Yearly Archives: 2016

Regional Roundup for Week of 11.13.16

R.I.P. US Rebalance to the Asia Pacific

EXSE FOCUS

 Asia, a Target of Trump’s Criticism, Greets His Election With Caution—New York Times Donald J. Trump has had harsh words for China and other nations, but the question for the region now is how much of that rhetoric he will act on.// We cannot know what to expect in terms of how the US’s role in Southeast Asia will shift. What is likely is that the TPP will not survive and that China will take on a larger role in the region.

Related: ‘An epochal change’: what a Trump presidency means for the Asia Pacific region—The Guardian

Related: President Trump and Southeast Asia—New Mandala

Related: Trump Wins: Implications for US Allies and Partners in Asia—The Diplomat U.S. allies will face new levels of uncertainty (and anxiety) under President Trump.

Laos pushes ahead with plan for third contentious dam on the Mekong—South China Morning Post Laos has notified its Southeast Asian neighbours that it’s moving ahead with a third contentious hydro dam on the Mekong River’s mainstream. The MRC is now under a lot of pressure. The failure of the first two consultation processes lead to a feeling of pessimism surrounding the utility of the entire consultation process. Unfortunately, the reputation of the MRC has also been too closely linked to the success or failure of these consultation processes. No changes have been made to date to the MRC’s Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement since they were first agreed upon. However, more research on the cumulative impacts of hydropower construction on the Mekong mainstream has been completed since the first consultation was done for the Xayaburi dam in 2010.

Related: Press Release | Flawed Prior Consultation Cannot Legitimize New Mekong Dam

International Rivers

Related: Laos Submits Mekong Dam Proposal—Mekong Eye

Myanmar’s plan to arm, train non-Muslims in Rakhine ‘recipe for disaster’, watchdog says—South China Morning Post Myanmar’s plans to arm and train non-Muslim residents in the troubled north of Rakhine State is likely to “aggravate an already dire human rights situation”, the International Commission of Jurists, a human rights watchdog, has said

Land grabs on the rise as Burma pushes for peace—DVB Land conflicts in Burma have escalated in recent years, with military and armed groups driving people from their land, and new laws failing to protect farmers, a rights watchdog said on Thursday.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Rodrigo Duterte Plays U.S. and China Off Each Other, in Echo of Cold War—New York Times The Philippine president’s strategy of balancing between the powers by threatening to change loyalties was used successfully by leaders throughout the era.

Trump Election Kills TPP—The Diplomat President-elect Donald Trump promises to roll back free trade, starting with aborting TPP and killing NAFTA.

The End of American World Order—The Diplomat Insights from Amitav Acharya

ASEAN’s Mekong Potential the Focus in Vietnam Meeting—The Diplomat The recent WEF-Mekong meeting in Hanoi was a useful reminder of the subregion’s significance.

Unshackling ASEAN—Project Syndicate The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is required to make decisions by consensus, which unites disparate member states, while allowing them to protect their national interests. But this provision also limits ASEAN’s effectiveness in addressing emerging regional security threats, not least China’s territorial claims.

Malaysia Is Not Pivoting to China With Najib’s Visit—the Diplomat Suggestions of a dramatic shift are grossly exaggerated and not grounded in reality.

Philippines’ Duterte hails Trump, wants no more quarrels with US—South China Morning Post Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte congratulated Donald Trump on his election win and said on Wednesday he now wished to stop quarrelling with ally the United States

Trump Business Partner Is Philippines’ New Trade Envoy to U.S.—New York Times The chairman of the company that is building the Trump Tower in metropolitan Manila will be the special envoy for trade, investment and economic affairs.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

KNU Signs Forestry Memorandum with WWF—The Irrawaddy ‘The objective is to protect and restore forests and wildlife in KNU areas’ says KNU forestry department.

Can Myanmar’s hydropower study truly be for the people?—Myanmar Times In recent weeks, violent clashes in Kayin State have further disrupted Myanmar’s fragile peace process.

A call for basin-wide energy plans—Mekong Eye Preparatory work for the next big dam on the Mekong — Pak Beng — in northern Laos has begun.

Pak Beng – The Third Domino in The Series of Mainstream Dams on The Lower Mekong in Laos—Mekong Eye According to MrViraphonh Viravong, Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines of Laos, Pak Beng is one of the five hydropower dam projects on the mainstream to be built in North Laos in the district of Pak Beng, Oudomsay Province.

