Regional Roundup for Week of 10.12.13

The big news this week was the media coverage of the China’s influence and the Barack Obama’s absence at the APEC and ASEAN meetings.  The media’s approach called for some soul-searching in understanding China’s and the US’s role in the region, but what actually happened at the meetings got buried beneath the tabloids.  Look for ExSE’s analysis of last week’s happenings later this week.

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With Obama MIA, China Touts Multipolar World – The Diplomat While the cat’s missing, the mice will build economic and political ties to hinder U.S. interests in Asia. The APEC summit in Bali and the East Asia Forum meeting in Brunei went Obama-less due to a Republican-led hissy fit that shut down the US government a week ago. In the meantime, China is pushing its economic interests and pushing back against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.// Multi-polarity will not happen without major restructuring

Obama’s Canceled Trip to Asia: How Much Did It Matter? | ChinaFile A ChinaFile Conversation

Obama: China benefits from missed trip, U.S. credibility suffers | Reuters At a news conference on Tuesday, Obama said he should have been able to make the trip to help advance a trade agreement and present a counterweight to China. “I’m sure the Chinese don’t mind that I’m not there right now,” he said. “There are areas where we have differences and they can present their point of view and not get as much push back as if I were there.” //How does US credibility suffer? Beware of empty statements

Obama’s Absence Leaves China as Dominant Force at Asia-Pacific Meeting – NYT China’s president, Xi Jinping, made no reference to President Obama in a long, tightly scripted speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting on Monday// More unqualified modifiers *dominant*

Chinese media crow over Xi’s ‘star’ performance, Obama’s no-show – The Washington Post BEIJING — Chinese media gloated Tuesday over President Xi Jinping’s “star” performance at an Asia-Pacific trade summit in Indonesia that his American counterpart was unable to attend. //How else would a victimized state-sponsored media couch this opportunity?

Obama must make amends after Asia trip cancellation | The A-List–Kurt Campbell Despite the disappointment stemming from the president’s absence in Asia, it is important to remember that the critical advantage that the US enjoys in Asia is a collective desire, among Asians and Americans both, for an enduring American role in the region. //WISDOM

The Pivot Under Pressure – The Diplomat Senior U.S. administration officials have been at pains in recent weeks to demonstrate how Washington’s strategic focus is shifting from the military quagmires of the greater Middle East to the dynamism of Asia. It’s a tough sell, and there is reason to doubt that America’s allies and friends in the region are buying it. Even before the cancellation of President Barack Obama’s Asia trip, which would have included the APEC and East Asia summits, doubts about U.S. focus were rising.

The Pivot Lives On, With or Without Obama – The Diplomat As expected, the cancellation of U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Southeast Asia to attend a host of bilateral and regional meetings has been simplistically and sensationally framed as a blow to the administration’s “pivot” to Asia and a victory for an ascendant China.  There is but a grain of truth in all this. Perceptually, Obama’s absence does compound worries about the sustainability of America’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific given its fiscal irresponsibility and political dysfunction back home. And substantively, the president has missed a golden opportunity to reiterate his commitment to Asian regionalism as well as shore up key bilateral relationships, most notably with Malaysia and the Philippines.  //More wisdom

America and Asia: Not being there – The Economist It’s that silly-shirt moment, but where’s Barack? TWO regional summits in Asia this week will be remembered not for their outcomes but for Barack Obama’s failure to turn up. They are symbols of regional co-operation, but Mr Obama’s no-show turned them into symbols both of gridlocked politics in Washington and of the difficulties facing Mr Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific.

China’s Foreign Policy Debates – The Diplomat President Obama recently canceled his trips to attend the APEC Summit in Indonesia, the East Asia Summit in Brunei, and his planned visits to the Philippines and Malaysia. In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping has concluded visits to Indonesia and Malaysia, and attended the APEC Summit. In Obama’s absence, Xi’s presence at the summit was that much greater

Mind Your Own Business – By Shen Dingli | Foreign Policy Why America needs to fix its problems at home before messing around in Asia. //In an interconnected world fixing problems at home requires “messing around” in Asia for both China and the US.

