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Asean Weekly ending 19 Apr 2013
Lawmakers halt deliberation on controversial mass organizations bill. Members of Indonesia’s House of Representatives halted deliberation on April 12 of a controversial bill on mass organizations that would have given the government authority to disband groups that fail to conform to the state ideology of Pancasila, which dictates five precepts, including belief in a god and the unity of Indonesia. Rights and labor groups joined Islamic organizations to denounce the bill, arguing it would have been a setback for democracy in Indonesia. Several lawmakers admitted that they decided not to push for the bill’s passage because it would have cost them voter support ahead of the 2014 legislative elections.
Government announces plans to revise fuel policy. Several Indonesian ministers and governors announced plans on April 16 to raise the price of subsidized fuel for private vehicles by 45 percent, from $1.74 to $2.53 per gallon, pending President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s approval. The price hike would save state coffers $2.2 billion annually. State-owned energy company Pertamina meanwhile announced on April 2 that it will install fuel monitoring systems in Jakarta by July and nationwide by 2014, saving another $768.8 million per year.
Democrat Party to adopt primary system to select 2014 presidential candidate. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced on April 9 that his ruling Democrat Party plans to adopt a U.S.-style primary system to allow rank-and-file members to choose the party’s presidential candidate for 2014. The move opens the nomination to candidates outside of the party, including army chief of staff Pramono Edhie Wibowo, former general Prabowo Subianto, and Constitutional Court chief justice Mahfud MD. The party must win at least 20 percent of seats in the 2014 legislative elections in order to nominate a presidential candidate without joining forces with another party.
Rohingya-Buddhist tensions spill over into attack at immigration center. Sixty Rohingya asylum seekers attacked eight Myanmar Buddhists at an immigration center in Sumatra on April 5. All eight of the Buddhists, who were being detained for illegal fishing, were killed, and 15 of the Rohingya were injured. Authorities originally said the attack was sparked by reports of anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar, but later revealed that it was in response to the alleged rape of two Rohingya women and the sexual assault of a third by some of the Buddhists.
Aceh adopts former separatist banner as official flag. Local officials in Aceh approved a bylaw on April 6 declaring the banner of the now-defunct pro-independence Free Aceh Movement (GAM) as the province’s official flag despite opposition from Jakarta. The central government has demanded Aceh reverse the decision, saying it promotes separatism in violation of Indonesia’s constitution. The dispute is unlikely to affect the 2005 peace agreement between the government and GAM, but the government fears it could stoke separatist sentiment in other parts of the country, especially Papua.
Kachin peace talks postponed; half of refugees inaccessible. Government peace negotiators and representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) announced on April 5 that the next round of peace talks between the two sides, scheduled for April 10, would be postponed. Officials did not give a reason, but Kachin civil society groups claimed it was due to Chinese objections to having Western observers present. Meanwhile, aid groups remain unable to access half of the 83,000 individuals displaced by fighting between Kachin and government troops because they are in KIO-controlled territory, according to an April 5 report from Integrated Regional Information Networks, a UN humanitarian news outlet.
Clashes break out in Shan State as government orders clearing for mega-dam. Thousands fled their homes in northern Shan State after government troops and Shan rebels clashed on April 5. Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) troops refused a demand by government forces to clear out of the area near a proposed Chinese-backed mega-dam, which led to violence. Rights groups, including the Shan Human Rights Foundation, report that government troop presence and sporadic fighting in Shan State have spiked in recent weeks. The SSA-N signed an initial cease-fire with the Myanmar government in January 2012, but little progress has been made toward a lasting peace agreement.
Vodafone-China Mobile consortium and Soros-backed firm bid for telecom licenses. Twenty-two entities submitted bids for mobile phone licenses in Myanmar in an auction, the first of its kind in the country, which closed in mid-April. Competitors include a consortium comprising Vodafone and China Mobile, the worlds’ two largest mobile phone providers, and a George Soros-backed partnership. Mobile phone penetration rates are expected to surge following the government’s announcement in early April that SIM card prices would be lowered from about $125 to $2. The sector, one of the first to liberalize in Myanmar, is estimated to be valued at $10 billion per year.
