Asian Correspondent http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Sun, 24 May 2015 07:13:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Women’s walk across Koreas’ DMZ denied; they cross on bus http://asiancorrespondent.com/133111/womens-walk-across-koreas-dmz-denied-they-cross-on-bus/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133111/womens-walk-across-koreas-dmz-denied-they-cross-on-bus/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 07:13:48 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133111 DORASAN STATION, South Korea (AP) — International women activists including Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace laureates have been denied an attempt to walk across the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea, but are allowed to cross by bus.

The group of 30 women from 15 countries made a final appeal to authorities to allow them to walk across the demarcation line but were turned down. The North allowed a South Korean bus to cross the demarcation line to pick them up on the North side of the DMZ and transport them over the border to South Korea.

U.S. activist Gloria Steinem, sixth right in front, two Nobel Peace Prize laureates Mairead Maguire, from Northern Ireland, second from right, Leymah Gbowee, from Liberia, third from right, and other activists march to the Imjingak Pavilion with South Korean activists along the military wire fences near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, May 24, 2015. International women activists including Steinem and two Nobel Peace laureates on Sunday were denied an attempt to walk across the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea, but were allowed to cross by bus and complete what one of them called a landmark peace event. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

U.S. activist Gloria Steinem, sixth right in front, two Nobel Peace Prize laureates Mairead Maguire, from Northern Ireland, second from right, Leymah Gbowee, from Liberia, third from right, and other activists march to the Imjingak Pavilion with South Korean activists along the military wire fences near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, May 24, 2015. Pic: AP.

United Nations Command officials met the group inside the DMZ after they crossed the demarcation line, and allowed them to march again after the final checkpoint on the southern side.

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Thousands evacuated in Nepal after landslide blocks river http://asiancorrespondent.com/133110/thousands-evacuated-in-nepal-after-landslide-blocks-river/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133110/thousands-evacuated-in-nepal-after-landslide-blocks-river/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 06:59:16 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133110 KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Thousands of people have fled villages and towns along a mountain river in in northwest Nepal after it was blocked by a landslide that could burst and cause flash floods.

Government administrator Yam Bahadur Chokhal says the landslide blocked the Kaligandaki River early Sunday and the buildup of water has created a lake 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long.

He says residents living on the banks of the river have been moved to higher grounds for fear that flash floods could sweep the area north of Beni Bazaar, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of the capital, Kathmandu.

Two powerful earthquakes devastated Nepal on April 25 and May 12, killing nearly 8,700 people and injuring 16,800 others. The quakes and aftershocks also have triggered many landslides in the Himalayan nation.

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Southeast India heat wave kills about 230 in past 5 weeks http://asiancorrespondent.com/133109/southeast-india-heat-wave-kills-about-230-in-past-5-weeks/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133109/southeast-india-heat-wave-kills-about-230-in-past-5-weeks/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 06:49:05 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133109 HYDERABAD, India (AP) — Officials say about 230 people have died since mid-April in a heat wave sweeping two southeast Indian states.

The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, Chandrababu Naidu, says more than 100 people have died in the last week in his state. An official in neighboring Telangana state says around 130 deaths have been reported there since April 15.

Day temperatures in Telangana’s Khammam district soared to more than 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit) on Saturday. The Telangana official said 16 people had died in the district in the past three days.

Health authorities have asked people not to go outside at midday to avoid getting sunstroke due to high temperatures and blistering winds.

Weather authorities say the high temperatures will likely continue for at least another week.

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China-Taiwan talks seek to maintain momentum for closer ties http://asiancorrespondent.com/133108/china-taiwan-talks-seek-to-maintain-momentum-for-closer-ties/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133108/china-taiwan-talks-seek-to-maintain-momentum-for-closer-ties/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 06:45:03 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133108 TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Negotiators from Taiwan and China have met for talks on a range of issues in an attempt to maintain momentum for the forging of closer ties in the face of a skeptical Taiwanese public.

Saturday’s talks resulted in no firm agreements but underscored Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s determination to prove that engagement with China can help the local economy.

Ministerial-level officials from both sides met on the tiny Taiwan-controlled island of Kinmen, just off the Chinese coast, where the rivals fought bloody military battles in the 1950s and 1960s.

Taiwan’s Cabinet-level negotiating body, the Mainland Affairs Council, said topics discussed included controlling the illegal excavation of sand from the ocean floor, opening outlying Taiwanese islets to more China-based tourism and letting Chinese tourists make transit stops in Taiwan.

 

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Philippines backs support for small enterprises at APEC meet http://asiancorrespondent.com/133107/philippines-backs-support-for-small-enterprises-at-apec-meet/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133107/philippines-backs-support-for-small-enterprises-at-apec-meet/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 06:43:02 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133107 MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines’ top trade official says supporting the integration of micro, small and medium enterprises in global trade will help reduce poverty and inequality in the Asia-Pacific region.

Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Gregorio Domingo said Saturday that trade has been a powerful growth engine in the 21 economies comprising the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, where MSMEs account for over 97 percent of all businesses.

Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

Manila is pushing for greater support for the integration into the global trade and value chain of MSMEs, which provide jobs to more than half the workers in the Asia-Pacific region.

A government statement says Domingo opened an APEC trade ministers’ meeting on the central Philippine resort island of Boracay, one of many meetings hosted this year by Manila before the APEC Summit in November.

 

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Burma president signs off on controversial population law http://asiancorrespondent.com/133106/burma-president-signs-off-on-controversial-population-law/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133106/burma-president-signs-off-on-controversial-population-law/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 06:39:27 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133106 YANGON, Burma/Myanmar (AP) — Burma’s president has signed off on a controversial law requiring some mothers to space their children three years apart. Critics warn it could be used to repress not only women, but religious and ethnic minorities.

The Population Control Health Care Bill — drafted under pressure from hard-line Buddhist monks with a staunchly anti-Muslim agenda — was passed by parliamentarians last month.

Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

It is part of a package of four laws that the U.S. and others have said could fan the flames of intolerance in Burma, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million that is already grappling with sectarian violence.

The law gives regional authorities the power to implement birth-spacing guidelines in areas with high population growth rates.

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No professor, the Rohingya really are homeless and stateless http://asiancorrespondent.com/133103/no-professor-the-rohingya-really-are-homeless-stateless/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133103/no-professor-the-rohingya-really-are-homeless-stateless/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 23:03:18 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133103 The Rohingya are homeless, stateless victims; and ASEAN is responsible. There’s nothing confusing about that, Professor.

