(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)
Aung San Suu Kyi is to be stripped of the Freedom of Oxford by the city’s council for her response to the Rohingya crisis.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)
Aung San Suu Kyi is to be stripped of the Freedom of Oxford by the city’s council for her response to the Rohingya crisis.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
More than 60 people are believed dead after a boat carrying Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar capsized, the UN migration agency has said.
The refugees drowned in heavy seas off Bangladesh late on Thursday, part of a new surge of people fleeing a Myanmar army campaign and communal violence that the UN describes as “ethnic cleansing”.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called on countries to ban providing weapons to Myanmar over the violence, Reuters reported.
23 human bodies have been retrieved from the water so far, but the death toll is expected to exceed 60.
“Forty are missing and presumed drowned,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.
Shona Miah, 32, told AFP; “My wife and two boys survived, but I lost my three daughters.”
A dire shortage of clean water, toilets and sanitation is spreading disease and pushing the camps to the precipice of a health disaster, the Red Cross warned.
“Our mobile clinics are treating more people, especially children, who are very sick from diarrhoeal diseases which are a direct result of the terrible sanitation conditions,” said Mozharul Huq, Secretary-General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.
In some of the camps hundreds of refugees are sharing a single toilet, said Martin Faller, of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
“The conditions for an outbreak of disease are all present – we have to act now and we have to act at scale,” he added.
The World Health Organization has said one of the diseases it is particularly worried about is cholera.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)
On September 19, 2017, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a widely anticipated speech in front of diplomats, United Nations officials, and members of the media to speak about what the government is doing to address the refugee crisis in Rakhine State.
Since August, about 400,000 Rohingyas have escaped to Bangladesh after the Myanmar government intensified its crackdown of insurgents belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which attacked several police and military outposts.
The crackdown involved clearing operations that displaced thousands of Rohingya families. Both the ARSA and government troops accused each other of committing widespread abuses such as looting and burning of houses, beating and killing of women and children, and instigating religious violence. The conflict has affected various ethnic groups in the Rakhine state.
The Rohingya people are an ethnic group in western Myanmar, but the government considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Most are Muslim, and living in a country with a Buddhist majority population, they suffer from discrimination. Many are deprived of basic social services.
In her speech, Suu Kyi assured Myanmar’s ethnic groups that the government is thinking about their welfare. Unfortunately, she failed to mention the Rohingya, a move in line with the government’s refusal to recognize the Rohingya as an official ethnic group. In fact, her whole speech avoided reference to “Rohingya” and instead she referred to them simply as Muslims:
We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people who have been caught up in the conflict. Those who have had to flee their homes are many – not just Muslims and Rakhines, but also small minority groups, such as the Daing-net, Mro, Thet, Mramagyi and Hindus of whose presence most of the world is totally unaware.
She also said refugees who fled to Bangladesh can return to Myanmar — but only after undergoing a verification process:
Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problems and with full assurance of their security and their access to humanitarian aid.
With regard to the recent spate of attacks in Rakhine, she spoke about punishing groups responsible for spreading violence:
Action will be taken against all peoples, regardless of their religion, race, or political position who go against the laws of the land and who violate human rights as accepted by our international community. We have never been soft on human rights in this country.
Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her promotion of democracy, has been criticized for her silence regarding the issue and her alleged inaction to prevent the persecution of Rohingya. Her September 19 speech was regarded as a crucial moment for her to clarify once and for all the government’s position on the matter, in particular the forced exodus of thousands of Rohingya to nearby Bangladesh. Suu Kyi is not the head of government but she is the leader of the ruling party.
In her speech, Suu Kyi emphasized that Myanmar has a fragile democracy that is undergoing transition after five decades of experiencing direct military rule. She added that the new government has been in power for only 18 months and it has been struggling very hard to enforce reforms while keeping peace and restoring democratic processes.
Meanwhile, Vice President U Henry Van Thio addressed the United Nations General Assembly on September 20 and echoed Suu Kyi’s point that the majority of Muslims in Rakhine have decided to remain in the country:
We would need to find out the reason for this exodus. What is little known is that the great majority of the Muslim population decided to remain in their villages. We share the need to ensure that vital humanitarian assistance is provided to all those in need.
