Regional roundup for week of 8.23.15


Bangkok Bomb Attack at Popular Shrine Kills at Least 20-NYT A bomb placed inside a Bangkok religious shrine frequented by tourists exploded Monday evening, killing at least 20 people, hurling body parts onto the pavement, shattering windows and creating panic in one of the city’s most popular districts. At least 123 people were reported wounded in what Thailand’s top police official and others called a vicious act meant to target civilians. The explosion came at a particularly busy time of day at the Erawan Shrine, an important tourist attraction in Bangkok’s main shopping area.//Although suspects related to the case have been apprehended, police fear bomber has left the country. Watching CCTV clips of the bomber getting away reminds us of the high levels of video surveillance on every corner in developing Southeast Asia.  

Related: Thai Police Seek ‘Foreign Man’ in Bombing of Bangkok Shrine-NYT

Related: Bangkok Bombing Not Likely to Be Tied to Foreign Terrorism, Thailand Says-NYT

Related: China fears its tourists were target for Bangkok bombers-The Guardian 

Related: Bangkok bomb: Thai capital reeling after deadliest attack in years-The Guardian

Game of thrones: The Economist RESIDENTS of Bangkok, which has seen more than its share of political unrest, sometimes seem hard to shock. But the bomb which exploded at the Erawan shrine in Thailand’s capital on August 17th, killing more than 20 people and injuring about 100, has unnerved and bewildered in equal measure. It was timed to explode at a packed intersection during the evening rush hour. Grainy video footage just before the blast shows a young man slipping off a rucksack near the site. Some blame Muslim separatists in Thailand’s deep south. Others say it is “red-shirt” supporters of the populist government driven out in a coup last year.

Obama Administration Warns Beijing about Covert Agents Operating in U.S.-NYT The Obama administration has warned Beijing about the presence of Chinese government agents operating secretly in the United States to pressure prominent expatriates to return home immediately, according to American officials. The American officials said that Chinese law enforcement agents covertly in this country are part of Beijing’s global campaign to hunt down and repatriate Chinese fugitives and, in some cases, recover allegedly ill-gotten gains. The Chinese government has officially named the effort Operation Fox Hunt.//The Sino-US relationship is a game of tennis where the balls grow spikes with every volley.  

Related: China lashes out at US after claims Beijing is deploying ‘covert agents’-The Guardian

Pentagon to Increase Drone Flights Over South China Sea-The Diplomat The U.S. Department of Defense is planning to step up the number of drone surveillance flights by 50 percent over the next four years the Wall Street Journal reports. A senior defense official told the Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon in particular seeks to improve its intelligence collection capabilities in places such as Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, North Africa, and the South China Sea.

Related: Diplomacy and the South China Sea-The Diplomat

Vietnam Warns of Coming Economic Bombshell for Mainland Southeast Asia-The Diplomat Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar are the poorest, least well-run countries within ASEAN. They are also notoriously publicity-shy. Anything negative that needs to be shared is usually served-up amid a flurry of bureaucratic dogma that tends to bury the bad news. The messages are still there, but one needs to pay attention.

Will China Take Over US Military Facility in Djibouti?-The Diplomat Citing Global Times and Counter Punch, Want China Times says that “Djibouti reportedly ordered the U.S. to vacate the Obock military base so that it can be turned over the People’s Liberation Army.” The United States’ actual permanent base in Djibouti is at Camp Lemonnier; Obock is a port city with an existing airport and naval pier. Washington is reportedly deeply concerned about the move, which would give China its first-ever overseas base — one that incorporates U.S.-built facilities.//China has been monitoring pirates off the north-east African coast in joint missions with the US for nearly a decade. This port if realized fits nicely into China’s plan to defend the 21st Century Maritime trade route with its navy. As mentioned would be a big step in a new direction for the principles of China’s foreign policy – although Xi signaled this step when he took power.   

