Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Word war between PH, Cambodia over Asean

MANILA, Philippines – Cambodia accuses the Philippines of engaging in “dirty politics,” while the Philippines wants Cambodia to prove its version of events during the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) foreign ministers' summit in Phnom Penh.

In a letter to the Philippine Star published Monday, July 30, Cambodian Ambassador to the Philippines Hos Sereythonh took exception to an article by Philippine Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio titled, “Why There Was No Asean Joint Communiqué.”

Hos said it was “fiction” when Basilio said the Asean Ministers' Meeting (AMM) chair, Cambodia, failed to gain consensus and thus caused the absence of the traditional joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years.
The truth was, 8 out of 10 Asean member-states agreed to the 132 points in the proposed AMM joint communiqué, Hos claimed. He said the points agreed upon included 3 paragraphs related to the South China Sea.
CONTROVERSIAL SUMMIT. The Philippines and Cambodia trade barbs over the recent Asean Ministers' Meeting. Photo courtesy of Agence Kampuchea PresseCONTROVERSIAL SUMMIT. The Philippines and Cambodia trade barbs over the recent Asean Ministers' Meeting. Photo courtesy of Agence Kampuchea Presse
The only paragraph that did not get the majority's nod, Hos said, was the one on bilateral disputes between the Philippines and China, and Vietnam and China. This, “despite the tireless efforts of the Asean chair as well as those of other Asean member-states.”

He added that since the summit began July 9 until it ended July 13, the Philippines and Vietnam insisted on including their “national bilateral” disputes with China in the joint communiqué.

“By doing so, the two countries wanted to sabotage and hijack the (joint communiqué) as well as the AMM, and to make them fail before the eyes of the Asean dialogue partners and the international community. It was truly an un-Asean spirit of unity and solidarity,” Hos said.

'Sour' mood
He added that even before the AMM, Cambodia already wrote all Asean foreign ministers to secure the member-states' consensus on a possible statement on the South China Sea disputes. This was in response to “pressures” received by Cambodia since April to issue a statement on this.

He noted that Cambodia waited for several weeks but saw no consensus on the issue, particularly the Philippine-China dispute over Scarborough Shoal. “Therefore, no one could blame Cambodia for not issuing the Asean statement, because to have done so Cambodia would had violated the Asean Charter on the consensus-based decision-making.”

The Cambodian ambassador thus blamed the Philippines and Vietnam for the “souring of the mood” during the AMM, which “could undoubtedly be attributed to the inflexible and nonnegotiable position of the two countries.”
NO CONSENSUS. The Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting ends without the traditional joint statement. AFP Photo/Tang Chhin SothyNO CONSENSUS. The Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting ends without the traditional joint statement. AFP Photo/Tang Chhin Sothy
In her statement, the Philippines' Basilio said “the 'souring of the mood' was attributed by everyone who was there to the failure of Asean to issue a joint communiqué, resulting from the chair's firm position not to reflect the recent developments in the South China Sea despite the view of the majority of the member states that these developments impinge on the overall security of the region.”

Hos said, “(To) try to blame Cambodia, as the Asean chair, for what essentially was the inflexible and non-negotiable positions of the two countries of Asean, is dirty politics and therefore it should have no place in Asean.”

Explain, says DFA
In a statement Tuesday, July 31, however, the Philippines' foreign affairs department belied the Cambodian ambassador's claims. “We want him to explain what he meant when he stated that the 'inflexible and non-negotiable position of two countries of ASEAN is dirty politics,'” DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said.
Hernandez explained that Cambodia had appointed a committ
ee, which included the Philippines and Vietnam, “which had full authority if it could reach a consensus on a final draft.” He said at least 5 final drafts achieved a consensus, but Cambodia disapproved all these.

The DFA summoned Hos on Monday and Tuesday to explain, but the latter said he was not feeling well. “We will continue to summon him until he is able to come,” noted Hernandez.

“We will also ask where the ambassador obtained the information on the events as narrated in his letter since these are not consistent with the records of the Asean meetings,” Hernandez said. He added the DFA will ask Hos if he can authorize the release of evidence to the public, “which should end all speculation on what really happened in Phnom Penh.”

The incident in Phnom Penh has a silver lining, however, a Southeast Asia analyst told Rappler.
Paterno Esmaquel II
Posted on 07/31/2012
Paterno Esmaquel II
Posted on 07/31/2012
Paterno Esmaquel II
Posted on 07/31/2012
Paterno Esmaquel II
Posted on 07/31/20fffffffff“Cambodia has proven that it is not only unfit to be a member of Asean, but certainly unfit to lead it,” Abuza said.

Other experts note the importance of a unified Asean stance. Ernest Bower, senior adviser and director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Southeast Asia Program, explained that a divided Asean is in China's interests.

“Filipinos should know what happened in Phnom Penh and understand that the message from Cambodia is not 'Asean is messy and we should proceed carefully and reduce our engagement and investment,' but rather 'Asean unity is not supported by China and this is an indication we need to redouble our efforts to engage and support Asean’s goals for unity,'” wrote Bower in a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler. – Rappler.com
“That could help galvanize the rest of Asean together, and treat Cambodia and the Cambodian leadership as pariahs, as they should be treated,” said Zachary Abuza, political science professor at Simmons College in Boston, on Rappler's Talk Thursday

Investment in Cambodia’s construction increases by 36%

 July 31, 2012
Live Trading News

Investment in Cambodia’s construction increases by 36% in 1-H

Construction sector had attracted a total investment of US$868-M in 1-H of Y 2012, up 36% from US$637-M at the same period last year, a report from the ministry of land management, urban planning and construction showed on Monday.

The report said that during the January-June period this year, the ministry had issued licenses to 849 construction projects, down 21% from 1,079 projects at the same period last year.

Lao Tip Seiha, deputy director-general of the ministry’s construction general-department, explained that during the first half of this year, there was an increase in investment value, but a decrease in construction projects because projects this year were bigger in size than those of last year.

The projects included residential units, commercial buildings, apartments, hotels, agricultural product processing plants and garment factories.

Besides local ones, foreign investors involved in the projects are mostly from South Korea, China, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Construction sector is one of the four pillars supporting the economy. The sector attracted 2,129 projects with a total investment of US$1.7-B last year.

Cambodia: New judge will be at center of struggle over Khmer Rouge tribunal

Press release Open Society Justice Initiative
July 30, 2012

The Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on the Cambodian government and the United Nations to ensure that the newly appointed international investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal is free to work without the political interference that has increasingly threatened the court’s credibility.

Mark Harmon, an American, will be the third judge to occupy the position of international co-investigating judge at the court in nine months, following the resignations of Judge Siegfried Blunk in October last year, and Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet in May this year.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “We are pleased that a new investigating judge has been confirmed. The test now is whether the Cambodian government will allow him to do what his predecessors could not: effectively and thoroughly investigate the two remaining cases—003 and 004—on the Court’s docket.”

Judge Harmon will serve in the office of Co-Investigating Judges (OCIJ) at the court, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which uses both Cambodian and UN-appointed judicial officers and staff members. Together with his Cambodian colleague, You Bunleng, Judge Harmon will be responsible for the investigation and, as appropriate, indictment of individuals referred to him by the court’s Office of the Co-Prosecutors.

The investigating judges have been the focus of years of controversy over two outstanding investigations, known as Case 003 and Case 004, involving five former Khmer Rouge figures. Cambodian government officials have repeatedly said that those cases should not go forward, and that the ECCC’s work should conclude with the current prosecution of three surviving senior Khmer Rouge leaders (Case 002).

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, urged all sides in March to consider the selection of the new judge as an opportunity to “enable the ECCC to carry out its obligations in full by considering all of the cases before it in accordance with international standards of fairness”.