Ministry of Environment issues island protection decree—Phnom Penh Post A new decree has been issued by the Ministry of Environment in regards to the protection and preservation of nature within the Kingdom.

Ministry plans wildlife corridors to boost Cambodia’s biodiversity—Phnom Penh Post Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment gathered a network of government and civil society representatives on Tuesday to begin planning the creation of a biodiversity conservation corridor that would make it easier for wildlife to thrive.

Vietnam Scraps Plans for Its First Nuclear-Power Plants—Wall Street Journal Vietnam’s government has decided to scrap its long-delayed plan to build the country’s first nuclear-power plants because other energy sources have become cheaper and power demand has slackened due to slowing economic growth.

Parents who say Indonesia’s haze killed their children testify in citizen suit—Mongabay The father of a little girl who died during Indonesia’s 2015 fire and haze crisis testified on Thursday as part of a legal challenge to the police’s closing of cases against 15 companies alleged to be complicit in the burning.

 

CHINA

China’s new cybersecurity law sparks fresh censorship and espionage fears—The Guardian Legislation raises concerns foreign companies may need to hand over intellectual property and help security agencies in return for market access// The new cybersecurity law is significant not only for foreign companies, who will face tough choices on how much information they are willing to provide to the Chinese government in order to do business there. It is also an important change for Chinese citizens, since the new law has provisions for greater censorship of the internet in China.

Related: China Approves Cybersecurity Law—Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong Elected 2 Separatists. China Took Drastic Action.—New York Times By acting against two dissident lawmakers, Beijing is asserting an authority to set policy in the territory, challenging its semiautonomous status.

Related: Clashes, Pepper Spray in Hong Kong Amid Angry Protests Over China’s Intervention—RFA

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Bersih and the battle to unseat Najib Razak—Southeast Asia Globe For the past decade, Malaysian protest movement Bersih has been demanding sweeping political change. But Prime Minister Najib Razak is unlikely to feel threatened as long as the country’s opposition remains weak and fragmented

Philippines, Malaysia agree to cooperate on tackling Abu Sayyaf kidnappings—South China Morning Post The Philippines on Thursday agreed to allow Malaysia and Indonesia to carry out “hot pursuits” in its territorial waters, as the three nations look to tackle kidnappings and piracy by Islamist Abu Sayyaf rebels.

Philippine agency files corruption, narcotics charges against key Duterte critic—South China Morning Post A Philippine law enforcement agency filed bribery, graft and drug-related complaints against a senator and former minister on Thursday, in the first step towards prosecuting the biggest critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs

Islamists March in Jakarta, Demanding Christian Governor Be Jailed—New York Times Tens of thousands of Indonesians marched in Jakarta on Friday, demanding that the city’s first Christian governor in decades be jailed for blasphemy.

Related: Hard-Line Strain of Islam Gains in Indonesia—Wall Street Journal

Related: Indonesia’s president blames ‘political actors’ for stirring Muslim protest—South China Morning Post

Indonesia’s Challenge to Radical Islam—The Diplomat The country is emerging as a champion of tolerance amid the rise of the Islamic State.

Stuck in the immoderate middle—New Mandala Recent protests and riots have put a sharp focus on sectarianism, political opportunism and Jakartans’ grievances against their Christian-Chinese governor, Ahok. But a lot of this opposition is being spurned on by Indonesia’s Muslim middle class.

Islamic rage and identity politics in Indonesia—New Mandala How Jakarta’s 4 November protest will impact on Indonesia’s democratic consolidation and the Jokowi presidency.

Political actors suspected of behind violence on Friday’s protest in Jakarta—Thai PBS Indonesian national police have launched an investigation into President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s suspicions that political actors were behind the eruption of violence of the otherwise peaceful protests by Muslim hardliners in Jakarta last Friday

Controversial Jakarta land reclamation project gets legal go-ahead—Mongabay The developers behind Islet G, a small artificial island off the coast of Jakarta, may have finally been given the legal green light to continue the project, which has been stalled since April of this year.

Aid to Resume in Northern Arakan—The Irrawaddy Diplomatic mission returns from two-day visit to area under military lockdown, calls for ‘independent and credible investigation.’

