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Ethnic leaders approve draft cease-fire agreement. Leaders of the 16 ethnic armed groups that make up the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front on June 9 approved a draft cease-fire agreement following an eight-day summit in Karen State. Ethnic leaders made a number of amendments to the draft agreement reached by representatives of the NCCT and the government in March. Ethnic leaders also insisted that the three NCCT members still battling government troops—the Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—be included in any final agreement. The government hopes to sign a final cease-fire deal with ethnic groups in June.
U.S. urges Myanmar to treat Rohingya as citizens. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard said during a June 3 press conference in Jakarta that Myanmar needs to treat Muslim Rohingya as citizens by granting them identity cards and passports. Richard was in Southeast Asia to discuss the ongoing migrant crisis with regional partners. Meanwhile Myanmar’s navy on June 3 allowed a boat carrying over 700 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants to dock in western Rakhine State after having kept it at sea for days. Myanmar authorities on June 8 began deporting those migrants to Bangladesh.
Government releases census results with no ethnic or religious data. Myanmar on May 29 released the results of its 2014 nationwide census, its first in more than three decades, but provided no data on the country’s ethnic or religious makeup. The United Nations Population Fund said such information is expected to be released next year, following elections expected this November. The census omitted parts of Kachin and Karen states that are controlled by ethnic rebels and excluded individuals in Rakhine State who self-identified as Rohingya.
Shwe Mann to lead ruling party through elections. The Central Executive Committee of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on June 1 decided to retain parliamentary leader Shwe Mann as its chairman in the run-up to the national elections in November. Shwe Mann will also serve as president of the party’s elections committee. USDP general-secretary Thein Shwe said that whether Shwe Mann will receive the party’s backing as a presidential candidate depends on the outcome of the elections, and that the USDP might instead support President Thein Sein if he seeks reelection.
China holds live-fire exercise along border with Myanmar. China’s military on June 2 launched live-fire land and air drills along its border with northern Myanmar’s Kokang region, where fighting between government troops and ethnic Kokang rebels in recent months has caused several bombs to fall in Chinese territory, killing at least five Chinese nationals. China’s Defense Ministry said it has informed Naypyidaw but did not announce an end date to the exercise. China stepped up air patrols in the border area following the first bombing incident in March.
Aung San Suu Kyi visits China. National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in China on June 10 for her first visit to the country. An NLD spokesperson said Aung San Suu Kyi will stay through June 14 and will meet with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, as well as other top Chinese leaders. The trip was initially scheduled for December 2014 but was delayed due to protocol issues.
Aquino inks patrol boat deal; discusses arms transfers, visiting forces agreement in Tokyo. President Benigno Aquino during a June 2–6 visit to Tokyo signed a final agreement to purchase 10 coast guard patrol boats from Japan, to be financed by a low-interest $150 million loan from the Japanese government. Aquino met with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe during his visit and discussed potential sales of Japanese defense equipment to the Philippines. Aquino and Abe also agreed to begin discussions on a visiting forces agreement to allow Japanese troops to engage in more joint training and other cooperative efforts in the Philippines.
Philippines, Taiwan engage in coast guard stand-off. The Philippine and Taiwanese coast guards became involved in a stand-off in the Luzon Strait on May 25 when a Philippine Coast Guard vessel interdicted a Taiwanese fishing boat it alleged was fishing in Philippine waters. Philippine authorities attempted to tow the fishing boat to shore but were confronted by a Taiwanese Coast Guard ship, which eventually negotiated the fishing vessel’s release. The Philippines and Taiwan are negotiating a fisheries agreement for waters claimed by both in the Luzon Strait.
Philippine economic growth slowest in three years. The Philippine Statistical Authority on May 28 announced that the economy grew 5.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015, its slowest pace since the third quarter of 2011. Growth dropped from 6.6 percent the previous quarter and was down from 5.6 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Many economists blamed the slowdown on lower-than-expected exports and government spending. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said new government regulations created a bottleneck to government spending, slowing growth.