Judge Harmon’s three predecessors were:

* Judge Marcel Lemonde (France) held office from the ECCC’s inception, until his resignation in November, 2010. While Judge Lemonde resigned for personal reasons, his attempts to move the Case 003/004 investigations forward attracted the public opposition of Judge You Bunleng.
* Judge Siegfried Blunk (Germany) held office from 1 December 2010, until his resignation in October, 2011. Judge Blunk resigned due to “perceived” government pressure. By the time he resigned, a number of his international staff had walked out in protest over his joint premature closing of the Case 003 judicial investigation. The investigation was officially resumed by his successor.
* (Reserve) Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet (Switzerland) held office (as reserve) from November 2010, until his resignation on May 4, 2012. Although ECCC Law clearly stipulates that the Cambodian government was required to endorse Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s appointment as full investigating judge, it refused to do so in breach of the Cambodia/ United Nations agreement establishing the court. Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s authority was not recognized by the Cambodian government, nor any Cambodian judge or decision-maker in the ECCC. His impotence in the face of this opposition led to his resignation.

In light of the history to Cases 003/004 before the ECCC, the Justice Initiative notes:

(1) The Co-Investigating Judges must be independent in the performance of their functions and must not accept or seek instructions from any government or any other source. (ECCC Agreement, Art. 5.3, ECCC Law Art. 10 new, and ECCC Code of Judicial Ethics)

(2) Judicial investigations are compulsory for crimes within the ECCC’s jurisdiction, must be conducive to ascertaining the truth, and must be conducted impartially (Internal Rule 55).

(3) While all investigations are the joint responsibility of two judges, one Cambodian and one foreign, who must cooperate with a view to arriving at a common approach to any given investigation (ECCC Agreement, Art. 5.4), the ECCC Law and Agreement provide a mechanism according to which judges can disagree on matters of substance (ECCC Law, Art. 23 new). Under ECCC Law and the Agreement, in the event of a disagreement between the co-investigating judges, the presumption is always in favor of any given investigation moving forward (ECCC Agreement, Art. 5.4, Internal Rule 72.4(d)).

(4) In spite of the Cambodian government’s refusal to recognize the legitimate authority of Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, according to the law governing the ECCC’s operations all actions taken by him during his tenure as reserve co-investigating judge were valid. One of Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s key actions was to resume the Case 003 investigation. The Case 003 investigation is therefore currently on foot. The same position applies to Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s decisions concerning the admission of civil parties, and the assignment of counsel to any Case 003/004 suspects. The validity of Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s actions is further endorsed by the United Nations’ position on his legitimate authority, and by the international judges of the ECCC’s Pre-trial Chamber’s position on his conduct and legitimate authority.

(5) Despite the funding crisis which the ECCC continues to face, Cases 003 and 004 are properly before the Co-Investigating Judges and should be genuinely and credibly dealt with by judicial authorities. While the Justice Initiative considers that financial constraints should not be permitted to hamper the ongoing investigations in these cases, there must be absolute transparency if financial constraints—or indeed any other strictly political considerations—limit the judges’ ability to fulfill their obligations.

Philippines hits out at Cambodia in China row

July 31, 2012
MANILA: The Philippines said Tuesday it had summoned Cambodia's ambassador to explain comments he made accusing it and Vietnam of playing "dirty politics" in trying to solve a maritime row with China.

The move appeared to further deepen divisions within the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), more than two weeks after a ministerial meeting hosted by Cambodia ended in disarray over the sea dispute.

Foreign Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said Cambodian ambassador Hos Sereythonh was asked Tuesday to personally explain his comments, but he failed to turn up claiming he was sick.

"We will continue to summon him until he is able to come," Hernandez said in a statement.

"We want him to explain what he meant when he stated that the 'inflexible and non-negotiable position of two countries of ASEAN is dirty politics'."

The comments were in a letter Hos sent to the editor of the Philippine Star, one of the country's leading newspapers, on Monday.

In the letter, Hos accused the Philippines and Vietnam of working to "sabotage and hijack the joint communique" during the ASEAN meeting.

Hos argued that the Philippines and Vietnam should not blame Cambodia for ASEAN's failure to issue an end-of-meeting statement spelling concerns in the region, a first in its 45 year history.

Hos accused the two countries of playing "dirty politics".

Hernandez on Tuesday charged that Cambodia, a close ally of China, rejected at least five final drafts of the joint statement that would have addressed the maritime row.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast natural resources.

But ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have overlapping claims in the area.

Tensions have escalated this year, with China becoming embroiled in diplomatic rows with the Philippines and Vietnam.

Diplomats had said the Philippines called on its fellow ASEAN members at the Cambodia meeting to support it against China.

Indonesia's foreign minister subsequently launched a mission to save the bloc's 'cohesiveness', resulting in a belated statement affirming commitments to a proposed 'code of conduct' over the South China Sea.

Hos could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

- AFP/wm

Monday, July 30, 2012

Despite troop pullout, Preah Vihear rift damps outlook for improved Thai-Cambodian ties

Special to The Japan Times
KYOTO — On July 18, Thailand and Cambodia pulled their troops back from the disputed border area around Preah Vihear, a ninth-century Hindu temple. The two countries have been at a standoff around the temple for several years and there have been several military confrontations.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which both are members, quickly celebrated the troops' withdrawal.

The 10-member ASEAN has been keen to mediate the conflict partly as a means of protecting its own reputation and credibility. But this only represents a short-term solution. The crux of the problem lies with Thai domestic politics.

When enemies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, led by the yellow-shirt royalists and the Democrat Party, saw the opportunity to politicize the Preah Vihear issue to undermine Thaksin's proxies, they accused Thaksin of sacrificing Thai territory in exchange for selfish business gains in Cambodia.

In 1962, Thailand and Cambodia had taken their dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which in the end ruled in the latter's favor. Today, the relentless conflict is not so much about which country has sovereign rights over Preah Vihear, but rather which owns the 4.6-square-km area around the temple.

Although bilateral relations have greatly improved with the premiership of Yingluck, Thaksin's sister, Cambodia has not given up on its bid to have the 1962 ICJ verdict reinterpreted in its favor regarding ownership of the disputed area. It is expected that the ICJ will rule on the reinterpretation by yearend — an event that could potentially shift the state of this bilateral relationship once again.

This is not the first time that Cambodia has turned to the ICJ to pressure Thailand. In 2011, the Cambodian government complained to the ICJ of Thai encroachment on its claimed territory.

As a result, the ICJ announced that "Both parties must immediately withdraw their military personnel currently present in the provisional demilitarized zone, then refrain from any military presence within that zone and from any armed activity directed at that zone."

That event, for many observers, put Thailand in a more disadvantageous position, for the ICJ had prescribed a provisional demilitarized zone that not only overlaps with areas surrounding the temple that Thai and Cambodia originally claimed to own but also extends farther into Thai territory.

The ICJ's order certainly intensified the crisis in Thailand as the military refused to comply with it, an approach that was in conflict with that of the government and the Foreign Ministry.

From the perspective of the ICJ, the setting up of the demilitarized zone could have been seen as a renewed invitation to Thailand and Cambodia to enter into negotiations without the presence of both countries' armies. It also offered an opportunity for Indonesia, as ASEAN chair last year, to intervene in the conflict and to monitor the withdrawal of troops on behalf of ASEAN.

ICJ sent out a clear message that the conflict would be better dealt with at the regional, not international, level.
Back in Thailand, the protracted internal conflict has continued to challenge the Yingluck government in fully normalizing Thai relations with Cambodia.

Although Yingluck paid an official visit to Phnom Penh in September 2011 and promised to urgently resolve the existing bilateral problems, the internal crisis, especially the unstable relationship between her government and the army, has delayed Thai efforts.

It is true that key bilateral cooperative frameworks have been reconvened under the Yingluck government. For example, the 8th General Border Committee meeting was held Dec. 19-20 (2011), and the 5th Joint Border Committee on Feb.13-14. The two meetings discussed issues concerning border demarcation and surveys of remaining border pillars in areas outside the Preah Vihear Temple region. In reality, there has been no tangible progress.

The secretary of state of the Cambodian Defense Ministry, General Neang Phat, voiced his concern about the delay on Thailand's part that could interrupt the improved atmosphere in Thai-Cambodian relations. He said, "Cambodia has already established its Joint Working Group (JWG) and is now waiting for Thailand to set up its own JWG to deal with impending issues, such as the deployment and the demarcation."

Neang Phat admitted that the tense political situation in Thailand, in which the military has been heavily involved, may be a main obstacle to the progress by the JWG establishment.

