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Why Beijing isn’t using the Erawan Shrine bombing to its advantage

A statue of Brahma at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok. The Hindu shrine is popular with people of Chinese descent, including Thais.

An image of Brahma at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok. The Hindu shrine is popular with Chinese tourists, who were among the victims of the attack.

A connection between Uyghur militants from China’s northwest and the August 17th bombing of Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine has been confirmed. Thailand’s police chief made the link explicit during a news conference Tuesday. While the geopolitical consequences of the connection remain to be seen, Beijing could still stand to benefit from the Erawan bombing. However, fears over domestic implications may keep China from using the attack to their advantage.

Two men who have been taken into custody in connection with the case are Yusufu Mieraili and Adem Karadag. Mieraili was arrested in late August with a Chinese passport that listed his birthplace as Xinjiang province – the homeland for the oppressed Muslim-Turkic Uyghur minority. The second suspect was found in an apartment outside Bangkok along with bomb-making materials and dozens of fake Turkish passports.

Thai police issued an arrest warrant for another suspect from Xinjiang, Abudusataer Abudureheman, on Saturday. The 27 year-old Chinese national goes by the name ‘Ishan’ and is the suspected mastermind of the operation. The wanted poster for Ishan first reported that he was of Uyghur ethnicity, though a second version removed the reference and Thai authorities subsequently asked media to “drop the word”.

Observers, both international and Thai made early connections  between the Erawan bombing and the forced repatriation of 109 Chinese Uyghur refugees in July, though it is only now that Thai authorities have acknowledged the Uyghur links to the case. On Tuesday, Thai’s chief of police, Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung blamed the attack on human traffickers who aided Uyghurs refugees, angry that their network had been disrupted by Thai authorities. “Put simply, we destroyed their business.”

Combating domestic terrorism

While the connection between the controversial deportation and the bombing is seemingly bad news for China, there are a number of ways in which the PRC could benefit from this situation. First, the bombing legitimizes China’s domestic anti-terrorism efforts.

The Uyghur struggle for autonomy and Beijing’s efforts to contain it has been anything but peaceful. Systematic state-sponsored economic and physical violence in Xinjiang has been met with repeated attacks on police stations, government buildings, markets and train stations, both in Xinjiang and elsewhere. Beijing has long claimed that many of the terror attacks were coordinated by the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a shadowy separatist organization allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. The very existence of ETIM, let alone its potency, has long been debated among experts and China has struggled to receive widespread recognition for its fight against domestic terrorism. This is largely due to doubts over ETIM and opposition to China’s repressive policies in Xinjiang.

The Erawan attack could change this. Now Beijing can point to the Erawan bombing as credible evidence that Uyghur terrorism is a threat that deserves attention outside of China. By internationalizing the issue, the Chinese government can rationalize its repeated crackdowns on Uyghurs to an international community which has been critical of its past policies. Now, Uyghur terrorism is an international issue that affects everyone – Bangkok was the world’s most visited city in 2014, after all.

Cross-border cooperation

Additionally, with an internationalization of Uyghur terrorism comes more opportunities for cross-border cooperation. Sino-Thai relations, already made closer by new trans-boundary infrastructure projects, will undoubtedly be strengthened by the Erawan attack. In February 2015, a counter-terrorism cooperation pact was signed between Indonesia and China following the repatriation of four Uyghurs accused of planning the Kunming train station attack. A similar agreement is a likely consequence of the Erawan attack.

International cooperation in combating (and sometimes creating) terror networks has been a lowest-common denominator of sorts for inter-state relations in the 21st century and China should take advantage of this. In the past, China has used links between Uyghur militants and terror cells in northwest Pakistan to strengthen relations with the South Asian state. In light of the Erawan blast, Beijing could coordinate its counter-terrorism efforts with Washington. Sino-US relations have noticeably worsened in recent years, and counter-terrorism, aside from global warming, may be the safest area for increased cooperation between the two regional rivals.

Coordination of border control efforts in Southeast Asia, particularly along China’s southern boundary is another area of possible cooperation. Uyghur migration through southwest China into Southeast Asia is a relatively new trend, and the number of migrants has swelled in recent years. Refugees have been known to use existing smuggling routes out of China and through Southeast Asia, exploiting porous borders and corrupt guards on the way. With the specter of international terrorism looming, China and its southern neighbors could increase cooperation along the margins. This would particularly benefit China’s ties with Myanmar and Vietnam, two countries with strained relations to Beijing.

Historically, Southeast Asian governments have acquiesced to China’s demands for detained Uyghur refugees to be repatriated and many observers presumed that the trend would continue along with China’s rise in regional influence. However, there is wide speculation that the attack at the Erawan Shrine, a site popular with ethnic Chinese, both Thai and tourist alike, was executed in retaliation for Thailand’s deportation of Uyghur refugees. The repatriation of 109 Uyghurs from Thailand in July led to condemnation from human rights groups and protests at China’s consulate in Istanbul, where nationalist Turks see Uyghurs as their pan-Turkic brethren. After Erawan and Turkey’s summer protests, Southeast Asian governments will likely reconsider any future deportations for fear of similar retribution.

