Regional Roundup for the Week of 4.4.14

News emerged this week of protests in Maoming, Guangdong over a proposed paraxylene chemical plant, echoing similar protests that took place in Kunming last spring. Reports of police violence towards protestors as well as images of the protest and unconfirmed rumors of fatalities spread quickly on Chinese social media before being censored.

Australian and Chinese search teams announced a possible underwater signal by the “black box” flight recorder from Malaysia Airlines 370. The search for the missing plane has increased in urgency as the recorder’s batteries have a lifespan of approximately thirty days. Any surface debris that could yield clues to the plane’s disappearance would likely have drifted far from an actual crash site, thus increasing the significance of the recent underwater “ping”.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday agreed to hear the anti-corruption case filed against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, allowing her two weeks to defend herself to the court on charges that she abused power in 2011 by transferring the head of national security. Shinawatra still enjoys broad support from poor and rural areas of Thailand, as shown by a demonstration of support on Saturday outside Bangkok that drew “tens of thousands” of people.

ExSE FOCUS

Protests against chemical plant flare up in southern China | Guardian — The protests began last Sunday in the city of Maoming, where officials plan to build a chemical plant to make paraxylene, a petrochemical used to make plastic bottles and fabrics, but which can be toxic if ingested. Protests against paraxylene plants are not uncommon in China, but this one is unusual because images of police brutality on Sunday incensed many who saw them online before they were deleted by censors.

China petrochemical plant may be halted after protests | Jennifer Duggan  | Guardian — Following protests that resulted in clashes between demonstrators and police, officials in a city in southern China have said plans for a controversial petrochemical plant will not go ahead if the majority of the city’s residents object.

Maoming Protests Continue in Southern China | Diplomat — The protests have also spread geographically, branching out to other cities in Guangdong. Following Tuesday’s protest in Guangzhou (the capital of Guangdong province), around 20 protestors gathered in Shenzhen on Thursday to protest the PX plant. South China Morning Post reported that the Shenzhen protestors were “taken away by police” after about 10 minutes.

MH370: possible black box ‘pings’ spur on search for missing airliner | Guardian — Australian and Chinese vessels have both picked up acoustic “pings” that could be from the black box of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, search officials have announced.

Thais Rally in Support of Beleaguered Prime Minister | NYT — The government supporters said they were prepared to thwart any move to dismiss Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who faces mounting legal cases that could lead to her removal from office in coming weeks.

Thai Protesters Rally, Reviving Drive Against Leaders | NYT — After a lull, critics of Thailand’s prime minister marched in Bangkok, seeking to force her out.

Leader of China Aims at Military With Graft Case | NYT — China charged Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan with financial crimes and abuse of power in a case seen as part of an effort to tighten the party’s control over the military.

Philippines and China in Dispute Over Reef | NYT — China accused the Philippines of illegally occupying its territory after a Philippine vessel resupplied a ship that has been stranded on a tiny reef for 15 years.

Vietnam and Cambodia tell Laos to stop $3.5bn Mekong River dam project | Guardian — Vietnam urged Laos to halt construction of a $3.5bn (£2.2bn) hydropower dam on Mekong River pending further study, environmental activists said on Friday.

Growing up in rural Yunnan: Tony’s story | GoKunming — Meet Tony. Right now, he is an eighth grade student at Dachaoshan Middle School in one of the poorest areas in Yunnan. Despite his mother’s suicide, his father’s severe alcoholism, his poor household, his lack of fluent Mandarin and the smoky coal stove next to the bed he shares with his grandmother, Tony works hard every single day for a better future.

Yunnan governor reaches out to Bangladesh | GoKunming — The governor of Yunnan has been busily visiting nearby countries in an effort to increase international business conducted in the province. Most recently, Li Jiheng (李纪恒) traveled to Bangladesh to meet leaders there and urge them to use Yunnan as a gateway to Chinese commerce and investment while also pushing a long-proposed trade scheme.

CHINA

China seizes $US14.5bn assets linked to ex-spy chief Zhou Yongkang – report | Guardian — Chinese authorities have seized assets worth at least 90bn yuan ($US14.5bn) from family members and associates of retired domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who is at the centre of China’s biggest corruption scandal in more than six decades, two sources said.

China’s Former Leaders Tell Xi To Halt Anti-Corruption Campaign | Diplomat — Former Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are reportedly pushing for an end to Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign.

Chinese Regulator to Conduct Stress Tests | NYT — After an increase in bad loans last year, the China Banking Regulatory Commission notified banks of the tests, though it did not reveal details on how they would be conducted.

DealBook: A Muddy Tract Now, but by 2020, China’s Answer to Wall St. | NYT — A largely empty expanse in Shenzhen is the setting for a financial experiment that could have a huge impact on the world’s second-largest economy. But so far it is just a bold blueprint.

China Extends Tax Break Program to Spur Economy | NYT — China’s cabinet decided to continue the breaks for small and very small enterprises through 2016 and said it was considering significantly broadening them.

Junk Bond Default a Sign Of China’s Slowing Growth | NYT — A construction materials maker was unable to meet interest payments on bonds in the latest sign that slowing economic growth is hurting companies and investors.

China’s Air Pollution Reporting is Misleading | ChinaFile — China’s air pollution is being reported in a misleading way, blocking public understanding and enabling official inaction [...] Based on the qualitative assessment scale in the Ambient Air Quality Index Technical Regulations,   “moderately polluted” cities can officially report up to 365 days of “excellent or good” air quality.

Chinese Billionaire’s Trial Scrutinized for Links to Ex-Official | NYT — Analysts say the trial of Liu Han is an outgrowth of efforts to investigate an even bigger target, who ran the domestic security apparatus for a decade.

