Regional Roundup for the week of 3.16.14

The big topic this week was the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on Saturday. What initially appeared to be simply a tragic accident has shifted to an investigation into a  much more complicated incident after it emerged that crucial communication devices on the plane appeared to be intentionally disabled, and that the plane may have flown for hours after its last contact. Search efforts are still underway 10 days after the plane disappeared, involving nearly twelve countries in the Southeast Asian region and extending well into the southern Indian Ocean.

Malaysian authorities have faced intense criticism over their perceived lack of transparency regarding the investigation and for conflicting statements about the plane’s disappearance. One of the strongest critics has been China, with Chinese citizens comprising two-thirds of the passengers and frustration mounting amongst their families waiting for news.

ExSE FOCUS

Flight MH370: Malaysia asks for help as search for missing plane continues | Guardian — Malaysian officials have requested official assistance from more than a dozen countries in south-east and south Asia in a desperate bid to find missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, after new satellite data indicated the aircraft flew on for hours after it last made contact with civilian radar.

Series of Errors by Malaysia Mounts, Complicating the Task of Finding Flight 370 | NYT — A week after the plane disappeared, the trail is even colder as the search now sprawls from the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the empty expanses of the southern Indian Ocean.

If MH370 crashed in southern Indian Ocean it wouldn’t be seen or heard | Guardian — The empty expanse of water is one of the most remote places in the world and also one of the deepest, posing potentially enormous challenges for the international search effort focusing on the area, one of several possible crash sites.

Malaysian Prime Minister’s Statement on Flight 370 Investigation | NYT — The text of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s statement Saturday.

Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny | NYT — Worldwide bafflement at the disappearance of an airplane has challenged Malaysia’s paternalistic political culture and exposed its elite to withering judgments.

Lincang Journal: Communism Is the Goal at a Commune, but Chinese Officials Are Not Impressed | NYT — A utopian farming commune in Yunnan Province probably would have pleased Chairman Mao, but the Communist Party has never had much tolerance for independent groups, and the community faces a campaign of intimidation.

220 Are Detained in Raid on a Thai Jungle Camp | NYT — Those arrested are thought to be Uighurs, a Turkic people from western China who have suffered repression from the ethnic Han who rule China.

A Marketplace Dispute in Central China Turns Deadly | NYT — News reports said a dispute between two food vendors in Changsha escalated, leaving five people stabbed to death and one man shot and killed by the police. /Reports popped up in western media outlets late Friday morning as well as two small articles on the Xinhua homepage which were quickly scrubbed by early afternoon./

China’s Sudden WeChat Crackdown | Diplomat — A sudden censorship crackdown on popular social media app WeChat has Chinese netizens in a bind.

For Myanmar Muslim Minority, No Escape From Brutality | NYT — Rohingya Muslims, denied citizenship in Myanmar, pass through Thailand on their way to relative safety in Malaysia or, if they cannot afford to pay unscrupulous brokers, languish there.

CHINA

News Analysis: China Torn Between Policies and Partnership | NYT — China is struggling to find a neutral diplomatic position over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

China’s Hard Line: ‘No Room for Compromise’ | NYT — Wang Yi took a strong stand Saturday on China’s territorial disputes, saying it will “never accept unreasonable demands from smaller countries.”

Its Growth Targets Elusive, China Focuses on Jobs and Quality of Life | NYT — As China’s leader emphasized quality of economic growth over a set target, the government reported poor performance in areas like industrial output during January and February.

China’s Central Bank Allows Its Currency More Volatility | NYT — The bank doubled the amount by which the renminbi would be permitted to rise or fall each day, making it more responsive to market forces.

China Details Plans to Liberalize Interest Rates and Encourage Private Banks | NYT — Analysts welcomed the announcements, which signaled progress in a far-ranging plan of overhauls designed to modernize the country’s financial system.

China Puts a Stop to Plans for Virtual Credit Cards | NYT — China’s central bank said it wanted to assess the risks that customers could face using the untested services from the online giants Alibaba and Tencent.

For Foreign Journalists in Beijing, It’s All About Asking the Right Question | NYT — A news conference with the Chinese prime minister and foreign journalists each year is broadcast worldwide, but is actually staged, with the complicity of many of the largest news organizations in Western journalism.

Why Do Men Dominate Chinese Politics? Because They’re ‘Just Too Superb’ | NYT — The National People’s Congress has slightly more women than in previous sessions, but women still remain a rarity at the top levels of Chinese politics. This gender gap might be due to a “quality” issue, some female delegates said.

The United States of China | NYT — Federalism’s biggest benefit for China is its promise to address the concerns of restive minority regions.

N.B.A. Looks to Asia for Next Growth Spurt | NYT — With China as the big revenue prize, the National Basketball Association is steadily stoking interest and wooing fans across the region.

