Regional Roundup for Week of 1.5.2014

Happy 2014 from East by Southeast!  Thanks for your support and readership in our first year of publication.  ExSE hopes that democratizing countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar can stick to their constitutional blueprints (or change it in the case of Myanmar) and avoid political meltdown and further violence in 2014.  We wish China and Vietnam get on the track to balancing their economies and making sustainable decisions for future growth – and lay off the censorship and crackdowns on bloggers.  We thank the warriors out their fighting for the water and fish and the people that rely on the Mekong River for their livelihoods and ask for politicians, hydropower developers, and qualified environmental experts to sit down together and deeply consider the ecological damage that 110 poorly planned dams will bring to the region.  Let’s continue to work together to improve sustainable regional linkages!

As always your suggestions for improvements to the EXSE site are welcome.  Look for more engaging content and analysis to come in 2014 along with the addition of new sections like Country Reports coming later this month.

 

EXSE FOCUS

Cambodia Cracks Down on Protest With Evictions and Ban on Assembly – NYTCambodian police officers on Saturday cleared protesters from a Phnom Penh park that has been the staging ground for antigovernment demonstrations, and organizers canceled a planned Sunday rally.//Sam Rainsey attended a memorial service for the dead today reassuring unity and promising to continue opposition to Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party.  Major protests occur on Saturdays and Sundays in Phnom Penh – keep your eye on the weekends.   

Cambodian police fire on striking garment workers – NYT Human rights groups say four dead during second clash in two days between workers in country’s key industry and police

Workers Face Police Gunfire Amid Unrest in Cambodia – NYT Military police officers killed at least three people, officials said, as protests against the decades-old rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen entered a volatile new phase.

Myanmar’s Leader Backs Change to Constitution – NYT President Thein Sein said he would support changing the Constitution to allow “any citizen” to become president, apparently a reference to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi// Thein Sein continues to impress the world yet the domestic challenges mount.

Thai Election Body Urges Vote Delay as Unrest Flares – NYT After violent clashes in Bangkok, the Election Commission of Thailand called for the postponement of a vote scheduled for Feb. 2, adding to the political uncertainty.//If the February vote won’t calm the storm, what will?  Thailand continues to spiral toward imminent political disaster.

Despite Protests in Thailand, Vote Will Go On, Panel Says – NYT The election commission ignored the demands of antigovernment demonstrators and said elections would go ahead on Feb. 2 despite efforts to sabotage them.

Burma, Thailand push ahead with Dawei SEZ – Bangkok Post After years of uncertainty, the prospects of the massive Dawei project took a recent twist when Thailand and Burma officially tied the knot to push the ambitious scheme forward. With three memoranda of understanding signed by the two countries in November, the Dawei concession was transferred from Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) to Dawei SEZ Development Co (DSEZ), a special-purpose vehicle for the project.// The Dawei project is a game changer for regional logistics but little assessment has been done to consider the social or environmental impact of the new port/SEZ.  The port’s location directly benefits Thailand and Bangkok by linking a road from the Dawei deep water port on the Indian Ocean to Bangkok.  Thai ships will no longer need to pass through the straits of Malacca. 

Economic Costs of Rising Sea Levels in Asia and the Pacific – ADB Teeming with people and economic activity, the coastal areas of Asia and the Pacific are highly vulnerable to storm surges, coastal erosion, flooding, and inundation resulting from sea-level rise and climate change. Here’s a by the numbers look at the economic costs of rising sea levels.

The Year of the Horse: Michael Pettis in Foreign Policy//Concise analysis and predictions for 2014 and the coming decade of economic growth prospects for China.

Global Development and Investment – China File Framing questions: In what ways do the U.S. and Chinese approaches to development and foreign investment differ? Are they evolving, and how? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each approach both to the investing country and the recipient? In what ways are China and the United States competing in third countries? In what ways are their efforts complementary? Would closer coordination be helpful? Is it possible? What role does “soft power” play? How real is “resource competition?” Is there a “China model” of development? What is the American perspective on China’s relationships with human rights-abusing regimes that provide energy and raw materials? What is the Chinese perspective on America’s investments in the developing world?

What Kind of Power Does a Rising China Need? – The Diplomat China has mainly focused on economic power, but other types of reform will shape its continued rise.//The IES Kunming center’s regionalism class asks and answers this question. 

Why China Can’t Rise Quietly – The Diplomat China wants to achieve its goals short of war while reaping the propaganda harvest it would get from war.

