World in Shock as Trump Surges to Victory in US

Governments from Asia to Europe reacted with stunned disbelief on Wednesday to the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, while populists hailed the result as a triumph of the people over a failed political establishment.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, described the result as a “huge shock” and questioned whether it meant the end of “Pax Americana”, the state of relative peace overseen by Washington that has governed international relations since World War Two.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault pledged to work with Trump but said his personality “raised questions” and he admitted to being unsure what a Trump presidency would mean for key foreign policy challenges, from climate change and the West’s nuclear deal with Iran to the war in Syria.

“Looks like this will be the year of the double disaster of the West,” former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said on Twitter, pointing to Britain’s vote in June to leave the European Union. “Fasten seat belts,” he said.

Meanwhile, right-wing populists from Australia to France cheered the result as a body blow for the political establishment.

“Their world is falling apart. Ours is being built,” Florian Philippot, a senior figure in France’s National Front (FN), tweeted. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the party and father of its leader Marine, said: “Today the United States, tomorrow France!”

Beatrix von Storch, deputy leader of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, said: “Donald Trump’s victory is a sign that citizens of the western world want a clear change in policy.”

During the US election campaign, Trump expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, questioned central tenets of the NATO military alliance and suggested that Japan and South Korea should be allowed to develop nuclear weapons to shoulder their own defence burden.

President Putin congratulated Trump on his victory in a telegram on Wednesday, the Kremlin said.

‘‘Putin expressed hope for joint work to restore Russian-American relations from their state of crisis, and also to address pressing international issues and search for effective responses to challenges concerning global security,’’ the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin also said he was sure a constructive dialogue between Moscow and Washington would serve the interests of both countries, the Kremlin said.

During his campaign Donald Trump vowed to undo a global deal on climate change struck by world powers in Paris last year and renegotiate the deal between Tehran and the West which eased sanctions against the Islamic Republic in exchange for allowing close monitoring of its nuclear program.

But many western governments are unsure whether Trump, a real estate mogul and former reality TV star with no government experience, will follow through on his campaign pledges, some of which would turn the post-war order on its head.

“We’re realizing now that we have no idea what this American president will do if the voice of anger enters office and the voice of anger becomes the most powerful man in the world,” Norbert Roettgen, a conservative ally of Merkel and head of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told German radio. “Geopolitically we are in a very uncertain situation.”

Prominent historian Simon Schama described a Trump victory and Republican control of both the Senate and US House of Representatives as a “genuinely frightening prospect”.

“NATO will be under pressure to disintegrate, the Russians will make trouble, 20 million people will lose their health insurance, climate change [policies] will be reversed, bank regulation will be liquidated. Do you want me to go on?” Schama told the BBC.

“Of course it’s not Hitler. There are many varieties of fascism. I didn’t say he was a Nazi although neo-Nazis are celebrating.”

Topics: Donald Trump, Election, Politics, United States, US President

Rangoon Authority to Release Air Quality Data

RANGOON — Information on Rangoon’s air quality will be released around next May, according to the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

The YCDC environmental conservation and sanitation department has been monitoring air quality in Burma’s commercial capital since April last year and plans to continue monitoring until next April, according to deputy department head Dr. Aung Myint Maw.

The city’s air quality index will be calculated according to the levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen peroxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, methane and particulate matter (PM) in the air in line with WHO guidelines.

“We have measured [air quality] in 67 places across Rangoon,” Dr. Aung Myint Maw told The Irrawaddy. “On average, the levels of carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide are slightly higher than [WHO] standards,”

Levels of carbon dioxide and methane were particularly high in areas of garbage dumping, ditches, and trees while the carbon monoxide level was high at intersections prone to traffic congestion, he said.

Nitrogen peroxide and sulfur dioxide were also found in the air while the level of particulate matter (PM) was high near construction sites, he added.

YCDC has installed three air pollution monitors—one near Rangoon city hall, one on the Hledan overpass and the third outside the Mingaladon Township administration office. The fourth is a mobile unit deployed at various locations in the city, including industrial zones.

According to Rangoon-based general practitioner Dr. Zarni Maung, coarse dust particles are 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter, and fine particles are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller. The particles are so small that they can get into lungs, potentially causing health problems, especially chronic breathing problems.

“The worst result of air pollution is—if people are exposed to polluted air for a long time—that they suffer from breathing problems, which can result in premature death,” he told The Irrawaddy.

“Even if air pollution is not that serious, people can suffer from headaches, itchy eyes, sore throat and vomiting,” he added.

