Regional Roundup for Week of 2.2.2014

Happy Spring Festival from East by Southeast!  Just links in this week’s digest.  ExSE’s writers are either off celebrating the Year of the Horse, stealthily checking polling places in Bangkok, or on visa runs to the US.

EXSE FOCUS

Thai voters prevented from casting ballot by anti-government protesters – Guardian Boycotts, blockades and violence lead to disruption or closure of polling booths, affecting about six million voters across Thailand. Tens of thousands of Thais were unable to cast their ballots on Sunday after anti-government protesters blockaded roads and commandeered polling booths in what has become an increasingly tense political standoff. //More links to Thai protests and elections analysis below – by far the biggest story in Asia this week. 

Red-shirts ‘ready to resist’ Thai army coup, set up capital in Chiang Mai – SCMP The embattled Thai government’s hardline “red-shirt” supporters in the country’s north say they are ready to resist any attempt by the military to stage a coup. Some supporters say they also expect popularly elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to retreat to Chiang Mai and set up government there if the army tries to take power in Bangkok amid ongoing anti-government demonstrations. //by ExSE contributor Tom Fawthrop

Climate change could worsen Mekong Delta woes – Third Pole Scientists say climate change will have grave impact on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, a region already battling pollution, salinity and flooding. Vietnamese scientists say climate change will probably exacerbate existing ecological problems in the Mekong delta, such as water pollution, salinity intrusion, loss of aquatic biodiversity and rising susceptibility to flooding. Their concerns echo a 2006 warning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the Mekong River Delta and two others — the Ganga and the Nile — are particularly susceptible to rising sea levels.

Chinese New Year: Increasingly Traditional, Increasingly Global – The Diplomat Spring Festival celebrations in China and around the world represent the twin pulls of modernization and tradition.//Out with the snake, in with the horse. 

Chinese new year – in pictures – Guardian People around the world gather to see in the year of the horse

China Sentences Xu Zhiyong, Legal Activist, to 4 Years in Prison – NYT The case against Mr. Xu, who campaigned against corruption and injustice, was seen as a barometer of how China’s new leadership would respond to organized calls for reform.

White House Urges China to Act on Journalists’ Visas – NYT The statement was the latest public effort on behalf of reporters for Bloomberg and The New York Times thwarted in their work by visa delays.

China Appears Set to Force Times Reporter to Leave – NYT Austin Ramzy would be the second Times correspondent obliged to leave mainland China in 13 months because of an unprocessed visa application.

China denies ‘deporting’ New York Times journalist Austin Ramzy – Guardian China hits back at ‘unjustifiable accusations’ after White House press secretary said US deeply concerned by restrictions faced by foreign journalists

 Obama’s Asia rebalancing turns into a big foreign policy heachache – Guardian US effort to deepen relations with both China and its traditional Asian allies is creating a host of new problems. China and Japan are not talking any more, and the US is hardly being listened to.

On 35th Anniversary of Diplomatic Ties With U.S., China Tries to Soften Image – NYT China has moved to expand friendly cultural exchanges with the United States and promote a series of prominent collaborations in music, dance and education, particularly in New York.

Obama and G.O.P. Facing Opposition to Trade Pacts – NYT President Obama, supported by many Republicans and business groups, has met opposition from labor and many Democrats on his push for fast-track approval of trade deals with Pacific Rim nations and Europe.

Fragile economies under pressure as recovery prompts capital flight – Guardian So far this year $12bn of foreign money has fled the stock markets of emerging economies, and last week’s Fed decision will accelerate that. We look at how further loss of western funds could affect six vulnerable countries. The decision by the US Federal Reserve to further slow its programme of bond buying last week gave a clear signal of confidence in the world’s largest economy. But the scaling down of monthly purchases, by a further $10bn to $65bn, put emerging market economies under renewed pressure: currency falls and a flight of foreign capital have already placed them on the “at risk” list.