Migrants wait to be be rescued by Acehnese fishermen on their boat on the sea off East Aceh, Indonesia, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

Migrants wait to be be rescued by Acehnese fishermen on their boat on the sea off East Aceh, Indonesia, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

The sophistry of politicians in the face of the Rohingya crisis is astounding. It mainly consists of reality-denial, blame-shifting and creative word play. Now, one Singapore academic has joined in the fray with a supposedly insightful commentary that is really a tragic failure in discursive analysis and a veiled attempt to justify half-hearted responses to the crisis.

Farish A. Noor, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Nanyang Technological University, authored the rather misleading titled opinion piece, “Give dignity back to the Rohingya”. It was published in the Straits Times yesterday.

In it, Farish disingenuously calls for honesty while simultaneously denying the severity and scale of the Rohingya problem. He does this repeatedly to establish two arguments: First, that over-emphasising the victimhood of the Rohingya reduces them to the status of perpetual victims. Second, that primary responsibility lies with the right-wing ethno-nationalists and sectarian groups in Burma, not ASEAN.

Well-intentioned as he may be, Fariah relies on faulty logic and false assumptions that in effect encourage the dehumanisation of the Rohingya and the denial of ASEAN’s responsibility.

Are the Rohingya homeless?

Examining the ways in which people describe the Rohingya, Farish writes:

To describe the Rohingya as “homeless” obfuscates the fact that they have a home, or rather had a home, and that they have been forced to leave as a result of a domestic political crisis that likewise involves actors and agents who are local.

It is both contradictory and plainly false. And if there is anything that is confusing, it is statements like these.

Farish says two things that cannot both be true at the same time. He says the Rohingya both have a home and don’t have a home. But either they don’t, in which case they are homeless, or they do, in which case they are not homeless. They can’t both be homeless and have a home at the same time.

Or perhaps we should read it as an equivocation, not a contradiction. In the first instance, he may be saying they “have a home” in the sense that they belong to a state. In the second instance, he may be saying they “had a home” in the sense that they used to live in a house somewhere in the Rakhine State in Burma but now can no longer live there.

But this doesn’t help. His statement is either contradictory or meaningless because of its equivocation. And even if we were somehow to accept it, it is still plainly false. The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens by the Burmese government and are not granted the rights and protections that all other Burmese have. How then can we say they do “have a home” in the sense that they belong to a state?

So the Rohingya are indeed homeless and we are right to insist on it. To do so is not to obfuscate the issue, as Farish charges; it is simply to say things as they are. Many of the Rohingya are homeless. They are not recognised by the state and they have been displaced from their homes.

But even if we somehow accept the meaningfulness of asserting this paradox, it still doesn’t support Farish’s conclusion. He says that calling the Rohingya homeless will “perpetuate the notion that the Rohingya are a stateless community with no homeland of their own, and thus deny them their history, culture and identity as well.”

This is nonsense. The Rohingya are a stateless community with no homeland of their own—the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) designates them as a stateless people. They ought to be recognised by the Burmese government and they ought to have a homeland, but they aren’t and they don’t. This isn’t the perpetuation of false information; it is insistence on the truth. Only Farish is confused here because he conflates is with ought.

To say the Rohingya are homeless is not to “deny them their history, culture and identity” either. On the contrary, it is to insist on it. By conferring on them the status of refugees, we recognise that they are a defined social group that is being persecuted on the basis of some innate characteristic of that grouping. This forces us to recognise the uniqueness of their history, culture and identity, not deny it.

Illegal immigrants from Burma and Bangladesh arrive at the Langkawi police station in Malaysia on Monday. Pic: AP.

Illegal immigrants from Burma and Bangladesh arrive at the Langkawi police station in Malaysia on Monday. Pic: AP.

Humanising or over-victimising?

Journalists have done an admirable job in capturing the vulnerability and suffering of the Rohingya in pictures and video. The effect of this has been an outpouring of expressions of sympathy and it has galvanised people all around world and the region into pressuring their governments to do something about this crisis.

Rather than recognise this as a good thing, Farish cautions against it. He says:

But we should also be wary of over-emphasising the victimhood of the Rohingya, or casting them permanently in the role of the unfortunate and vulnerable, for such discourses of victimhood – when overplayed – can also hobble the Other and reduce others to the status of the perpetual victim.

To humanise them, Farish is saying, we must occasionally describe them as something other than victims. We should point to their “strength and their enduring will to survive at all costs”, and we should “recognise them for what they are: human beings with a cultural identity and history, endowed with dignity and who deserve a modicum of respect rather than condescension.”

Farish is not wrong about recognising their courage; the problem is that he mistakes concern for condescension, attention for stereotyping.

First, to be concerned about the Rohingya’s plight is to think of them as equals, worthy of the same protection as any other human being, not as inferiors. No truly condescending person would take a genuine interest in the fate of others, much less act to help those he deems inferior.

Second, to pay close attention to the Rohingya’s plight is to recognise how difficult it is for them to escape their situation, it is not to stereotype them as automatons. The Rohingya are indeed perpetual victims with nowhere to run to—not Burma, Bangladesh or ASEAN. Focusing on their tragic plight forces us to recognise them as persons like ourselves and prevents us from seeing them as just another statistic.

For many of them, their time in a vessel has indeed been such a traumatic experience that we may say it will define much of their identity and their existence. They are victims and there is nothing wrong with emphasising it. Doing so does not detract from their humanity, it adds to our recognition of it.

Farish seems to suggest that we celebrate their courage in the midst of a tragedy. But what is there to celebrate? Their “strength and enduring will to survive at all costs” is desperation, not the triumph of the human spirit.

An armed Indonesian police officer stands guard during the visit of Bangladesh's Ambassador to Indonesia Mohammad Nazmul Quaunine at a temporary shelter in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia, Sunday. Pic: AP.

An armed Indonesian police officer stands guard during the visit of Bangladesh’s Ambassador to Indonesia Mohammad Nazmul Quaunine at a temporary shelter in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia, Sunday. Pic: AP.

Is it a disaster?

Farish writes:

What is happening now in South-east Asia and the Mediterranean is not a natural disaster though, but rather the result of political will and contestation that necessarily involve human agency, and thus entails the element of moral-political responsibility as well.

To describe the phenomenon of boat people… as a “disaster” suggests an inevitability to the situation that begs the question: Surely, thousands of people would not rush out to sea, braving hazardous conditions that imperil their lives, for the sheer sake of it?”

Farish thus claims that the Rohingya crisis isn’t a disaster because it isn’t a natural disaster. Or in other words, it shouldn’t be described as a “disaster” because it is “the outcome of a political crisis that has been brewing for years now”, not an earthquake or tsunami.

This is a rather odd claim to make. A man-made disaster is a disaster nonetheless, and commentators typically have in mind the scale and severity of the crisis when they use the word “disaster”, not its causes or its inevitability.