Presidential style: A new flavour – The Economist IN A first for a Chinese president, Xi Jinping made a New Year’s Day address to the nation on state television. The content of his speech, mainly good wishes and appeals for people to work together, broke no new ground. But the format, reminiscent of an American president in the Oval Office, hinted at a desire to find new ways for China’s leaders to interact with the people.Mr Xi had already shown such inclinations a few days earlier when he showed up unannounced at a modest Beijing eatery. He queued for a simple lunch of pork buns, fried liver and vegetables, then carried his own tray to sit with astonished diners, the tab coming to 21 yuan ($3.50), which he paid himself.It may prove a good investment.//Now the restaurant is a staging area for public protests. Doubt Xi had that in mind when visiting.  But a big change in style for China’s leadership.  Local officials are mimicking Xi’s everyman presence with similar publicity stunts. 

Divining China’s Direction by What Xi Ate NYT The Chinese public is digging deep for portents of the Communist Party’s anticorruption campaign in President Xi Jinping’s recent lunch at a popular steamed bun restaurant in western Beijing.

Trapped by change – SEA Globe   Southern Laos’ 4,000 Islands region is often described as a unique and unspoiled microcosm. It is home to grazing water buffaloes, lush green rice fields, Southeast Asia’s largest waterfalls and the nearly extinct Irrawaddy dolphin. Suffice to say, numerous postcards have doubtless been shot in the area. A 30-metre-high, 256-megawatt hydropower dam doesn’t quite fit the picture.// The Don Sahong Dam controversy will continue to be an EXSE focus until the project is shut down.  Can anyone confirm the rumors that construction on Xayaburi has been suspended?

 

CHINA

China’s growth and manufacturing output decline as property prices soar –  The Guardian Data comes after studies showing real estate prices rising and detailing the mounting debts of local authorities

Chinese manufacturing activity declined in December, piling pressure on communist leaders grappling with the slowest economic growth in the country since 1999, amid booming property prices and rising local government debts.//median home prices approaching  600,000 USD in Beijing! And all you get are 1000 square feet, lousy neighbors, bad air – but PM 2.5 makes for great sunsets!

Shrinking Exports Slow Growth for Chinese Manufacturing – Reuters China’s factory activity expanded at the slowest pace in three months in December, according to a private index.//Xi Jinping’s reforms promise continued appreciation of the RMB.

George Soros warns that Chinese slowdown is biggest worry in 2014 – The Guardian Slower growth in Chinese manufacturing could be just the start of a new global economic threat, the financier has warned. George Soros is worried about China, and we should take note. The hedge fund boss, who built his fortune betting on the world’s money markets, is concerned that 20 years of rapid growth is about to run out of steam.

China Says Local-Level Debt Soars, Stirring Fear – NYT A report from the National Audit Office says debt rose 12.7% in six months, which is likely to further raise concerns about China’s borrowing.

How China crashed the Nafta party – The Guardian The negotiators of the ambitious and contentious 1994 free-trade deal failed to anticipate the rise in cheap imports from Asia. According to western tradition, the gift for the 20th anniversary of a union is china. But, two decades on from the trade nuptials enshrined in the the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), China is the uninvited guest that has walked away with many of the gifts.//mainly due to an artificially suppressed RMB

Chinese Businessman Seeking Stake in Times Co. – NYT Chen Guangbiao, who is known for public stunts, said he was leading a group of investors seeking to acquire a large or controlling stake in The New York Times Company.//Perhaps Jon Stewart can interview Chen while he’s in NY – hopefully post denial.

Pollution Rising, Chinese Fear for Soil and Food – NYT Anxiety is growing in China about contaminated soil in the country’s agricultural centers and the potential effects on the food chain.

China’s first aircraft carrier completes sea trials – The Guardian The Liaoning has returned to port after 37 days in the South China Sea, according to state media. China’s first aircraft carrier has successfully completed sea trials in the South China Sea, state media has reported. The Liaoning returned to port on Wednesday after a 37-day voyage, the official Xinhua news agency said. Citing an unnamed naval source, Xinhua said the aircraft carrier had tested its combat system and conducted a formation practice and “attained the anticipated objectives”.

China’s military presence is growing. Does a superpower collision loom? The Guardian Who holds the key to the future of East Asia? As US influence recedes, arch-enemies China and Japan are flexing their muscles. Generally speaking, Japanese bureaucrats are not much given to exaggeration. So when a senior government insider in Tokyo, speaking off the record, recently compared the deteriorating security situation in East Asia to Europe in the 1930s amid the rise of fascism, it was time to sit up and take notice.