Suu Kyi’s speech was beamed live across Myanmar and groups of people even watched it in the capital while holding placards with the words, “We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi.”
My guess is that the harshest international critics of the government will be far from satisfied; but that the vast majority of Burmese people and at least some foreign governments will feel she’s steering the only realistic course she can under very complex circumstances.
Indeed, local media highlighted how global news reports about the refugee crisis focused on the Rohingya but neglected the situation of other ethnic groups. Some even complained that rich countries are unduly interfering in Myanmar’s domestic affairs.
Netherlands Ambassador to Myanmar Wouter Jurgens tweeted his disappointment with Suu Kyi’s speech (ASSK stands for Aung San Suu Kyi):
James Gomez of Amnesty International wondered about Suu Kyi’s “silence about the role of the security forces” in the attacks against the Rohingya:
Aung San Suu Kyi today demonstrated that she and her government are still burying their heads in the sand over the horrors unfolding in Rakhine State. At times, her speech amounted to little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming.
Writing for news website Coconuts Yangon, Jacob Goldberg witnessed how an enthusiastic crowd welcomed the speech of Suu Kyi.
Generalizing a problem in order to ignore a specific emergency works like a charm for people in power when their followers are on board.
Watching the crowd outside City Hall throw a mini-rave before and after they heard Aung San Suu Kyi trivialize the pain of the world’s most persecuted people made it clearer than ever that the struggle for real justice inside Myanmar will be long and torturous. But it will only begin once at least one person in the crowd suggests that death and displacement are no occasion for a dance party.
After weeks of being quiet about the issue, Suu Kyi broke her silence but failed to appease everyone, especially human rights groups. Worse, by avoiding to mention the Rohingya, Suu Kyi’s speech could in fact reinforce negative views about the ethnic group. Meanwhile, as Myanmar rebuilds the shattered villages in Rakhine, the situation of Rohingya refugees staying in makeshift camps in both Bangladesh and Myanmar continues to deteriorate.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)
Over the past few weeks, Russia’s North Caucasus republics and the ex-Soviet states of Central Asia have seen an explosion of interest in the plight of Myanmar’s besieged Rohingya minority, who share the Islamic faith dominant across the region.
According to the United Nations over 270,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Bangladesh amid a campaign of government-backed violence sparked in part by a standoff with militants during the last two weeks. Al Jazeera and aid agencies estimate almost a million members of the stateless minority have fled Myanmar since the late 1970s.
Several large, seemingly Whatsapp-fuelled rallies against the violence have already taken place in Moscow and Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The rallies went ahead in spite of Russia’s seeming official position on Myanmar, that saw it block a UN Security Council resolution regarding state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya earlier this year. In ex-Soviet Central Asia, while no-one took to the streets, a football match featuring Myanmar’s international team was cancelled over security fears and Facebook posts, petitions and even poetry in support of the Rohingya flooded timelines.
The Moscow rallies that took place on September 3 and 4 were unsanctioned in a country where the right to protest is strictly controlled. The first Moscow rally didn’t result in any arrests, despite heavy police presence, but 17 people were briefly detained on Monday at a follow-up rally. According to reports in the Russian media, WhatsApp groups served as a the main hub for organizing the protests.
Chechnya’s controversial leader Ramzan Kadyrov has played a leading role in organising the response to a sudden surge of violence and state-driven persecution in the Southeast Asian country. Kadyrov, famed for gay-bashing and fiery tirades in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has used social media to strike out against world leaders for their inaction. On September 4 he staged a rally attended by tens of thousands — the official claim was a million people, or almost 80 percent of the republic’s total population — in the Chechen capital Grozny. On Thursday, three days after the Grozny rally, Kadyrov made another statement on Instagram, saying that no further protests will be necessary as enough awareness had been raised.
By that point Kadyrov had already hinted that Moscow should step up pressure on Myanmar, while claiming he would launch a nuclear strike against the Rohingya’s oppressors if he was able to.
He later said the comments — which analysts called alarming for his superiors in the Kremlin — had been taken out of context by his enemies. Russia’s foreign ministry warned against putting pressure on Myanmar on June 8.
