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As Myanmar junta falters, rival ethnic armies jostle in Shan state

The rout of military junta troops and seizure of territory across Myanmar’s border with China has brought the Three Brotherhood Alliance a new struggle in Shan state: dealing with a myriad of actors and shifting alliances seeking to profit from the rapidly changing political landscape. The region’s multiple well-armed ethnic armies include a powerful force that is a de facto ally of Beijing, groups that are aligned with the junta, and other militias with no allegiance to the democratic opposition National Unity Government or the fight to reverse the 2021 military coup. In northern Shan state, insurgent alliance members the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar National Defense Alliance Army (MNDAA) last month launched the second phase of Operation 1027, capturing key military outposts in the country’s largest state.  The TNLA’s capture of the last junta camp in Nawnghkio, and its move south into Mogok, will complicate the movement of reinforcements and resupply of Lashio, northern Shan state’s biggest city and a commercial gateway between Mandalay and Muse on the Chinese border.  Members of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Mandalay People’s Defense Force stand in front of the captured building of the Myanmar War Veterans’ Organization in Nawnghkio township in Shan state, June 26, 2024. (Mandalay People’s Defence Force via AP) China has put pressure on the alliance to halt the offensive, which started after violations of a cease-fire China negotiated in January. On July 13, the MNDAA announced a unilateral cease-fire would go into effect from July 14-18, out of respect for the Chinese Communist Party, which was convening a Third Plenum session in Beijing,  While the two forces remain in positions around Lashio, their offensive has slowed for now.  That’s not to say that hostilities have ceased: The junta continues to launch airstrikes.  China has been unable to broker a new ceasefire, even though the Three Brotherhood Alliance had sent representatives to nearby Kunming for talks.  The MNDAA and TNLA always fight back in self-defense. And with their newly captured Chinese-made anti-aircraft artillery, the two Shan state-based armies have more capacity to target the heavy-lift Mi-17 helicopters the junta uses to resupply and reinforce remote positions.  RELATED STORIES Myanmar rebels rack up more gains as Operation 1027 enters new phase Myanmar insurgent allies capture strategic Shan state town from junta Ethnic army overruns junta command center in Myanmar’s Kokang region China awaits junta approval to resume border trade with Myanmar’s Shan state Inroads into Shan regions The turmoil in Shan state has drawn local actors – the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) – off the sidelines. They are trying to limit the Brotherhood’s gains and exploit the weakness of the State Administrative Council, as the junta is formally known.  Tensions between the TNLA and SSPP continue to fester, with both sides accusing the other of instigating attacks.  July 13 talks between the two sides in Panghsang aimed at lowering tensions were declared successful by the TNLA.  But while these have not escalated into a larger conflict, they’ve resulted in the SSPP not joining the fight against the junta. Indeed, the SSPP, along with the UWSA, seem to be abetting the junta. What we are seeing play out are  ethnic loyalties and alliances in the complex Shan patchwork. At over 155,000 square kilometers 60,000 square miles), Shan state is not just the largest of Myanmar’s 14 states and administrative divisions, it makes up nearly a quarter of the total land area.  The majority of the six million population are ethnic Shan, with nine other ethnic groups. The TNLA represents the roughly half a million Ta’ang, or Palaung people. The MNDAA is comprised of Mandarin-speaking ethnic Chinese based on the border with China’s Yunnan province. As a result of Operation 1027, the two Brotherhood armies are making significant inroads into ethnic Shan-dominated regions.  The state has several ethnic resistance organizations composed of ethnic Shan, including the SSPP and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS).  But they are bitter rivals and with limited manpower, equipment, and resources, and neither army controls a contiguous area, making a political map of central and southern Shan State look like a patch of leopard spots. Most of the armed groups in the region have been highly opportunistic and unprincipled. None joined the National Unity Government or picked up arms against the regime.  All three groups have benefited from the insecurity caused by the coup, which allowed them to focus on their illicit business activities, including the production, sale, and/or taxation of methamphetamine. The Wa: rested and ready After Operation 1027 began last October 27, the SSPP attacked its rival the RCSS, on the grounds that it remained a National Ceasefire Agreement partner of the junta. While it was hoped that the SSPP would join Operation 1027, their limited operations against the junta’s ally last year was accepted as sufficient for the time being. The SSPP seemed to pledge support for the second phase of Operation 1027, but its tensions with the TNLA have put that on hold.  In a surprise move, the United Wa State Army has started to move well outside of its Kokang autonomous region, centered on the border crossing to China at Panghsang (Pangsang).  The UWSA captured the mountain town of Tangyan, which is 135 km (85 miles) south of Lashio, without firing a shot, then continued west and took Mongyai.  There are now reports that the UWSA have moved west all the way to the Salween (Thanlyin) River – leading observers to ask, what’s going on? With 20-30,000 men, the UWSA, which grew out of the wreckage of the Communist Party of Burma, is one of the largest and best armed ethnic resistance organizations. Ostensibly an ethnic Wa organization, today its leaders are all Mandarin-speaking ethnic Chinese, and the group is seen as Beijing’s closest proxy. They’ve had autonomy since 1989. United Wa State Army soldiers march during a military parade in the town of Panghsang, April 17, 2019….