Li Keqiang’s turn to play starring role in Obama’s absence | South China Morning Post Beijing is likely to take further advantage of the absence of US President Barack Obama from major Asian regional summits to bolster its influence in the region when Premier Li Keqiang attends the East Asia Summit in Brunei today.

Full text: Premier Li Keqiang Gives Joint Written Interview To Media from ASEAN Countries – Xinhua 

More than jihadism or Iran, China’s role in Africa is Obama’s obsession |  – The Guardian here America brings drones, the Chinese build roads. Al-Shabaab and co march in lockstep with this new imperialism. Countries are “pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world”, wrote Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, in 1898. Nothing has changed. //The colonial approach has been modified, but pitting China against US at equal status in a revitalized Great Game is a gross inaccuracy – and very dangerous.   

Like some fox hair with that? China digests latest food scandals – The Guardian Stomach-churning cases range from ring selling cooking oil made from discarded animal parts to gang selling meat products from animal waste. It’s a gourmet recipe for an indictment: take chicken anus, duck feathers and fox hair. Process it into counterfeit cooking oil. Distribute widely. Even in China, a country frequently racked by food safety scandals, this has been a bad week. On Wednesday, a court in eastern China’s Jiangsu province sentenced 16 men to prison for processing and selling 5,000 tons of recycled cooking oil made from a melange of discarded animal parts.//this moral calamity goes beyond the need for rule of law

US signs nuclear technology deal with Vietnam – The Guardian John Kerry says agreement will allow US firms to invest in energy market in Vietnam, where annual growth is at 5%. The United States and Vietnam have signed a pact allowing the transfer of nuclear technology to the south-east Asian country, opening the way for US investment in the burgeoning industry.// China builds highways, the US transfers technology – there is a clear difference in capabilities.  teach a man to fish….

River geomorphology: Divided by five – The Economist BY BUILDING dams in the Himalayas, Chinese engineers are tinkering with one of the world’s great sets of watersheds. Five great streams—the Red River, the Yangzi, the Irrawaddy, the Salween and the Mekong—flow within about 180 kilometres (110 miles) of one another from the south-eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, separated by parallel mountain ranges, before charging off to empty eventually in different seas. Yet research suggests that before this plateau began to rise, 50m years ago, at least two of these streams, and possibly more, were one. // Perhaps there is some truth to the Lake Chiang Mai myth (all great SEA rivers originating from one lake)

Chairman of world’s largest producer of tin arrested for accepting bribes – The Guardian Authorities in China have arrested Yunnan Tin’s chairman Lei Yi in the latest example of the country’s crackdown on corruption. Chinese authorities have arrested and charged the chairman of the world’s largest producer of refined tin, Yunnan Tin Co, over allegedly accepting bribes, a provincial government said, in the latest example of the country’s crackdown on graft. President Xi Jinping wants to make fighting corruption a central plank of his new administration, saying the problem is so severe it could affect the ruling Communist party’s survival.//Yunnan once again in the international news.  Yunnan University implied as a money laundering institution.



China: Urbanization and Hukou Reform – The Diplomat Since taking office, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has repeatedly emphasized the role further rapid urbanization will play in China’s development strategy. Consequently, it is widely predicted that policies to spur urban growth will headline the major economic reform plan expected at November’s crucial third plenary session of the 18th Central Committee.

The new gas guzzler – The world has just passed a historic milestone: China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest oil importer. After decades as the world’s biggest market for the international oil trade, America is ceding that position, the US Energy Information Administration said this week. The implications for international relations and global security are profound.

Sip of Death Plagues Cancerous River Villages – Caixin a decades-long health calamity continues to grip Huangmengying, a Henan Province community of about 2,500 straddling the Huai River, where Dr. Wang practices and researchers have been monitoring conditions for at least eight years. Despite tangible evidence of progress in cleaning up the polluted water blamed for countless deaths and disease, Huangmengying’s name is still on a grim list of so-called “cancer villages” in the river basin region.

