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Monthly Archives: November 2018

East and Southeast Asia in the News: November 30, 2018


(North Korea) North Korea FM in Vietnam for Lessons on Economic Reform, The Straits Times, November 30, 2018

Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s foreign minister, began a visit to Vietnam on Friday the 30th to further North Korean-Vietnamese relations and to learn from Vietnam’s history as a communist nation. On the agenda will be topics such as agriculture, high-tech industries, and possible economic reforms. Vietnam’s post-war success, especially the growth seen in recent decades, is of interest to North Korean leaders as they attempt to model their nation after the positive aspects of Vietnamese government. At the same time, North Korea may be attempting to repair intra-continental relations, capitalizing on a period in which nuclear testing is at a halt and foreign relationships are beginning to thaw.

(China) China’s Worsening Economy Adds Pressure on Xi Heading to G-20, Bloomberg, November 29, 2018

Recent economic indicators in China show an across-the-board slowing of the economy. With widespread uncertainty over trade relations with the U.S. and decreasing demand for construction, China will enter G-20 summit talks on Saturday with little incentive to budge on key points such as tariffs. Chinese economists assert that the economy is only halfway through a cycle that will see a rebound in growth in 2019, via expanded stimulus packages and a reduction in interest rates.

Civil Rights

(Indonesia) Indonesian City to Fine LGBT Residents for Being ‘Public Nuisance’, The Straits Times, November 30, 2018

Political right-wingers in Indonesia are thought to be using the controversy of the country’s LGBT minority as evidence for necessary changes in the coming 2019 elections. Pariaman city on Sumatra island passed a law this week outlawing “acts that are considered LGBT”. LGBT activists have been met with increasing hostility as country-wide anti-LGBT demonstrations have taken place, including an incident where a group of transgender women were the targets of fire hoses. Leaders in the country are taking steps to delegitimize LGBT movements and ride society of any possible public disturbance.

(Myanmar) Myanmar Journalists, Lawyers Raise Concerns Over Jailing of Reuters Reporters, Reuters, November 23, 2018

Myanmar’s democratic processes have been thrust under the spotlight this week as journalists and lawyers combined to write a letter to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, condemning the incarceration of two Reuters journalists. The letter claimed that the seven-year sentence that was pronounced went against the country’s media law and did not constitute an act of espionage as Myanmar’s leadership purported. Kyi dismissed the letter, stating that the case was tried correctly, and that no infringement of expression took place. The two journalists, prior to arrest, were covering a story of the killing of Rohingya Muslims.

(Vietnam) Vietnam Jails Rights Activist for Posting Defaced Flag Photo on Facebook, Reuters, November 30, 2018

On Friday, Huynh Thuc Vy was convicted of desecrating the Vietnamese flag in a show of political activism. Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party has maintained strict censorship of media and other forms of expression over the past few decades. This conviction continues to demonstrate the party’s intolerance for dissention in a society that is progressing toward social change. Vy, founder of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights organization, spray painted on two flags in a show of dissatisfaction with Vietnam’s political climate via Facebook. Vietnam will attempt to switch at least 50% of the nation’s social media users to domestic networks by 2020 to further control dissent.

(South Korea) South Korean Conscientious Objectors Released on Parole After Landmark Ruling, Reuters, November 29, 2018

In an unprecedented move by the South Korean Supreme Court, 58 conscientious objectors of South Korea’s mandatory military service policy were released with parole. Mandatory military service has long been a staple of Korean life given tense relationships with North Korea, but changing sentiments regarding improvements in this relationship are causing South Korean courts to rethink the constitutional provisions for service exemptions. The most recent interpretation (prior to Friday’s announcement) of the Korean Military Service Act stated that religious beliefs or conscience were not sufficient to evade obligatory service.

Domestic Security and Politics

(Indonesia) Indonesia Launches Hunt for 90 Escaped Prisoners, Straits Times, November 30, 2018

A mass breakout in a Banda Aceh, Indonesia prison has sparked furious action by Indonesian military and law enforcement personnel. Of the 726 total inmates, 113 managed to escape. So far, 23 inmates have been recaptured. Indonesian officials continue to poor massive resources into the recapture of the remaining 90 inmates who managed to cross a nearby rice field and avoid recapture. Prison breakouts are not uncommon in Indonesia, but recent breakouts including Banda Aceh draw attention to Indonesia’s poor prison system. With the recent war on drugs declared by President Joko Widodo, Indonesian prisons are experiencing a sharp increase in prisoners without the ability to manage the new overpopulation of prisons.