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Anti-junta forces capture camps in central Myanmar township

An anti junta group in Myanmar’s Mandalay region is continuing to make gains in a key township following the collapse of a truce between insurgent armies and the military who seized power in a 2021 coup. The Mandalay People’s Defense Force, or PDF, captured a junta camp at the Alpha cement factory in Madaya township on July 14, and one at Taung Ta Ngar two days later, it said in a statement on Tuesday. Madaya is just 30 km (19 miles) north of Mandalay, the capital of the region and Myanmar’s second-largest city. The Mandalay PDF has been fighting alongside the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, since late October 2023.  The TNLA, which has also teamed up with the Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army as part of the Three Brotherhood Alliance, pushed back junta forces in several regions before agreeing a shaky China-brokered truce with the junta in January. When the ceasefire collapsed on June 25, the TNLA attacked Mandalay’s Mogoke township and several towns in Shan state to the region’s east, while the Mandalay PDF focused much of its attention on Madaya and Singu townships in Mandalay region. The defense force said it had captured 28 junta camps as of Wednesday. Weapons and ammunition seized after Mandalay PDF captured the junta base at the Alpha cement factory in Madaya township, Mandalay region in a photograph released on July 16, 2024. (Mandalay PDF) Mandalay PDF spokesman Osmon, who goes by one name, told Radio Free Asia Myanmar’s military suffered heavy losses in the battle for Madaya. “There were many casualties on the side of the junta in these operations. We have seized corpses and arrested junta soldiers,” he said. “There were some casualties on the side of Mandalay PDF.”  Osmon didn’t disclose the numbers of casualties on either side but said the PDF took more than 150 prisoners. He added the group is now engaged in a fierce battle with junta forces at Madaya’s Kyauk Ta Dar base. RELATED STORIES Myanmar junta steps up security in Mandalay as fighting spreads across region  Thousands stuck between checkpoints on Myanmar road amid renewed fighting Thousands displaced in Myanmar’s Mandalay region On Tuesday, three people were killed when a shell hit Madaya town, close to its train station and main market. “It happened around 8 a.m.,” said a resident who didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisals. “A 44-year-old woman, a 30-year-old woman and a two-year-old girl were killed.” The man said he didn’t know which side had fired the shell, while another resident said the blast happened close to where junta troops were stationed. “It was about 10 to 14 meters away from them,” he said, also requesting anonymity for security reasons. “It was also close to where the junta soldiers always come to drink tea.” RFA phoned the junta spokesman for Mandalay region, Thein Htay, for details on the fighting in Madaya, but he did not answer calls. The National Unity Government, a shadow government formed by members of the civil administration ousted in the 2021 coup, said on June 27 that PDFs and their allies have made sweeping gains in Mandalay region and Shan state to the east, in a campaign it dubbed “Operation Shan-Man.” The Mandalay PDF said it had captured 11 junta camps in Singu township,  80 km (50 miles) north of Mandalay city, by July 7. Now the junta is fighting back, damaging around 100 houses and injuring more than 20 people in airstrikes on July 16, as it seeks to flush PDF forces out of Singu town. The PDF’s Singu-based head of information, Than Ma Ni, said the junta carried out more than 20 airstrikes on Tuesday and also bombarded the town with heavy artillery.  “The junta’s air force has been striking all day as Mandalay-PDF has taken over Singu town,” he said Wednesday. “There were no deaths, but those who were hit by shrapnel have been moved to a safe place and are receiving medical treatment. The entire town was pretty much destroyed.” Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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Junta deploys first round of military recruits to Myanmar’s frontlines

