Monday, October 23, 2017
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Obama’s pivot to Asia is dead. Despite the Trump administration’s confrontation with North Korea dominating headlines for the past several weeks, in the back channels of a major regional summit, diplomats all whispered the same thing, the pivot was over.

f anything, Trump’s obsession with North Korea and the administration needing a win on foreign policy matters means that he has softened his stance towards China, a nation he once accused of unfair trade practices and currency manipulation.

Trump has been effusive in his praise of his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in recent weeks, calling him a strong leader and someone that he got along with very well.

What it means for regional players attending a conference like the ASEAN summit is that China can freely flex its muscles and assert its influence over individual members.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Chairman’s statement on Saturday which recapped the 3-day summit.

Despite four of the ten members having serious issues with Beijing over the South China Sea, the statement released was, as an Indonesian senior diplomat bluntly put, “soft.”

As the US pulls away from the region and with a growing recognition by Trump that he would have to cede some influence to coerce China to his aid on the Korean peninsula, individual ASEAN members were more vulnerable than ever to China’s bidding.

Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar, countries with no stake in the South China Sea, have already courted Beijing for investment and arms with the understanding that it would need to vote Beijing’s way on certain matters.

The Philippines, as host of the summit, softened its stance considerably on China and did not press for confrontation with the superpower in any of the closed-door meetings despite having won an arbitration hearing at the United Nations which invalidated Chinese claims to the South China Sea.

The softer stance reflected President Rodrigo Duterte’s previous statements that he was willing to negotiate with China and his recognition of Beijing’s influence and deep pockets.

While the chairman’s statement did mention the South China Sea the timorous set of generalities may as well not have been published at all.

The leaders of ASEAN are due to meet in again in Manilla in November of this year. As per tradition, the second ASEAN summit of the year will also play host to the East Asia Summit.

With both Trump and Xi (and Putin) due to arrive for the talks, it will be interesting to see how much ground Trump gives in order to advance his own foreign policy agenda. Until then, the United States pivot to Asia is effectively dead.

Snow envelops northern region of Vietnam

Posted by pakin On January - 25 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

LAO CAI – Many northern provinces have been experiencing bitter cold, while snow has been falling heavily in many areas across the northern mountainous region due to a strong cold spell that has enveloped almost half of the country since Saturday.

Snow blanketed Sa Pa in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai yesterday and temperatures plunged to minus 5 degrees C on Saturday night, the lowest temperature in years. The temperature at Sa Pa was measured at 0 degrees C yesterday morning.

Local elderly people said this is the biggest snowfall they have seen in many years.

Freezing temperatures were also reported in other areas, such as minus 0.4 degrees C in Tam Dao(Phu Tho Province), minus 0.2 degrees C in Dong Van (Ha Giang Province) and minus 4 degrees C in Mau Son Mountain (Lang Son Province).

Sections of the national road 4D from O Quy Ho Pass (Sa Pa District) to Tam Duong District (Lai Chau Province) have been blanketed with snow and a centimetre of ice, posing danger to traffic.

Snow was also seen in higher-altitude areas, including Khau Pha Pass in Mu Cang Chai district, Suoi Giang Commune in Van Chan and Hat Luu and Tram Tau communes in Tram Tau District.

In Ha Noi, the highest temperature yesterday was forecast at 7 to 10 degrees C. Snow has also been seen in Ba Vi District, which is about 50km from Ha Noi.

The cold spell has expanded as far south as the central localities, bringing rain to most areas along the central coast.

Snowy peaks

Snowfall began after the temperature plummeted overnight, with thick ice and frost appearing on Phja Oac peak in the northern mountainous province of Cao Bang.

The temperature was recorded at negative 7 degrees Celsius on Saturday morning on the wintry white mountain peak.

The rare appearance of snow attracted some tourists who came to see the winter frost, but it also negatively impacted the locals’ activities.

According to Chairman of the Thanh Cong commune’s People’s Committee Ban Van Son, severe frost has damaging consequences to agricultural production, and it also poses health risks.

Authorities have urged locals to take several measures to cope with the cold weather.

Mong ethnic minority families in Sa Pa have taken measures to protect their cattle and crops from damage caused by the cold snap.

The cold front moving from the northern region may also reduce temperatures in HCM City and neighbouring provinces to as low as 17-18 degrees Celsius this weekend and early next week.

The ongoing cold snap has also triggered strong sea gusts, posing serious hazards to boats.

The Tonkin Gulf and sea off central and southern provinces and the entire East Sea, including the waters around Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelagoes, have witnessed rough seas and fierce winds.

The cold snap, expected to last until Wednesday, has also greatly affected localities in the central region, causing temperatures to drop to 10.4 and 12.4 degrees Celsius in Vinh City, the heart of Nghe An Province, and Ha Tinh Province, respectively.

