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                                                                                                                       Asean Affairs  January 24, 2014 

Biweekly Update


Government declares state of emergency amid protesters’ attempts to shut down Bangkok. The Thai government on January 21 declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas to cope with increasing violence amid an effort by antigovernment protesters to shut down the city. Unknown assailants have attacked protesters several times, including with grenades on January 17 and 19, leaving one dead and more than 60 injured. Demonstrators launched the shutdown effort on January 13 in a bid to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign.

Yingluck confirms polls to go ahead, refuses to resign. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on January 15 confirmed that national elections planned for February 2 will go ahead despite calls by the Election Commission to postpone them. Yingluck made the decision after meeting with stakeholders to discuss postponing the polls to prevent violence. Opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban refused to attend the talks. Yingluck insisted on January 14 she would remain in office until the elections “to protect democracy.”

Anticorruption agency brings charges against 308 lawmakers. Thailand’s anticorruption commission on January 7 charged 308 members of Parliament’s lower house, most of whom are members of the ruling Pheu Thai party, with acting illegally in seeking to pass a constitutional amendment to make the country’s Senate fully elected. The commission will now investigate the lawmakers and, if it finds them guilty, could ban them from political office for five years. The commission also announced on January 16 that it will investigate Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s role in a government rice-pledging scheme after bringing formal charges against two of her cabinet members.

Rice farmers threaten protests after government misses another pledged payment. Thousands of farmers in northern Thailand have threatened to launch street protests after the government failed to meet its promise to pay for pledged rice by a January 15 deadline. Lack of funds and the ongoing political crisis in the country have contributed to the delay in paying the farmers, according to government officials. The Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, a state-owned bank entrusted with funding the policy, is seeking to raise $610 million in a bond auction to make up the budget shortfall.


Buddhist mob reportedly kills dozens of Rohingya. A Buddhist mob accompanied by local security forces in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state attacked the Rohingya village of Du Char Yar Tan on January 14, reportedly killing dozens in retaliation for the disappearance of a Buddhist police officer. Authorities have since been arbitrarily arresting Rohingya men and boys in the surrounding area. The human rights organization Fortify Rights reports that at least 40 Rohingya were killed in the initial attack and subsequent violence. Local and federal officials have denied the attack and refused to investigate. Various groups, including Doctors Without Borders, have documented evidence of the attack.

Movement for constitutional reform gains momentum as parliament opens session. Myanmar’s parliament opened on January 13 with lawmakers expected to take up the question of amending the constitution. The parliamentary Joint Committee for Constitutional Review is expected to make recommendations on necessary amendments by January 31. Lawmakers and members of civil society have called for limiting the military’s role in government, decentralizing power to the states, and altering the electoral system. But revoking a clause that bans those, like opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with a foreign spouse or children from serving as president is expected to overshadow other issues.

Ethnic peace talks postponed until February. The National Ceasefire Coordination Team, which represents 14 armed ethnic groups, met with the government’s chief negotiator, Aung Min, on January 11 and announced that peace talks scheduled to take place in Kayin state in January will be postponed until late February. The government is seeking to reach a nationwide cease-fire, but talks have stalled over various issues, including ongoing fighting with the Kachin Independence Army in northern Myanmar and ethnic demands for a federal army structure. Thirteen major armed ethnic groups will meet to coordinate their demands on January 20–22.

Report finds that Myanmar’s military continues to use rape as an instrument of war. The Women’s League of Burma on January 13 issued a report indicating that Myanmar’s armed forces continue to use rape as an instrument of war in offenses against ethnic communities. The report documents more than 100 rapes, which left 28 women dead, since a nominally civilian government took power in 2010. The rapes occurred largely in Kachin and northern Shan states. The group believes that the documented cases represent just a “drop in the bucket,” as the vast majority of rapes are not reported.

Buddhist monks push for ban on interfaith marriage. Radical monk Wirathu, a leader of the nationalist, anti-Muslim 969 movement, organized a conference in Mandalay on January 15 to discuss a proposed law banning marriages between Buddhist women and men of other faiths. More than 10,000 Buddhist monks attended the conference and formed the Organization of Race, Religion, and Belief to support the proposed law. Several lawmakers have expressed their support for such a law, though others, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, oppose it.


