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   Southeast Asia
  
Indonesia and those dashed lines
Speculation that Indonesia has abandoned its mediator status in the South China Sea sovereignty dispute ignores that the country has never laid claim to the hundreds of "features" in the Spratlys and the Paracel islands around which much of the conflict has revolved. There is also the problem that China's "nine-dash map" is incomplete, inaccurate, inconsistent and legally questionable. - Arif Havas Oegroseno (Apr 17, '14)



Philippines tests rule of law
The Philippines chose the right course in submitting its nearly 4,000-page memorial to an arbitration tribunal at The Hague arguing against China's nine-dash line and other aspects of Beijing's South China Sea claim. Now the international community must convince China that preserving the international rule of law is in its own best interests. - Gregory Poling (Apr 11, '14)

Manila files South China Sea claim
After a year of futile diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the South China Sea disputes, the Philippines has risked estrangement with China by pressing ahead this week with an unprecedented arbitration case before a United Nations court at The Hague. - Richard Heydarian (Apr 3, '14)

Jakarta rejects China's 'nine-dash line'
Indonesia has ended decades of strategic ambiguity towards China's nine-dash line map in the South China Sea by formally announcing that it overlaps Indonesian territories. Jakarta had long feared irredentist claims by Beijing towards the resource-rich Natuna Island chain but avoided confrontations that risked its position as mediator. With that placid stance officially abandoned, all regional bets are off. - Ann Marie Murphy (Apr 3, '14)

Jonathan Schell and
the fate of the Earth

The writer Jonathan Schell, who died last week, made his name with his first book, his 1967 Vietnam War account of the destruction of the village of Ben Suc. He went on to forge a best-seller on the perils of the nuclear arms race and later wrote on humanity's "accelerating capacity for self-destruction". Tom Engelhardt recounts the impact of Schell's work and how it helped shape our thinking and our world. (Apr 2, '14)

The more we 'won', the more we lost
An interview with Jonathan Schell on America's Vietnam debacle. - Chris Appy (Apr 2, '14)

Politics take the shine off Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi has long been a symbol in Myanmar, frightening the ruling junta and giving hope to imprisoned reformers during the countryís darker days. But now that she is inside the system, some of her magic is wearing off as she responds to demands placed on a politician rather than on an captive icon for freedom. - Amantha Perera (Apr 1, '14)

Foreign aid agencies flee Myanmar riots
International aid groups have fled the capital of western Myanmar's Rakhine State amid riots by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists over reports that a German aid group had removed a Buddhist flag from its building. Such flags have been raised across Sittwe in recent days as a symbol of opposition to the disliked Rohingya Muslim community. - Min Thein Aung, Kyaw Thu, and Kyaw Kyaw Aung (Mar 31, '14)

New ties, new risks in the South China Sea
Philippine President Benigno Aquino is set to sign an extended defense pact with the United States, much to the chagrin of those against a more permanent US military presence on Philippine soil. As more military hardware heads for contested maritime areas in the South China Sea, the deal's unspoken aim is to bolster Manila's deterrence amid China's assertiveness, yet goes against Washington's preference for stronger military-to-military ties among the region's neighbors. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Mar 27, '14)

Widodo no shoo-in to lead Indonesia
Many Indonesians see Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo as an honest candidate for president, but his bid for victory in the July 9 election depends on him finding a running mate and platform that are acceptable to big business and the military. While Widodo has taken bold and progressive policy steps in Jakarta, the results remain unproven just like the man himself. - Keith Loveard (Mar 26, '14)

A federal army for Myanmar?
Myanmar's top brass has dismissed demands by ethnic groups that their militias be integrated into a federal army as part of a peace deal, suggesting the generals would rather see Kachin, Karen and Shan armies crushed. Yet by allowing these groups to command their own brigades or battalions, the army could attack the disunity that's imperiling Myanmar's political transition. - Saw Greh Moo (Mar 24, '14)

The devil and the deep South China Sea
The recent Philippines complaint to the UN against China, and Vietnam's reaction to it, show that Manila and Hanoi are natural allies in confronting Beijing's claims in the South China Sea. But Manila especially needs to be cautious about inviting an expanded US military presence, or it may end up under American hegemony instead of Chinese. - Walden Bello (Mar 20, '14)

Crisis of credibility
in Malaysian plane search

The false leads, poor communication and dithering over radar findings which have characterized Malaysia's handling of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could have far-reaching consequences for staff in the upper echelons of the military and civil service. As unflattering global scrutiny intensifies, the country's top leadership is also forced to face some tough questions. - Anil Netto (Mar 20, '14)

Laws enforce discrimination in Myanmar
A special commission in Myanmar is now drafting two laws, one restricting religious conversions and another to control population growth. Both laws are directed against the country's minority Muslim community and a result of an intense prejudice that has swept many areas of the country amid a deep-seated Burman Buddhist sense of fragility. - David I Steinberg (Mar 18, '14)

Eyes on Crimea, China makes its move
China could hardly have chosen a better time to blockade Philippine ships to extend its hold over disputed territories, given the distractions of Crimea and the mystery of a missing Malaysian airliner. There is no question that Beijing has dominance in mind; questions over what the Philippines' neighbors in Southeast Asia will - or will not - do may be answered as early as tomorrow. - Donald K Emmerson (Mar 17, '14)