So why does Farish make this contorted claim? I think he does so to subtly explain why the principle of non-interference is important. He draws a parallel to the crisis in Libya and calls it is the “outcome of political intervention gone wrong”. But the problem here is not that ASEAN has intervened and created the crisis; it is that it has done nothing. It boggles my mind how anyone might see the Rohingya crisis as proof that ASEAN’s principle of non-interference works.

The Rohingya crisis is an ongoing disaster. It is ASEAN’s disaster.

Newly arrived migrants gather at Kuala Langsa Port in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia. Pic: AP.

Newly arrived migrants gather at Kuala Langsa Port in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia. Pic: AP.

Is it ASEAN’s problem?

Farish criticises the “tendency to label this as an ‘Asean problem’” because it misleadingly suggests that “all of South-east Asia was implicated in the humanitarian crisis that led to this situation.” He says the right-wing ethno-nationalists and sectarian groups in Burma are the ones who are “primarily responsible” while other countries in ASEAN have merely been “slow in their response to the flight of the Rohingya”. None of them is directly responsible, he claims.

It is not at all clear what Farish prefers, but surely the alternative is not to see this as a “Burma problem”. The Rohingya asylum seekers on rickety boats are not in Burma’s waters, they are in the waters of ASEAN member states like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Whose responsibility is it to save them from drowning or dying of starvation if not theirs?

There is no way Southeast Asia can avoid being implicated in this crisis—they already are by virtue of geography. Unless ASEAN decides to wash its hands of the matter, it is very much an ASEAN problem.

There is also no meaningful distinction to be drawn between direct or primary responsibility and indirect or secondary responsibility in this context. ASEAN may not have held the whip but they certainly put it in Burma’s hands; or at the very least, they knew about it and did nothing. ASEAN may not have started the racism but they have certainly done virtually nothing to stop it.

Crying “he pushed me first” may work for six-year-olds but not on the world stage. It is very much ASEAN’s problem; there’s no point in denying our culpability. We may quibble about the extent of ASEAN’s responsibility, or the manner of it, but we cannot deny that ASEAN is responsible for this crisis.

This doesn’t mean we ignore Burma’s central role in causing this crisis. On the contrary, it means developing the political will to cooperate with it in implementing long term solutions.

Dignity and indignity

I do not fault Farish’s sincerity, merely his muddle-headedness. He is right to be concerned about the Rohingya’s dignity. However, he is wrong to think that the dignity of recognising individual autonomy is more important than the indignity of death, starvation and malnutrition.

Rather than try to affirm their inherent dignity with tortured logic, we should simply recognise it by acknowledging that they are indeed homeless victims who need ASEAN’s help.

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Japan pledges climate change aid to Pacific island nations http://asiancorrespondent.com/133101/japan-pledges-climate-change-aid-to-pacific-island-nations/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133101/japan-pledges-climate-change-aid-to-pacific-island-nations/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:58:28 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133101 TOKYO (AP) — Japan is giving 55 billion yen ($450 million) in climate change and disaster aid to Pacific island nations, an effort to beef up its profile in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the pledge at a meeting with Pacific island nations in Iwaki in northern Japan on Saturday.

The assistance will be doled out over three years to help fight climate change and natural disasters. Japan will also help with expert exchanges and training.

The island nations include Fiji, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands and others dotting the Pacific Ocean, some of which are threatened with rising sea levels.

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China contributing experts, troops to disaster relief drills http://asiancorrespondent.com/133100/china-contributing-experts-troops-to-disaster-relief-drills/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133100/china-contributing-experts-troops-to-disaster-relief-drills/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:55:47 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133100 BEIJING (AP) — China is contributing 600 personnel, including 49 from the military, to multinational disaster relief exercises in Malaysia, the first time it has taken part in such an effort.

The Defense Ministry says China’s contribution will include experts from the foreign and civil affairs ministry, along with local government bodies and troops from the army and paramilitary forces.

The five-day ASEAN Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise 2015 is due to kick off on Sunday in the Malaysian states of Kedah and Perlis.

Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

China is co-chairing the event along with Malaysia. The U.S., Japan, South Korea and India are among other nations and organizations taking part, with about 2,000 participants in total.

Along with its booming economy and rising diplomatic clout, China has increasingly engaged in disaster relief work and multinational exercises.

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China says 2 schoolchildren die amid heavy flooding http://asiancorrespondent.com/133099/china-says-2-schoolchildren-die-amid-heavy-flooding/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133099/china-says-2-schoolchildren-die-amid-heavy-flooding/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:48:57 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133099 BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities say two schoolchildren aboard an overloaded bus that plunged into a pond are among the dead in the latest round of flooding in the country’s south.

At least 45 have died and 19 are missing in the floods that have ravaged mountain districts of six provinces and autonomous regions. They include 10 dead and six missing in the collapse of a building in the city of Guiyang following a landslide.

The Guangxi regional government said Saturday another 21 kindergarten students were sent to the hospital in the school bus accident on Friday, with three listed in serious condition. The bus was licensed to carry 11 people, but had a total of 26 aboard.

It says the driver, teachers and school administrators have been taken into custody.

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US envoy on NKorea heads for talks in Seoul, Beijing http://asiancorrespondent.com/133098/us-envoy-on-nkorea-heads-for-talks-in-seoul-beijing/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133098/us-envoy-on-nkorea-heads-for-talks-in-seoul-beijing/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:25:42 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133098 WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior U.S. envoy will hold joint talks about North Korea next week with Japan and South Korea, and then with China.

The latest round of regional diplomacy on how to deal with the unpredictable government of Kim Jong Un (kim jawng oon) comes as North Korea steps up claims of its nuclear and missile capabilities.

 

South Korean army soldiers stand guard at a military check point near the border with North Korea. Pic: AP.

South Korean army soldiers stand guard at a military check point near the border with North Korea. Pic: AP.

Earlier this month, North Korea said it had test-launched a new type of missile from a submarine. This week, the powerful National Defense Commission said the North could miniaturize a nuclear weapon.

The State Department says U.S. special representative for North Korea policy Sung Kim will hold talks in Seoul starting Tuesday with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

He then goes to Beijing on Thursday to meet with his Chinese counterpart.

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Nepal assesses if quake-hit villages are at risk before rain http://asiancorrespondent.com/133097/nepal-assesses-if-quake-hit-villages-are-at-risk-before-rain/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133097/nepal-assesses-if-quake-hit-villages-are-at-risk-before-rain/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:15:35 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133097 KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepal’s government has sent geologists to earthquake-damaged mountain villages to assess landslide risks before the rainy season begins next month.

Home Ministry official Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said Friday the geologists went this week to villages in the districts that were the most affected by the earthquakes.