Myanmar to open auction for 30 oil and gas blocks. The Ministry of Energy announced April 11 that it would open 19 deep-water and 11 shallow-water oil and gas blocks for bids in June. The government will require prospective foreign bidders to enter into production-sharing contracts with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise for deep-water bids and to cooperate with state-owned companies for shallow-water bids. Competition for the blocks is likely to be tightly contested, with BP, Woodside, Shell, and Chevron expected to submit bids.
Malaysia sets elections for May 5. Malaysia’s Election Commission announced on April 10 that the country’s general elections will be held on May 5. The commission set April 20 as the date for parties to nominate candidates, giving them an unprecedented 15 days to campaign. The commission has a $131 million budget, its largest to date, to carry out the elections. A total of 222 parliamentary and 505 state assembly seats are up for grabs in the elections, which are expected to be the most competitive in Malaysia’s history.
Police to use controversial security law ahead of elections. Malaysian police plan to use the country’s controversial Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) against those who threaten national security during the campaign period leading up to the May 5 general elections, according to an April 10 Star article. The government passed the SOSMA in 2012 to replace the colonial-era Internal Security Act. SOSMA allows police to detain suspects for up to 28 days before bringing them to court. Kuala Lumpur police chief Mohmad Salleh also reminded citizens that any political activity is subject to Malaysia’s Peaceful Assembly Act and Election Offences Act.
Malaysia, Philippines exchange information on intruders as more arrive in Sabah. Malaysian and Philippine security forces are exchanging information on arrested followers of self-appointed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, according to Malaysian defense minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on April 9. Ahmad also said that Malaysian forces are prepared to deal with more intruders. Thirty-two armed men from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the Philippines were intercepted off the coast of Sabah on April 8. Kiram’s spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, warned Malaysia that the men had volunteered to go to Sabah because most Filipinos suffering in ongoing security operations there are civilians.
China’s railway car manufacturer builds factory in Malaysia. China’s leading railway car manufacturer. China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation, began building a $131 million factory in Malaysia on April 9. Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony in Batu Gajah, Perak, and said that the project shows Malaysia’s good bilateral relations with China. The factory will become the company’s ASEAN manufacturing and maintenance center, which will cover production, assembly, testing, overhaul, and refurbishment. The project’s first phase is expected to be completed in mid-2014.
Violence, Malaysia elections force peace talks delay. National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabut said on April 9 that the second round of peace talks between the Thai government and Muslim separatists in the country’s south, originally scheduled for April 29 in Kuala Lumpur, will likely be delayed. Official statements have attributed the delay to the upcoming general elections in Malaysia, but there is widespread speculation that recent violence in the south is a contributing factor. The number of attacks has increased since late March, but it remains unclear whether the attacks are meant to increase insurgents’ leverage in negotiations or to undermine the talks.
Cambodia, Thailand take temple dispute to International Court of Justice. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is hearing arguments that began on April 15 and will end on April 19 to address a Cambodian request for an interpretation of the court’s 1962 ruling on ownership of the contested Preah Vihear temple. The ICJ in that case awarded Cambodia ownership of the temple complex along the Thai-Cambodian border, but left nearly 3 miles of nearby land in dispute. A verdict is not expected for several months. Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has indicated that Thailand might not abide by the court’s decision if it finds in Cambodia’s favor.
Yingluck cleared of false assets declaration charge. Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission cleared Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on April 5 of a false assets declaration charge against her. The charges stemmed from a report Yingluck made regarding a loan of more than $1 million she had extended to Ad Index, a company in which her husband was a shareholder. The commission had been concerned that the loan was not real because Ad Index has yet to pay back the principal. Stock markets, which had been shaken by worries that the case would lead to political turmoil, rose on news of the commission’s ruling.