(Philippines) 3 Philippine Police Officers Are Convicted in a Drug War Killing, The New York Times, November 29, 2018

President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has led to estimated casualty figures as high as 5,000. Duterte’s policy of pardoning officers and even militias for murders under the guise of anti-drug trafficking efforts were finally opposed Thursday as a Manila court convicted three officers for the murder of a minor, sentencing the officers to up to forty years in prison. Duterte’s fierce stance on drugs has been met with widespread disagreement, and Thursday’s ruling is a sure victory for those who have opposed his position. The minor in question was incorrectly identified as an element in a drug trafficking ring. Sympathizers with the victim and his family hope that this ruling will lead to more accountability for police officers and for the Duterte regime.

(Mongolia) ‘I Am Not a Dictator’: Mongolian PM Survives Attempted Ousting, The Guardian, November 30, 2018

Mongolia’s prime minister declared this week “I am not a dictator” in response to allegations of corruption. Members of parliament attempted to force Prime Minister Khurelsukh and other high-level officials to step down. Mongolia, a relatively young democratic nation, has seen intense political turnover, with 15 different cabinets having been in power since 1992. Khurelsukh’s predecessor, Jargaltulgiin Erdenebat was similarly accused of corruption in 2017. Demands have been made for Khurelsukh and other members of parliament to step down. (China) China Reveals New Domestically-Built Aircraft Carrier Under Construction, CNN, November 27, 2018

In an effort to fulfill the goal of military modernization, China announced that construction has begun on a new aircraft carrier, which will be the third in the Chinese fleet upon completion. Chinese military spending rose by 8% from 2017 to 2018 as the Asian powerhouse seeks to close the gap on military power with the United States. China’s new carrier will reportedly require two years to complete. With the G 20 summit in Argentina on the imminent horizon, China stands to benefit from displays of power on the world stage.

International Affairs

(North and South Korea) First Train in a Decade Departs South Korea for North Korea, The Telegraph, November 30, 2018

On Friday the 29th a South Korean train crossed the border into North Korea for the first time in over a decade. This marks a significant step toward improved Korean peninsula relations as the two countries attempt to repair economic and political ties. The Koreas are currently pursuing demilitarization along their shared border as guard posts have been dismantled as of late. Washington officials were concerned of possible UN sanction violations early this week, but the UN security council granted an exemption for the joint railway venture.

(North Korea) North Korean Soldier Defects to South Korea Amid Peace Efforts, Business Insider, November 30, 2018

On the morning of Saturday December 1st in South Korea, a North Korean soldier is reported to have crossed the military demarcation line, defecting from North Korea. This is the first defection since positive talks between the two nations were held in October. Current information does not point to any gunfire or retaliation by North Korea, but events will continue to develop. South Korean military agencies are planning to launch a full investigation into the matter as positive relations with their northern neighbor remain essential to increasing signs of peace are felt throughout the regions.

(Taiwan and China) Taiwan’s political earthquake: Does China gain from Tsai Ing-wen’s losses?, BBC News, November 26, 2018

Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a blow earlier this week as it lost more than half of the cities and counties that it controlled prior to the general elections held on the 24th. Party leader Tsai Ing-wen resigned after election results became apparent in what is seen as a shocking victory for the Chinese-supporting Kuomintang party. Taiwanese-Chinese relations have diminished over time as the DPP has held sway in Taiwanese politics. Exit polls indicated a strong preference for centrist political views, maintaining good relations with China, and international treatment as an independent nation. This indictment of the DPP comes during an important period in Asia Pacific’s international relations with the eyes of the international community set on China.

(China) China Rejects U.S. Academic Report Calling for Retaliatory Action, Reuters, November 29, 2018

The Hoover Institution, a U.S. based think tank, published a report earlier this week that accused China of taking actions that will lead to the undermining of international democratic values. China’s Global Times retaliated, saying “We believe the Chinese infiltration into the United States the report describes does not match up with China’s objective aspirations.” China further responded with a call to continue international programs with the United States, including student exchanges and commerce. This report and the ensuing response come at a time when Chinese-U.S. relations are at the forefront of world politics. Leaders of the respective countries plan to meet soon to discuss, among other things, a strong and profitable relationship between the two nations.

(Cambodia and China) Cambodia to Deport More than 200 Chinese Detained for Internet Scams, RFA, November 28, 2018

On China’s request, Cambodian officials coordinated raids to arrest 235 Chinese nationals and return them to China on charges on internet scamming and kidnapping. Some Cambodian cities are currently dealing with a fast increase in Chinese immigration, with some cities reporting a population of more than 100,000 Chinese nationals. Given the lack of control of immigration and the accompanying spike in crime, Cambodian officials have called for stricter measures in crime deterrence. From January to October of 2018, 373 Chinese accused of similar crimes were deported from Cambodia.