Confusion deepens over Flight 370
Malaysian authorities have dismissed reports that the missing Malaysian Airlines jet carrying mostly passengers from China could have flown on for up to four hours after disappearing off the radar, as friends and relatives of those on board continued their agonizing wait for news. Adding to confusion over the fate of Flight 370, China said satellite images of supposed wreckage were posted on a state website by mistake. (Mar 14, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Myanmar leaves old dichotomies behind
The politics of Myanmar have become far more multipolar, defying the popular view that insists on seeing events there through a prism of democracy versus authoritarianism. The reality is more complex, reflecting the fact that neither the government of former general Thein Sein nor the National League for Democracy has a plan for solving the country's ethnic tensions.
- Adam P MacDonald (Mar 14, '14)

Election threatens democracy in Indonesia
The rising influence of media moguls with designs on high office in Indonesia prompts fears that this year's elections could reverse rather than boost the country's democratic evolution. The presence of New Order generals as candidates also raises concerns that the army will have renewed strength to manipulate future governments, after losing much of its Suharto-era power. - David Adam Stott (Mar 13, '14)

Mars joins friendly palm-oil push
Mars has become the latest multinational to implement palm-oil supply guidelines aimed at tackling deforestation, principally in Southeast Asia, caused by the food industry. Promises from household names over forest-friendly products suggest global pressure is having an impact. - Carey L Biron (Mar 13, '14)

Asian 'Internet enemies' tighten controls
China and Vietnam have extended controls on the Internet and North Korea is using "increasingly sophisticated" means to spread disinformation through the worldwide web, according to a new report which labels the three nations as the biggest "Enemies of the Internet". Raising concerns about rising cyber-censorship the world over, Reporters Without Borders urged the United Nations to take measures to protect online freedoms. - Rachel Vandenbrink (Mar 13, '14)

Asia's long history of carnage in the air
The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines' Flight 370 has become almost as bizarre as the disappearance of the aircraft itself and the theories surrounding its demise. If the plane vanished because it was downed by a bomb, it would be the latest in a long line of carnage at the hands of perpetrators who have ranged from scheming husbands to North Korean spies. - John McBeth (Mar 12, '14)

Chinese anger mounts over missing plane
Friends and family of Chinese passengers on the Malaysia Airlines jet that has disappeared over the South China Sea are expressing mounting frustration as the international search for the Beijing-bound aircraft widens. Amid growing mystery over what caused Flight 370 to drop off the radar, relatives of some of the missing 239 people on board the ill-fated airliner are flying into to Kuala Lumpur with questions they want answered. (Mar 11, '14)

Asia rallies to find missing airliner
Southeast Asian countries, China and the US have put territorial conflicts on hold in the South China Sea to join a hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner. With mystery surrounding the reason why Flight 370 dropped off the radar, the assembled navies have so far found no wreckage nor any trace of the 239 people aboard, now presumed dead. (Mar 10, '14)

Malaysian plane crashes off Vietnam
A Malaysia Airlines plane carrying more than 200 passengers, two thirds of them from China, has crashed mysteriously off the Vietnamese coast, according to reports. Vietnam rescue planes spotted large oil slicks near where the Beijing-bound plane was located when it lost contact with air traffic controllers after taking off from Kuala Lumpur late Friday. (Mar 9, '14)

BOOK REVIEW
Modern obsession with primitive art
Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman
Meticulous research drives intriguing conclusions over the mysterious disappearance in 1961 of Michael Rockefeller, the young art collector son of then-New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, who is suspected of having been eaten by cannibals in Indonesia. The tale is far more fascinating if read as an examination of the West's dangerous obsession with primitive man and the art he makes. - Philip Smucker (Mar 7, '14)

Election boycotts and democracy
Myanmar's National League for Democracy faces a dilemma over presidential elections set for 2015. If it boycotts the poll because the government refuses to change the constitution to allow party leader Aung San Suu Kyi to stand, the government can make the vote free and fair, and gain legitimacy. It would be unwise to prejudice democratic progress on the basis of whether one person is denied the opportunity to be a candidate. - David I Steinberg (Mar 7, '14)

Towards a better union in Myanmar
The "Spirit of Panglong", referring to the 1947 conference that brought together Burman, Shan, Kachin, and Chin political leaders and formed the basis for an independent country, tugs hard enough at the national imagination for many in Myanmar to advocate a reprisal. Yet, even after learning from its meanings, failures, and promises, such a modern-day "conference" could still fall hauntingly short of being an effective vehicle for harmony and stability. - Matthew J Walton (Mar 7, '14)

Less money, less faith in US 'pivot'
A planned 18% cut in US military spending this year will likely give pause to Asia-Pacific allies who expected the "pivot to Asia" strategy to beef up the American presence. Cuts in troops and weaponry needn't necessarily equal a decline in military capability, but partners such as the Philippines and Vietnam should nonetheless prepare to assume greater responsibility for their own security. - Khanh Vu Duc and Duvien Tran (Mar 6, '14)

Vietnam risks TPP slot on labor reality
Vietnam is expected to gain immensely from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement thanks to its low-wage structure and large, young labor force. However, the TPP's strong labor protection provisions will be hard to enforce in a country that ignores workers' rights, forces prisoners to work and turns a blind eye to the harshest forms of child labor. - Khai Nguyen (Mar 6, '14)

Myanmar's dams may be no show
Energy for Myanmar's ambitious economic development targets may fail to arrive as the contentious issue of dam construction to supply hydropower is adding to strife between ethnic groups and the central government and creating diplomatic wrangles with neighboring countries. - Elliot Brennan and Stefan Doring (Mar 4, '14)