The first round of soldiers recruited under Myanmar’s controversial military draft law have completed their training and are being deployed to the frontlines of the junta’s war against rebels in the country’s remote border areas, their family members said Tuesday. The deployment marked the latest chapter in the junta’s bid to shore up its forces amid heavy losses against various ethnic armies and rebel militias since its 2021 coup d’etat, prompting the junta to enact the People’s Military Service Law in February.  Under the law, men between the ages of 18 and 35 and women between 18 and 27 can be drafted to serve in the armed forces for two years. The announcement triggered a wave of assassinations of administrators enforcing the law and drove thousands of draft-dodgers into rebel-controlled territory and abroad. The military carried out two rounds of conscriptions in April and May, training about 9,000 new recruits in total. A third round of conscription began in late May, with draftees sent to their respective training depots by June 22. The first batch of recruits completed their three-month training on June 28, and family members told RFA Burmese on Tuesday that the new soldiers were sent to conflict zones in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Kayin states, and Sagaing region, beginning in early July. While the junta has never said how many recruits were trained in the first group, a mid-April report by the Burmese Affairs and Conflict Study, a group monitoring junta war crimes, indicated that it was nearly 5,000 young people from across the country. RELATED STORIES Thailand, Myanmar sign agreement on extradition of criminal suspects Junta military preparations point to brutal next phase in Myanmar conflict Dozens of officials carrying out Myanmar’s draft have been killed “My husband told me that orders from [the junta capital] Naypyidaw directed the deployment of new recruits from training batch No. 1 to conflict-affected areas, including Rakhine state,” said Nwe Nyein, the wife of a new recruit from Ayeyarwady region.  “They [the junta] had previously said that new recruits under the People’s Military Service Law would not be deployed to the frontlines,” she said. “However, I am worried because my husband was sent to the remote border areas.” Nwe Nyein said that the second batch of recruits are expected to complete their military training on Aug. 2 and reports suggest that they will also be sent to the frontlines. Used as ‘human shields’ A resident of Myanmar’s largest city Yangon, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said that some people close to him had been injured in battles in northern Shan state and have since returned home. “A young man from our town was shot in the arm, but he never underwent an operation to remove the bullet,” the resident said. “He also said that almost all the new recruits sent to the frontlines had been killed, and their families didn’t even receive their salaries.” Recruits from the first batch of training under Myanmar junta’s people’s military service law seen on July 16, 2024. (Pyi Thu Sitt via Telegram) In southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region, residents told RFA that the junta is deploying new recruits to battle. Min Lwin Oo, a leading committee member of the Democracy Movement Strike Committee-Dawei, condemned the deployment of new recruits with only short-term military training, suggesting that they are being used as “human shields.” Flagging morale Former Captain Kaung Thu Win, who is now a member of the nationwide Civilian Disobedience Movement of former civil servants that left their jobs in protest of the military’s power grab, told RFA that the junta urgently needs more soldiers, and he expects that nearly all new recruits will be sent to the frontlines. “About 90% of these new forces will be dispatched to the battlegrounds, regardless of whether they engage in combat [with rebel groups] or target people [civilians],” he said. “Their [the junta’s] main objective is to ensure they have more soldiers equipped with guns.” Kaung Thu Win also said that the junta faces many challenges in its propaganda efforts to persuade new recruits to fight, but is also increasingly unable to trust its veteran soldiers as losses mount. Recruits from the first batch of training under Myanmar junta’s people’s military service law seen on July 16, 2024. (Pyi Thu Sitt via Telegram) Than Soe Naing, a political commentator, slammed the junta over the reported deployment and echoed the former captain’s assessment of the military’s low morale. “Young people are being sent to die after … [mere] months of military training,” he said. “Even veteran soldiers in their 60s who have been sent to the battlefield have lost their motivation.” 5 years of service? The junta has yet to release any information about the deployment of new recruits to the frontlines. Meanwhile, although the People’s Military Service Law states that new recruits must serve for a total of two years, reports have emerged that the junta is telling soldiers that they will have to fight for five. Junta officials have publicly denied the reports. Attempts by RFA to contact the office of the chairman of the Central Body for Summoning People’s Military Servants in Naypyidaw for further clarification went unanswered Tuesday. Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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Myanmar junta steps up security in Mandalay as fighting spreads across region

Junta forces have tightened security in Myanmar’s second-biggest city, Mandalay, while shelling civilians elsewhere in the region, after coming under renewed attack from an alliance of insurgent forces battling to end military rule. A shell killed a seven-year-old boy and a woman in her 30s after it exploded in a residential area of Mandalay region’s Mogoke town on Monday evening, residents told Radio Free Asia Tuesday.  Another four-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman, as well as a woman and man both in their 30s, are in critical condition, said one Mogoke resident, asking to remain anonymous for security reasons. “A child and a grandmother were seriously injured by shrapnel that hit them in the neck,” he said. “It was not easy to send them to the hospital, so they were treated at home by people who have some medical knowledge.” The shells were fired from a junta camp on Strategic Hill in eastern Mogoke, a ruby-mining town about 200 km (120 miles) north of Mandalay city. Over half the town’s population has fled after fighting intensified between junta troops and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, which has taken control of western Mogoke, residents said.  RELATED STORIESMyanmar rebel army calls ceasefire after junta airstrikeThousands stuck between checkpoints on Myanmar road amid renewed fightingMyanmar insurgent allies capture strategic Shan state town from junta The TNLA is part of an alliance of three ethnic minority insurgent forces known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance. The alliance launched an offensive last October, codenamed Operation 1027 for the date it began, and pushed back junta forces in several regions. After a five-month ceasefire ended on June 25, the TNLA, and allied forces attacked junta camps in Madaya, Singu and Mogoke townships in Mandalay region, and Hsipaw, Kyaukme, Nawnghkio and Lashio towns in Shan state to the east. Stepping up Security The TNLA and its allies have also turned their attention to junta bases near Mandalay region’s capital, causing the military to step up security in Mandalay city, residents said.  One city resident, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. told RFA that after Operation 1027 resumed in late June, the junta had increased the number of outposts around Mandalay and its historic palace. “We’re getting a sense that the areas around the palace are more secure. They also installed heavy weapons on top of Mandalay Hill and also on Yankin Hill,” he said. “Security has been increased a lot. If there was a place with four or five soldiers before, there are about 10 soldiers now.” Troops are also stationed on top of high-rise buildings in the city’s Chanmyathazi township, one resident said, also asking for anonymity to protect his identity.   “The junta troops are stationed on the top floors of Ma Ma-29 and No. 49 buildings,” he said, adding that soldiers also occupied buildings in the Myayenanda, and Aungpinlel neighborhoods, as well as Mandalay’s industrial zone. “The troops asked residents to leave in order for soldiers to be stationed there.”  Army personnel are also stationed in Inwa (Inn Wa) town, 32 km (20 miles) south of Mandalay city, which is close to a junta air force base, he added. On Monday, the junta closed the Mandalay-Madaya Road after fighting with allied rebel forces near Madaya township’s Kyauk Ta Dar village, which is just 27 km (17 miles) away from Mandalay city. According to the Mandalay People’s Defense Force, the group had captured 25 junta camps in Madaya township and 11 in Singu township as of July 7.  RFA called Mandalay region’s junta spokesperson Thein Htay for more information on increased security and the attack on Mogoke, but he did not answer phone calls. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn. 