Internal Worries

Internal worries over the consequences and implications of the Erawan blast may explain Beijing’s continued silence over the incident. While news of the attack did feature prominently in Chinese media in the days following the blast, there has been scarce coverage of the subsequent investigation, let alone the identity of the alleged attackers. Moreover, Beijing has actively denied Uyghur links to the Erawan attack, calling such speculation “hugely irresponsible” in the days following the explosion. Following the Tuesday statement from Gen. Somyot, there has been no mention of the Uyghur link to Erawan in the Chinese press.

China’s fears are not without merit. First, that the attackers hail from Xinjiang could be a point of embarrassment for the Chinese government. The crisis in northwest China has grown worse by the year – 2014 saw the expansion of Uyghur violence out of Xinjiang to the rest of China – and 2015 has now brought an international attack linked to the Uyghur separatist movement.

In the past, Beijing has refrained from mentioning the ethnicity of suspects in domestic attacks for fear of stoking ethnic tensions. Similar concerns are likely influencing China’s actions post-Erawan. Implicit in China focusing at all on the attack’s connection to Xinjiang is an acknowledgement of failure in solving the country’s ethnic problems and an admission of partial culpability. The government is already having enough trouble convincing its citizenry that it is capable of guiding the country through an economic slowdown – adding more doubts over ethnic and security issues is the last thing Beijing wants.

A Coordinated Response?

The lack of coverage of the investigation in China has been mirrored by Thai authorities’ previous reluctance to link the explosion to Uyghur separatism, and its continued avoidance labeling the attack as terrorism. This, like China’s strategy, is likely targeted at the Chinese public. The number of Chinese visitors to Thailand has exploded in recent years and the money they bring has been a welcome addition to the country’s economy as other sectors have faltered since a military junta took power in 2014. News of a bomb in downtown Bangkok was always going to affect tourism numbers, but connections to Uyghur terrorism will undoubtedly cause many prospective Chinese visitors to think twice before booking flights to the kingdom.

What’s more, Thailand’s handling of the case has raised questions of Chinese involvement in the case. The delayed official announcement of the Uyghur and the offiical waffling over the ethnicity of the suspects signaled to some that China had an affect on the investigation. Further, Thai officials asked media to avoid analysis that might affect “international relationships,” interpreted by many to mean China. A coordinated response by Bangkok and Beijing would make sense. In addition to being the source of millions of tourists each year,  China is Thailand’s largest trade partner and the closest ally of its military government.

Now that Bangkok has shown its hand, Beijing’s response will be critical to watch. Political savvy on the part of China’s foreign ministry could turn an international tragedy into an opportunity for more positive ties with Southeast Asia. However, the domestic implications of publicizing the link between Xinjiang and Erawan shrine will likely keep Beijing silent for now.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Human trafficking, Kunming Train Station Attack, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Thailand

John Kerry’s 2015 ASEAN Summit Speech 8.6.15

Transcript of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech and Q&A at 2015 ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  August 6.2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. So let me begin, if I may, by thanking our Malaysian hosts for their very warm welcome and for having really put together an exemplary ASEAN and regional forum as well as the entertainment and gathering us. We really appreciate the generous hospitality and quality of their chairmanship for the past year.

I think all of you know that ASEAN has really long been the centerpiece of the Asia Pacific’s multilateral architecture and it’s really also a key of the United States’ ongoing focus on the initiative to rebalance our resources, our time, our energy, our effort with respect to the region.

In my remarks at Singapore Management University earlier this week, I spoke about how we seek a region in which countries come to each other’s aid when natural disasters strike or human emergencies occur. In that spirit, I want to express my personal and my country’s condolences to all those affected by the flooding and the very heavy rains in Myanmar. The United States – I said there would be additional assistance. The United States will provide $600,000 of immediate relief through USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. And we have a team on the ground now working with local officials in order to meet the most urgent needs. We will continue to follow the situation and we’re going to work with our partners in order to help those in the most affected areas.

I also want to express my condolences to the folks who have experienced an extraordinary tragic loss of life on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. While we were here during the course of this journey with the discovery of the flap on Reunion Island, all the wounds have been opened again, all of the sorrow is felt even more intensely, and there are no words to express adequately our sense of loss and our sense of heartbreak to the families of the victims. Obviously, we hope very much that the debris that was discovered on the Reunion Island, if it is found to be conclusively from the aircraft, that this will help to bring some sense of closure about what happened and perhaps even more reliable information that can be tracked from the currents that may even narrow the area of search, which we would hope for.

I want to commend the French authorities and other international experts for their diligence both in the analysis of this wing but also in their overall investigation as well as in the ongoing search.