Act of Killing director focuses on genocide
Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing failed to win a statuette on the night, but the film's director, Joshua Oppenheimer, hopes it has a part to play in drawing attention to the role of outside countries in the 1965 genocide in Indonesia. Oppenheimer thinks that the United States, among others, should apologize and help to bring a fuller sense of "healing and reconciliation". - Jasmin Ramsey (Mar 3, '14)

Last tycoon standing with Suharto-era debt
Fifteen years after Indonesia's financial meltdown, Marimutu Sinivasan, founder and former chairman of the failed Texmaco textile and engineering group, remains the last man standing - he is the only Suharto-era tycoon who has yet to settle with his creditors. - John McBeth (Feb 28, '14)

Last tycoon standing with Suharto-era debt
Fifteen years after Indonesia's financial meltdown, Marimutu Sinivasan, founder and former chairman of the failed Texmaco textile and engineering group, remains the last man standing - he is the only Suharto-era tycoon who has yet to settle with his creditors. - John McBeth (Feb 27, '14)

New fault lines in the South China Sea
The Philippines and Japan are ramping up rhetoric over China's territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea as US President Barack Obama prepares to visit the region, in the belief that the US "pivot" to Asia is taking its preferred shape. But as diplomatic bridges are burned with Beijing, hopes are fading for a maritime code of conduct to dampen tensions. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Feb 26, '14)

COMMENT
What happens in China stays in China?
China used its hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2001 to showcase a lifting of Internet blocks on foreign news organizations, but imprisonment and expulsion of journalists since then suggest freedoms have slipped as Chinese leaders prepare to host the summit again this year. China could take this opportunity to show the world a more open side, but if some authorities have their way and censorship worsens, what happens in China will increasingly stay in China. - Curtis S Chin (Feb 26, '14)

Myanmar ethnic strife spills to Malaysia
The attempted assassination of two Buddhist politicians from Myanmar outside a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur has raised concerns that the religious violence that has engulfed their home state of Rakhine in recent years is spreading. Some Muslim groups in Malaysia claim, however, that the drama was staged as a vote-winning ploy ahead of Myanmar's 2015 general election. - Kalinga Seneviratne (Feb 21, '14)

DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA
Vietnam: A butchered memory of war
Counterfeit history is in your future, if the US government's official 50th anniversary account of the war in Vietnam is any guide. From the Tonkin Gulf Incident to the My Lai massacre, the Pentagon is still butchering that war. The online memorial is the Pentagon's latest "Mission Accomplished" moment and a lesson in how not to remember a war. - Nick Turse (Feb 19, '14)

Philippines killings cloud US aid
Hundreds of opposition activists in the Philippines have been tortured, killed, and "disappeared" in the past decade. At the same time, US military assistance to the country has increased even as the armed forces have been implicated in some of the killings. - Vanessa Lucas and Azadeh Shahshahani (Feb 19, '14)

China, Myanmar can't face dam truths
Objections in Myanmar towards Chinese efforts to reawaken the Myitsone dam project suggest both countries are ignoring realities over the plan, which was suspended by President Thein Sein in 2011 following an environmental outcry. While Beijing believes the Kachin can be won over simply with money, Naypyidaw exploits the dam's political value without facing the economic arguments for scrapping it. - Yun Sun (Feb 19, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Silence as Myanmar 'genocide' unfolds
The treatment of ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar is nearing what human-rights organizations term "genocide", yet Western donor nations are seemingly being lulled into silence on the issue by promises of democratization and political reform. Calls by nationalist media to bring a "Holocaust" down upon the Bengali minority are increasing fears that there is more ethnic cleansing to come. - Nancy Hudson-Rodd (Feb 18, '14)

Farmers under fire in Vietnam land dispute
Gun-toting men hired by the developer of an US$8 billion satellite city on the edge of Vietnamís capital shot at unarmed farmers on Tuesday trying to reclaim rice fields which are to be flattened as part of the mega-project, injuring five of them, one severely, sources said. - Mac Lam (Feb 12, '14)

Silence over missing activist in Laos
Since civil society activist Sombath Somphone disappeared more than a year ago, no one in the Lao government wants to hear his name and no one dares to talk openly about him. Yet as Laos continues to ignore international questions, Sombath's wife Shui Meng Ng has faith that someone in officialdom must understand the damage his case is causing the country and will step forward with credible answers. (Feb 12, '14)

Historic failures haunt Moro peace deal
The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have signed a "final" peace deal that creates an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao in return for MILF's 12,000 soldiers "reintegrating" into national forces. As foreign investors eye resource riches, critics warn that similar agreements collapsed due to the rebels' incapacity to govern and Manila's failure to rebuild the region. - Richard Heydarian (Feb 11, '14)

How to kill an industry in Indonesia
A mineral ore export ban Indonesia introduced to promote domestic processing has forced the loss of thousands of mining jobs and has prompted foreign giants to threaten international arbitration. Nationalists say the benefits from building processing plants will recompense for the short-term pain; this ignores doubts over the economic viability of constructing new smelters for an over-supplied global market. - John McBeth (Feb 10, '14)

US rejects China's nine-dash line
The United States for the first time has explicitly rejected the U-shaped, nine-dash line that China uses to assert sovereignty over nearly the whole South China Sea, experts say, strengthening the position of rival claimants and setting the stage for what could be an international legal showdown with Beijing. - Parameswaran Ponnudurai (Feb 10, '14)

