Regional Roundup for Week of 11.9.13

Big events this week included a bombing November 6th outside a Communist Party building in Taiyuan, Shanxi, as well as continuing developments from the October 28 Tiananmen Square explosion. More important topics of the week: China’s Third Plenum conference, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and the growing controversy over Thailand’s proposed amnesty bill.

On the agenda for the Third Plenum: rural land reform, state-owned enterprise reform, and private market development in China among many other rumored issues. Look for further coverage on ExSE regarding how Third Plenum reforms will impact China’s relationship with Southeast Asia.


As Plenum Starts, an Economist Sees Crisis Ahead | NYT — China faces a crisis unless big economic changes are accompanied by a political overhaul, a respected Chinese economist says as Communist Party leaders prepare to meet on the nation’s economic future.// Plenum outcomes announced today.  Let the flurry of analysis begin!

Communist Party rules out political reform ahead of third plenum | SCMP — The Communist Party ruled out any significant political reform a day before the historically significant Central Committee third plenum gets under way, saying it will reinforce the pillars of the party’s leadership and ideological control.

What to Watch for at China’s ‘Third Plenum’ | The Diplomat — While there has been much speculation about what the upcoming Third Plenum meeting might yield in terms of concrete reforms, little is known for sure. China’s state news agency and avid reader of The Diplomat, Xinhua News Agency, is expected to announce the results of the Plenum upon its conclusion on Tuesday. Of course, the Third Plenum could fizzle this year and not produce the kind of groundbreaking reform many expect it to deliver; in any case, whatever changes are announced will take years to materialize given the CCP’s tendency to implement reforms gradually. /

Tiananmen blast shows China faces rise in violent dissent – and repression | The Guardian — Two attacks on Communist party targets suggest Beijing faces a increase in attacks on its rule from a variety of disaffected people. First came the car crash and explosion in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Then came multiple blasts outside Communist party offices in a northern city. Two fatal incidents in 10 days – just ahead of a major party meeting that begins on Saturday – have highlighted the challenges facing China’s leaders despite years of pouring cash into tightening security and preventative measures.

China is Pivoting to Central Asia — but Is Washington Paying Attention? | The Atlantic — Beijing’s deepened connections to the energy-rich countries on its Western border represent a significant geopolitical shift—one the U.S. ignores at its peril. Though it has received comparatively little attention, one of the most profound geopolitical trends of the early 21st century is gathering steam: China’s pivot to Central Asia.

Typhoon Haiyan the biggest yet as world’s tropical storms gather force | The Guardian — Haiyan may be strongest ever to hit land so far but as the oceans warm the power of storms is rising. When typhoon Haiyan – known in the Philippines as Yolanda – pounded into the islands of Samar and Leyte at 4.40am after picking up speed on a 900-mile track across the Pacific, the US navy’s warning centre, JTWC, in Honolulu, calculated its winds to be gusting at up to 235mph (380kph). This would make it the fourth most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded and possibly the strongest to have ever hit land.

Thailand will drop controversial amnesty bill if senate rejects it, PM says | The Guardian — Thailand’s prime minister has defended a political amnesty bill that has sparked large protests in Bangkok, but suggested her party will drop the legislation if it is rejected by the senate. Opponents of the bill say it is designed to bring the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra back from a self-imposed exile. After being overthrown in a 2006 military coup, Thaksin fled to avoid serving a two-year prison sentence for corruption.

Burma Economy to Grow 6.8% in 2014: World Bank | Irrawaddy — Burma’s economy is set to grow an estimated 6.8 percent next year, placing it among Southeast Asia’s fastest growing economies, although rising inflation threatens the poor, the World Bank said on Wednesday. Expansion would be driven by energy and commodities exports, foreign investment, services and construction and growth would exceed the 6.5 percent achieved in the fiscal year that ended on March 31, the Bank said.//How sure are we of these numbers?  Much of the economy is unaccounted for and untaxed. 


China’s Latest Corruption Target: Overseas Real Estate | The Atlantic — China’s corrupt officials and crooked businessmen have smuggled billions of dollars overseas, much of which has ended up in real estate in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom—particularly in high-end neighborhoods in London, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and Toronto. Now the Chinese government is embarking on a worldwide hunt to seize the properties with help from foreign governments, according to asset recovery and anti-corruption specialists.

Why China’s New Rich Want to Emigrate | The Diplomat — China Merchants Bank (CMB) and Bain & Company recently published the 2013 China Private Wealth Report, which uses rigorous statistical modeling to quantify China’s newly rich and their investments. In this report, they use the term “China’s High-Net-Worth Individuals (HNWIs)” to describe an emerging class, defined as individuals with at least 10 million RMB (approximately US$1.6 million) in investable assets. According to the survey, 56 percent of respondents in this group said they are considering emigrating, or already emigrated from China. Another 11 percent said they did not plan to emigrate themselves, but their child was either considering or had already finished the emigration process. This is striking because it basically indicates that three out of five wealthy mainland Chinese are looking to leave the country.//not just the wealthy are emigrating

China’s air pollution blamed for 8-year-old’s lung-cancer | The Guardian — From cancer villages to lung-choking pollution, the impacts of China’s pollution problems on its citizens are becoming more and more publicised. But nothing is quite so shocking as an 8-year-old girl being diagnosed with lung cancer which her doctor says is a result of air pollution. According to a report on the People’s Daily website, the girl lived beside a busy road and was exposed to PM2.5 pollution, fine particulate matter considered to be dangerous because it lodges deep in the lungs and can enter the blood stream.

