China

Cambodia passes bill to stifle opposition

Cambodia's National Assembly on July 10 passed a bill which prohibits political parties from being affiliated with convicted criminals. Commentators believe the law is aimed at weakening the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP's former leader, Sam Rainsy, recently resigned from the party after he was sentenced to two years in prison on defamation charges. As a result of the new law, Rainsy will no longer be able to be affiliated with the CNRP in any manner. The CNRP gained significant political strength in the 2013 Cambodian elections when the party took a total of 55 seats in the National Assembly, leading many to believe the defamation charges against Rainsy were politically motivated.

Bhutan squeezed in India-China standoff

A stand-off opened this week in the Himalayas as Indian troops confronted Chinese military forces building a road through the disputed Doklam plateau, with each side accusing the other of crossing into its territory. The Doklam (Chinese: Donglang) plateau lies where the borders of India's Sikkim sector and China's Tibet Autonomous Region converge with that of the small independent kingdom of Bhutan—which is being drawn into the conflict between the nuclear-armed Asian giants. Bhutan issued its own complaint over the enroachment of Chinese troops on its territory. But having no direct relations with Beijing, Bhutan lodged the complaint via India's diplomatic corps. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by implying that India has a "hidden agenda" in the matter and is manipulating Bhutan.

Taiwan sacrificed to Central America geopolitics

Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers to be Taiwan part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.

Antarctica: ...and still it melts

President Trump announced his decision June 1 to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on Climate, signed by 195 nations and formally joined by 147, including the US. The United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations in the world not supporting the accord. Nicaragua, it should be noted, failed to join because the terms of the accord are not binding, and it was therefore considered too weak. Syria is consumed by internal war, and was iced from the negotiations by restrictions on its envoys traveling to the talks. The agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, came into force on Nov. 4, 2016, just days before Trump was elected. Each country sets its own commitments under the accord. The United States, second-largest emitter on the planet after China, had committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. It also commited up to $3 billion in aid for poorer countries to address climate change by 2020. (ENS, June 2; NYT, June 1; WP, May 31)

Guangdong: direct action gets the goods

Authorities in Qingyuan, in China's Guangdong province, canceled a planned waste incinerator project after days of angry mass protests repeatedly shook the city. Clashes erupted after thousands of residents from the outlying township of Feilaixia joined students and market workers in Qingyuan's downtown area May 7. Riot police fired tear-gas and used batons to try to disperse the crowds, but protesters only re-grouped elsewhere—even after hundreds were arrested. Residents accused authorities of failing to consult with local communities in the project, which was slated for Shili village, adjacent to Feilaixia. On May 10, as protests continued to escalate, the city government announced that it had decided to drop the plan. (EJ Insight, Hong Kong, May 11; RFA, May 8)

Global execution stats: good news, bad news

The latest annual Amnesty International report on global use of the death penalty actually has some heartening news. For the first time since 2006, the United States did not make the top five executioners in 2016—falling to seventh, behind Egypt. The 20 executions in the US constituted the lowest number in the country since 1991. Most executions last year took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan—in that order. And after three years in a row of global executions surging, they appear to have dropped off in 2016. Not including data from China, Amnesty counts 1,032 executions throughout the world in 2016—more than 600 fewer than in 2015.

Trump-Putin breach: real or charade?

This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)

Control of oil, water at issue in Burma peace talks

Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.