Authorities arrest Communist leader. The Philippine military and police on June 2 arrested Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) secretary-general Adelberto Silva, his wife, and another CPP member in a joint raid outside Manila. Silva took over leadership of the party after the March 2014 arrest of CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife, then-CPP secretary-general Wilma Tiamzon. Silva faces 15 charges of murder for his alleged role in the 1985 killings of members of the New People’s Army—the armed wing of the CPP—suspected of spying for the government.
Senate recommends plunder charges against Vice President Binay. A 17-member Philippine Senate blue ribbon subcommittee on June 1 recommended that the Senate Ombudsman file plunder charges against Vice President Jejomar Binay and his son, Makati mayor Jejomar Binay Jr. Both are accused of graft in relation to the construction of a parking building at Makati City Hall during their back-to-back tenures as mayor. Senator Grace Poe, a potential challenger to Binay in the 2016 presidential elections, was among those senators who signed the recommendation.
Army general surrenders in migrant trafficking probe. Thai army general Manas Kongpaen turned himself in to police on June 3 to face charges for his alleged engagement in human trafficking in southern Thailand. Manas faces multiple charges of human trafficking, assisting aliens to illegally enter the country, illegally detaining people, and seeking ransoms for migrants during his time in charge of army operations to combat trafficking in southern Thailand. Authorities in Thailand in recent weeks have arrested dozens of people, including local officials, for involvement in trafficking, but Manas is the first military officer detained.
National Reform Council members press for fully elected senate. Members of Thailand’s National Reform Council (NRC) met with the Constitutional Drafting Committee on June 1–5 to discuss several points of contention in the new draft charter. NRC members raised particular concerns about the draft charter’s stipulation that the Senate will be only partially elected and all candidates must be pre-selected by a “selection panel.” Members of the council instead proposed the return to a fully elected Senate, as was the case with Thailand’s 1997 constitution, and the elimination of the proposed selection panel. NRC members also proposed that voters be given the option of delaying a constitutional referendum and general election for two years to allow the junta to complete national reforms.
Police detain 22 in hunt for Yala bombers. Authorities have detained 22 suspects for questioning over their alleged involvement in a series of 56 small bombings from May 14 to 16 at 44 locations in the southern province of Yala. Eighteen people were injured in the bombings, which also caused widespread property damage. Three people have so far confessed to taking part in the bombings, which ended a period of decreased violence in southern Thailand in recent months.
Student activists arrested after peaceful protest. Thai authorities on May 22 arrested more than 40 activists, mainly students, in Bangkok and elsewhere in the country who were holding peaceful rallies to mark the one-year anniversary of the coup that overthrew former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. It was the largest crackdown on dissidents since the junta seized power in May 2014. Thai authorities on June 5 dropped charges against four of the student activists. Human Rights Watch Thailand has reported that activists were abused by security forces.
South China Sea
Carter defends U.S. commitment to freedom of navigation in South China Sea. U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter reiterated the United States’ commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes and protection of international law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea during his May 30 speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Carter did not say whether U.S. ships and planes would transit within 12 nautical miles of Chinese artificial islands to assert freedom of navigation, but indicated they would be within their rights to do so. Carter also announced a new $425 million U.S. initiative to help Southeast Asian states improve their naval and coast guard capabilities.
Taiwan’s president proposes South China Sea Peace Initiative. Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou on May 26 proposed a South China Sea Peace Initiative under which claimants would set aside their disputes and enter negotiations to share resources in disputed waters. The initiative seems to be modeled on a proposal Taiwan made for the East China Sea in 2012, under which Taiwan and Japan jointly fish in disputed waters. Ma also demanded that freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea be protected.
U.S. says China placed two mobile artillery units on reclaimed features. A U.S. Pentagon spokesperson on May 29 confirmed that U.S. surveillance images in April revealed that China had placed two mobile artillery weapons systems on one of the features it has reclaimed in the Spratly Islands. A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said she had no information regarding the systems, which the Pentagon says have since been either removed or covered up. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain called the deployment “disturbing and escalatory.”
Malaysia protests Chinese Coast Guard ship at Luconia Shoals. Malaysia on June 8 objected to the intrusion a week earlier of a Chinese Coast Guard ship into waters around the Luconia Shoals—an area of rocks and submerged shoals south of the disputed Spratly Islands—and said Prime Minister Najib Razak would raise the issue with Chinese president Xi Jinping. Shahidan Kassim, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, posted photos to Facebook on June 2 showing the Chinese ship anchored near the shoals, which Malaysia maintains are not disputed, and said Malaysian navy and coast guard vessels had been deployed to monitor it.
