Southeast Asia

Vietnam: ‘free trade’ advances; free speech retreats

The European Council announced that it has approved the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hailed as the most ambitious trade pact between the EU and a developing country. Under EVFTA, upwards of 99% of tariffs on goods from both sides will be lifted. The deal was approved two weeks after a Vietnamese environmental activist was sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” Facebook posts. Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, is accused of writing posts that urged people to take part in peaceful protests over corporate pollution. The posts especially noted the Formosa Plastics disaster in 2016, in which a Taiwanese-owned steel plant dumped toxic waste into the ocean off the coast of central Vietnam, killing millions of fish. (Photo of Nguyen Ngoc Anh via Human Rights Watch. Sign reads: “Fish Need Clean Water, People Need Transparency.”)

Syria

Did John McCain meet with jihadists in Syria?

Upon his death, many are reviving the discredited claim that John McCain met with ISIS on his Syria trip in 2013. But some are settling for the less ambitious, and perhaps plausible, claim that he met with jihadists who were implicated in atrocities. Ben Norton tweets: “John McCain was a staunch supporter of the CIA-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Salafi extremist opposition in Syria. In fact the late senator posed in a photo with a rebel who was involved in kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shia civilians.” But Norton is repeating as “fact” what are actually unproven claims—while he still equivocates about “alleged” chemical attacks by the Assad regime. It’s a bitter irony. McCain participated in war crimes in Vietnam. Two generations later, those who gloat at his death are covering up for equivalent war crimes by Assad and his allies. It fell to McCain, who was unapologetic about his Vietnam role, to try to drum up some support for the resistance in Syria. (Photo: John McCain Twitter feed)

East Asia

Brink looms closer in East Asia maritime theaters

Japan has activated its first amphibious marine unit since World War II, which conducted practice drills to defend the disputed Senkaku Islands from an anticipated Chinese military seizure. Meanwhile, the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, with a group of Philippine generals onboard, entered disputed waters in the South China Sea, where China is building military defenses on islands claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. Another carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, patrolled the contested waters last month, taking part in anti-submarine drills with Japanese forces and visiting Vietnam with its 5,000-strong crew—the largest such US military presence there since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. (Map via IDSA)

North America

Trump admin sued over termination of TPS

The ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of several immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and citizens whose parents have TPS, challenging the Trump administration's revocation of the status for over 200,000 people. The administration has terminated TPS for all people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. The suit contends that the administration's actions are unconstitutional as they interfere with the right of school-aged citizen children of TPS beneficiaries to reside in the country. The young citizens would have to choose whether to leave the country or to remain without their parents. (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)

Southern Cone

Chileans protest signing of rebooted TPP

Chilean activists protested in Santiago against the signing of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or TPP-11. Protesters outside La Moneda Palace, headquarters of the Chilean government, held banners reading "No to modern slavery, no to the TPP-11" and "The TPP and TPP-11 are the same!" Lucía Sepúlveda, leader of the organization Chile Mejor Sin TPP, said the agreement would "deliver full guarantees to foreign investors" at the expense of "rights and national interests." (Photo: Chile Mejor Sin TPP)

The Andes

Peru and Australia sign free trade pact

Peru and Australia signed a free trade pact that does away with 99% of tariffs on imported goods from Australia, while securing Peruvian exports greater access to Australian markets. The Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) was signed in Vietnam, at the 25th summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, speaking at the summit, reiterated his support for free trade and warned about the dangers of protectionism–comments seemingly aimed at the Donald Trump administration.

Southeast Asia

Vietnam: protests over massive fish deaths

Hanoi saw a rare public protest as hundreds demonstrated against a Taiwanese firm they accuse of causing mass fish deaths along 120 miles of Vietnam's central coast.

Oceania

Rival trade pacts vie for Pacific hegemony

China is proposing a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) in  a race with the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region.

East Asia

East China Sea gets scary —again

A near confrontation between Chinese and US aircraft over disputed East China Sea gasfields comes amid major joint US-Japanese naval maneuvers off Okinawa.