As for the road ahead, immediate apprehension seems to rest on how Thailand will respond to the imminent ICJ reinterpretation.

It is likely that, the reinterpretation will be to Cambodia's advantage once again, because of the fact that Cambodia is the rightful owner of the temple. Other important factors also play a role. For example, Cambodia has worked closely with the ICJ and the United Nations since the conflict began in 2008.
During my recent fieldwork at Preah Vihear, it was apparent that local Cambodians have comfortably settled in the disputed 4.6-square-km area. In fact, the Chinese government was financing a road construction project from the foot of Preah Vihear, on the Cambodian side, to the top of the cliff.

The unpredictability of the Thai response and especially the inability to read the mind of Thai army leaders have cast a pall over Thai-Cambodian relations.

An ICJ reinterpretation that is unfavorable for Thailand could stir up a new round of nationalistic sentiments, leading possibly to more armed clashes along the common border.

The two governments still have time to "talk with each other" to avoid such a conflict. Both should think of the long-term repercussions rather than short term gains. There will be no win-win outcome in this situation.
Cambodia might celebrate if the ICJ reinterpreted in Cambodia's favor, but it relations with Thailand will suffer. It could take several decades before the relationship becomes "normal" again.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

China labour costs like US 'within years'

 AFP, The West Australian  
July 30, 2012,

China labour costs like US  within yearsChina labour costs like US ' within years'

 Rapid wage increases are threatening China's competitiveness, but improved productivity and other advantages mean it will continue to attract investors, analysts say.

Labour costs in China would match those of the United States within four years, catching up with eurozone countries in five years and with Japan in seven, the French bank Natixis forecast in a study.

China "will soon no longer be a competitive place for production given the strong rise in the cost of production", the bank said.

It is a view backed by the respected Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which said in a study last August that by around 2015 manufacturing in some parts of the United States would be "just as economical as manufacturing in China".

Examples of major manufacturers leaving China abound - BCG said US technology giant NCR has moved its manufacture of ATMs to a factory in Columbus, Georgia, that will employ 870 workers as of 2014.
Adidas announced recently that it would close its only directly owned factory in China, becoming the latest major brand to shift its manufacturing to cheaper countries, though it maintains a network of 300 Chinese contractors.

Chinese workers making athletic shoes are paid at least 2000 yuan ($A300) a month, while their Adidas colleagues in Cambodia only earn the equivalent of $A130, the German company said.

Underlining the trend, the salaries of Chinese urban-dwellers rose 13 per cent in the first half of 2012 compared with the same period last year, the government said in mid-July.

Migrant workers, who are among the lowest-paid in the country, saw raises of 14.9 per cent for an average of 2200 yuan a month.

The most significant wage hikes in 2010 and 2011 often came following strikes at Japanese companies such as Toyota and Honda.

Natixis said the increases could spur manufacturers to relocate to South and South-East Asia, where labour costs are much lower, and could also benefit countries such as Egypt and Morocco, or even European ones like Romania and Bulgaria.

However, not all economists believe China will lose its manufacturing edge, thanks in part to improvements in productivity.

"Most of the increase in wages has been offset by strong productivity growth," said Louis Kuijs, project director at the Fung Global Institute, a research body that specialises in Asian economies.

Worker productivity has increased at a faster rate than wages in the southern Pearl River Delta, the heart of China's vast manufacturing industry, according to 200 companies surveyed early this year by Standard Chartered Bank.

"China's share of the world's low-end exports has started to fall after years of rapid rises in wages, land costs and appreciation of renminbi (the currency)," said Wang Qinwei, a China economist at Capital Economics.
"But this has been offset by a growing market share in high-end products."

Capital Economics said in a research note published in March: "China's export sector overall appears no less competitive now than a few years ago.

"Average margins in light industry have increased over the past three years thanks to rapid productivity growth."

China's coastal areas offered an effective business environment that would continue to draw investors, as would lower costs in inland provinces, said Alistair Thornton, China economist at IHS Global Insight.

China: At pains to point out it's not the provocative party

Tensions over the South China Sea have flared anew with the government's aggressive moves to exercise sovereignty over disputed waters

Peh Shing Huei
The Straits Times
Publication Date : 30-07-2012

When China created Sansha city last week to assert its authority over the South China Sea, nationalistic and enterprising Chinese started buying up Internet domain names with the word "sansha".

They succeeded, mostly. But when it came to the prized sansha.com, they were thwarted - by a French company of the same name which is famous for its non-controversial ballet shoes.
"This is most interesting," the company's New York store manager Vanessa Novak told The Straits Times over the phone, chuckling.

"We had absolutely no idea that our website has been drawing that much attention in China."
Anything with Sansha emblazoned, pointe shoes notwithstanding, has been a magnet for attention lately.

Its promotion to a prefectural- level government, instead of a lower county-level one, was announced last month, before being formalised last week.

As China's administrative centre for the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands and adjoining waters, its new higher rank rankled.

The move was seen as provocative by the United States. It also left many in this region wondering about China's motivations.

The answer, according to Chinese experts, is fairly simple. It is to tell the other claimants of the islands that Beijing plans to exercise sovereignty over the waters.

"It is a strong signal to show that China will not back down on the South China Sea issue no matter what," said diplomacy analyst Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

In recent months, Beijing has been robust in its response to the dispute in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas.

In April, its fishing boats and enforcement vessels began a two-month stand-off with Manila near the disputed Scarborough Shoal off the Philippine coast.

Soon after it ended, a Chinese frigate ran aground in the Philippines exclusive economic zone.
This is in addition to bellicose words from the People's Liberation Army which said in late June that it would commence "combat-ready patrols" of the contested waters.

On the diplomatic front, Beijing also exerted pressure on ally Cambodia to block any mention of the maritime disputes in an Asean joint statement.

And, of course, there was the setting up of Sansha.
Such moves are in keeping with China's claim to all waters and islands within a "nine-dash line" that encloses most of the South China Sea.

But the country has been at pains to point out to anyone who would listen that China has not actually been the provocative party.

As researcher Zhou Fangyin from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said: "We feel that we have a lot of grievances. Actually, we are very gentle and controlled. But in the end, we are being scolded by everyone."

Beijing has stressed, for instance, that Sansha's creation was because Vietnam had first raised the stakes by passing a maritime law last month declaring sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Paracels and Spratlys.

"China had wanted to shelve the debate," observed military expert Wang Xiangsui of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

But despite the rising temperature, analysts here do not believe that a military battle is imminent.

"On the surface, the South China Sea problem seems to be getting more exciting," said observer Zhang Mingliang from Jinan University in Guangzhou. "But most of it has been rhetoric. It will not lead to instability and disrupt peace."

Agreeing, Professor Li believes that Asean countries in the dispute are aware of the danger of skirmishes. "Each claimant party, of course, would have made relevant preparations for the worst- case scenario, but I don't think the likelihood of war in the South China Sea is high right now or in the coming few years," he said. "I think all claimant states understand that the costs of war are too high and wars are unlikely to settle the dispute once and for all."

One thing is for sure though. China's claim to Sansha will not extend into cyberspace.
General manager Lynn Campbell of Sansha, the dancewear company that is, said in an e-mail reply: "The domain name is not for sale."
Additional reporting by Lina Miao

ASI rebuilding the glory of Buddhist complex in Cambodia

  • The gallery in the third enclosure in the Ta Prohm complex in Cambodia after it was restored by the ASI. Photo: Ashok Krishnaswamy
    The gallery in the third enclosure in the Ta Prohm complex in
    Cambodia after it was restored by the ASI. Photo: Ashok Krishnaswamy
T. S. Subramanian
July 30, 2012

There are signs of devastation everywhere and vandalism too. Still, the sights at the Ta Prohm Buddhist monastic complex, built by Cambodian king Jayavarman VII around 1181 CE in Siem Reap province can leave visitors benumbed. Massive silk cotton trees have grown on the vimanas of shrines and uprooted many other structures, including galleries, shrines, pillars, and lintel beams. Corbelled roofs have caved in and pillars with beautiful carvings have broken into two. The gopuras on the east and west look forlorn with the sand-stone blocks that form the visage of Avalokitisvara dislodged from their places. Amid the ruins are the 48 pillars of the Hall of Dancers. Bas reliefs of Apsaras and Bodhisatvas have been gauged out of shrines and their niches are barren. 

