Regional Roundup for Week of 11.15.13

The devastation of Typhoon Haiyan upon the Philippines made major headlines this week. The Third Plenum also concluded this week with somewhat tepid responses from the media concerning lack of clarity over proposed reforms. Among expected  measures included changes to China’s one-child policy, however the full details of Third Plenum reforms have yet to be released.

ExSE FOCUS

Asia Rivalries Play Role in Aid to the Philippines | NYT — The outpouring of foreign assistance for the hundreds of thousands left homeless and hungry by Typhoon Haiyan is shaping up to be a monumental show of international largess — and a not-so-subtle dose of one-upmanship directed at the region’s fastest-rising power, China. /China upped its initial donation of approximately $100,000 USD to $1.6 million after criticism of stinginess even within state media…offering aid and relief assistance could have been an opportunity to promote Chinese soft power and improve the relationship between China and Philippines, especially in light of recent South China Sea disputes. It’s still less aid than Swedish retailer IKEA pledged ($2.7 million through a charitable foundation)./

Lessons from the Haiyan Typhoon Tragedy | The Diplomat — Haiyan proved once more that the Philippines are extremely vulnerable to the harsh impact of climate change. But it also exposed the sorry state of the country’s infrastructure, chaotic land zoning system, pre-modern weather facilities, unreliable communication facilities, and inadequate disaster preparedness programs.

Disappointment With Third Plenum Is Premature | The Diplomat — Most of the disappointment over the Third Plenum is over the lack of specifics contained in the Third Plenum’s communiqué (English translation here, courtesy of China Copyright and Media). For example, the Wall Street Journal article cited above notes of the communiqué, “the details [about how China will reform] were almost completely missing, even though the document ticked off many of the items that appear on standard lists of reform objectives for China.” But this opinion, which has been widespread since the Plenum ended, seems to have a mistaken view of what the purpose of the communiqué is.

China Tackles One-Child Policy, Death Penalty, & Labor Camps | The Diplomat — China has released the resolution detailing the CCP Central Committee’s major decisions at the Third Plenum, which was held from Saturday to Tuesday. Interestingly, initial reports from the state media highlight mostly social reform issues, some expected some less so. One of the expected decisions is that China has decided to ease its one-child policy, which since the early 1980s has restricted urban couples to one child while allowing some rural couples have two children.

JPMorgan’s Fruitful Ties to a Member of China’s Elite | NYT — A contract between JPMorgan Chase and a consulting firm run by the daughter of the former prime minister points to the bank’s strategy to build its influence in China. /A story to watch, coverage so far has been very careful to note that J.P. Morgan has not been accused of any wrongdoing (yet) but is part of a wider bribery investigation…/

CHINA

China Elected to United Nations Human Rights Council | NYT — Saying it would “oppose pressure and confrontation” on the United Nations Human Rights Council and advance the cause of human rights, China was elected to it for a three-year term along with Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Russia. /Saudi Arabia actually rejected its seat, a surprising move that has been interpreted as an expression of anger at the United States./

Israel Increasingly Courting China as an Ally | NYT — Israeli officials hope to win China to their side in dealings with Iran, Syria and the Palestinians. /Prompts speculation on China’s increased international role beyond strong regional presence in Asia…although Iran’s relationship with China as its third-largest supplier of crude oil could very likely complicate Sino-Israeli relations./

Colorful History of a Power Hotel in Beijing | NYT — The Jingxi Hotel, where Chinese leaders met this week, has a colorful history hosting some of the most important gatherings in modern Chinese history. /Adds another layer to a Chinese joke that there’s no “people” in the Great Hall of the People — major policy decisions are made in the conference rooms of hotels like the Jingxi, which hosted the recent 3rd Plenum./

China’s One-Day Shopping Spree Sets Record in Online Sales | NYT — On Monday, China’s biggest online shopping company processed more than $5.75 billion in its online payments system — a record for a single day anywhere in the world, surpassing by two and a half times the total for American retailers last year on so-called Cyber Monday.

China’s children may become the drivers of environmental change | The Guardian — With growing media coverage of the harmful effects of PM2.5, personal attitudes to its impact are also rapidly changing, and many are taking the necessary precautions. Well-to-do families, young white-collar workers and those who are internationally minded are becoming increasingly unsettled about the long-term effects of living in such an unhealthy environment, and at the heart of these concerns is often the lasting damage to children’s health. Many are questioning how viable it is to raise a family in heavily polluted cities, and people speak of “hatching plans to escape Beijing” by emigrating abroad for the sake of their offspring.

Would You Like Fries With Those Spicy Pork McBites? | NYT — With competition heating up in China’s $174 billion dollar fast-food market, McDonald’s is seeking to up its game by capitalizing on the country’s increasingly voracious appetite for pigs. The result? Spicy Pork McBites. The new pork treat is in line with the overall global strategy of Western chains tailoring their menus to local tastes. 

REGION

Cyclones and climate change: The new normal? | The Economist — Regardless of its precise position in the historical hierarchy, Haiyan—like Katrina—has provoked discussion about the effects of global warming on tropical storms. Naderev Sano, the Philippines’ representative at a climate summit in Warsaw, was unequivocal, daring doubters to visit his homeland. “The trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm,” he said.

Can Myanmar and North Korea Say Goodbye? | The Diplomat — Myanmar and North Korea were long the Asia-Pacific’s odd couple. Prior to Thein Sein’s era of reform in Myanmar, the two states shared a close diplomatic relationship, often finding common ground in their shared status as militarized pariah states in the greater Asia-Pacifc region. With Myanmar having taken concrete steps away from its isolated past and towards greater global integration, will their bilateral relationship survive? Will North Korea and Myanmar continue to cooperate?