HRW: Peace Process Exposes Farmers to New Glut of Land Seizures—The Irrawaddy Burma’s peace process opens up access to ethnic areas and leaves farmers vulnerable to powerful interests ‘gaining land through questionable means.’

The Public Loves Myanmar’s New War on Muslims—Foreign Policy One year after a historic election put a civilian government in charge, the country’s army is using brutal methods to regain its popularity.

Myanmar Government Takes Measures to Prevent Spread of Zika—RFA Myanmar’s health and sports ministry is warning women not to travel abroad where cases of the Zika virus have been reported, as the country battles its own recent outbreak of the disease.

Who buried The Brunei Times?—New Mandala More bad news for press freedom in Southeast Asia.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen Calls on the Military to Suppress ‘Color Revolutions’—RFA On the same day jailed opposition party activists called on Cambodia’s political leaders to set aside their differences for the sake of the nation, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a call to the nation’s armed forces to put down any so-called “color revolution.”

Thai junta offers farmers $514 million in rice loans—DVB Thailand‘s rice committee announced new loan schemes worth US$514 million on Monday to help rice growers struggling with falling prices as farmers of the grain become the new battleground between the junta and the opposition ahead of 2017 elections.

Politicising rice can be a worthy cause—Bangkok Post The regime’s responses to plummeting rice prices have been both disappointing and disastrous to it and farmers

Related: Band-aid solutions hide real rice problems—Bangkok Post

 

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Regional Roundup for Week of 11.5.2016

The big news out of the region this week has yet to hit the headlines. Sources from inside the Mekong River Commission have told us that the Lao government has officially submitted the Pak Beng dam, the third dam on the Mekong mainstream, for notification to the MRC. This sets forth the processes detailed in Prior Notification, Prior Consultation Agreement (PNPCA), one of the key instruments of the 1995 Mekong Agreement over transboundary water management in the Mekong region. Much criticism was thrown at the PNPCA process and the MRC itself for a poor execution over the Don Sahong dam site in 2014. Lao originally announced that the dam was not a mainstream project (it indeed is) and thus did not fit into the purview of the Mekong Agreement, but regional pressures at the diplomatic, expert, and CSO levels forced Laos to reverse its interpretation of the river’s geology.

 The Pak Beng dam will be the least controversial of sites to go up on the mainstream to date, but still with gather significant regional and global attention. It is located far into the interior of Laos upstream of the Xayaburi dam and is much smaller than the Xayaburi. This will be the most upstream dam on the Lower Mekong and thus the closest to China’s Upper Mekong hydropower. However, its proximity to Thailand should draw extra concern from upstream communities in the Golden Triangle province of Chiang Rai.

Over the past seven years, regional and civil society pressure has brought alteration to the mitigation efforts of both the Xayaburi and Don Sahong site, specifically in terms of facilitating critical fish passages (of which the success rate is still an unknown factor). Given this we predict the PNPCA process will not cancel the dam entirely, but could postpone construction and force the dam’s size (wall height and thus generating capacity) to be minimized which would reduce upstream impacts in the Golden Triangle region. Even though the dam is likely to be a run-of-the-river project, building the dam wall too high will certainly flood communities like Chiang Khong or Chiang Saen or increase the likelihood of flooding during the monsoon season.

 In other observations, Southeast Asian government officials that we’ve spoken to in the last week on edge about the potential of Hillary Clinton losing Tuesday’s general election – that is everyone with the exception of Hun Sen it seems.  

 

EXSE Focus

 Will Duterte End the US-Philippines Military Alliance?—The Diplomat A deeper look at the future prospects of the relationship.//This article is full of interesting insights about the dynamics of the US-Philippines alliance. Commenting on the likely strategy behind Duterte’s actions, the author writes, “strategically, Duterte does not see the United States as being as important to Philippine national interests relative to other countries like China. In his view … since Washington is unlikely to come to Manila’s defense in the event of a conflict, which is itself unlikely, there is little use for an alliance that brings only limited security benefits to the Philippines while also restricting the economic rewards it can get from Beijing.”

China and Malaysia agree on military cooperation in the South China Sea—The Guardian Najib Razak signs defence deal during Beijing visit and writes editorial saying former colonial should not lecture countries they once exploited

Related: Najib: Malaysia-China defence deal a landmark decision—The Star

Related: Leader of Malaysia, Miffed at U.S., Visits China With a Deal in Mind—New York Times

How Many U.S. Allies Can China Turn?—China File Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines since June, visited China this week and signaled his interest in shifting Manila’s allegiance away from Washington toward Beijing.

