Asia in Review Archive (2017)


Date of AiR edition

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29 December 2017

Myanmar: Army invited to Cobra Gold amidst continuing human rights concerns

(jk) The Myanmar military, which has recently been accused of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Muslim Rohingya in the country, has nonetheless been invited again to take part in the 2018 Cobra Gold military exercises in which Thailand, the US and other Asian countries participate [Bangkok Post].

Thailand extended the invitation which allows the Tatmadaw to participate as an observer which puts the US in a difficult position, especially after it just imposed sanctions on senior military figures in Myanmar for their human rights abuses of late [US Department of the Treasury] and the unlawful detention of journalists as well as barring the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights from entering the country [The New York Times] [The Straits Times].

29 December 2017

Security and Counter Terrorism in Southeast Asia in 2017 and 2018

2017 saw many security issues erupt in Southeast Asia with some particularly striking crises such as the Rohingya refugee crisis or the Marawi siege, but one should not forget about other ongoing conflicts, such as the insurgency in the south of Thailand. Governments across the region are struggling with terrorism and despite some advances in legislation, problems are unlikely to vanish in 2018 [Benar].





22 December 2017

Myanmar: Genocide on UN’s mind as Myanmar’s attacks on Rohingya continue

Myanmar’s Army continued to destroy Rohingya villages even as Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement last month to repatriate refugees from the ethnic Muslim minority who had fled the violence, New York-based Human Rights Watch alleged Monday. Citing satellite imagery, HRW say more than 350 villages have now been partially or completely destroyed since Aug. 25, when the Myanmar Army “clearance operations” began. More than 630,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since then [Associated Press].

Meanwhile, the UN rights chief said Monday that Myanmar’s attacks could possibly amount to genocide, and the NGO “Doctors Without Borders” alleged Thursday that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of a Myanmar army attacks on rebels that began in August. Although accused of “horrific crimes”, Myanmar denies committing atrocities in Rakhine, saying the crackdown was a proportionate response to the Rohingya militants who attacked police posts on August 25 and killed several dozen officials [Agence France-Presse].

Meanwhile, two journalists investigating reports of a mass grave in north Rakhine State were arrested last week. Their crime? Illegally obtaining information about the attacks on the Rohingya. They obtained photographs and documents from residents in a village. Subsequently, at least eight villagers were arrested in connection with the journalists’ apprehension. Myanmar says it is investigating the reports of the mass grave [The New York Times].

15 December 2017

Failure of Parliament and “systematic rape” by the armed forces

With no signs of real improvements for the Rohingya refugees, stories about their abuse and life in most dire circumstances circle in the media on a daily basis. One of these shocking stories is the allegation of “sweeping and methodical” rape by Myanmar’s armed forces [Al Jazeera/AP]. Looking at the origins and causes of the crisis and its development, some observers look at the fail-ures of Myanmar’s institutions. Whilst the par-liament could play a major role in the way ahead, it is all but a hamstrung institution [Tea Circle]. The International Crisis Group has published a recent report, warning of potential worsening of the crisis as well as sharing some details on the lead-up to it [International Crisis Group].

8 December 2017

China’s economic engagement in Southeast Asia: Taking concrete shapes

As support from traditional development aid sources decrease, Indonesia receives foreign aid to an increasing extent from China and other non-DAC (Development Assistance Committee) countries. China’s aid to Indonesia has financed bridges, roads, power plants and a limited number of railway projects, all designed and constructed by Chinese firms. However, Pierre van der Eng submits that Indonesia could face the dilemma of whether it can continue to limit the influence of aid donors on its development policies when the delivery of bilateral foreign aid for infrastructure depends increasingly on a single provider [East Asia Forum]. In Thailand, the government just approved the country’s first high-speed railway, spearheaded by China, an on-again-off-again project that was once hailed as the crowning project of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. The National Environment Commission accepted the environmental impact assessment report for the 253- kilometer portion from Bangkok to the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. Over years, Chinese and Japanese construction firms had contested in the bidding process [Asia Times]. Meanwhile, Myanmar and China agreed to build an economic corridor between the two countries, furthering Naypyitaw’s efforts to strengthen ties with Beijing as criticism over the Rohingya refugee crisis pushes it away from the West. Beijing plans to build a deep-sea port as well as an industrial park. It also started up in April a crude oil pipeline linking Kyaukpyu and Kunming, providing an alternate route for oil shipments that does not pass through the Strait of Malacca [Nikkei Asian Review]. Before this background, the South China Morning Post asks whether an all-powerful Xi Jinping and an emboldened China are good for Southeast Asia. Karim Raslan draws historic comparisons to the Qing dynasty’s greatest emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. However, he submits that, while China seems on the upswing now, another stumble could well be on the way, if the looming debt crisis and growing domestic income inequalities were not resolved. Moreover, he writes that Southeast Asian countries are unwilling to be hegemonized [South China Morning Post].

