Regional roundup for week of 8.3.2015

The same week that the US and Vietnam celebrated its 20th year of bilateral normalization, China conducts massive live fire drills in the South China Sea.  None of this orchestration is coincidental and the moves of this grand chess game are becoming more apparent.  But where is it leading us and should we trust the chess masters to steer us all in the right direction.  Next month’s visit of Xi Jinping to Washington will be a test and further revealing of intentions – at least we hope.  



 China Blames U.S. Military Actions for Tensions in the South China Sea – NYT The dispute over one of the world’s busiest trade routes has emerged as a serious point of contention between the two countries ahead of several crucial meetings.//History will show clearly that China started the new normal of one-upsmanship here.  While China’s capabilities manifest in front of our eyes via satellite image and new combat drills, the important issue to focus on is China’s intent and searching for an answer to why China is willing to risk its relationship with smaller neighbors over upsetting the status quo – and bringing the US more deeply into the dispute.  The fall conclusion to the Philippine arbitration case at the Hague will be a true litmus test for China’s adherence to the UNCLOS treaty of which it is a signatory and Xi’s promotion of rule of law.  

Related: Beijing Strikes Back: U.S. ‘Militarizing’ South China Sea – The Diplomat

 China conducts South China Sea live drill ‘to improve at-sea combat ability’ – The Guardian Xinhua news agency says dozens of missiles and torpedoes, as well as thousands of shells and jamming bombs, were fired during the drill.  China’s navy has carried out a “live firing drill” in the South China Sea to improve its maritime combat ability, state media has reported as tensions flare over the disputed waters.

Related: China’s Navy Tests ‘Maritime Combat Ability’ in the South China Sea – The Diplomat

Related: China Is Building a New South China Sea Fleet for its Maritime Militia – The Diplomat

Related: Vietnam Slams Chinese Naval Drill in South China Sea – The Diplomat

Related: For the ASEAN-China South China Sea Code of Conduct, Ninth Time Isn’t the Charm – The Diplomat

Related: Cambodia: A New South China Sea Mediator Between China and ASEAN? – The Diplomat

Related: The Philippines-China Arbitration: What Next? – The Diplomat

 Myanmar Frees Loggers From China Amid a Broader Amnesty – NYT After a strong pushback from Beijing, more than 150 citizens who were sentenced to life in prison were suddenly released.//Hidden inside a general amnesty of more than 6000 prisoners, the illegal loggers get out of jail free.  This happened on the first day of work for China’s new ambassador to Myanmar.  Not a coincidence.  The amnesty plays nicely to show the central government’s benevolence prior to November elections.  

Related: Release of Chinese loggers a welcome step in right direction by Myanmar – South China Morning Post

Related: Myanmar jails scores of Chinese loggers, Beijing incensed – GoKunming

Related: Trial of Chinese loggers in Myanmar raises questions about bilateral relations – East by Southeast

At the 2022 Winter Olympics, No Snow Is No Problem for the I.O.C. – NYT It’s a sad day when the International Olympic Committee cannot even meet one of the lowest bars for a potential Winter Games host city: snow.//If the Chinese government can shoot silver nitrate into the sky to make it rain, it can also produce snow. Foreign tourism to China has plummeted more than 70% at key tourist areas since the airpocalypse newsfest began a few years ago.  I think some good news coming out of China and news that focuses on hard working athletes is useful.  Now if I go to cover the Olympics in 2022, will I still need a VPN to get me onto my @aikunming Twitter account?  

Related: The Observer view on the future of the Olympics | Observer editorial – The Guardian

Related: Beijing promises to overcome lack of snow for 2022 Winter Olympics – The Guardian

Related: 2022 Olympics Leave China Beaming From Its Growing Clout – NYT

Related: Rights Advocates, and a Monk, Oppose Beijing’s Winter Olympics Bid – NYT

How the International Community Changed China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank – The Diplomat The AIIB today is very different from the AIIB China envisioned before March 2015.  This is reflected in a series of issues including the membership, capital contribution, veto power, and the linkage between AIIB and China’s own economic agenda, as well as its governance and standard issues.//Keep watching – too early to tell.  (aren’t we getting tired of saying this about Xi’s China? 