Related: Rodrigo Duterte Gets Closer to China, and the Neighbors Notice—New York Times

Related: Is the Philippines Triggering a ‘Duterte Effect’ in ASEAN?—The Diplomat

 Chinese Vessels Leave Disputed Fishing Grounds in South China Sea—New York Times China’s Coast Guard had chased Filipino fishermen from the grounds, but has abandoned them since a visit from the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, to Beijing.

Related: Philippines says China vessels have left disputed Scarborough Shoal—South China Morning Post

Related: South China Sea: What Exactly Has Changed At Scarborough Shoal?—The Diplomat//China is now allowing fishermen from the Philippines to enter the rich fishing ground of Scarborough Shoal for the first time since 2012. This is an interesting turn of events, especially since Filipino fishermen have been complaining that it was becoming more difficult in recent months for them to reach Scarborough Shoal. CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative discussed this here. However, the author of this article specifies, “Though the situation is no doubt an improvement from the status quo in the aftermath of the July 12 ruling by a Hague-based tribunal on the maritime disputes between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea, it is not a return to the status of the shoal in 2012 — before China seized it from the Philippines following a stand-off.”

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

 Why Indonesia Matters in a Season of Change—The Diplomat Indonesia is important to the U.S., in ways that might be unexpected.

Philippines, Japan ink economic, defense deals—Investvine The Philippines and Japan agreed to cooperate closer in various economic sectors and to work together in regional security initiatives that “promote peace and stability.”

Podcast: The Future of U.S. Statecraft in Asia—CFR  “The lion’s share of the history of the 21st century is going to play out in Asia,” states Kurt Campbell, the former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs

Behind Duterte’s Break With the U.S., a Lifetime of Resentment—Wall Street Journal Philippines president, driven by a sense of grievance over colonial history and perceived slights, threatens to undo a vital American relationship in Asia.

Related: With Duterte’s latest remarks, possibility of severed Philippine-US alliance looks increasingly possible—Southeast Asia Globe

Related: Philippine President Wants U.S. Troops Out—New York Times

US stops arms sales to Philippines—Investvine It must have been a discovery for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that his actions do have consequences. The US State Department halted the planned sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines’ national police

Malaysia to buy navy vessels from China in blow to US—South China Morning Post Malaysia will sign a contract to buy littoral mission ships from China when Prime Minister Najib Razak visits Beijing next week

China to pour in billions for rail project—The Star Malaysia begins its first step in the 600km rail journey from the Klang Valley to Tumpat with the inking of a deal with China offering RM55bil in soft loans, shares Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

Japan competes with China for Myanmar influence with 800 billion yen aid deal—South China Morning Post Japan will provide aid worth 800 billion yen (US$7.73 billion) to Myanmar over five years as it competes for regional influence with the country’s biggest trading partner China.

Washington’s untapped influence in Myanmar—New Mandala Despite China’s power and proximity, the US has more influence than it recognises in Myanmar

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Myanmar’s logging ban feeds shadow economy of illegal trade—Mongabay Despite efforts by local authorities, a nationwide logging ban has heightened illicit trade of wood in Myanmar’s second-largest city.

Forestry crimes triple, but fines down: report—Phnom Penh Post Illegal forest clearing is taking place at about three times the rate it did last year, but fines for forestry and wildlife crimes have fallen dramatically, according to a progress report released last week by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF)

Armed enforcement team formed to protect forest reserves—The Star Trespassers into Sabah’s forest reserves are becoming more aggressive, prompting the state Forestry Department to form an armed enforcement team.

Resettling China’s ‘Ecological Migrants’—New York Times Miaomiao Lake Village is just one of the new communities built to accommodate the world’s largest environmental migration project. But residents are struggling to adapt.

Living in China’s Expanding Deserts—New York Times People on the edges of the country’s vast seas of sand are being displaced by climate change.//This is a part of the New York Times’ series on displacement of people due to climate change. This article looks at some of the consequences of China’s rapid rate of desertification on the people living in the affected areas and provides some great photos.

Related: How China’s Politics of Control Shape the Debate on Deserts—New York Times

Southeast Asia’s last major undammed river in crisis—The Third Pole From the snow-capped mountains of Tibet, the Salween rushes through steep gorges in Yunnan Province and flows through four of Myanmar’s ethnic states before emptying into the Andaman Sea.