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‘People’s court’ issues arrest warrant for Xi Jinping

A citizens’ tribunal has issued a symbolic arrest warrant for Chinese President Xi Jinping after issuing a nonbinding verdict that he committed crimes of aggression against Taiwan, crimes against humanity in Tibet, and genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Court of the Citizens of the World — a “people’s court” dedicated to universal human rights and based in The Hague, the Netherlands — issued the arrest warrant on July 12 after four days of hearings, which included expert witness testimonies and victim accounts. Members of the China Tribunal included Stephen Rapp, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues; Zak Yacoob, a retired judge who served on the Constitutional Court of South Africa; and Bhavani Fonseka, constitutional lawyer and human rights lawyer and activist in Sri Lanka. RELATED STORIES Uyghurs mark 2 years since ‘genocide’ finding Uyghur Tribunal finds China committed genocide in Xinjiang Uyghur Tribunal wraps up in London with eye on December ruling on genocide allegations Uyghur Tribunal determination could change paradigm for China relations: experts Experts and witnesses detailed widespread human rights abuses in Tibet and Xinjiang, including intrusive surveillance, repression, torture and restrictions on free expression and movement, as well as what they described as efforts to eradicate their distinct cultural and religious identities.   Some witnesses were survivors of mass detention camps in Xinjiang, where torture and the forced sterilization of Uyghur women occurred. Though the unofficial body has no legal powers, its proceedings highlighted the plight of aggrieved parties and provided a model for prosecution in international or national courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction.    The court said it “obtained sufficient legal grounds” for Xi’s arrest on the charges laid out against him and called on the international community to support its decision, though it is unclear how governments will react. Judge Zak Yacoob (L) speaks with presiding judge Stephen Rapp during the China Tribunal at the Court of the Citizens of the World, in The Hague, the Netherlands, July 12, 2024. (Court of the Citizens of the World via YouTube) “The tribunal’s core findings are of significant importance, revealing the extent of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese state,” said a report by JURIST, a nonprofit news organization that highlights rule-of-law issues around the world. There was no immediate response from the Chinese government. Former prisoners speak Former Tibetan political prisoners, including Dhondup Wangchen and Tenpa Dhargye, recounted the torture they experienced in Chinese jails and the impact of China’s repressive policies in Tibet. Tibetan filmmaker and human rights activist Jigme Gyatso, also known as Golog Jigme, who has been jailed by Chinese authorities on at least three occasions, highlighted Xi Jinping’s efforts to completely eradicate the use of Tibetan language and culture.  He also outlined what he said was the systematic torture and persecution of political prisoners after their release and the coercive control of Tibetans’ movements in greater Tibet.  Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a Uyghur former internment camp detainee who now lives in France, testified before the tribunal about being chained to beds and tortured in Xinjiang.  She told Radio Free Asia that she felt immense excitement when called upon to testify, seeing it as a crucial opportunity to speak for the hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs who endured China’s concentration camps.  “Back then, while in the camp, I often wondered if there was any justice in the world capable of punishing those responsible for our people’s suffering,” she said. The Chinese government tried to dissuade some Uyghurs from providing testimony in The Hague. Abdurehim Gheni, a Uyghur activist who now lives in the Netherlands, said Chinese police contacted him via Telegram, a WeChat-style communication app banned in China, as recently as two days before he was scheduled to appear before the court. The police also had his brother leave voice messages telling him not to attend the hearing, he said. Judges Bhavani Fonseka (L) and Zak Yacoob (C) and presiding judge Stephen Rapp hold court during the China Tribunal at the Court of the Citizens of the World in The Hague, the Netherlands, July 12, 2024. (Court of the Citizens of the World via YouTube) Gheni recounted that his brother said: “Do not do anything against the government. If you return here, the government will be lenient on you. We can also go there to see you.” The tribunal reported that it faced attempts to shut it down in the form of a phony cease-and-desist order, and said a spy disguised as a legal volunteer provoked staff and other volunteers to resign, JURIST reported.   ‘First meaningful step’ Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur rights activist and researcher based in Norway, who also testified at the China Tribunal, said the verdict holds significant importance for Uyghurs. “It’s the first meaningful step to stop the Uyghur genocide,” he said. “The court has completed the accusation against the perpetrator and judged at the trial. The verdict implicates the criminal, Xi Jinping. He should be arrested and punished,” he said. In December 2021, an independent, nonbinding Uyghur Tribunal in London found that China committed genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang and that Xi Jinping shared primary responsibility for the atrocities. Though the panel had no state backing or power to sanction China, its conclusion added to the growing body of evidence at the time that Beijing’s persecution of Uyghurs constituted a crime against humanity that deserved an international response. In February 2023, the Court of the Citizens of the World issued an indictment against Russian President Vladimir Putin for the crime of aggression in Ukraine and called for his arrest.  A month later, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin along with Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, for alleged war crimes involving accusations that Russia had forcibly taken Ukrainian children. Additional reporting by RFA Mandarin. Translated by RFA Uyghur and RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Joshua Lipes.