Issues Mount as Negotiators Gather to Wrap Up Trans-Pacific Trade Pact – NYT The challenges make the prospect of closing a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership by the end of the week highly uncertain.//Vietnam at this point is in full support of the TPP.  Just a matter of timing.  

Related: US Upgrades Malaysia in Trafficking Report: Boost for TPP, Blow to Rights? – The Diplomat

Related: How the TPP Will Protect the United States’ ‘Third Offset’ Strategy – The Diplomat

Related: What the Trans-Pacific Partnership Means for Southeast Asia – The Diplomat

Related: Final push for Pacific trade pact – Thanh Nien Daily

 Burmese Consulate Opens in Chiang Mai – The Irawaddy The new Burmese consulate in Chiang Mai officially opened on Wednesday, with Burma’s foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin and ambassador to Thailand Win Maung in attendance.//Good move.  Passing through Mae Sot will be much easier now and after AEC begins at the end of the year the consulate will help to facilitate increases in people flows.  Remember most of traffic coming through Kachin State and Shan State pass through Chiang Mai. 

Thailand, Myanmar agree on mutual visa-free travel – Investvine Thailand and Myanmar signed an agreement on July 28 to allow citizens with ordinary passports to make visa-free visits of up to 14 days, provided they arrive on an international flight. // Another step on the path towards increased economic opportunity and freedom of travel for Southeast Asia, another step for ASEAN.

 John Kerry to visit Vietnam next month – Thanh Nien Daily He will meet with senior Vietnamese officials to discuss bilateral and regional issues, a release said.//The US State department is working much harder on the US-Vietnam relationship and other regional bilateral relationships (Indonesia and Philippines to be exact) than it is on the US-China relationship. 

 Thai boats caught smuggling oil in Vietnam waters – Thanh Nien Daily They said they had sold diesel oil illegally to Vietnamese boats many times.



 Climate change threatens China’s booming coastal cities, says expert – The Guardian With an ageing society and more people living by the coast, China faces a challenge coping with climate change, reports China Daily.  A recent study led by Georgina Mace, ecosystem professor at University College London, indicated that governments across the world have failed to grasp the risk that population booms in coastal cities pose as climate change continues to cause rises in sea levels and extreme weather events. // Glad to see the importance of sustainable development and infrastructure is making the news, but this study’s conclusion shouldn’t come as a surprise…  Other news states China’s continued struggle with smog in many cities, especially on the east coast.  This alone affects the health of millions annually.

Related: Climate change threatens major building projects, says Chinese expert – The Guardian

Related: China’s climate migrants – Chinadialogue

Related: Financing for resilient development: how to deal with the rising costs of climate change – Chinadialogue

 The Hidden Costs of China’s Shift to Hydropower – The Diplomat Beijing hopes hydropower can wean China off dirty fossil fuels, but new dams will mean a big environmental toll.//Especially since anecdotal evidence suggest for every dam built in Southwest China a back-up coal thermal plant is built to help with peak demand.  

Related: China’s shift from coal to hydro comes at a heavy price – The Third Pole

Need a weatherman – The Economist ROW after giant row of wind turbines marches towards the snowy peaks of the Tian Shan range, harvesting energy from the air.  If it can integrate large-scale wind generation into its electricity network, China will be an example for other countries.

Related: China’s Green Leap Forward – The Diplomat

Former deputy environmental protection minister accused of corruption in China – South China Morning Post A former deputy environmental protection minister in China is under investigation for alleged corruption.