Every morning at this complex, there is a scrimmage of international tourists. “At 9 a.m. itself, there are long queues to see the trees that have grown over vimanas. Some of the trees are more than 40 metres tall,” said D.S. Sood, Deputy Superintending Archaeological Engineer, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and team leader of the Ta Prohm Temple Project. Tourists come from all over the world but mainly from South Korea, Japan, France, Germany, Singapore and India. 

“We are a team of five from the ASI, restoring the Ta Prohm complex from December 2004,” Mr. Sood said as he hosted a team of visiting Indians, led by T. Satyamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, on June 24. “It is a challenging work because of the environmental and site conditions. Safeguarding the authenticity of the monuments is of utmost importance. UNESCO has said we cannot cut any tree because it wants the people to see here how the trees and the complex coexist,” said Mr. Sood. 

Jayavarman VII dedicated this temple to his mother. He called it a “Rajavihara” (the royal temple). The word “Ta” means ancestors and “Prohm” originates from Brahma, Hindu god of creation. The main image in the sandstone complex is that of Pragnya Paramita, goddess of wisdom. The complex — 1,150 metres long and 663 metres wide — has concentric enclosures that house 39 shrines with small vimanas, galleries, the Hall of Dancers, a causeway connecting the third and fourth enclosures etc. 

Dr. Satyamurthy called Ta Prohm “an outstanding monument” built of interlocked sandstone blocks without any binding material. It was different from the monuments in India because it had a single core. Jayavarman VII, a Buddhist, was succeeded by Jayavarman VIII, a Hindu. Jayavarman VIII systematically destroyed the Buddha images at Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Prea Khan and Banteay Kdei. The shifting of the capital from Siem Reap and invasions, internal disputes and neglect led to the ruin of the monuments. 

UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992. Today, it is one of the most visited complexes in Cambodia’s Angkor region. The conservation and restoration of Ta Prohm is a partnership project of the ASI and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap). 

When the ASI team arrived at Ta Prohm in 2004, everything was in ruins: there was very little standing other than the gigantic trees. 

Mr. Sood, senior conservation assistants T.K. Ganju and A.K. Soni, and senior draftsmen E.P. Biswas and H. Raghavendra assessed the challenge. Mr. Sood said, “We studied the monument, its behaviour and tendency, how the structures were built, their methodology and technology, their stability, the materials used in their construction, why conservation was necessary and the quantum of conservation to be done. We analysed the causes of neglect.” 

The first structure that the ASI restored to its glory was a completely collapsed gallery in the third enclosure. It was rectangular in shape. Its corridor, corbelled roof and two parallel rows of pillars had fallen. Only the corridor’s rear wall, once decorated with bas reliefs of mythical figures, stood. The ASI team restored the gallery and the causeway with balustrades, connecting the third and fourth enclosures. 

Mr. Sood said, “After proper documentation, we removed the gallery’s fallen stones, using a crane. We documented all parts of the gallery. The stones were numbered and measured for their length, breadth and height, and weighed. It was a jigsaw puzzle to find out to which part of the gallery the stones belonged. We were clear that we could not use broken stone blocks without joining them. If the broken parts of a block were available, we joined them by inserting steel rods inside after drilling holes in the blocks. We used the same kind of material. We did not use mortar or any binding material. We started the gallery restoration in 2007 and completed it in 2010.” 

It was an equally big challenge to restore the Hall of Dancers. “The roof had caved in. There was no access to go inside,” Mr. Ganju said. The ASI team meticulously restored the hall, block by block. Where the sandstone blocks were missing, it used stones from the original source: the Kulen Mountain. A massive tree stands inside the hall on one side. 

“We will keep the tree as it is, because UNESCO wants people to understand how it looked before the restoration. On the right side, we will restore the roof,” Mr. Sood said. 

During the hall’s restoration, the ASI found the lower half of a beautiful golden crown. The hall was not meant for performing dances. Monks used it for meditation. The gopuras on the entrances on the east and west are being restored. 

Dr. Satyamurthy called the restoration work “a remarkable achievement in the context of the enormity of the challenges involved.” 

The ASI took the help of the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, to prop up the trees that had grown on the structures. Water and Power Consultancy Service Limited, New Delhi, did hydrological and ground-penetrating radar studies to understand the movement of the roots below the soil. The Indian Institute of Technology — Madras helped the ASI in resolving the structural stability of the monument. 

About 200 Cambodian workers, skilled and semi-skilled, are assisting the ASI team. If the magnitude of work at Ta Prohm is any indication, the ASI team has its hands full till at least 2014.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

ANALYSIS: US dilemma in West Philippine Sea response


In this photo taken on Friday, July 20, 2012, a fishing boat sails past the Meiji reef off the island province of Hainan in the South China Sea. China has rolled out the red carpet for its newest city, on a small, remote island in the South China Sea that is also claimed by Vietnam. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT
WASHINGTON– China has raised the stakes in a potential regional flashpoint with its new city on a remote island in the contested West Philippine (South China Sea) and its plans for a military garrison there.
How might the United States respond?

Criticize Beijing too strongly and the Obama administration will strain its relationship with the emerging superpower. Let it pass and undermine two years of intense diplomacy that has promoted the US standing among Southeast Asian nations that are intimidated by China’s rise.

A key plank of the administration’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific since 2010 has been its declaration of a US national interest in peace and stability in the South China Sea, where China and five of its neighbors — most notably the Philippines and Vietnam — have competing territorial claims.

But tensions have only escalated. China’s raising of the flag this week at Sansha municipality, on tiny Yongxing island, 350 kilometers (220 miles) from its southernmost province of Hainan, came as claimants jockey for influence in the resource-rich region.

China will not be able to project much military power from such a small outpost — with a population of just 1,000 people and scarcely room for an airstrip — but it has symbolic importance. Beijing says the municipality will administer hundreds of thousands of square kilometers (miles) of water where it wants to strengthen its control over disputed — and potentially oil-rich — islands.

In Washington, lawmakers interested in Asia policy have been quick to respond. Republican Senator John McCain called the move provocative, and reinforced worries that China would attempt to impose its territorial claims through intimidation and coercion. Democrat Sen. Jim Webb said China’s attempt to assert control of disputed territories may be a violation of international law.

While the State Department was careful in its commentary, it also criticized China’s “unilateral moves.”
“I think there is a concern here, that they are beginning to take actions when we want to see all of these issues resolved at the table,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.

President Barack Obama will not want to appear soft on China as he fights for re-election against Republican Mitt Romney who has accused the incumbent of being weak on Beijing and has vowed to get tough, in particular, on China’s trading practices.

However, the United States walks a fine line in its diplomacy on the South China Sea, always stressing it does not take a position on the competing sovereignty claims.

Defining it as a US national interest in 2010 helped galvanize Washington’s standing in the region, and revive its ties with treaty ally Manila and build a relationship with former enemy Hanoi. As part of its broader push or “pivot” toward Asia, the US elevated its engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and strongly supports the 10-nation bloc’s efforts to negotiate collectively with China on the issue and draft a code of conduct to help manage South China Sea disputes.

That’s annoyed China, which claims virtually the entire South China Sea and its island groups, and would prefer to negotiate with the other claimants individually. Beijing also views US intervention on the issue as encouraging Vietnam and the Philippines to be more confrontational in asserting their own claims.

When Chinese fishing boats were stopped by the Philippine vessels at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in April, inside what Manila regards as its exclusive economic zone, it deployed a navy ship supplied by the US the previous year. That prompted China to send more vessels of its own, escalating a standoff that rumbles on.

And the establishment of Sansha municipality in another portion of the South China Sea came after Vietnam passed a law in June stating its jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly Island chains and declaring that all foreign naval ships entering these areas must notify Vietnamese authorities.

The chance of such disputes spiraling into a major conflict still appears slim, but the stakes could rise in the years ahead as competition intensifies for the oil and gas resources in the South China Sea. China recently put out for tender exploration offshore blocks that overlap with areas already tendered by Vietnam, and Philippine drilling plans could also put it on collision course with China.

