Regional Roundup for the Week of 1.24.14

This week, new reports of wealthy, well-connected Chinese stashing assets abroad contrasted with the trials of anti-corruption activists Hou Xin and Xu Zhiyong. Documents uncovered by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists traced offshore companies and investments based in the Caribbean to major figures in China’s economy and government, including state oil companies. Xi Jinping has made anti-corruption a centerpiece of new reforms introduced last fall but these new disclosures may be all the more embarassing in the context of the prosecution of members of the New Citizen’s Movement, a group which pushes for greater transparency and financial asset disclosures from officials.

A 60 day state of emergency was declared in Bangkok on Wednesday, and tensions remain high with continued violence, although general elections are still scheduled to proceed on February 2. Thailand is a popular destination for Chinese traveling abroad, especially during the upcoming Lunar New Year, but with current political unrest it seems highly likely that tourism will decrease significantly over the holiday.

ExSE FOCUS

Thai court defers decision on election postponement as protests continue | Guardian – Thailand’s constitutional court has deferred a ruling on whether a general election scheduled for 2 February can be postponed, as protesters keep up pressure on the government to step down. The prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, declared a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas from Wednesday, hoping to prevent an escalation in the protests now in their third month.

A Leader of Pro-Government Faction Is Shot in Thailand | NYT – Kwanchai Praipana, who runs a group that supports the government, was shot a day after Thailand’s prime minister declared emergency rule.

Thai Leaders Declare State of Emergency in Bangkok | NYT – The emergency decree gives the government broad powers against protesters, but Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra seemed to be moving cautiously.

Retailers want answers from Cambodian PM over factory shootings | Guardian – Dozens of the world’s biggest clothing brands, including Adidas, Nike, H&M, Primark, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Wal-Mart, have demanded Cambodia’s prime minister explain the use of “deadly force” against striking factory workers.

Vietnam sentences 30 people to death for drug trafficking | Guardian – A Vietnamese court has sentenced 30 people to death for trafficking in heroin at the conclusion of a mass trial. State media reported the 21 men and nine women were convicted on Monday of being part of a ring that smuggled nearly two tonnes of heroin from Laos into Vietnam and then on to China.

Gone: Fishing | SEA Globe Editorial – Millions of people fish Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake and 3S (Sesan, Srepok and Sekong) rivers every day to feed their families and the nation, but mooted dam projects along the Mekong River could devastate livelihoods and threaten food security in Cambodia. The country’s next major hydropower project will be the Lower Sesan 2 dam, which will be located near the confluence of the 3S rivers and the Mekong.

China To Build World’s Largest Marine Surveillance Ship | Diplomat – China plans to build a 10,000 ton marine surveillance vessel, passing Japan’s Shikishima for the title of world’s largest.

Northeast India Anticipates Seaport | Diplomat – Come 2015, the people of northeast India will be able to use a seaport in Myanmar for transport and trade. The Sittwe port in the Bay of Bengal is expected to link Mizoram in the far east of India to the ocean through riverine transport and roadways. Construction work for jetties and other port facilities, which started in December 2010, is expected to be completed this year.

Out of the Dark Room | ChinaFile – Photographers document China’s breakneck development in fractions of a second every single day. Yet the work of Chinese photojournalists remains largely unseen outside their homeland. Of the thousands of images of the country illustrating the pages of international websites, newspapers, and magazines, most are made by photographers who come from someplace else.

CHINA

A Manufacturing Slowdown Carries Over to 2014 in China | NYT – The manufacturing sector contracted in January for the first time in six months as new orders declined, according to a preliminary survey.

Beijing to spend £76bn to improve air quality | Guardian – In an attempt to clean up the smoggy air in the Chinese capital, Beijing’s authorities have introduced a new set of measures to cut emissions and allocated 760 billion yuan (£75.8 billion) to improve the city’s air quality by 2017. The new measures will cut coal burning, limit car emissions and set yearly quotas for local governments and individual polluters. There will also be bigger fines for those found to be in violation of air pollution standards.

Real-time Air Quality Data Due from 179 Chinese Cities | ChinaFile – More than 170 cities in China have now joined a real-time air quality disclosure scheme, initiated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Launched in 2012, more than sixty cities had started publishing data from their monitoring stations by the end of that year. By January 2, 2014, 179 cities were giving real-time disclosure of air quality levels, according to a report published by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE).

Another Rights Advocate, Hou Xin, Is Tried in Beijing | NYT – Hou Xin, a former journalist who participated in a protest against official corruption, is one of at least eight activists in China being tried this week.

Report Says China’s Elite Use Offshore Companies | NYT – Leaked documents show that thousands of wealthy, well-connected Chinese have set up companies in tax-haven countries to hold assets, an investigative reporting group says.

China’s top hotels shed stars to woo austerity-hit customers | Guardian – Most luxury hotels seek to lure in new guests with the lustre of their star ratings but a clutch of Chinese establishments are hoping to win back customers by downgrading. More than 50 of the country’s five-star properties have asked to have a star removed, according to a leading hotelier, apparently due to the austerity drive that has forced officials to shun the high life.

Xinhua: China Approves 12 More Free Trade Zones | Diplomat – Xinhua, China’s state run news agency, reported Wednesday that China’s central government has approved 12 additional free trade zones (FTZs), after the initial zone opened in Shanghai in late September last year. Citing “a source with knowledge of the approval,” Xinhua said that two of the new zones will be located in the city of Tianjin and in Guangdong Province.

