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Jokowi apparent victor in presidential election. Jakarta governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appeared to triumph over his rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, in the July 9 election for Indonesia’s next president. Quick counts from three organizations suggested Jokowi won by 3.5 percent to just over 5 percent. Those counts have been extremely accurate in predicting previous election winners in Indonesia. Prabowo refused to concede defeat, saying that he would await final results from the election commission, due on July 21 or 22.
Former Constitutional Court chief justice gets life sentence for corruption. The Jakarta Corruption Commission on June 30 handed down a life sentence to former Constitutional Court chief justice Akil Mochtar over charges of corruption and money laundering. Akil, arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission in October 2013, was found guilty of accepting $5 million in bribes to resolve local and regional election disputes. To date, this is the harshest punishment meted out for graft in Indonesia, which ranked 114th out of 177 countries in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
New study reveals Indonesia’s deforestation rates have reached global high. Indonesia has overtaken Brazil as the country with the highest rates of deforestation, according to a University of Maryland-led study published on June 29 in Nature Climate Change. Indonesia lost over 2 million acres of forest in 2012 compared to 1.1 million acres lost by Brazil. This loss occurred despite a 2011 nationwide moratorium to curb logging in Indonesia. Jakarta also signed a $1 billion deal with Norway in 2010 to implement forest conservation and greenhouse gas emission reduction measures.
Newmont seeks international arbitration over Indonesia’s mining restrictions. U.S.-based Newmont Mining on July 1 filed for international arbitration to resolve a six-month-long dispute over Indonesia’s 20 percent tax on exports of base metal concentrates such as copper. The tax is due to escalate to 60 percent by the second half of 2016. Coordinating Minister for Economics Chairul Tanjung said the government was “disappointed” and questioned Newmont’s “good intentions” given that the arbitration request comes amid ongoing talks between the company and Indonesian authorities.
Communal violence in Mandalay leaves two dead. Violence broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar’s second-largest city of Mandalay on July 1, leaving a Muslim and a Buddhist dead and 19 people injured. Clashes began when more than 300 Buddhists attacked Muslim homes and businesses following rumors that a Muslim tea shop owner had raped a Buddhist woman. Authorities instituted a curfew across Mandalay and cut Facebook access on July 3–4 to prevent the spread of rumors. The city had returned to an uneasy calm by July 7, but many businesses remain shuttered.
Deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command speaks at Myanmar military academy. U.S. Pacific Command deputy commander Lt. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield spoke on June 30 at the Myanmar National Defense College in Naypyidaw, emphasizing the importance of human rights and civilian control of the military. His was the first speech by a U.S. military officer at the school. Human rights groups have criticized the U.S. decision to reach out to Myanmar’s military, but Washington is pushing ahead with limited engagement on issues like human rights and rule of law.
Assistant secretary of state urges sanctioned companies to work to get off U.S. sanctions list. U.S. assistant secretary of state Tom Malinowski on June 29 urged Myanmar companies and individuals sanctioned by the United States to follow the Treasury Department’s legal procedures to “demonstrate…that they are engaging in responsible business practices” and get themselves removed from the United States’ Specially Designated Nationals list. Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, made the remarks in Yangon during a weeklong visit to Myanmar.
Government amends controversial public assembly law. President Thein Sein on June 24 signed a bill amending the controversial 2011 Peaceful Assembly Law so that organizers need only inform authorities of planned protests, not receive approval. Lawmakers also halved to six months in prison the maximum penalty for violating the statute. The law has been used frequently to convict land rights protestors and other activists. Human rights groups have cautiously welcomed the amendments, but maintain the law should be repealed completely.
Opposition politicians protest Myitsone dam to Chinese officials in Beijing. Representatives of the Arakan National Party and the National Democratic Force, an offshoot of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, visited Beijing in late June and warned Chinese officials that a resumption of the Myitsone dam project in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state will have negative consequences on bilateral ties. President Thein Sein suspended the project in 2011 amid popular protests. But China Power Investment Corporation, which started construction of the dam, is pushing to restart the project after Thein Sein’s current term in office ends in 2015.