Thai protests and the world economy
The current battle on the streets of Bangkok seems to focus on political governance, but the deeper cause of the unrest is a conflict over the Thai economy and the further integration of agriculture and manufacturing. - Layne Hartsell (Feb 6, '14)

Laos falls short of rice target
Laos is falling behind on its rice-growing target this season as poor irrigation systems and the promise of better prices for cash crops pushes farmers to plant less of the grain. (Feb 5, '14)

ASIA HAND
No deal behind Thailand's polls
A behind-the-scenes deal in the run-up to Thailand's 2011 elections kept troops in their barracks when Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of ousted premier Thaksin, swept to power. With the terms of that deal having broken down and signs of a new power-sharing accommodation nowhere in sight ahead of the February 2 polls, Thailand looks primed for rising violence. - Shawn W Crispin (Jan 30, '14)

Democratic aversion impacts Thai South
Since 2006, critics of Thailand's Democrat Party have seen it as an obstacle to democracy at the national level. Over the past few years, it has also become crystal clear that the party is a core impediment to regional representative democracy and, by extension, relative peace in the country's far South - Jason Johnson (Jan 30, '14)

Laos mine axes workers
Hundreds of workers have been laid off at an Australian-operated gold mine in Laos following an announcement last year by company executives that the firm would cease mining the precious commodity due to rising costs, with a declining gold price also a factor. (Jan 29, '14)

Turning off reforms in the Philippines
After two decades of aggressively privatizing its public services, the Philippines is beginning to realize the cost of mindless market reforms, highlighted by an explosion of public outrage over a proposed increase in electricity prices that are already among the world's highest. - Richard Heydarian (Jan 28, '14)

Cambodians for sale
Loss of land, debt, poor pay and high prices of petrol and electricity are pushing young people from Cambodia to foreign lands - sometimes with disastrous consequences, whether it be Cambodian women in South Korea or China or men who travel to Thailand to work on fishing boats. - Michelle Tolson (Jan 24, '14)

Myanmar's minorities face multi-faced jeopardy
The confident face of reform in Thein Sein's Myanmar masks multi-faceted cracks below the cosmetic surface. Nowhere is that more evident than with ethnic tensions. After decades of debilitating military rule, base survivalism, not enlightened reform, is on the march. - Tim Heinemann (Jan 23, '14)

Philippines pays for West's backing
If it weren't for decades of Western-backed political and economic repression, the Philippines might have joined the Asian Tigers years ago. Taiwan, nominally independent at about the same time, is far wealthier, with infrastructure and ability to overcome nature's wrath. - Scott Charney

Coup calculations in Thailand
With hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters occupying large swathes of Bangkok and shadowy armed attacks on their encampments, speculation is rising that Thailand could be on the brink of a military coup. A much more complicated situation than in the run-up to the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck's brother in 2006 mitigates against another army-led takeover. - John Cole and Steve Sciacchitano (Jan 17, '14)

Violence begets violence in Cambodia
The depth of division between the ruling and opposition parties since the contested general election result brought protests and death on the streets of Cambodia has polarized the country in ways unseen since its debilitating civil war. Unwillingness on the parts of both the ruling party and its main opposition to compromise has set the stage for more violent confrontations in the weeks ahead. - Peter Tan Keo (Jan 17, '14)

China casts red tape over South China Sea
China is pressing home its territorial claims in the South China Sea by requiring foreign fishing-related vessels to secure permission before entering the country's claimed maritime jurisdiction. This does not immediately portend a dramatic escalation in the troubled waters but does indicate Beijing's determination to flex its muscles, regardless of the potential diplomatic fallout. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Jan 14, '14)

History shows way out of Thai conflict
The demonstrations overtaking Bangkok prior to elections set for February 2 attract easy belief that this is a clash between impoverished rural Thais and urban middle classes. Corruption claims abound from both sides. But the deeper cause of tension is former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's blatant violation of Thai social norms. He wants the whole pie to himself. - Jeffrey Race (Jan 13, '14)

Thai insurgents extend their reach
The struggle for the border provinces of southern Thailand reached an ominous turning point in the last weeks of December as the disarming of a car bomb on the resort island of Phuket followed motorcycle and car-bomb attacks in Songkhla province. Malay Muslim separatists appear to have taken the political turmoil elsewhere in Thailand as a further cue to move beyond their traditional area of operations. - Anthony Davis (Jan 10, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Old ties to Myanmar's new media
Myanmar's mass media market has flourished since a long-standing censorship regime was loosened in 2012, with some 200 daily, weekly and monthly publications now covering news, sports and entertainment. That has not brought more editorial independence, since ownership is concentrated among businessmen linked to high-ranking members of the former ruling junta. - Ko Htwe and Gene Williams (Jan 10, '14)
This is a corrected version of a story published on January 9.