1 December 2017

The Pope’s visit

The Pope has visited Myanmar amidst the ongoing Rohingya crisis. Meeting on Wednesday evening with the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the supreme clerical body for Burma’s Buddhist majority, the pontiff appealed to the nation’s leading monks to combat prejudice and intolerance, but left out any specific reference to the recent violence. Speaking out on behalf of the Muslim minority, some believe, might have endangered the Christian minority [The Atlantic].

1 December 2017

Indian-Chinese relations: Cmpetition over Myanmar and Nepal

India’s leaders see Myanmar’s Rohingya refugee crisis and the situation in Rakhine as an opportunity for China to try to expand its strategic partnership with Myanmar and its influence in the region. China has offered to broker a deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh regarding the Rohingya, and to create economic projects in the ravaged Rakhine zone. In response, India kicked off a military exercise with Myanmar last week to keep the country’s military engaged. This was followed by 3,000 family relief packs delivered to Rakhine on Friday. With regional political and economic supremacy at stake, the contest between India and China for this strategic part of Asia is intensifying [Times of India]. Nepal announced this week that a state-owned power company will develop its biggest hydroelectric plant, after the government scrapped a $2.5-billion deal with a Chinese company, citing lapses in the award process. Nepal’s rivers, cascading from the snow-capped Himalayas, have vast, untapped potential for hydropower generation. The country is one of several geo-political battlegrounds between its giant neighbors China and India. The opposition Communist UML party has said it would hand back the project to China if voted to power after elections that began Sunday [Asahi Shimbun].

1 December 2017

China-Myanmar relations

With most of the international community condemning Myanmar and their handling of the refugee crisis, China continues to support the regime and is playing an increasing role in mediation and discussions on the issue. Beijing seeks a “strategic stability” in Myanmar and is focused on safeguarding its OBOR project for which the country is in a vital geographical position. Whether China’s influence can bring either strategic stability or lasting peace is very much uncertain [Reuters] [Asia Times] [South China Morning Post] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs PRC].

10 November 2017

Tensions rise ahead of polls

The Sultan of Selangor has called for a sedition probe into former PM Mahathir after he allegedly insulted the ethnic group of the Bugis, which is the ethnic group the Sultanate comes from. In the original statement, Mahathir was attacking PM Najib, whom he seeks to oust in the next elections [South China Morning Post].

10 November 2017

Refugee crisis

The crisis that has by now caused much more than half a million Rohingya Muslims to flee their homes has on Monday triggered the as of yet strongest condemnation by the UN. Human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces mentioned in the report include “the systematic use of force and intimidation, killing of men, women and children, sexual violence and … the destruction and burning of homes and property”. A stronger resolution was reportedly blocked by China’s veto in the security council [Time Magazine]. Myanmar officials have reacted to the statement by stating that it would “seriously harm” efforts to repatriate Muslims who have fled [Channel News Asia].

3 November 2017

Suu Kyi visits troubled Rakhine, criticizes Bangladesh for delaying Rohingya return

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Rakhine for the first time since violence erupted in the state in late August. She is visiting the regional capital Sitter and other towns during a one-day unannounced trip. She has been criticised around the world for not stopping a military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, amid allegations of ethnic cleansing. Meanwhile, Myanmar is accusing neighboring Bangladesh of delaying the return of Rohingya Muslims forced to flee across the border to avoid a brutal campaign against them by Myanmar’s military. A spokesman of Aung San Suu Kyi, told on Wednesday that Dhaka is waiting to begin the repatriation process until it receives $400 million in international aid earmarked to expand shelter for the 600,000 Rohingyas living in crowded refugee camps [Reuters1], [The Guardian], [Reuters2].