Special Forces launch investigation into brawl with Air Force. The commander of Indonesia’s Army Special Forces (Kopassus), Doni Monardo, on June 2 launched an investigation into a fatal incident between Kopassus and Air Force soldiers at a karaoke parlor in Sukoharjo in Central Java that saw one Air Force soldier killed and three injured. Seven Kopassus soldiers who were reportedly involved in the attack against Air Force personnel have been turned over to military police. Kopassus personnel were found guilty of murdering four inmates at a prison in Yogyakarta in 2013.
Corruption Eradication Commission files appeal against tax scandal pretrial verdict. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on June 2 filed an appeal against a pretrial verdict issued by the South Jakarta District Court in May ordering the commission to stop investigating former Finance Ministry director-general of taxation Hadi Poernomo for alleged graft in a tax scandal involving Bank Central Asia. The KPK and corruption watchdog groups have been increasingly concerned that corruption suspects may seek to use pretrial motions to thwart the commission’s investigations in the future.
Golkar reaches limited reconciliation. Aburizal Bakrie and Agung Laksono, the leaders of two rival camps within the Golkar party, on May 30 signed a “limited reconciliation” brokered by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, a former Golkar chairman. The deal will allow the party to register candidates for regional elections in December following an announcement by the National Election Commission that parties in the midst of an internal struggle would not be able to register candidates. Kalla said that he is also ready to help mediate the United Development Party’s ongoing leadership crisis.
FIFA bans Indonesia from international soccer matches. The International Federation of Association Football, known by its French acronym FIFA, on June 3 banned Indonesia from playing in international soccer matches for an indefinite period due to what the governing body says were attempts by Jakarta to take over the Indonesian Football Association in violation of FIFA’s rules. FIFA decided to allow Indonesia to compete in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore, which are currently underway.
Nik Aziz’s son elected PAS youth chief; PAS religious council wants cut ties with DAP. Nik Mohamad Abduh won a landslide vote on June 3 to become chief of the youth wing of the opposition Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS). Nik Abduh is the son of Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the spiritual leader of PAS who died in February and who played an important role in keeping Malaysia’s opposition coalition unified. PAS’s religious council passed a motion on the same day supporting cutting ties with its coalition partner, the Democratic Action Party, following disagreements between the two over the implementation of hudud, or Islamic penal code, in the northern state of Kelantan and the formation of a shadow cabinet.
Central bank launches probe into 1MDB; investment fund receives $1 billion lifeline. Malaysia’s central bank on June 3 launched a formal inquiry into the embattled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) over whether it has obtained proper permission for its offshore borrowings and investments. Any investments exceeding $13.5 million per year or loans exceeding $26.6 million require the central bank’s approval. 1MDB is expected to receive $1 billion from two companies controlled by the Abu Dhabi government to pay back some of its debt. The investment fund has taken steps to break down its total debt of over $11 billion.
Anwar Ibrahim hospitalized with health problems. Former Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was admitted to a hospital in Kuala Lumpur on June 2 due to poor health and weight loss in prison. Anwar was discharged and returned to prison on June 5, after the hospital determined that test results showed no evidence of any serious medical conditions. Anwar is serving a five-year jail sentence for a sodomy conviction. His wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was recently elected Malaysia’s new opposition leader.
New Malaysia Airlines chief announces restructuring plans. Christoph Mueller, the newly appointed chief executive of Malaysia Airlines, on June 1 said that the national carrier is “technically bankrupt,” and that it will need to lay off a third of its staff, cut some international routes, and review its long-haul fleet. Mueller previously led Ireland’s Aer Lingus and Germany’s Lufthansa, successfully revamping the two carriers. He also said that Malaysia Airlines’ performance had deteriorated long before its two plane crashes in 2014.
Malaysia refuses entry to Hong Kong democracy activists. Malaysian authorities on May 26 refused to let Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong enter Malaysia to participate in a series of discussions on democracy in China. Wong was a key player in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which began in late 2014. The government denied entry to another Hong Kong political activist and opposition lawmaker, Leung Kwok-hung, three days later. Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Malaysia blacklisted Wong for fear of harming its ties with China.
