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Xi Brugge

Xi Visit Cements Ties with EU

2 April 2014

President Xi Jinping returned to Beijing yesterday after spending more than a week in Europe meeting with royalty, heads of state and government, business leaders, students and making the first-ever visit by a Chinese president to the EU headquarters.

Xi kicked off his visit in the Netherlands where he attended the Nuclear Safety Summit, an important meeting which also allowed him the opportunity for a number of bilaterals, including with President Obama. The two leaders discussed current tensions in Ukraine and North East Asia. Xi also used the summit to call for the re-starting of Six Party Talks with North Korea. Prior to the summit Xi met with Dutch Premier Rutte and signed a new comprehensive partnership agreement aimed at deepening ties between the Netherlands and China.

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Thailand: Election ruled void by Constitutional Court

21 March 2014

Thailand’s February 2 elections have been ruled invalid by the Thai Constitutional Court. In a ruling of six votes to three the court decided the elections had been unconstitutional as they had not taken place on the same day across the country. It is unclear when new elections will be held.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had called early elections following the anti-government protests in November last year. But both the registration process of candidates and the voting itself were obstructed by protesters. In 28 constituencies there was no candidate due to the failure of the registration process.

The blocking of polling stations before the elections led to clashes between government support groups, the police, and anti-government activists.

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China Ukraine

China’s Ukraine Dilemma

14 March 2014

On the eve of President Xi’s landmark visit to Europe, the Chinese leadership is struggling to respond to the fast-moving situation in the Ukraine. The dilemma facing Beijing is that it does not wish to undermine its basic foreign policy principles of respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Nor, with an eye on Taiwan and Tibet, does it wish to support demands for referenda. But at the same time it does not wish to criticise Russia, its strategic partner with whom it is keen to maintain good relations.

Beijing seems to have been taken aback by the speed of events in Ukraine, including the sudden flight of President Yanukovich, who only last December paid an official visit to China. So far China has attempted to have its cake and eat it. In a Delphic statement on 3 March, the MFA stated that China stood for non-interference and the peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. But it also noted that “there were reasons for the current situation in the country and China was aware of the historical facts and realistic complexity of the Ukrainian issue.”

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USTR Froman

TPP in Trouble

7 March 2014

The recent Singapore round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations has revealed major differences between the partners, especially the US and Japan. The initial deadline of a deal by the end of 2013 has proved illusory. Now there are doubts whether an agreement will ever be reached given the levels of domestic opposition within the US and Japan.

Among the US concerns are the need for disciplines against currency manipulation and enforceable labour and environmental standards. Over 230 Congressmen and 60 Senators have written to Obama demanding currency manipulation disciplines in the TPP but this is opposed by most partners. There is also broad opposition to US demands that if countries fail to enforce certain environmental agreements that they have signed, they will face TPP enforcement and trade sanctions. Other US aims that face broad opposition are a ban on trade in illegally harvested timber and endangered species, and enforceable action against fisheries subsidies.

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Comfort Women

Japan to Re-examine ‘Comfort Women’ Apology

3 March 2014

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Yingluck Voting

Thailand: Election results to be announced after 27 April

12 February 2014

Thailand’s February 2 elections have not brought about conclusive results yet. It was announced today that re-runs of the elections will be held on 27 April in constituencies where voting was obstructed.

According to unofficial results, voter turnout on 2 February was only around 47% of the 43 million eligible voters in Thailand. The opposition Democrat Party had boycotted the elections. However, the low turnout also indicates that Prime Minister Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party lost support.

Claims by the Democrat Party that the elections had violated the constitution were dismissed by Thailand’s constitutional court. It remains unclear what will be done in the 28 constituencies where the registration process of candidates was blocked.

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Yang Ashton

EU-China Strategic Dialogue

28 January 2014

Catherine Ashton held talks on 27 January with Yang Jiechi, state councillor responsible for foreign policy. This was the fourth session of the EU-China Strategic Dialogue which should have taken place in 2013 but was postponed due to the leadership changes. Yang, the former foreign minister, was using the visit to prepare the landmark visit of President Xi Jinping to the EU on 31 March. Apart from Ashton, Yang met with President van Rompuy who described current developments in the EU and his ideas for the Xi visit.

EU officials said the talks had been productive. The focus was on next steps to implement the EU-China 2020 Agenda that was agreed at the November summit in Beijing. Ashton said that both sides shared similar priorities including promoting peace and security, sustainable green growth, innovation, and an inclusive social model. She welcomed the opening of negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty.

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Abe Yasukuni Shrine

EU and US criticize Abe visit to Yasukuni Shrine

29 December 2013

As expected Japan’s neighbours were outraged at Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine on 26 December. More surprising were the critical statements by the EU and US.

Catherine Ashton said that the visit was ‘not conducive to lowering tensions in the region or to improving relations with Japan\'s neighbours, especially China and Republic of Korea. Her statement continued: ‘All countries in the region have reaffirmed their commitment to peace and stability in recent months. The EU has consistently emphasised the need to build on this by handling disputes with careful diplomacy and by refraining from actions which can raise tensions. The EU urges the countries involved to build positive and constructive ties with their neighbours that will bolster confidence, defuse tensions and assure the long term stability of the region’.

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Protests Thailand

Thailand: Protesters obstruct early voting

23 December 2013

The blocking of polling stations where advance voting is taking place for next week’s general election has led to clashes between government support groups, the police, and anti-government activists.

Suthin Taratin, one of the leaders of the protest movement, was shot while speaking on top of a truck and died later in hospital. According to news reports, at 49 out of Bangkok’s 50 polling stations voting was either completely blocked or halted. In 10 out of 76 provinces throughout Thailand voting was disrupted as well.

The oppositional Democrat Party had announced in December to boycott the general elections scheduled for 2 February. Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said: ‘The Democrats think the elections will not solve the country\'s problems, lead to reform, or regain people\'s faith in political parties,’ and that political reforms were needed before the next elections.

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Zia Hasina

Bangladesh: EU Election Observation Mission on hold

23 December 2013

The EEAS issued a statement on 20 December saying Ashton had ‘decided to halt for now the preparations for the deployment of an Election Observation Mission’ to Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the EU remained ‘ready to observe the elections should the political conditions allow for the holding of transparent, inclusive and credible elections.’

In early December, Bangladesh’s opposition BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) announced it would boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for 5 January because of the government’s failure to install a non-party caretaker administration in the run up to the elections. The ruling Awami League, pointing to a supreme court decision in favour of the government’s position, has pledged to go ahead with the elections despite the opposition boycott.

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