UN court awards Cambodia sovereignty in border dispute | The Guardian —  Cambodia, not Thailand, has sovereignty over a disputed promontory around a 1,000-year-old temple, the UN’s highest court ruled on Monday in a unanimous decision on a long-simmering border dispute. The international court of justice said a 1962 ruling by its judges gave Cambodia sovereignty over the Preah Vihear promontory. Thailand will have to withdraw any military or police forces stationed there.

Maid in Singapore: will Cambodian domestic workers be better protected? | The Guardian —  400 women are taking part in a pilot scheme that is sending Cambodian domestic workers to Singapore. There are more than 200,000 foreign domestic workers on the island, and if the trial goes well it could open the way for a new source of labour to sate the affluent city-state’s appetite for household help. Cambodia’s government says its workers will be shielded from abuse, but doubts linger over key welfare issues.

BRUNEI

Brunei to Release First Commercial Film | The Diplomat — With live music and alcohol banned, there’s not much to do in the tiny sultanate – except to visit one of its five movie theaters. Hollywood blockbusters, as well as films produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, dominate the screens – but that could change in 2014 with the release of Brunei’s first commercial feature film. The country’s last film, made in the 1960s, was a guide on how to be a good citizen produced by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

CAMBODIA

Global Fund halts contracts over bribes for bednets in Cambodia | The Guardian — Investigation finds two international companies paid Cambodian officials for deals to supply anti-malaria bednets.  The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has suspended contracts with two international firms that supplied mosquito bednets over “serious financial wrongdoing” in Cambodia.

LAOS

U.S. Offers Reward in Wildlife-Trade Fight | NYT — Taking a page from the battle against international drug cartels, the United States announced on Wednesday a $1 million reward for information to help dismantle one of Asia’s largest wildlife-trafficking syndicates. In what officials said was the first time such a reward had been offered, the State Department said it was targeting a syndicate based in Laos. Investigators say the syndicate is headed by a Laotian businessman, Vixay Keosavang, who was the subject of an article in The New York Times in March.

MYANMAR/BURMA

Naypyidaw Authorities Block NLD Poll on Constitutional Reform | Irrawaddy — Authorities in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw are preventing Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) from conducting a public opinion poll on the need for constitutional reform, a NLD lawmaker said on Friday.

Police Open Fire, Injure 7 Protesters at Burma’s Letpadaung Mine | Irrawaddy — Seven protesting farmers were injured Thursday evening as police opened fire into a crowd at the controversial Chinese-backed copper mining project in Letpadaung, Sagaing division, witnesses said. Villagers say they were attempting to set up a second protest camp to oppose the restarted mining project, which they fear will cause damage a Buddhist structure in the same area.

Myanmar: 69 Political Prisoners Freed | NYT — Myanmar’s president on Friday pardoned 69 political prisoners as part of a promise to free all such detainees by the end of the year. Most of those newly freed are members of ethnic minorities, said Ye Aung, who is on the government’s political prisoner scrutiny committee.

PHILIPPINES

The horror after Haiyan | The Economist — A picture of the amount of death and destruction caused began to emerge only after the storm had swept out over the South China Sea, heading towards Vietnam. Witnesses spoke of corpses littering the wrecked city of Tacloban, on the east coast, which felt the full force of the storm. They spoke of dazed survivors wandering streets strewn with debris, begging for help. “From the shore and moving a kilometre inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami,” said the interior secretary, Manuel Roxas, after inspecting the destruction from a helicopter. “I don’t know how to describe what I saw.”

Death After the Typhoon: ‘It Was Preventable’ | NYT — During five days in a Philippine hospital, a 27-year-old farmer and family breadwinner received virtually no care and died, in essence, of a broken leg.

SINGAPORE

Anonymous Could Be Caned in Singapore | The Diplomat — Six members of Anonymous face hefty fines, jail and in some cases a possible caning after being arrested and charged in Singapore for defacing websites, including one linked to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and spray-painting graffiti identifying the international hacking and protest group.

THAILAND

Banyan: Blowing the whistle | The Economist — To the shrill peeps of ubiquitous whistles, protesters have yet again crowded Bangkok, the capital, brandishing portraits of Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s long-serving king, revered but frail. What has so far been a peaceful movement earlier this month seemed to threaten the survival of the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister. Her tactical retreat has probably saved it. But the political divide looks as unbridgeable as ever, and as dangerous to Thailand’s stability.

Jammin’ in the Jungle: An “Elephant Orchestra” Performs in Thailand | The Diplomat — At a conservation center in Lampang, Thailand, one American musician has taken the role of conductor for a very special musical ensemble – an “elephant orchestra” that makes music with specially designed instruments tailored to their large size. The elephants play a variety of instruments using their trunks – from giant drums and xylophones to customized harmonicas.

VIETNAM

Vietnam’s Disappointing New Constitution | The Diplomat — The repercussions of poor governance in Vietnam are such that the system of governance and constitutional structure need to be fundamentally changed. The challenge is great, and any transformation will depend entirely on the political willingness of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).

First Wild Saola Sighting in 15 Years Gives Conservationists Hope | The Diplomat — One of the world’s rarest animals was caught on camera in Vietnam earlier this week, sparking excitement and optimism in conservation circles around the world. The saola, which resembles an antelope despite being more closely related to oxen, wasn’t discovered until 1992. Until this week, a living specimen hadn’t been spotted in the wild in 15 years.

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