Ex-Vietnam shipping
boss drops bribes bombshell

The former head of Vinalines, a beleaguered Vietnamese state shipping company, under sentence of death for corruption, has told a court that he paid bribes to top Communist Party officials, including US$500,000 to the deputy public security minister, in a futile bid to avoid arrest and prosecution. - Mac Lam (Jan 9, '14)

Fiscal cloud taxes Myanmar optimism
Unless Myanmar's system of tax and spend is reformed and regularized, optimism generated by democratic steps could be swallowed up by a debt crisis. Putting the cabinet's opaque financial dealings under greater scrutiny will cause political ruptures, but that and better management of public finances are essential to secure continued investor interest in the country. - Josh Wood (Jan 8, '14)

China adapts to new Myanmar reality
China is building relations with political groupings - new and old - in Myanmar even as it cools its economic involvement with the country. Parliamentary leader Shwe Mann appears particularly favored, although Suu Kyi may yet get a call to Beijing. The military, however, remains the closest to being China's bosom buddy. - Yun Sun (Dec 23, '13)

Japan's Angkor art: Booty or fair exchange?
The Tokyo National Museum has Japan's largest collection of ancient Angkor sculptures as well as ceramics of a higher quality than most of those found in Cambodia's own museums. That is courtesy of a deal brokered during World War II, with the French negotiating with Japanese Southeast Asia occupying forces.
- Julie Masis (Dec 23, '13)

Taxman vs Pacquiao hits
need for Philippines reform

Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao's latest contest pitches him against the country's tax commissioner, Kim Henares, who has entered the ring with a US$50 million payment demand. The dispute sheds light on much deeper issues and the need for economic reform in the Philippines. - Bonn Juego (Dec 23, '13)

Kerry's misbalanced agenda in Vietnam
US Secretary of State John Kerry's attendance of Mass in Ho Chi Minh City indicated that Washington will push for greater human rights reform in Vietnam. But he also brought promises to supply the country with naval patrol vessels. Until the US predicates future engagement on improved human rights, Vietnam's leaders will see no reason to change their authoritarian ways. - Duvien Tran and Khanh Vu Duc (Dec 19, '13)

Japan, US squeeze China's ADIZ
China has handed Japan and the United States a strategic boost in Southeast Asia as the region rallies against the threat they see its air defense identification zone posing to maritime security and freedom of navigation. Both Washington and Tokyo powers have lost no time in taking the opportunity to step up bilateral ties with the Philippines and Vietnam, the two countries with the most to fear from Beijing's perceived provocation. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Dec 18, '13)

Cambodian dam feeding false hopes
Villagers in the neighborhood of a proposed dam in northeast Cambodia like the possibility of the cheap electricity the project promises, even at the cost of the local fish. Problem is, the country has no power grid, but it does survive on fish. - Michelle Tolson (Dec 18, '13)

Vietnam shipping execs get
death for embezzlement

A court in Vietnam has sentenced two high-ranking executives at state-run shipping company Vinalines to death for embezzlement, amid rising public anger over rampant corruption. - Mac Lam (Dec 18, '13)

Dearth of ideas in Myanmar transition
Myanmar has had a good year, with the economy growing, its debt cut, and praise flowing in from all and sundry - even as religious hatred proliferates. The big unanswered question is whether President Thein Sein's mix of policy reforms will be effective for realizing his stated goal of inclusive growth and poverty reduction? - David Baulk (Dec 11, '13)

Limits of power-sharing in the Philippines
Philippine President Benigno Aquino's tentative deal for the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front to lay down its weapons and share power with Manila in contested territories in Mindinao leaves other rebel groups out in the cold. With spasms of violence similar to this year's siege in Zamboanga expected, challenges from armed groups are not the only potential spoilers to ending a conflict that has taken more than 100,000 lives over four decades.(Dec 12, '13)

Vietnam squanders reform opportunity
Vietnam's leaders, under growing economic stress at home and rising pressure to improve the country's poor rights record, could have crafted the new constitutional charter that takes effect from January 1 to introduce a measure of genuine reform. Instead, the National Assembly affirmed the central role of the Communist Party and the control of the unaccountable elites who negotiate international bilateral ties. - Khanh Vu Duc (Dec 11, '13)

ASIA HAND
The clash to come in Thailand
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's decision on Monday to call an early general election has so far failed to defuse tensions, with anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, backed by an estimated 100,000 supporters on Bangkok's streets, demanding that an appointed "People's Council" be established instead. A clash of unknown magnitude seems inevitable in the days or weeks ahead. - Shawn W Crispin (Dec 9, '13)

ADIZ stirs fears for South China Sea
China's recent controversial announcement of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) covering disputed islands in the East China Sea is alarming its rival claimants to maritime territories in the South China Sea. As the Philippines and Vietnam in particular see recent statements from Beijing as showing similar zoning is almost inevitable, they look to the United States to challenge Chinese desires. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Dec 6, '13)

THE ROVING EYE
Thai protests
turn a darker color

The latest political protests in Thailand are as perplexing as ever, as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra struggles to hold on to power (and her ability to help the return of her self-exiled billionaire brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra), without using violence - and without the military intervening. Royal birthday celebrations might encourage a lull, but confusion looks set to resume almost immediately. - Pepe Escobar (Dec 3, '13)

Myanmar seeks new Dawei SEZ partners
Myanmar is seeking international investors to build a near US$9 billion special economic zone in its southernmost region following Italian-Thai Development's failure to secure partners for the venture. - Kyaw Lwin Oo (Dec 3, '13)

Lao dam project raises Mekong fear
The Lao government's decision to build a dam on the Mekong river close to the Cambodian border is raising concern for the future of the region's fisheries. Claims it is not a "mainstream" project help evade consultation with riparian neighbors and the multinational Mekong River Commission. - Tom Fawthrop (Nov 27, '13)