European Union reduces engagement with junta. The European Union on June 23 sent a letter to Thailand’s military government announcing the suspension of official visits and its refusal to sign a planned Partnership and Cooperation Agreement until a democratically elected government is in place in Bangkok. The European Union warned that it may also impose additional measures. The letter urged the junta to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, free political detainees, and refrain from revoking citizenship for political reasons.
Thais unconcerned by U.S. coup response. A majority of Thais—56 percent—are “not worried at all” by the U.S. response to the May 22 military coup, according to a poll released on June 29 by the National Institute of Development Administration, a public graduate university in Bangkok. The same poll found that 51 percent of Thais are not worried about the European Union’s suspension of some ties. But the poll did find that about 60 percent are at least a “little worried” by the U.S. State Department’s recent downgrading of Thailand to the lowest tier in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
Coup failing to jumpstart Thailand’s economy. Thailand’s economy is expected to expand just 1.1 percent in 2014 despite efforts by the military government to jumpstart growth, according to a July 4 report by Nomura economists. The report also projected that the economy would grow only 3.5 percent in 2015—far short of what is needed to undo the damage done by political turmoil since November. The hardest-hit sector appears to be tourism, with arrivals falling 37 percent in June. This economic bad news comes despite a rebounding domestic consumer confidence index, which rose from about 68 in April to 75 at the end of June..
Tens of thousands of Cambodians return after fleeing Thailand. Tens of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers have reportedly returned to Thailand as the two countries’ foreign ministries announced on July 1 that they are working to normalize the situation and reduce barriers to Cambodians working legally in Thailand. Rumors of a crackdown on undocumented workers following Thailand’s May 22 coup sent more than 250,000 Cambodians fleeing the country in June. Cambodia has established worker registration centers on the border and lowered fees for passports and other travel documents, while Thailand has pledged to reduce the processing time for work visas.
Supreme Court declares most of reproductive health law constitutional. The Philippines’ Supreme Court on July 1 confirmed an April ruling that the bulk of the 2012 Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act is constitutional and rejected any future motions for reconsideration. The court retained its April 8 ruling striking down eight of the laws’ provisions, in whole or in part, for violating the national ban on abortion or the principle of noncoercion in adopting any family planning method.
Anti-graft court suspends former president Arroyo from office. A Philippine anticorruption court on July 1 suspended former president and current congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from office for 90 days while she faces charges of fraud related to a multimillion dollar national broadband network deal. This is the last of five corruption cases brought against the former president since 2012. The other four have been dismissed.
United States, Philippines hold annual exercises. The United States and the Philippines launched the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercises at the former U.S. naval base in Subic Bay on June 26. The weeklong training involved about 1,000 troops from both countries and five warships, including a U.S. missile destroyer. The U.S. Pacific Fleet holds bilateral CARAT exercises with nine countries in South and Southeast Asia each year.
China calls for improved economic ties with Philippines. China's ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, expressed disappointment on July 1 over the state of China-Philippines economic relations. Zhao told the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry that Philippine companies are investing more in China than the other way around, and he said the local tourism industry would benefit from a boost in the number of Chinese visitors. Mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, is the Philippines' third-largest trading partner, with two-way trade totaling $14.6 billion in 2013.
Taiwan rejects Vietnamese compensation offer for foreign companies hit by riots. Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs on June 25 rejected an offer by the government of southeastern Vietnam’s Dong Nai province to provide $4.6 million in value-added tax payments to foreign companies affected by anti-China riots in May. Meanwhile, Vietnamese government minister Nguyen Van Nen on July 1 rejected a request by Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Group for special treatment because the riots halted the construction of its steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh.
Samsung to invest $1 billion in display factory. Vietnam on July 2 approved Samsung Electronics’ plan to build a $1 billion factory in the northern province of Bac Ninh in 2015. The factory will employ 8,000 workers and produce 48 million displays for portable devices annually. Vietnam’s exports of smartphones and electronics totaled $31.8 billion in 2013 and accounted for 24 percent of the country’s total exports. Samsung previously opened a $2.5 billion mobile phone factory in Bac Ninh in 2009.