The US strategy for managing and eventually resolving these disputes largely hangs on the efforts of ASEAN. The bloc has made some progress in drafting a code of conduct, but there’s no sign of a lasting resolution of territorial disputes, and South China Sea is emerging as a divisive issue in a grouping that prizes its unity.
For the first time in its 45-year history, ASEAN failed to issue at communique at an annual meeting of its 10 foreign ministers this month, when host Cambodia, viewed as pro-Beijing, rejected a proposal by the Philippines and Vietnam to mention their separate territorial disputes with China in the statement.

In a damage-limitation exercise, ASEAN’s largest nation, Indonesia, brokered a compromise last week. But it’s one which will do little to assuage concerns of a rift within the grouping and a narrative that the Obama administration will be anxious to avoid: that the struggle over the South China Sea pits the strategic interests of the U.S. against China.

Cambodian boy died of HFMD in Thailand

The Nation/Asia News Network
Saturday, Jul 28, 2012 

An investigation by the Epidemiology Bureau has concluded that a Cambodian boy who died in Rayong this week succumbed to hand, foot and mouth disease, Dr Prasert Thongcharoen said yesterday. The victim, aged two and a half years, became the second HFMD fatality in Thailand this year.

"This case is clearcut. We do not need to wait for a meeting of virologists to determine the cause of his death," Prasert said in his capacity as an adviser to the Disease Control Department.

Rayong public health chief Kris Palasut said separately, however, that the Medical Sciences Department was conducting a detailed lab test on the young boy's case.

"The results will be released within two weeks," he said as largescale public health campaigns started in his province.

HFMD can quickly spread among young children. Although the disease is not very dangerous, it can cause death in severe cases.

Prasert said the young Cambodian had lived in Rayong for quite a long time. He urged the public not to discriminate against Cambodians.

Kris said three children who were close to the boy were being closely monitored. Deputy Public Health Minister Surawit Khonsomboon said the parents of these children had been given advice and the children tested to determine whether they had been infected.

In Rayong, 384 people have come down with HFMD this year.
"The number of HFMD cases is rising. If we are unable to control the outbreak of the disease, we may have to declare the province as a disaster area," he said.

In Bangkok, there have been at least 3,524 HMFD cases to date this year. "The number jumped from 3,345 cases on Thursday," Wongwat Liewlak said yesterday in his capacity as the head of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's Health Department.

Rajavinit Pathom School announced it would be closed from yesterday until MondayJuly 30 after two of its students came down with HFMD.

"There are also some other suspected cases," school director Sangrawee Wajawoot said.

In Kanchanaburi, Tessaban 2 School announced another temporary closure. The school closed for five days in the wake of an HFMD outbreak two months ago.

"This week, we have detected new cases of HFMD," school director Sermrit Samdaengdej said.
In Chanthaburi, eight schools and seven nurseries have been closed because of the outbreak of HFMD.
"This month, there are 96 new cases of HFMD. Of these, 92 [patients] are Thais, two are Cambodians and the rest are Laotians," provincial public health chief Dr Charat Wasutada said.

Disease Control Department deputy directorgeneral Dr Sirisak Warintarawat said his agency had campaigned for regular cleaning at gaming parlours, karaoke lounges, cinemas, escalators and elevators.
In the border province of Sa Kaew, public health officials strictly screened young Cambodians heading into Thailand.

The young visitors were asked to clean their hands with cleaning gel and undergo thermal scans.
A key symptom of HFMD is fever. People who appear to have developed HFMD symptoms are refused entry to Thailand.

In Cambodia, HFMD has claimed dozens of lives this year.

US raps Chinese garrison plan on disputed island

The United States urges China and other South China Sea claimants to resolve territorial disputes through diplomacy

News Desk
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Publication Date : 28-07-2012

The United States has criticised Chinese plans for a military garrison on an island in the contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and said all claimants should resolve their disputes through diplomacy.

China on Tuesday declared a new municipality on tiny Woody Island in the Paracel Islands claimed by Vietnam, a move protested by Hanoi and Manila.

China has also sent a large fleet of fishing vessels to the Paracels and the Spratly archipelago in the middle of West Philippine Sea to show its economic dominance in the contested waters.
Twenty boats from the fleet of 30 fishing vessels had moved close to the Philippine border at Pag-asa Island, causing enough alarm that Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, formerly chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, suggested the Philippines ask the United Nations for a peacekeeping force to prevent armed confrontations between Manila and Beijing over their conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea.

But the Philippine Palace and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday rejected the suggestion of Biazon, chair of the House defence committee, preferring to stick to the Aquino administration’s diplomatic, political and legal tack in finding a solution to the territorial dispute with China.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that prominent US senators have declared the Chinese move as provocative and a possible violation of international law.

Code of conduct
US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters on Thursday the United States was pressing all parties to work on a code of conduct for the West Philippine Sea, according to the AP report from Washington.

Asked about China’s plans, Nuland said the United States was concerned by “unilateral moves.”

She said: “There’s a concern here that they are beginning to take actions when we want to see all of these issues resolved at the table.”

China has no problem with that as long as the talks are bilateral. It has refused to discuss its territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea with five other Asian countries on international forums, and its lobbying against such a tack by its rivals has already caused differences among members of the regional grouping Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Differences in Asean
The Asean foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh earlier this month failed to issue a customary joint communiqué because host Cambodia, an ally of China, blocked efforts by the Philippines and Vietnam to mention the West Philippine Sea disputes in the postconference statement. It was the first time Asean failed to issue a joint statement in its 45-year history.

Shuttle diplomacy by Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, however, produced a belated statement, issued by the bloc last week, that called in general terms for implementation of Asean-promoted principles for peaceful resolution of maritime disputes, including use of force, resolving the conflicts in accordance with international laws, and an early signing of a legally binding code of conduct aimed at thwarting any major armed conflict.

The Philippines went along with Natalegawa to help heal rifts within the bloc, but said it would insist that the territorial disputes be mentioned in future Asean joint statements.

On Tuesday, the DFA summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing and handed her a diplomatic note protesting China’s plans to establish a military garrison on Woody Island and the arrival of the Chinese fishing fleet in the Spratlys.

China claims all of the West Philippine Sea and insists that anything it does is legal because it has sovereignty over the entire sea.

Garrison officials named
In another report on Friday, the AP, quoting Chinese state media, said Beijing had reinforced its message of control over the West Philippine Sea by naming two senior military officials to head a garrison in a new city established on Woody Island just days ago.

The China Daily newspaper on Friday quoted Defence Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun as saying the garrison will be responsible for defence for Sansha City, the AP said.

The naming of Senior Col. Cai Xihong as commander and Senior Col. Liao Chaoyi as its political commissar came after Sansha was declared a city Monday with a flag-raising ceremony shown live on state television. The AP said it was unclear if combat forces would be stationed there.

The Philippines has no territorial claims in the Paracels, but the DFA says China’s plan to administer the island group and the Spratlys from Sansha is unacceptable.

Vietnam said China’s actions in the Paracels violated international law.

Tuesday’s protest included strong objection to the arrival of 30 Chinese fishing vessels in the Spratlys. The fleet is reportedly escorted by two People’s Liberation Army missile frigate.

Twenty of the fishing vessels had moved to within 9 kilometres of Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, seat of government of the Kalayaan municipality in Palawan province, by Tuesday, but despite confirmation by the military’s West Command (Wescom) and by the Philippine Navy, the DFA remained unprepared to make a statement on Friday.

No UN intervention yet
DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the department still had yet to receive an official report on the presence of Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-asa Island.

Hernandez said, however, that the DFA had received a report from the Navy that three Chinese vessels were spotted on Wednesday at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a rock and coral formation within the Philippine exclusive economic zone that China claims is part of its territory.
Hernandez said asking the United Nations for a peacekeeping force, as suggested by Biazon, was not an option for the Philippines at this time.

“Maybe at this point in time, what we should be doing is concentrate on the three tracks that we have been undertaking,” Hernandez told reporters, referring to the diplomatic, political and legal strategy that the DFA had chosen to find a solution to the country’s territorial dispute with China.
Hernandez said the situation had not reached the extent that required asking for UN intervention.

