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   Southeast Asia
  
China still backing Lao high-speed train
China is still keen to finance a US$7.2 billion high-speed railway project planned for cash-strapped Laos that would link the two neighboring countries, though there has been little action on the project since it got the go-ahead in 2012, and it may plunge Laos into debt. (Aug 20, '14)

Rights before weapons for Vietnam
US Senator John McCain argues that it is time for the United States to consider ending a 30-year embargo and selllethal weapons to Vietnam as it faces the risk of conflict with China in the South China Sea. But what Vietnam really needs for its long-term security is modern political values, not guns. - Duy Hoang (Aug 20, '14)



SPEAKING FREELY
Media suppression imperils Myanmar reform
The detention of journalists on dissent charges, restrictions on international media visas and official claims that the media instigated anti-Muslim violence are all raising fears that Myanmar's government is rolling back media reforms that had helped spur confidence in the country's democratic steps. Such crackdowns also threaten important development of the industry being nurtured by nongovernmental organizations and news agencies. - Elliot Brennan (Aug 18, '14)

China, Myanmar: stop that train
Reports about the cancellation of a US$20 billion railway line connecting China's southern Yunnan province with Myanmar's Rakhine western coast may have been premature, but conflicting accounts about the 1,200 kilometer project's status have raised new questions concerning commercial relations between the neighboring countries. - Yun Sun (Aug 14, '14)

Balloon goes up over the South China Sea
Remarks by a United States senator purportedly confirming US and world community protection against "any threat" to exclusive economic zones potentially represent a more dangerous step towards militarizing South China Sea disputes than diplomatic fallouts. The possible injection of the US Navy into local EEZ disputes could herald non-stop harassment of US naval vessels by agitated Chinese maritime patrol vessels. - Peter Lee (Aug 13, '14)

Military hammer makes
everything look like a nail

The United States and China in every arena are displaying a disturbing propensity toward militarizing their national security strategies. From Iraq to the South China Sea to restive Xinjiang, militarization simplifies the statement of a problem, but makes resolution ever more remote. It is a temptation that Washington and Beijing should resist. - Peter Lee (Aug 8, '14)

China's grand plan for the South China Sea
Beijing's rising assertiveness in maritime areas is part of a grand geo-strategic rationale rooted in realist foreign policy, with indigenous technological advances helping to drive a strategy that is far removed from past non-interventionist policy. Supported by efforts by Beijing to improve military capabilities, its international image and legal stature on the issue, the plan is viewed as a "core interest" of China's sovereignty. - Billy Tea (Aug 8, '14)

Coup as counter-insurgency in Thailand
Some commentators see the military takeover in Thailand two months ago as a harder version of the 2006 coup in seeking to rid the country of the political influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his clan. That fails to appreciate the extent of the military's goal under National Council for Peace and Order leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha, which has its roots in counter-insurgency successes more than 30 years ago. - John Cole and Steve Sciacchitano (Aug 1, '14)

Vietnam buckles under Chinese pressure
Vietnam's failure to counter China's months-long placement of an oil rig in disputed waters with any meaningful gesture threatens the Hanoi government's legitimacy. If the public believes that it capitulated - particularly at a time of slowing economic growth - this could spark demonstrations aimed at both China and Vietnam's Communist Party-led government. - Zachary Abuza (Jul 29, '14)

Prabowo tries to block Indonesia result
Indonesian candidate Prabowo Subianto demanded a two-week delay in the presidential election result to investigate cheating claims in a last-gasp attempt to thwart the announcement of the official results. His rival, Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, was expected to be declared the nation's next leader. (Jul 22, '14)

Hatred as politics in Myanmar
Deadly anti-Muslim attacks in Mandalay have again revealed that dark forces loom large over Myanmar. While the international community invests millions in institutions such as the Myanmar Peace Center, more must be done to hold the government accountable for the role it has played in supporting movements responsible for inciting hatred and violence. - Kyaw Win (Jul 18, '14)

America's Scarborough Shoal dolchstoss
As part of United States plans to take an overtly confrontational posture in backing China's overmatched local adversaries in Southeast Asia, Washington has been trying to rewrite history on the notorious Philipines-China Scarborough Shoal maritime standoff in 2012. Although a classic case of failed bilateral backdoor diplomacy, Washington now says Beijing broke unspoken diplomatic rules. - Peter Lee (Jul 15, '14)