REGION

U.S. Takes Back Seat in Malaysian Jet Inquiry | NYT — Some of the world’s foremost experts on crash investigations are in Kuala Lumpur, but technically only to assist the Malaysian government, and they are saying nothing.

The X Factors: How Third Parties Destabilize US-China Relations | Diplomat — Third party actors such as the Philippines, Japan, and North Korea have the biggest potential to upset US-China ties.

Second Thomas Shoal Tensions Intensify | Diplomat — The Philippines, China, and the U.S. are upping a war of words over Beijing’s blocking of Filipino civilian vessels.

Asia-Pacific countries failing to stop forest loss, UN warns | Guardian — Region losing 2m hectares of forest and grasslands every year, with area the size of India and Burma together requiring restoration.

Can India Catch Up With China in Myanmar? | Diplomat — China has a powerful economic presence, but India has some historical and institutional strengths.

Australian journalist faces jail after refugee report angers Thai navy | Guardian — Alan Morison and Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian face defamation charges for reporting alleged abuse and human trafficking.

CAMBODIA

In Cambodia, Voicing the Struggle | NYT — Mam Sonando, described by his supporters as Cambodia’s only truly independent radio broadcaster, says he is fighting to “protect people who have been victimized.”

INDONESIA

Governor of Jakarta Receives His Party’s Nod for President | NYT — The move by the party of Joko Widodo, who has become a political phenomenon, ended speculation over whether the party chairwoman would stand in his way.

LAOS

Vanished: Laotian development worker still missing after more than a year | Guardian — Family and colleagues believe Sombath Somphone was forcibly detained, joining ranks of others taken in ‘forced disappearance’.

Wife remembers Sombath Somphone, 15 months after he was seized in Laos – video | Guardian — Singaporean national and Unicef representative Shui Meng Ng speaks to Amnesty International about her husband Sombath Somphone, who was forcibly disappeared in Laos.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia Officials Open Criminal Inquiry Into Missing Jet | NYT — Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a news conference that data indicated that someone took action to change the course of the plane, which traveled for seven hours after it lost contact with ground control.

Radar Suggests Jet Shifted Path More Than Once | NYT — A military radar track appeared to show that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 climbed to 45,000 feet after disappearing from civilian radar and altered its course as if still under a pilot’s command.

Jet Hunt Shifts as Findings Hint at Longer Flight | NYT — Experts were poring over military radar data that seemed to indicate that the missing Malaysian flight had turned west and stayed aloft long after its last contact with ground controllers.

Frustration Over Malaysian Flight Turns to Anger | NYT — Insults and water bottles were thrown at Malaysia Airlines staff members in Beijing over the lack of information about what has happened to Flight MH370.

False Leads Set Back Search for Malaysian Jet | NYT — Authorities widen the search area after suspected debris and an oil slick turn out to be unconnected to a Malaysia Airlines flight that vanished Saturday night.

MYANMAR/BURMA

Ban on Doctors’ Group Imperils Muslim Minority in Myanmar | NYT — The government halted the work of Doctors Without Borders after some officials accused it of favoring the Muslim Rohingya over Buddhists.

International Education: Education Programs Try to Close Gaps in Myanmar | NYT — International programs are helping to tackle Myanmar’s shortfall in higher education and vocational training after decades of military rule.

UK urged to increase aid to Burma in bid to press home democratic gains | Guardian — As Burma sheds its pariah status after decades of military dictatorship, the international development committee (IDC) urged the Department for International Development (DfID) to step up its involvement in a country that, once among the richest in south-east Asia, is now among the poorest.

PHILIPPINES

US-Philippines Reach Deal on US Military Access | Diplomat — Manila will welcome the U.S. military back to the country after ejecting it in 1992.

THAILAND

How Thailand’s trade in fake passports fuels crime gangs around the world | Guardian — Have you ever lost your passport on holiday? The illegal trade in forged and doctored travel documents props up criminal activity all around the world: from human trafficking to terrorism

Italian’s passport used to board flight MH370 was stolen in Phuket | Guardian — The Italian national who was believed to be on flight MH370 has told Thai police that his passport went missing last year from a motorbike rental shop on the tourist island of Phuket, where hundreds of passports are thought to be lost or stolen every year in a black-market racket.

Court Deals Blow to Thai Government by Halting $62 Billion Rail Project | NYT — A transportation plan that is a centerpiece policy of the ruling government is called unconstitutional after a challenge by the opposition party.

VIETNAM

Oil slicks spotted in search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane | Guardian — Vietnam air force spots oil slicks off coast after Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 disappears with 239 people on board during flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu, 1954 – a picture from the past| Guardian — The ferocious 55-day siege of the last French stronghold in northern Indochina began on 13 March 1954. Vietnamese photographers restaged these scenes shortly after the real fighting occurred, with French casualties still lying on the battlefield.

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