Migrant worker registration period extended for 120 days. Thailand’s cabinet on April 9 approved a 120-day extension for migrant workers in the country to register with authorities or face deportation. Approximately 384,000 migrant workers remain unregistered five months after the government’s initial deadline, which was most recently extended to April 14. The delay is being blamed on immigration service centers’ inability to process applications quickly enough.
Del Rosario, Kerry discuss U.S.-Philippine relations. Philippine secretary of foreign affairs Albert Del Rosario met with U.S. secretary of state John Kerry on April 2 during a visit to Washington to discuss the U.S.-Philippine bilateral relationship. The meeting focused on issues concerning the South China Sea and potential Philippine accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the future. Del Rosario and Kerry emphasized that the two countries are committed to strengthening their treaty alliance and enhancing their strategic
Manila presses charges against Chinese boat for damaging coral reef. Philippine authorities are pressing charges against 12 Chinese men who were aboard a boat that ran aground on Tubbataha Reef on April 8, the same reef on which the USS Guardian ran aground on January 17. The men, originally assumed to be fishermen, face charges of illegal entry and poaching because they violated a regulation banning commercial ships from entering the no-sail area around the reef. Philippine authorities announced April 15 that the vessel contained hundreds of dead endangered pangolins and no fishing gear.
Aquino pledges full benefits for World War II veterans. President Benigno Aquino announced on Philippine Veteran’s Day April 9 that he plans to deliver full benefits to Filipino World War II veterans. The government is looking to increase the monthly administrative disability pension of veterans who have reached the age of 70 to around $29. It also seeks to implement a Veterans Equity Compensation Law, which would provide $224 million worth of compensation to more than 18,700 veterans, and continue medical services to retired or active soldiers in as many as 599 public hospitals.
Philippines, U.S. engage in annual bilateral military exercises. U.S. and Philippine forces took part in the annual Balikatan, or "shoulder-to-shoulder," joint training exercises between April 5 and April 17. More than 8,000 troops engaged in live-fire exercises at Tarlac Military Testing Ground in the Philippines. Washington deployed a dozen F/A-18 fighters to the Philippines for the drills. China for the first time sent two military officers to take part in a closed-door discussion on disaster response as part of the exercises.
Vietnam jails government official over land eviction case involving hero farmer. The Vietnamese government jailed a government official on April 9 involved in a highly publicized land eviction case shortly after sentencing Doan Van Vuon, the farmer whose fish farm was seized, to five years in prison. A court decided to sentence the official on the basis of the botched land seizure, during which security officials engaged in a shoot-out with Vuon and his family that destroyed the property. Vuon has been hailed as a local hero for arming his family with homemade shotguns and resisting the land grab by authorities in January 2012.
Vietnam reports first bird flu death in over a year. Vietnamese health official Doan Tan Buu announced on April 9 that a 4-year-old boy has died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu after being hospitalized in southern Dong Thap Province since April 4. The boy developed a fever along with other symptoms on March 23. Vietnam's last human death from bird flu was in February 2012. Separately, Hanoi on April 3 banned poultry imports from China after the latter reported cases of H7N9 bird flu, the first time the strain has been reported in humans.
Government study finds that high-ranking officials have significant unofficial earnings. A 2012 study conducted by Vietnam’s government in cooperation with the World Bank found that the incomes of high-ranking government officials have increased due to extra earnings from unofficial sources, according to an April 7 Tuoi Tre article. Of those officials surveyed, 79 percent reported receiving other income in addition to their salaries. Most of those reported their extra income amounted to less than or the same as their official salaries, but 7 percent of those who received unofficial income admitted to having earned up to five times more than their official salaries.