USAID rescue workers inspect the site of collapsed buildings after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

USAID rescue workers inspect the site of collapsed buildings after the earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic: AP.

Dhakal said the geologists would check the soil and the government would then decide which villages are in danger of landslides and need to be relocated.

Heavy rainfall during the monsoon season has triggered landslides in the past in mountainous Nepal, and the risks are higher because of the earthquakes.

The April 26 and May 12 earthquakes have killed 8,635 people in Nepal and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

 

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UN chief calls for peaceful solution to sea disputes http://asiancorrespondent.com/133096/un-chief-calls-for-peaceful-solution-to-sea-disputes/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133096/un-chief-calls-for-peaceful-solution-to-sea-disputes/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:12:46 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133096 HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling for a peaceful solution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China’s assertiveness has alarmed its smaller neighbors.

Ban told reporters in Hanoi on Friday that he Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang discussed regional security concerns, including the South China Sea. He said he had consistently called on all parties to resolve their disputes through dialogue and in conformity with international law.

Vietnam, along with the Philippines, is one of the most vocal critics of China’s activities in the disputed waters, where Beijing has begun creating artificial islands through massive land reclamation. Other claimants include Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Ban says it is important to avoid actions that could provoke or exacerbate tensions in the region.

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China says work on charter for Asian bank completed http://asiancorrespondent.com/133095/china-says-work-on-charter-for-asian-bank-completed/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133095/china-says-work-on-charter-for-asian-bank-completed/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:05:11 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133095 BEIJING (AP) — China says 57 governments that want to join a planned Chinese-led Asian regional bank have finished work on a charter and it is due to be signed in late June.

The Chinese finance ministry said the agreement Friday followed a three-day meeting in Singapore of envoys from proposed member governments. It gave no details of the charter.

China’s proposal for the bank attracted unexpectedly widespread support from Western governments including Britain and France. The United States and Japan have refrained from joining.

The bank is intended to finance investments in Asia in railways, cargo ports and other trade links. Beijing has pledged to put up most of its initial $50 billion in capital and says that total will rise to $100 billion.

 

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Prime minister’s wife visits controversial Japanese shrine http://asiancorrespondent.com/133094/prime-ministers-wife-visits-controversial-japanese-shrine/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133094/prime-ministers-wife-visits-controversial-japanese-shrine/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:02:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133094 TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s first lady has visited the Yasukuni shrine honoring the country’s war dead, including convicted war criminals, in a move that risks outraging neighboring countries that suffered under Japan’s World War II aggression.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie does not hold political office, but her visit could be seen as symbolic.

Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

Visits by politicians to Yasukuni have in the past angered Japan’s neighbors, such as China and South Korea.

Akie Abe posted photos on Facebook of her standing in front of Yasukuni on Thursday.

She says she felt her heart ache while reading the wills and letters soldiers wrote to their families that are exhibited at Yasukuni.

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The Latest on Rohingya: Burma rescues over 200 boat people http://asiancorrespondent.com/133093/the-latest-on-rohingya-burma-rescues-over-200-boat-people/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133093/the-latest-on-rohingya-burma-rescues-over-200-boat-people/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:00:13 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133093 2 p.m. (0730 GMT)

Burma says its navy has rescued 208 migrants aboard two fishing trawlers off the western coast.

According to the director of the president’s office, Zaw Htay, the migrants are Bangladeshi men.

They were found off the coast of Rakhine state, where most of the Rohingya minority Muslims have been fleeing persecution in the majority-Buddhist nation and thousands became stranded in the Andaman Sea.

Thailand Rohingya

Rohingya refugees. Pic: AP.

Authorities in Burma do not recognize the Rohingya, refer to them as Bengalis and consider them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

About half of the more than 3,000 migrants who landed on the shores of Indonesia and Malaysia are Rohingya from Burma and the other half from Bangladesh proper. They share the same language and religion.

Htaw says the Burma navy will provide humanitarian assistance, conduct verification and return them to where they came from.

— Aye Aye Win, Yangon, Myanmar/Burma

___

10 a.m. (0300 GMT)

The U.N. refugee agency is estimating that over 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants — or even more — could still be adrift in the Andaman Sea.

The exact numbers are not known, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says it triangulated reports in the media and other sources and estimates the current number could be over 3,000 — or more that no one knows about.

More than 3,000 Rohingya minority Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma and Bangladeshi economic migrants also on the boats with them have already landed in Indonesia and Malaysia, and over 100 in Thailand.

Only Rohingyas are being given a one-year temporary shelter while Bangladeshis face repatriation.

Malaysian navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar says four vessels are searching for any migrant ships that could still be out at sea, and three helicopters and three combat boats are on standby.

___

3 p.m. (2200 GMT)

The U.S. military says it is preparing to help countries in the region address the humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya migrants stranded at sea.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool told The Associated Press Thursday that the Department of Defense “is responding to this crisis and taking this seriously. We are preparing to stand up maritime aviation patrols throughout the region and working with local partners to help with this issue.”

It was the first indication that the U.S. military is ready to take direct role. Washington has been urging governments in the region to work together to conduct search and rescue and provide shelter to thousands of vulnerable migrants.

— Martha Mendoza, Santa Cruz, California

____

10 a.m. (1400 GMT)

A bipartisan group of 23 U.S. lawmakers is urging the Obama administration to prevent Southeast Asian seas from becoming a “graveyard” for thousands of Rohingya boat people.

The lawmakers made the appeal in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late Wednesday, ahead of discussions on the crisis between Myanmar’s government and the No. 2 ranking U.S. diplomat, Anthony Blinken, in Naypyitaw, Burma’s capital.

The members of the House of Representatives said the United States should provide support in search and rescue and humanitarian assistance for migrants in imminent danger in the Andaman Sea after fleeing “systematic repression” in Burma.

The U.S. should also work with Southeast Asian nations and address the “root cause” of the crisis, it says. The letter is strongly critical of President Thein Sein’s government for pursuing “hate-filled” legislation against minorities in Burma. It recommends targeted U.S. sanctions against those who incite violence against the Rohingya if the situation continues to deteriorate.

The top-ranking Republican and Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee are among the signatories of the letter, which was provided Thursday to The Associated Press. Lawmakers provide oversight, but don’t set U.S. foreign policy.

— Matthew Pennington, Washington, D.C.

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Rich executives, lowly clerks: Why we should resist social segregation and question meritocracy http://asiancorrespondent.com/133091/rich-executives-lowly-clerks-resist-social-segregation-question-meritocracy/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133091/rich-executives-lowly-clerks-resist-social-segregation-question-meritocracy/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 01:30:47 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133091 Fitness First. Pic: ABC.

Fitness First. Pic: ABC.