Death toll in Sabah earthquake rises. A 6.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Malaysia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu, in eastern Sabah State on June 5 has caused the deaths of at least 16 climbers. Authorities have recovered the bodies of the victims, the majority of whom were from Singapore and Malaysia. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on June 7 said that Malaysia will continue searching for those who may still be missing in the aftermath of the earthquake. Muhyiddin also announced that the government will compensate the families of Malaysian victims.
U.S. and Vietnam sign joint vision statement on defense. U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter and Vietnamese defense minister Phung Quang Thanh on June 1 signed a Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations, which aims to deepen bilateral defense cooperation. The statement, signed during Carter’s three-day visit to Vietnam, builds on an agreement on advancing bilateral defense relations that the two countries signed in 2011, and highlights co-production of military equipment and joint peacekeeping training as two new potential areas of cooperation.
Vietnam receives two new attack boats. The Vietnamese navy on June 2 received two new Molniya-class missile boats that were built domestically based on Russian designs. The vessels are the third and fourth of six Molniya-class vessels that the navy has commissioned. Vietnam has in recent years stepped up efforts to modernize its naval and air force capabilities in response to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Vietnam signs trade agreement with Eurasian Economic Union. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on May 29 signed a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) during his visit to Kazakhstan, in what will be the bloc’s first trade agreement with a non-member. Annual trade between Vietnam and the EEU, which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, is expected to grow to $10 billion by 2020 from $4 billion currently, according to Viktor Khristenko, chairman of the board of the Eurasian Economic Commission.
Civil society activist beaten by plainclothes police officers; prominent blogger released. Civil society activist Pham Thanh Nghien was beaten by plainclothes police officers on June 2 in front of her home outside Hanoi. Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who was traveling to Nghien’s home with two other bloggers for a meeting, said that plainclothes police officers beat Nghien in order to force Quynh and the other bloggers to leave, according to Radio Free Asia. Separately, authorities on May 26 released well-known blogger Truong Duy Nhat, who was sentenced to two years in jail for “abusing democratic freedoms.”
Intel to transfer part of its microchip production from Malaysia to Vietnam. Intel Corporation recently announced plans to relocate part of its production at a facility in Kulim, Malaysia, to Ho Chi Minh City and Chengdu, China, in order to reduce labor costs, according to a June 4 Tuoi Tre report. Intel’s Vietnam representative, Sherry Boger, had earlier announced that the company will build a second production line at its plant in Ho Chi Minh City and that 80 percent of Intel’s semiconductor chips will be produced in Ho Chi Minh City by August.
Cabinet passes contentious NGO law. Prime Minister Hun Sen and members of his cabinet on June 5 approved a controversial law regulating nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which will now go to the National Assembly for approval. The law, which has not been released for public comment, is believed to give the government wide-ranging powers to shut down NGOs or prevent them from registering. U.S. ambassador William Todd has joined local and foreign NGOs in criticizing the government for refusing to allow public comment on the law.
Ruling party president Chea Sim dies at 82. Chea Sim, the 82-year-old head of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Senate president, died on June 1 of an undisclosed illness. Prime Minister Hun Sen will step in as the new party chief. Sim led a faction of the CPP that was sometimes at odds with Hun Sen. Sim was temporarily forced out of the country in 2004 for refusing to approve constitutional changes allowing the CPP and the opposition Funcinpec party to form a coalition government. Sim’s poor health recently limited him to a mostly symbolic role.
Villagers clash with Vietnamese soldiers at border. A group of more than 400 Cambodian villagers, along with several opposition politicians, on May 31 confronted Vietnamese soldiers along a disputed section of the two countries’ border in southeastern Cambodia’s Tbong Khmum Province in the latest in a series of clashes since Vietnamese soldiers in April reportedly sprayed Cambodian crops in the area with herbicide. The two sides scuffled but no injuries were reported. Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong said in response to the April spraying that the land belonged to Vietnam, while opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua on June 1 told the Phnom Penh Post it is “Khmer land.”
