Regional Roundup for the Week of 3.1.14

This week’s top news included increased criticism of how China’s government has handled recent severe pollution, heightening concerns that the poor air quality and slow response for a solution will have lasting long-term impact on the economy as well as the environment. There have been reports that more and more elite and educated Chinese are choosing to move away from developed urban coastal cities in favor of less-polluted areas, including Kunming and Dali in Yunnan Province. Aside from the problem of visible air pollution and the dangers of micro particles like PM2.5, a growing concern is water and earth pollution, which may prove even more challenging to reverse. This should be of great concern to officials here in Yunnan Province, home to the Three Parallel Rivers National Park that includes the upper reaches of the Mekong, Yangtze and Salween Rivers.

Political unrest in Thailand continues, with some speculation that the protests are losing steam and even as violence has escalated recently. Protesters agreed to remove blockades from major intersections, a decision that came after a speech by the head of Thailand’s army that distanced himself from the protest movement. However, political deadlock remains weeks after elections and will likely persist into the spring until an agreement is reached between the government and political opposition.

ExSE FOCUS

Party chief: Yunnan ‘embracing a new era of environmental protection’ | GoKunming — The most powerful government official in Yunnan, Party Secretary Qin Guangrong (秦 光荣), delivered a speech last week in which he at times bluntly addressed many of the environmental concerns facing the province. Although Qin was, perhaps expectedly, speaking in broad terms, he did mention specific goals and characterized environmental issues as the top priority currently facing the province.

Water Pollution: More Difficult to Fix Than Dirty Air? | ChinaFile — Although China’s air pollution keeps making headlines, its water pollution is just as urgent a problem. One-fifth of the country’s rivers are toxic, while two-fifths are classified as seriously polluted. In 2012, more than half of China’s cities had water that was “poor” or “very poor.” Last week, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection announced a trillion-yuan (U.S.$320 billion) plan to start dealing with this urgent issue.

Protesters Say They’ll End Blockades in Bangkok | NYT – The leaders of the campaign apologized for blockades of major intersections and promised a new strategy for the protests.

Thailand’s Army Chief Cautions Antigovernment Protesters | NYT — The head of Thailand’s army, after months of neutrality, tells government opponents to “ask yourselves whether this would end peacefully.”

Currency of China Continues to Decline | NYT – The value of China’s currency, the renminbi, continued to slide against the United States dollar on Friday, rattling investors by falling to its lowest level in nearly a year before closing higher

A Border City on the Edge of the Law | NYT – Mong La, Myanmar, draws Chinese over the border to gamble, as well as buy ivory and other animal parts, despite official disapproval of the casinos in China.

Burma tells Medécins Sans Frontières to leave state hit by sectarian violence | Guardian – Médecins Sans Frontières has been ordered by Burma’s government to suspend all operations in a conflict-riddled state because of what officials described as a lack of impartiality in medical treatment.

China Accused of Firing Water Cannons at Filipino Fishermen | NYT – The Philippine military said the Chinese Coast Guard tried to drive away Filipino fishing vessels at the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Yunnan province increasingly feeding China’s hungry north | GoKunming — Last year, 8.5 million tons of produce grown in Yunnan was shipped to boomtowns in China’s north and east, nearly equaling totals of the previous two years combined. The largest consumers of crops grown south of the clouds, respectively, are Beijing, Tianjin, Xi’an, Xianyang, Hohhot, Yinchuan and Zhengzhou. These cities and six others have established wholesale markets specializing in selling Yunnan produce.

CHINA

China’s President Will Lead a New Effort on Cybersecurity | NYT – President Xi Jinping is presiding over a working group on security, a sign that the Communist Party views the issue as a pressing strategic concern.

In Beijing, Complaints About Smog Grow Louder and Retaliation Grows Swifter  | NYT – Anger is rising over the government’s inability to protect the nation from pollution that has made places like the capital “unsuitable for human habitation,” as a prominent think tank stated this month in a study that was swiftly censored.

Citizen Sues Local Government for Failing to Curb Air Pollution | ChinaFile — Although residents in Northern China are no strangers to dirty air, a man from the smog-enshrouded Hebei province has decided to take the local environmental authority to court for failing to control air pollution.

LinkedIn Goes to China | NYT – The social network for business is creating a Chinese-language site. LinkedIn says it may have to practice self-censorship on its growing publishing platform.

How the Internet and Social Media Are Transforming China | ChinaFile — “The Internet has radically transformed China,” said Emily Parker, author of the book Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices from the Internet Underground, in a public discussion at Asia Society in New York on February 19.

Chinese authorities bust child-trafficking ring – video | Guardian – Chinese police have detained 1,094 people and rescued 382 babies in a crackdown on four online baby trafficking rings, state media reported

Many in China Can Now Have a Second Child, but Say No | NYT – A relaxing of the one-child policy will allow two children in a family when just one parent is an only child, but the cost of child-rearing has given some couples pause.