Xinhua president meets foreign news media leaders – Xinhua The first WMS, held from Oct. 8 to 10 in 2009, was co-launched by Xinhua and eight other media organizations including the News Corporation, The Associated Press, Thomson Reuters, ITAR-TASS, Kyodo News, the BBC, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and Google Inc. The Al Jazeera Network and the New York Times Company joined the presidium in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Li introduced the agendas for the upcoming Presidium Meeting and outlined ideas for the future development of the WMS. Foreign media leaders lauded the WMS as an important platform for exchange and cooperation among world media outlets and hailed Xinhua’s contribution to this mechanism.

China Shadow Banking Sector may Hit $3.35Trl, Says Govt. Think Tank-Caijing China’s shadow banking sector could be valued at 20.5 trillion yuan ($3.35 trillion) at the least at the end of last year, compared with an official figure of 14.6 trillion yuan ($2.39 trillion), according to a government think tank report. The size of the shadow banking sector has been expanding quickly since 2010, said the report, released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on Tuesday.

IMF’s Zhu Says China Has Tools to Deal With Debt Levels – Bloomberg The Chinese government has room to deal with rising debt levels, which has become a “serious concern,” according to Zhu Min, a deputy managing director at the International Monetary Fund. While debt accumulation by companies and local government is “way too high,” the government has a lot of “policy buffer,” including $3.5 trillion foreign reserves, to resolve the problems, Zhu, a former deputy governor at People’s Bank of China, said at a panel during the IMF meeting in Washington yesterday. The government has already taken actions to curb borrowing, reducing the chances for an economic “hard landing,” he said.

China raises hurdles for foreign banks – China is raising the hurdles for foreign banks, more than tripling the amount of capital that new entrants to the country must post and limiting the derivatives operations of those already on the ground. But at the same time, the Chinese regulator also has offered foreign lenders much-desired clarification about how they can sell bonds in the domestic market, issue credit cards and offer overseas investment products to their clients on the mainland.

American Execs Say China is Getting Expensive, and Profitable – Corporate Intelligence – WSJ More than 90% of respondents said their China business is profitable, the highest level since the survey was started. Overall, though, sentiment hasn’t changed much from the “tempered optimism” of recent years. Companies say that a range of longstanding problems – such as delays in licensing and other market barriers – generally have not improve

Jiangsu court jails sellers of ‘cooking oil’ made from gutter waste | South China Morning Post A Chinese court on Wednesday jailed one man for life and sentenced more than a dozen to up to 15 years in jail for producing and selling cooking oil made from gutter waste, the latest food safety scandal to fuel public mistrust.

Wooing China’s Princelings by Minxin Pei – Project Syndicate Simply put, elite Western colleges and universities, having identified China as a top market for fund-raising and high-end network-building, regard the princelings as a valuable investment. Nurturing ties with China’s political elite is good business, and the princelings can help open doors.

Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy? – Christine Gross-Loh – The Atlantic But the society that Michael Puett, a tall, 48-year-old bespectacled professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, is describing to more than 700 rapt undergraduates is China, 2,500 years ago. Puett’s course Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory has become the third most popular course at the university. The only classes with higher enrollment are Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science… Why are so many undergraduates spending a semester poring over abstruse Chinese philosophy by scholars who lived thousands of years ago? For one thing, the class fulfills one of Harvard’s more challenging core requirements, Ethical Reasoning.

Shanghai’s Careful Steps Forward – Caixin  The significance of this development cannot be overstated. Over the past decade, the progress of Chinese reforms has been stalled by entrenched interest groups fighting against change. This year, however, there has been a decided push to reinvigorate reforms by opening up the economy, and the top-level support for the Shanghai plan has been widely welcomed. Clearly a major plank of the leadership’s reform drive, the Shanghai free trade zone could well mark the third major milestone in the liberalization of the Chinese economy, following the establishment of the special economic zones in the 1980s, and the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001…The 28.78 square kilometer free trade zone in Shanghai is only a start. Whether or not it succeeds will have huge implications for the nation. Meanwhile, its launch alone is sure to spur many more reformers to act.

What Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone Bodes For China – Council on Foreign Relations The Shanghai Free Trade Zone, a new enterprise district that could spark wider economic reforms in China, is Beijing’s vision of a “full-blown, efficient marketplace,” says China expert Daniel Rosen. The eleven-square-mile area, which broke ground on September 29, promises convertibility of China’s currency and freer flow of capital, but many details are still unclear. Still, Rosen says that “for now, the most important element of the nascent zone is that it signals so clearly what Beijing thinks the new endpoint for regulatory conditions should look like.”

Questions Arise About Beijing Support for Free-Trade Zone –  Mr. Li’s no-show has raised questions about whether economic reformers in China really are back in charge again. Instead of flying down himself, Mr. Li sent his commerce minister—one of the least powerful members of his cabinet—a move that suggested to some that the zone had been effectively demoted or that it was a focus of top-level disagreement. The symbolism matters a great deal because the outlook for the world’s second-largest economy hangs partly on the free-trade zone’s success. And its opening comes just before a key Communist Party meeting in November that will set out the government’s economic agenda for the next 10 years.

Foreign banks shun China’s Shanghai free-trade zone amid uncertain rules | South China Morning Post “One concern that many foreign banks have is whether we really need to make the free-trade zone branch completely separate from our existing branches in China,” said one banker, referring to the CBRC requirement that foreign banks in the zone have completely distinct systems of internal compliance, risk management and human resources from their operations in the rest of the mainland.

China’s Bo Xilai Formally Appeals Corruption Conviction – Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party heavyweight sentenced to life in prison last month, has formally filed an appeal against his conviction for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, according to a person with direct knowledge of the case. An appeal had been widely expected as Mr. Bo vigorously denied all charges during his trial in August. It is unlikely to affect the outcome, which is almost certain to have been decided by the party’s top leadership, according to lawyers and party insiders.

Three Sage Points About China – James Fallows – The Atlantic Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Sidney Rittenberg, in Seattle, about his six-plus decades of involvement in U.S.-Chinese affairs, including the 16 years he spent in solitary confinement in prisons of Mao’s China. This week, also in Seattle, he received at age 92 a “Lifetime Achievement” award from the Washington State China Relations Council . In a terse four minutes, from time 17:00 to 21:00 below, he offers what I consider several sage points for stable and productive relations between the countries.

China’s Economy, Back on Track – NYT Momentum for reform is growing. So is the leadership’s will.

The challenge of China as a science and technology superpower | The Guardian The US must press Beijing on anti-competitive practices and espionage, but it also needs to get its own house in order. The United States-China science and technology relationship is shaped by a central paradox. Reducing climate change, preventing pandemics, and developing new energy sources are all challenges that require global solutions. Moreover, the science that will be the foundation of any technological fixes is increasingly collaborative, spanning different disciplines, institutions, and geographical locations. At the same time, science and technology are an essential component of national economic competitiveness and military power.

China’s South-North water diversion middle route – in pictures – The Guardian A year from now, the middle section of the South-North water diversion is expected to begin operation, channelling water from the south to the arid northern region

Ma Jun: China needs to do its bit to combat climate change – The Guardian The well-known environmentalist talks about the links between local pollution and global warming, and how China is a contributor, but also vulnerable to impacts. The same day that the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that human activity is dominant cause of climate change, a cloud of grey smog shrouded the view from the window of the office of Ma Jun, one of China’s most well-known environmentalists and director of the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs (IPE).




Kerry, in Asia, Urges Focus on Law in China Disputes – NYT In Brunei, the secretary of state said maritime disputes with China should be solved according to international legal principles, not by making individual deals.

Kerry to push China, SE Asia to discuss sea dispute | Reuters U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will press Southeast Asian leaders and China to discuss the South China Sea dispute at an Asian summit, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, despite Beijing’s reluctance to address the issue in public forums. Kerry arrived in Brunei on Wednesday for an annual East Asia Summit (EAS) and talks with leaders of Southeast Asian nations and, separately, met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the summit.