Indonesia polls point to Widodo victory
Supporters of Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto gather inside a convention center in Jakarta after the close of Wednesday's polls, with both sides in the race claiming victory in Indonesia's tightest and most divisive presidential election since the end of authoritarian rule in 1998. Unofficial tallies showed Jakarta governor Joko Widodo leading over ex-general Prabowo. Official results are expected by July 22. (Jul 10, '14)

Hints of Widodo's approach
Sixteen years after former ruling dictator Suharto privatized Jakarta's piped water system, the battle over its control is reaching an endgame. Its resolution sheds light on how presidential hopeful Joko Widodo would handle prickly public-private investment issues if he wins the July 9 election. - Philip Jacobson (Jul 8, '14)

Cornucopia of promises at Indonesian polls
Two candidates with starkly different backgrounds, personalities and campaign styles have whipsawed Indonesia into one of the tightest of presidential races in the nation's post-Suharto political history. With the latest opinion polls before Wednesday's election showing Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and his fatherly opponent Prabowo Subianto running neck-and-neck, promises by both candidates will be difficult to deliver on whoever is the winner. - James Bean (Jul 8, '14)

Congress resists Obama on Myanmar
Barack Obama's cautious opening towards Myanmar's reformist quasi-civilian government is starting to meet resistance in Congress after a period of broad bipartisan support. Concerns center on the US president's engagement with the country's rights-abusing military and his administration's reluctance to place preconditions on expanding strategic ties. - Steve Hirsch (Jul 2, '14)

Japan-Vietnam: lures, rewards and bribes
For independent analysts who reckon two-thirds of the international aid for infrastructure projects in Vietnam are associated with graft and corruption, recent arrests linked to aid from Japan for state-owned Vietnam Railways come as little surprise. Short-lived suspension of assistance will do little to uproot the causes. - Brian La (Jun 23, '14)

Deadlock in South China Sea talks
China and Vietnam failed to break the deadlock in their territorial spat over the South China Sea, with Beijing's top foreign diplomat warning Hanoi against disrupting the work of the Chinese oil rig deployed last month to disputed waters and Vietnam urging China to withdraw the drilling equipment. - Joshua Lipes (Jun 19, '14)

China's top diplomat in Hanoi talks
China's top diplomat traveled to Vietnam on Tuesday for talks aimed at resolving a dispute over Beijing's deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea. The arrival in Hanoi of Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister, represents the highest bilateral contact since a Chinese state-run oil company deployed the rig to disputed waters on May 2. (Jun 18, '14)

Winding road to Indonesian democracy
Fifteen years after the fall of Suharto, Indonesians are getting stuck in to campaigning ahead of July 9 presidential polls with an enthusiasm rarely seen amid the elite power games that beset Southeast Asian politics. Indonesian Democrat Party for Struggle candidate Joko Widodo personifies such hope for a cleaner political era, but his rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, is viewed as a candidate of strength. - Michael Vatikiotis and John McBeth (Jun 18, '14)

Cambodians flee Thailand
Tens of thousands of Cambodians are fleeing neighboring Thailand to return home, fearing a crackdown on migrant workers under Thailand's new military government, a senior Cambodian official has said. More than 110,000 workers have returned this month through the Cambodian town of Poipet, a local official said, adding: "They are returning en masse like a dam collapsing. ... They said they are scared of being arrested or shot if they run when Thai authorities check their houses." (Jun 16, '14)

Activist, racial angst in Myanmar
The late political scientist Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" thesis has sometimes been dismissed by critics as mistaken and inaccurate. But in today's Myanmar, many proud pro-democracy activists are convinced that cultures do indeed clash and can be inherently incompatible when forced to co-exist.- William Barnes (Jun 13, '14)

The axis of Buddhist extremism
A convergence in the anti-Islamic rhetoric of Myanmar's and Sri Lanka's fundamentalist Buddhist groups is matched by a shared sense of triumphalism and persecution, though Islamism has made fewer inroads into Muslim communities there than in neighboring countries. Myanmar's "969" activists and Sri Lanka's marauding monks seem politically useful for now, but their secular patrons might ponder some lessons of history. - Tom Farrell (Jun 13, '14)

Suu Kyi shifts pre-election tack in Myanmar
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, since ending years of house arrest, has been criticized for her perceived cooperation with the military and its parliamentary representatives and for not forcefully condemning persecution of the country's Rohingya Muslims. With elections in sight, Suu Kyi is now adopting a more confrontational approach. - Larry Jagan (Jun 12, '14)