Given Kadyrov’s uncompromising stance on Myanmar, it is no surprise that social media users from Chechnya have been among the loudest voices backing the Rohingya on Russian social media. Users from neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia have also been vocal even as citizens in Russia’s other majority Muslim federal republics, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, largely ignored the issue.
This North Caucasus bias was reflected in Yandex, Russia’s largest national search engine, reporting a sharp increase in searches about Myanmar (Мьянма in Cyrillic) coming from the region.
Support for the Rohingya cause across the region has a pop-up feel. Many long-standing Islamic-themed Vkontakte pages have transformed themselves into 24/7 pro-Rohingya advocacy channels overnight. Most are explicitly run by and aimed at residents of Chechnya.
One such online community, [V]Chechnye ([In]Chechnya), has posted at least 43 messages relating to the Rohingya crisis since September 1. Messages include video appeals informing Muslims of the atrocities against the Rohingya, calls to sign a Change.org petition, and allegations that anti-Muslim violence in traditionally Buddhist regions of Russia such as Kalmykia goes unpunished (incidents reported in the Russian media, such as a prayer room in Elista, Kalmykia’s capital, being torched by unidentified assailants, and a pig’s head thrown into a village mosque, were mentioned).
Some have gone as far as recruiting volunteers online to join a “holy jihad” to save their brethren in Myanmar.
They are experiencing what we cannot even imagine!
Tomorrow (04.09), a rally near Grozny’s central mosque!!
Don’t be indifferent!!!!
Let’s all hold a rally on social media!!! All! All of you! Everyone who opposes the genocide in Myanmar!!! Your faith, denomination or nationality don’t matter!!!
Replace your Instagram, What’s App [sic], Vkontakte etc profile picture with the following image (share both the text and the image)
DON’T LIKE IMAGES AND VIDEOS NOT RELATED TO THE CAMPAIGN! So that the genocide stays on top of most discussed posts!!! So that everyone knows!!!
DISSEMINATE INFORMATION ABOUT THE RALLY AMONG EVERYONE YOU KNOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA! Let the whole world know that we won’t just let the story go!!! We are prepared to go any length to save innocent people!!!
USE THE HASHTAG #ROHINGYAWEAREWITHYOU
Even My Private Aul, an anonymous online community for gay persons from Northern Caucasus — arguably one of the most marginalized and persecuted groups in Russia — posted an appeal to sign a petition addressed to Russia’s UN envoy.
The petition, which at the time of writing has over 160 thousand signatures, urges the the Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzya to support a UN Security Council resolution on violence in Myanmar, rather than vetoing it with China, as happened earlier this year.
Over on the other side of the Caspian Sea in the Central Asian states once part of the Soviet Union there has also been a strong reaction to violence in Myanmar. This was most apparent in Kyrgyzstan, where the government cancelled a scheduled Asia Cup football qualifying fixture with Myanmar, amid concerns over a potential terror threat and fan clashes with Burmese players.
Many Kyrgyz social media users thought this was an overreaction. But officials were clearly nervous in the build-up to the game, as social media users called variously for a boycott of the match, a peaceful protest outside the stadium and a minute’s silence in respect of the Rohingya victims prior to kick off.
The football federation, whose Facebook page was overwhelmed by criticisms of Myanmar and support for the Rohingya, posted a plea for order before the country’s Prime Minister eventually moved to cancel the game:
We position ourselves as a friendly and hospitable nation!!! Like all we condemn and mourn what is happening to Muslims in Myanmar! Nevertheless…let’s show on September 5 that we don’t give in to provocations. Let’s support our guys in a friendly fashion!
Not all Kyrgyz have been impressed by online pro-Rohingya messaging. One post in the group We are for a Democratic and Secular Kyrgyzstan (In Russian Мы за СВЕТСКИЙ, ДЕМОКРАТИЧЕСКИЙ КЫРГЫЗСТАН!) hinted at frustrations over pan-Islamic sympathies and posts written “stupidly for likes and comments”.
The violence in Myanmar also inspired a number of lyrical tributes. Here citizens of Tajikistan came into their own. One website focused on the country counted at least five Tajik poems on social media, themed on the unfolding tragedy in Myanmar.
A woman poet Shoira Rahimjon wrote:
I’ll go to Myanmar!