What’s in a Name? In the South China Sea, it Seems, Quite a Lot – Southeast Asia Real Time – WSJ Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, however, opted to call it “this sea known by many names” in remarks on Wednesday to other Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders in Brunei. In case no one was clear on what he meant, he added a geographic descriptor placing it, “west of the Philippines, east of Vietnam, north of Malaysia, south of China.”

Brunei Caps Off a Solid Year at ASEAN’s Helm – The Diplomat The ASEAN Summit ended in Brunei on a high note with leaders of the 10-nation trading bloc striking the right note with China over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea and reaching an agreement on how best to combat the dreaded haze and promises to forge deeper ties. A new system to deal with the annual haze will involve the sharing of digitized land-use maps and concession maps of fire-prone areas that cause haze. The data will be shared among the governments of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand.

Myanmar in Lead Role at a Regional Meeting – NYT At the close of the East Asia Summit, Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, formally assumed responsibility for hosting the meeting a year from now.

Pacific Rim Leaders Urge New Focus on Global Trade Talks – NYT In a strongly worded statement, leaders at the Pacific Rim economic summit meeting suggested that the global trade talks known as the Doha round risked

Fast train coming – The Economist IN THE grand concourse of Bangkok’s main train station, Hua Lamphong, the future is on display. Hulking billboards announce the impending arrival of high-speed trains and an age of international connectedness. For those who happen not to pass through the capital, a two-month road show called “Building the Thai Future 2020” is touring the provinces to keep people abreast of the government’s plans for the country’s railways and other infrastructure.

United States Makes Right Decision to go Slow on Military Cooperation with Myanmar – CFR Asia Unbound Last week, the Obama administration announced that, despite the rapid warming of ties between the United States and Myanmar, the former military dictatorship would not get any American military assistance in the fiscal year 2014. (Of course, as it stands now, there will be no U.S. budget in the fiscal year 2014!) As the Irrawaddy reports, the administration has taken this step because the Myanmar military allegedly still uses child soldiers, which makes it ineligible for U.S. military aid.



In Indonesia, Environmentalists See a Disaster in the Making – NYT  Conservationists say rapid clearing of virgin forest in Aceh Province, which had one of the world’s richest ecosystems, threatens endangered species and could trigger flooding.



ADB, Norway to Help Draw Up Rules for New Electricity Era in Myanmar – ADB ADB and Government of Norway will help Myanmar overhaul its ageing electricity regulations, clearing the way for sector reforms and a new era in power supply



Singapore Plans ASEAN Bid for 2030 World Cup – The Diplomat Singapore is planning to lead an ASEAN bid and host the 2030 World Cup. Given the extraordinary support soccer enjoys among 600 million people in Southeast Asia and the advanced plans to forge a single economic and cultural bloc in the region, such a plan should enjoy widespread support. Zainudin Nordin, President of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), said Singapore has set the target for hosting the World Cup as part of a combined bid for the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).



Life lessons: taking on Thailand’s shocking drowning statistics – The Guardian Nearly 2,650 children drown in Thailand per year. At our school on the Cambodian border, we decided things had to change. The leading cause of death in children aged one year and over in Thailand is drowning. Nearly 2,650 children a year die this way, and it was on learning of these statistics that staff at our school, the Triam Suksa school in Soi Dao on the Thai-Cambodian border, decided things had to change.

Getting away: Chiang Mai’s Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden – GoKunming When many tourists think of Thailand their eyes immediately glass over as they imagine white sand beaches and azure blue seas. But the country has more to offer for those not hell-bent on attending full moon parties or diving with whale sharks. As an ever-increasing number of Chinese tourists are discovering, northern Thailand, devoid of seaside resorts and so far immune to all-night rave culture, has its own considerable charms. In the mood for mountains and forests as opposed to sea and sand, we again found ourselves in Thailand’s former Lanna capital, Chiang Mai. Only a 90-minute flight from Kunming, the city offers visitors a host of sightseeing options. Many of these, such as tiger petting zoos and trips to see “long neck” Kayan villagers, are of dubious provenance and yet often packed to capacity.



Op-Ed Contributor: For America, Life Was Cheap in Vietnam – NYT The Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap is remembered for his acceptance of enormous casualties. But American commanders were no less brutal.

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