Related: Civil Society Groups Continue to Boycott Myitsone Dam—The Irrawaddy

Experts Warn Mekong Delta Agriculture, Livelihoods Face Serious Threats—RFA The effects of the severe drought that the El Niño weather phenomenon—exacerbated by climate change—delivered to Southeast Asia this year will be felt for months, if not years, to come in the economically vital Mekong Delta, environmentalists and United Nations experts said.

Vanishing Mekong? Shifting tropical storms threaten a great river delta—Third Pole This is one of the world’s great deltas. It is home to more than 20 million people and the rice that is grown on its fertile land underpins food security across South-East Asia. //One of the study’s authors states, “Only around 5% of the catchment area’s total annual rainfall is sourced from storms, but because this heavy and sudden rainfall is so effective at washing mud and sand into the river, the storms are responsible for more than 30% of the sediment that reaches the delta.”  The results of this study highlight the urgent need to take action to build resilience in the Mekong delta. They also point to the importance of using a basin-wide approach to determine the impacts of climate change and to develop effective adaptation strategies.

 A Waterfight Like No Other May Be Brewing Over Asia’s Rivers | Bloomberg—International Rivers Climate change is expected to increase global competition for water.

 Laos: PM announces continued suspension of mining concessions—Mekong Eye Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said yesterday the government will maintain the moratorium on new mining concessions because it needs more time to inspect a number of operations.

Mining will be regulated: Kachin State MP—Mekong Eye Kachin State MP Kyaw Kyaw Win said on Sunday that the state parliament would enact regional laws to control the mining industry.

Vietnam’s Growing Environmental Activism—The Diplomat Another act of civil disobedience shows that ordinary Vietnamese are becoming more vocal.

Can renewable energy help address poverty in China?—China Dialogue China is fast becoming a green energy superpower, leading the world in investment and installation of low-carbon technology.

 

CHINA

America’s Dangerous ‘China Fantasy’—New York Times Trade and economic growth is making Beijing more repressive, not less.

Xi Jinping, ‘Core Leader’ of China, Appears Both Triumphant and Anxious—New York Times The Communist Party gave the president the exalted title of “core leader” last week, a victory clouded by warnings in official documents about risks the country and party face.

Related Xi Jinping Is China’s ‘Core’ Leader: Here’s What It Means—New York Times

Related: Xi Jinping becomes ‘core’ leader of China—The Guardian Communist

Three Threats to China’s Economy—Project Syndicate China’s economy is facing serious challenges, reflected in trends like falling fixed-asset investment and rising credit. But many of those challenges can be addressed with one major initiative: reform and restructuring of the state sector.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Doing Business in Myanmar Has Just Gotten a Little Easier: World Bank Report—RFA The business regulatory environment in Myanmar has improved during the past year thanks to reforms that have reduced regulatory complexity for domestic businesses and improved the country’s credit information system

Burma Army Forces Hundreds of Rohingya Villagers from Homes—The Irrawaddy Hundreds of Rohingya villagers are facing a second night hiding in rice fields without shelter, after the army on Sunday forcibly removed them from a village in a crackdown following attacks on border security forces.

Diplomats to visit northern Arakan—DVB Senior diplomats from the United States, China, Britain and the European Union will this week visit Burma‘s troubled northern Arakan State, which has been cut off to aid workers and observers for more than three weeks, sources said.

Calls Grow for Access to Western Myanmar in Face of Military Lockdown—New York Times The security forces have trapped members of the Rohingya ethnic group, a stateless Muslim minority, and largely blocked aid deliveries, advocacy groups say.

Related: Govt Urged to Open Access to Arakan Conflict Zone—The Irrawaddy

Myanmar police to arm, train non-Muslims in conflict-torn region—Channel News Asia Myanmar police will begin arming and training non-Muslim residents in the troubled north of Rakhine State, where officials say militants from the Rohingya Muslim group pose a growing security threat, police and civilian officials said.//This seems like a very dangerous plan given the existing ethnic tensions in the region.

Report Links Increased Militarization and Drug Trade in Eastern Shan State—The Irrawaddy Data published by an ethnic Lahu civil society group indicates that the Burma Army plays a key role in regional opium trade.