28 October 2017

Shrinking spaces for minorities

The first report of HRW sheds light on adoption laws and practices that effectively exclude adop-tions of children of unknown (and Muslim) identity by religious minorities [Human Rights Watch] while the second article addresses the shrinking space for LGBT. Originating in the xenophobic rhetoric of a resurging military that warns of the LGBT movement as part of a proxy war against Indonesia, the issue has been broadly taken up by a variety of societal forces creating an increasingly repressive environment for LGBT people in the country [The Sydney Morning Herald]. Meanwhile the unprecedented hostility has even reached mainstream TV with the broadcast commission warning of suspicious content in a recently aired comedy and the parliament consid-ering legislation that would ban any LGBT con-tent from TV by the end of the year [NBC News].

28 October 2017

Refugee Crisis

Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh, to which 600.000 refugees have fled since late August, have agreed to cooperate on a repatriation scheme and common border security [South China Morning Post 1]. The US has withdrawn military assistance and is considering economic sanctions [BBC News]. For a more detailed view on US policy towards Myanmar, there was a senate committee on foreign relations hearing recently which can be watched here [CSpan]. India and China however, have found some rare common ground in as much as they compete over geo-strategically hugely important Myanmar and therefor both support the government in the crisis [South China Morning Post 2].

28 October 2017

Rakhine State Crisis

Visiting ISEAS Senior Fellow and former Information Minister of Myanmar shares some historic background on the ongoing crisis in Rakhine State, arguing that a lack of military intelligence has worsened the crisis [ISEAS].

20 October 2017

How to make better laws

The Union Parliament in Myanmar is getting ready to convene a new parliamentary session and members of parliament are making their way back to Naypyitaw. The author of this article draws attention to the highly active role played by the parliament since it was first convened in 2011. However, laws such as the “race and religion protection laws” or section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law have received much criticism. Before this background, the author proposes new approaches to law-making in Myanmar [New Mandala].

13 Oktober 2017

International outcry understandable but not helpful

As CPG Senior fellow Jonathan Bogais has pointed out recently [East Asia Forum], the situation in Myanmar is incredibly complex and no single blanket criticism can do the complexity of the issue justice. In agreement with that, this RSIS article calls on ASEAN to use its strengths to try and make a positive cobtribution to the crisis through quiet diplomacy [RSIS].

13 Oktober 2017

Chinese and Indian stakes in Myanmar today

The volatility that is caused by the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is viewed with some dismay by two other major powers that both have a long history with Myanmar and are currently competing for investment and influence there. Both have a long, if mixed relation with its neighbour whilst India’s interest has hugely increased since its 2014 “Act East” policy [The Daily Star].

6 October 2017

Background and new developments in the Rohingya crisis

The demonization of Myanmar’s Muslim minority as “extremists” or “terrorists” has proved effective for nationalist politicians with that country’s Buddhist majority, argues the author of the first piece. But this “othering” of the Rohingya now risks further radicalization of the Rohingya diaspora in Bangladesh [The New York Times Review of Books]. CPG Senior Research Fellow Jonathan Bogais points out that ‘more democracy’ is not a quick fix for the Rohingya crisis and that it was unrealistic to expect rapid transformation in Myanmar’s complex environment marked by decades of structural and political violence and more recently by rising ethno-nationalism amid a rapidly changing socioeconomic landscape [East Asia Forum]. Myanmar and Bangladesh are in talks on how to best implement Myanmar’s offer to take back Rohinya refugees. The two sides also agreed to constitute a joint working group on the repatriation of Rohingyas, but fixed no timeframe to complete its formation [The Daily Star]. In India, however, the fate of some 40,000 Rohingya refugees hangs in the balance as the country’s Supreme Court hears petitions to block the Modi government’s plans to deport them to Myanmar [Deutsche Welle].

29 September 2017

HRW; Military commits crimes against humanity

Human Rights Watch research has found that the military in Myanmar has committed crimes against humanities against Rohingya muslims since 2012. HRW hopes that the legal label will encourage governments and IOs to take action, including targeted sanctions and arms embargoes. It is also important to note, that the violence affects everyone in the area, not exclusively muslims [Reuters].

