read to reporters and that was broadcast live on television, the prime minister talked about Japan’s past repentance for its actions but determinedly tried to look to the “peace and prosperity” of Japan’s future. // The multiple opinion pieces in Asian papers on how Abe’s apology wasn’t enough show there’s still anger towards Japan.

Recent Arrests Highlight Laos Drug ProblemsRadio Free Asia Seizures of large quantities of synthetic drugs and their precursor chemicals by Lao police in recent months point to renewed efforts by authorities to slow growing rates of addiction in the impoverished, one-party state, sources say. In a major haul on July 23 at a warehouse near the border with Vietnam, police in central Laos’ Bolikhamxay province seized over 5 metric tons of chemicals used in the production of amphetamines, a senior police official told RFA’s Lao Service this week. Assisted by police from neighboring Vietnam, authorities also took into custody 10 Lao citizens and a Thai national, identified as the leader of the gang, Lt. Col. Bouakheua Ratthanavongsa, the province’s deputy commander of police, said.

Related: TuoiTre News: Southeast Asia’s biggest-ever drug warehouse raided by Vietnamese, Laotian detectives

REGIONAL RELATIONS

From Yunnan, China reaches out to flood-ravaged MyanmarGoKunming Battered by monsoon rains and devastated by floods, Myanmar is looking to the international community for aid. China was one of the first countries to respond, with Yunnan province initially providing modest supplies before becoming the gateway for much larger relief packages, including cash. Myanmar’s western and central regions have been afflicted by torrential rains since June, a situation further exacerbated by Cyclone Komen, which lashed the country with strong storms beginning July 30. Destruction of homes and farmland, especially in the country’s rice belt, is widespread and has sparked fears of future food shortages.

China to buy 1m tonnes surplus rice – Bangkok Post China will buy a million tonnes from the country’s huge stockpile accumulated under the previous government’s subsidy scheme, authorities said Monday. Commerce Minister General Chatchai Sarikulya told reporters that China had agreed during his visit to Beijing last week to purchase the rice. China would buy the rice “at market price” the minister said, adding that there would be further negotiations for another million tonnes in September. // Thai FM’s comment that he “would fall in love with his excellency [China’s FM] if he were a woman” at last week’s AMM follows recent pattern of China and Thailand getting closer under Prayuth, especially as US has given Thailand colder shoulder.

Viet Nam, China meet to create strategic trust Vietnam News Viet Nam and China held their fifth strategic defence dialogue in Ha Noi yesterday, aiming to narrow differences and create strategic trust between their armies and peoples. Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh, and Deputy Chief of the General Staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, Sun Jianguo, co-chaired the event. Both discussed developments in their countries, the region and the world, especially issues related to national defence and security. // VN continues to maintain the delicate balance between USA and China.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Myanmar’s Puts Flood Death Toll at 103, With Nearly 1.3 Million Affected – RFA Flooding and landslides caused by monsoon rains and the tail end of Cyclone Komen since last month killed 103 people and affected nearly 1.3 million people in Myanmar, a senior government official said on Thursday. The flooding caused deaths and dislocation in ten of Myanmar’s divisions and states, said officials from the Ministry of Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement. People in Magwe and Sitgaing Divisions are still unable to return to their homes. Those two divisions in Western Myanmar as well adjacent Chin and Rakhine States, have been under a state of emergency since July 16, the officials said. // The good news from these floods is that Myanmar is accepting international aid to deal with them, which it didn’t for 2008 Cyclone Nargis that killed more than 130k.

Pollution Fears Grow in China’s Tianjin in Wake of Massive ExplosionsRFA Pollution fears were growing among the residents of the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on Friday, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party kept a stranglehold on information on suspected dangerous chemicals involved in Wednesday night’s massive explosions. Up to 1,000 firefighters were still struggling to extinguish blazes at the site on Friday, with smoke billowing from three areas, sparking fears over whether more toxic fumes would contaminate the city’s air, official media and local residents said. Environmental officials certified the facility—where the fires, then twin blasts, originated—in 2014 for the storage of dangerous and toxic chemicals including butanone, an explosive industrial solvent, sodium cyanide and compressed natural gas.

CHINA

Woman Dies After Stabbing Near Uniqlo in BeijingNYT A man holding what appeared to be a three-foot-long sword stabbed a Chinese woman and her French husband outside a Uniqlo clothing store in Beijing’s upscale shopping and entertainment district of Sanlitun on Thursday, the police said. Both were taken to a hospital, where the woman died, the police said on their official Weibo account.

Obama Is Set to Discuss Rights Issues With ChinaNYT A top State Department official said Thursday that there was a “growing sense of alarm in the United States about human rights developments in China,” vowing that the issue would feature prominently in summit talks between President Xi Jinping of China and President Obama in Washington next month. The official, Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, cited concerns about a proposed law in China that would severely restrict civil society and nongovernmnetnal organizations, as well as recent roundups of lawyers and activists.

China bans Fart and 119 other ‘immoral’ songs with ‘severe punishment’ threatThe Guardian Ministry of culture says songs ‘trumpet obscenity, violence, crime or harm social morality’, and administrators ordered to remove them from websites. China has banned 120 “immoral” songs and ordered website administrators to remove them from their sites amid a broadening crackdown on the country’s internet content. The announcement by the ministry of culture on Monday said the list of 120 songs “trumpeted obscenity, violence, crime or harmed social morality” and those responsible for website content would be face “severe punishment” if they were not taken down.//Some ExSE karaoke favorites were in this list, unfortunately.