Official proposes reopening Wujiaba Airport – GoKunming Two news stories with quite different visions for Kunming’s defunct airport were published in the Yunnan press this week. One discloses initial plans for a sprawling redevelopment project on the site of Wujiaba Airport while the other reports a provincial official has proposed the now unused runways and terminals be reopened.//upcoming post on this issue soon.  Kunming’s 5th largest airport in the world has become the laughing stock of China, rife with problems in addition to expected levels of  bureaucratic idiocy

The White-haired Man-Asia Literary Review THE WHITE-HAIRED MAN cruised along the emptying thoroughfare as the falling sun swam in red over the neighbouring nation. He enjoyed the push of wind through his hair and the dampish chill of the December air on his hands as he drove his open sided wartime jeep. His wife had gone ahead in the far more modern family car.//Essay on Sombat Somphone by writer Melody Kemp

 

CHINA

China’s Communist party expels disgraced former mayor of Nanjing – Guardian Ji Jianye had earlier removed from city mayoralty amid accusations of sweeping corruption//another one bites the dust, likely one of many mayoral level/provincial head levels to lose power this year

The Chinese Military’s Toughest Opponent: Corruption – The Diplomat Is Xi Jinping willing to bring his anti-corruption drive to bear on the People’s Liberation Army?

China sets new world record for solar installations – Guardian China installed more solar energy than any other country in the world in 2013. China installed a record 12GW of solar power in 2013, doubling its rate of solar installations, according to preliminary figures. This is more than has ever been installed by any country in a single year and means that China installed three times more solar energy in 2013 than the total UK solar capacity.//Solar power can be produced by private owners and sold to the grid in China (along with wind power) but infrastructure is unstable and regulatory roadblocks prevent efficiency.

China becomes biggest market for red wine, with 1.8bn bottles sold in 2013 – Guardian Boom attributed to new urban affluence – and to Chinese fondness for lucky colour. The Chinese appear to have beaten the French at one of their own favourite pastimes – quaffing red wine. China’s drinkers knocked back 1,865bn bottles of vin rouge last year, an increase of 136% over five years, making the country the leading market for red wine.//when will we see the same report for coffee 2015? 2018?

In China, ‘Once the Villages Are Gone, the Culture Is Gone’ – NYT As village life in China disappears and its traditions fade, some fight to maintain the country’s rural cultural heritage.

Look: The Empire State Building in Ice – NYT Photos from the Harbin Ice Festival

Hong Kong Paper Ousts Top Editor, Stirring Concern – NYT Ming Pao’s history as a serious, independent paper has given it outsize influence, but it might be the latest victim of the mainland’s effort to rein in the media here.

Getting Away: A return to Shaxi – GoKunming A trip to the Yunnan countryside is often seen by tourists as a chance to see China as it once was. But rural villages attempting to bill themselves as rustic travel destinations often run up against a common problem: how can a place preserve its cultural roots and often fragile ancient architecture while at the same time accommodating an influx of camera-toting visitors?//Get there while you can, top Yunnan destination

 

REGION

Asian Markets Slip After Fed’s Decision on Stimulus – NYT Key stock indexes in Japan, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong dropped after the Federal Reserve’s announcement to continue to roll back bond purchases.

Preparing for a dengue fever vaccine: why Brazil’s ahead of the game – Guardian Six dengue vaccine candidates are in various stages of clinical development but developing countries will not receive the benefits if planning does not start now. Dengue fever is now endemic in more than 125 countries. Six vaccines are currently in clinical development and policymakers and global health leaders need to be ready for when they come on the market

US foreign policy in Latin America leaves an open door for China – Guardian  America’s ‘pivot’ to Asia along with decades of heavy-handed policy give China an opportunity to rebalance global powers

France’s truffle farmers aim to stop inferior Chinese fungi getting a sniff – Guardian Scientists use their noses to help distinguish between highly prized black truffles and cheap Chinese imports. When is a black truffle not a €1,000-a-kilo rare French fungus? When it fails the smell test.

International Ocean Drilling Expedition Heads For South China Sea – The Diplomat An international scientific ocean drilling expedition could raise the stakes in the South China Sea disputes.

The New Age of Nationalism – The Diplomat The 21st century will be defined by nationalism; not religion or culture.

Hard times for soft shells – SEA Globe Editorial Hunted for their meat or sold on to Vietnam, giant turtles cling to existence in the north of Cambodia

 

INDONESIA

Death Toll Climbs After Major Volcanic Eruption in Indonesia – NYT Toxic clouds of hot ash hampered teams looking for more victims from Saturday’s eruption at Mount Sinabung, which killed at least 15 people.

 

MYANMAR/BURMA

UN urges Burma to investigate Rohingya deaths after latest violence – Guardian UN human rights agency says it has information of 48 Muslims killed in Rakhine by Buddhist mobs, the deadliest in a year. At least 48 Muslims were killed when Buddhist mobs attacked a village in an isolated corner of western Burma earlier this month, the United Nations has said, calling on the government to carry out a swift, impartial investigation and to hold those responsible accountable.