Dr. Aung Myint Maw said that the data would cover every township in Rangoon as YCDC was measuring air pollution levels at one-mile intervals.

Upon release of the air quality index, YCDC will report to concerned government authorities and lawmakers so that further action can be taken, he said.

Topics: Air Quality, Pollution, Rangoon, The Environment

President-Elect Trump’s ‘Deals Must not be Done at the Expense of Other Nations’

As Donald Trump is poised to become the 45th US President in January, what significant policy changes can we expect in Asia under his administration?

The Asian policy of the 45th President will be an acrobatic one with a lot of somersaults, especially in relation to trade issues. The region’s biggest economies will be under pressure from the Trump administration to give more concessions. This is one priority area in which Trump could show his supporters that he is making America richer again, and quickly—by squeezing the biggest importers from Asia: China, Japan and South Korea.

The suspension of the Trans-Pacific Partnership will impact the US’s overall credibility and leadership in this part of the world. The ongoing negotiation of the Asean-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership must be accelerated to ensure it is completed as soon as possible to stimulate economic growth in the region.

For security matters, there will be some incremental changes that will not undermine the US’s own strategic strength in the region. Close security cooperation with Japan and South Korea remains the most pivotal part of US presence in the region—there will be no dramatic change there.

Do you think the Trump administration will completely abandon Obama’s initiative to ‘pivot to Asia’ as regional analysts are suggesting that the ‘pivot’ itself is now over?

Under the Obama administration, the US’s overall relations with Asia, especially with Southeast Asia, were considered to be very close. It has served as much-needed consistency over the past six years, speaking out for the region on issues related to peace and security.

With President Trump, this fundamental [aspect of the relationship] could change as he seeks more reciprocal actions from friends and allies in the region. In other words, his preponderance for making deals could permeate into diplomatic areas, which could spell trouble for Asian countries. He cannot expect to win all the best deals for America. Indeed, America is a great country, but deals must not be done not at the expense of other nations, particularly the Asians. Time will tell.

What will be the short and long term impacts on the US’s traditional allies such as Japan and South Korea? In recent years, we have seen that China has been quite aggressive in the East and South China Seas in regard to its maritime activities. With this in mind what policies will the Trump administration adopt?

Japan and South Korea are well aware that in the post-Cold War era, they have had to adjust to a new strategic environment. Japan has been at the forefront under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Since his return as prime minister, he has raised Japan’s international profile, especially on security and strategic matters. Japan is allowed to trade arms and engage in combat if its allies are harmed. Now, Tokyo must work hard to find additional security tools to strengthen its own defense.

For South Korea, the situation in the Korean Peninsula has dictated the future direction of Seoul’s defense posture. With North Korea’s continued nuclear ambitions, South Korea needs the US’s security and protection at all costs. Without the six-party talks, which have been suspended for the time being, it would be difficult for South Korea to assert any pressure on North Korea. However, given the fragility of Korean politics as of now, some gradual shifts in policies are possible, especially regarding Seoul’s ties with Beijing and Tokyo.

Thailand is regarded as a traditional US ally, but the there has been tension in recent years between Bangkok and Washington, demonstrated in the downsizing of the Cobra Gold military training exercise, and by the exchange of harsh words between the two countries as Thailand has been seen as growing closer to China.

Thailand-US relations are [some of] the oldest in Asia, and began in 1832. With such a strong foundation, both countries have been working shoulder to shoulder throughout its history, especially during the five decades of the Cold War. However, following the May 22 power seizure two years ago, Thai-US ties have been frozen without positive momentum forward.

After the passage of a national referendum in Thailand on the next charter in August, there has been some tangible progress. More senior officials from both countries have been meeting to discuss how to improve their cooperation. Next year, the region’s largest military exercise, the Cobra Gold, will continue as scheduled and will not be downsized. With the new attitude towards the US prevailing in the Philippines and Malaysia, the overall security profile of Thailand in the US global strategy has increased.

Thailand is one of five American treaty allies in the Asia-Pacific including the Philippines, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Last month, during his visit here, Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs called Thailand ‘a natural ally’—a far cry from his previous visit, in which Thailand was still viewed with contempt.

Furthermore, Patrick Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia, is scheduled to arrive in Bangkok on November 25 to hold talks with the Thai government in order to reassure them of the importance of Thailand in the new Trump administration. Thailand would like to review its ties with the US so as to respond to the fast-changing regional security landscape.

Under the Obama administration, Washington became closer to Burma: President Obama visited the country twice, praised the political opening and lifted sanctions. We could have predicted continuity and strong engagement if Hillary Clinton had come to power, but now, with Trump as the President-elect, it has created uncertainty. How do you foresee US policy shifting in regard to Burma, an important neighbor to China?