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Thai court postpones Vietnamese activist’s extradition hearing

Updated July 15, 2024, 03:08 a.m. ET. A court in Bangkok on Monday postponed the hearing on Vietnam’s request for Thailand to extradite Montagnard activist Y Quynh Bdap. Defending lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman said the court agreed with the defendant’s request that the case documents be made available in a language he understands. The hearing will now take place on Aug. 1 and 19. “We did not have time to prepare the fight for the case today, which was politically motivated,” Bergman told reporters outside the court, which was closed to the media due to the national security nature of the hearing.  However, several officials from Vietnamese security agencies were allowed inside, she said. Defending lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman speaks to reporters outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on July 15, 2024. (RFA) In January, Vietnam sentenced 32-year-old Bdap to 10 years in prison on terrorism charges, accusing him of involvement in 2023 attacks on two public agency headquarters in Dak Lak province in which nine people were killed. Bdap has protested his innocence, pointing out that he has been in Thailand and recognized as a refugee since 2018. On June 11, Thai authorities arrested Bdap for “overstaying” his visa following an extradition request from Hanoi. The previous day he met with Canadian authorities to discuss resettlement there as a refugee. RELATED STORIES Rights groups call on Thailand not to extradite Vietnamese activist Thai extradition of activist to Vietnam would be illegal, group says 10 defendants given life sentences for Dak Lak attacks Bdap is an ethnic Ede and the co-founder of Montagnards Stand for Justice. Montagnards is a term coined by French colonialists to describe around 30 indigenous tribes living in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. They have a long history of conflict with the Vietnamese majority and claim they have been discriminated against over issues including religion and land rights.  “He, a minority, was tortured and is scared if he is to be sent back,” Bergman said, adding that she intended to prove he was innocent of any involvement in the Dak Lak attacks. “Thailand has to live up to the international standard, given he is a protected asylum seeker under the U.N. agency.” Thailand has bid three times for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The latest attempt is for the 2025-2027 term, with the election taking place this October. Kannavee Suebsaeng, vice chairman of Thailand’s House Committee on Law, Justice, and Human Rights, who observed Monday’s hearing said, given Thailand’s aspirations, it needs to improve its track record on human rights. “I want Thailand to handle this transnational repression properly to shore up its dignity,” he said outside the court.  Freedom House defines transnational repression as “governments reaching across borders to silence dissent among diasporas and exiles, including through assassinations, illegal deportations, abductions, digital threats, Interpol abuse, and family intimidation.” Bdap was denied bail and continues to be held in a special prison in Bangkok. Edited by Mike Firn. Updated to include comments from Kannavee Suebsaeng.

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China’s Communist Party set to open key policy meeting amid economy worries

Top members of the ruling Communist Party of China will gather Monday to discuss ways to lift the world’s second-biggest economy out of its post-COVID slump and reduce dependence on technology from its geopolitical rival, the United States. The four-day, closed-door meeting, chaired by President Xi Jinping, is expected to unveil tax system revisions and other debt-reduction measures, steps to deal with a massive property crisis, and policies to  boost domestic consumption, policy advisers have said. Previous third plenum sessions of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee – more than 300 full and alternate members – have unveiled policy initiatives for the next five to 10 years. Some have announced significant shifts. Residential buildings under construction by Chinese real estate developer Vanke in Hangzhou, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, March 31, 2024. (AFP) The 1978 plenum launched Deng Xiaoping’s historic economic reform and opening policies, while the 1984 event confirmed the reform direction in the face of resistance. The 1993 gathering pledged a recommitment to market economic reforms after the clampdown following the Tiananmen massacre. The 12 years of the Xi Jinping era have put the brakes on market reforms as Xi consolidated power in the party, analysts said. Xi’s third plenum 2013 “laid out a series of economic reforms, most of which have not succeeded, most of which have not been carried through,” said Barry Naughton, the So Kwan Lok Chair of Chinese International Affairs at the University of California San Diego. “So everyone is very curious and puzzled to see what this new third plenum is going to bring,” he told Radio Free Asia Mandarin. The previous plenum, 2018, saw Xi further consolidate power with the scrapping of presidential term limits.  Interventionist policies This plenum, normally held once every five years, was expected last autumn but delayed without explanation until this month. Yu Jie, a senior research fellow on China at Chatham House, a British think tank, said the plans to be unveiled in coming days “are unlikely to be policies eagerly waited and favored by private enterprises and global investors.” Instead of stimulus measures to boost growth, expect “further government intervention to channel economic resources into the strategic and innovation sectors and to guarantee minimum social welfare to the poor,” she wrote on the Chatham House website. RELATED STORIES Chinese police target dissidents, petitioners ahead of plenum China’s jobless struggle amid economic slump China to hold long-delayed plenary meeting to boost embattled economy The Communist Party will introduce two economic slogans during the plenum: “New quality productive force” describing making the Chinese economy a leader in technological innovation, and “new national system” of stronger centralized control allocating capital and resources to sectors with strategic significance,” Yu wrote. “The underlying emphasis here is not on the economy but on geopolitics,” she added. Chinese state media have tried to create an upbeat mood for the secretive gathering Jingxi Hotel in Beijing. “Entering July, Chinese people’s expectations will be running high,” according to a June 30 commentary in the Global Times newspaper, predicting “a holistic package of new reform plans” that is expected from the meeting. “After more than 40 years’ reform and opening-up, Chinese policymakers are becoming both astute and experienced in managing a giant economy like China’s,” it said. Tech war over consumption Naughton said, however, Chinese firms and people are not very bullish. “It’s quite clear that the expectations and household understandings of the economy have deteriorated dramatically since 2022.  People have a hard time getting jobs. People’s income growth is slower and they feel much less confident about it,” he told RFA. The International Monetary Fund has said China’s economy is set to grow 5% this year, after a “strong” first quarter, but other economists warned the recovery has been imbalanced in favor manufacturing and exports over consumption. “Xi Jinping clearly wanted the majority of the state’s resources and the majority of the state’s attention to be focused on this technological war with the United States, to wean China off the dependence on technology that has been dominated by Americans,” Naughton said. “He doesn’t care about the rate of growth of consumption of the Chinese people,” he added. An employee counts Chinese yuan banknotes at a bank in Hefei, Anhui province, Nov. 11, 2010. (Reuters) Ahead of the conclave, China is ramping up its “stability maintenance” system, which kicks into high gear targeting those the authorities see as potential troublemakers ahead of top-level meetings and politically sensitive dates in the calendar. Authorities across China are targeting dissidents and petitioners ahead of next week’s key meeting of the ruling Communist Party, placing them under house arrest or escorting them out of town on enforced “vacations,” Radio Free Asia reported this week. Several high-profile activists including political journalist Gao Yu, rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and political commentator Zha Jianguo have been targeted for security measures ahead of the third plenary session of the party’s Central Committee, a person in Beijing familiar with the situation who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals said. Reporting by Ting I Tsai. Editing by Paul Eckert.