Significantly watered-down export ban takes effect as scheduled. A nationwide ban on the export of unprocessed ore, first passed in 2009, came into effect as scheduled on January 13, although Indonesian authorities watered it down first. Last-minute revisions to the ban allow for the continued export of higher-grade mineral concentrates, such as those already produced by U.S.-based mining giants Freeport-McMoRan and Newmont Mining, but with a costly 20 percent tax. An additional provision allows some firms to continue exporting nickel and bauxite if they show sufficient progress toward building downstream processing facilities.

Melanesian foreign ministers visit Papua to assess separatist group’s membership bid. The foreign ministers of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands visited the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua on January 13–14 to observe the human rights situation and assess a Papuan separatist group’s bid for membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). Several Papuan activist groups condemned the visit, noting that it was too short and highly orchestrated by Jakarta. The foreign minister of Vanuatu refused to participate when the Indonesian government said the delegation would not be allowed to meet with pro-independence groups and other members of civil society.

Extortion added to list of charges against Banten governor. Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission on January 13 announced that it will charge Ratu Atut Chosiyah, governor of Banten province in western Java, with extortion. She already faces several other changes, including bribing former Constitutional Court chief justice Akil Mochtar to fix an electoral dispute. The government hopes that a conviction will allow it to recover losses the governor caused to state coffers.

Mount Sinabung eruptions intensify; 26,000 now displaced. Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra province erupted 30 times on January 15, displacing about 6,000 additional residents. The volcano has been erupting sporadically since November and has now displaced roughly 26,000. The eruptions have devastated crops and homes in an area nearly three miles out from the volcano.

Floods and landslides kill 25, displace thousands. Heavy rainfall has caused deadly flooding and landslides in North Sulawesi province in early to mid-January, leading to 18 deaths and displacing an estimated 80,000 people in and around the city of Manado. Separate, ongoing floods in Jakarta have killed 7 people, displaced 30,000, and caused nearly $80 million in damage. Rains are forecast to continue until at least January 26.


Data shows $900 million in military upgrades under Aquino. Data from the Philippines’ Department of National Defense shows that authorities awarded $900 million for military upgrades during President Benigno Aquino’s first three years in office, according to a January 14 Philippine Star article. The government funded 36 upgrade projects spread across the Philippine army, navy, and air force. Aquino signed a law in 2012 to modernize the military, renewing a similar law passed in 1995 that was hampered by a lack of funds and a change in government priorities.

Department of Health declares measles outbreak in capital region. The Department of Health on January 3 declared a measles outbreak in nine localities in Metro Manila and other parts of the country after more than 2,200 cases were reported in 2013, leading to 21 deaths. The department recorded 760 suspected cases between January 1 and 11 in the capital region alone. To counter the outbreak, the government will launch a 12-day campaign in the capital region to vaccinate 2 million children ages six months to three years..

More than 30 killed, 200,000 displaced by floods and landslides. Flooding and landslides on the southern island of Mindanao have killed at least 34 people since January 10 and displaced more than 200,000. An offshore storm system dumped unusually heavy rains on Mindanao, leading to the severe floods. Torrential rain has disrupted local aviation and maritime activities, with several dozen domestic flights and shipping services canceled.

Government introduces cashless-checkless spending policy to reduce corruption. President Benigno Aquino on January 15 launched a program for cashless and checkless government transactions to improve budget management and make it harder for officials to misappropriate funds. In the first stage of the program, the government will distribute Cashless Purchase Cards, which function like corporate credit cards, during the first half of 2014 for purchases of medical supplies, meals, airline tickets, and construction supplies for minor repairs. Aquino aims to make government transactions 100 percent checkless and 80 percent cashless by the end of 2014.


Defense minister visits Hawaii, Washington. Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein traveled to Hawaii and Washington from January 12 to 17 for his first official visit to the United States. He met with Terry Robling, chief of the U.S. Marines, during a visit to U.S. Pacific Command and discussed modeling Malaysia’s newly launched marine corps on its U.S. counterpart. Hishamuddin and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met in Washington and discussed Malaysia’s security role in Southeast Asia. The Malaysian government afterward announced that its forces will step up joint exercises and training with the U.S. military.

Malaysia investigates priest for sedition in “Allah” row. Police on January 7 questioned Catholic priest Father Lawrence Andrew after he told the Malaysian Insider in late December that he would continue to use the word “Allah” to refer to God during church services despite a ban on its use by non-Muslims. Authorities are now investigating Father Andrew for sedition. He is editor of the Catholic weekly Herald, which became the center of a row over the use of “Allah” when a court in October banned it from using the term in its Malay-language edition.

