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Thais vote to approve new constitution; government says election will take place in 2017. Voters in an August 7 referendum voted to approve a draft constitution put forth by the military government, with 61 percent of votes in favor. The majority of “no” votes were in the southern border provinces, home to a long-running separatist insurgency, and in the north and northeast, where supporters of the opposition Pheu Thai party dominate. Critics warned that the constitution would grant inordinate power to the military. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha on August 9 confirmed that a general election will now take place around November 2017.
Wave of bombings across Thailand kills four, injures dozens. A wave of coordinated bombings on August 11 and 12 killed four people and injured at least 33. Unlike the bombings that frequently strike in Thailand’s restive southern provinces, these bombs were placed in popular tourist areas, including Hua Hin, Phuket, Phang Nga, and Surat Thani. The four killed were all Thai nationals. Police found and defused at least five additional bombs over the weekend. Authorities were quick to rule out terrorism, blaming the attacks on local sabotage, and subsequent statements have implied a connection to groups displeased with the results of the August 7 constitutional referendum.
Authorities propose tracking tourists’ phones. Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission on August 9 submitted a proposal to monitor foreign tourists’ locations through SIM cards. The regulating agency said it will consult police and tourism authorities before deciding whether to implement the proposal. Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the commission, said that the policies were intended to assist in locating tourists that overstay their visas or flee from the police.
U.S. summons Philippine envoy over Duterte’s “inappropriate” remarks. The State Department on August 8 said it had met with the Philippine chargé d’affaires in Washington, Patrick Chuasoto, to discuss what it says are President Rodrigo Duterte’s “inappropriate” remarks about U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. Duterte used a Filipino slur to refer to Goldberg during a speech to Philippine military officers on August 5. He also accused Goldberg of interfering with the Philippine presidential elections earlier this year, when Goldberg criticized Duterte’s remarks on the sexual assault of an Australian missionary.
Duterte calls out government officials allegedly involved in drug trade, vows to wipe out oligarchs. President Rodrigo Duterte on August 7 released the names of 150 officials allegedly involved in the drug trade. The list includes officials in law enforcement, the judiciary, and provincial governments. Duterte instructed these individuals to submit to the police in order to face administrative charges. Duterte also said during a speech on August 3 he would apply the same measures to corrupt oligarchs in the Philippines’ business sector to hold them accountable.
Environment secretary leads crackdown on illegal mining. Secretary Gina Lopez on August 8 said the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources would oversee the shutdown of small-scale mining operations that have not been monitored by the government. The new policy is part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s environmental policies against mining and other extractive industries, which he calls “sunset industries” to be phased out. The shutdown of targeted mining sites would affect 60 percent of gold-producing operations in the Philippines.
21st Century Panglong Conference to open on August 31. Deputy director general of the President’s Office Zaw Htay on August 8 announced that the 21st Century Panglong Conference will begin on August 31. The five-day conference will see around 1,000 representatives from the government, ethnic armed groups, political parties, and the military gather to discuss a framework for peace and national reconciliation in Myanmar. Some ethnic leaders have expressed concerns that holding a peace conference not long after the new government took office will not give them enough time to prepare for it.
Aung San Suu Kyi visits China. State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi on August 17 arrived in Beijing for a four-day visit to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang. Bilateral economic cooperation and Myanmar’s peace process, as well as the stalled Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam project in northern Myanmar, are expected to be high on the agenda for the visit. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on her first foreign trip outside ASEAN since becoming foreign minister, was given an official welcome reserved for heads of state in recognition of her position as Myanmar’s de facto leader.
Military, KIA clash during ethnic summit in Kachin State. Armed clashes broke out on July 28 between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kutkai Township in northern Kachin State. Lt. Col. Naw Bu, an official with the KIA’s political wing, said KIA troops were surrounded by “three military columns,” which attacked them with small arms and artillery. The clashes occurred as ethnic groups gathered in Mai Ja Yang in southern Kachin State in an attempt to forge a consensus among themselves ahead of the 21st Century Panglong Conference.