First Group of Burmese Refugees in Thailand Repatriated—The Irrawaddy The first group of Burmese refugees sheltering in Thailand was repatriated by UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, and Thai authorities.

New Investment Law Enacted—Thw Irrawaddy The long-awaited Myanmar Investment Law was signed into being by President U Htin Kyaw on Tuesday after both houses approved the bill earlier this month//Some have argued that the new investment law was drafted too hastily. A contributor to Earthrights International wrote, “The Law represents a missed opportunity to introduce an investment framework that decentralizes decision-making power over large-scale investment projects, and ensures that the voices of local communities affected by massive development projects are heard.”

With new budget, can Najib save his reputation?—Southeast Asia Globe Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is facing pressure over the state of the economy and international criticism over corruption allegations, appears to be using social welfare programmes in the government’s 2017 budget as a means to improve his tarnished reputation. However, the measures might be too little, too late

Duterte’s plan to revive Philippine democracy—New Mandala The Philippine president is working towards a constitutional amendment in favour of greater federalism and parliamentarism. Could this empower the country’s citizenry and strengthen democracy? And how does it fit in with Duterte’s controversial policies against drugs and crime? //Among many of the interesting points made here is that President Duterte is interested in decentralization in an effort to alleviate economic inequality and stem corruption, an agenda that was likely inspired by his experience as mayor of Davao City in Mindanao. 

Thai government wants Cambodia to extradite three Thais on lese majeste charges—Thai PBS Cambodia is “processing” a request from the Thai government for the extradition of three Thai citizens in Cambodia who are wanted on lese majeste charges

Thailand ‘making preparations’ for Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to ascend throne on December 1—South China Morning Post Thailand is making preparations for Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to ascend the throne on December 1

The Truth About Anti-Vietnam Sentiment in Cambodia—The Diplomat A closer look at a subject that often does not get enough sustained attention.

Related: Race to the bottom: how Cambodia’s opposition is targeting ethnic Vietnamese—Southeast Asia Globe

Rice farmers despair amid low prices—Bangkok Post Kneeling and sobbing before a top commerce ministry official, a Phichit farmer appealed to the government Sunday to help growers suffering from the fall in rice prices to 5,000 baht a tonne, the lowest level in decades.

Cambodia’s Ruling Party Hits Boycotting Lawmakers in the Pocketbook—RFA Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) plan to hit lawmakers boycotting the National Assembly in the wallet as they approved new rules that cut lawmakers pay if they refuse to show up.

Cambodia opposition leader officially banned from entering the country—Investvine In a severe blow to democracy and freedom of speech in Cambodia, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has officially been exiled from the country in a move that contradicts domestic laws and violates.//Since the official exile of Sam Rainsy, the CNRP leader has stated that he still plans to return to Cambodia before the general election in 2018.

Cambodia’s latest game of cat and mouse—New Mandala With commune elections next year and the national election the year after, it is a bad time for fractures to be forming in the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Cambodia aims to export one million tonnes of rice to IndonesiaThai PBS Cambodia is about to sign very soon an agreement with Indonesia which will pave the way for the export of one million tonnes of rice under a new quota system

Trade deal to reduce tariffs with Vietnam—Phnom Penh Post Cambodia and Vietnam inked an agreement yesterday to drop import tariffs on dozens of products in an effort to boost bilateral trade.

Related: Vietnam: Can the Communist Party Keep Up With Market Reforms?—The Diplomat

Lao Villagers Barred From Asking Questions on Railway Project—RFA Lao villagers attending a meeting held to promote a controversial Lao-Chinese railway project were blocked from asking questions regarding compensation and where they will be moved when displaced from their land, sources in the Southeast Asian nation say.//A district official explained, “we were afraid that if we had let villagers ask questions are the meeting, we could not have given them any answers.” Hopefully answers will be available soon, since the report states that construction on the 265-mile railway is scheduled to begin in December.

This week’s news digest was curated by Gabriella Neusner with introduction by Brian Eyler. Photo: Fanny Potkin

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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.23.2016

EXSE FOCUS

In Western Myanmar, a Lockdown and Fears of More Violence—New York Times Aid work has ceased in the north of Rakhine State after attacks on police officers, and videos purporting to show local Muslims urging jihad have added to fears of unrest.