Vietnamese plea to Thailand: Don’t divert the Mekong-The Nation PEOPLE in Vietnam hope Thailand will reconsider its plan to divert water from the Mekong – because it would seriously affect their ability to produce food. The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s most important agricultural area. Each year, the area produces the most rice and fruit in the country. This region also nurtures many freshwater fish species, which are an important source of protein for local people. However, this key food production could be jeopardised by large water management projects upriver, Vietnamese experts have warned.//Future dam operators to future everyone else in Southeast Asia: Don’t divert the Mekong. How can a watershed that’s being used for so many other purposes handle/manage/coordinate a cascade of large dams? 



Towards A Real Solution to Southeast Asia’s Refugee Crisis-The Diplomat It took the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand more than ten days to sign a joint agreement that would allow the rescue of thousands of dehydrated and starving Rohingya and Bangladeshis who had been drifting in the Andaman Sea for weeks. Under enormous international pressure, these three countries offered to help 7,000 people at sea. In fact, their gesture is far less meaningful than it seems.

The Strategic Costs of TPP Failure-The Diplomat The Trans-Pacific Partnership is in trouble. Trade ministers failed last month to conclude the massive 12-nation trade deal by their hoped-for summer deadline, putting negotiations in danger of collapse. This is a problem. Trade advocates argue that letting the TPP die would be a significant lost opportunity for the global economy. But there’s a potentially bigger problem here – one that may have serious consequences for both U.S. national security and regional stability in the Asia-Pacific.

Everybody needs good neighbours-SEA Globe Magazine Australia has been accused of bribing human traffickers, paying off the Cambodian government to take in refugees and spying on East Timorese officials. With geopolitical tensions at boiling point, Australia’s actions could have damaging repercussions for its relationship with Southeast Asia



China’s Carbon Dioxide Emissions May Have Been Overstated by More Than 10%-NYT Scientists may have been overestimating China’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas driving global warming, by more than 10 percent, because of inaccurate assumptions about the country’s coal-burning, according to a study published on Wednesday. //Study calls into question studies conducted on U.S. (and other big emitters) carbon emissions. Do these estimates overstate or understate the carbon emitted by other countries? Highlights the importance of continual questioning where scientific predictions/estimation are concerned 

Related: China’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels may be 14% lower than thought-The Guardian

 Red Pandas Are Adorable and in Trouble-NYT The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which assesses the status of wild populations of animals (red pandas), estimates that about 10,000 live in the wild, in two subspecies, all on mountain slopes in a narrow band running from western China to Nepal. Deforestation and disease threaten them now, and climate change looms. //Part of China’s larger decline in total biodiversity, a trend often made known through the publicized decline of an exceptionally well-known, charismatic species, such as the red panda.

 Chinese mock claims Beijing is most liveable city despite smog lifting-The Guardian Social media users express incredulity that the capital was ranked the country’s best city to live in while disaster-hit Tianjin was ranked the second best. Chinese internet users have mocked a report claiming that Beijing is the country’s most liveable city even as they enjoy unusually blue skies in the lead-up to a major military parade. China’s capital city ranked 69th out of the world’s 140 most liveable cities in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) semi-annual survey, released this week.

What Made Chinese Mayors Step Up Pollution Fight?-The Diplomat With demands for swift and decisive action ringing in their ears, municipal leaders have responded by ordering drastic measures, such as tough curbs on sectors including vehicle use, construction, and the burning of coal, all of which produce tiny particulate matter deemed extremely harmful to human health. The Henan city of Zhengzhou saw a miraculous improvement in July, after suffering awful air quality for the first half of the year. More than three weeks ago, air quality reached a “good” level, and almost vaulted the city into the “excellent” category.

Floods cause clean water shortages across Burma-DVB Multimedia Group Flooding has affected 12 out of 14 states and regions since early this month, with western and central Burma suffering the most severe inundation. According to the United Nations, by 11 August about 1.1 million people were affected and 240,000 displaced, while about 700,000 acres of farmland were destroyed, raising fears of food security problems and rising food prices.