If You Think China’s Air Is Bad … |NYT — Drinking water has become a casualty of rapid industrialization. Measured by the government’s own standards, more than half of the country’s largest lakes and reservoirs were so contaminated in 2011 that they were unsuitable for human consumption. China’s more than 4,700 underground water-quality testing stations show that nearly three-fifths of all water supplies are “relatively bad” or worse. Roughly half of rural residents lack access to drinking water that meets international standards.

Chinese State Media: U.S. Bullying ‘Obsolete’ | ChinaFile — Stop being a bully, and start respecting the rule of the global village. That’s the takeaway from a November 1 editorial in Chinese state media, which castigates the United States in the wake of revelations that the NSA has tapped the phones of thirty-five foreign leaders, a development severe enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to aver the United States has gone “too far.”

China eyes Antarctica’s resource bounty | The Guardian — China’s colossal red icebreaker, the Xuelong or Snow Dragon, embarked on a 155-day expedition to Antarctica on Thursday. The voyage marks China’s 30th trip to the continent, and many of the 256 crew are scientists hunting meteorites. Also onboard are construction materials to establish the country’s fourth Antarctic research station, Taishan, which is to be located in Australian-claimed territory, a vast area of East Antarctica that houses an unknown wealth of coal, iron ores, manganese and hydrocarbon.

Facing a Flood of Junk Text Messages in China | NYT — Measures to curb unwanted text messages would have widespread public support in a country with 1.2 billion mobile subscribers and where each mobile number receives an average of one junk text a day. /At LEAST one per day./

China and Hollywood by the Numbers | ChinaFile — Hollywood studios now make more money selling movie tickets in China than in any other market outside North America. Wanda, China’s largest real estate developer, bought AMC, the second-largest movie theater chain in the United States, and is also investing in making movies of its own. China is building theaters and adding movie screens at a rate not seen in the U.S. in decades, and Chinese audiences are ballooning. /Includes statistics of just how much money Chinese audiences generate for American studios. From January 1 to September 30 , 2013 U.S. films imported into China grossed $1.1 billion dollars, compared to the $1.6 billion generated by Chinese language films during the same period./

China demands ‘positive images’ in return for access to markets | The Guardian — A senior figure in the Chinese film industry outlined the conditions it is setting for Hollywood to gain access to its lucrative box-office revenues, central among which is more “positive images” of the country and its culture. /It will be interesting to watch how American film producers plan to attract Chinese audiences…plans for at least 4 more “Kung Fu Panda” movies are in the works./


A Chinese Company Wants to Build a New York City…In South Africa | The Atlantic — A Chinese property company has pledged to build South Africa a new financial hub. On Nov. 4, Shanghai Zendai unveiled plans to transform Modderfontein, a manufacturing district in eastern Johannesburg, into a multi-use financial center “on par with cities like New York … or Hong Kong,” said Zendai chairman Dai Zhikang. The firm said it will spend about $7.8 billion on the development over the next 15 years.

China’s Central Asia Overtures: Why Now? | The Diplomat — Much has been made of China’s re-engagement with Central Asia. While others have commented on what China wants in the region, or why it is elevating its relations with the Central Asian republics, perhaps there is a more important question: Why now? Why has China made Central Asia a priority in 2013, and not last year, or the year before? I suggest there are three reasons why China has chosen to deepen engagement with its Central Asian neighbors at this time: the selection of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) by a consortium of European energy companies; the 2014 NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan; and to increase competition with leverage against Russia.

Asia’s Palestine? West Papua’s Independence Struggle | The Diplomat — West Papua’s struggle for independence from Indonesia has long been ignored by the international community. The international community has largely ignored West Papuans’ pleas for sovereignty and Indonesia’s human rights abuses against them. This is due in no small part to Indonesia’s four-decade media blackout in the region, however number of recent high profile events are helping to change this. /

Taiwan signs trade deal with Singapore | SCMP — Taiwan signed a free trade agreement with Singapore on Thursday that will scrap taxes on Taiwanese exports and give a filip to trade worth some US$28 billion last year, as the island looks to broaden its international profile and reduce dependence on China.


 Weaving A Better Future in Cambodia | ADB — Vocational skills and social training open new windows of opportunity for women in Siem Reap. /These kinds of economic and social empowerment programs often have significant community impact beyond individual women, and can be a critical tool to fighting poverty at a local level./


Australia ends asylum boat stand-off with Indonesia | SCMP — Australia said on Saturday it will take a boatload of asylum-seekers at the centre of a high-seas stand-off with Indonesia to its Indian Ocean outpost of Christmas Island.


