The DailyBrief

Wednesday August 23, 2017

US increases pressure: Washington on Tuesday imposed new North Korea-related sanctions, targeting Chinese and Russian firms and individuals for supporting Pyongyang’s weapons programs, but stopped short of an anticipated focus on Chinese banks, David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu write. The US Treasury designated six Chinese-owned entities, one Russian, one North Korean and two based in Singapore. The sanctions also targeted six individuals — four Russians, one Chinese and one North Korean. China reacted with irritation, saying Washington should “immediately correct its mistake” of imposing unilateral sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals to avoid damaging bilateral cooperation.

Just say no: A recent spike in suspected extrajudicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s populist anti-drug campaign has sparked a potentially potent backlash, Jason Castaneda writes. Recent weeks have seen a troubling spike in the number of suspected extrajudicial killings in his increasingly reckless drive against illegal drugs. Within a span of days, as many as 91 suspected drug users were killed in Metro Manila and the neighboring Bulacan region. However, a growing number of Duterte’s supporters have expressed their disgust and dismay on social media, while even his most loyal supporters in the legislature have called for a thorough investigation, with some openly condemning the latest spate of killings.

Syrian fighters defecting: Ahrar al-Sham, once hailed as one of the more moderate — and potent — military groups on the Syrian battlefield, is disintegrating rapidly and there is nothing its Turkish backers can do to save it, Sami Moubayed writes. Ahrar al-Sham once boasted nearly 20,000 fighters and played an instrumental role in every single rebel victory against government troops during the years 2013-2015. Turning a blind eye to one of its founder’s ties to al-Qaeda and its desire to set up an Islamic state, many in the West pinned high hopes on it, seeing it as a potential player in the future of Syria, especially after its troops joined in the fight against ISIS and agreed to support a political endgame to the Syrian conflict. However, over the past 10 days, massive defections have been recorded from Ahrar al-Sham. Hundreds are fleeing Ahrar camps and joining Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a rebel coalition headed by Ahrar’s former ally, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Ex-PM behind bars? A Supreme Court verdict due on August 25 could see former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra going to jail for ten years for alleged “negligence” in her management of a loss-making rice price support scheme before the military toppled her elected government in a May 2014 coup, Richard S Ehrlich writes. A ruling, either way, could determine Thailand’s future stability under a junta trying to justify its legitimacy and maintain the peace between her supporters and opponents. The National Anti-Corruption Commission charged Yingluck with allegedly failing to stop massive financial losses after her government paid farmers — her key constituents — much more than international market prices for 20 million tons of rice to boost their living standards. The 50-year-old says she is innocent.

Navy career sinks: The commander of the US Seventh Fleet was reportedly relieved of his command on Wednesday, Reuters reports. Vice-Admiral Joseph Aucoin’s Japan-based fleet has suffered four recent collisions in Asia and the deaths of a number of sailors. In the latest incident, on Monday, the USS John S McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided near Singapore, tearing a hole in the warship’s side and flooding compartments that included a crew sleeping area. An international operation to locate ten sailors reported missing continues.

Asia Times app: Asia Times has launched an app for both iOS- and Android-based devices that delivers the publication’s regular daily news, commentary, blogs and live coverage while also bringing readers added functionality. As we report here, the app, launched on July 25, includes content notification, share and save functions and is free to download from both the Apple Store and Google Play.