Erickson and Strange: No Substitute for Experience – Asia Unbound Aside from being the 120th birthday of Mao Zedong, December 26, 2013, marked China’s fifth anniversary of antipiracy operations off the coast of Somalia and is being lauded as a milestone in Chinese naval and diplomatic history. The China Maritime Museum in Shanghai has opened a special exhibit running through March featuring photos and actual items used by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) during escort missions [link in Chinese]. As the PLAN enters year six of its first protracted contribution to international security, what has Beijing learned from its stint in the Gulf of Aden, and which lessons are germane in the broader context of China’s military development?

Robert S. Spalding III: Being Firm With China – Asia Unbound The Air Defense Identification Zone recently announced by the Chinese was most likely not hastily done. The Chinese do not do anything hastily. It is part of a return to preeminence for a nation that feels slighted by history. Assailed on all sides by invaders and conquerors, China has had to bide its time while it rebuilt its devastated economy. While still a work in progress, Beijing now feels sufficiently confident about the future to assert its military rise. It’s important to remember, however, when it comes to its military rise, China is not evil, nor is China good. China is merely pursuing its own national interests.

Coming to Chinese Headlines in 2014 – TLN  Chinese people have spent another year breathing dirty air, fretting about food safety, poking fun at corrupt officials, and complaining about tightening censorship—but as a discerning consumer of international news, you probably knew that already.

One Year Later, China’s New Leaders – China File Nearly a year to the day after seven new leaders ascended to their posts on the Standing Committee of China’s Politburo, the Asia Society held a public conversation withThe New Yorker’s Evan Osnos; Dr. Susan Shirk of the University of California, San Diego; Former Ambassador to China, J. Stapleton Roy; and Orville Schell. The discussion, which you can watch and read below in full, covered China’s leadership transition so far—its successes, shortcomings, and controversies—as well as the future of the China’s political system//Can’t recommend listening to this more.  Wish I were there in the audience to enjoy this.

2013: The Year in Review, part I – Go Kunming The end of the year is a special time in which editors and writers around the world recycle content from the previous twelve months and repackage it as new. We at GoKunming are not above this practice, so here’s our look at the people and events that shaped 2013 in southwest China.

Forest fire near Dali extinguished – Go Kunming A weekend wildfire, thought to have been intentionally set by an arsonist, has burned a large swathe of forest on the Cangshan Mountains (苍山). Emergency firefighting crews eventually extinguished the blaze with help from hundreds of volunteers and the assistance of a helicopter.// To prevent forest fires, most of Yunnan’s mountains are shut down and public access forbidden during the dry season.  Seems like a great inconvenience for those of us who enjoy the hills and hiking, but remember Yunnan is China’s #1 producer of tobacco and top smoking province – all it takes is one dumb butt to ruin Yunnan’s forests (and a few officials political careers – the real issue at stake)

 

REGION

Asian reporters face a death threat even for everyday stories – The Guardian In some parts of the world the ordinary business of exposing corruption remains a deadly one – as the International Press Institute’s list of journalists killed last year shows. It’s grisly to keep count as the International Press Institute’s death watch tots up the number of journalists and media people killed during 2013 in the line of duty: at least 117 of them, the second worst total since records began. There’s Syria, of course, with 16 journalists gone; but Iraq, with 13, most of them shot, somehow seems just as bad. But at least the Middle East, with 38 killed overall, was a region in ferment. What about the 37 who died in Asia, 13 of them in the Philippines, 11 in India, and nine in Pakistan (an old horror story – 66 murdered in a decade)?

Southeast Asian States Deploy Conventional Submarines – The Diplomat Southeast Asian states continue to procure submarines for a variety of strategic goals.

English Remains ASEAN’s Best Policy – The Diplomat Those ASEAN countries that have embraced the language stand to benefit in the coming years.//What is the alternative? Chinese delegations to ASEAN meetings still refuse to speak English.  Does this mean former British colonies stand to benefit over those that weren’t?  Likely – enter Myanmar…

Southeast Asia in 2013: Disasters and Election Protests –  The Diplomat The year 2013 will be remembered in Southeast Asia as one of deadly disasters and massive post-election protests.