Palace says no
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Biazon’s suggestion was premised on the deterioration of tensions between the Philippines and China into conflict, exactly what the government was trying to prevent. She said the government was focused on a diplomatic, political and legal search for a resolution of the territorial dispute with China.

Valte said the Navy was still confirming the presence of Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-asa. She said it was up to the DFA and the Navy what action to take.

The Navy confirmed the approach of the Chinese fishing vessels on Thursday. Commodore Rustom Peña, commander of the military’s Naval Forces West, said the Navy had vessels ready to deploy should the Chinese cross into Philippine territory.
“We will assert our sovereignty in that area because that’s our territory,” Peña said.

World policeman
Sen. Gregorio Honasan said on Friday that he agreed with Biazon that the Philippines should ask the United Nations to help find a solution to disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
Honasan said the Philippines should also ask the United States to play “policeman of the world” to maintain freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea.

“Only the US can watch China for global peace and security,” Honasan said.
Freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea is in the interest of many countries and not only the Philippines, Honasan said.

“There should be a deterrent that provides a buffer zone, including an aerial component to prevent a direct conflict among the claimants,” Honasan said. “It’s only the US with that military power.” 

Reports from TJ Burgonio, Tarra Quismundo and Norman Bordadora; and AP

Migrants fall prey to greedy middlemen

 People from neighbouring countries seeking work in Thailand are facing big and unfair hurdles

July 28, 2012
Bangkok Post

Migrant workers desperate to find jobs in Thailand are being exploited by brokers who force them to pay exorbitant fees.

Job brokers usually require them to pay kha hua, or job placement service fees charged to individual job applicants. It is a prerequisite not found on qualification lists, but which prospective workers must possess to find work.

One Cambodian worker, who asked not to be named, has complained that many Cambodians are currently charged as much as 30,000 baht in order to work in Thailand; however, they have no choice but to pay this to escape the poverty in their home country.

The largest portion of the expense is kha hua, which is between 18,000 and 24,000 baht, while other "service fees" come to more than 5,000 baht.

A farm-raised man from Kampong Thom province in central Cambodia is among Cambodians who have walked down this rough path. He and his four younger brothers decided to work in Thailand and borrowed money to pay mainly for kha hua. His family did not earn enough income from crop yields to support their children's travel to Thailand. He also did not know how to directly contact his employers to avoid kha hua from job placement companies.

After getting a job at a frozen seafood factory in Songkhla, the man's employer, who paid for his expenses in advance, deducted part of his wages for nearly a year to settle the debts.

However, he said: "We're proud to send money to our parents' home so that they can live more comfortably".

The Thai government has tried to get rid of kha hua by serving as a go-between for employers and employees to put an end to workers' dependence on job brokers.

Employers who do not know how to find and hire foreign workers can contact the Labour Ministry, which will then forward their quotas for workers to labour officials in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

This process is done under the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the subject of transnational labourers between countries.

Labour Minister Padermchai Sasomsap stresses foreign workers wanting to work in Thailand must enter the country under the MoU deals.

He believes the measure will help solve illegal immigration of foreign workers, which has long been a problem in the country.

"I intend to have foreign workers protected under laws," Mr Padermchai said.

"I don't want to see the 'business' that makes money from labourers. I don't want to see them be exploited by kha hua."

However, the MoU cannot completely solve financial burdens among the workers as the removal of kha hua is allegedly leading to tai toh, or money secretly given to people in return for a favour done for givers.
An employer, who asked not to be named, said the job placement process under the MoU results in people getting caught up in red tape, sometimes for as long as three months.

As a result, factory owners who are in a rush for hiring workers are willing to pay tai toh to some state officials to speed up the process.

The tai toh burden, along with other bills, will be eventually pushed to labourers whose wages will be deducted to settle the expenses, the employer said.

Though factory owners are required to make work contracts that meet labour laws, including the MoU, some of them make the other secret contracts with the workers, demanding that they pay for expensive kha hua, said Nasser Artwarin, of the Lawyers Council of Thailand's human rights subcommittee, citing complaints received from labourers.

More than 100,000 foreign workers have entered Thailand under the MoU. Many of them are struggling because of their kha hua debts.

The farm boy from Kampong Thom and his four siblings hope one day they will return to their homeland.
"Our parents are buying more land for all of us to reunite," he said.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kishore Mahbubani: Is China Losing the Diplomatic Plot?

July 27, 2012

Professor Kishore Mahbubani was ranked on Foreign Policy magazine's list of the world's top 100 thinkers. He believes China is losing the diplomatic plot at a time when it needs it most. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

 SINGAPORE - In 2016, China's share of the global economy will be larger than America's in purchasing-price-parity terms. This is an earth-shaking development; in 1980, when the United States accounted for 25% of world output, China's share of the global economy was only 2.2%. And yet, after 30 years of geopolitical competence, the Chinese seem to be on the verge of losing it just when they need it most.
China's leaders would be naive and foolish to bank on their country's peaceful and quiet rise to global preeminence. At some point, America will awaken from its geopolitical slumber; there are already signs that it has opened one eye.

But China has begun to make serious mistakes. After Japan acceded to Chinese pressure and released a captured Chinese trawler in September 2010, China went overboard and demanded an apology from Japan, rattling the Japanese establishment.

Similarly, after North Korean shells killed innocent South Korean civilians in November 2010, China remained essentially silent. In a carefully calibrated response, South Korea sent its ambassador to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for the imprisoned Chinese human-rights activist Liu Xiaobo in December 2010.

China has also ruffled many Indian feathers by arbitrarily denying visas to senior officials. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao subsequently calmed the waters in meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but such unnecessary provocations left a residue of mistrust in India.

But all of these mistakes pale in comparison with what China did to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in July. For the first time in 45 years, the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) failed to agree to a joint communique, ostensibly because Asean's current chair, Cambodia, did not want the communique to refer to bilateral disputes in the South China Sea. But the whole world, including most Asean countries, perceived Cambodia's stance as the result of enormous Chinese pressure.

China's victory proved to be Pyrrhic. It won the battle of the comminique, but it may have lost 20 years of painstakingly accumulated goodwill, the result of efforts such as the Asean-China free-trade agreement, signed in November 2002. More importantly, China's previous leaders had calculated that a strong and unified Asean provided a valuable buffer against any possible US containment strategy. Now, by dividing Asean, China has provided America with its best possible geopolitical opportunity in the region. If Deng Xiaoping were alive, he would be deeply concerned.

It may be unfair to blame China's leaders for the Asean debacle. More likely than not, over-zealous junior officials pushed a hard line on the South China Sea, whereas no Chinese leader, if given the choice, would have opted to wreck the AMM Communique. But the fact that it happened reveals the scope of China's recent poor decision-making.

The 'nine-dotted line' that China has drawn over the South China Sea may prove to be nothing but a big geopolitical millstone around China's neck. It was unwise to attach the map in a note verbale responding to a joint submission by Vietnam and Malaysia to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in May 2009. This was the first time that China had included the map in an official communication to the UN, and it caused great concern among some Asean members.

The geopolitical opportunity implied by inclusion of the map has not been lost on America, which is why the US, somewhat unusually, has made another effort to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention. Having tabled the nine-dotted line at the UN, China walked into a no-win situation, owing to the difficulty of defending the map under international law. Indeed, as the eminent historian Wang Gungwu has pointed out, the first maps to claim the South China Sea were Japanese, and were inherited by Nationalist China.

Domestically, too, the nine-dotted line may cause problems for the government by presenting critics with a useful weapon. Any hint of compromise will expose officials politically. In other words, a few rocks in the South China Sea have put China between a rock and a hard place.

There is no doubt that China will have to find a way to compromise over the nine-dotted line. In private, it has begun to do so. Even though the line covers the waters northeast of the Indonesian-owned Natuna Islands, the Chinese government has given Indonesia categorical assurances that China does not claim the Natuna Islands or their Exclusive Economic Zone.

These private assurances calmed relations with Indonesia. So why not make similar overtures to other Asean states?