Gay Activist Sues the Chinese Government for Defamation | Diplomat — Xiang Xiaohan filed suit after the Hunan government refused to register his LGBT organization.

REGION

Hunt for Jet’s Black Boxes Is a Race Against Time | NYT — Only days are left before the batteries on the flight data and cockpit voice recorders on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet are set to die.

Chinese Travel Agencies Write Off Malaysia | Diplomat — Two Chinese online ticketing websites, eLong and LY.com announced that they would “stop booking flights by Malaysia Airlines indefinitely starting from March 27 – till it reaches agreement with the families of passengers on board MH370.” Several other agencies have followed suit, according to Times of India.

More than 100,000 protesters rally in Taiwan against trade pact with China | Guardian — More than 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital on Sunday as a two-week-long campaign against a trade pact with China gathered steam, piling further pressure on the island’s leader.

Burmese-Thai Border Trade Increases Through Myawaddy | Irrawaddy — The volume of trade through the busiest crossing on Burma’s border with Thailand is rising, according to the Karen State chief Minister, who predicted an increasing flow of goods as cross-border links improve.

Affluent Wine Buyers in Asia Find Their Confidence | NYT — An adventurous and increasingly educated crowd is fueling a boom in fine wines in China and elsewhere in Asia, though prices have come down.

Beijing’s Arctic Play: Just the Tip of the Iceberg | Diplomat — China has clearly signaled that it has a strong interest in the Arctic region.

Asia’s Next BRICS? | Diplomat — As growth in the BRICS slows, many of the new economic stars are from the Asia-Pacific.

CAMBODIA

World Briefing: Cambodia: Illness Spreads at Factories | NYT — Scores of garment workers have fallen sick this week at factories in Cambodia, including two that produce clothing for the sportswear groups Puma and Adidas, workers and the companies said Thursday.

World Briefing: Cambodia: Protest Rally Thwarted | NYT — Police officers on Monday beat antigovernment protesters who defied a ban on public demonstrations to demand a license for what would be Cambodia’s first opposition television channel.

Holy activism | SEA Globe — “A bundle of sticks can’t be broken,” according to an old Cambodian proverb. It is a philosophy that underpins a network of media-savvy monks who defy the authorities by speaking out against social injustice.

INDONESIA

Indonesia’s elections: Democracy’s big bang | Economist — As organized human efforts go, it is a big one. Nearly 190m Indonesians out of a population of about 250m are eligible to go to the polls on April 9th to elect a new parliament.

The Fight to Save Indonesia’s Forests | Diplomat — Indigenous Dayak communities are in a battle to preserve ancestral forests.

World Briefing: Indonesia: Payment Spares Maid in Saudi Arabia | NYT — Indonesia has agreed to pay $1.8 million to prevent one of its citizens from being executed in Saudi Arabia, just days before she was to be beheaded for killing her employer.

MALAYSIA

Transcript From Lost Jet Is Released By Malaysia | NYT — The dialogue covers 54 minutes, from just before Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur to the last contact the pilots had with air traffic personnel.

Chinese tourist and hotel receptionist kidnapped in Malaysia | Guardian — Six men armed with pistols are said to have raided the Singamata Reef resort late on Wednesday before fleeing in a speedboat. A police report said the Chinese victim was a 28-year-old woman from Shanghai, while the receptionist was a 40-year-old woman from the Philippines.

MYANMAR/BURMA

Religious Tensions Cloud Myanmar Census | NYT — The nationwide count has been criticized because the government has denied members of a long-persecuted Muslim minority the right to identify themselves as Rohingya.

Burma census: Rohingya anger at snub video | Guardian — Burma’s first census in over 30 years has been overshadowed by disputes centring on ethnicity. The country’s minority Rohingya Muslims have expressed their grief at not being allowed to classify themselves as ‘Rohingya’ on census forms, while Buddhists in Rakhine state threatened to boycott the census if the term was permitted.

Total Breakdown in Myanmar’s Arakan State | CFR — Over the weekend, according to Radio Free Asia and other news reports, nearly all international aid groups operating in western Myanmar’s Arakan, or Rakhine, State, fled the state capital or hid in police stations and other (supposedly) secure locations. They had to flee or hide as mobs of angry Arakanese Buddhists attacked several aid workers, and threatened many other offices of international aid agencies.

Myanmar’s “E-Libraries” Bring Students Up to Speed After Military Rule | Diplomat — After years of isolation under strict military rule, students at the University of Yangon and University of Mandalay will now have uncensored access to a wide range of learning materials.

PHILIPPINES

Philippines stands by rejection of Beijing’s claims to South China Sea | Guardian — The Philippine president has defended his country’s arbitration case against China’s sweeping territorial claims over the oil-rich South China Sea. Benigno Aquino III said the intention was peacefully to protect his nation’s territory and sovereignty, rather than to provoke Beijing.

THAILAND

In Thailand, Some Foresee a Coup by Legal Means | NYT — Several judges and officials involved in cases against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government have had antagonistic relationships with her party.

Second world war bomb kills seven in Bangkok | Guardian — Workers at a scrapyard in Thailand’s capital accidentally detonated a large bomb believed to have been dropped during the second world war, killing at least seven people and injuring 19 others, police said.

Thailand’s Deadly Highways | Diplomat — Nearly 50 people die each day in road accidents during Thailand’s two most popular festivals.

VIETNAM

Competition Intensifies in Vietnam’s Aviation Sector | NYT — The private VietJet Air is making a strong push just as Vietnam Airlines, the state flag carrier, plans a long-awaited initial public offering.

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