Chinese hack of US national security details revealed days after Russian hackThe Guardian Government sources tell NBC News that Chinese attack targeted personal emails of ‘all top national security’ officials just days after Pentagon hack. The ongoing saga of successful foreign hack attacks on government databases continued Monday with news of another break-in allegedly perpetrated by China. Just days after the reported spear-phishing attack on the Pentagon’s joint staff email system, which exposed some 4,000 civilian and military employees and is believed to have been sponsored by Russia, anonymous government sources told NBC News that a separate set of Chinese hack attacks targeted the personal emails of “all top national security and trade officials”.

Typhoon Soudelor hits China with deaths, floods and mudslides The Guardian The death toll rises as wind and rain wreak havoc across the Chinese provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, with damage bills exceeding $1bn. The number of people killed by typhoon Soudelor in China rose to 17, state media reported on Monday, with five more missing. Three people were killed by a mudslide and one was missing after being swept away by floods in Ningde, in the eastern province of Fujian, the Fujian Daily reported.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Indonesia’s president reshuffles economy team as growth sags  – Reuters Indonesian President Joko Widodo put two experienced technocrats into economic management posts on Wednesday in a cabinet reshuffle designed to reassure investors worried about a policy drift that has allowed growth to slip to a six-year low. Widodo’s move defied expectations that his own party would compel him to make more political appointments, a move that may surprise critics who say he has not been the robust leader they had hoped for when he took office last year. // Reshuffle is expected, and allows Indo gov to continue to push growth-killing self-sufficiency. ISI didn’t work in Latin America and it won’t work for Indonesia.

Related: ABC AU: Indonesian Cabinet reshuffle does not change self-sufficiency push: Indonesia observer

Cambodian Opposition Senator Held After PM Accuses Him of TreasonRFA Authorities in Cambodia on Saturday arrested an opposition senator after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of treason for posting a disputed diplomatic document online relating to the country’s border with neighboring Vietnam. Police arrested Hong Sok Hour of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) early Saturday from the residence of a lawmaker belonging to the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), a CNRP leader told RFA’s Khmer Service. // CNRP thinks that the CPP’s crackdown is to intimidate and hollow-out party in order to reduce CNRP morale and effectiveness.

King of Cambodia signs law on NGOs  – Phnom Penh Post The much-disputed Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations (LANGO) has passed its final, and almost entirely ceremonial hurdle, as King Norodom Sihamoni yesterday signed a Royal Proclamation passing the legislation into law. The signing came a day after the law was approved by the Constitutional Council, which rejected a challenge by the opposition that the legislation breached the Kingdom’s charter. // Next up: labor law that will stifle unions.

Malaysia’s Ringgit in a Tailspin  – WSJ Malaysia’s ringgit suffered its largest one-day loss in almost two decades, with investors pulling cash out of stocks and bonds, as the nation’s list of challenges appears to be getting longer. The ringgit shed more than 3% against the U.S. dollar Friday, leading the losses in global currency markets and falling to a fresh 17-year low. // While Malaysia gov has said that the $700 mil in PM Najib’s account is legitimate, confidence in Malaysia will remain low due to this huge scandal.

Related: Malaysia PM Najib says politics caused ringgit to fall

Indonesia detains ‘IS-linked’ militants planning attacks  AsiaOne Indonesian police have arrested three militants with links to the Islamic State group who were planning to launch bomb attacks during independence day celebrations next week, police and sources said Friday. The men were plotting to attack churches and a police station on Monday in the city of Solo, on the main island of Java, when the country celebrates the 70th anniversary of its declaration of independence, police said. // IS is growing concern in Indonesia, esp as Jokowi’s decentralization drive might allow IS-friendly regional governments more autonomy. Indo, Malaysian, and Singapore govs are committing to fighting ISIS but can do more to cooperate among themselves and other governments (USA).

YUNNAN

Five minutes with US Ambassador to China, Max BaucusGoKunming The United States Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, paid a visit South of the Clouds this week. He found time to explore some of Yunnan’s history and culture while also attending to diplomatic duties. Chief among those was honoring the men and women, both American and Chinese, who built the Burma Road and established theHump Airlift during World War II. Ambassador Baucus and his wife Melodee first spent time in northwest Yunnan as tourists. They hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge and then cycled around Baisha (白沙). Upon arriving in the Spring City, they attended a screening of the 1942 John Wayne film Flying Tigers at TCG Nordica, explored the Yunnan Nationalities Museum and met with famed choreographer Yang Liping.

Wenshan inks 500 million yuan city management dealGoKunming The small prefectural level city of Wenshan has signed an enormous deal with a Beijing-based tech company specializing in the emerging e-government sector. In what may be a Yunnan first, municipal authorities appear to be turning much of the day-to-day work of actual governance over to their new business partner. The agreement was signed earlier this month between Wenshan City and Beijing Zhengtong Digital Technologies (eGOVA), a publicly traded software and consultancy firm.

This week’s regional rroundup was compiled and analyzed by John Juenemann.

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