Malaysia bans NGO coalition; Amnesty International decries “assault” on freedoms. The Malaysian government on January 8 declared the Coalition of Malaysian Non-Governmental Organizations, an umbrella group of human rights organizations, illegal. Authorities accused the group of pursuing issues that run contrary to Islam, including gay, lesbian, and transgender rights. Amnesty International responded by accusing the Malaysian government of leading a “disturbing assault” on the rights to freedom of expression and association.

Survey shows bribery, corruption worsening in Malaysia. A new survey by leading audit firm KPMG reveals that bribery and corruption are entrenched in the business culture of Malaysia, despite government efforts to combat them. An overwhelming 90 percent of those surveyed said corruption was a major problem for businesses in Malaysia, but the majority also said it was a necessary part of the system. Of those surveyed, 64 percent feel it is impossible to do business in Malaysia without paying bribes, and 71 percent said bribery and corruption are an inevitable cost of doing business.


Opposition in negotiations with Prime Minister Hun Sen. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) remains in negotiations with Prime Minister Hun Sen to end a months-long political standoff, according to a January 15 Reuters report. The opposition has boycotted Parliament since alleging that the ruling party stole national elections in July 2013. The CNRP has reportedly relaxed its demands, asking to chair parliamentary committees rather than the entire legislature, and demanding electoral reform, permission to run an independent television station, and early elections in 2015 or 2016. Hun Sen has asked UN special envoy Surya Subedi to mediate negotiations, according to a January 16 Voice of America article.

Opposition leaders released after questioning. Opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha were questioned by authorities at a Phnom Penh court on January 14 while thousands of supporters gathered outside. The two were released after four hours of questioning without being charged with inciting violence associated with recent demonstrations. After leaving court, both leaders told media that they would continue to support nonviolent protests. The court also questioned Rong Chhun, leader of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions.

Clothing retailers condemn crackdown on garment workers. Seven major international clothing brands, including H&M, Gap, and Adidas, sent an open letter to the Cambodian government on January 7 condemning a violent crackdown four days earlier that left four striking garment workers dead. The retailers called for both sides to abstain from violence and negotiate wage increases peacefully through the establishment of a scheduled wage review.


Vietnam to issue initial public offerings for state-owned firms. The Vietnamese government is planning initial public offerings (IPOs) for its largest state-owned companies, according to a January 15 article in the Wall Street Journal. The IPOs are part of an effort to restructure Vietnam’s economy and make it more open to foreign investors. The country’s Finance Ministry said that Vietnam Airlines and Vietnam National Textile and Garment Group, known as Vinatex, are among those that will offer IPOs in 2014.

Vietnam takes delivery of Kilo-class submarine from Russia. Vietnam took possession of its first Russian-built Kilo-class submarine on January 3 and is expected to receive its second in late January. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung agreed to purchase the submarines for $2 billion during a 2009 visit to Moscow. The submarines will be used for shallow-water patrols, especially in the South China Sea, and will contribute to Vietnam’s coastal defense capabilities.

Riot breaks out at Samsung factory. Construction workers building a new Samsung factory in northern Vietnam clashed with security guards and police on January 9. The riot, which injured 13 people, started over an argument between workers and security guards and lasted three hours before police restored order. No damage was done to the factory construction site, a multibillion dollar project that Samsung began in 2013.

Prime minister visits Cambodia. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Cambodia on January 12–14 to promote bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Dung met with Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni. He also presided over the groundbreaking of a new bridge and the opening of a hospital, both funded by Vietnam. Dung’s visit came just a week after a violent crackdown on labor and opposition protests by Cambodian authorities and less than a month after Hun Sen visited Vietnam. Vietnam is Cambodia’s fifth-largest investor, and trade between the two countries totaled $3 billion in 2012.


Housing market cools to a four-year low. Growth in the Singapore housing market has slowed to a four-year low as the government continues to enact policies aimed at cooling demand and mitigating excessive leverage, according to a January 15 Bloomberg article. Home sales dropped 82 percent in December from a year before, while average home sales for all of 2013 fell 33 percent. Government efforts to cool Asia’s second-most-expensive housing market (Hong Kong ranks first) are intended to avoid a potential property bubble.