China's ADIZ undermines regional stability
Beijing's decision to exercise its "self-defense right" and establish an air defense identification zone - as have Japan, South Korea and Japan - injects new problems into its regional ties and further sours relations with Japan. It appears that President Xi Jinping is willing to fan nationalist flames to ensure the Chinese Communist Party's popularity as he tackles economic reform. - Bonnie S Glaser (Nov 26, '13)

ASEAN as a pawn in great power game
As Southeast Asian countries look to consolidate fast-paced growth by establishing an economic community by 2015, varied allegiances to either China and the United States belie the vision of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations as 10 members acting in concert. Passivity to political realities only makes the group a pawn in the great power game. - Duvien Tran and Khanh Vu Duc (Nov 22, '13)

BOOK REVIEW
Images of a dark era
The Face of Resistance: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Fight for Freedom by Aung Zaw
Brave New Burma by Nic Dunlop
While these books take different approaches to analyzing Myanmar's recent past, with one offering first-person insight into Myanmar's pro-democracy movement and the other exploring the repression through striking images and words, it is clear both authors share a deeply held cynicism over recent democratic steps. Their overarching message is that the military remains all-powerful. - Bertil Lintner (Nov 22, '13)

Strategic opportunity in Philippine crisis
The response to the humanitarian crisis in the wake of the Typhoon Haiyan demonstrates the Philippines can rely on Japan and the United States as partners determined to embed strategic anchors in the region. Bilateral tensions between Beijing and Manila, however, may undercut an otherwise rich source of backing for reconstruction. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Nov 21, '13)

Haiti mistakes loom over Haiyan relief
Nearly two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan swept through the central Philippines, experts warn that post-disaster reconstruction needs to be more transparent and focus more on long-term assistance than past efforts. Lessons learned from the emergency relief after the 2010 Haitian earthquake applied to the current crisis in Southeast Asia. - Ramy Srour (Nov 21, '13)

Russia rebuilds ties with Vietnam
After the collapse of old ideologies and Cold War patron-client relations, Russia and Vietnam are now rebuilding robust commercial, industrial and strategic ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin this month added momentum to that development across a range of economic and strategic areas. - Roberto Tofani (Nov 20, '13)

SPEAKING FREELY
East Asia's future maritime highway
Global warming, seen by many as a threat, is viewed by the shipping industry as an opportunity for a new maritime superhighway, the Northeast Arctic Passage, that might replace the Strait of Malacca as the foremost sea lanes for oil transportation. - Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli and Wan Izatul Asma Wan Talaat (Nov 20, '13)

Typhoon aid slow to reach Philippines
Washington responded quickly and generously to the humanitarian crisis caused by Typhoon Haiyan striking the Philippines. Yet while some food was immediately flown in from the United States, the bulk of some 1,020 tonnes of rice will not arrive before December, thanks to US laws. - Carey L. Biron (Nov 19, '13)

Nationalist blowback to China's typhoon aid
The first thought of many angry Chinese nationalists to the increase in Beijing's aid to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines is that the victims don't deserve Chinese money. Netizens who express outrage and derision are themselves victims of a state media that manipulates opinion for short-term political leverage or to punish rivals. - Jack McLoughlin (Nov 18, '13)

Few clear lines in Preah Vihear ruling
The November 11 verdict by the International Court of Justice should have settled the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over ownership of the ancient Preah Vihear temple - for Cambodians next in importance in their heritage only to Angkor Wat. But both governments have cause to stir new tensions based on the undefined aspects of the ruling. - Bertil Lintner (Nov 15, '13)

CULTURE
Politicians spice Malay-Indo melting pot
Malaysia and Indonesia's common roots are clearly evident in culture and food, but this hasn't stopped divergent paths from widening further in recent decades as Malaysia's political growth stalled and Indonesia underachieved economically. While tensions do persist, most are issues cooked up by the countries' politicians, not their populations. - Muhammad Cohen (Nov 15, '13)

TYPHOON HAIYAN
Relief arrives slowly in battered Philippines
A reduction in the original estimate of 10,000 deaths as a result of Typhoon Haiyan to a toll closer to 2,500 provides cold comfort for people still waiting for basic necessities. Five days after disaster struck, aid is coming - but too slowly for many in areas devastated by the super-storm. (Nov 14, '13)

TYPHOON HAIYAN
US gives, China withholds
in Philippine crisis

Dollar figures for assistance to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan show how China and the US seek to create opportunity out of a crisis. US humanitarian assistance worth US$20 million can be seen as an attempt to win hearts and minds for greater military presence, whereas a paltry $100,000 pledge from China signals Beijing's displeasure over Manila's claim to territories it regards as its own. - Noel Tarrazona (Nov 13, '13)

Little preparation for a big disaster
Typhoon Haiyan has left some communities and coastal zones in the central Philippine islands of Visayas in complete ruins. Critics of the government argue that, from mandatory evacuation of citizens in high-risk areas to the building of concrete bunkers able to withstand super-storms, there were options it didn't take to prevent large-scale disaster. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Nov 13, '13)

PHILIPPINES TYPHOON STRIKE
Hello Warsaw, this is Haiyan calling
The rising death toll from Typhoon Haiyan's sweep across the Philippines - and the struggle for survival for more than half-million people displaced - should be a wake-up call for climate-change negotiators in Warsaw. Big climate polluters should be denounced for their refusal to take the steps needed to save the world from the destruction that their carbon-intensive economies have unleashed on us all. - Walden Bello (Nov 12, '13)

