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                                                                                                                       Asean Affairs  May 16, 2014 

Biweekly Update


Court order removes Yingluck from office. Thailand’s Constitutional Court on May 7 found caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of abuse of power for the 2011 transfer of then-National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri and ordered her to step down. The government appointed caretaker deputy prime minister and commerce minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan to take Yingluck’s place over the objections of antigovernment demonstrators, who are demanding that the Senate appoint a new prime minister.

Anti-corruption commission seeks Yingluck’s impeachment. The National Anti-Corruption Commission on May 8 decided to pursue impeachment proceedings against ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra for her mishandling of the government’s controversial rice subsidy program. The case has been forwarded to the Senate, which on May 9 elected Surachai Liangboonlertchai, favored by the government’s opponents, as its new speaker. The Senate will vote on impeachment, but analysts believe it is unlikely to garner the 90 votes necessary. If impeached, Yingluck will be barred from public office for five years.

Strong earthquake rocks northern Thailand. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Chiang Rai region of northern Thailand on May 5, killing one and injuring dozens. Authorities closed Wat Rongkhun, a well-known temple near the city, due to safety concerns after tiles and a spire fell from the roof of its main building. Authorities continue to monitor five active fault lines in the region. Thailand has not felt such a strong earthquake since a 5.1 magnitude quake hit Chiang Mai in 2006.

Nine injured in bomb attacks in southern Thailand. Two bombs exploded minutes apart on May 6, injuring nine bystanders in the tourist city of Hat Yai in southern Thailand. Closed-circuit video showed four unidentified individuals leaving a motorcycle near a convenience store and parking an explosive-laden car in a police station parking lot before fleeing the scene. Songkhla Province police claim that separatist groups are responsible for the attacks and believe the same groups committed a similar bomb attack in late 2013.

South China Sea

Chinese oil rig near Paracels leads to standoff with Vietnam. The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) on May 2 moved a drilling rig into disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands, on what Vietnam claims as its continental shelf. China has sent more than 80 vessels, including 7 navy ships, to support the rig. Vietnam has objected and sent more than 20 Coast Guard and fisheries surveillance ships to prevent the rig’s operations. The two nations have each accused the other of using water cannons and ramming other vessels in the standoff, which has driven bilateral relations to their lowest level in years.

Philippines arrests Chinese fishermen in Spratlys. Philippine authorities on May 7 arrested 11 Chinese fishermen caught with more than 800 endangered sea turtles near Half Moon Shoal, part of the disputed Spratly Islands. Prosecutors on May 12 charged 9 of the 11 fishermen with violating two Philippine laws on poaching and wildlife protection. The other two, who were found to be minors, will be turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development to be released. China also claims the shoal, which lies 70 miles from the Philippine island of Palawan. Manila has refused Beijing’s demands that the fishermen be released.

China building structures on disputed reef. Philippine officials lodged a protest against China on May 13 after surveillance photographs showed a resurgence in Chinese construction and reclamation projects on Johnson South Reef, which China, the Philippines, and Vietnam all claim. Chinese took the reef from Vietnam in 1988 in a battle that killed as many as 90 Vietnamese troops. A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the construction but would not provide details. Manila asserts that new construction on disputed features is a violation of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct for Parties in the South China Sea.


Authorities announce official parliamentary election results. The Indonesian Election Commission on May 9 announced the official results of the 2014 parliamentary elections. The results closely matched April 9 quick-count estimates, with Jakarta governor and presidential frontrunner Joko Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, garnering almost 19 percent of votes. The Golkar party followed with nearly 15 percent, and the Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, with about 12 percent. Seven other parties secured seats in the parliament.