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Is Kim Jong Un taking his luxury yacht out for vacation?

Is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un taking a family vacation?  Satellite imagery shows that the Kim family’s 80-meter (262-foot) cruise ship – complete with a waterslide and an Olympic-sized swimming pool – is out at sea.  Some experts say Kim’s recent public appearance on land makes it very unlikely that he was on board but others said he may have been. According to satellite photos taken June 27 and July 5 by Planet Labs, an American commercial satellite imaging company, the luxury cruise ship was identified as sailing off North Korea’s east coast near Wonsan, Kangwon province. Kim is known to use this ship for recreational activities with his family or to entertain foreign VIPs. A luxury cruise ship reserved exclusively for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was recently identified as sailing between the ship repair dock at Wonsan Port and the exclusive Kalma Villa. The distance between the marina and Kalma Villa is about 4.5km (2.8 miles). Wonsan Villa can be seen across from Kalma Villa. (Google Earth, image production – Bruce Songhak Chung) Bruce Songhak Chung, a researcher at the South Korea-based Korean Institute for Security and Strategy who analyzed the satellite photos, told RFA Korean that it is likely that either Kim himself, or his family, took the cruise ship to the family villa on the Kalma peninsula. “Only North Korean leaders and their families exclusively use luxury cruise ships,” he said. “As the summer vacation season approaches, it is presumed that General Secretary Kim may have visited a private villa in Wonsan to spend the summer with his wife Ri Sol Ju and daughter Kim Ju Ae.” Chung noted that there was no way to tell whether Kim was on board, but that he might have been, considering that he had just finished leading an important meeting of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee. The plenary meeting lasted from June 28 to July 1, and on July 2, Kim visited factories and other government institutions with government officials. This makes it less likely that he was on board on June 27.   Related stories Trappings of North Korean leader’s lavish lifestyle visible by satellite  North Korean leader Kim Jong Un builds luxury villas over grandfather’s old home N Korean leader receives a luxurious car gift from Putin: state media The cruise ship may have been on a test voyage in the earlier image, ahead of Kim’s vacation, said Cho Han-Bum, a researcher at the South Korea-based Korea Institute for National Unification. He also noted that Kim was not with his wife Ri Sol Ju or daughter Kim Ju Ae during his public appearances. “It is possible that Kim Ju Ae, Ri Sol Ju and other families have already gone on summer vacation,” said Cho. “Therefore, there is a possibility that Chairman Kim Jong Un, who finished the plenary meeting, completed local guidance and joined his family.”  Getting around sanctions Currently, North Korea has a total of four luxury cruise ships – with lengths of 50, 55, 60, and 80 meters (164-262 feet) – for Kim’s exclusive use.  These cruise ships were obtained in the 1990s, during the rule of his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, before sanctions were imposed. The sanctions, enacted after North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006, are meant to deprive Pyongyang of cash and resources that could be funneled into its nuclear and missile programs.  They are also intended to prevent the Kim family and other North Korean elites from getting their hands on luxury goods. But they still trickle in. Recently, Kim Jong Un imported luxury cars, including a Russian-made Aurus Senat and a German-made Mercedes-Benz Maybach. A large 80-meter-long luxury cruise ship equipped with a water slide and an international-standard swimming pool, and a 60-meter-long cruise ship are moored at the ship dock in Wonsan, Kangwon province. Normally, private cruise ships are managed at this marina. (Google Earth, image production – Bruce Songhak Chung) The recent surge in the value of the U.S. dollar against the won has made food prices in North Korea rise and has negatively affected the economy in general, but the Kim family continues to live the high life, said Cho. “The problem with international sanctions against North Korea is that they have an effect on the entire national economy, but do not affect the upper class,” he said. “They import as many luxury goods as they want using various agents or aliases.” He said sanctions are unable to target only the country’s leadership. “As public sentiment deteriorates, it may lead to a weakening of Chairman Kim Jong Un’s support base, but the current sanctions against North Korea are not enough to prevent the Kim family from living a luxurious life.” Translated by Claire S. Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong.