To tell Burma not to take hopes from
My poor pregnant sister,
Not to burn my nation,
Not to take my soul,
I’ll go right now!
To take Burma to the house of justice,
And to the home of forgiveness
Although the Grozny and Moscow protests may have played a role in drawing Central Asians towards the Rohingya cause, it is worth considering that the opportunity for solidarity presented to them by the conflict in Myanmar is also an opportunity for self defence.
While all five countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) have majority-Muslim populations, they also share aggressively secular authoritarian governments, who fear growing religious adherence is undermining their authority.
Last week Tajikistan moved to ban the Islamic hijab covering from schools completely while mobile service providers mobbed citizens with SMS messages stressing the need to wear non-religious “national” clothes. Neighbours Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are routinely recognised by the US state department as “countries of particular concern” in regards to religious freedom. Kazakhstan is seemingly movingin a similar direction.
For citizens in these countries then, the plight of a geographically distant community whose religion they share has offered a chance to amplify concerns about injustices committed against Muslims the world over, without too much fear at the consequences of speaking out.
For Ramzan Kadyrov over in Chechnya, the Rohingya tragedy perhaps represents something even greater: a bid for power and influence across the Muslim world.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)
INDIA Updated: Sep 12, 2017 00:43 IST
The UN high commissioner for human rights on Monday criticised India for the rise of religious intolerance and attacks on freedom of expression, including the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, as well as its handling of Rohingya refugees.
In unusually frank remarks made while addressing the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said rights defenders working for India’s most vulnerable groups were being harassed or denied protection by the state instead of being seen as allies in building a more inclusive society.
Al Hussein also criticised India and Pakistan for not cooperating with his office to assess the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).
There was no official reaction from the Indian government to Al Hussein’s comments.
Al Hussein said he was “dismayed” by the rise of intolerance towards religious and other minorities in India. “The current wave of violent, and often lethal, mob attacks against people under the pretext of protecting the lives of cows is alarming,” he said.
Referring to attacks on people who speak out for fundamental human rights, he pointed to the murder last week of journalist Gauri Lankesh, who, he said, “tirelessly addressed the corrosive effect of sectarianism and hatred”.
Though Al Hussein said he was “heartened” by protests against Lankesh’s killing and other lynchings, he noted that rights defenders working for the most vulnerable groups, including people threatened with displacement by infrastructure projects such as the Sardar Sarovar Dam, were being subjected to harassment and criminal proceedings, or denied protection. Such groups, he added, should be considered allies in creating a more inclusive society.
Al Hussein, who described the Myanmar government’s handling of the Rohingya issue as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, specifically targeted minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju for his stance on deporting Rohingya refugees.
“I deplore current measures in India to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their country,” he said.
“The minister of state for home affairs has reportedly said that because India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention the country can dispense with international law on the matter, together with basic human compassion,” he said, noting that 40,000 Rohingyas had settled in India.
Al Hussein also regretted what he described as the “reluctance” of India and Pakistan to cooperate with his office on “human rights concerns”, including a failure to grant access to Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the LoC.
He said his office is remotely monitoring the rights situation in Kashmir in order to make the findings public in the near future.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)
(CNN)Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has made her first public comments on the fate of her country’s persecuted Rohingya minority since new violence broke out almost two weeks ago.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)
On a remote pass through Himalayan peaks, China and India, two nuclear-armed nations, have come near the brink of conflict over an unpaved road. It is one of the worst border disputes between the regional rivals in more than 30 years.
The road stands on territory at the point where China, India and Bhutanmeet. The standoff began last month when Bhutan, a close ally of India, discovered Chinese workers trying to extend the road. India responded by sending troops and equipment to halt the construction. China, the more powerful of the two, angrily denounced the move and demanded that India pull back.
Now soldiers from the two powers are squaring off, separated by only a few hundred feet.
The conflict shows no sign of abating, and it reflects the swelling ambition — and nationalism — of both countries. Each is governed by a muscular leader eager to bolster his domestic standing while asserting his country’s place on the world stage as the United States recedes from a leading role.
Jeff M. Smith, a scholar at the American Foreign Policy Council who studies Indian-Chinese relations, said a negotiated settlement was the likeliest outcome. But asked whether he thought the standoff could spiral into war, he said, “Yes I do — and I don’t say that lightly.”