Coalitions lining up behind Jokowi, Prabowo. Broad coalitions are lining up behind presidential candidates Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Prabowo Subianto of the Great Indonesia Movement Party ahead of a May 20 deadline to submit presidential nominations. Golkar, which came in second in April’s legislative elections, along with the National Democrats and the Islamic National Awakening Party, have lent their support to Jokowi. The other three Islamic parties have said they will join Prabowo. Jokowi’s coalition accounts for about half and Prabowo’s about a third of the votes cast in April’s legislative elections. The ruling Democrat Party and the People’s Conscience Party remain undeclared.

Yudhoyono revises negative investment list. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on May 2 released Indonesia's revised negative investment list to direct foreign investment into specific sectors of the economy while protecting others. The revision increases the limit on ownership by foreign firms in the transportation, film, pharmaceutical, large-scale electricity, and finance sectors. The revision further limits foreign ownership in the energy, mining, and communication sectors, and bans it in the retail trade sector.

Indonesian navy finds 19 asylum seekers shortly after Abbott cancels Bali visit. The Indonesian navy on May 4 found 19 asylum seekers stranded on Lay Island in East Nusa Tenggara Province. The asylum seekers had been towed back to Indonesian waters by the Australian navy. The discovery came a day after Australian prime minister Tony Abbott canceled a trip to Bali aimed at thawing tensions between the two countries. Abbott’s cancellation appeared to be related to the Australian navy’s action.

Navy requests 16 antisubmarine helicopters. The Indonesian navy on May 1 requested that the Defense Ministry acquire 16 Eurocopter AS565 Panther antisubmarine helicopters, according to First Admiral Untung Suropati. The French-made helicopters are equipped to detect submarines and torpedoes, and will be deployed on warships to augment their fighting capacity. They will be the first antisubmarine helicopters in the Indonesian navy.


Kachin, government agree to form monitoring group. Members of the Kachin Independence Organization and government negotiators led by Union Minister Aung Min agreed during talks that began May 13 to form a joint monitoring committee to observe ongoing fighting in northern Myanmar’s Kachin State and try to ratchet down violence. The fighting, which escalated on May 5, has displaced thousands in Kachin and neighboring Shan State, and threatens to derail efforts to reach a nationwide cease-fire. Members of the Karen National Union raised concerns over the fighting during May 5 talks with Aung Min, saying it could obstruct peace negotiations.

Arakan conference calls for creation of army to protect Buddhist residents from Muslims. Representatives of political parties and armed groups in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, also called Arakan, wrapped up a five-day Arakan National Conference on May 1 with a call to create a local armed force to protect the 2.3 million Rakhine Buddhists from the state’s Muslim population, believed to number up to 1 million. Rakhine militant groups, which led fighting against the central government prior to the transition to civilian rule, have offered their services to protect Buddhists in the villages of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, which have majority Muslim Rohingya populations.

88 Generation, NLD to hold joint constitutional reform rallies. National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing, who heads the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society group, will jointly address rallies in Yangon and Mandalay on May 17 and 18 to push for constitutional reform and kick-start a national campaign. The two groups are seeking to mobilize popular support and petition the government to change article 436, which gives the military an effective veto over constitutional change. This marks a shift for the NLD, which previously focused most of its attention on a constitutional provision that bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Lawmakers question news of land returns due to lack of follow-through. Parliamentarians on May 4 expressed concerns that the process of returning land seized by the former military government lacks transparency. Opposition lawmaker Min Thu said that there is no clear evidence of follow-through on returning the land despite claims by local officials. Other parliamentarians have pointed out that the Land Use Management Committee in charge of land returns has refused to honor official requests for information. Members of the parliament’s Farmland Investigation Committee in late April recommended the government switch to an open arbitration process to handle land disputes.

Hundreds protest the imprisonment of journalist Zaw Pe. About 200 activists and journalists marched through Magwe in central Myanmar on May 6 to protest the arrest of Zaw Pe, Democratic Voice of Burma’s local correspondent, and to demand greater press freedom. The opposition National League for Democracy and the 88 Generation civil society group have voiced support for the movement. Democratic Voice of Burma reporter Angus Watson, an Australian, was deported after covering the protest. Critics charge that these are the latest in a string of arrests and abuses that signal a tightening of Myanmar’s media environment.