United States, Japan complete bilateral consultations on TPP. Acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis announced on April 12 that the United States and Japan had completed bilateral consultations regarding the latter’s accession to ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. To secure a deal, Japan has agreed to phase out import tariffs on imported automobiles, establish a competitive environment for private insurers, and address a range of non-tariff barriers through parallel bilateral talks alongside the TPP negotiations. Japan must gain the approval of all 11 current TPP negotiating countries in order to join the talks, which it hopes to do as early as July, though that is unlikely.
Nephew of the late king joins opposition party. Prince Sisowath Thomico, a former aide and nephew of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, announced at the April 7 inaugural congress of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) that he had joined the party and will run for office in Cambodia’s July national elections. The prince criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party for failing to develop the country. CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who spoke to the congress via video conference, remains in self-exile in France.
Cambodia signs deal to export rice to the Philippines. Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh and the Philippines’ ambassador to Cambodia signed an agreement on April 4 for Cambodia to export rice to the Philippines. The Philippines will begin buying rice through state-owned Green Trade Company within the next two years. Improvements in rice processing plants and commodity transport systems have helped Cambodia boost its rice production in recent years. The deal moves Cambodia toward its goal of becoming a major world rice exporter and shipping 1 million tons of rice by 2016.
China pledges $2 billion to Cambodia during Hun Sen visit to Beijing. Prime Minister Hun Sen signed deals for $2 billion in aid and investment from China during a five-day visit to Beijing in mid-April. The deals include $48 million in grants, $500 million in soft loans for infrastructure projects, and $1.67 billion for an oil refinery. Cambodia and China also agreed to increase bilateral trade to $5 billion by 2017. The deal comes after China pledged $11 billion in January to build a steel plant and seaport in Cambodia.
South China Sea
U.S. Coast Guard helps Vietnam develop a force to protect fishermen. U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. William Lee said on April 9 that the United States and Vietnam are currently cooperating to develop a fighting force that will help Vietnamese fishermen "who get into trouble" in the contested waters of the South China Sea. Lee, who was speaking at the annual Sea-Air-Space Expo in National Harbor, Maryland, held talks in March with a senior Vietnamese naval officer and an army colonel to discuss how the U.S. Coast Guard can assist fishermen. A Vietnamese fishing vessel reportedly caught on fire on March 20 after Chinese ships fired a flare at it near the disputed Paracel Islands.
China invites tourists on boat tour of the Paracels. Executive vice governor of Hainan Province Tan Li said on April 6 that China will schedule tourist visits to the Paracel Islands ahead of Labor Day on May 1. Tourists will be allowed to visit the islands aboard cruise ship tours organized by Hainan Harbor and Shipping Holdings. Vietnam and China have a long-standing dispute over ownership of the Paracel Islands.
EIA estimates few oil and gas resources in contested areas of South China Sea. The U.S. Energy Information Administration released an analysis on April 3 finding that contested areas of the South China Sea hold insignificant deposits of oil and gas. Industry sources say that almost no oil and less than 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas exist in proven and probable fields near the Spratly Islands, according to the report. The Paracel Islands hold even less natural gas and no oil.
ASEAN chief asks Indonesia to address issues in South China Sea. ASEAN secretary-general Le Luong Minh asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on April 8 for Indonesia’s further involvement in pressing for a binding code of conduct to help manage the South China Sea dispute. Yudhoyono and Minh discussed ways to reduce tension in the sea, as well as the establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015. Minh said that finalizing a code of conduct between ASEAN and China is necessary to ensure the stability necessary for progress toward the ASEAN Community. The meeting was the first between the two leaders since Minh was inaugurated on January 7.
Trade and foreign ministers meet in Brunei to prepare for late-April summit. Trade and foreign ministers from the 10 ASEAN members met in Brunei on April 10–11 for discussions ahead of the April 24–25 ASEAN leaders’ summit. Ministers discussed challenges facing the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 as well as security issues, including disputes in the South China Sea. Indonesia’s foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, announced on April 11 that ASEAN and China had agreed to hold a special meeting to hasten negotiation of a code of conduct for the South China Sea, but a date has not been set.