Lao Loggers Backed by Corrupt Officials Pillaged Champassak Forests in July-Radio Free Asia Illegal logging in southern Laos’ Champassak province was particularly devastating on forests in July, according to a local police officer, who said businessmen working in tandem with high-ranking officials raced to cut timber in the region ahead of the start of the rainy season.

The Mekong region’s urban future: Why learning from a rural lifestyle could build sustainable cities-Mekong Commons Urbanization in the Mekong Region is transforming societies that were once dependent upon agricultural production, as they become predominantly industrialized and market-based. As this urban expansion unfolds, it is bringing new challenges to urban and rural communities who are changing their lifestyle and livelihoods in order to adapt. Some inhabitants in the Mekong’s emerging cities haven’t fully let go of their rural traditions and habits, raising the question is it bringing a more sustainable lifestyle to established urban communities?



Tianjin and China’s Industrial Calamities-NYT The lax enforcement of safety regulations and endemic corruption make for a dysfunctional government.  Tianjin is an important industrial port in northern China, about a half-hour ride from Beijing on the new high-speed rail line. Tianjin is seen as the shape of things to come in the new China. Then on the night of Aug. 12, a series of huge blasts at a hazardous-materials warehouse owned by Rui Hai International Logistics killed more than 100 people and shattered that dream. The explosions reduced the surrounding area to ruins, displacing thousands of local residents, many of whom remain angry at the government’s poor handling of the disaster.

Related: New Concerns in Tianjin Blast After Dead Fish Are Found-NYT

Related: Chinese Report Details Role of Political Connections in Tianjin Blasts-NYT 

Related: Fear of Toxic Air and Distrust of Government Follow Tianjin Blasts-NYT 

Related: Tianjin explosions: sodium cyanide on site may have been 70 times allowed amount-The Guardian

Related: Tianjin blasts: Communist party insists there will be no cover-up as anger grows-The Guardian

China Woes Send Stocks Into Tailspin-NYT Plummeting stock markets worldwide signal that investors have not gotten over the shock of China’s devaluation last week. The selling began in Asia, punishing Chinese stocks once again. It then moved to Europe, walloping markets in Germany and Italy, and ended with a rush for the exits in the United States. Along the way, the price of oil traded near six-year lows and currencies of developing countries suffered further pain. Astonishingly, the currency of Kazakhstan lost a fourth of its value against the dollar after the country’s government let it trade freely in the markets.

Related: Stocks Plunge Sharply for a Second Day on Wall Street-NYT

Related: New China stock market plunge prompts global jitters-The Guardian

 China’s Currency Again Left Out of I.M.F. Basket-NYT China must wait until at least next year for the renminbi to join an exclusive club of the world’s top currencies, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday. The fund’s board voted to leave unchanged until Sept. 30, 2016, a basket of currencies used in its operations. China, the world’s second-biggest economy, had wanted the I.M.F. to include the renminbi in the basket along with the United States dollar, the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen starting Jan. 1.

Chinese police arrest 15,000 for cybercrimes-The Guardian Public security ministry says police have investigated 66,000 websites and 7,400 cases of cybercrime over unspecified period Police in China say they have arrested about 15,000 people for crimes that “jeopardised internet security”, as the government moves to tighten controls on the internet.

China Tests New Missile Capable of Hitting Entire United States-The Diplomat On August 6, China has tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with two guided simulated nuclear warheads, according to information obtained by The Washington Free Beacon. The August 6 flight test was the fourth time a DF-41 (CSS-X-20) long-range missile has been tested in the last three years and allegedly confirmed that the ICBM is capable of carrying multiple warheads.

A Chinese Rights Revolution Reversed?-The Diplomat The recent roundup of over 200 rights lawyers in China was greeted with shock in the U.S. But to us, it is not surprising. For all its exhortations for citizens to “use the law as your weapon,” our research indicates that the Communist Party never meant to foster a bona fide rights movement. For years many China watchers saw signs that China was moving in the direction of political liberalization, if slowly. While political reforms have been less dramatic than the better-known story of economic reform, these changes raised hopes that China would pursue a path of gradual political reform that would soften its autocracy and perhaps lead to real democracy.