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Interview: White House ‘extremely concerned’ about closer Russia-North Korea ties

Mira Rapp-Hooper is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for East Asia and Oceania at the White House National Security Council, or NSC.  During this week’s NATO Summit in Washington, she spoke with RFA Korean’s Lee Sangmin, touching on points related to increased cooperation between Russia and North Korea, following Vladimir Putin’s visit to North Korea last month. The summit included representatives from the Indo-Pacific Four, or IP4, an informal grouping of South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and Rapp-Hooper said that it was important to include those countries in discussions with NATO, especially considering that the partnership between North Korea and Russia concerns security in both the North Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. RFA: So how much are you concerned about the recent deepening relationship between Russia and North Korea? Rapp-Hooper: We are extremely concerned about the relationship between Russia and North Korea. Of course, we have been for about a year as that relationship has grown closer and closer, and it has become clear that both Russia and North Korea are exchanging extremely worrisome forms of support with one another.  On the one hand, of course, we know that the (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) has been providing Russia with millions of rounds of ammunition, as well as missiles that have been used on the battlefield in Ukraine to devastating effect fueling Russia’s war machine, and taking the lives of innocent civilians, all over the conflict. And that’s deeply disturbing.  But one of the things that is also very troubling about this relationship is the fact that we know that Russia is probably providing the DPRK with technical assistance, sophisticated forms of support for some of its military programs. But those forms of cooperation are much harder to track. So while we know what the DPRK is giving to Russia, we know less than we would like to about what Russia is giving to the DPRK. And that is something that should concern not only the countries of the Indo-Pacific who care about peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and beyond.  Mira Rapp-Hooper, Senior Director for East Asia and Oceania, National Security Council, at the Asia Center in Washington, Sept. 13, 2023. (U.S. Institute of Peace via Flickr) But countries in Europe are increasingly understanding that this relationship affects them, too. Now, of course, this has all become more prominent recently because of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pyongyang, when the two countries released a declaration that looks very much like an alliance treaty.  But really, what this does is capture something that we knew the whole time, which is the fact that this is not just a marriage of convenience where these two powers are cooperating so that Russia can get help in its war against Ukraine. There is political buy-in at the highest levels, from both of these governments.  The piece of optimism that I would offer today, however, is that it is not just the ROK, the United States and Japan who are worried about this problem. We have very good trilateral cooperation amongst the three of us to share intelligence and to coordinate our policy actions.  But part of what you’re seeing here at NATO today is that all of our NATO allies also care about this problem, because Russia has brought DPRK technology to Europe in the form of ballistic missiles being used on the battlefield in Ukraine. So we’ve never seen our European allies more engaged in DPRK issues, more wanting to cooperate, to address, and limit, this relationship. And we are hopeful that that cooperation will have a stabilizing effect in the face of all of this destabilizing behavior.  RFA: In what ways can NATO and its allies counter cooperation between North Korea and Russia? Rapp-Hooper: Well, there are, you know, certain areas where cooperation, unfortunately, is quite difficult to affect. We know that many of the shipments that take place between DPRK and Russia take place within their territorial seas or over rail lines. So there’s very few options for the international community there.  But there are other areas, where we do cooperate, and we will continue to do so. And that relates to things like financial sanctions that may run at the heart of their cooperation, and other measures that we can take, such as intelligence sharing, information sharing that might allow one country to be more empowered to limit this cooperation wherever they can.  There is also, of course, the role that we all play diplomatically, not just in putting pressure on both Pyongyang and Russia, but on additional countries, who might be able to take action to try to limit this relationship.  The world is, of course, watching (the People’s Republic of China, or PRC) and the question looms large, what Beijing will do about this relationship, given that it is so destabilizing and not in China’s interests either. But we’ve yet to see a clear answer to that question. RFA: What kind of a role can China play in dealing with North Korea issues? Rapp-Hooper: That’s really up to China. In the past, the PRC has long played a role on the Korean Peninsula. Obviously, it is a key continued trading partner of Pyongyang and a longtime political partner. There is obviously a very close political relationship as well, between Beijing and Moscow – which is its own cause for concern.  But there’s no doubt that if Beijing was interested in doing so, it could play a stabilizing and responsible role, to encourage in particular, the worst (aspects of the) DPRK-Russia cooperation to come to an end. But again, all eyes are on Beijing to see if it will make that choice.  RFA: Why is it significant that the IP4 are participating in the NATO Summit? Rapp-Hooper: Our IP4 partners in the (Republic of Korea, or ROK), Japan, Australia and New Zealand have been at the last three NATO summits. And…