Suu Kyi backs speaker as Myanmar parliament opens

Posted by pakin On August - 18 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

NAY PYI TAW — Myanmar’s parliament reopened Tuesday for its final session before November’s national elections, with the spotlight on the influential speaker — who was violently ousted just days ago as head of the military-backed ruling party.

Opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi criticised the manner in which Shwe Mann, a close political ally, had been removed. Hundreds of armed police seized the headquarters of the Union Solidarity and Development Party in the middle of the night, witnesses said, confiscating computers and preventing some members from leaving.

It was a political purge reminiscent of the days of dictatorship in the Southeast Asian country.

“This is not what you expect from a working democracy,” Mrs Suu Kyi told reporters.

The Nobel laureate also slammed an impeachment bill Shwe Mann was being pressured to table — possibly as early as Tuesday.

The bill says parliamentarians who have lost the trust of even 1% of their constituents can be stripped of their seats, meaning Shwe Mann could be a target.

“Ridiculous,” Mrs Suu Kyi said. “It is now clear who the enemy is and who is the ally.”

Myanmar only recently started moving from dictatorship to democracy, but critics say the strings of power behind the quasi-civilian government remain members of the old military elite, including former dictator Than Shwe, who lives a generally secluded life in a sprawling compound in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.

As elections approach, tensions have been building between President Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, both former generals and members of the governing party. Tensions were exacerbated last week when the names of nearly 100 newly retired military members did not make it onto the party’s candidate lists. Some hardliners blamed Shwe Mann.

The parliament speaker — seen as a reformist — set a no-nonsense tone as parliament resumed Tuesday, immediately rejecting a motion by several USDP lawmakers to suspend the session because of floods and landslides.

The MPs could excuse themselves, he said, but there was important business to attend to in the parliamentary chambers.

Shwe Mann had lost the support of conservatives in the party, in part because of his close ties to the wildly popular Mrs Suu Kyi. The two met for an hour on Monday, apparently to discuss the political upheaval and its potential impact.

There was murmuring Tuesday that polls now scheduled for Nov 8 could be delayed by up to a month.

Mrs Suu Kyi said that while leadership changes within the ruling party were an “internal matter,” if they affect the election, resulting in either a cancellation or delay, “we must not be silent.”

She was also critical of a bill that could lead to Shwe Mann’s impeachment.

Last month, 1,700 members of his constituency in Zayarthiri, located in the heart of the capital, said he violated the law by showing disrespect for the military’s role in parliament. That followed deliberations on a bill that could have ended the military’s right to veto all proposed amendments to the country’s 2008 constitution.

“One percent to the right of recall? It’s ridiculous … it doesn’t make any sense,” Mrs Suu Kyi said. “There are so many things to do. If we start voting on that … we won’t even have time to do the other things.”

Singapore economy falls in Q2

Posted by pakin On July - 15 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Singapore’s economy contracted more than analysts predicted last quarter, underscoring the weakening outlook for Asian nations amid sluggish global growth.

Gross domestic product fell an annualised 4.6% in the three months through June from the previous quarter, when it expanded a revised 4.2%, the Singapore Trade Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. The median in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 1.5% contraction.

Growth in global trade has slowed in the last few years after outpacing world expansion for decades, according to the International Monetary Fund. A commodities slump, China’s slowdown and uneven recoveries in the United States and Europe have damped the exports that power many Asian economies.

“Manufacturing has been the weakest link,” said Irvin Seah, an economist at DBS Group Holdings in Singapore. “With the uncertainties in the global economy, I don’t think economic conditions are likely to improve in the near term.”

Singapore’s manufacturing shrank an annualised 14% in the second quarter from the previous three months, Tuesday’s data showed. Construction contracted 0.2%, while services fell 2.6 in the same period.

The economy’s contraction is the worst since the third quarter of 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg based on previously reported figures. Analysts at Barclays Plc and Merill Lynch lowered their growth forecasts for Singapore for this year and next, following Tuesday’s report.

The sluggish growth could trigger more monetary policy action by Singapore’s central bank, some analysts said. The authority unexpectedly eased in January.

“The weaker-than-expected GDP release raises the risk of a policy shift in October,” analysts at Nomura Holdings Inc said in a research note on Tuesday. “With core inflation below the target range, a weaker property market and bank lending, the GDP release could increase market expectations for easing.”

The outlook elsewhere is also weak, with the International Monetary Fund last week cutting its forecast for global expansion this year. China’s second-quarter economic growth may have slowed to 6.8% from 7% in the first three months, according to the median estimate of a Bloomberg survey ahead of data due Wednesday.

Singapore’s economy expanded 1.7% in the second quarter from a year earlier, after growing a revised 2.8% in the previous three months. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was 2.4%.

Tuesday’s data are advance estimates computed largely from figures in the first two months of the quarter and may be revised later, the ministry said.

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