Coca-Cola to check villagers'
claims of Cambodia land-grab

Coca-Cola is to investigate a long-running case in Cambodia where villagers are seeking court action against a company accused of seizing their land to make way for plantations linked to the supply of sugar to the soft-drinks manufacturer. - Samean Yun (Nov 12, '13)

UN court awards temple site to Cambodia
The International Court of Justice in The Hague has awarded Cambodia sovereignty of the area surrounding the ancient Preah Vihear temple along the border with Thailand in a landmark ruling aimed at ending a decades-long dispute that has claimed lives and tested nerves of both countries. The UN court ordered the Thai government to withdraw security forces stationed there. (Nov 12, '13)

ASIA HAND
Back to the streets in Bangkok
Protesters are back on the streets of the Thai capital in significant numbers after two years of relative political calm. The popular spark is a blanket amnesty that protest groups claim is aimed at absolving criminally convicted, self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The demonstrations raise the specter of prolonged instability and the risk of a wider movement geared to topple the government. - Shawn W Crispin (Nov 8, '13)

A strategic pearl for US-Philippine ties
A naval base the Philippines is building in Oyster Bay, situated in pristine South China Sea waters on the island province of Palawan, will become a centerpiece of a US$1.8 billion military modernization undertaken by Manila as part of its shared struggle with Washington against China's territorial ambitions. While environmentalists are concerned about reefs, residents fear a sprawling US base to rival Okinawa. - Al Labita (Nov 7, '13)

Aquino rebalances his China position
Philippine President Benigno Aquino is seeking to re-engage China by dialing down bilateral tensions over competing maritime territorial claims and promoting dialogue and cooperation. After months emboldened by the US "pivot" to Asia, Aquino may sense weaker winds from Washington, yet it's not clear his more conciliatory tack will be reciprocated by Beijing. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Nov 5, '13)

View from above in Indonesia
Influential Indonesian thinker Goenawan Mohamad says intolerance, corruption, education and bureaucracy remain the country's biggest problems as it prepares for a presidential transition. Rejecting the notion that the military can provide the stronger leadership some crave after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's "limp" rule, Mohamad says the private sector should lead the way. - Muhammad Cohen (Nov 4, '13)

BOOK REVIEW
Reminiscence of a resistance
Golden Parasol: A Daughter's Memoir of Burma by Wendy Law-Yone
Drawn from a manuscript by Edward Law-Yone, the firebrand editor of one of Myanmar's pre-1962 coup English-language dailies, this memoir by his daughter weaves in with the tumultuous history of their family life details of Law-Yone's failed efforts to form an exiled resistance. As a result, her rich personal account of modern Myanmar ends up as much more than an autobiography. - Bertil Lintner (Nov 1, '13)

White elephants in Laos
The loss of real white elephants in Laos is being followed by the rise of white elephant property developments across the country, particularly in Vientiane, its once sleepy, now bustling, riverside capital. - Melinda Boh (Oct 31, '13)

SPEAKING FREELY
A must-read for aspirant dictators
Myanmar's President Thein Sein is not yet noted for his literary skills, but if he put his mind to it he might fashion a work such as The Dictator's Guide: How to Keep Power and Gain the World's Respect that would be welcomed by aspiring dictators and would-be genocidal regimes. - Nancy Hudson-Rodd (Oct 29, '13)

Manila opens doors to GMO products
Even as many other countries have tightened controls over genetically modified organisms, the Philippine government has become more liberal in its granting of licenses for GMO production. Despite concerns about the environmental impact, no GMO application has ever been rejected, which is rather shocking given the controversy over their use. - Walden Bello (Oct 29, '13)

MYANMAR'S FALSE FRONTIER: Part 2
Not so special economic zones
Myanmar's government has promoted special economic zones as key to achieving industrial and economic growth by helping to overcome the technological, financial and market barriers facing the private sector and to create jobs. The land grabbing, displacement, unpaid compensation, and surge in land prices at SEZ projects now underway suggest little to benefit the workforce.
- David Baulk (Oct 25, '13)
This is the final article in a two-part series.
Part 1: Economic reform as flawed ideology

Minerals, militants and Myanmar peace
Mineral wealth is part of the "rising star" hype surrounding Myanmar. But the mining industry also lies at the heart of simmering conflicts between the central government and armed ethnic groups. - Elliot Brennan (Oct 23, '13)

Thai insurgency enters new phase
A violent struggle between Thai government forces and Muslim Malay rebels in Thailand's south has entered a complex new phase influenced by Malaysian-brokered talks and counter-insurgency measures. While the talks are likely behind separatist efforts to strike a new balance between military and political campaigns, the measures against them underline the militants' capacity to adapt and strike. - Anthony Davis (Oct 23, '13)

China-Vietnam: more carrot, less stick
Tentative agreement between China and Vietnam over developing resources in the South China Sea has been achieved by Beijing's softer diplomatic approach of recent months. China's economic potential may appeal more than a declining US as Vietnam grows aware of its increasingly strong international position, but a stick may lurk among those carrots. - Brendan O'Reilly (Oct 22, '13)

MYANMAR'S BLACK HOLE: Part 3
A class above, the heaven-born
As foreign investment flows into Myanmar, it is possible that the forces of the free market will overpower the ruling soldiering class. So far, however, the military is marching backward along feudal lines, consolidating its class hold on society, economy and polity, while at the same time trumpeting "democracy and free market", which they know resonates well in Western ears. - Maung Zarni (Oct 18, '13)
This is the final article in a three-part series.
Part 1: Evolution of a mafia state
Part 2: Fascist roots, rewritten histories