Vietnam increases number of terminals at which foreigners can claim value-added tax refund. Vietnam on July 1 began allowing foreigners departing the country to claim a value-added tax refund at five additional air- and seaports in Da Nang, Khanh Hoa, and Ho Chi Minh City in an effort to boost tourism. Foreigners can claim a refund within 30 days of their departure date for 85 percent of the value-added tax imposed on purchases of more than $94. The expansion follows a trial run at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport and Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport.
Malaysian Chinese Association president is new transport minister. Prime Minister Najib Razak on June 25 announced the appointment of Liow Tiong Lai, president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), as minister of transport. Najib also appointed the president of the majority-Chinese Gerakan party and the deputy president of the MCA as ministers and two MCA vice presidents as deputy ministers. The appointments significantly boost the ethnic diversity of Najib’s government for the first time since the MCA refused to accept any cabinet posts after a poor showing in the 2013 national elections.
Malaysia agrees to return diplomat to New Zealand to face charges. Malaysia’s government on July 2 agreed to return a diplomat formerly posted to the country’s embassy in New Zealand to Wellington to face charges of burglary and attempted rape. The diplomat invoked diplomatic immunity on May 22 to get himself and his family out of New Zealand nearly two weeks after he allegedly assaulted a woman in her home in Wellington. Kuala Lumpur initially pressured Wellington to drop the charges in return for a promise that the accused would never return to New Zealand.
Malaysia arrests two suspected militants as part of ongoing counterterrorism operations. Malaysian police arrested two suspected militants on June 19 and 25, bringing to 19 the number of people arrested as part of ongoing counterterrorism operations that began in mid-May. One of the suspects was allegedly involved in the production of homemade rifles and ammunition for use in the training of militants. The arrests come as the Malaysian government investigates reports that 15 Malaysians have been killed in Syria while fighting for the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
MH370 believed to have lost oxygen, flown its final hours on autopilot. Australian authorities on June 26 announced that evidence indicates that the passengers and crew onboard Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) were unresponsive during the flight’s final hours, likely due to a loss of oxygen, leaving the plane to fly on autopilot. The announcement came after officials revised the search area for MH370 about 600 miles south of the previous search area in the Indian Ocean.
South China Sea
Vietnam, Philippines criticize territorial claims on Chinese province’s new map. Philippine and Vietnamese authorities have denounced a full-scale vertical map published by southern China’s Hunan province on June 23 that depicts Beijing’s nine-dash-line claim in the South China Sea, along with an extra dash in the East China Sea next to Taiwan, as part of China’s territory. Most official maps in China have depicted the South China Sea as an inset. China’s Foreign Ministry said June 25 that the map is one among many and warned other countries not to overreact.
China silent on Malaysia natural gas find near James Shoal. Chinese authorities have not commented on a June 23 announcement by Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Petroleum that it has discovered natural gas in an exploration block about 90 miles off the coast of Malaysia's Sarawak state and within China’s “nine-dash line” claim. Mubadala Petroleum, Malaysia's state-run Petronas, and Royal Dutch Shell own 55 percent, 25 percent, and 20 percent stakes respectively in the block near disputed James Shoal.
China arrests six Vietnamese fishermen in South China Sea. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei on July 4 announced the arrest of six Vietnamese fishermen by Chinese patrol ships eight miles off Hainan Island. An official from Vietnam’s central Quang Ngai province said that the incident happened farther from Hainan in disputed waters near the Gulf of Tonkin. Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said July 6 that it has asked the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi to reveal the exact location of the arrests.
Inquiry exposes shortcomings in police’s ability to respond to riots. Singaporean officials on June 30 released the results of an official inquiry into a December 8, 2013, riot involving hundreds of South Asian migrant workers. The inquiry found weaknesses in the Singaporean police’s ability to handle such threats to public order, including poor training, communications, and equipment. The December riot injured more than 60 people and took two hours to quell.