Leaders discuss South China Sea, Thailand, ASEAN community at summit in Naypyidaw. Heads of state from every ASEAN member except Thailand attended the biannual ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw from May 10 to 11. Discussions focused heavily on tensions in the South China Sea and the political crisis in Thailand. The ASEAN foreign ministers released joint statements ahead of the leaders’ meeting calling for peaceful resolutions to each crisis. The ASEAN leaders also reaffirmed plans to complete an ASEAN Economic Community, meaning in theory a single market, by the end of 2015.

Member states to reform Chiang Mai Initiative bond system, implementation guidelines. The finance ministers and bank chiefs of Japan, China, South Korea, and the 10 ASEAN member states announced plans on May 3 to reform the bond system and guidelines for implementation of the Chiang Mai Initiative. The 13 members will seek to better integrate fund and securities settlement systems to encourage fund flows from banks to the bond market, raise the credit limit on bonds, and revise the Chiang Mai Initiative guidelines to facilitate this process.


U.S., Philippines hold annual war games. The United States and the Philippines held their annual 10-day naval exercises, known as Balikatan, from May 5 to 15. Australian special forces also took part in the exercises, which came just a week after presidents Barack Obama and Benigno Aquino signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement to strengthen military ties between the two countries. The exercises aimed to promote maritime security, including antipiracy and humanitarian assistance efforts. Philippines foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario highlighted increasing tensions over claims in the South China Sea as a primary cause of concern.

Philippines considers constitutional ban on political dynasties. Fredenil Castro, a lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Party, introduced a bill in the Philippine House of Representatives on May 6 that would ban spouses and close relatives from running for office in the same elections. The bill is meant to target political families, including that of President Benigno Aquino, whom Castro claims are responsible for many problems now facing the country. Despite previous attempts to craft an antipolitical dynasty bill, this is the first time one has made it to the House floor.

Dozens arrested in cyber extortion bust. Philippine police, with the help of Interpol, arrested 58 members of an online crime syndicate in Manila and several other Philippines cities on May 2. The suspects are accused of tricking individuals into exposing themselves online and then blackmailing them for profit. A Scottish teenager’s suicide last year is allegedly linked to the group’s attempts at extortion. The suspects were identified after authorities traced online conversations from victims’ computers.

Suspect in Maguindanao massacre arrested. Warden Kusain Legawan, a suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, was apprehended on May 7, according to Philippine police. Legawan was charged with 36 counts of murder. In November 2009, 58 people, including Baluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, his wife and sisters, and dozens of journalists, were killed while traveling in Maguindanao Province in the southern Philippines. Mangudadatu was planning to submit his candidacy for governor of Maguindanao. Then-governor Andal Ampatuan and members of his family have been charged with orchestrating the massacre.


Opposition politician Teresa Kok charged with sedition. Malaysian prosecutors on May 6 charged opposition politician Teresa Kok with sedition over a political satire video she posted online for Chinese New Year on January 31. Some Muslim citizens reportedly filed complaints with police arguing that the video insulted Islam, though how remains unclear. Kok starred in the 11-minute video, which poked fun at a wide range of national issues. She has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.

Chinese national kidnapped in Sabah. A Chinese national was kidnapped from a fishery farm he managed in the eastern state of Sabah on May 6. It was the latest in a series of recent kidnappings in eastern Malaysia, including one of a German couple from waters near the Malaysia-Philippines border in late April and another of a Chinese national and a Philippine employee from a Sabah diving resort on April 2. Authorities suspect that the southern Philippine extremist group Abu Sayyaf is responsible for the kidnappings.