 

CAMBODIA

Cambodia: child protection workers call for end to ‘orphanage tourism’ The Guardian Professionals urge volunteers and visitors to stay away, saying their presence damages children and enables exploitation. //Agreed.  As a person who leads study tours to Cambodia, staying away from orphanage tourism is a good idea.  Thanks for the heads up on this Khiri Travel.

The Missing Picture – review – The Guardian Cambodian film-maker Rithy Panh produces a haunting evocation of the Pol Pot era with the aid of clay figures and newsreels. Rithy Panh is a film-maker, historian and survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide who has fashioned a vibrant career out of excavating the past. The Missing Picture follows on from his earlier films, Rice People and S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, in tackling the horrors of the Pol Pot era, although on this occasion the approach is so nakedly personal and so honeycombed with open-ended questions that it amounts to a bewitching form of self-therapy

 

INDONESIA

Small-Scale Gold Mining Pollutes Indonesian Lands – NYT Indonesian villagers use mercury to process the ore from small-scale mines, work that carries risks to themselves and the environment.

 

MYANMAR

World Briefing | Asia: Myanmar: Five Political Prisoners Freed After Pardon – AP President Thein Sein on Monday granted a pardon to people convicted of or charged with a variety of political offenses.

I beg your pardon – amnesty for political prisoners? – DVB President Thein Sein promised amnesty to all political prisoners before the end of 2013, but three days into the new year, only a handful have actually been released. Khin Cho Myint from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma shares her view on the presidential pardon.

Secret shores – SEA Globe Good prospects: a woman sells fruit on Ngapali beach, considered the top beach resort in Myanmar. Staring in awe at the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, ballooning over Bagan and cruising Inle Lake are just the tip of Myanmar’s tourism iceberg. For those wishing to wander off the tourist trail, however, discovering some of the spots that have managed to fly under the package-tour radar is just as important as ticking off the heavy hitters, and there are few better places to start than the country’s beautiful beaches.

Magway’s oil rush – DVB Thousands of farmers in central Burma’s Magway division are selling their land and cattle to join the region’s oil rush.  A huge settlement, home to 100,000 people, has been set up in the Htan Gang oil field, and families are earning much more money as small-time oil drillers, than they did as farmers.

Economic Development Not a Cure-All for Ethnic Conflict: Burma Watcher – The Irrawaddy CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burmese government officials have expressed hopes that economic development in the country’s resource-rich frontier areas might help bring an end to decades-long civil wars with ethnic armed groups. But that approach could be problematic, according to an independent consultant who meets regularly with the government and armed groups// The national government will have to co-opt ethnic elites into the economic development program to achieve peace.  Both outcomes are a long way off.  Time to think of other strategies.  How will economic development practices based on lowland agriculture benefit ethnic hill peoples?

Karen rivals unite for New Year – DVB At the break of dawn, battalions of unarmed Karen soldiers marched in a parade past hundreds of jubilant visitors at Shwe Kokko Myine in Myawaddy Township as part of the celebrations which marked Karen New Year.

Burma embassy plot – Six killed in Jakarta shoot-out – AP An elite anti-terrorism police squad killed six suspected militants and arrested another during an extended standoff at a house near the Indonesian capital, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

 

SINGAPORE

Singapore Leads Pack as Cities Prepare for an Influx of Fliers – NYT Singapore is unusually forward-looking in its expansion, but passenger demand is forcing airports from Beijing to Seoul to grow.’ v:shapes=”_x0000_i1025″>

 

THAILAND

Thai protester shot dead amid rising tensions in Bangkok – The Guardian Two others wounded in alleged raid by gunmen on protest camp as candidates prepare to register in election

Thai army chief calls for end to violence but fails to rule out coup – The Guardian General Prayuth Chan-ocha says ‘door is neither open nor closed’ to military intervention after two months of protests. Thailand’s army chief has urged both sides in the country’s bitter political dispute to show restraint, but did not explicitly rule out the possibility of a coup. Thailand has been rocked by two months of violent street protests and political tensions pitting the government of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, against protesters seeking to remove her from power. The army has staged 11 successful coups in the country’s history; in the current volatile climate, its intentions are being watched carefully.

Journalist accused of defaming navy appeals to Thai state governor – The Guardian  Australian journalist Alan Morison faces up to seven years’ jail if convicted over story about rights abuses against Rohingya refugees.

 

VIETNAM

Vietnam: Back to Organic? – The Diplomat Worried about food safety, Vietnamese look again at small-scale organic farming.

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