Web of containment tightens on China
The Philippines and Vietnam are moving closer to becoming full-fledged brothers in arms in the South China Sea. Troops from the two Southeast Asian countries played sports last weekend on one island claimed by China, while Hanoi seems likely to follow Manila's lead in taking its territorial disputes with Beijing to an international arbitration tribunal. - Richard Javad Heydarian (Jun 11, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Rohingya expose Myanmar insecurities
As the former military junta in Myanmar seeks political legitimacy, quiet backing for the abuses of the Rohingya Muslim minority has helped to solidify the "democratic" state's place as a defender of the Buddhist faith. By cultivating divisions and mistrust, the country's leaders have sabotaged the chances of political reforms achieving a stable society. - Nauman Asghar (Jun 11, '14)

Coup kills south Thailand peace chance
Thailand's recent military coup ensures that peace talks addressing a decade of separatist violence in the south of the country are dead rather than merely stalled, with hardliners skeptical of last year's peace initiative now firmly in the saddle on both sides of the conflict. The result may be more deaths and an expanded area of violence. - Anthony Davis (Jun 10, '14)

Cambodia denies 'territory loss' to Vietnam
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's administration has hit out at opposition leaders for accusing the government of ceding territory to Vietnam at a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of loss of land belonging to the Khmer Krom ethnic minority to Hanoi. (Jun 9, '14)

Urban planning key in Singapore talks
Singapore this week played host to a triple gathering that addressed issues of concern both to the city and the wider world, specifically how to plan urban environments as cities expand at an ever-faster rate while water supplies, central to such growth, are under increasing strain. - Kalinga Seneviratne (Jun 6, '14)

New roles and relations
for Myanmar's military

Myanmar's military has ensured that its core interests and entrenched position at the heart of the country's leadership will not be eroded by reforms. Despite a significant evolution underway in the army's relations with civilian opposition parties, ethnic groups and foreign actors, only gradual measures will secure its long-term support of the new democratic system . - Adam P MacDonald (Jun 6, '14)

Beijing shrugs off 'nine-dash' demand
China shrugged off the international tribunal investigating a complaint from the Philippines over Beijing's "nine-dash line" territorial claims in the South China Sea. Responding to a request from the Permanent Court of Arbitration to submit evidence defending its territorial claims within six months, Beijing said it does not recognize the case. (Jun 5, '14)

Groundhog Day in Thailand
Thailand's military and its backers have yet to map out a solution to political instability that's produced five prime ministers in eight years. Their challenge is addressing a dynamic that began with an ex-cop two decades ago. (Jun 3, '14)

Reed Bank: South China Sea flashpoint
The Philippines is seeking to develop Reed Bank in the South China Sea, an area under dispute with China, as a hydrocarbon resource. Given the deteriorating bilateral relationship and Chinese resolve to assert its control over these waters, that could push tensions between the two countries to the point of brinkmanship. - Christopher Len (Jun 3, '14)

Cold War heats up in Asia
Many Western observers believe China has blundered into the United States' clever Asia "pivot" trap, with its aggressive moves driving its neighbors into the arms of Washington and enabling a more forward military presence for the US around China's borders. Beijing has gamed this out and is willing to roll the dice in the South China Sea. Cyberspace, however, is a more disturbing source of friction for the Cold War in Asia. - Peter Lee (May 27, '14)

ASIA HAND
Thai coup leader tightens grip
Thailand's new self-appointed premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha consolidated his grip on power following Thursday's coup by summoning deposed former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and many of her leading supporters to the new ruling National Peace and Order Maintaining Council junta's base in Bangkok. A TV blackout other than for a military channel helped to keep the public in the dark about unfolding events. - Shawn W Crispin (May 23, '14)

Thai army stages coup as talks fail
Thailand's military has seized control of the government in a coup, two days after declaring martial law. Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the 12th coup in the restive nation since 1932, saying that he had to restore order after a meeting with rival factions in the country's long-running political impasse failed to reach a compromise to end six months of anti-government protests. (May 22, '14)

ASIA HAND
Back to martial order in Thailand
Thailand's powerful military has declared martial law to prevent violent clashes between opposed political protest groups. While the army insists the intervention does not echo the 2006 coup, there is little hope that the move will encourage long-needed compromise and restore stability. Early martial measures do not bode well for the country's already bruised democracy.
- Shawn W Crispin (May 20, '14)

