Regional Roundup for the week of 7.9.14

Indonesians go to the polls today to elect a new president, choosing between populist governor Joko Widodo and former army general Prabowo Subianto to lead the world’s 3rd largest democracy.

China has detained 3 Vietnamese fisherman in the South China Sea, further souring relations this summer. China has also attempted to gain leverage with Myanmar, the current chair of ASEAN, ahead of a planned meeting  this month with ASEAN and Chinese diplomats.

Xi Jinping visited South Korea this past week in a state visit regarded as a move to counterbalance American influence and further distance South Korea’s relationship with Japan.

ExSE FOCUS

All aboard | SEA Globe — The planned high-speed railway between Singapore and Kunming in China could be the catalyst for even greater Chinese influence in the region.

China Reaches Out to Myanmar on Maritime Dispute | NYT — Myanmar is enjoying some new diplomatic clout, leading China to court the country as Beijing presses its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Burmese hardwoods logged to brink of extinction | GoKunming — While swaths of virgin rainforests have been cleared to feed China’s growing appetite for luxury wood, there are some regions, like Myanmar’s remote northern forests, that have remained heretofore intact. This is about to change, predicts a new study, as loggers advance on the “final frontier” for tropical hardwoods in Southeast Asia.

The Victims of China’s Soil Pollution Crisis | ChinaFile — Soil pollution has received relatively little public attention in China. Despite the fact that it poses as big a threat to health as the more widely covered air and water pollution, data on soil pollution has been so closely guarded that it has been officially categorized as a “state secret.”

Shadow of Brutal ’79 War Darkens Vietnam’s View of China Relations | NYT — Memories of a short but ferocious conflict between Vietnam and China in 1979 permeate the current sour relations between the two Communist countries now at odds over contested waters in the South China Sea.

An Online Shift in China Muffles an Open Forum | NYT — A turn from the microblogging service Sina Weibo to the Facebook-like WeChat has reoriented the nation’s social media landscape from public to semiprivate communication.

China’s Fallen Mighty | ChinaFile — The fallen are sorted into three levels based on their positions within the Politburo—the highest leaders, including Hua Guofeng, Hu Yaobang, and Zhao Ziyang; members of the Politburo Standing Committee, including Wang Dongxing and Hu Qili; and ordinary members of the Politburo, including Wu De, Chen Xilian, Ji Dengkui, Chen Yonggui, Chen Xitong, Chen Liangyu, and Bo Xilai. Skip to the interactive timeline

The final countdown | SEA Globe — After ten years of stability, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s two terms in office, voters in the world’s third-largest democracy will head to the polls on July 9 for a single-round presidential election that will decide Indonesia’s next leader.

Indonesia: A Bigger Role in the South China Sea? | Diplomat — As Indonesia goes to the polls, the expectations of its international partners are growing.

ISIS: A Threat Well Beyond the Middle East | Diplomat — The success of militants in Iraq may be inspiring radicals in Southeast Asia.

Kunming Railway Station attackers charged in mass stabbings | GoKunming — In March of this year, a group of men and women armed with knives descended on the crowded Kunming Railway Station. Their ensuing rampage left 29 civilians dead and 143 injured in what is one of the most violent coordinated attacks to occur in China in recent memory. Four people accused of perpetrating the violence have been formally charged and will soon stand trial, Xinhua is reporting.

CHINA

Peripheral diplomacy: Balancing act | Economist — CHINA’S dilemma in Asia is how to balance the peaceful rise it says it wants with its desire for more regional influence.

Scorn for ‘Tiger Xu,’ From Official and Unofficial Sources | NYT — Chinese state-run newspapers and social media users alike are expressing contempt for Xu Caihou, a retired senior general expelled from the Communist Party over corruption allegations

China Expels 3 Officials in Corruption Inquiry | NYT — The expulsions of the three men, who had ties to the former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, were the latest sign that officials may announce charges against Mr. Zhou himself.

What About China’s Selfless Officials? | Diplomat — The same system that fostered heroically selfless Chinese officials also creates an atmosphere for corruption.

US academic barred from China after speaking out over detained scholar | Guardian — Elliot Sperling, a Tibetologist at the University of Indiana, was turned back on arrival at Beijing airport this weekend and ordered to board a flight returning to the US. No reason was given for the cancellation of his 90-day tourist visa, but he believes his vocal support for Tohti was responsible.

World Briefing: China Sentences 113 to Prison in Xinjiang Region | NYT — Courts in the western region of Xinjiang sentenced the defendants for a wide range of crimes, including organizing and taking part in terrorist organizations, state media reported.

Ramadan, Beijing style | Economist — In China Ramadan this year comes against the backdrop of increased violence perpetrated by Uighurs and a government line which more strongly than ever attributes it to radical Islam and international jihadism. In Xinjiang, authorities have reportedly taken steps, as they have in years past, to discourage Ramadan fasting among ordinary people and ban it outright for many party members, government workers and school children.

China’s Christians fear new persecution after latest wave of church demolitions | Guardian — Once a hub of Christianity, worshippers in Wenzhou fear their faith is facing its biggest threat since the Cultural Revolution.

China Takes Step Toward Freeing Currency from State Control | NYT — Beijing has let banks set their own exchange rates for the renminbi in over-the-counter transactions.

Memo From Hong Kong: Uphill Fight for a Territory’s Democracy Movement | NYT — Hong Kong’s huge pro-democracy march underscored the determination of many of its residents to preserve their freedoms but also brought some challenges to light.