18 Kachin villagers captured by Burmese army in Mansi – DVB Burmese government forces launched an assault on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the village of Nam Gau in Mansi Township on Thursday, according to a mobile team of the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), which supplies medical support in the area.

Burma’s emerging women leaders – DVB Kay Thi Win was forced to drop out of high school when her father died in order to help support her mother and siblings. “I told my mother that I got a job in a factory on the Thai-Burmese border and I was going to work there,” she said. “I ended up working as a sex worker.”

Crossing the Indo-Burmese Border on Motorcycle – The Irrawaddy MOREH/TAMU — After a long and thorough inspection of our documents and various exchanges with colleagues in Naypyidaw, the white-suited immigration officer finally laid down the phone, turned towards us, broke into a huge smile, and said: “Welcome to Myanmar. We have been expecting you.”

 

PHILIPPINES

Typhoon Haiyan Communities Gradually Recovering – ADB Just over 2 months after Super Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, devastated the central Philippines, survivors in the affected areas have started the process of rebuilding their lives and their homes, as they await longer term support from the government and donors.

 

THAILAND

Thailand’s political crisis: The show staggers on – Economist IN FRONT of the Royal Thai Army Club the rump of a people’s revolution gathered to collect their reward. Inside, the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was locked in talks with the election commission over whether to suspend a snap poll which she had called for February 2nd. Before the meeting, the commission had cited disruption and the risks of violence as reasons for delaying the poll by four months.

A symbolic exercise – Economist SO ENTRENCHED are positions on either side of Thailand’s divided polity that the outcome of the election held on February 2nd was clear long in advance. The governing Pheu Thai party of Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister, would win, if only because of a boycott by the main opposition party, the Democrats. In fact, it would win anyway. Parties loyal to Miss Yingluck’s brother, the self-exiled Thaksin Shinawatra, prime minister from 2001 until he was deposed in a coup in 2006, have won five successive elections (in 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011).

Thai Voting Is Disrupted by Protesters – NYT Opposition forces vowed to contest the results of Sunday’s election, in which their efforts to block polling sites mostly affected Bangkok and areas surrounding it.

Thailand’s Democratic Way Out – NYT The only way forward is to strike a more viable balance between the majority and the minority.

Continuing Unrest Could Undermine Thailand’s Economy – NYT Companies are reconsidering investments in light of the protests and political gridlock the economy has normally shrugged off in past years.//Vietnam, Indonesia, and Myanmar will emerge as the winners of political unrest in Thailand

The colour of GDP – Economist THAILAND’S fraught political struggle invites oversimplification. The colour-coded protests suggest a crude split between the yellow-shirted rich and the red-shirted poor. Or at least, they once did: since then the red shirts have taken to wearing white and the yellows now tend to wear the national tricolour of red-white-and-blue. And on a deeper level, the divisions themselves are somewhat more subtle.

Drip, Drip, Drip: The Impact of Thailand’s Political Chaos on the Thai Economy (and the World) – Asia Unbound For months now, even as Thailand’s political crisis has escalated from street protests into daily violence, the disintegration of state institutions, and the threat of a coup, most Thai businesspeople, foreign investors, and analysts of the Thai economy have maintained a relatively positive outlook for the Thai economy this year and next. After all, as several long-time investors in Thailand have told me, the country’s economy has over decades proven extraordinarily resilient, surviving nineteen coups and attempted coups, natural disasters, the Indochina wars, and many Bangkok street protests that ended in bloodshed.

Thailand Endgame – Asia Unbound Over the weekend, Thailand’s political crisis moved closer to the ultimate endgame, which is a complete takeover by anti-government forces, both in the street and in institutions in Bangkok. Primarily pro-government Thais came out to polls across the country to vote in advance balloting, which went on without incident in much of the North and Northeast. In these places, one might have thought a normal election was proceeding. In Bangkok and parts of the South, the demonstrators blocked many polling booths, and the level of anger and violence went up a notch, if that was even possible. The Economist this weekend essentially suggests that Thailand is going to break apart. I think that’s extreme, but the situation is deteriorating out of control quite quickly.

 

VIETNAM

Zone 9, deep-sixed – Economist “WE’LL never find out what the real story was,” Nguyen Qui Duc said. In Vietnam, he explains, you never learn the real story in situations like this. Exactly one month ago, the day before I spoke with Mr Duc, city authorities had closed down Tadioto, his gallery-bar-and-performance space, along with the 60-odd other studios, galleries, boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs that made up the arts district known as Zone 9. Were the reasons political, bureaucratic

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