First refugees arrive from Australia’s Nauru detention center. A Rohingya from Myanmar and three Iranians arrived in Cambodia on June 4, becoming the first processed refugees from Australia’s asylum-seeker detention center on Nauru to resettle in Cambodia under a controversial deal between Canberra and Phnom Penh. Australia hopes to eventually resettle hundreds of refugees in Cambodia in exchange for $32 million in additional foreign aid. In response to criticism of Cambodia’s ability to provide for the refugees, a spokesperson for Cambodia’s Interior Ministry joked that the compound in which they have been placed is “even more awesome than my house.”
Interior Ministry refuses asylum to Montagnards. An Interior Ministry spokesperson said May 29 that Cambodia is “fed up” with Montagnards crossing into the country from Vietnam and will not grant asylum to any of the 74 currently in Phnom Penh waiting for their refugee status to be processed. More than 130 Montagnards have entered Cambodia since October 2014, 50 of whom Cambodian authorities returned to Vietnam in April despite protests from the United Nations. Cambodia in April stationed 1,000 troops along the Vietnamese border in northern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri Province to prevent further Montagnards from entering the country.
Singapore hosts annual Southeast Asia Games. Singaporean president Tony Tan officially opened the 28th biennial Southeast Asian Games on June 5 with a ceremony attended by 50,000 spectators. More than 4,000 athletes from the 10 ASEAN member countries and Timor-Leste traveled to the city-state for the games, which will end on June 16. As of June 10, Singapore was well ahead in the medal count with 60 golds and 175 overall, followed by Vietnam, with 48 golds and 115 overall, and Thailand, with 46 golds and 141 overall.
Amos Yee refuses parole, sent back to prison. A Singaporean court on June 2 ordered 16-year-old blogger Amos Yee remanded in custody for three weeks while it considers whether to send him to the city-state’s Reformative Training Centre for at least 18 months. The court was expected to sentence Yee to a much lighter sentence but was forced to reconsider when he rejected probation, refused meetings with his probation officer, and posted to Facebook and his blog in violation of court orders. Yee was convicted in mid-May of insulting Christianity in a March YouTube video and posting an obscene image online of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
FTAAP progresses in Boracay meeting. Trade ministers from 21 Asia-Pacific economies met in Boracay, the Philippines, on May 23–24 and agreed on the details for a study to identify the challenges and means of pursuing a proposed region-wide free trade agreement, known as the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). Officials will report progress on the study by November, in time for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in the Philippines, with the hopes of completing the study by 2016.
House plans TPA vote in June. Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, on June 1 said the House plans to vote this month on the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill that the Senate passed in May. Congressional approval of TPA will pave the way for the United States to conclude negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with 11 other countries. Ninety overseas branches of the American Chamber of Commerce have urged Congress to renew TPA.
Obama hosts Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative fellows. President Barack Obama on June 1 hosted a question-and-answer session at the White House with 75 Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) fellows. The event included discussion of the environment, governance, development, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the South China Sea, and the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya. The 75 YSEALI fellows, who represented all 10 ASEAN countries, spent five weeks working in the nonprofit, private, and government sectors in 13 states and Washington, D.C. The YSEALI program, which Obama launched in Myanmar in November 2014, will eventually bring 500 young professionals to the United States for fellowship programs.
Timor-Leste “reactivates” arbitration case against Australia. Prime Minister Rui Araujo on June 3 announced that Timor-Leste would “reactivate” an arbitration case seeking to nullify a 2007 treaty governing access to oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea between Australia and Timor-Leste. Timorese officials maintain that Australia did not negotiate the treaty in good faith following revelations that Australia’s Secret Intelligence Service spied on the Timorese negotiating team. Timor-Leste has agreed to drop an International Court of Justice case regarding the spying allegations, but will pursue the renegotiation of its maritime boundary to get a larger share of the oil and gas reserves.
Police detain woman for posting pictures of police extortion on Facebook. Police on May 21 arrested a woman from Xayaburi Province and detained her for a week without a warrant, according to Radio Free Asia. The woman was arrested for having posted pictures on Facebook that purportedly showed police officers trying to extort bribes from her brother. A local police officer confirmed the arrest but said that the officers in the pictures were giving her brother a fine for improperly registering his vehicle.
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