Tibetan Youth is Detained After Staging Solo Protest in Lithang-Radio Free Asia Police in southwestern China’s Sichuan province detained a young Tibetan man this week after he launched a brief protest in a public square, calling out for Tibetan freedom and the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources said. The protest by the still-unidentified youth took place at about 9:40 a.m. on Aug. 18 in Lithang (in Chinese, Litang) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a Tibetan monk now living in India and originally from Lithang told RFA’s Tibetan Service.



Conservatives in Myanmar Force Out Leader of Ruling Party-NYT The party’s leadership did not explain the underlying reasons for the change, but the ouster appeared to be part of a struggle for power. The head of Myanmar’s governing party has been removed from his post in what one aide described as a “coup,” the most visible sign yet of splintering within the country’s military elite and the resurgence of conservative forces that dominated under decades of military rule. //Ongoing  implications of Shwe Mann’s ousting.  Check out ExSE’s analysis here.  

Related: Aung San Suu Kyi Calls Ex-Leader of Myanmar Governing Party an ‘Ally’-NYT

Related: Turmoil in Burma’s military-backed ruling party as leaders are deposed-The Guardian

Related: Burma’s parliament resumes as tensions simmer in military-backed ruling party-The Guardian

 Myanmar’s Best Hope for Peace-NYT Myanmar is one step away from a historic deal that could end seven decades of internal armed conflict. On Aug. 6-7 representatives of the Myanmar government, including from the armed forces, met with leaders of the country’s ethnic armed groups and finalized the text of the Nationwide Cease-Fire Agreement. An adviser to the Myanmar government argues that the nationwide cease-fire agreement is a major step toward ending one of the most intractable conflicts in Asia.

Myanmar’s Elections: Jostling for Power-The Diplomat Myanmar is soon to hold elections for regional/state assemblies, the national parliament, and the president. Voting for the first two, scheduled for November 8, will influence the third – the election of the president, which may take place in February 2016. Much is at stake, not only for political forces within the country but also for powers elsewhere in the region. The process of conducting free and fair elections and their eventual outcome will very likely influence regional politics.

Related: 6,000 candidates registered for November election-DVB Multimedia Group

 Cambodian court jails 11 opposition activists for ‘insurrection’-The Guardian Draconian penalties include 20-year sentences for three of the activists convicted over 2014 protests in Phnom Penh. 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.

Ruling Party Official Writes Off Sam Rainsy’s Commitment to Cambodia’s ‘Culture of Dialogue’A senior official with Cambodia’s ruling party on Wednesday dismissed opposition leader Sam Rainsy as insincere after he pledged his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) would scale back criticism of the government for its handling of a border dispute with neighboring Vietnam.

Vietnam jails Australian man for trying to send drug precursor chemicals home-The Guardian Nguyen Ly Toan, 39, gets 20 years after customs agents found contraband disguised as cooking ingredients in a package bound for his wife in Australia. Vietnamese authorities have sentenced an Australian man to 20 years in jail for trying to send drug precursor chemicals through the post. Nguyen Ly Toan, 39, was arrested in July 2013 after Vietnamese customs agents discovered the chemicals in a package bound for Australia.

Why Vietnam is the most investor-friendly country in Southeast Asia-Thanh Nien Daily Vietnam is the most investment worthy place in ASEAN – this is a common response of many foreign investors when being asked about their investment plan in the upcoming years. This is not an exaggeration about Vietnam’s current investment environment as well as its potentiality but is in fact based on valid and practical grounds, where improved economic diversification, international integration, reformed investment legislation and good economic policy must be counted.

This week’s news digest was compiled by Brooke Rose with analysis by Brooke Rose and Brian Eyler.

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