Related: Violence Erupts in Myanmar’s Rakhine State—The Diplomat

Related: New fears of communal violence in Myanmar—The Economist

Vietnam gives thumbs-up to US regional role as pivot stumbles—South China Morning Post Vietnam supports US “intervention” in the Asia-Pacific if it helps keep peace and stability, the defence ministry said, in a timely endorsement of a continued U.S. presence amid uncertainty over Washington’s faltering “pivot”

What’s going on in Thailand?—New Mandala With the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, his son and heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, should have been named King Rama X. He hasn’t.  As Andrew MacGregor Marshall writes, Thailand’s succession struggle isn’t over yet.// New Mandala has published several excellent articles in the past week that provide in-depth analysis of the political situation in Thailand following the death of King Bhumibol

Related: Thailand Looks to Likely Future King With Apprehension—New York Times

Related: Thailand is on tenterhooks over the king’s health—The Economist

Thai people encouraged to ‘socially sanction’ critics of monarchy—The Guardian Justice minister appears to back vigilantism which has risen in wake of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death

Related: Thailand to ask other countries to extradite suspected critics of royal family—South China Morning Post

Philippines’ Duterte praises China on Beijing visit—Channel NewsAsia Visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had praise for China on Wednesday, setting aside a maritime dispute as the combative leader reconfigures his country’s diplomatic alliances.

Related: Philippines’ Duterte Not Planning to Raise South China Sea Disputes in China Visit—WSJ

Related: South China Sea dispute to ‘take back seat’ in talks with Xi, Duterte says—South China Morning Post

Related: Rodrigo Duterte arrives in China with ‘make friends, not war’ message—The Guardian

In China, Rodrigo Duterte and Philippines May ‘Pivot’ Away From U.S.—New York Times The Philippine leader’s talks in Beijing are likely to signal how far he is willing to go in building closer ties with China and reducing American military influence at home.

Related: Duterte’s pivot—The Economist

Related: Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping Agree to Reopen South China Sea Talks—New York Times // Duterte’s remarks have left many American officials puzzled. State Dept spokesperson, John Kirby responded saying, “We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the president meant when he talked about separation from us…It’s not clear to us exactly what that means and all its ramifications (via inquirer.net)

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Indonesia President Steers Cautious Course in Tense South China Sea—Wall Street Journal

President Joko Widodo wants to keep the sprawling archipelago out of an intensifying great-power conflict while he tries to revitalize ambitious economic plans that have so far fallen short.

Is the Belt and Road Initiative Globalizing China’s National Security Policy?—The Diplomat Chinese security policy experts use potential threats to BRI projects to highlight the necessity of a globalized security posture.

Makers of Agent Orange to be tried for ‘war crimes’ by a people’s tribunal—Southeast Asia Globe Five decades after being commissioned to produce Agent Orange, which the US military dropped on Vietnam with devastating effects, a people’s tribunal is putting Monsanto ‘on trial’ for war crimes.

Rainsy says China aid to blame for rights abuses—Phnom Penh Post Days after signing a statement welcoming Chinese President Xi Jinping to Cambodia, opposition leader Sam Rainsy took to Radio Free Asia to slam China for enabling human rights abuses in the Kingdom with no-strings-attached loans.

China to help Cambodia modernise its armed forces, officials say—South China Morning Post China has agreed to help modernise Cambodia’s military, Cambodia’s defence minister said on Monday, after the two countries signed new agreements to boost military aid.

Judges and Rice: Cambodia’s Expanding Reliance on China—The Diplomat Is there a limit to Beijing’s largesse for its southern ally?

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

China Using Ecological Protection to Boost Claims in Disputed Waters –VOA China’s public order to keep away from a rare, environmentally unique ocean sinkhole in the Paracel Islands signals a new effort to tighten its grip on a tract of water disputed with Vietnam and monitored by the United States.//This is ironic, considering that China’s activities in the South China Sea have caused catastrophic damage to coral reefs and fish stocks in the region. See this report by Yale Environment 360 for more information on this.

A plan to save the Mekong Delta—Mongabay This is the final installment of an in-depth, four-part series exploring threats facing the Mekong Delta and how they might be addressed.

Government urged to work with Cambodia on solutions to water resources—Mekong Eye Scientists have urged the Vietnamese government to cooperate with Cambodia and draw up a plan to take full advantage of water resources.