REGION

Asian Giants Look to the Arctic | Diplomat — After a lengthy courtship, China and India formalized their relationship with the Arctic Council in May 2013 by gaining admission as official observer states. China’s Academic Battle for the South China Sea | Diplomat — Beijing supports increased research on South China Sea issues as part of a soft power push for control.

BRUNEI

Brunei’s Royal Partiers May Have To Curb Their Enthusiasm | Diplomat — The introduction of Sharia Law will put an end to the alcohol-fueled soirees enjoyed by Brunei’s rich.

CAMBODIA

Getting Stares on the Streets of Cambodia: Buses for the Masses | NYT – Phnom Penh is experimenting with a public transportation system, beginning with 10 buses, in a program underwritten by the Japanese government.

Minimum maximum | SEA Globe — Recent violence in Cambodia linked to protests over wage levels underlines the struggle between workers, governments and business owners

Treasured islands | SEA Globe — Beauty and a burly sea captain await passengers sailing Cambodia’s Koh Rong archipelago

INDONESIA

Indonesia’s South China Sea Options | Diplomat – Indonesia has the potential to defend its maritime interests, but for now it will need a partner.

Climate Change Could Lead to the Disappearance of 1,500 Indonesian Islands | Diplomat – Rising seas could swallow as many as 1,500 of Indonesia’s islands by 2050, according to a report from the Maplecroft Climate Change Vulnerability Index. It stated that Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport could be underwater as soon as 2030 if the current rate of global warming persists.

Oscar-Nominated Documentary Scrapes at Raw Wound in Indonesia | Irrawaddy — A chilling documentary about one of the worst massacres since World War Two is up for an Academy Award this weekend. If it does win, don’t expect the Indonesian co-director to go on stage to receive an Oscar: he’s worried for his life.

MALAYSIA

‘Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick’: What is Malaysia Playing At? | Diplomat – Malaysia and China have had maritime run-ins with mixed results. What is Malaysia’s endgame in the South China Sea?

Malaysian Prime Minister: One in 10 Citizens Pay Their Taxes | Diplomat — Prime Minister Najib Razak announced yesterday that only one out of every 10 Malaysians pay their taxes. Najib, who is also the country’s finance minister, warned that lost tax revenue could force the government to borrow money to pay a steadily increasing number of civil servants.

MYANMAR/BURMA

Myanmar’s Census Controversy | Diplomat — Myanmar is scheduled to hold a census next month but local and international monitoring groups are worried that it could inflame ethnic and religious tensions in the country.

At the mercy of the winds | SEA Globe — Artisans fear their skills won’t survive the onslaught of time and increasing modernity in Myanmar

PHILIPPINES

Gimme shelter | SEA Globe — Plans for a purpose-built hamlet envision opportunity, equality and recognition for the little people of the Philippines

SINGAPORE

Fears over pace of climate change as Singapore, Malaysia battle drought | SCMP — Singapore and Malaysia are grappling with some of the driest weather they have ever seen, forcing Singapore to boost supplies of recycled water while its neighbour rations reserves amid disruptions to farming and fisheries.

Lee Hsien Loong on What Singapore Can—and Can’t—Teach China | ChinaFile — The transformation of Singapore in recent decades can offer valuable lessons to China as it reforms. In an exclusive interview with Caixin in early February, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong discussed his expectations for Singapore’s future and challenges confronting the country.

THAILAND

Bangkok Turmoil and Thailand’s Deep South | Diplomat – Prospects for peace in South Thailand recede as Bangkok plunges into political turmoil.

Thailand Headed for a Violent Ending | CFR Asia Unbound — Clashes in Thailand between anti-government protestors and security forces have intensified. This past weekend, unidentified gunmen sprayed bullets at anti-government protestors in eastern Thailand and killed a five-year-old girl, and someone apparently launched two grenade attacks in Bangkok. Since this current round of demonstrations started last November, 21 people have been killed and hundreds injured in Thailand. The country has basically functioned without an effective government now for months, the once-teflon economy is sputtering, and Thais are preparing for the violence to get worse. Crash That Kills Schoolgirls Highlights Thai Road Dangers | NYT — A bus accident that killed 15 people provides a grim corroboration for a study finding that Thailand has the world’s second-highest road fatality rate.

VIETNAM

Project blends Rotterdam knowhow with Ho Chi Minh City street smarts | Guardian – Rotterdam, with long experience in flood management, is advising Ho Chi Minh City on the development and implementation of a climate adaptation plan to help the Vietnamese city avoid disaster as sea levels rise and the frequency and severity of storms increases.

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