Why pay S$3,000, then S$600 more every month, for a gym membership? According to Fitness First: so you can avoid having to be “down there in the gym with a lowly clerk”.

In response, one reader condemned the fitness company’s choice of words. “[T]o use the adjective ‘lowly’ for a clerk is unacceptable,” Preeti Athavle wrote in a letter to TODAY as she pointed out how people often suffer from inequality of opportunity in Singapore.

Although Ms Athavle made no direct reference to our esteemed ideal of meritocracy, we may observe in this incident an inextricable relationship between these three issues: equality of opportunity, meritocracy and our attitudes toward the poor.

Meritocracy is a system which rewards ability, talent and hard work, rather than social class or family wealth. Unfortunately, it will never work perfectly unless there is equality of opportunities. We cannot have a perfect meritocracy unless we can ensure that every single person starts off from an equal footing at the start of his life and continues to have equal opportunities every step of the way.

Is this too high a standard? It is a high standard; but so is the claim of having a perfect meritocracy.

Moreover, the ethical implications are so intuitively repugnant that we ought to be exacting in our determination of whether we truly enjoy a meritocracy. Following the logic that underpins meritocracy, insofar as society provides people with equal opportunities, we may justifiably blame the poor for their social status. We can deny them assistance and leave them to starve on the basis that they deserve it.

In short, if society was perfectly meritocratic, we may indeed say the poor deserve to starve (again, following the logic of meritocracy); and since we shouldn’t make such morally abhorrent claims lightly, we ought to first get our facts about the equality of opportunities right.

Fitness First’s advertisement brings this issue to the fore with its attribution of the description “lowly”—a term of disparagement—to clerks who do not enjoy the social status of the rich executive. Clerks, Fitness First is implying, don’t deserve our respect because they are responsible for their own situation.

According to Ms Athavle, this simply isn’t true, not even in Singapore. She is right about this.

Much as we may try to provide equality of opportunities with an excellent and well-subsidised education system, we cannot entirely erase differences between social classes in nutrition, parental care, family connections and wealth. It is therefore unwarranted to call clerks “lowly” since their failure to become a rich executive is not entirely their own fault.

Moreover, the problem with the Fitness First advertisement isn’t merely that it promotes a sense of entitlement which is undeserved. The problem is that it encourages social exclusivity for its own sake.

Part of the attractiveness of the Fitness First gym is, no doubt, furnishings which contribute to the “holistic and luxurious fitness and wellness experience”. No one here is suggesting that it must bring this down to the lowest common denominator—no, we are not communists. But what Fitness First is selling is more than that; it is selling social exclusivity and appealing to the customer’s inner snob.

While social exclusivity is an inevitable by-product of any service that prices itself beyond the reach of the average “clerk”, and it may legitimately be sold as part of a product (as in condominiums and private clubs), this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to restrict it. The negative externalities of social segregation are real and can be observed.

One of the problems with such segregation is that it makes it harder for the rich to empathise with the poor since their lives are now lived so differently. We already study, work and shop in different places; now, Fitness First wants us to exercise separately too.

The problem here is that how and where we live shapes our view of the world and of each other. This in turn shapes our ability to communicate effectively and come together to find solutions to shared problems.

The Harvard political philosopher, Michael Sandel, called this the “skyboxification” of American life. Explaining the problem with this, he said:

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.

If we are to avoid the skyboxification of Singapore, we ought to resist social segregation and question the assumptions that encourage its underlying attitudes.

In Singapore, our celebratory rhetoric of meritocracy has blinded us to the existence of an unequal playing field. In our quest to treat everyone equally, regardless of race or social background, we ignore the very problems that prevent people from enjoying equality of opportunity. The result is a sense of snobbery and entitlement.

Both Fitness First and our blind faith in meritocracy are responsible for producing tropes like the lowly clerk, the uneducated road sweeper and the uninspired toilet cleaner. We can’t condemn one without recognising the problem with the other.

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Response from Fitness First:

To the Editor

We are disappointed in an article published recently in the UK which understandably caused upset. This is not representative of our views.

Fitness First is a brand built on inclusiveness and diversity, and we believe that fitness is and should be for all.

Our members make our clubs what they are and as such they are incredibly important to us. Everyone is welcome to train and get fit with us.

We are excited about the launch of Gravity, which offers a different and highly personalised service designed to cater particularly to busy executives who are seeking access to holistic wellness services in a personal and private environment.

We have been working hard over the past 14 years to help our members live a healthier lifestyle, and we are committed to continue doing so.

Yours Sincerely,
Simon Flint
Chief Executive Officer,
Fitness First Asia

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A year of Narendra Modi: What has he achieved? http://asiancorrespondent.com/133085/a-year-of-narendra-modi-what-has-he-achieved/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133085/a-year-of-narendra-modi-what-has-he-achieved/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 06:47:56 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133085 Narendra Modi. Pic: AP.

Narendra Modi. Pic: AP.

Narendra Modi has completed one year in office and traveled to more locations around the world than most Indians would in a lifetime. A robust foreign policy no doubt is a big plus of his tenure so far. Does India need a foreign minister with Modi at the helm, is one question.

Also, judging by his high pitched electoral rhetoric prior to assuming power, India should have been heaven on earth by now. That was never possible. I am writing this piece sitting by the window of a swanky hotel where I frequently stay for work. Across the potholed road is a slum cluster where an army of kids, babies, pigs and piglets happily wallow in the filth and dirt. Pigs will be pigs, kids will be kids.

The view was the same a year back though the road has thankfully been repaired, which has nothing to with Modi.

I believe the local residents took up the matter strongly with the authorities. Going by Modi’s cleverly worded electoral promises, the broader landscape from my hotel window should have also changed. It has not. And will probably not alter anytime soon, unless a mall or a hotel is built and the slum cluster demolished overnight. The pigs and the kids will find another unoccupied space to survive, die or play. Lets be realistic. India cannot change overnight, any more so than a Salman Khan blockbuster movie unexpectedly starting to make any sense.

Many apprehensions about Modi have been proved untrue, though it was a bit of a shocker when he turned out in an expensive monogrammed suit to meet Barack Obama.

Till then, most sartorial comments about Modi centred around his resplendent pugree’s trademark half jacket and refusal to wear a skull cap. Modi is not a fascist, as some loudly feared, who would destroy Indian democracy and jail every leftist liberal that has dared to take him on from his or her cosy office in South Delhi. Judiciary, media, Parliament, CAG, defence forces, continue to play their role. Thankfully, pseudo secularism is dead for now and has not been substituted by hounding of minorities as some predicted.

There is a subtle and perhaps more acceptable emphasis on emblems of Hindu culture and traditions such as yoga, Gita or Ayurveda. Baba Ramdev has never been so politically relevant, though it would be nicer if he stuck to just yoga and promoting his popular Patanjali products.