Over the last two days here, we reviewed a number of challenges that are related to the security and quality of life of this region that require the kind of cooperative thought and action that ASEAN was specifically designed to achieve. We are, for example, all of us – all of us at this meeting – united in our desire to counter and mitigate the harmful impacts of climate change, one of the most acute and potentially devastating threats to our shared future. And those countries that have not yet announced their independent – nationally designed contributions – defined contributions, all stepped up and said they intend to do so, some of them very shortly. Australia, for instance, has a big meeting in the next couple of days.

So people are pushing towards the target date of the Paris negotiations, and we welcome that. I was able to report to our colleagues that the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to the lowest levels in two decades and that we have set a goal for even more ambitious reductions by the year 2025. At the ASEAN-U.S. ministerial meeting, we discussed the importance of every single country going into this effort, each of them putting forward their own targets for the post-2020 period. And I would remind everybody that was actually agreed to at the ASEAN-U.S. summit last fall.

Following the Lower Mekong Initiative meeting – the ministerial meeting – we issued a statement on building a sustainable future for the Mekong. I think it’s an important document because it lays out a plan of action for the next five years and the statement reiterates our goal of supporting a smart and responsible development along the Mekong River. And the Mekong River, as everybody in this part of the world knows, is one of the great rivers of the world and millions of people rely on that river as their source of livelihood, their source – protein, of food. It is critical.

At the ASEAN regional forum, ministers endorsed a statement committing everyone to tackle illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. And I was proud to announce a new multiyear Oceans and Fisheries Partnership with the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center in order to develop a system for documenting and tracing illegal fishing with an initial commitment by the United States of 4.3 million for the first year as it gets going.

On the security side, I expressed our serious concerns over the developments in the South China Sea, including a massive land reclamation and the potential militarization of land features. I reiterated America’s strong support of freedom of navigation, overflight, and other lawful uses of the sea. These rights, I would remind everybody, are universal rights and they must be respected by every nation, large and small. To that end, I made clear our belief that the claimants to some of these reefs, islands, to some of these areas, should – all of them, every one of them – take concrete steps in order to try to lower the tensions by refraining from further land reclamation, militarization, and construction projects. A number of the claimants today made clear their willingness to refrain from those very actions.

So this is an important step forward, but obviously there’s work left to be done since no claimant is going to be expected to stop if others are disregarding this call and continuing to proceed with their work. So a policy of restraint will create the diplomatic space that is required for a meaningful code of conduct to emerge. And we will work very hard with all of our partners in order to try to help that code of conduct come into being. It is vital that claimants refrain from provocative unilateral actions, that they pursue their claims according to international law, and that they settle their differences peacefully through rule of law.

I also reaffirm that the United States has very strong interests itself in the South China Sea and we have a strong interest in the way that disputes are addressed. The United States will continue to take steps to support peace and stability in this region, to uphold international law, and protect our interests throughout this arena as we have, in fact, for decades.

In the East Asia Summit ministerial, we tackled a wide array of pressing political and security challenges from maritime security to cyber security to countering violent extremism. And I’m very pleased to report that the – excuse me – that the East Asia Summit foreign ministers endorsed the Vienna P5+1 plan for the reduction of Iran’s – the reduction – the elimination of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and I think that the endorsement that came from all of the countries there today this morning really underscores the interest that people on a global basis have in the success of this agreement.

I also had an opportunity to meet with the prime minister and the foreign minister in bilateral meetings. In addition to global and regional issues, we discussed our shared interest in wrapping up successfully the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and especially, cooperating to combat violent extremism. I also raised concerns about freedom of expression and I spoke with the prime minister about Anwar Ibrahim’s situation.

We also talked about accelerating progress in the fight against human trafficking. This was a very significant part of my message at a number of the meetings that we had publicly with all of my colleagues as well as privately with each of my bilaterals. Human trafficking is too prevalent in places where people who are migrants or who are simply poor and without and recourse or refugees are preyed on. And it is intolerable that in the year 2015 anyone should be content to live with what amounts to modern day slavery – people who are pressed into any number of types of work from sexual exploitation to the labor market exploitation and put into positions they can’t escape from, and some of them, even literally, very much imprisoned in those positions.

The Government of Malaysia, I’m pleased to say, has made significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards of the elimination of trafficking. And in my conversation with the prime minister, we talked about the ways in which we can cooperate to do more, and the prime minister welcomed that opportunity, particularly in the field of law enforcement. I made it clear in my meetings with both the prime minister and the foreign minister that this is a priority for the United States and that they need to continue to show leadership, as they did in the passing with their laws, now with the full implementation of those laws.

And let me just say – I’m sure all of you feel this inherently, viscerally – that there is perhaps no greater threat to human dignity and no greater assault on basic freedom and no greater detraction from the values that we are espousing and trying to lift people up with, no greater evil alive today in many ways than human trafficking. We all need to be true to the principle that although money may be used for many things, we must never, ever allow a price tag to be attached to the heart and soul and the mind and freedom of a fellow human being. That is the standard that we need to set for all nations, and this will remain a main priority of both the State Department and the Obama Administration for the remainder his time in office.