Record number of Singaporeans rally for gay rights as part of the annual “Pink Dot” event. An estimated 26,000 people turned out for the annual “Pink Dot” rally for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Singapore’s Hong Lim Park on June 28 in one of the largest civil society gatherings ever recorded in the city-state. The event started in 2009 and has grown larger every year. Some conservative Muslim and Christian groups in Singapore decried the event and called on the government to enforce Singapore’s colonial era anti-sodomy laws.
Singapore’s property market falls for third straight quarter. Singapore authorities said July 1 that private residential prices had fallen for the third consecutive quarter, bringing the total price decrease over that period to 3.3 percent. Despite the sustained drop, property prices in the city-state remain 57 percent higher than at the end of June 2009. The government has instituted a series of property-market curbs since September 2009, most recently tightening requirements for property loans in June 2013, in order to curb demand and boost supply as part of an effort to manage public discontent with the rising cost of living.
Cambodia releases Thai activist imprisoned for espionage. Cambodian authorities on July 1 released Thai activist Veera Somkwamkid following a royal pardon from Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni. Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that Thailand release 14 Cambodian migrant workers arrested in June. Cambodia arrested Veera in 2010 for spying and entering a military zone without permission after he was caught inspecting the area around the disputed Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.
Garment union representatives face embezzlement trial. Three leaders of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union appeared before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on July 2 to face embezzlement charges. Former union member Um Visal is accusing the union’s president. Ath Thorn, vice president Kong Athit, and secretary-general Ek Sopheakdey of pocketing more than $90,000 intended as a settlement payment for garment workers in a 2013 industrial dispute. Visal claims he was forced out of the union because of his investigation into the alleged embezzlement.
Cambodia considers changing gambling laws to boost industry. The Cambodian government is currently drafting stricter, more transparent regulations for casinos in the country to draw investment from Macau and the United States, according to a June 24 Phnom Penh Post report. The government is also considering regulating the currently illegal online gambling industry. Many casinos in Cambodia already provide online gambling services with the tacit support of local authorities even though it is illegal. The Ministry of Economy and Finance has granted operating licenses to 56 casinos, making Cambodia a major gambling center in Southeast Asia.
Negotiators meet in Canada as APEC summit in November shapes up as key deadline. Lead negotiators from the 12 nations working to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement are meeting in Ottawa, Canada, from July 3 to 12 for the latest round of negotiations. Expectations for major progress are low, but U.S. president Barack Obama, New Zealand prime minister John Key, and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet have nonetheless said they hope to be able to announce an agreement at the November summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders.
New Zealand suggests cutting Japan out of TPP. New Zealand prime minister John Key suggested during a June 20 visit to Washington that Japan should be cut out of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement if it refuses to improve its offer on agricultural market access. Japan has been reluctant to open protected agricultural sectors, including pork, beer, rice, and dairy products. Key said that if negotiating parties lower standards in agriculture, then pressure will build to do so for other areas as well.
Laos, Vietnam open new border gate to boost bilateral trade. Laos and Vietnam on June 25 opened the new La Lay International Border Gate—the second border crossing linking Vietnam’s Quang Tri province and Laos’s Salavan province. Lao deputy prime minister and foreign minister Thongloun Sisoulith said that opening the gate will boost two-way trade and facilitate tourism activities. His Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Binh Minh, expressed hope that it is a step toward the realization of the ASEAN Community by 2015.
Laos agrees to postpone construction on Don Sahong dam. Lao deputy minister of energy and mines Viraphonh Viravong said during a June 26 Mekong River Commission meeting that Laos will suspend construction of the controversial Don Sahong dam on the mainstream Mekong for six months to allow for consultations amid increasing opposition from neighboring states. Thailand’s Administrative Court meanwhile accepted a lawsuit against state-owned Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand on June 24 brought by villagers demanding that the company not purchase electricity from Laos’s Xayaburi dam on the Mekong.
Thailand deports former Hmong resistance leader back to Laos. Thai immigration officials announced on July 2 that the country deported former Hmong resistance leader Moua Toua Ter back to Laos on June 13. Moua Toua Ter led a guerrilla group that fought for the United States against Laos’s communist force in the 1960s. Human right groups raised concerns that he might face persecution in Laos.
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