Modi and his creative team’s clever play of catchwords and slogans persists:  Swachh Bharat, Make in India, Nari Shakti, smart city, fastest train, to name some. Honestly, creating such consciousness does help change mindsets. Recently, my elder daughter, in class IX, spoke passionately about the practical measures that can be undertaken by individual households to make our neighbourhood clean. She is presenting a paper on it for a school debate. A healthy mix of ideas in a young mind can only be for the good. Too many events impinging imaginations are far removed from reality, such as Zayn Malik quitting the boy band One Direction or Taylor Swift’s latest hairdo.

Ultimately, Modi will be judged by his promise to deliver on development. The change has to be real and not a mishmash like ‘Bombay Velvet’ that only satisfies the director Anurag Kashyap’s creative side, whatever that may mean. He needs to think of the paying audience as well. In the last one year, Modi has underlined his growth strategy — push infrastructure, cut down or target via direct cash transfers often wasteful welfarist expenditure, reform power, help business and hope that the resulting economic recovery benefits the people of India.

No doubt there is a sense of purpose in the government that wants to deliver, whether it is proposed tax reforms or land bill that balances interests of both industry and farmers.

Modi slogs and he makes sure others under him do too during holidays and weekends. Such is the work pressure that some bureaucrats, usually inclined towards honing golfing skills at Delhi Golf Club, have reportedly installed beds in their office. This can only be good for the country.

Consider also for a moment Modi’s potential competitors — Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. The Delhi government headed by Kejriwal really needs to introspect and reassess its future course of action, rather than entangle itself in issues that are irrelevant, like a dog trying to bite its own tail. Gandhi disappeared on a holiday for two months. He has reappeared and looks refreshed, no doubt, but woefully inadequate to take on a wily, street-smart, driven contender like Modi. Holidays cannot make a person intelligent, working hard can.

This article by Siddarth Srivastava first appeared on his Mocking Indian blog. Siddharth has just released his first novel, ‘an offbeat story’. It is available to buy here.

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South Korean court suspends ‘nut rage’ exec’s prison term http://asiancorrespondent.com/133081/skorean-court-suspends-nut-rage-execs-prison-term/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133081/skorean-court-suspends-nut-rage-execs-prison-term/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 06:04:55 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133081 Former Korean Air exec Cho Hyun-ah. Pic: AP.

Former Korean Air exec Cho Hyun-ah. Pic: AP.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court has suspended the prison term for the Korean Air chairman’s daughter whose onboard “nut rage” delayed a flight last year.

The Seoul High Court said Friday that Cho Hyun-ah, a former vice president of the airline, did not violate aviation security law when she ordered the chief flight attendant off a Dec. 5 flight, forcing it to return to the gate at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

The upper court sentenced Cho to 10 months in prison that will be suspended for two years. The court said she was guilty of using violence against flight attendants.

The incident occurred after a flight attendant served her macadamia nuts in a bag, and not on a dish.

She’ll likely be freed from prison later Friday. She’s been in prison since her December arrest.

She’d previously been sentenced to one year in prison.

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Rohingya crisis: The myth of Australia’s ‘front door’ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133068/rohingya-crisis-myth-australia-front-door/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133068/rohingya-crisis-myth-australia-front-door/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 03:23:22 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133068 Tony Abbott seeks to disguise Australia’s discriminatory policy against asylum seekers who arrive by boat with the euphemism of the “front door”. It is an attempt to veil populism and hostility in the language of procedural correctness.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a press conference in 2014.  Pic: AP.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Pic: AP.

How should asylum seekers, fleeing persecution, aided and abetted by their own government, escape their plight? How may the Rohingya, who suffer mass internment, destitution, malnutrition, starvation and widespread discrimination, find refuge?

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s answer, representing the Australian Government’s position: “If you want to start a new life, you come through the front door, not through the back door.”

To take Abbott’s statement in isolation would be a mistake. It is not only consistent with the Liberal Party’s unyielding stance against refugees they consider to be undeserving (as if one must earn asylum), it is also good politics at home.

Ever since John Howard won the elections in 2001, refugee bashing has become an easy way to play on the public’s worst fears. With that same desire, though with much less tact, Abbott now seeks to disguise Australia’s discriminatory policy against asylum seekers who arrive by boat with the euphemism of the “front door”. It is an attempt to veil populism and hostility in the language of procedural correctness and we ought to be wary of it for the following reasons.

First of all, it is patently absurd to expect the Rohingya who are fleeing widespread and intense discrimination to first inquire with the Australian Embassy if they may apply for refugee status, go through the tedious process, then buy an air ticket and hop on a plane. They do not have that luxury.

(READ MORE: ‘Nope, nope, nope': Abbot says Australia won’t take Rohingya migrants)

Second, the notion that there is a right way to escape from a well-founded threat to one’s life and liberty is laughable. If there’s an air raid, it shouldn’t matter whether you enter the bomb shelter through the front or back, and surely no one is obliged to knock and wait for permission to enter either. Life is far too valuable to be subject to the demands of political correctness and procedural rules.

Third, the issue of national sovereignty and border control pales in comparison to the tragedy of thousands of people dying. Nations do have a right to refuse entry to desperate refugees; it’s just unconscionable to exercise it at a time like this. It is indeed a foundational international norm that countries respect each other’s sovereignty; but so is the protection of refugees, not to mention the rescue of distressed persons at sea.

Fourth, it’s almost impossible to deter asylum seekers who have nothing left to lose. Abbott wants to discourage asylum seekers from “getting on a leaky boat at the behest of a people smuggler”. But the Rohingya, and most asylum seekers, do not have any other choice. It’s not a question of the boat or Qantas Airways; it’s a question of the devil or the deep blue sea.

Finally, Abbott’s “front door” is more aptly termed, “a tiny keyhole”. You get in and you get jostled about, and perchance, you might just get through. Abbott’s rhetoric is reflected in his administration’s dismal rate of refugee acceptance—a rate that is lower even then Malaysia’s, Indonesia’s and Thailand’s. On top of that, Australia accepts fewer refugees for its wealth and landmass than Malaysia and Indonesia.

The following charts will hopefully give you a picture of this sobering reality.

The darker portion of each pie chart represents the percentage of asylum seekers that are granted recognition as refugees. Data: UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2013.

The darker portion of each pie chart represents the percentage of asylum seekers that are granted recognition as refugees. Data: UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2013. (click to enlarge)

Australia only recognised 31% of its asylum seekers (people seeking refugee status) as refugees in 2013. This includes those who came by boat – people who Australia routinely diverts to offshore processing facilities. (Since Australia changed its methodology of counting asylum seekers in the middle of 2013, I have taken a conservative estimate by halving the previous year’s number of boat people and added it to the total number of asylum seekers for 2013. See Statistical Annex.)

