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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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Joe Biden Abe

Biden stresses US as Asian power

3 December 2013

US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Japan, China and Korea this week seeks to send a clear message -  that the US will remain an active Pacific power for the foreseeable future. Coming in the wake of the Chinese decision to establish an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, Biden will reassure Japan and Korea that the alliance with the US is as strong as ever. He will also express his ‘deep concern’ at the Chinese move. President Obama has already responded to the Chinese move by sending B52 bombers through the zone without any prior warning to China.

During his first stop in Tokyo, Biden said that the US was ‘a resident Pacific power, we\'re here to stay, and we\'re actively engaged on the full spectrum of issues in the region.’ In a joint statement the two sides called on China to rescind the ADIZ decision which has been widely criticised including in Korea. Both sides pledged to carry out joint surveillance missions and work together in development assistance and disaster relief operations in Asia. Apart from the situation in the East China Sea, talks with Japanese leaders focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and how to bring about a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

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Third Plenum CCP

Assessment of the CCP Third Party Plenum

29 November 2013

On 26 November, the EU-Asia Centre and the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies (BICCS) held a panel debate to assess the Third Plenary Session of 18th CPC Central Committee. All panellists were agreed that the economic reforms announced on 15 November were very comprehensive and urgently needed. The key question, however, would be the speed and effectiveness of implementation.

Jin Ling, Research Fellow of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) said there was a clear trend towards the internationalization of the Chinese Yuan and commended the reforms designed to combat climate change and improve China’s energy mix. Looking at EU-China relations, she saw both at a critical juncture in their development. Much depended on the next steps. The summit between China and the CEECs (16+1 Summit) was complementary to relations with the EU and were not part of a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. Different regions possessed different characteristics that made it reasonable for China to deal with them separately.

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EU-ASEAN - Jakarta Seminar on Maritime Security

27 November 2013

On 18-19 November the Habibie Centre in Jakarta, together with the Indonesian MFA and the EEAS, organised an expert seminar on maritime security bringing together EU and ASEAN officials and experts. Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, was one of the EU experts and rapporteur for the seminar.

In his opening address, Le Luong Minh, ASEAN Secretary General, said that seminar demonstrated that the EU and ASEAN could work together on difficult and complex issues including maritime security. He hoped that the seminar, part of the EU-ASEAN Plan of Action, would come up with practical recommendations for the next ministerial in Brussels in spring 2014.

Speakers agreed that maritime issues were complex, inter-related and cross-cutting in nature. They covered illegal fishing, safety of navigation; piracy and armed robbery at sea; marine environment; conservation of marine biodiversity resources; marine tourism; maritime connectivity, and many others.

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Elections Maldives

Elections in South Asia – Prospects for Stability?

18 November 2013

The Maldives have elected Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) as president. He won the run-off vote on 16 November with 51.3% while ex-president Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivan Democratic Party (MDP) received 48.6% of votes.

After the Supreme Court had declared the first elections void and cancelled the following two, voters went to the polls on 9 November, where Nasheed narrowly missed securing an outright majority by receiving 47% of votes.

Voter turnout was high with 91.4%. The EU had declared its readiness ‘to consider appropriate measures should the poll on 16 November not bring the electoral process to a successful conclusion.’

The newly-elected president Yameen is the half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled the Maldives for 30 years. In his inauguration speech on 17 November, Yameen spoke about the dire economic situation and pledged to reduce state budget expenditure. Given that the election finally went smoothly, the prospects for the building of a stable government appear good.

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