The legacies of Deng and his predecessor, Mao Zedong, are very different. But the People's Republic's two most important leaders did agree in one area: both bent over backwards to make territorial concessions to resolve border disputes. This explains why China was so generous to Russia, for example, in its border settlements.

Mao and Deng could do this because both provided China with strong leadership. The challenge for the world now is that China has become politically pluralistic: no leader is strong enough to make wise unilateral concessions.

Nothing will happen in China until the leadership transition is completed in November. The new administration of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will need some time to settle in. But America is waking up. So, too, will the rest of the world in 2016. The big question then will be: Is China as geopolitically competent as number one as it was when it was number two?

Kishore Mahbubani is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and author of the forthcoming book The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World.

South China (West Philippine) Sea: A decades-long source of tension

July 27, 2012
Rival claims to the South China Sea have for decades been a source of tension in the region. Below are key facts on the sea and the competing claims:

The South China Sea covers more than 3,000,000 square kilometers (1,200,000 square miles) on the western edge of the Pacific, with China and Taiwan to the north, the Philippines to the east, Borneo Island to the south, and Vietnam to the west.
It contains hundreds of small islands, islets and rocks, most of which are uninhabited. The Paracel and Spratly island chains contain the biggest features.

The sea is the main maritime link between the Pacific and Indian oceans, giving it enormous trade and military value. Most of the seaborne trade, including of oil and gas, between Europe and the Middle East and East Asia passes through the sea.
Major unexploited oil and gas deposits are believed to lie under the seabed.
The sea is home to some of world's biggest coral reefs and, with marine life being depleted close to coasts, it is becoming increasingly important as a source of fish to feed growing populations.

China and Taiwan both claim nearly all of the sea, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei each have often-overlapping claims to parts of it.
China's claim is based on a historical map of "nine dashes" that approaches the coast of other countries. But rival countries complain the dashes are kept deliberately vague so that no one knows China's exact claims.

Beijing and most other countries know it as the South China Sea. Hanoi calls it the East Sea and Manila officially refers to it as the West Philippine Sea.

China has held all of the Paracel islands since a conflict with South Vietnam in 1974 that left 53 Vietnamese military personnel dead.
Vietnam is believed to occupy or control more than 20 of the Spratly islands and reefs, the most of any claimant.
Taiwan has a garrison controlled by its coastguard on Itu Aba island, which is called Taiping in Chinese and is the largest in the Spratlys. Taiwan announced in July it would deploy longer-range artillery there.
The Philippines occupies nine of the Spratlys, including Thitu island, the second largest in the area. The Philippines has a military presence and civilians living on Thitu, which it calls Pagasa.
China occupies at least seven of the Spratlys, including Johnson Reef, which it gained after a naval battle with Vietnam in 1988.
Malaysia occupies three of the Spratlys. The most significant presence is on Swallow Reef, called Layang Layang Island in Malaysia, where it has a naval post and a diving resort.
Brunei does not occupy any feature but claims a submerged reef and a submerged bank in the Spratlys.
Tensions – China/Vietnam

Aside from the 1974 battle for the Paracels, the only other major conflict occurred when Vietnam and China fought a naval battle on Johnson Reef in the Spratlys in 1988 that left 70 Vietnamese military personnel dead.
However, Chinese naval vessels have fired at other times on Vietnamese fishing boats in the area.
In 2011, Vietnam accused Chinese marine surveillance vessels of cutting an oil survey ship's exploration cables, sparking nationalist protests in Vietnamese cities.
In June this year, Vietnam passed a law proclaiming its jurisdiction over all of the Paracel and Spratly islands, triggering Chinese protests.
About the same time China announced it had created a new city, Sansha, on one of the Paracel islands, which would administer Chinese rule over its South China Sea domain.
Tensions – China/Philippines

In 1995, China began building structures on Mischief Reef, within the Philippines' claimed exclusive economic zone.
Tensions between the two nations started to ratchet up significantly in March 2011, when Chinese vessels harassed a Philippine-chartered gas exploration vessel at Reed Bank.
The Philippines then accused the Chinese of a pattern of intimidation, including firing warning shots at Filipino fishermen and laying buoys in Philippine claimed islets.
A standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels that began in April this year at Scarborough Shoal further inflamed tensions.
In June, Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario accused China of "duplicity" and "intimidation."

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China adopted a non-binding "declaration of conduct" in 2002 to discourage hostile acts.
But attempts to turn it into a legally binding "code of conduct" have failed.
The dispute has created divisions within ASEAN. A meeting of foreign ministers in July ended for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history without a joint statement because of infighting over the issue.
Meeting host Cambodia, a China ally, rejected a Philippine push for the statement to take a harder line against the Chinese. — Agence France-Presse

Thai villagers to fight Lao Mekong dam in court

 By : AlertNet 

The inhabitants of Ban Pak Ing Tai, a leafy village in Thailand’s far north nestled between the mighty Mekong River and one of its tributaries, know only too well what dams can do.

This used to be a fishing village but nowadays local men are more likely to be found toiling away in corn fields or working as labourers than out on their boats.

They say vital sources of their food, water and livelihoods – from fish and riverweeds to seasonal wetlands for agriculture – are fast disappearing due to Chinese dams on the Mekong, which flows through six countries.

As a result, they vehemently oppose plans for big hydropower projects that would involve building dams on the Mekong in Laos, largely aimed at selling electricity to Thailand.

Village headman Phoomi Boonthom, 54, only fishes in his spare time now. Despite more than four decades of experience, he catches less than a kilo of fish after two sessions on the river on a hot June afternoon in peak season.

“This year’s been the worst in terms of catch. In the past, I used to get 10 kilos per round,” he told AlertNet, displaying a small box with some ice and fish.

The water level is too low and fluctuates too sharply for the fish to migrate, he said, putting the blame firmly on China.

“They built dams and blocked the water,” he said. “I also saw news on TV that if (Laos) finishes the Xayaburi and Pak Beng dams, there will be lots of problems, from here all the way down to Vietnam.”
The Mekong, flowing from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, is the world’s 12th largest river.

The Mekong River Commission says its fisheries have an estimated value of $5.6 to $9.4 billion a year, and provide food and livelihoods for some 60 million people living along its banks.

Experts say fish and other aquatic animals provide 40 to 80 percent of animal protein in local diets. And more than 80 percent of the populations of Cambodia and Laos, as well as communities in large areas of Thailand and Vietnam, meet their water needs from the Mekong basin’s rivers.

First lawsuit of its kind
Much is at stake – and that is why, in an unprecedented action, Thai villagers from eight Mekong provinces are planning to take the government to court over the controversial $3.5 billion, 1,260-megawatt Xayaburi hydropower project in neighbouring Laos, which plans to export 95 percent of the power it produces to Thailand.

The dam is to be part-financed by Thai banks and its main developer is Thailand’s second-biggest construction firm, Ch Karnchang Pcl.

The plaintiffs accuse the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) of agreeing to purchase energy generated by the Lao scheme without an adequate assessment or public consultation, as required by Thai law.

“This is the only way we can fight (these powerful interests),” said Niwat Roikeaw, director of the Chiang Khong Conservation Group in northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, upstream of the planned dam. “We used reason and tried to present everything that could happen (because of the dam) but they didn’t listen.”
Niwat, representing Chiang Rai – and villagers like Phoomi – is part of the Thai’s People Network of Eight Mekong Provinces which is threatening to file a lawsuit on August 7 unless the agreement to purchase power from Xayaburi is cancelled.

“This is the first regional legal case on a transboundary project involving overseas investment,” said Pianporn Deetes, campaign director for environmental group International Rivers in Thailand.

“We hope it will set a new ‘standard’ for overseas investment from Thailand and the Mekong hydropower… for social and environmental responsibility,” she added.

The EGAT declined to comment on the lawsuit, and Ch Karnchang – which has a 57 percent share in the Xayaburi project – did not respond when contacted by AlertNet.