Both sides have taken hard-line positions that make it difficult to back down. “The messaging is eerily similar,” Mr. Smith said, to the countries’ 1962 slide into a war that was also over border disputes.
On the surface, the dispute turns on whether the land belongs to China or Bhutan. It is only about 34 square miles, but it is pivotal in the growing competition between China and India over Asia’s future.
The dispute dates to contradictory phrases in an 1890 border agreementbetween two now-defunct empires, British India and China’s Qing dynasty, that put the border in different places. One gives Bhutan control of the area — the position that India supports — and the other China.
“This comes down to both countries having a reasonable claim,” said Ankit Panda, a senior editor at The Diplomat, an Asian affairs journal.
Bhutan and India say that China, by extending its road, is trying to extend its control over an area known as the Dolam Plateau, part of a larger contested area.
The plateau’s southernmost ridge slopes into a valley that geographers call the Siliguri Corridor but that Indian strategists know as the Chicken Neck.
This narrow strip of Indian territory, at points less than 20 miles wide, connects the country’s central mass to its northeastern states. India has long feared that in a war, China could bisect the corridor, cutting off 45 million Indians and an area the size of the United Kingdom.
Few countries have been eager to confront China’s regional ambitions as directly with military forces, which has made India’s response to the construction so striking and, according to analysts from both countries, so fraught with danger.
But in recent months, India’s leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has shown that he is willing to flout China’s wishes — and ignore its threats.
In April, a top Indian official accompanied the Dalai Lama to the border of Tibet, shrugging off China’s public insistence that the journey be halted. In May, India boycotted the inauguration of President Xi Jinping’s signature “One Belt, One Road” project, saying the plan ignored “core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“I hope the Indian side knows what it’s doing, because the moment you put your hand in the hornet’s nest, you have to be prepared for whatever consequence there is going to be,” said Shiv Kunal Verma, the author of “1962: The War That Wasn’t,” about the bloody border conflict the two countries fought that year.
Chinese officials say the construction of the road was an internal affair because, they say, it took place within China’s own borders. On Tuesday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, reiterated the country’s warning to India to withdraw as a precondition for any broader talks. “The solution to this issue is also very simple,” he said during a visit to Thailand, addressing the Indians directly. “That is, behave yourself and humbly retreat.”
Bhutan, which joined the United Nations in 1971, does not have diplomatic relations with China. It has always been closer to India, particularly after fears stemming from China’s annexation of Tibet, another Buddhist kingdom, in the middle of the 20th century.
Since then, India has played a central role in the kingdom’s administration, contributing nearly $1 billion in economic and military aid annually in recent years. China has sought to woo Bhutan with its own offers of aid, investments and land swaps to settle border disputes.
Two weeks after the construction began, Bhutan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it violated earlier agreements, and called for a return to the status quo.
“Bhutan has felt uncomfortable from the start,” said Ajai Shukla, a former army colonel and consulting editor for strategic affairs at Business Standard, a daily newspaper in India. “It does not want to be caught in the middle when China and India are taking potshots at each other. Bhutan does not want to be the bone in a fight between two dogs.”
The confrontation, meantime, has soured already tense relations.
Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi both attended the recent Group of 20 meeting in Germany but did not hold a meeting, one on one, that might have defused tensions. India’s national security adviser is expected to attend a meeting in Beijing this week, which analysts say could signal whether any face-saving compromise is possible.
Mr. Xi is preparing for an important Communist Party congress in the fall that will inaugurate his second five-year term as president and consolidate his political pre-eminence. Given the unbending nature of Chinese statements, few analysts believe he would do anything that would seem weak in response to India’s moves.
“It may be harder to make concessions until after that gathering,” Shashank Joshi, an analyst at the Lowy Institute, wrote in an essay posted on Friday, “while it may even suit Beijing to keep the crisis simmering through this period.”
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
China’s President Xi Jinping voiced to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday his country’s commitment to help its neighbor achieve peace as fighting along their shared border forced thousands to seek refuge in China, state media said.
Fighting in March in Myanmar prompted Beijing to call for a ceasefire between ethnic militias and the security forces there and carry out military drills along the border.