So as always, when representatives of the United States of America and ASEAN nations get together, we really had a very full plate of challenges to discuss. And I can assure you, as I made it clear to my colleagues, the United States will remain deeply committed to the security of this region, deeply committed to the prosperity of Southeast Asia, and of the Asia Pacific more generally.

I was thrilled to meet with young students and recent graduates, all members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders effort that President Obama has started – YSEALI, as it’s called. The energy and excitement that they feel about the possibilities of the future is really what defines not just Malaysia but this entire region. And we’re fully engaged and confident because we believe in those young people and in the possibilities that they believe in. And we will do everything in our power to work with the governments of this region to help deliver to their people.

So on that note, I’d be delighted to try to take a few questions.

 

MR KIRBY: First question will come from Matt Lee, Associated Press.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Ready?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, sir.

 

QUESTION: Okay. I want to take you a little bit further afield and ask you about your meeting last night with Foreign Minister Lavrov (inaudible), because the word is that you two signed off on or made some significant progress on the new UN Security Council resolution that would, in fact, create a mechanism to investigate the use or alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, and that that resolution could be presented for a vote as early as tomorrow, I guess. So I’m wondering if you could tell us what the details are of this mechanism and if you’re at all concerned that Russia’s apparent willingness to do this while still holding to its friendship to Assad will string out or delay actual bringing to justice of any perpetrators that are found or whether you’re convinced that this is actually going to do the trick. Thank you.

 

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks, Matt. Let me comment on the meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We discussed a number of issues. We talked about Ukraine and the need to fully implement Minsk and what seems to be the difference of opinion with respect to what Minsk means relative to the elections and the modalities for the elections and the constitutional reform. There is a meeting tomorrow that will take place by video and we will both instruct our teams to try to dig in and make some suggestions for each of them as to how we might be able to try to move forward, because we both agree that these working groups are the best mechanism for the full implementation of the Minsk agreement and the defusing of the crisis in Ukraine.

We’re not far away now from having an agreement for the flow of (inaudible), for some rail – resumption of rail track, for the OSCE to be able to have greater oversight and understanding of what weapons will be pulled back from the line of contact. All of these issues are very much on the table and part of the discussion at this point. And I think that Foreign Minister Lavrov is anxious, as I am, to try to see as much progress be made as rapidly as possible as we come to the end of summer and beginning of fall and obviously other kinds of challenges that may come forward.

But yes, we also talked about the UN resolution, and indeed, I believe, reached an agreement that should try to see that resolution voted on shortly, which will create a process of accountability which has been missing. What happens is the inspection process produces evidence of use of some kind of weapon. By the way, so we’re clear, all declared chemical weapons – mustard and sarin and other declared that are illegal – were removed. The allegations that exist today are almost exclusively – not – not exclusively, there’s one – maybe one instance of some or two instances of something else – about chlorine. And chlorine by itself is not one of the required declaration items that has to be removed. But when mixed in a certain way, chlorine can be become a toxic agent and a illegal chemical.

So what we are trying to do is get beyond the mere finding of the fact that it may have been used and actually find out who used it and designate accountability for its use. And what we will achieve, we believe, with this resolution is the creation of a mechanism which will actually enable us to do that. That’s our hope. So I think it was a worthwhile meeting and hopefully the UN will be able to proceed forward with an agreement unless there is some last-minute glitch, which I hope there will not be.

MR KIRBY: Next question. (Inaudible).

 

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the U.S. Government’s decision to upgrade Malaysia to Tier 2 in the human trafficking watch list has been criticized by those who feel that Malaysia has not done enough to merit such a rating. Do you think Malaysia has done enough? And what do you have to say about accusations that the rating has just been given to pave the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with Malaysia?

 

SECRETARY KERRY: Not – let me just be crystal clear, because I am the person who approved this. I personally signed off on it. And I had zero conversation with anybody in the Administration about the Trans-Pacific Partnership relative to this decision – zero. The reason I made this decision was based on the recommendation of my team, because Malaysia has passed additional legislation in 2014, they’ve consulted with civil society, they drafted amendments to Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law in order to allow the country’s flawed victim protection regime to change.

Now, let me make this clear: Tier 2 Watch List ranking actually indicates there’s still a lot of room for improvement. It’s not a gold seal of approval by any means. It is a sign of movement in the right direction, but it also means there’s a lot of way to go. And that’s the discussion that I had yesterday with the foreign minister and with the prime minister. In the last year, Malaysian authorities increased the number of trafficking investigations, they increased the number of prosecutions relative to 2013, and they adopted a pilot project in order to allow a limited number of trafficking victims to leave government facilities in order to go work.