Which way Widodo?
Speculation that governor of Jakarta Joko Widodo will throw in his hat at July 2014 presidential elections has been overtaken by debate over how the undeclared candidate would approach the divisive subject of foreign direct investment. - Joel Moore (Oct 18, '13)

MYANMAR'S BLACK HOLE: Part 2
Fascist roots, rewritten histories
The West's pursuit of strategic symbiosis with the Cold War-era military who ran Burma after a 1962 coup was viewed in the light of the country being a bulwark against the spread of communism. But Western support abetted the militarization of Burmese society, a legacy that will be strengthened by the West's latest diplomatic and strategic engagement.
- Maung Zarni (Oct 17, '13)
This is the second article in a three-part series.
Part 1: Evolution of a mafia state

MYANMAR'S BLACK HOLE
Evolution of a mafia state
That the West continues try to nudge Myanmar's military rulers out of darkness can be considered proof that the armed forces, or Tatmadaw, have taken Sun Tsu's advice, "confuse your enemies", as official policy. After half a century of power, the true colors of the self-proclaimed guardian of a supposed new democracy remain those of a rotten mafia state. - Maung Zarni (Oct 16, '13)
This is the first article in a three-part series.

Echoes of Indonesia in Myanmar transition
The eruption of long-standing ethnic and religious tensions in Myanmar following decades of repressive governance has chilling parallels to sectarian blood-letting in Indonesia sparked by the fall of Suharto. If Myanmar's still powerful military can succeed in a campaign to paint the instability as an "ugly by-product" of its new liberalism, Naypyidaw may never emulate Jakarta's bumpy road to multi-party democracy. - Tom Farrell (Oct 16, '13)

Obama no-show isolates allies
A sudden sense of solitude among the United States strategic Asian partners is palpable after Barack Obama's no-show in the region this week. Doubts over the US commitment to Asia amid oncoming US defense budget cuts are leaving many of its allies to wonder if the US has the political and economic wherewithal to counterbalance China's growing regional clout. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Oct 11, '13)

SPEAKING FREELY
Vietnam's hidden hand in Cambodia
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's continued pandering to Vietnamese interests squares with theories that Hanoi has maintained elaborate, behind-the-scenes control since its post-Khmer Rouge occupation of Cambodia ended in 1989. As lands and riches are handed to the forces who installed Hun Sen - and back him militarily - dreams of sovereignty and true democracy remain forever distant. - Hassan A Kasem (Oct 9, '13)

Laos draws anger over Mekong dam
Laos has come under criticism for its decision to forge ahead with a second hydropower dam on the Mekong River without giving adequate time for consultation with its neighbors amid concerns over the project from villagers and environmentalists. (Oct 9, '13)

A little less open in Singapore
New regulations that will force firms in Singapore to consider hiring locals before foreigners aim to stem anti-foreign sentiment in the city-state. Whether the rules erode its attractiveness to foreign investors will come down to how the nationalistic policy is ultimately implemented. - Megawati Wijaya (Oct 8, '13)

General Giap, Wallace, and freedom
Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, who led his country through two wars of liberation died on Friday, aged 102. On the same day, former black panther Herman Wallace died after being exonerated of a charge that had put him in jail for most of his life. Both men possessed voices that defined the hero's search for freedom. - Ramzy Baroud (Oct 7, '13)

Laos tightens belt with IMF warning
Laos is looking to tighten government spending after an International Monetary Fund warning that the scale of its debt risks an economic crisis. An almost 40% increase in officials' pay will, however, go ahead. - Parameswaran Ponnudurai (Oct 7, '13)

Manila fails FDI test
The Philippines is the new leader for economic growth among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, yet unlike its neighbors it struggles to attract foreign investment. The reasons: low competitiveness, a poor investing environment, and corruption. - Dan Steinbock (Oct 4, '13)

Mindanao examines rebel siege scars
Using "human shields" for their rebel siege was never going to endear the Moro National Liberation Front to the people of Mindanao. But as the badly scarred Zamboanga City, with over 100,000 displaced people, regroups after last month's sustained attacks, reflection is due on the chain of events that lead to urban warfare in the southern Philippines, beginning with a 1996 peace deal. - Sergio de la Tura (Oct 2, '13)

People pressure puts patronage on trial
Filipino protesters are piling pressure on President Benigno Aquino to clamp down on corruption after "the mother of all scams", a US$220 million scandal in which legislators allegedly created ghost public works to line their own pockets. While Aquino has vowed to prosecute officials, some say he should seize the chance to upend the entire political-patronage system in the Philippines. - Richard Heydarian (Oct 2, '13)

Thai army: new line-up, same fault-lines
Today's reshuffle of the Thai military top ranks, the first directly overseen by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, points to her party's bid to assert more civilian control over commanders responsible for the 2006 coup that ousted her brother, former premier and current ruling party de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra. A rise in factionalism, with implications for political stability, appears the order of the day. for political stability - appears the order of the day. - John Cole and Steve Sciacchitano (Oct 1, '13)

ATol Specials

Looking for peace in the land of the Abu Sayyaf.
By Marco Garrido


By Pepe Escobar with photographs by Kevin Nortz

A four-part series by James Borton


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