In contrast, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, countries which are far less economically developed, granted refuge to a greater proportion of those who sought asylum in 2013 – 65% for Malaysia, 76% for Thailand and 32% for Indonesia.

While there are surely differences in the demographics of asylum seekers that reach each country–and these differences may partly explain why Australia recognises a smaller proportion of asylum seekers as legitimate refugees–it is surely no coincidence that unlike Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand do not use the dehumanisation of refugees as a political tool to win domestic support. In fact, the intense media coverage of the plight of the Rohingya refugees have made their suffering palpably clear. This has arguably contributed to Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s decision to grant temporary shelter to the Rohingya refugees for one year.

By contrast, Abbott continues to appeal to deeply entrenched stereotypes of boat people as uncivilised and barbaric. Whereas John Howard scandalously promoted the picture of boat people throwing their babies overboard, Abbott now seeks to describe asylum seekers as queue jumpers who lack the moral scruples to give due regard to their own safety and the well-being of their families. This view is not only demonstrably false–as I have sought to show–it is also toxic.

There is no queue for the Rohingya and they have no choice. Accusing the victim is an atrocious way to deflect attention and we should not allow Abbott’s dehumanisation of the victims to poison our understanding of the Rohingya refugee crisis.

The reality is, given its economic strength and land mass, Australia accepts far fewer refugees than Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Yet, both Malaysia and Indonesia are willing to accept even more refugees while Abbott fiddles.

Ratio of refugee acceptance to GDP per capita (PPP).

Ratio of absolute number of refugees recognised to each  nation’s economic strength as measured by GDP per capita (PPP). Data: UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2013.

Ratio of refugees accepted to land mass

Ratio of absolute number of refugees recognised to each nation’s land mass as measured by 1000 square kilometres. Data: UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2013.

In short, Malaysia and Indonesia accept more refugees for every dollar and every square kilometre of land it has than Australia. Now, it is willing to go even further while Australia’s prime minister injects his toxic ideas into the discourse.

And if bar graphs are not your cup of tea, simply consider how ridiculous it is of Abbott to be speaking of front and back doors given the scale of the refugee crisis the world faces. It is indeed a problem for the world and Australia simply isn’t doing its part.

Refugees accepted around the world

Australia accepted only 2% of the refugees around the world in 2013. Data: UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2013.

Refugees accepted compared to the total number of refugees

The UNHCR identified 11.7 million refugees in 2013. Data: UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2013.

The problem is a massive one. 11.7 million refugees need protection. In 2013, Australia recognised 5035 asylum seekers as refugees.

It’s true, the refugee crisis is a global problem; but that’s precisely why Australia must do its part. And so must a small country like my own–Singapore. Unfortunately, my Government is not one to pass up a chance to harp on our small size and remind Singaporeans of our vulnerability. And it seems like Tony Abbott knows a political opportunity when he sees it too. This makes me sick to the stomach.

Remember the intensity of Abbott’s attempts to help the Bali Nine avoid the firing squad? What has happened to it now?

The lives of Australian drug traffickers convicted of smuggling over 8 kilograms of heroin are precious; but the lives of Rohingya Muslims are not.

The death penalty will not deter drug traffickers from making their fortunes off the misery of others; but leaving the Rohingya to sink to their watery grave will deter others from trying to escape ethnic cleansing.

There is no logic to this; only the politics of power.

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One year on: Future looks grim under Thailand’s ruling junta http://asiancorrespondent.com/133069/one-year-on-future-looks-grim-under-thailands-ruling-junta/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133069/one-year-on-future-looks-grim-under-thailands-ruling-junta/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 00:45:00 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133069 A Thai soldier stands guard in front of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok after the military seized power on May 22. Pic: AP.

A Thai soldier stands guard in front of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok after the military seized power on May 22, 2014. Pic: AP.

When Pink Floyd’s vocalist and bassist Roger Waters wrote the 1979 rock classic ‘Another Brick in The Wall’, he was thinking about the authoritarian teaching and rote learning he encountered in his school days that would produce, in his opinion, more proverbial bricks in the wall of mental detachment.

I recently came across somebody online pointing out the difference between a teacher and a professor: a teacher makes sure that students learn, a professor on the other hand (ideally) only points them to the general direction and leaves it up to them once they encountered the ”fountain of knowledge”. He then went on to say that a government should be similar to the professor’s job, which creates a free environment where discussions can be held and ideas can flourish. The current Thai government is more like the teacher that not only decides what we have to learn, but also when and how.

And boy, what a teacher we have right now!

It’s been exactly a year since Thailand’s military has launched the country’s 12th successful coup, toppling what was left of the embattled and besieged government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. It was the end of over half a year of anti-government protests that eventually morphed into anti-democracy rallies, but it was just the beginning of Thailand under martial law and military rule. On that day, we saw the death of Thai democracy as we knew it.

While martial law was revoked earlier this year (with the now already infamous Section 44 in its place instead), the military junta still has a tight grip on the whole political discourse and is busy re-writing and revamping almost everything about it.

The blueprint of the country’s political future is being drafted in the next constitution. But all signs show that this charter does nothing but constitutionally enshrine the steady regression of democracy by massively curtailing the powers of elected governments or otherwise leave the door open for extra-parliamentary interventions. Amidst these legislative changes, The Economist has aptly called it a “baby sitter’s-charter”.

Perhaps this is a better way to describe how the Thai military junta government rules over the country: Not only is it like a bad teacher that expects its students only to obediently memorize the stuff, but also like an overbearing nanny overlooking us on every step.

And no other person exemplifies this “teacher-nanny-in-chief”-dom than junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Driven by what I once described as “compulsive loquaciousness”, Gen. Prayuth sees himself forced and challenged to say something about everything, no matter how ill-advised or confrontational it comes across. Same goes for his weekly TV addresses every Friday night (in a total of 40 hours of airtime since last year).

But it’s not only the former army chief himself who has delayed his retirement. Several other military officers have become either junta members, cabinet ministers, or more often than not both – mostly old men who may or may not have been good at commanding troops, but so far have failed to command the country to their liking.

The economy is at best floundering. But the military junta and their supporters have not realized that they are not part of the solution but an essential part of the problem – a delusion that has befallen them for a year now.

This week also marked the 5th anniversary of the deadly crackdown on the anti-government red shirt protesters. Back then, at the very early beginning of my blogging career, I said that “the worst isn’t over – the mess has just begun”. Unfortunately, it seems that I was right.