Now, we still are concerned about the comparison of the number of investigations and prosecutions to the number of the convictions. It’s not good enough yet. But we felt that because the law just passed, because it’s being implemented, that this gives us an opportunity to work with the government, which is exactly what I got commitments to do yesterday and now we will do in order to up the number of convictions. And one of the reasons for that disparity is the difficultly of getting evidence. It’s very complicated. It’s very hard to do. We believe that we can be very helpful through Federal Bureau of Investigation and through other entities that work at this to help Malaysian authorities be able to develop greater capacity to gather the evidence that will produce the convictions that we want to see so we can end impunity for this crime.

So our – my judgment was I want a country that we can work with and improve that has already indicated its willingness to start down that road in a significant way. Malaysia has done that, and this year will be a very important year of truth. If they don’t advance, if there isn’t sufficient cooperation, if there isn’t a genuine effort to improve the gathering of evidence and to have better prosecutions, and if the pilot project isn’t built on and so forth, then next year, obviously, I have the distinct ability to be able to make a different decision. But I’m confident it was the right decision and I can guarantee you it was made without regard to any other issue.

MR KIRBY: Last question from Pam Dockins, Voice of America.

 

QUESTION: Thank you. As you mentioned, the South China Sea has been a focal point here. First of all, what is the U.S. view on China’s statement that it has stopped reclamation work in the South China Sea?

And then secondly, a follow-up on the last question regarding human trafficking, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today has a hearing on the State Department’s human trafficking report. How do you feel about the hearing to look into how the final report was compiled? Do you feel that the hearing is justified?

 

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think any hearing on a report of the – of any agency of the government is justified. I mean, obviously, the Congress has a right to – I mean, the Congress are the ones who mandate these reports and they have every right in the world to take a look to see whether or not it’s being implemented in the way that Congress intended. So I don’t have any problem with that at all, and I’m absolutely confident about the work that our TIP team does which literally takes an entire year to do; it is extremely thorough. There’s an enormous amount of input from our embassies, from our consulates, from people in the field, and I think that that will come out in the course of the hearing.

So frankly, I look forward to the members of Congress learning more about exactly how in depth our efforts are, how professional they are, and how exhausting the effort is that they have joined with us in engaging.

Now, with respect to the South China Sea, first of all, let me remind everybody that the United States doesn’t take a position on the competing claims. We’re not choosing between claimants, and that’s for the legal process or the diplomatic process to do. What we do urge is all the claimants to refrain from unilateral actions that create tension or the potential of conflict, or frankly, the potential of a mistake that could then become an international incident. And it’s our sense that the Chinese have indicated that they have stopped. I hope it’s true. I don’t know yet. What’s really needed, though, is an agreement to stop not just the reclamation but the large-scale construction and militarization. So it’s not just an issue of reclamation. And our hope is we put forward a proposal that people stop all three and that they step back and work the process of the code of conduct and whatever other legal process to try to resolve these issues.

I did find, and I will say this openly, that in my meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, he indicated a – I think a different readiness of China to try to resolve some of this, though I think it still was not as fulsome as many of us would like to see, but it’s a beginning. And it may open up some opportunity for conversation on this in the months ahead; we’ll have to wait and see. But the easiest thing of all would be for everybody to adopt a position of we’re not going to do anything except routine maintenance – no new buildings, no new facilities, no militarization, no more reclamation – while the legal process is resolved in order to give certainty to everybody, which is what is required here.

MR KIRBY: Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much.

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Appreciate it.

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Filed under ASEAN, Current Events, Regional Relations, SLIDER, South China Seas, USA

Yunnan’s governor looks to smooth relations with Myanmar

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One of the top government officials in Yunnan is spending time this week in Naypyidaw, capital of neighboring Myanmar. Provincial governor Chen Hao (陈豪) began a three-day diplomatic trip May 6 by meeting with Burmese president Thein Sein to discuss a litany concerns on both sides, as well as ways to promote the increase of legitimate bilateral trade.

At the center of the talks is stability along Myanmar’s 2,000-kilometer shared border with Yunnan. The most high-profile concern is a three-month war raging between the Burmese military and ethnically Chinese Kokang guerrillas in Myanmar’s Shan State. What started as an internal Burmese issue in February quickly changed into a cross-border crisis when tens of thousands of refugees sought safety in Lincang Prefecture in Yunnan.

Already angered by the humanitarian situation, Beijing was positively incensed when Burmese warplanes bombed rural Yunnan villages not once but twice. Although the initial bombing caused only minor property damage, the latter claimed the lives of four Chinese farmers, leading Beijing to angrily summon the Burmese ambassador to China for a tongue lashing.

Chen’s trip is no doubt a delicate attempt to repair strained relations between Myanmar and China. Civil war, refugees and errant explosives are enough to make any relationship tenuous, but Chinese leadership is also concerned with the huge shipments of heroin, opium and methamphetamines that routinely leak across the porous Yunnan border.