 Talks stall on gas line between China and Russia – South China Morning Post Talks on a new deal to supply natural gas from Russia to China have stalled due to differences on pricing and disagreements over the construction of a pipeline, according to Russian media.

 ADB, Experts Discuss Ways to Protect Groundwater Resources in PRC – ADB  – The Asian Development Bank sponsored a 2-day forum in Beijing to discuss various innovative measures and technologies to protect groundwater resources in the country.

 Vietnam’s rush to develop risks damaging its natural attractions – The Guardian New resorts, cable cars and casinos threaten unspoiled landscapes as tourism sector struggles to balance modernisation and development with conservation.  Worst of all is the destruction of the thing that makes Vietnam’s towns and cities interesting to many foreign visitors.

 Vietnam Floods Kill 17 and Threaten to Pollute Ha Long Bay – NYT Environmental groups said that waste from coal mines could damage the northern bay, a Unesco World Heritage site famous for its steep limestone islands.//Are Vietnam’s EIAs considering seasonal changes in weather patterns and how strong rains/flooding impact a site and surrounding area?

Related: Deadly rains deluge Vietnam mines, spark contamination fears – Thanh Nien Daily

PM tells officials to keep saving water despite easing drought – The Nation PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed officials working on solving the water shortage to keep sticking with water-saving measures, even though more water has been flowing into major dams, Deputy Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said yesterday.



Ethnic Tensions in Xinjiang Complicate China-Turkey Ties – NYT Bilateral trade is growing between Beijing and Ankara, but anti-Chinese sentiment in Turkey appears to be growing as well.//This is the sleeper movie of the year folks. Keep watching. 

Related: Can China-Turkey Relations Move On? – The Diplomat

Tibetan Who Called for Dalai Lama’s Return Is Said to Be Freed From Chinese Prison – NYT Runggye Adak was jailed for eight years after calling for the spiritual leader’s return to Tibet in a speech at a major festival.

Related: China Releases Tibetan Nomad Jailed For Eight Years For Lithang Protest – Radio Free Asia

 U.S. Decides to Retaliate Against China’s Hacking – NYT The Obama administration decided a response was needed after the Chinese stole data on 20 million Americans from the Office of Personnel Management.//What’s the response?   

Related: United Airlines hacked by China-linked group believed to responsible for previous US attacks – South China Morning Post

Related: Spying claims denied by China – The Jakarta Post

 China vs. Its Human Rights Lawyers – NYT The current crackdown shows how the Communist Party fears its legitimacy to rule could crumble.

Related: How the US Outplayed China in the South China Sea – The Diplomat

Related: Pro-Beijing lawyer Kennedy Wong faces ICAC bribery charges – South China Morning Post

Shares in Mainland China End Worst Month in 6 Years – NYT The main indexes in Shanghai and Shenzhen finished July with declines of 14.3 percent each, despite government intervention in the markets.

Related: Chinese shares are falling, but the real fear is that the economy itself is slowing – The Guardian

Related: China’s large manufacturers stall as demand weakens at home and abroad – The Guardian

Related: Can Xi Jinping Turn China’s Economy Around? – ChinaFile

 Letting China’s Bubble Burst – Project Syndicate As China’s capital markets expand, they are outstripping policymakers’ capacity to manage prices and valuations. The only practical way forward is for the authorities to focus on regulatory and institutional development, while following through on their commitment to permit markets to self-correct.

Related: Xi Jinping’s Greatest Challenge – The Diplomat

Related: Q. and A.: Christopher K. Johnson on the Heavy Thumb of Xi Jinping – NYT

Ex-Military Leader in China Is Subject of Graft Inquiry – NYT Gen. Guo Boxiong was placed under investigation, becoming the most senior military official brought down in President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption.

Related: With Latest Ouster, China Steps Up Fight Against Military Corruption – The Diplomat

Related: China’s President Xi Jinping promotes 10 senior military officials to full general – South China Morning Post

 ‘The China Challenge,’ by Thomas J. Christensen – NYT A former State Department official urges Americans to accept China’s rise to power.