Rocket attack targeting Marina Bay from Indonesian island foiled. Indonesian authorities on August 6 arrested six suspects for planning to fire a rocket at Singapore’s Marina Bay from Indonesia’s Batam Island. The six men are reportedly members of a terrorist group known as KGR@Katibah GR. They were arrested in various locations throughout Batam. Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said it was aware of the attack plans and had been working with Indonesian authorities. Indonesian officials later reported that the group had “dozens of members” and has been active for two years. Law enforcement authorities allege that Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian fighter and member of the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, orchestrated and funded the plot from Syria.
Daughter of Lee Kuan Yew criticizes contempt of court bill. Lee Wei Ling, the daughter of late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, on August 14 called a draft contempt of court bill being deliberated in Singapore’s parliament “an attempt to muzzle public opinion” on her Facebook page. The bill, which sailed through parliament on August 15, is the government’s effort to provide greater clarity on what constitutes contempt in Singapore. Lee earlier this year openly accused her brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, of trying to build a political dynasty over his government’s commemorations of Lee Kuan Yew’s death.
Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia agree to step up information sharing on counterterrorism. Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs on August 10 said that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have agreed on two priorities to improve counterterrorism efforts. Singaporean minister of home affairs and minister for law K Shanmugam met with Malaysia’s deputy prime minister and minister of home affairs Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, agreeing to exchange biometric information and best practices in countering violent extremism. Shanmugam also met with Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal, and security affairs Wiranto, who agreed that both priorities were important.
Police chief highlights shortcomings of counterterrorism law. National police chief Tito Karnavian on August 6 said the House of Representatives should pay close attention to weaknesses in the 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law, as lawmakers have been deliberating amendments to the law in order to beef up Indonesia’s counterterrorism efforts. Among the weak points Tito highlighted are terrorism prevention and the lack of a post-sentence rehabilitation process for convicted terrorists. Tito also raised the need to include clauses on respect for human rights in the new legislation.
Unidentified gunmen kidnap Indonesian sailor in Sulu Sea. An Indonesian sailor was kidnapped from a Malaysian-flagged vessel on August 3 by four unidentified armed men in the Sulu Sea northeast of Malaysia’s Sabah State. The gunmen kidnapped the Indonesian captain after failing to receive a $2,500 ransom, but released two other crew members. Indonesian authorities last month decided to ban Indonesian vessels from sailing to Philippine waters amid an increase in kidnappings at sea in recent months. Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are expected to conduct coordinated patrols in the waters between the three countries soon.
Pertamina considers $8.4 billion Iran oil refinery proposal. Wiratmaja Puja, director general of oil and gas at Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Resources, on August 9 said the government will consider a proposal from Iran to build an $8.4 billion oil refinery in Java. The proposed plant would have a processing capacity of over 100,000 barrels a day and be built over four or five years. A feasibility study on the project is currently under way. The government has also received bids from China, Kuwait, and Russia.
Former UMNO leaders register new political party. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin on August 9 submitted papers to register a new political party called Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. Mahathir, who quit the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in February, and Muhyiddin, who was expelled from UMNO in June, have been calling on Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign over his role in the scandal surrounding state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The new party’s stated goals are to fight corruption and support the rights all of Malaysians.
Malaysia signs trade MoU with Cambodia. Representatives from the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation on August 10 signed a memorandum of understanding covering trade cooperation between the two countries. The agreement covers information exchange, capacity building, and trade promotion. Two-way trade between the two countries reached $388 million in 2015, and Malaysia is currently the fifth-largest investor in Cambodia.