And the concerns are not one-sided. Thein Sein’s government charges that illegal trade out of his country — especially in jade, gold, endangered species and old-growth timber — is promoted and financed by unscrupulous Chinese businessmen operating illegally in Myanmar. However, the touchiest issue may be that of human trafficking in women.

Already this year, Chinese authorities have made several notable stings, arresting dozens of people involved in buying, transporting and selling Burmese women to perspective Chinese husbands. The largest of these occurred in March, when police made 35 arrests and repatriated 177 women and girls to Myanmar after raiding a Yunnan company advertising “Myanmar women [who] cost you only 20,000 yuan”.

Chen has only officially been in power since January, and his province’s western border snakes along endless mountain ranges, beside lush river valleys and through dense jungle that are nearly impossible to properly patrol. The one possible bright spot, and something he will undoubtedly bring up repeatedly during his Naypyidaw visit, is bilateral trade and the third annual China-South Asia Expo opening June 12 in Kunming. But what can be accomplished regarding the lawless and sometimes dangerous border between Myanmar and Yunnan remains a giant question mark.

This article was written by Patrick Scally and originally published on GoKunming. It is reprinted here, in its entirety, with permission from the author.

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Mass Disappearance of Vietnamese Brides in China’s North

Cover shot of a 2010 Southern Weekly magazine featuring the trend of Chinese men are marrying Vietnamese brides

Cover shot of a 2010 Southern Weekly magazine with a feature on how Chinese men are marrying Vietnamese brides

Police are investigating how a hundred people came to be missing last month in Handan County, Hebei.  The disappeared aren’t protesters or dissidents, they aren’t journalists, they aren’t teachers; they haven’t been victim to a mud slide, a coal mine collapse or a flood.  They are a hundred young Vietnamese women, brokered into marriage to Chinese men across the border mere months ago, and now gone.

Public, verifiable facts on the case are scarce; even on the barest nature of the crime.  Are the disappeared women victims or co-conspirators with their traffickers?  Did they move on willingly, clandestinely, or were they forcibly kidnapped?  How could a hundred people remove themselves from their new husbands without a trace left behind?

One local official says it looks like the men were scammed by a marriage broker who had lived in the county for twenty years before disappearing with the women.

Wu Meiyu was herself a Vietnamese bride, moving to the county and raising a family there with her new Chinese husband.  Wu is alleged to have travelled widely this year in search of lonely male bachelors to sell Vietnamese brides to.  She successfully administrated one hundred illegal marriages to these men, importing each bride individually through associates in Vietnam for a hefty fee.

On the evening of November 20 all one hundred of these women disappeared en masse.  They apparently told their husbands they were attending a dinner party, but none returned at evening’s end.  Except, possibly,for one.

It has been reported that one of the brides returned to her hometown and filed a police report.  The report claimed that upon arriving for a dinner party she was told by an unspecified person that a new husband was going to be found for her.  At some point she fell unconscious and after awakening managed to make her way back to her adopted village.

This incredibly vague, frustrating anecdote raises more questions than it answers, but if true, appears to imply that the women have been trafficked against their will.  On the other hand, this is the only piece of evidence pointing to the forced nature of the disappearance, and if untrue the likelihood of the women being scammers themselves increases.

Whether these women are victims or co-conspirators, the scale of the movement of people involved highlights the robust, entrenched criminal networks involved in human trafficking in the region – and the suffering trafficking incurs for all involved.

Human trafficking in China is a huge, murky issue.  Although absolutely illegal in PRC law, it occurs constantly; domestically – with victims being abducted and transported thousands of kilometers across the huge country, to unfamiliar surrounds – and internationally, with thousands of people being smuggled in from neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and nations further afield.  In some parts of China openly marrying brokered, foreign brides has become local tradition.

Chinese police forces are enacting a notional attempt to stem the tide of trafficking crime, with most attention being paid to child trafficking, sexual slavery and prostitution.  However, given China’s skewed sex ratio and its growing demand for trafficked children and wives (the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates there could be up to 24 million more men than women of marriageable age in China by 2020) it remains to be seen if police can make any real inroads into the problem.

This particular police investigation into the hundred missing women is worth tracking for its unusual scale.  Every day young vulnerable Vietnamese women are abducted from their homes by friends, family and strangers and sold into China.  These damaged women rarely manage to return and are mostly voiceless if they do.

Local and regional policing efforts need to work effectively to achieve a solid outcome in this potentially high-profile case so that more attention can be drawn to the crimes of slavery and human trafficking in Asia.Source countries must also do their bit, but as a significant destination country China has a huge responsibility –and debt – to the many victims who wake up there daily in the dark: far from home, scared and stripped of their rights.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Human trafficking, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Vietnam

Carrots, Sticks & the TIP Report: Understanding the US Government’s Anti-Trafficking Efforts in Southeast Asia

Last week the US State Department issued its annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, which ranks every country in the world according to their adherence to the US government’s anti-trafficking mandate. For the first time, Thailand was designated “Tier 3,” the lowest “rung” on the TIP Report’s ladder.