Xi met Nobel laureate Suu Kyi – who serves as Myanmar’s foreign minister while also being de facto head of its civilian government – following China’s Belt and Road Forum on Sunday and Monday.
“China is willing to continue to provide necessary assistance for Myanmar’s internal peace process,” China’s official Xinhua news agency cited Xi as saying.
“The two sides must jointly work to safeguard China-Myanmar border security and stability,” Xi said.
The news agency did not elaborate on what assistance China would provide.
China has repeatedly expressed concern about fighting along the border that has occasionally spilled into its territory, for instance in 2015, when five people died in China.
Xi also said China would work to enhance cooperation with Myanmar on his Belt and Road development plan, which aims to bolster China’s global leadership by expanding infrastructure between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond.
Suu Kyi told Xi that Myanmar was grateful for Chinese help and that it would work with China to safeguard stability in the border region, Xinhua said.
Beijing last month offered to mediate a diplomatic row over the flight of around 69,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh to escape violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, according to officials from Bangladesh.
Myanmar has been sharply criticized in the West over violence against the Rohingya.
Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency under Myanmar’s army-drafted constitution, but effectively leads the government through the specially created post of “state counsellor”.
Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that he and Xi resolved to strengthen their countries’ friendship during their meeting in Beijing, with China pledging to speed up infrastructure projects it is funding in the Philippines.
“We renewed our resolve to strengthen our friendship and mutually beneficial partnership on a broad range of areas,” Duterte said in southern Davao City on his return from Beijing. “We resolved to fully use the mechanisms we have established to dialogue openly, monitor progress and ensure implementation of projects.”
Duterte, who took office last June, has worked to repair relations with China that have been strained by territorial conflicts in the South China Sea and an international arbitration ruling on a case filed by his predecessor that invalidated Beijing’s claims to the disputed territory. Duterte met separately with Xi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after attending last weekend’s “Belt and Road” trade initiative.
Duterte said both he and Xi were looking forward to officials from both countries meeting later this week for inaugural bilateral talks on the South China Sea. Philippine officials have said the meeting will be held Friday in southwestern China.
Four agreements were signed during the visit, including a Chinese grant of 500 million yuan ($72.5 million) for feasibility studies of infrastructure projects in the Philippines and construction of a drug rehabilitation center.
Also signed were memorandums of understanding on cooperation in human resources development and personnel exchanges, energy cooperation, and enhancing government capabilities in communication and publishing.
Duterte thanked China for its generosity, including providing grants and loans, promising to build two bridges for free in metropolitan Manila and increasing imports of Philippine agricultural products.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)
China’s plan to blast open more of the Mekong River for bigger cargo ships could founder on a remote outcrop of half-submerged rocks that Thai protesters have vowed to protect against Beijing’s economic expansion in Southeast Asia.
Dynamiting the Pi Long rapids and other sections of the Mekong between Thailand and Laos will harm the environment and bring trade advantages only to China, the protesters say.
“This will be the death of the Mekong,” said Niwat Roykaew, chairman of the Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group, which is campaigning against the project. “You’ll never be able to revive it.”
Niwat said blasting the Mekong will destroy fish breeding grounds, disrupt migrating birds and cause increased water flow that will erode riverside farmland.
Such opposition reflects a wider challenge to China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” project to build a modern-day Silk Road through Asia to Europe.
Second Harbour Consultants, a subsidiary of state-owned behemoth China Communications Construction Corp (CCCC) (601800.SS) said it was surveying the Mekong for a report that China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand would use to decide whether blasting should go ahead.
It added that it was not tasked with the blasting work, which would need to be tendered.
The company said in an e-mail it had held meetings with local people “to communicate, build confidence and clear doubts.”
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Clearing the Mekong for bigger ships is not officially a part of One Belt, One Road, a project announced in 2013; China blasted sections of the river in Laos several years earlier.
But some Chinese engineers involved in the survey speak of it as a part of the broader plan, and it is consistent with Beijing’s Silk Road objectives.
Even in its Southeast Asian backyard, where it has sympathetic governments and ancient historical ties, China sometimes struggles to convince ordinary people that One Belt One Road will benefit them.
Thailand, Laos and Myanmar have approved the survey work, which is funded by China, but further studies and approvals are needed before blasting.