Washington under Trump will pay less attention to Myanmar because it would be difficult for the new president to take up or maintain the good work from his predecessor. There will be a new policy guideline towards Myanmar from the new advisors and there will be less emphasis on democracy and human rights.

One indicator would be the overall attitude of the Trump administration towards Asean [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations], of which Myanmar is a member. President Barack Obama has strengthened US-Asean ties during his two terms in office, much to the envy of other dialogue partners. The Philippines, as the current Asean chair, has to convince President Trump to take part in the fourth Asean-US summit in November 2017. With the current state of Philippine-US relations, it is doubtful that he would come to region during his first year in office.

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

Topics: Asean, Barack Obama, China, Donald Trump, Foreign Relations, Thailand, United States

Two Years On, Investigation Into Double Murder of Kachin Teachers Has Stalled

Two years on, an investigation into the brutal rape and murder of two Kachin schoolteachers in Kutkai Township has stalled due to continued war.

On Thursday, Jan. 19, a memorial service was held in Kutkai’s Kaung Kha village for the victims: Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, who were both 20-year-old volunteer teachers working with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) when they were raped and killed in their hut on the same day in 2015. Members of the Kachin public and the KBC attended the memorial.

Zau Rau from the KBC in Muse, Shan State, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that thousands had gathered to pray for the two young women.

KBC has been working to seek justice for the victims. Zau Rau said they had consulted with the Kachin Lawyers Network regarding the legal proceedings of the case, which have not been filed. The case investigation team led by the Muse District police head is reportedly still gathering information.

At the time of the murders, Kaung Kha was occupied by soldiers from the Burma Army Infantry Battalion 503.

The victims’ legal support team were scheduled in May 2016 to meet soldiers in a Lashio court who were accused of perpetrating the crime, but the meeting fell through. The KBC asked the Burma Army for the opportunity to question 28 soldiers stationed in the area at the time of the murder, but the Tatmadaw did not comply.

“We wanted to talk with and interview the three drivers who drove the soldiers’ truck, and to all 28 soldiers the following morning [after the murder]. But we still cannot,” Zau Rau explained.

The ongoing conflict in northern Shan State, including in Kutkai Township, is the main obstacle in processing the case, said Brang Dee, an advocate in Lashio who represents the Kachin Lawyers Network.

The Kachin lawyer collaborated with the government investigation team but Brang Dee said, “We could not travel to meet with witnesses in the area, as the area is in a conflict zone.”

Locals claim Burma Army soldiers could be the perpetrators, as the crime happened while they were in Kaung Kha. Ten days after the incident, the Tatmadaw’s own newspaper denied the accusations and threatened legal action against anyone who claimed otherwise.

Despite such threats, people have continued calling for the justice for the two victims. Internationally, the Burma Campaign UK delivered a petition signed by more than 3,200 people to the UK government, calling on them “to do more to help stop rape and sexual violence in Burma,” on this second anniversary of the victims’ deaths.

Women’s rights activists have also called for an independent and unbiased inquiry into the case, with an investigation team comprised of representatives from women’s organizations, civil society groups and human rights lawyers.

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network said, “the case of the two schoolteachers highlights the insecurity and limits to justice faced by women in the conflict zone.”

“We, the women’s groups, will never forget or ignore the case, as long as justice is not being sought,” she said.

Who Killed U Ko Ni?

The brazen killing of prominent legal advisor to the National League for Democracy and its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi not only sent shock waves through the country, but also a signal: you could be next.

Will we find out who really killed U Ko Ni? The assassin, Kyi Lin, who was caught just minutes after the killing, has a long criminal record and is believed to be a hired gunman. Under former President Thein Sein’s government, thousands of criminals were released from prisons under several amnesties and Kyi Lin was one of them.

Since last week, a manhunt has been underway and several unidentified people have been summoned and interrogated by law enforcement regarding potential connections to U Ko Ni’s killing. Some suspects have been put under surveillance, but police have remained tight lipped. The public has unleashed criticism and anger toward the authorities; this is a high profile case and security forces will be held accountable if they cannot find any hard evidence linking suspects to the murder.

The President’s Office announced on Friday that police had apprehended another reported conspirator, Aung Win Zaw, in Hpa-an, Karen State, on Monday after he had fled from Rangoon. Myanmar Now reported that he is a former military officer who was kicked out of the army for breaking martial laws. He was also involved in the smuggling of Buddha statues and spent a jail term with Kyi Lin in Mandalay’s Obo Prison.