29 September 2017

Malaysia disassociates itself from ASEAN statement on Myanmar

Tensions between Malaysia and fellow ASEAN states have deepened over the bloc’s handling of the Rohingya Muslim crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Malaysian Foreign Minister let it be known that the Malaysian government was angry because the ASEAN statement made no mention of the word “Rohingya”. The word “Rohingya” is controversial in Myanmar, whose government has refused to grant citizenship to members of this minority group. The Buddhist majority refers to Rohingya pejoratively as “Bengalis,” because of their physical similarities with people from neighboring Bangladesh and to imply they are undocumented immigrants.

22 September 2017

“The Lady” breaks her silence on Rohingya crisis

Aung San Suu Kyi has eventually broken her silence on the crisis in Rakhine state but leaves most international observers unsatisfied with parts of her speech having been marked as “categorially untrue” and “filled with underlying denials”. Observers from China and India struck a more positive tone in their respective reactions.

22 September 2017

China-Myanmar relations: Beijing signals further support for Myanmar as it seeks to increase its influence

China has opened a diplomatic liaison office in Myanmar’s official capital – Naypyidaw – while most other countries’ missions have not yet left Yangon (SCMP). The move´s timing in the middle of the latest Rohingya crisis is hardly coincidence showing continuous support for the regime amid wide-spread international condemnation (Quartz).

15 September 2017

Myanmar´s Rohingya crisis: How much power and what interests does Aung San really have?

Amid the brutal crackdown on Myanmar´s Rohingya observers ponder the influence of the country´s icon of democracy on these events. The BBC piece by Jonathan Head circumscribes the more or less compelling forces and remaining space of maneuver government leader Aung San Suu Kyi is subjected to while leaving it open what her own position towards the Rohingya really is. Focusing exclusively on her is a mistake, however [South China Morning Post].

7 September 2017

International condemnation over Rohingya while APHR suggest “shelving of non-interference”

Aung San Suu Kyi´s administration is increasingly criticised for the humanitarian Rohingya crisis [Al Jazeera] frustrating the international community by not taking a stance against the violence if not even making matters worse [The Sydney Morning Herald]. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights [ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights] have called to shelve ASEAN´s traditional non-interference policy to avoid “another Cambodia”, referring to the Khmer Rouge genocide [ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights] while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the most recent escalation “preventable” [Forbes].

7 September 2017

BBC Burma pulls Myanmar TV deal over Rohingya ‘censorship’

In a further incident highlighting growing impediments on press freedom in Myanmar, the BBC has pulled out from a deal with popular TV station MNTV after the latter had repeatedly censored or interfered in BBC broadcasts over the use of the term “Rohingya” among other matters.

7 September 2017

Warming India–Myanmar ties: India threatens to deport its Rohingya population

Despite the international outcry about the dire situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar, India is strengthening ties with Myanmar’s government over PM Modi’s visit to the country this week and an ongoing strengthening of bilateral military cooperation. Buddhist hard-liners and nationalist are seen to have significant political synergies with Modi´s BJP in their view of the Muslim population. At the same time, India advances in Myanmar to balance out the growing Chinese influence in the country (The Times of India).

31 August 2017

Losing Faith in Aung San Suu Kyi

A thorough background article on Aung San Suu Kyi from the perspective of a former pro-democracy ally representing many ex-supporters and increasing voicers from the international community. One issue of criticism is indifference towards if not complicity with violence against minorities with the Suu Kyi’s government banning a U.N. investigation team from entering the afflicted region, and earlier this month rejecting assertions that the regime’s actions “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. A second point of criticism pertains to “the Lady’s” authoritarian leadership style.

31 August 2017

Thousands of Rohingya stranded on Bangladesh border as fighting rages

After Rohingya insurgents have launched coordinated attacks last week in Rakhine state against security posts, setting off retaliation operations by government forces thousands of Rohingya Muslims are now fleeing toward Bangladesh for safety, accompanied by a smaller exodus of Rakhine Buddhists.

24 August 2017

Freedom of Speech

Two articles on the freedom of speech legislation and its enforcement in Myanmar. Amidst growing concerns regarding the freedom of expression, Myanmar’s parliament amended the 2013 Telecommunications Law last week, easing possible sanctions. However, many opposing the law say that the amendments do little to reduce the restrictions on speech with journalists having recently been arrested, such as activist Maung Daung Kha who was imprisoned for six months for defamation [Jurist]. In another case, a man faces up to two years in jail for allegedly defaming the military in an interview on his harrowing life as a child soldier [South China Morning Post].