Visitors to Singapore up 10 percent in 2013. Singapore reported a 10 percent increase in international visitor arrivals in 2013, to 3.9 million, and a 2 percent increase in tourism-related revenue, according to a January 15 Channel NewsAsia report. Despite the increase in numbers, tourism expenditure by business travelers was down 9 percent in 2013, reportedly as a result of global businesses cutting back travel budgets.

Singapore hosts Southeast Asia’s largest art fair. Singapore hosted its fourth annual Art Week from January 13 to 19, featuring 130 galleries, along with auctions, wine tastings, and a video by newly freed Russian band Pussy Riot. The event is the largest art fair in Southeast Asia. Single pieces of art sold for well over $1 million. The art fair is part of Singapore’s drive to establish itself as an art hub to “lure more high-net-worth individuals to settle,” according to Bloomberg.
Trans-Pacific Partnership

Trade Promotion Authority bill faces opposition in U.S. Congress. Lawmakers on January 9 introduced a bill in Congress to grant President Barack Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), considered crucial to the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The bill would allow trade deals negotiated by the administration to be passed without amendments by a simple majority in Congress. TPA faces significant opposition from the president’s fellow Democrats. Republican leaders are demanding that the Democratic caucus secure at least 50 votes for the bill before they will introduce it in the House of Representatives.

Report outlines benefits of expanded TPP for ASEAN countries. A report to be released in January by the East-West Center outlines the potential economic benefits of an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement for ASEAN countries. The report says that the TPP would create more economic benefits for ASEAN countries if it were expanded to include Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. It also suggests that ASEAN’s total gains from participation in the TPP would be far greater than under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
South China Sea

Hainan introduces fishing rules, attracts regional concerns. A regulation requiring foreign vessels to seek permission from authorities in China’s southern province of Hainan before conducting fishing or surveying activities within waters under the province’s jurisdiction officially took effect on January 1. The regulation seeks to implement requirements first passed by Chinese authorities in 2004. Hainan’s nominal jurisdiction includes all the waters within China’s disputed “9-dash line” claim in the South China Sea. Vietnam and the United States have both criticized the regulation, and the Philippines on January 14 said it would ignore it.

Philippines seeks additional ships from the United States. The Philippines said on January 15 that it wants to acquire two more ships from the United States to boost its maritime protection capabilities. The new acquisitions would be part of a $40 million military assistance package that U.S. secretary of state John Kerry announced during a December visit to the Philippines. The United States in 2012 and 2013 provided the Philippines with two decommissioned Coast Guard cutters. Philippine armed forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista said that the country needs six more frigates to guard its coastline effectively.


Laos, Timor-Leste expected to be among top 10 fastest-growing economies in 2014. The economy of Laos is expected to grow 8.5 percent in 2014, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Lao economic growth is expected to be tied with that of Timor-Leste and Iraq as the sixth-fastest-growing in the world. Laos’s economy grew 8 percent in 2013.

U.S. funding for landmine clearance in Laos reaches historic high. The United States will spend $12 million in fiscal year 2014 on unexploded ordnance clearance (UXO), victim assistance, and risk education in Laos, according to a January 21 press release from the nonprofit group Legacies of War. The funding was included in a spending bill passed by Congress on January 16. The United States heavily bombed Laos during the Vietnam War, leaving it more contaminated by UXO that any other country in the world.

Crime rate falls 21 percent, prosecutors report. Lao prosecutors on January 7 reported that the country’s 2013 crime rate was 21 percent lower than in 2012. Authorities claim that 94 percent of criminal cases filed with prosecutors in 2013 were resolved, up 9 percent from the previous year. Somphan Phengkhammy, vice president of the National Assembly, praised prosecutors but also said that government officials had continued to breach laws and regulations, according to a January 8 Vientiane Times report.

South Korea provides $200 million loan to support Lao development. South Korea on January 10 agreed to provide a $200 million loan to the Lao government for development projects to help Laos reach its Millennium Development Goals by and leave the ranks of least-developed countries by 2020. The projects funded by the loan will focus on infrastructure development and irrigation, according to a January 14 Vientiane Times report.


Prime minister announces plans to retire. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão has announced that he will step down in September, according to a January 9 report by New Zealand’s Scoop Media. Gusmão, whose party was elected to a new five-year term in July 2012, said that his decision is meant to create space for a new generation of leaders. A new prime minister will be chosen in by-elections in late 2014. Justice Minister Deonisio Babo, Education Minister Bendito Freitas, and Minister of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers Agio Pereira are the top contenders to replace Gusmão, according to Tempo Semanal.