In the past decade, there has been no real sincere, lasting effort from both sides of the political divide to repair the gaping wounds in the nation’s fabric. Instead, it has been covered by exactly the same “blanket over the ever-increasing rift and [blind preachings of] ‘peace, love and unity’ until the next escalation” that I warned about in 2010 – and what we got since then were more escalations and more blankets. But at this point, the wounds are wider and deeper.

It is this political short-term memory loss and cognitive dissonance that has led Thai democracy astray, weakened and easy prey for those firmly not believing in it and adamantly opposing. It is quite sobering to see those in command of the 2010 crackdown now ruling the country.

The near-term future looks rather grim. The junta has recently approved a referendum on the country’s next constitution, but at the cost of delaying possible elections until September 2016 – and even that is not guaranteed, as Gen. Prayuth threatened to stay on if the charter is rejected.

The past 12 months have contributed truckloads of bricks in the mental wall that has been growing and growing in this political crisis, making it even more difficult and daunting to tear it down.

In May 2010, I expressed my doubts that a lasting change towards a more open, free and democratic Thailand will happen anytime soon.

Five years and a military coup later, I’m still waiting.

________________________
About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs extensively about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as an international freelance broadcast journalist. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.

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Beijing court jails 2 over drag-racing supercar smashup http://asiancorrespondent.com/133067/beijing-court-jails-2-over-drag-racing-supercar-smashup/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133067/beijing-court-jails-2-over-drag-racing-supercar-smashup/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 10:54:14 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133067

BEIJING (AP) — A Beijing court has sentenced two young men to up to five months in jail for dangerous driving, a month after they crashed a Lamborghini and a Ferrari in a late-night race through Beijing.

The Chaoyang District Court said Thursday that Tang Wentian, 21, and Yu Muchun, 20, were convicted of dangerously operating motor vehicles, and that neither is appealing the verdict. Tang was sentenced to five months and Yu to four.

The court said Tang’s Lamborghini reached speeds over 179 kilometers per hour (111 mph) and that Yu’s Ferrari went over 165 kph (102 mph) in their race on April 11. One passenger in Tang’s car was injured.

The court said the men were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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Burma to attend migrant crisis meeting next week http://asiancorrespondent.com/133066/burma-says-it-will-attend-migrant-crisis-talks-next-week/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133066/burma-says-it-will-attend-migrant-crisis-talks-next-week/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 09:51:25 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133066 Burma President Thein Sein. Pic: AP.

Burma President Thein Sein. Pic: AP.

The Burmese government says it will attend a regional meeting on the Rohingya humanitarian crisis next week.

Earlier, Burma hinted it might skip the May 29 meeting in Bangkok in neighboring Thailand , which will bring together more than a dozen governments from Southeast Asia and beyond. They want to discuss the root causes of the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Burma as well as Bangladeshi migrants, thousands of whom have been stranded at sea.

Burma’s presidential office director, Zaw Htay, said Thursday that his government will take part in talks about human smuggling and illegal migration.

Earlier Thursday a top US diplomat met with Burma’s president to discuss the urgency of crisis. The U.S. Embassy in Burma said Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held talks with President Thein Sein.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said earlier that Blinken would urge Burma to cooperate with Bangladesh to help migrants who are adrift and call on Burma to improve conditions inside the country for Rohingya minority Muslims.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman is also in Burma to discuss the migrants, a day after Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to offer temporary shelter to thousands of Rohingya who have landed on their shores and thousands more believed to be stranded in the Andaman Sea.

It’s a one-year temporary refuge. Indonesia says Bangladeshis, who are believed to be economic migrants mixed with the Rohingya on refugee boats, will be repatriated.

Burma has been under international pressure to stop the persecution of Rohingya. They are denied citizenship in the predominantly-Buddhist nation and face restrictions that force many to fall prey to human traffickers as they attempt to flee abroad, mostly to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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China TV show pulled over explosive crotch grenade scene http://asiancorrespondent.com/133064/china-tv-show-pulled-over-explosive-crotch-grenade-scene/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133064/china-tv-show-pulled-over-explosive-crotch-grenade-scene/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 09:37:08 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133064 A screengrab from the crotch grenade scene that has caused outcry in China. Pic: AP.

A screengrab from the crotch grenade scene that has caused outcry in China. Pic: AP.

Talk about a bombshell. A popular Chinese television drama has been pulled off air over a scene where a hidden grenade is pulled from a woman’s crotch during an amorous scene.

The scene in ‘Let’s Beat the Devils’, a drama about Chinese people’s resistance to Japanese invaders, caused public outcry. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television is investigating.

China.org.cn reports: “The scene, which has caused huge social controversy, depicts an intimate moment between female thief Yin Hua, played by actress Ge Tian, and gangster Mo Da Bang Zi, played by actor Song Qing, in a Japanese-controlled prison.”

The female character then proceeds to pull the grenade from her crotch, blowing up the couple and a number of Japanese soldiers.

A scathing editorial in the officual Xinhua news agency read: “They are using sex and violence to entice the audience under the cover of national sentiments. They are reveling on the scars of the history.”

The public outcry was only fuelled by the fact that Ge Tian, something of a bombshell herself, is the wife of Chinese Olympic Champion Hurdler Liu Xiang.

World War II dramas are popular in China, and their patriotic themes help beat the PRC’s notoriously strict censors. Audiences have complained, however, that the content can often be lewd, or just plain absurd.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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South Korea confirms third case of MERS virus http://asiancorrespondent.com/133063/south-korea-confirms-third-case-of-mers-virus/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133063/south-korea-confirms-third-case-of-mers-virus/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 09:04:43 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133063 Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

South Korea says three cases of the MERS respiratory virus have been confirmed after a 76-year-old man was found to have contracted the virus Thursday.

So far the illness – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – has been entered in Saudi Arabia, with some cases also found in other Middle Eastern countries.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the patient shared the same hospital room with a man who was confirmed as South Korea’s first confirmed case of the virus.

Agency officials say the first confirmed patient had visited Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab emirates. That man’s wife has also been diagnosed with contracting the disease.

MERS was discovered in 2012, but Saudi Arabia has seen a surge in cases this year. In March, the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Infections Disease Reasearch & Policy reported that the number of MERS fatalities in Saudi passed 400, with 15 new cases reported within the space of three days.

The World Health Organization has had reports 423 deaths from 1,118 cases.

The illness belongs  to the family of coronaviruses that includes the common cold and SARS, and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure. There is no cure or vaccine for the illness to date.

South Korea’s health authorities have moved to allay public concern, insisting that there is no way that the illness will spread to the general populace.

“There is no possibility of the disease spreading to ordinary people although it is possible to have additional cases among those who contacted the patient and have been isolated,” said Kim Young-taek, a director at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Reuters.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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