The report, which is published by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, describes “Tier 1” countries as those demonstrating sufficient anti-trafficking efforts; “Tier 2” as those that have begun to demonstrate such efforts but still have improvements to make; and “Tier 3” as countries demonstrating little to no effort to combat trafficking. Countries that receive the Tier 3 ranking are subject to sanctions by the US government. Continue reading

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Filed under Cambodia, China, Current Events, ethnic policy, Foreign policy, GMS, Governance, Health, Malaysia, Mekong River, Philippines, Regional Relations, Singapore, Uncategorized, water, Yunnan Province

Trafficking of Women on the Burma-China Border & International Responsibility

Camp for internally displaced persons at Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State on the the Chinese border.

Camp for internally displaced persons at Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State on the the Chinese border.

In recent weeks, warfare in Burma’s Kachin State has increased and is now making its way closer to the Burma-China border. While the international community has paid little attention to the Kachin conflict over the past few years, understanding its complexity is now more important than ever. Failing to do so could have dire implications on the lives of Kachin women, and on diplomatic relations in the region.

Kachin State is an ethnic area in northern Burma that has long suffered from conflict with the central Burmese government. In 2011, a seventeen-year cease-fire was broken, resulting in the onset of active warfare. In spite of ongoing attempts at peace negotiations, the Burmese government has been committing atrocities– including rape, arbitrary arrest and torture– against civilians. The region has been documented to be an active conflict zone resulting in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. According to reports issued by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—the political arm of the Kachin people– over 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled to border areas of Burma and China to escape the fighting, and these communities suffer from a lack of basic necessities and little to no foreign aid. Additionally, as the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand has documented, the trafficking of women into China’s neighboring Yunnan province as forced brides has become a growing problem.

Recently, I traveled to Mai Ja Yang, the second largest city in KIO-controlled territory to interview women and men living amid the conflict about the issue of trafficking. I conducted interviews with over 25 trafficking survivors, female soldiers, women’s organizations, lawmakers, cultural leaders, IDP relief workers and administrators from the KIO. I was hosted by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand, an organization actively working on the issue.

A child in the Mai Ja Yang camp.

A child in the Mai Ja Yang camp.

My research revealed that gender discrimination, demand from China for brides due to the one-child policy and crippling conditions on the ground due to the military conflict within Kachin State contribute to the problem of trafficking. As former “forced brides” and others reported, the escalation of the military conflict has resulted in a sharp increase in irregular migration. Simultaneously, trafficking has become less of a priority for the KIO government, whose attention is focused on war strategy and the political process, rather than the empowerment of Kachin women.

Now, the Burma army is stepping up its attacks in a move that could increase women’s vulnerability to trafficking. As a recent article in the Irrawaddy Magazine revealed, last week the army launched an attack on a KIO military outpost near Mai Ja Yang, which shares its eastern border with China’s Yunnan province. Mai Ja Yang is home to a growing number of IDPs—men, women and children who have had to flee their homes after their villages were raided. Now, not only are these people’s homes destroyed, but their temporary camps are in danger, as well.

With fighting approaching the border areas, women living in the camps could become even more vulnerable. These women face insecurity in the form of food shortage, lack of infrastructure and basic sanitation. They also face circumstances of gender-based violence and rape. Additionally, lack of a means of income generation influences women to migrate to China to find work—a situation that leaves them vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking.

But the international community has been slow to respond to the conflict. As a recent Stimson Report revealed, the precarious nature of the US- China relationship has given American leaders pause in “interfering” in such a sensitive geo-political arena. Additionally, aid workers report having had difficulty accessing the IDP camps due to the ongoing warfare in surrounding areas.

Despite these cautions, it is in the interest of the Chinese, Burmese and Kachin governments to quell an increase in trafficking. Doing so would not only improve the lives of thousands of women, but it could prove beneficial for each country’s relationship with the United States. This is because the US State Department has made trafficking a primary agenda in its international policy. In fact, the State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report ranks every country in the world according to how well they comply with the US mandate against human trafficking. As a result, in recent years trafficking has become a number one priority on the US government’s agenda.

The policies associated with the US government’s anti-trafficking mandate are n0t always beneficial for the women they’re intended to help. As I discuss here, the US State Department sometimes gets it wrong, and trafficking continues to escalate. In the case of Burma and China, however, the US’s mandate could actually serve a useful—even diplomatic– function. Due to the transnational nature of human trafficking, cooperation between governments in the region is essential for the development and implementation of a robust anti-trafficking policy. Collaboration between the Chinese government and KIO, for example, is needed to resolve trafficking cases and bolster prevention efforts on both sides of the border. As wary as the US government is of getting involved in these relationships, the trafficking issue could potentially be an inroad yielding productive results.