Shanghai Test Scores and the Mystery of the Missing Children | NYT – China’s restrictions on internal migration serve to drive migrant children out of the city as early as primary school, statistics show, and critics say that skews testing results indicating its education system’s equity and superiority.

A Popular Chinese Social Networking App Blazes Its Own Path | NYT – Weixin, a fast-growing app from the Chinese Internet company Tencent, is no mere copy of any existing service, and its success may thwart Facebook’s ambitions in China.

China Exports Pollution to U.S., Study Finds | NYT – Emissions from China’s export industries are carried across the Pacific and contribute to air pollution in the Western United States, according to a paper.

China could lose millions of hectares of farmland to pollution | Guardian – Millions of hectares of agricultural land in China could be withdrawn from production because of severe heavy-metal pollution, according to a Chinese agriculture official.

Chinese Internet Traffic Redirected to Small Wyoming Building | NYT – On Tuesday, a large portion of Internet traffic in China was redirected to a small 1,700-square-foot house in Cheyenne, Wyo.

When Chinese TV Rips Off The Colbert Report | The Atlantic – He may be an award-winning satirist in the United States, but in China, even Stephen Colbert is not beyond parody: A provincial TV channel in the country has produced a show that borrows rather liberally from the popular American program.

REGION

Japan’s Leader Compares Strain With China to Germany and Britain in 1914 | NYT – The blunt remarks, which concurred with others made recently by prominent historians, provoked an angry response from Beijing.

Indonesia sentences militant over Burma embassy plot | Guardian – An Indonesian court has sentenced an Islamist militant to seven-and-a-half years in prison for masterminding a plot to attack the Burmese embassy in Jakarta.

Who are the new middle classes around the world? You’d be surprised how poor some are | Paul Mason | Guardian – The International Labour Organisation has identified a rapid growth of ‘the developing middle class’ – a group earning between $4 and $13 a day. When a million people swarmed on to the streets of Brazil last June there was consensus that the protest was a phenomenon of the “new middle class” – squeezed by corruption and failing infrastructure. As the Thai protests continue, these too are labelled middle class: office workers staging flashmobs in their neat, pressed shirts. But what does middle class mean in the developing world? About 3 billion people earn less than two dollars a day, but figures for the rest are hazy.

INDONESIA

World Briefing | Asia: Indonesia: Leader Expresses Support for Abused Maid | NYT – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono joined thousands of Indonesian migrant workers abroad and at home on Tuesday in expressing outrage at the alleged torture of an Indonesian maid by her Hong Kong employer.

Popular Indonesian Twitter Users Can Get Paid to Tweet Ads | Diplomat – Jakarta is not only the capital of Indonesia – it has also been named the “world’s tweet capital.” The social network’s popularity has led to some lucrative opportunities for Indonesia’s most followed users. “Anyone with more than 2,000 followers can get paid at least $21 to tweet during rush hour, when most Indonesians are stuck in traffic and (apparently) glued to their mobiles,” said Quartz.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia’s Kangkung Meme | Diplomat — Prime Minister Najib Razak’s gaffe involving the humble green veggie has become a rallying cry for the opposition.

MYANMAR/BURMA

U.N. Says Muslims Were Massacred in Tense Myanmar Region | NYT – Human rights groups say that with this latest round of anti-Muslim violence, Myanmar’s government appears to be trying to cover up the problem.

Myanmar Stumbles on Press Freedom | Diplomat – A little over a year after the much-heralded lifting of censorship for Myanmar media, journalists worry that murky intimidation tactics have replaced the censorship board, with true press freedom remaining elusive.

BarCamp Organizers Hope for Another Record Turnout in Burma | Irrawaddy – The fifth BarCamp Yangon, a forum about technology and the Internet that encourages participant involvement, is set to take place next month, and organizers are hopeful that the crowd this year will exceed the large turnouts seen in previous years. BarCamp is an international network of so-called “unconferences” that began as a meeting mainly of web developers in California’s Palo Alto. The user-generated events are primarily focused around technology and web, but take in other topics too.

PHILIPPINES

Philippines: Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath Part I | Diplomat – A photographer returns to the devastated city of Tacloban, as it begins the process of rebuilding.

Philippine Police: Sinaloa Cartel Hitmen Have Targeted Arrested Members | Diplomat – Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa drug cartel – the United States’ largest supplier of illegal narcotics – recently surfaced in the Philippines, with a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) raid on Christmas Day breaking up an alleged trafficking ring in Lipa City.

THAILAND

Thai Royalty Becomes More Openly Involved in Politics | Asia Unbound – Despite officially being a constitutional monarchy and supposedly no different than the monarchies of Britain, the Netherlands, or modern-day Japan, Thailand’s royal family has, during the reign of King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, always been far more closely involved in Thai politics than any constitutional monarch would be.

VIETNAM

Lessons from the Battle of the Paracel Islands | Diplomat – Forty years on, the battle has enduring lessons for Vietnam’s naval modernization.

The price is not right | SEA Globe Editorial – The massive Trans-Pacific Partnership deal could cause drug prices to soar in Vietnam, devastating people with life-threatening illnesses.

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