Timor-Leste takes Australia to the International Court of Justice. Timor-Leste brought a case against Australia at the International Court of Justice on January 20–22, alleging that Canberra spied on Timorese officials to gain the upper hand in negotiating a 2006 deal to split revenues from gas fields in the Timor Sea. The Greater Sunrise gas fields are estimated to be worth up to $40 billion, and Timor-Leste is seeking to cancel the agreement, which it considers unfair. Dili previously took Canberra to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013, but that effort fell apart when Australian authorities raided the offices of Timor-Leste’s lawyer on December 3.

Timor-Leste launches national campaign to combat hunger. Timor-Leste on January 9 became the first country in Southeast Asia to launch a national campaign as part of the UN Zero Hunger Challenge. The campaign will focus on reducing rates of malnutrition and stunted growth in children. The challenge’s long-term focus is on creating resilient and sustainable food security in the face of “threat multipliers” like climate change.


Myanmar hosts ASEAN foreign ministers meeting. Myanmar hosted its first meeting as ASEAN chair on January 17, welcoming foreign ministers and representatives to a retreat in Bagan. Officials reportedly discussed remaining steps needed to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015, China’s likely influence on ASEAN proceedings given its role as Myanmar’s largest foreign investor, and methods of addressing smog pollution in the region. Officials including Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa also raised questions about the situation of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

Human Rights Watch finds little progress in ASEAN human rights. Human Rights Watch (HRW) on January 21 released its World Report 2014. The report did not cover Brunei or Laos. Except for Myanmar, it found that the human rights situation in Southeast Asian nations either stagnated or deteriorated in 2013 (The report did not cover Brunei or Laos.):

Cambodia. HRW cites a deteriorating situation in Cambodia since the July 2013 national elections, with security forces using violence against protestors with impunity. The report also accuses Cambodian authorities of failing to protect land rights and of employing arbitrary detention against detractors.

Indonesia. HRW finds that Indonesia made little progress on human rights in 2013, including freedom of the press, refugee rights, and women’s rights. The report finds growing religious intolerance, attacks on religious minorities, and a worsening situation in Papua especially worrying.
Malaysia. HRW observes a deterioration of the human rights situation in Malaysia since elections in May 2013, in which the ruling party lost the popular vote but kept power. The report cites an increase in administrative detention without charges; restrictions on freedom of assembly, speech, and religion; and growing intolerance of ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities.

Myanmar. HRW asserts that Myanmar made significant improvements in protecting freedom of assembly, speech, and the press, but notes that anti-Muslim and interethnic violence remains a serious concern, as does the inconsistent application of laws.

Philippines. HRW accuses the government of Philippine president Benigno Aquino of failing to follow through on promises to improve the human rights situation. It notes that while the number of extrajudicial killings has dropped, investigations into them remain insufficient. HRW also notes that the Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, and finds that government-sanctioned militias continued to commit abuses in 2013.

Singapore. HRW finds that Singapore’s human rights situation stagnated in 2013, with the government seriously restricting freedoms of assembly, speech, and association while failing to adequately protect the rights of migrant workers and sexual minorities.

Thailand. HRW accuses Thailand’s government of failing to combat impunity by officials and security forces, especially regarding 2010 violence against antigovernment protesters in Bangkok. It also finds that Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté law is a serious restriction of free speech, and that the government fails to protect the rights of migrant workers and asylum seekers. The report notes continued abuses by insurgents in southern Thailand despite initial peace talks by the government.

Vietnam. HRW says the human rights situation in Vietnam seriously deteriorated in 2013, with worsening crackdowns against human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers. The report found that Vietnam continues to ban independent organizations, restrict the operation of religious groups, and allow abuses against prisoners.


Increase in students attending religious schools in 2013. Religious schools in Brunei saw a moderate increase in student registrations in 2013, from about 5,000 to about 5,400, according to a January 9 Jakarta Post article. The increase is likely due to the country’s 2012 Compulsory Religious Education Order, which requires all Muslim children born after January 1, 2006, to receive a religious education. The Ministry of Religious Affairs reports that there has also been a slight increase in the number of non-Muslim students attending religious schools in Brunei.

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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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