PHNOM PENH — The world’s proposed biggest free trade agreement was dealt a blow on Monday when India made a last minute but unsurprising withdrawal from seven-year-old negotiations during a series of weekend meetings of Asian governments in Bangkok. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, would have encompassed all ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. It also would have made for the world’s biggest trade deal measured by population and factoring in the combined gross domestic products (GDPs) of the putative signatories, though India’s withdrawal could see it drop below the Canada-Mexico-United States deal formerly known as NAFTA in combined GDP. India would have been the third largest economy in the tariff-reducing trade deal.
SINGAPORE — “Yes, hello, fruits?” Shouting above the din, vendor Sini Mohamad leans forward into a conga line of office workers edging between dozens of lavishly provisioned stalls in Singapore’s Tekka Market. It is lunchtime, and crowds throng the market as dozens of hawker stalls dish out noodles, rice and curries. Most ignore Mohamad’s appeals. But he keeps at it, alongside stallholders selling meat, fish, vegetables and spices. The lunchtime crowd offers a fleeting chance for butchers and grocers to persuade passers-by to do a bit of grocery shopping before they head back to work, their palettes whetted by the aromas of spices and herbs clinging to the steamy market air.
BANGKOK — Even though the afternoon temperature soared into the high 30s, the lines of black clad mourners stretched hundreds of yards in two directions around the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Old and young alike, some snoozing in the afternoon heat, towels over their faces, the crowds were waiting to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He died on October 13 last year and has since been lying in state since, a year long mourning period ahead of a lavish Buddhist and Hindu rite state funeral that will start on the 25th of this month. These last few days have been the final chance for Thais to honour to the late monarch, whose death at the age of 88 marked the end of a reign that lasted 70 years.
JAKARTA — If Claudio Ranieri was in front of a television when English Premier League soccer champions Leicester City hosted five-times European club champions Liverpool on Feb. 27, the mild-mannered Italian might have been tempted into an uncharacteristic show of anger. The 65-year-old had been sacked as team manager three days previously by Leicester City’s billionaire Thai owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, founder of the King Power Group chain of duty-free shops. After a series of tepid losses, the team had been dragged into a struggle with a half dozen rivals desperate to stave off relegation from the premier league to the less high-profile English Championship, where Leicester City had languished for a decade prior to 2014. But with Ranieri gone, the team rediscovered the verve that brought them success the previous year. Ranieri’s ex-charges followed their comfortable 3-1 win over Liverpool with a March 4 victory over Hull City by the same margin.
BANGKOK – Since the king’s death Thursday at age 88, Thais have lined up by the hundreds of thousands to pay their respects at Bangkok’s Grand Palace. “I want to come here to give something for the father,” said Nattapsorn Juijuyen, a volunteer who helped distribute food and water to the swelling crowd Monday. Thousands of Thais lined up outside banks overnight to pick up commemorative currency notes in honor of Bhumibol. Across Bangkok, shops are running out of black clothing as well as photographs and paintings of the late monarch. Books about him also are in short supply. “We have nothing left,” said a staff member at the Kinokuniya bookstore in one of the city’s many glossy malls. “We only have books about the other kings from the past.”
BANGKOK – An afternoon downpour did not deter tens of thousands of black-clad Thais from converging on the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha on Sunday as they continued to mourn the loss of their late king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. They could have a long time to grieve before Bhumibol’s eldest son and heir, 64-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, becomes king. In a surprise announcement, Vajiralongkorn said he will remain as crown prince until he has had time to mourn. Just how long that will take is not clear. But it could be as long as a year before Bhumibol is cremated, and there has been speculation that his son will wait until then to take the throne.
PHNOM PENH — The skyline of Phnom Penh is changing as fast as that of any Asian city. Yellow cranes gleam in the sun after late-afternoon squalls, towering alongside green-netted scaffolding wrapped around dozens of new high-rise apartment blocks going up across the city. These are, literally, the green shoots of a building boom that made up a sixth of Cambodia’s economic growth last year. They are a sign of a transformation underway in the capital as Cambodia tries to catch up with its more prosperous neighbors. But the rapid changes also highlight a challenge that has faced many cities across Asia in recent decades: with 200 million people having moved from countryside to city in East and Southeast Asia since 2010, how can cities manage large-scale urban growth in a way that facilitates economic growth without increasing pollution and traffic jams. In BKK1, an upmarket part of the city, “the roads are too narrow, the area is not ready for so much construction, many small builders don’t talk to the municipality, there is no coordination,” said Sebastian Uy, co-owner of real estate agency Le Grand Mekong Property.
BANGKOK — Thailand’s bitter political divide widened this week after two separate rulings by legal institutions forced Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office and raised the possibility that she could be banned from politics for five years. The developments also cast doubt over Thai national elections planned for July 20 after the country’s Constitutional Court voided the results of an earlier poll on Feb. 2, citing disruptions by anti-government protesters that prevented the poll from being completed nationwide in a single day, as required by the country’s constitution. On May 7 the Constitutional Court ruled that Yingluck and nine ministers had abused their offices when reassigning the National Security Council secretary in 2011 — a reshuffle that paved the way for the brother-in-law of Yingluck’s elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinwatra, to take the position of police chief.