KEEPING A LOW PROFILE
The Mekong River originates in the Tibetan plateau and cascades through China and five Southeast Asian countries.
China has built a series of dams along its stretch of the river that Thai campaigners say has impacted the water flow and made the regional giant hard to trust.
Chinese flags now flutter from company speedboats, while CCCC Second Harbour has met with Thai protesters three times since December in a bid to avert opposition to their work.
A unit of the conglomerate faced violent protests in January in Sri Lanka, where people objected to plans for an industrial zone in the south.
Chinese engineers on the Mekong said they were worried that Thai protesters would board the rickety cargo ship where they slept, prompting them to moor it on the Laotian side of the Mekong each night.
“We are afraid for our team’s safety,” one engineer told Reuters, declining to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
“We keep a low profile here,” he added. “We want to do this project well and benefit Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, China, these four countries. This is not just for China.”
China wants to remove rocks and sandbanks to allow ships of up to 500 tonnes to sail from its landlocked province of Yunnan to the sleepy Laotian town of Luang Prabang.
That would expedite the shipping of Chinese freight deep into northern Laos, said Paul Chambers, an expert in international relations at Thailand’s Naresuan University.
“Luang Prabang may seem sleepy, but northern Laos … represents a hub of Chinese influence,” he said.
LOCALS REMAIN WARY
Despite reassurances from CCCC Second Harbour, some locals still believed the engineers were marking out areas for blasting, said Niwat, who represented campaigners in meetings with the Chinese company.
His group draped a large white banner reading “Mekong Not For Sale” on the bank overlooking the Pi Long rapids, whose name in Thai means “lost ghosts.”
“At the moment we’re only thinking about the economy and the earning figures without considering the unimaginable value of the eco-system to humanity,” he said.
The military seized power in Thailand in 2014 and banned gatherings of five or more people.
But Narongsak Osotthanakorn, governor of Chiang Rai – the Thai province where the Mekong is currently being surveyed – said people could “protest freely” against the Chinese plan.
Narongsak said the survey was the first stage in a process that would include an environmental study, public hearings and negotiations between China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
While he wouldn’t say whether or not he supported blasting, Narongsak said local people had much to gain from increased river trade. “I think no country would be happy to lose the benefits,” he said.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)
The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held from May 14 to 15 in Beijing and President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony and host the round table summit of the leaders, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday.
Xi has championed the “One Belt, One Road” initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark program to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects.
China has dedicated US$40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Among those attending will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo will also be attending the forum.
British finance minister Philip Hammond will come as Prime Minister Theresa May’s representative, while Germany and France will send high-level representatives.
Wang confirmed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as one of the leaders coming, along with the Spanish, Greek, Hungarian, Serb and Polish prime ministers and Swiss and Czech presidents.
“This is an economic cooperation forum, an international cooperation platform that everyone is paying attention to, supports and hopes to participate in,” Wang said.
“One Belt, One Road is to date the most important public good China has given to the world, first proposed by China but for all countries to enjoy,” said.
“The culture and historical genes of One Belt, One Road come from the old Silk Road, so it takes Eurasia as its main region,” he said, adding that representatives of 110 countries would attend the forum.
A section of the New Silk Road is in Pakistan, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.
Wang dismissed concerns, saying the Pakistan project had no direct connection to the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the New Silk Road.
“Indian friends have said to us that One Belt, One Road is a very good suggestion,” he said.
During the forum, China is expected to sign cooperative documents with nearly 20 countries and more than 20 international organizations, Wang told reporters.
China will work with countries along the route on action plans concerning infrastructure, energy and resources, production capacity, trade and investment, which will help to turn the grand blueprint into a clear roadmap, he said.
Another task of the forum will be to push forward delivery of cooperative projects, Wang said.
During the forum, parties will identify major cooperative projects, set up working groups and establish an investment cooperation center.
China will also work with all parties on a set of measures that will include improved financial cooperation, a cooperation platform for science, technology and environmental protection, and enhanced exchanges and training of talent.
Participants will sign financing agreements to support their cooperative projects, Wang said.
China will use the forum to build a more open and efficient international cooperation platform; a closer, stronger partnership network; and to push for a more just, reasonable and balanced international governance system, Wang said.
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