Hard Choices for Family Planners and Parents | ChinaFile — As the adjustments take full effect and the nation’s dandu—the Mandarin word meaning “family in which either parent is an only child”—exercise their newly acquired freedom of choice, unexpected challenges to the government’s family-control policies are starting to emerge.

Why Are Chinese Cyberspies Targeting US Think Tanks? | Diplomat — Chinese hackers broke into U.S. think tanks to access information about U.S. plans for Iraq.

Economic Scene: China’s Hurdle to Fast Action on Climate Change | NYT — The existential question in Beijing remains whether China can simultaneously cut carbon emissions while pursuing strong economic growth.

Pangolin and porcupines on sale in Chinese market despite jail threat | Guardian — Porcupines in cages, endangered tortoises in buckets and snakes in cloth bags are among the rare wildlife on open sale at a Chinese market, despite courts being ordered to jail those who eat endangered species.

REGION

China Detains 6 Vietnamese Fishermen | NYT — The detention of the six fishermen in waters claimed by China and Vietnam comes as tensions continue to be high over the disputed waters.

Q. and A.: Lyle Goldstein on China and the Vietnamese Military | NYT — With friction rising in the South China Sea, Professor Goldstein, of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, discusses the current state of Vietnam’s military and Chinese perceptions of it.

Chinese President’s Visit to South Korea Is Seen as Way to Weaken U.S. Alliances | NYT — The visit to Seoul by President Xi Jinping of China appears to be aimed at disrupting the alliances the United States has developed in the region.

China Woos South Korea With Pandas | Diplomat — Two pandas accompanied Xi Jinping on his visit to South Korea.

China’s Charm Offensive Toward South Korea | Diplomat — China’s charm offensive toward South Korea could have implications for the U.S.-ROK alliance.

Brides for sale: trafficked Vietnamese girls sold into marriage in China | Guardian — When Kiab turned 16, her brother promised to take her to a party in a tourist town in northern Vietnam. Instead, he sold her to a Chinese family as a bride. The ethnic Hmong teenager spent nearly a month in China until she was able to escape from her new husband, seek help from local police and return to Vietnam.

CAMBODIA

Virginity for sale: inside Cambodia’s shocking trade | Guardian — On the margins of the sex industry, an ugly market in virginity has emerged in Cambodia in which rich and powerful men coerce desperate mothers into selling their daughters’ innocence.

Cambodia Heads Upmarket with Style and Hun Sen | Diplomat — The threat of losing access to designer retail is not enough to win back Cambodia’s voters for the prime minister.

Stuck in the middle with you | SEA Globe — Cambodia’s struggle for self-assertion is a balancing act, with parallels to the 1960s when Prince Sihanouk tried to safeguard his nation’s neutrality in the Vietnam War.

Second fiddle: Kem Sokha | SEA Globe — Kem Sokha has been a prominent human rights activist and head of his own party, but will his biggest challenge be as second-in-command to his former political rival?

INDONESIA

Indonesian Candidate Masters a System He Is Said to Disdain | NYT — For a candidate accused of questioning the value of democracy, Prabowo Subianto appears to be a highly efficient campaigner.

After Barrage of Personal Attacks, Indonesian Presidential Election Tightens | NYT — As voters prepare for Wednesday’s election, the race between a populist governor and a former army general is considered too close to call.

World Briefing: Indonesia: Life Sentence for Ex-Justice | NYT — The former chief justice of the Constitutional Court was sentenced to life in prison for corruption, the heaviest sentence ever for graft in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

LAOS

Rocket Festival of Laos | Diplomat — The annual Laotian Rocket Festival is colorful, explosive, and occasionally dangerous.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia Is Sending More Ships to Search for Jetliner | NYT — The Malaysian government said Sunday that it would step up efforts to search the southern Indian Ocean for Malaysia Airlines’ missing Flight 370.

MYANMAR/BURMA

In Myanmar, the Euphoria of Reform Loses Its Glow | NYT — More than three years after Myanmar’s ruling generals propelled the country on an ambitious journey toward democracy, security forces are back on the streets.

Buddhist-Muslim Mayhem Hits Myanmar’s No. 2 City | NYT — The authorities in Mandalay imposed a curfew after a surge in religious violence, incited by reports that a Muslim man had raped a Buddhist woman.

Expect Skepticism as Thein Sein Pledges to Act Against Riot Instigators | Irrawaddy — In a speech broadcast on state radio Monday night, Burmese President Thein Sein vowed to take action against the instigators of recent riots in Mandalay, but the pledge will be met with a cautious reception. This skepticism is understandable as the president and government failed to take action after previous violence that rocked major Burmese cities Meiktila, Lashio, Pegu and Sittwe.

Jade Mines to Resume Operations in Kachin State: Burmese Govt | Irrawaddy — In northern Burma, where the vast majority of the world’s jade is produced, mining companies will soon be allowed to resume operations, following a two-year hiatus due to armed conflicts.

PHILIPPINES

Aquino: The First Filipino Nobel Laureate? | Diplomat — The Philippine president has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Not everybody is happy about it.

THAILAND

Leaning on Thailand’s Junta | NYT — Sanctions against the junta could prove surprisingly effective in the push to restore democracy.

VIETNAM

Agent Orange Legacy Scourges Vietnam | Diplomat — Decades after the Vietnam War, victims wither away with scant efforts being made to tackle the deadly chemicals.

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