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Rinzin Namgyal

Interview with Rinzin Namgyal on Life, Tibet and the Dalai Lama

LIFE IN INDIA Can you share your/family’s journey of moving to India and how it has influenced your professional and personal life? I am Rinzin Namgyal, born and raised in the Phuntsokling Tibetan refugee settlement in Odisha. Our settlement comprises five camps, and both our professional and private lives are significantly influenced by societal factors rather than merely family factors, as we live in a Tibetan-concentrated refugee settlement. However, in my case, my family has played a crucial role. My grandparents fled Tibet and entered Indian territory through Bomdila (Arunachal Pradesh border), working as road construction workers in the Kullu-Manali region. Like many early Tibetan refugees, they toiled in such jobs for their livelihood. This instilled in me a profound understanding of the hardships they endured, as the Tibetan community started from the ashes. Their resilience remains a source of pride and inspiration for me. Additionally, my father served in the Indian Army’s Special Frontier Force, a Tibetan guerrilla force established to counter the Chinese in the high Himalayan mountains. His dedication to Tibet, despite residing in India and dreaming of returning one day, has been a tremendous catalyst for me. It inspired me to pursue studies related to China, driven by a desire to contribute to my own identity and honour His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama, who is the sole leader responsible of what we are today. How has your experience living in India shaped your views on Tibet and its geopolitical significance? For many Tibetans entering Indian universities, identity issues often arise due to the differences from native Indian students. My perspective on Tibet has recently evolved, prompting questions such as: What if His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama were not with us tomorrow? What if the Indian government revoked our refugee status? Where would we go? Is the current Central Tibetan Administration truly self-reliant? These questions instill a sense of urgency for having our own land. For many Tibetan students, the geopolitical significance of Tibet has recently shifted. Chinese aggression at the Indian border, environmental crises, and the consequences of irresponsible Chinese development across the Tibetan plateau—known as the world’s third pole—highlight Tibet’s strategic importance. This has helped forge an understanding of Tibet’s geopolitical significance, positioned at the centre of South and Central Asia, serving as a vital bridge. EDUCTION What motivated you to pursue an MA in East Asian Studies at Delhi University? Since childhood, I have felt a strong sense of duty to repay what His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has given us. Privately, I have always had a keen interest in History, Politics, and International Relations. Consequently, I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in History, delving into Chinese history. As I progressed to my Master’s, I realised that this course (M.A EAST ASIAN STUDIES) would most appropriately serve my identity, interests, and aspirations. I also plan to pursue a PhD in China Studies in the near future. How has your education helped you in your current roles at All India Radio and the Foundation for Non-violent Alternatives? As a research intern at the Foundation of Non-Violent Alternatives, a public policy organisation focused on the objective study of Tibet, Tibetan affairs, and their security implications for India, I find my work both convenient and motivating. I cover topics related to Tibet, China, and Xinjiang, including recent developments in these areas since this area is also my Master’s level study. FNVA provides an excellent environment for learning and growth, with colleagues who have extensive experience and insight into these fields. Moreover, I work as a Tibetan translator and announcer for All India Radio, which kept me informed about daily developments in Tibet. Overall, my work and education align perfectly, allowing me to broaden my understanding, deepen my knowledge, and continually improve. Tibet What are your thoughts on the current situation in Tibet, especially in light of recent developments vis a vis China-Philippines tussle in South China Sea, Taiwan issue and India-China standoffs? The question itself implies an answer. The issues mentioned are recent developments that have come into the spotlight, yet the situation in Tibet stands in stark contrast. Since the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, Tibet has faced a serious existential threat and is on the brink of a complete genocide of Tibetan identity through Beijing’s programmes, such as colonial boarding schools, aimed at assimilating Tibetan younger generations into mainstream Han culture. However, the China-Philippines tussle, the Taiwan issue, and the India-China standoffs provide a perfect example of what Tibetans have been warning about for the past seven decades: do not feed the dragon (China) through trade. China’s plan is one of expansionism and establishing a Beijing rule-based international order. The situation in Tibet is fundamentally a civilisational, sovereignty, and human dignity issue, rather than merely a human rights issue. Given these standoffs with major Asian economies, it seems unlikely that the situation in Tibet will improve in the foreseeable future, as it clearly indicates Beijing’s prioritisation of national security and expansionism. How do you see the role of international advocacy groups and policies, such as the US Resolve Tibet Act, in shaping the future of Tibet? This is an intriguing question, as the current 16th Kashag Sikyong (President) Penpa Tsering of the Central Tibetan Administration places significant emphasis on raising awareness and forming advocacy groups. As a member of Delhi V-TAG (Volunteer Tibet Advocacy Group), we strive to raise awareness about the challenging situation in Tibet. Recently, we hosted our second International Tibet Youth Forum, aimed at educating V-TAG members worldwide on effective campaigning, lobbying, and global awareness strategies. I view such advocacy groups as the genesis of the Tibetan freedom movement, given that they consist largely of educated young people exposed to diverse cultures. Historically, such advocacy groups have played a tremendous role in enacting legislation like the Tibet Policy and Support Act 2020 and the US Resolve Tibet Act 2024 in the United States through relentless lobbying with Congressmen. However, in Europe and India, while we continue our…

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