Thus far, however, the only people seriously trying to combat trafficking along the Burma-China border are a handful of brave and talented activists on the ground. Mai Ja Yang is home to a number of women’s organizations dedicated to increasing the political and civil rights of women in Kachin society. These women work at great personal risk, while the Third Brigade of the KIA works to maintain their security.

But these organizations can only accomplish so much without international support. Instead of turning a blind eye to the conflict, Western governments should help them develop a robust anti-trafficking policy for Kachin State. Additionally, the US government should put pressure on the Burmese and Chinese governments to de-escalate the conflict in KIO-controlled areas. Failing to do so could not only exacerbate the precarious nature of diplomatic ties in the region, but it could lead to an increase in victims of human trafficking– the very people the US government says it is trying to help.

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Filed under China, Current Events, ethnic policy, Myanmar/Burma, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Uncategorized, USA, Yunnan Province

‘Uighur’ Refugees Arrested in Thailand, Malaysia: Part of a Larger Trend?

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Last week, East by Southeast, in a piece hypothesizing the motives of the Kunming train station attackers, made the connection between Uighur asylum seekers, Yunnan and Southeast Asia. In the analysis, ExSE posited that Thailand was a likely destination for Uighur refugees as they made their way from Xinjiang, through Yunnan and into Myanmar or Laos. This past week, two separate incidents in near the border of Thailand and Malaysia occurred that appear to confirm this hypothesis.

News was released on Thursday that Thai authorities had rescued 200 people from a human smuggling camp in the south of Thailand. During a raid on Wednesday, police discovered 200 people imprisoned in a camp suspected to be used for human trafficking.

The group, which includes 78 men, 60 women and 82 children, at first claimed to be Turkish, despite having no documents to confirm that. However, they have now been identified as ethnic Uighurs from China by a US-based organization.

With their identities confirmed, Thailand has faced calls to not to deport the refugees, with the US State Department also weighing in.

“We are concerned about Uighurs generally (and) welcome reports that these Uighurs were rescued,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Friday. “We’re encouraging Thailand to make sure their humanitarian needs are met.”

US-based Human Rights watch also urged the Thai government not to deport the refugees. “Thai authorities should realize that Uighurs forced back to China disappear into a black hole,” Brad Adams, the organization’s Asia director said in a statement.  “They need to allow all members of this group access to a fair process to determine their claims based on their merits, not on Beijing’s demands.”

Refugees on the way to a Thai detention center

Refugees on the way to a Thai detention center

Despite these calls, dozens of the refugees were sentenced for illegal entry by a Thai court on Saturday, with each person assessed a fine of 4,000 baht ($124). For now, the men will be taken to an immigration detention center and the women and children will be taken to a shelter, according to Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot.

In a possibly related story, 62 people were arrested just across the border in Malaysia last week. Like the group caught in Thailand, the Malaysian also claimed to be Turkish refugees. The group of alleged Turks were found near the border fence during routine patrols early Thursday morning Deputy Superintendent Sivam of Malaysia’s General Operations Force said in a statement.

Despite their claims of Turkish nationality, those arrested were not carrying valid travel documents or identification papers and historically, there has been a small, if nonexistent presence of illegal Turkish immigrants in the region. In light of this and the arrests in Thailand, some in the media believe that the alleged Turks might in fact be Uighurs from China. If so, this would mark the largest number found in Southeast Asia to date.

If both groups arrested are indeed Uighur refugees, their escape to Southeast Asia wouldn’t be without precedent. Since Cambodia deported 20 Uighurs back to China in 2009, there have been a string of similar deportations in the region. In 2010, Lao PDR deported a group of seven Uighur refugees back to their native Xinjiang in northwest China and in 2011 and 2012, Malaysia deported separate groups of refugees to China. Each deportation case has been heavily criticized by rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Human rights groups fear that once repatriated, Uighurs face a grim future of long prison sentences and possible torture. Refugees deported back to China from places like Pakistan and Cambodia have all faced life prison terms upon their return.

The threat of prison is likely a reason why those arrested in Thailand and Malaysia have claimed to be Turks when discovered. Instead of admitting to Chinese nationality and facing the possibility of deportation back to China and likely prison time, the refugees opted for claiming another nationality. Seeing that the Uighur population is nearly all Muslim and speaks a Turkic language, claiming Turkish citizenship was a natural choice.

However, as is the case with both groups of refugees, these people’s true identities have yet to be discovered. If they aren’t Turks, are they really Uighurs? If they are Uighurs, how did they get to the Thai-Malaysian border and why did they come this far? Was Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country with labor shortages, the final destination? If both groups are indeed Uighur, this would mark a new level of southward migration for Uighur refugees. Might this also tie them to Kunming train station attackers, as East by Southeast hypothesized? For now, these are only questions, but ExSE will be searching for answers.

 

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Filed under China, Current Events, ethnic policy, Kunming Train Station Attack, Malaysia, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Thailand, Uncategorized