Sabah church loses “Allah” challenge. Malaysia’s High Court on May 5 rejected a case by a Protestant church in eastern Malaysia’s Sabah State challenging authorities’ 2007 seizure of church books containing the word “Allah.” The books were returned in 2008, but the church is still seeking recognition of its right to refer to God as “Allah.” The High Court said it is bound by a 2013 Appeals Court ruling that “the use of ‘Allah’ is not integral to the practice and faith of Christianity.” In that case, the court found that a Catholic magazine, the Herald, could not use the term. Malaysian churches contend that they have long used the term in Malay-language services and materials.

Thousands attend antitax rally. More than 15,000 protestors gathered in central Kuala Lumpur on May 1 to protest a planned goods and services tax. The demonstration was organized by 95 nongovernmental organizations to coincide with International Labor Day. Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in October 2013 that the new tax would take effect in April 2015, sparking concerns that it will raise the cost of living.


Protesters burn down foreign businesses, kill up to 20 Chinese. Peaceful protests against China’s placement of an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea turned violent on May 13 and 14 when thousands of workers in Binh Duong Province near Ho Chi Minh City attacked businesses they believed to be Chinese-owned, many of which turned out to be owned by Taiwanese and Korean companies. The next day, rioters set a Taiwanese steel mill in central Vietnam on fire and attacked its Chinese workers, leaving up to 16 Chinese and 5 Vietnamese dead. Local authorities in Binh Duong said 15 factories were burned in the rioting there, while a Taiwanese official claimed at least 200 were looted or destroyed. Authorities have detained at least 440 protesters.

Vietnam arrests two bloggers for anti-state writings. Authorities in Vietnam on May 5 arrested two bloggers on charges of publishing antistate information. Nguyen Huu Vinh, popularly known as Ba Sam, and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, described as Vinh’s associate, were arrested at their homes and could face up to seven years in prison if convicted. Their arrests appear to signal a renewed crackdown on online dissent following the early release of three political dissidents in April.

Vietnam celebrates Dien Bien Phu victory. Vietnamese gathered in the northwestern city of Dien Bien Phu on May 7 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Vietnam's victory over French forces. The bloody two-month battle at Dien Bien Phu led to the fall of French colonial rule and to independence for what are now Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The victory was an important milestone in the history of liberation movements because it was the first time a non-European colonial independence movement defeated a modern Western occupier.

Authorities arrest railway officials in bribery scandal. Police arrested five senior Vietnamese railway officials between May 3 and 8 as part of a probe into allegations that a Japanese firm paid large kickbacks to win a railway contract in Hanoi. Japanese media reported in March that the head of Japan Transportation Consultants, Tamio Kakinuma, admitted that his company paid a $790,000 bribe to win the contract to build a rail line in Hanoi. Vietnamese authorities have vowed to investigate and punish all guilty parties.


Police crack down on May Day rallies. Cambodian police on May 1 cracked down on demonstrators who gathered at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in defiance of a ban on public protest. At least five participants were injured when police used clubs, tear gas, and water cannons to disperse protesters. The violence began shortly after opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha delivered speeches at the May Day demonstration demanding higher wages and political reform.

More than 20,000 garment workers end strike for pay bonus. Some 20,000 garment workers on May 5 returned to their jobs, ending a strike that began on April 21 to demand a $50 bonus from factories. The Collective Union of Movement of Workers reported on May 4 that factory owners promised to pay the bonus in return for workers abstaining from walkouts for three months. The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia denied that factories made any such promises, according to a May 5 Channel NewsAsia article.

Body of Canadian filmmaker Dave Walker found. The body of Canadian journalist Dave Walker, 58, was discovered on May 3 outside of a gate to the Angkor Thom temple complex in northwestern Cambodia, 10 days after his April 24 disappearance. Walker was working on a film about the 1975–1979 reign of the Khmer Rouge at the time of his disappearance. His family and friends are calling on Cambodian officials to investigate his death, emphasizing his previous connections with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Court again delays trial of garment workers arrested in January. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 6 delayed for the second time the trial of 23 garment workers arrested during a deadly January 3 crackdown on a workers’ strike. Presiding judge Keo Mony ruled that the proceedings would resume on May 20 to allow for additional review of evidence, according to a May 6 Radio Free Asia article. Local rights group Licadho believes the trial delays are a bid by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to force concessions from the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party.