Related: Debating China Policy: High Stakes, Hard Choices – The Diplomat

 Will China Have a Mini US Navy By 2020? – The Diplomat Much has been written about China’s ongoing efforts to become what President Xi Jinping called a “great maritime power” and how the United States should respond. In light of this, it is useful to think about the future trajectory of the of the increasingly modern and powerful People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which has been charged with both defending China’s sovereignty in ‘near seas’ (eg. Taiwan) and protecting Chinese interests in the ‘far seas’.//The rhetoric on this is shaky.  In DC, it’s often said that by 2020 or 2030 China could have a military that qualitatively could compete or outshine the US.  And those comments are said by congressmen who have big navy yards in their bailiwicks.  



 Thailand Charges 72 With Human Trafficking Crimes Ahead of U.S. Report – NYT The indictments come days before the State Department is expected to release an analysis of international efforts to fight such smuggling networks.

Related: Thailand dismisses US criticism over human trafficking and slavery – The Guardian

The Trouble with Thailand’s Economy – The Diplomat Anemic performance is denting confidence in the ruling junta.  When Thailand’s coup-makers quickly disbursed over $3 billion owed to farmers from the ousted government’s politically hamstrung rice price subsidy scheme, it appeared that the country’s new military rulers had the will and means to break the bureaucratic inertia that had stalled fiscal spending under successive elected administrations.

More than 26m stimulant pills seized in Burma, police say – The Guardian Counter-narcotics officers said amphetamine hydrochloride tablets worth £68m have been found in 89 bags in a vehicle in Rangoon.  Myint Aung, a counter-narcotics officer, said police discovered 26.7m stimulant tablets on Sunday after inspecting a parked vehicle in the northern suburbs of Burma’s largest city.

The Future of Democracy and Human Rights in Myanmar – The Diplomat The Diplomat talks with Delphine Schrank about Myanmar’s trajectory. She recently spoke with The Diplomat’s associate editor Prashanth Parameswaran about the future of democracy and human rights in Myanmar ahead of upcoming historic elections expected this November. // Would democracy be enough and effective in improving Burma’s ethnic conflicts?  With the state’s shaky election history, it will be interesting to see whether power is passed according to the vote or if corruption or incumbent interruption will pollute results.

Related: Myanmar Ruling Party Expects Tough Fight in Coming Elections – Radio Free Asia

Related: Human Rights Defenders Continue to Suffer in Burma – The Irawaddy

Related: Visions of Myanmar, old and new – New Mandala

Related: The Dangerous Rise of Buddhist Chauvinism – Project Syndicate

 Ethnic Leaders Renew Push for All-Inclusive Ceasefire Ahead of Early August Talks – The Irawaddy Ethnic leaders will not sign on to a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) if it excludes certain armed groups, senior ethnic representatives reiterated Wednesday after four days of talks on the draft text in northern Thailand.

 Kuala Lumpur’s budget passenger terminal is sinking, airline says – South China Morning Post Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s new budget passenger terminal is sinking, with cracks appearing in the taxiway and water forming pools that planes must drive through.

 Cambodian Authorities Assist 14 Montagnards Who Requested Return to Vietnam – Radio Free Asia Officials in northeastern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province on Friday assisted 14 ethnic Montagnards who asked to be repatriated across the border to Vietnam after they left Thailand, citing financial hardship because they were unable to find work.

 Cambodia’s Armed Forces ‘Belong’ to The Ruling Party: Four-Star General – Radio Free Asia Cambodia’s armed forces belong to the country’s ruling party and must prevent a “color revolution” from overtaking the Southeast Asian nation, a four-star general said Wednesday, drawing criticism from an opposition official who called his understanding of the military’s role “limited.”

This week’s news digest was compiled by Julia Zielinski with analysis by Julia Zielinski and Brian Eyler.

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