Asia and International Law

Law of the Sea – Why Asia Should Say No to Mr. Abe's Vision of International Law for Asia (World Post, 24 June 2014)

At the recent Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Shinzo Abe made a bold pitch to Asia to buy in on a new type of Japanese leadership. Mr. Abe talked extensively about The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, declaring his government's strong support of the Philippines and Vietnam in their claims against China. From China's view, this was a provocative and dangerous articulation of law. China has never taken any actions or made any claims in the South China Sea that limits the freedom of passage. Yet in case after case, Mr. Abe's government has shown that Japan's conception of an Asia ruled by "international law" is really just an Asia ruled under Japanese mandate. All Asian nations -- including those currently being befriended by Japan -- should reject itreject it, argues Allen K. Yu of the Chunqiu Institute for Developmental and Strategic Studies.

Law of the Sea – Vietnam, China Trade Accusations of Vessel-Ramming Near Oil Rig (WSJ, 24 June 2014)

Since the deployment of the rig on May 2, Vietnam and China have accused each other several times of vessel-ramming at the site. Vietnam earlier this month released video footage showing a Chinese fishing vessel ramming and sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat.

Vietnam said the oil rig was deployed within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, while China said China National Offshore Oil Corp. is carrying out normal activities in Chinese waters and that it is entitled to conduct drilling operations there.

Law of the Sea – China slams Philippines for 'non-stop' talk on rule of law (Philippine Star, 30 June 2014)

China is again turning the tables on countries accusing it of violating international law for its perceived aggression in the disputed South China Sea. China Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang reacted to the statement of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the disputes in the East and South China Seas should be resolved according to the rule of law. "It is worth noting that recently some countries keep taking provocative actions and stirring things up, and at the meantime, they just cannot stop talking about the rule of law with a purpose of threatening and smearing China and swaying the public opinion… Since some countries are so fond of the 'rule of law,' then I wonder what on earth is the 'rule of law' that they keep talking about?" Qin said. Qin claimed that China has been exercising the lawful right "to properly handle relevant issue and maintain regional peace and stability and abiding with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). Qin also advised countries embroiled in the territorial disputes to look over their own violations of international laws.

Law of Development – UN launches Sustainable Energy for All Decade, regional hub (UN News, 18 June 2014)

With an estimated 628 million people in Asia- and the Pacific lacking access to electricity and more than 1.8 billion using natural fuels, the United Nation office in the region has launched the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), underscoring the importance of clean forms of electricity in the post-2015 developing agenda. The goals of the 2014-2024 UN Decade echo the priorities set out by UN Secretary’s General Ban Ki-moon in his eponymous 2011initiative to reach universal access to energy services and double the amount of renewable energy available by 2030. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have also launched a Regional Hub to tackle energy issues at the country level.

International Organisations – ASEAN Political, Security Issues Impeding Integration (VOA, 30 June 2014)

ASEAN has developed so-called scorecards for three categories of communities: economic, socio-cultural and political-security. ASEAN officials say they score 92 percent for economic community and 82 percent for socio-cultural. But ASEAN only scores 12 percent in political and security issues, said Hassan Wirajuda, the Indonesian ambassador to Cambodia. Speaking at a public lecture at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Wirajuda said these issues remain a major gap in ASEAN integration. “Because of differences among ASEAN countries on the state of their political development in terms of democracy, quasi-democracy and authoritarian government, which makes the issue of political and security community most sensitive to some,” he said. “But through time since the ASEAN Charter and the Blueprints were adopted, we made a lot of progress. Not as fast as we wanted, but we made progress.”

International Economic Law – Indonesia launches safeguard investigation on coated paper and paperboard (WTO News, 24 June 2014)

On 24 June 2014, Indonesia notified the WTO’s Committee on Safeguards that it initiated on 20 June 2014 a safeguard investigation on coated paper and paperboard. A safeguard investigation seeks to determine whether increased imports of a product are causing, or is threatening to cause, serious injury to a domestic industry. A WTO member may take a safeguard action (i.e. restrict imports of a product temporarily) only if the increased imports of the product are found to be causing, or threatening to cause, serious injury.

International Economic Law – Goods Council approves Philippine waiver request for rice (WTO News, 19 June 2014)

The Council for Trade in Goods, on 19 June 2014, approved the Philippine waiver request for the extension of its special treatment for rice and forwarded the draft decision to the General Council for adoption. The Philippines said that rice is of critical importance to the country, and is the main source of food security for the population. It said that it first filed its waiver request in 2011, and now it has finally concluded bilateral agreements with interested members. Australia, Indonesia, US, China, Vietnam and India supported the Philippine request. Thailand said that it had concluded negotiations with the Philippines on 10 June, and although it still has to conclude internal procedures, it could go along with forwarding the draft decision to the General Council. Under the draft waiver decision, the Philippines will provide minimum market access for rice imports, and establish country-specific quotas. The General Council will review annually the waiver. At the expiration of the waiver on 30 June 2017, the importation of rice into the Philippines will be subject to ordinary customs duties.

Human Rights – Myanmar: UN experts alarmed at draft bill imposing restrictions on religious conversion (UN News, 20 June 2014)

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts have called on the Government of Myanmar to do away with a draft bill imposing restrictions on religious conversion, stressing the right of every individual to freely choose or to change their faith.

The experts – on freedom of religion (Heiner Bielefeldt), minority issues (Rita Izsák) and human rights in Myanmar (Yanghee Lee) – warned that the draft bill, made public on 27 May inviting comments from monks and the public, sets out a cumbersome application and approval process for conversion while purporting to make it easier for individuals to freely convert. It also provides for disproportionate criminal sanctions on offenders, according to a news release issued by the three experts. In addition, some provisions are “vague and subject to interpretation that may lead to discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities or the poor.”

Human Rights – Three international experts tapped to assist with UN-mandated Sri Lanka conflict probe (UN News, 25 June 2014)

Three distinguished experts have agreed to advise the United Nations-mandated investigation into alleged human rights violations committed during the final stages of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. The experts are former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, former Governor-General and High Court judge of New Zealand Silvia Cartwright and former President of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission Asma Jahangir. According to the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR), the investigation team will consist of 12 staff, including investigators, forensics experts, a gender specialist, a legal analyst and various other staff with specialized skills. It will be operational for a period of 10 months (up to mid-April 2015). The three experts will play a supportive and advisory role, providing advice and guidance as well as independent verification throughout the investigation.

Human Rights – US State Department: Malaysia, Thailand Aren’t Doing Enough Against Human Trafficking (Time, 20 June 2014)

The US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report ranks countries in terms of the efforts to put a stop to the practice of forcing humans to labor against their will. Thailand, Malaysia, and Venezuela’s status was automatically downgraded this year because they have been on a State Department human trafficking watch list for over four years and have not improved. Thailand is among the worst offenders, according to the State Department. Recent news reports have highlighted widespread trafficking in the Thai fishing sector, where tens of thousands of migrants have been forced to work on fishing boats often without contracts or stable wages. Many others have been pushed into Thailand’s illegal sex trade. Meanwhile, the State Department found that Malaysia failed to adequately prosecute traffickers and protect victims.

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