Sources said that police are still hunting for a 50-year-old man named Myint Swe, who may have allegedly hired Kyi Lin to shoot the lawyer.Conspiracy theories abound, but if powerful figures were involved in the killing, some speculate that the mastermind behind the murder will never be brought to justice.

On Monday, Jan. 30, the office of the Burmese President, U Htin Kyaw, said in a statement that the attack had been carried out to undermine the country’s stability, suggesting a political motive. Lawyer U Ko Ni had been trying to write a new Constitution to replace Burma’s existing military-drafted one.

It is not certain whether Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was in agreement with his proposal. But political observers have said that it was U Ko Ni who came up with the bold proposition to create the position of State Counselor for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was barred from the Presidency.

It remains worrying that more than one week after U Ko Ni’s killing, neither police and security forces nor the government—which has strongly advocated for adherence to the rule of law—has held a press briefing on the incident.

The army published a brief press release on Jan. 30 and sent a Rangoon regional commander to meet U Ko Ni’s family members. But public criticism and frustration have mounted as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has refrained from making any public statement, let alone from sending condolences to the lawyer’s bereaved family. Inside sources have said that she was shocked by U Ko Ni’s death and has instructed her aides, as well as officials in the home affairs ministry, to investigate the killing and bring the culprit to justice.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who has visited Burma twice in recent months in his capacity as head of the Arakan State Advisory Commission, urged authorities to carry out an investigation as quickly as is possible.

It is now known that U Ko Ni received death threats before he was killed. It is likely that his assassins followed him and studied his social media page, where he often posted pictures from his overseas visits.

As U Ko Ni and a government delegation returned from a two-week trip to Indonesia, Kyi Lin was believed to have been tipped off as the delegation disembarked the plane. He was waiting at the gate as U Ko Ni arrived to see his family. So it is assumed that the assassin was told minutes in advance of U Ko Ni’s movements—passing through immigration, the baggage claim and the arrivals gate. Kyi Lin then executed his deadly mission.
It is very unlikely that he could have acted alone.

It is still unknown how Kyi Lin acquired the nine-millimeter pistol used to kill U Ko Ni. News reports have said that an ex-convict was approached by Aung Win Zaw to kill a foreign diplomat, but no details further details on this point are currently known. The ex-prisoner told local media that he had turned down the offer.

Political pundits have speculated that assassins were told to kill U Ko Ni in broad daylight so as to create fear and to send a message. Some extreme elements with vested interests in the country and its politics have been mentioned as suspects. But if they are themselves powerful figures or have close ties to other such individuals in the country, then history suggests that the family of U Ko Ni will not likely see the mastermind of the murder apprehended and sentenced in accordance with the law. In this fragile transition, justice is not guaranteed.

Aung Zaw is the founding editor-in-chief of The Irrawaddy.

Topics: Crime, Murder, National League for Democracy (NLD)
Aung Zaw

Upper House Votes to Abolish MICA

NAYPYIDAW — Parliament’s Upper House voted to abolish the Myanmar International Cooperation Agency (MICA) on Tuesday following allegations that the agency was thoroughly corrupt.

In December, Dr. Arkar Moe of Karen State accused the MICA board of directors of lining their own pockets, and he submitted a proposal to the Upper House that would abolish the agency.

During the Upper House session on Tuesday, 14 National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers debated in favor of abolishing MICA.
When put to a vote, 140 lawmakers voted in favor and 50 voted against eliminating the agency.

“MICA was formed with good intentions, but there were problems with the agency’s procedures,” said U Hla Kyaw, the deputy minister for Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation.

The President’s Office has been in agreement with eliminating MICA since the allegations of corruption were announced in December, he added.
But “I still don’t know the exact timeline for abolishment,” U Hla Kyaw told the reporters after the Upper House session.

The former Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development created MICA as a quasi-governmental agency in 2012. At the time, its stated aim was to promote the meat and fish industry and to improve domestic food sufficiency. MICA was supposed to coordinate with local and foreign companies to develop underutilized assets—mainly farms, fisheries, and plants.

U Soe Thane, a President’s Office official, served as MICA chairman under the previous government.

While it operated, MICA took control of about 60 factories and businesses and hundreds of acres of land. It then signed controversial land lease deals with the private sector and failed to publicize details.

Deputy minister U Hla Kyaw said that MICA would now be shut down, and the lands, farms and factories under its control would be handed back to the appropriate departments in line with procedures. The ministry will ask the Union Auditor-General’s office for help with auditing records and transparency.

Topics: Corruption, Parliament
Htet Naing Zaw