Chinese hackers blamed for cyberattacks on Vietnamese airports. A team of hackers alleged to be from the Chinese hacking group 1937cn on July 29 hijacked the flight information screens and sound systems of Vietnam’s Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat airports in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, respectively, to broadcast statements against Vietnamese and Philippine claims in the South China Sea. The website of Vietnam Airlines, Vietnam’s national carrier, was also defaced, with the data of approximately 411,000 VIP customers leaked online. The group 1937cn denied involvement in the cyberattacks, which delayed more than 100 flights.
Vietnamese firm cancels $26 million deal with Chinese pipeline supplier. Vietnamese construction firm Vinaconex has scrapped a $26 million contract with Chinese pipe supplier Xinxing Pipes International Development, according to an August 9 report by Thanh Nien Daily. Under the original deal, Vinaconex would have bought ductile iron pipes from Xinxing Pipes for the Song Da Water Project, aiming to provide 200,000 households in Hanoi with clean water. The decision came amid public outcry over negative reviews of Xinxing Pipes’ materials and allegations of a lack of transparency in the bidding process.
USTR notifies Congress of draft TPP implementing bill. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on August 12 notified the U.S. Congress that the administration of President Barack Obama will soon send a draft implementing bill for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement to Congress. The notification, which is required at least 30 days before the administration plans to submit the bill, is a signal that Obama still plans to pursue ratification of the TPP before his term ends in January 2017. Congress is currently on recess and will return on September 6.
South China Sea
Satellite images show construction of aircraft hangars on disputed islets; China claims military flights over contested features. Satellite images published by CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative on August 1 show reinforced aircraft hangars and other structures built by China on disputed features in the South China Sea. The constructions on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef will allow each islet to accommodate 24 fighter jets and several larger bombers. Separately, China on August 6 announced it had completed air patrols over the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal, the latter claimed by both Beijing and Manila. Videos of the patrols were undated and did not specify if the patrols took place after the July 12 arbitral tribunal decision that declared China’s nine-dash line invalid.
Vietnam purportedly deploys rocket launchers to Spratlys bases. Hanoi has moved rocket launchers onto five of its military bases on the Spratly Islands, according to an August 10 report by Reuters. The launchers, which have the capacity to strike China’s military facilities on Subi Reef, Mischief Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef, reportedly form part of the Israeli-made EXTRA rocket system. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said the information was “inaccurate” without further comment.
Vietnam, Singapore bag first-ever Olympic gold medals. Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh and Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling won their countries’ first-ever Olympic gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Vinh on August 7 delivered a near-perfect final shot in the men’s 10-meter air pistol event, defeating Brazil’s Felipe Wu. Schooling on August 12 beat U.S. swimming powerhouse Michael Phelps in the men’s 100-meter butterfly, setting an Olympic record of 50.39 seconds. Thailand won two golds in weightlifting, while Indonesia secured two silvers in weightlifting, Malaysia a silver medal in diving, and the Philippines one silver in weightlifting.
U.S. International Religious Freedom Report spotlights developments in Brunei, Myanmar, and Vietnam. The U.S. Department of State on August 10 released the annual Report on International Religious Freedom covering developments related to religious freedom in countries across the world. The report mentions that Brunei has implemented phase one of its Sharia Penal Code and is set to proceed to phase two, which includes corporal punishment such as amputation for theft, by 2017. The report expresses concern that four new laws related to the “protection of race and religion” in Myanmar, if enforced, will infringe on the exercise of religious freedom and other human rights. With regard to Vietnam, the report acknowledges the recently released draft law on religion and belief, which it says made minimal changes to current regulations on religion.
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Indonesia to launch 13th economic package this month
Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution said on Wednesday that the government would release its 13th economic policy package in August, adding that the draft had been completed.
Darmin said the 13th package was largely an extension of the previous one, but would expand its focus beyond industry. The 12th package focused on small and medium enterprises.
"We are just waiting to schedule a meeting with the president," Darmin told reporters at his office. He refused to give the exact date the new policy package would come into effect.
The ministry team must meet with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo one more time to finalize the details, Darmin said.