ADB predicts strong growth for ASEAN in 2013, 2014. The Development Forecast 2013, released by the Asian Development Bank on April 9, predicts that economic growth in ASEAN will total 5.4 percent in 2013 and 5.7 percent in 2014, up from 5.5 percent in 2012. Southeast Asia was the only subregion in the Asia Pacific to see growth accelerate in 2012, led by strong public spending in the Philippines and fiscal recovery in Thailand. The report stresses that ASEAN countries will need to improve revenue efficiency and governance, and confront long-term structural issues to maintain their strong growth. The accompanying chart shows growth forecasts for each country in Southeast Asia.
ASEAN civil society groups hold forum in Brunei. Nongovernmental groups from across ASEAN met in Brunei for the annual Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples' Forum from April 6 to April 8. The conference included workshops on topics relevant to the three pillars of the ASEAN Community, including human rights, women, children and youth issues, migrant populations, workers’ rights, health policy, peace and security, and the environment. Representatives from Brunei civil society ended the event by officially handing off the chairmanship to Myanmar.
Singapore High Court upholds criminalization of homosexuality. The Singapore High Court on April 9 upheld the criminalization of homosexuality after dismissing one of two legal challenges that claimed the city-state’s laws against homosexuality are unconstitutional. The court ruled that Parliament must decide whether the law should be discarded or retained. The legislature voted to retain it in 2007.
Singapore economy contracts unexpectedly in the first quarter. Singapore’s economy contracted 1.4 percent in the first quarter of 2013 due to a sharp decline in manufacturing, according to an April 12 statement by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Despite the unexpected contraction, the Monetary Authority of Singapore predicted that the economy would still grow at around 2 percent in 2013. The manufacturing sector declined 11.3 percent in the first quarter, but the construction and services sectors grew 15 and 1.8 percent, respectively.
Singapore to work with Australia to fight tuberculosis, dengue fever, influenza. Singapore’s Agency for Science Technology and Research and Australia’s National Health Medical Research Council will grant $3.7 million to support five research teams working on tuberculosis, dengue fever, and influenza, according to an April 10 Australian article. The three diseases are identified as significant threats to public health in the Asia Pacific. A team from Singapore will research treatment and vaccines for tuberculosis, while the other teams will focus on developing improved vaccines against dengue, influenza, and hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Government official says controversial Chinese-backed rail project to move forward. Minister of Public Works and Transport Sommath Pholsena said plans to build a controversial high-speed rail financed by a Chinese loan will continue, according to an April 11 Vientiane Times report. The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party politburo in early April began negotiating the terms of the $7.2 billion loan, which is equal to 80 percent of the country’s annual GDP. The Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program have both criticized the terms of the loan, which include interest rates totaling nearly half of the principal, as dangerous for the country’s macroeconomic stability.
Toyota to open factory in Laos. Toyota announced on April 8 that it plans to open a $5.6 million production facility in the southern province of Savannakhet, its first in Laos. The factory, which will begin production by April 2014, will employ 180 workers and serve as a satellite operation for Toyota’s larger facilities in Thailand. Toyota said the base will support its expansion in the Asia Pacific, one of its most important markets.
Study finds climate change to impact Mekong region more than global average. A U.S. Agency for International Development-funded study released March 29 finds that the impact of climate change on the Lower Mekong Basin region will be worse than the global average. The report predicts significant changes in rainfall and climate in the region, including an annual average temperature increase of about 7–11 degrees Fahrenheit. The study warns the changes will have significant effects on staple products of the region, including livestock, fish, rice, and soya.
Australia urged to fund center to identify missing persons in Timor-Leste. Australian academics Soren Blau and Clinton Fernandes are urging the government to fund a missing persons identification center in Timor-Leste, according to an April 4 Radio Australia report. They argue that a center dedicated to helping Timorese find the remains of missing relatives is necessary. Researchers have estimated that over 200,000 people were killed during Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of Timor-Leste
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