Air crash leaves Laos power vacuum
The deaths in a military air crash of Lao Deputy Prime Minister Douangchay Phichit, Minister of Public Security Thongbanh Sengaphone and two other high-ranking officials have left a power vacuum in the authoritarian one-party administration. The cause of the accident in an area bordering northwestern Vietnam is under investigation. (May 19, '14)

Anti-China mobs torch factories in Vietnam
Anti-Chinese mobs torched and ransacked foreign-owned factories in Vietnam to express anger at the deployment of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea. Protests brought production to a standstill at companies in Ho Chi Minh City as police made 700 arrests and said that workers set fire to at least 15 factories and vandalized hundreds more. (May 15, '14)

Sea strife follows Obama in Asia
Maritime tensions between Southeast Asian countries and China have intensified since US President Barack Obama's visit last month, with the usually restrained Vietnam demonstrating its willingness to test the limits of American security commitments by dispatching vessels to an altercation with Chinese ships. Association of Southeast Asian Nations chairman Myanmar is also put to the test. - Richard Javad Heydarian (May 14, '14)

Bell tolls for US pivot in South China Sea
China's oil-drilling escapade off the Vietnamese coast is more than a one-off tantrum to show its neighbors that the "paper tiger" nature of US defense pledges. The manufactured crisis represents a sea change in strategy for dealing with the US pivot to Asia. Beijing has taken a major step to repudiate the basic pivot premise: that a US-led security alliance can deter unilateral and provocative behavior. All eyes on the oil-rig deck now look to the Philippines. - Peter Lee (May 14, '14)

Vietnamese stage anti-China protests
Thousands of people took to the streets in Vietnam at the weekend to protest against Beijing's deployment of an oil rig in contested South China Sea waters, as foreign ministers from Southeast Asian nations voiced "serious concerns" over the tense territorial standoff. (May 12, '14)


China blames Vietnam for oil-rig collisions
China threw the blame back at Vietnam's accusations that Chinese ships had rammed Vietnamese coast guard vessels patrolling the contested waters where Beijing has deployed an oil rig, claiming Hanoi has set a provocative collision course. China also opened the door for talks on the issue, as Japan and the United States expressed deep concerns and Vietnamese activists demanded a strong response. (May 9, '14)

Thailand braces for more protests
Bangkok is bracing for more demonstrations from rival red- and yellow-shirted groups over the next two days after the country's Constitutional Court removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office, along with nine members of her cabinet, for transferring the secretary-general of the National Security Council in 2011 in a process that according to the court "indicates an abuse of power". (May 8, '14)

Strong ties, loose ends in Philippine-US pact
The Philippine government hailed a new US security pact signed during President Barack Obama's recent visit as a deepening of defense ties in the face of Chinese territorial aggression. Opposition politicians say it may violate constitutional restrictions on hosting permanent foreign bases, while even Washington has backed away from framing it as a cast-iron security commitment. - Richard Heydarian (May 2, '14)

Philippines-US pact shows a human face
The new strategic pact between the Philippines and the United States stresses a commitment to humanitarian relief rather than an evolving security partnership that paves the way for more American access to military bases in the Southeast Asia country. In so doing, the pact provides moral justification beyond geostrategic concerns and allows both Manila and Washington to gloss over any designs to contain China. - Julius Cesar I Trajano (Apr 29, '14)

Myanmar mourns Win Tin
People in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar, mourned in their thousands the passing away this week of Win Tin, the former political activist and journalist who died at the age of 85 after surviving almost two decades as a prisoner of the country's repressive military rulers. - Larry Jagan (Apr 25, '14)

Wardrums in Myanmar's Wa hills
The chief of Myanmar's armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, took to the hills near the Chinese border this month with a message for the United Wa State Army, the country's largest insurgent group, to sign a national ceasefire agreement or face the consequences as the only ethnic faction holding out against peace. Military action could prove counterproductive, but national pride and angst over Chinese influence appear to be leading the charge. - Anthony Davis (Apr 23, '14)

Myanmar opposition pioneer Win Tin dies
Veteran journalist Win Tin, who co-founded Myanmar's opposition National League for Democracy with Aung San Suu Kyi and became the country's longest-incarcerated political prisoner, has died in Yangon at the age of 85. (Apr 22, '14)

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)

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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