Under The Radar 07.16.12

Posted on Monday, July 16, 2012 by Michael Chen

A weekly compilation of under reported events in Asia.

  • Efforts to solve the South China Sea dispute suffered a setback as ASEAN nations failed to issue a joint statement, an unprecedented outcome in the organization’s 45-year history. The Philippines wanted the joint communiqué to include mention of the Scarborough Shoal, claimed by both the Philippines and China, but Cambodia, a Beijing ally and ASEAN chair, resisted the call.
  • Japan is considering a plan to buy the Senkaku islands from private landowners, drawing sharp criticism from Beijing. The disputed islands fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security and in the event of armed conflict, the Treaty would oblige the U.S. to defend Japan's sovereignty. In the midst of disputes, foreign minister Koichiro Gemba temporarily recalled Uichiro Niwa, the ambassador to China for discussions on how to prevent further damaging hard-earned China-Japan ties. However, critics believe that Niwa, with his dovish views and approach to China, has fallen out of line with the increasingly conservative Noda government.
  • While public backlash blocked the Korean government’s attempt to sign a military pact with Japan, foreign ministers of the two countries and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered to announce the establishment of the Steering Group, a DC-based "consultative body" to reinforce trilateral security coordination. The first trilateral consultative body will tackle North Korea’s growing threats and China’s rising influence in the Asia Pacific.
  • The U.S. formally lifted sanctions on Burma, on the same day Derek Mitchell, the first U.S. ambassador to Burma since 1990, arrived at his post. The decision to allow U.S. firms to partner with state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) marks a rare divergence from Aung San Suu Kyi, who has warned that MOGE’s lack of transparency could set back Burma’s democratic reforms.
  • Burma’s Ministry of the Interior presented a new right-to-protest framework according civilians the right to gather and protest peacefully. Most civil rights activists welcomed the announcement, but some argued that the framework outlined several restrictions that can be easily abused. Earlier this week the military nominated a hard-line ex-general for the next vice president, disappointing activists who had hoped for a reformist.
  • Due to increased domestic consumption, China may become a rare earth element importer as early as 2014. China controls 95 percent of the world's rare-earth production and about half of global reserves, but Beijing has had a policy of encouraging internal domestic demand while imposing export quotas. To further control prices, China’s leading REE producer announced a plan to launch a rare-earth trading platform in August.
  • Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party (New Frontier Party) formally announced her candidacy for president, campaigning on a moderate platform that includes welfare policies and engagement with North Korea. Park has been distancing herself from the Lee Myung-bak government, which suffers from low approval ratings domestically, and polls show her in the lead against other potential candidates.
  • After nearly two years of little progress, peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have finally resumed. Both sides hope to resolve the conflict that has led to more than 120,000 deaths in the last four decades and stalled development in the resource-rich Southern Philippines. Government officials, optimistic about the talks, say that a peace agreement could be reached as early as this year.

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