Political risks
Xayaburi is the first of a dozen dams planned by landlocked, impoverished Laos, which has ambitions to become the “battery of Southeast Asia” by exporting most of the power generated by its hydro projects.
But critics say Xayaburi’s Thai developer has not properly assessed the dam’s social and environmental impacts, which could include damage to fish migration routes, farm land, food security and local livelihoods.
A report by the US-based Stimson Center, Mekong Turning Point, said the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) identified the area for study as extending only 10 km downstream, when the impacts would clearly reach much further.

“(Xayaburi) is not only about water flows and destroying migratory fish population, but also upstream dams holding nutrient-rich silt that (Vietnam’s) Mekong delta needs,” said the report’s author Richard Cronin, a senior associate with the Stimson Center.

“Cambodia is worried about the Tonle Sap Lake and millions of Cambodians who depend on the fisheries for food and livelihood. You’re talking about people already living on $1 or $2 a day losing everything,” he added.

Cronin said such cross-border consequences mean the debate over Xayaburi and other Mekong dams goes far beyond basic trade-offs involving water and food.

“Laos has the sovereign right to go ahead, but it’s a question of what’s the cost going to be, particularly in terms of relations with your neighbours and regional stability?” he said.

Xayaburi has already angered Cambodia’s government and upset Laos’s biggest ally, Vietnam, over its possible downstream effects.

In December, under pressure from neighbouring countries, Laos agreed to put the project on hold, pending further studies led by Japan.

Nonetheless, International Rivers said in June it had witnessed Ch Karnchang resettling villagers, building a large retaining wall, and undertaking dredging to deepen and widen the riverbed – a claim denied by official media in Laos.

In mid-July, Laos declared publicly for the first time that work on the dam had been halted.
The Mekong River Commission has recommended a 10-year moratorium, but it is unclear how long Laos is prepared to wait.

“Water grabbing”
For the communities who rely on the Mekong’s water, ecosystems and biodiversity for survival, preserving those natural assets is paramount.

But for investors and energy-hungry governments, the electricity that could be produced by harnessing the river’s waters in hydro schemes is an opportunity to generate profits and economic growth.

Nathanial Matthews, a researcher with London’s King’s College, said hydropower development in the Mekong region amounts to “water grabbing”, which he defines as “when powerful actors take control of water resources for their own benefit”.

The benefits are rarely shared with local people, he told AlertNet. They tend to be ethnic minorities and vulnerable people relying on the river’s resources who are more likely to experience any negative effects.
China, for example, has been accused of changing the Mekong’s natural hydrology and causing the devastating 2008 floods in northern Thailand by releasing water from upstream dams and destroying rapids to facilitate dam construction and boost trade.

Some activists and academics also say Thailand’s electriticy authority is overestimating future demand and emphasising the need for new capacity rather than efficiency gains.

The 12 dams planned for Laos would meet only around 6 percent of Thailand’s total energy demand by 2020 – an amount the southeast Asian nation could save through reasonable energy efficiency measures, according to the Stimson Center’s Cronin.

“If dams are going to be built, which I think is inevitable to an extent, we need to make sure the costs don’t outweigh the benefits,” Matthews said. “It’s not about being anti-dams. It’s about better dams.”

Cambodian town with gruesome past lures tourists

 July 27, 2012

ANLONG VENG, Cambodia (AFP) - Want to see Pol Pot's grave or his broken toilet seat? How about a visit to the house of a feared Khmer Rouge commander known as "The Butcher"?

Welcome to the town of Anlong Veng, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold which hopes to become the next must-see destination on Cambodia's dark tourism trail, but which faces calls not to glorify its role in the country's bloody past.

A rectangular mound of earth lined with half-buried glass bottles and protected by a corrugated iron roof marks the spot where Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot was hastily cremated in 1998.

Aside from a sign asking visitors to "please help to preserve this historical site" there is no information on offer, leaving Cambodian tourist Pov Dara, 27, to ponder the significance of the low-key grave.

"I feel sad for the people but not for him," she decides, after snapping a photo of her relatives flashing the peace sign.

Up to two million people died from overwork, starvation or execution when the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, attempted to create a communist utopia in the late 1970s.

His cremation site, which attracts some 10 visitors a day, is one of 14 tourist spots the government intends to "preserve and develop" in northern Cambodia's Anlong Veng.

Other places of interest include leaders' old homes and a rusty radio truck used to broadcast Khmer Rouge propaganda.

Impoverished Cambodia is no stranger to genocide tourism, with the Tuol Sleng torture centre in Phnom Penh and the nearby Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where thousands died, among the nation's most popular attractions.

But while the focus at those sites is on victims of the 1975-1979 regime, Anlong Veng is populated by one-time loyal Khmer Rouge followers, giving it the feel of a town that has found itself on the wrong side of history.

As locals relish the lucrative prospect of welcoming more tourists to the once isolated area, observers stress the need to educate guests about Cambodia's history -- and avoid turning the destination into a Khmer Rouge nostalgia tour.

To that end, the tourism ministry has teamed up with the esteemed Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities.

The centre is preparing to publish a guidebook based on the stories of long-time residents and it is training tour guides to provide meaningful information about "what happened and why during the Khmer Rouge regime's final days", said the group's director Youk Chhang. A museum is also planned.

But it is important not to exploit the country's tragic past, he told AFP.
Cambodia's memories are "not for sale", he said.

"We have the responsibility to ensure that Anlong Veng is a historical and responsible site to educate the public."

The Khmer Rouge was ousted by Vietnamese forces in 1979, though regime leaders and supporters continued to wage a low-level guerrilla war against the government.

Anlong Veng, near the Thai border, was the Khmer Rouge's last rebel centre before the movement disintegrated in the late 1990s.

One of the best-preserved visitor sites in town is the lakeside home of late military commander Ta Mok, known as "The Butcher" for allegedly orchestrating brutal massacres that killed thousands, although locals remember him as a generous leader who gave the town a road, a bridge, a hospital and a school.

Ta Mok, who briefly led the Khmer Rouge in its final days, was the only rebel who refused to surrender or strike a deal with the government after Pol Pot's death. He was arrested a year later and died in prison in 2006 awaiting trial.

His airy house is little more than a shell today, its furniture looted long ago. But several walls are still adorned with colourful yet amateurish murals of temples and a map of Cambodia -- symbols of Ta Mok's patriotism, according to the site's caretaker San Roeung, himself an ex-Khmer Rouge soldier.

"A lot of people here liked Ta Mok. When the enemy came, he took people to safety," said the 60-year-old, who helped build the house as well as the two cages outside used to hold Ta Mok's enemies.

He added that he hoped an influx of visitors would improve living standards for locals, who could "grow mangoes or jackfruit to sell to tourists".

Few are more excited about the town's tourism potential than Anlong Veng district deputy governor Nhem En -- who was the chief photographer at Tuol Sleng, where he endlessly captured images of inmates awaiting certain death.

A Khmer Rouge insider until he defected in the mid-1990s, Nhem En has built up a huge archive of photos, as well as a bizarre collection of keepsakes such as Pol Pot's sandals, his uniform and his shattered toilet seat.

Now he is looking for a partner to help set up a private museum to display his treasures, he said, having apparently given up on the idea of selling key items in the hope of earning hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"These items might not be worth much financially but, in historical terms, they're invaluable," he told AFP at his home, after showing some of his favourite possessions.

"This camera, if I put it in a museum, I would call it the killing camera," he said, as he held up a vintage Rolleicord, "because all of the people in Tuol Sleng who came before it died."

Nhem En insists he was not in a position to help any prisoners, all he could do was "follow orders" and "mind his own business".

Tuol Sleng prison chief Duch was in February sentenced to life in jail by Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court, the first person to face justice for horrors committed under the regime.

The court is now trying the three most senior surviving Khmer Rouge members, but Nhem En has little interest in the proceedings, preferring to muse about Anlong Veng's nascent tourism industry.

The ancient temples of Angkor, which attract more than a million visitors a year, are a mere two-hour drive away, and Nhem En believes that if a fraction of those visitors added Anlong Veng to their itinerary, his town, with its plentiful guesthouses and restaurants, would benefit considerably.

"Anlong Veng will not go backwards," he said, though he emphasised that his own collection of memorabilia is about more than just profiting from his time with the Khmer Rouge.

"I'm doing this to make the world understand more about the Khmer Rouge regime," he said.