Sombath Disappearance Could See a Review of EU Aid to Laos | The Diplomat — The European Union has put the case of the prominent development worker Sombath Somphone back on the international agenda, threatening to review foreign aid to Laos after officials there failed to offer a credible explanation for his disappearance 11 months ago.

The tubing party is over in Vang Vieng, but tourism has managed to stay afloat | SEA Globe — Vang Vieng is located in the middle of the jungle landscape of northern Laos, about 180 kilometres north of the capital Vientiane. Nearly 120,000 partying youths used to descend on the provincial city every year, however in 2011 there were nearly 30 deaths, prompting the provincial government to play the role of party-pooper. Now, organising hikes, rafting, cycling and climbing tours in the surrounding mountains is Vang Vieng’s new tourism strategy, and it seems to be working. /Having visited Vang Vieng in the summer of 2011, developing a much less rowdy and dangerous tourism scene is in the interests of both tourists and residents./


Burma’s Police Get EU Training on Crowd Control | Irrawaddy — Burma’s police are for the first time receiving training from the European Union, which is providing the Southeast Asian nation’s law enforcement personnel with instruction on crowd control tactics. A team from the 27-nation bloc began training about 500 police officers on Monday, according to Ko Ko Aung, a Rangoon Division police chief. The course, which began this week in Rangoon, will last 18 months and includes training on handling mass protests and personnel deployment strategies, as well as human rights education and the provision of riot gear.

Risks and Opportunities for Burma’s Economy as Climate Change Bites | Irrawaddy — Two new international reports warning of the economic consequences of climate change for Southeast Asia have emerged just as Burma, backed by European Union funds, begins a program to mitigate impacts. One of the reports suggests that Burma—already labelled a country in “extreme risk” if temperatures rise as predicted—will be wedged between neighbors whose capital cities face serious disruption in the future. The Thai capital Bangkok, which has close and growing business links with Rangoon, and the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka are rated in top five most at risk cities in the world due to the effects of climate change. /The impact of climate change on regional economies is a critical emerging concern, especially in regards to food security and rice production in particular./

Natural Beauty Blighted by Myitsone Dam, Locals Say | The Irrawaddy — The Myitsone region was once famous for tourism, with the natural beauty of mountains, hills and the rocky riverbank. Local residents say tourists are now rarely seen there. Khin Maung, who lives in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, remembers traveling to the Irrawaddy when he was younger. “The beauty of the Irrawaddy was amazing,” he says. “About 50 years ago, when we were children, dozens of peacocks lived on the mountains and would fly into river…But now we no longer see peacocks in the Irrawaddy. The water was so clean in the past. Now you can see muddy water.”


Philippines Struggles to Assess Damage From Deadly Typhoon | NYT — Philippine rescue workers struggled Saturday to grasp the human toll and physical devastation from a powerful typhoon that ripped through the country the day before, killing more than 100 people in a southern city inundated by the storm, according to officials. /Officials had hoped that the speed of the storm would prevent widespread flooding and mudslides, sadly there still appears to be extensive damage in less-developed areas and likely large loss of life./


Singapore PM’s website hacked by ‘Anonymous’ activist group | SCMP — The websites of Singapore’s president and prime minister have been hacked after it vowed to crack down on activist group Anonymous, which is demanding greater internet freedom.


Bangkok’s volunteer rescuers race to road crashes | The Guardian — Despite a fear of ghosts, amateur ‘basic teams’ attend to injured and dead before police and medics arrive to earn good karma. /Fascinating profile on “ambulance chasers” in Bangkok. Thailand operates two-tiered emergency medical services, with teams of volunteers as primary responders and more advanced life support if necessary. Also watch the short video “The Bodysnatchers of Bangkok”

Unrest in Thailand: Politics from Abroad | The Economist — Thais are in the streets, protesting a controversial amnesty bill. It is a bad moment for democracy in the country, and for its leaders. /In-depth video report on recent political demonstrations and protests in Bangkok sparked by proposed amnesty bill for Thaksin Sinawatra, and the possible impact of widespread protests on political climate in Thailand./


Vietnam begins mass evacuation as super typhoon Haiyan approaches | SCMP — Vietnam has started evacuating over 100,000 people from the path of Super Typhoon Haiyan, state media said on Saturday, after the storm tore across the Philippines leaving scores dead and devastating communities.

Vinashin Bailout: Vietnam Tries Everything But a Free Press | The Diplomat — Vietnam will offer $626 million of government-guaranteed bonds at the Singapore Stock Exchange to help Vinashin shipbuilders repay foreign creditors stung by the company’s addiction to debt. The company is also being rebranded and will in the future be known Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (SBIC). SBIC will run eight yards focused on shipbuilding, repair and conversions and be charged with the restructuring of 234 companies that Vinashin controls through asset sales, debt for equity swaps and mergers.


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