24 August 2017

Breaking the Devil’s Silence: Sexual Violence in Myanmar

Reported rape cases have sky-rocketed in recent years in Myanmar, with the majority of rape survivors being under-aged girls. The article presents various possible measures to counter the trend.

24 August 2017

Shan Army leaves insurgent league

A major member of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), has submitted a resignation letter to the council, with the ethnic armed group on Sunday revealing its plans to leave the coalition. The UNFC’s dwindling membership now consists of just four of initially 12 ethnic armed groups, exemplifying an increasingly volatile situation in the multi-ethnic country.

24 August 2017

Myanmar: Bleak outlooks for Democracy and Human rights in Myanmar

Myanmar is an ongoing transition with a rebalancing of power structures, constitutional development and external support of different kind. The first article focuses on four of dimensions of this transition, namely, the transition to democracy; from war to peace; from a war economy to a liberal open-market economy as well as a transition of the society as such. Pondering the progress made and to be expected in the nearer future the general assessment is sobering. Significant for the status of the political transition is the second article on the rather authoritarian style of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. It has increasingly cracked down on journalists and activists in a climate in which it is not easy to say in how much it is influenced by the remnants of the old order or the authentic style of an Aung San Suu Kyi in government instead one of in opposition.

11 August 2017

Myanmar Military Closes Off Shan State Township After Ambush by Rebel Army

As a reaction to the rebels’ taking one person of each resident’s household as new recruits, Myanmar military saw itself forced to close exit points in addition to initially only closing the entry point of Mantong Township. In consequence of the closure, many difficulties arise for residents in their daily routine.

11 August 2017

Poor Prospects for Rights and Democracy

The chief editor of the Myanmar Now non-profit news agency, Ko Swe Win, was arrested at Yangon International Airport on Sunday. He is being charged under controversial Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law by a follower of the Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha. The Article allows up to three years in prison for ‘extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person using a telecommunications network’. The detention of Swe Win is the latest in a recent series of actions against journalists in the country that rights advocates say violate freedom of expression. Nevertheless, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD remain silent and appear not to be prepared to risk the support from among Buddhist voters.

27 July 2017

End of Mission Statement by Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

This frustrated End of Mission statement by the UN Special Rapporteur laments both difficulties in accessing the country as well as a deteriorating situation on the ground. According to the news outlet Voice of America, a statement released on Saturday by Aung San Suu Kyi’s Ministry of the Office of the State Counselor said the government was “disappointed” with the Special Rapporteur’s end of mission statement and that it contained “many sweeping allegations and a number of factual errors.” [UN OHCHR]

21 July 2017

Myanmar Background Reading: Myanmar’s Myth of Ethnical Unity

Matthew Walton points out the pitfalls of prescribing to the “myth” of pre-independence ethnic unity in Myanmar and advocates for an unbiased view on history [The Tea Circle].

21 July 2017

Myanmar´s Counter-Insurgency Strategy and its humanitarian costs – The ‘Four cuts’ strategy deepens Myanmar’s war wounds

Stella Naw provides a critical view of the Tatmadaw’s counter-insurgency “Four Cuts” strategy, which is aimed at isolating armed resistance groups throughout the country [Asia Times]

18 July 2017

Political Stability & Human Rights in Myanmar: Gagging the messengers of Myanmar’s wars

The detention of three journalists in Myanmar is a worrying sign of where things are headed. Ethnic conflict in Myanmar goes well beyond the tragic situation of the Rohingya [Asia Times].

16 July 2017

Gagging the messengers of Myanmar’s wars

The detention of three journalists in Myanmar is a worrying sign of where things are headed. Ethnic conflict in Myanmar goes well beyond the tragic situation of the Rohingya [Asia Times].

30 June 2017

US State Department’s Lie About Child Soldiers

After US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took both Iraq and Myanmar off the child soldiers list, Human Rights Watch immediately issued a statement condemning the move, requesting to put both Iraq and Myanmar back on the list as violations are still ongoing. According to HRW, armed forces in Myanmar still include dozens of child soldiers.

22 June 2017

Myanmar, an Unfinished Nation

Historical tensions over identity still threaten the country’s future.