Singapore reaches deal with U.S. to clamp down on tax evasion. Singapore on May 6 agreed in substance to abide by the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which requires non-U.S. financial institutions to regularly report information to the United States’ Internal Revenue Service on bank accounts owned by U.S. citizens. The move is part of the city-state’s accelerated efforts to comply with international standards by clamping down on tax evasion and money-laundering, according to a May 6 Financial Times article.

Growth increases in manufacturing sector. Production in Singapore’s manufacturing sector grew in April for the fourth consecutive month, despite a regional slowdown in factory production. The city-state’s purchasing managers’ index, a monthly gauge of activity in the sector, reached 51.1 in April, up from 50.8 in March, according to a May 5 Straits Times article. The Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management attributes the growth to new export orders as well as increased production output and inventory.

Singapore named “best place in Asia to be a mother.” For the second consecutive year, Singapore has been named the best place in Asia to be a mother, according to Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers Report published on May 7. The report assesses 178 countries on such indicators as maternal and child mortality rates, percentage of women in leadership, and quality of life for mothers. Singapore ranks 15th globally, higher than New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


Wife of missing activist appeals for help in United States. Ng Shui Meng, the wife of missing Lao agronomist and civil society leader Sombath Somphone, visited Washington from April 28 to May 1 to urge Congress and the administration to press the Lao government on the case. Sombath was last seen on December 15, 2012, when video footage showed him being stopped at a police checkpoint and then driven away by two unidentified men. Foreign governments have demanded answers from the Lao government and offered to help with the investigation, but Vientiane has refused. Ng spoke to CSIS during her visit.

Japan pledges aid for bridge construction and study program. Japan on May 6 pledged $24 million in aid to Laos for bridge construction and a human resources development scholarship. The funding will be used to build a bridge in southern Laos to improve transportation between Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. The scholarship program will allow 20 people from Laos, including public servants, to visit Japan for training.


Timor-Leste establishes press council. Timor-Leste on May 6 passed a new media law establishing a press council answerable to Parliament and responsible for monitoring the behavior of journalists. The council will consist of three senior journalists and two citizens selected by Parliament, and will have the right to impose fines and jail journalists who are accused of breaking media laws. Authorities passed the law despite vocal protest by journalists.

Timor-Leste approves special administrative and economic zone. Timor-Leste in early May took steps toward creating the Oecussi Special Administrative Zone to allow greater financial and administrative autonomy for the region. Oecussi District is an exclave on the northern coast of the island of Timor, separated from the rest of Timor-Leste and surrounded on three sides by Indonesia. The planned zone will include a Social Market Economy Special Zone, a project headed by former prime minister Mari Alkatiri that will seek to create a strategic development hub.


Sultan implements first phase of shari’a law. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah officially implemented the first phase of Brunei’s new shari’a law code on April 29. The phase includes many of the code’s lesser penalties, including fines and potential jail time for Muslims who miss Friday prayers. The second and third phases will fully institute shari’a law and include death by stoning for Muslim adulterers. Outside groups including Human Rights Watch have condemned the new code, calling it a huge step backward for human rights in the sultanate.

Brunei and Malaysia conduct joint oil spill response exercises. Brunei and Malaysia carried out joint oil spill exercises called Golden Shield 2014 on May 6–8. The exercises aimed to increase the two nations’ joint capacity to manage spills. During opening remarks on May 6, Brunei Marine Department director Matnor Salleh emphasized the importance of interagency integration between the two countries to cope effectively with spills. The exercise was organized by Brunei Shell Petroleum and Shell Malaysia Exploration Production Facility.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More






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