Will Hydropower Turn the Tide on the Salween River?—Mekong Eye Both history and future development plans point to risks for the Salween River and its eco-systems and communities. Over-development, lack of public consultation and the appetite for energy threaten Asia’s last free flowing, international river.

Vietnam playing ‘key Mekong sub-region role’—Mekong Eye Vietnam has been making practical contributions to turning the Mekong sub-region into a dynamic and prosperous economic area via two crucial cooperation frameworks.

Manila is set to agree on joint petroleum exploration with Beijing—Thai PBS The Duterte administration is set to enter into an agreement with China to jointly explore energy sources in the disputed West Philippine sea

On the Role of Chinese Religion in Environmental Protection—New York Times In an interview, Prasenjit Duara, an Indian-born historian of China, discusses how traditional values can be a force motivating people to action.

As China Shifts From Exporter to Importer, Fortunes Change—New York Times The country’s energy sector has gone through a major reshaping, perhaps nowhere more so than in the city of Daqing, home to China’s biggest oil field.

Biomass power plants affect health: study—The Nation A recent study on health risks from biomass power plants in Surin province has confirmed that nearby residents are being exposed to tiny dust particles in amounts that exceed the level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Chinese nationals nabbed for mining sandstone in Shan State—DVB Chinese nationals allegedly caught mining sandstone without official permission in Shan State’s Muse District were apprehended by local villagers on Monday.

Production Slowing at Wa Tin Mine—The Irrawaddy Output from a mysterious Burma tin mine that has disrupted the global market in the metal is falling sharply and deposits could be depleted in “two to three years”

Company Accused of Bribing, Misleading Locals to Build Coal-Fired Power Plant—The Irrawaddy Questions were raised in the Rangoon Division parliament about an unnamed company using underhanded methods to induce locals of Zweba Kone village, in semi-rural Kyauktan Township on the outer fringes of the city, to consent to the building of a coal-fired power plant.

Hanoi Moves to Derail Drive to File Lawsuits Against Formosa in Vietnam—RFA The Vietnamese government is attempting to prevent Catholic parishioners from filing more lawsuits against the Taiwan-owned steel company responsible for a chemical spill that devastated the country’s central coast,

Laos Orders Factory to Stop Recycling Spent Beer Malt Over Pollution Concerns—RFA The Lao government ordered a factory in the capital Vientiane that recycles 80 tons of spent beer malt a day to shut down after its owners failed to control pollution from the process, RFA’s Lao Service has learned.

To Fix the Mekong, Just Look at the Evidence: Q&A With Dr. John Ward—Mekong Eye Dr. John Ward is a research scientist at the Mekong Region Futures Institute specializing in integrated natural resource management. He spoke with VOA’s Neou Vannarin about the future of the Mekong, the effects of climate change, hydropower development, and the impact on the environment and people of the region.

Xi’an Under Security Alert After Thousands Protest Incinerator Plant—RFA Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Xi’an have issued a security alert after thousands took to the streets this week at the weekend over a waste incinerator plant planned for their neighborhood.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand’s New Uncertainty—Project Syndicate Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death, though long anticipated, still came as a profound shock to the country. Following the death of a unifying – if not always pro-democratic – political leader who reigned for 70 years, what comes next for Thailand and its military junta is unclear.

Thailand Bids Farewell to Beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej—Time Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the superlative monarch.//A particularly good obituary of King Bhumibol with photo series and video

Related: Over 500,000 gathered to see royal procession—The Nation

Related: Bhumibol, a King of the People, Leaves Them to the Generals—New York Times 

A Serious Concern Over the First Use of E-Voting in Thailand—The Diplomat If not implemented transparently, the initial e-voting system in Thailand may trigger internal political conflict.

Vietnam floods: deaths reported, tens of thousands of homes destroyed—The Guardian Local authorities mobilise army and police to rescue trapped residents in central Vietnam following torrential rain

ADB approves $230 mln loan to help Vietnam improve power transmission—Mekong Eye The Asian Development Bank on Thursday signed a loan agreement of $231.31 million with the Vietnamese government to help build and upgrade the transmission networks in the southern region.

Malaysia’s Growing Crackdown on Dissent—The Diplomat A new report sheds light on a disturbing trend.

Supertyphoon Haima slams into northern Philippines; following hard on typhoon Sarika —South China Morning Post Super Typhoon Haima slammed into the northeastern Philippine coast late Wednesday with ferocious winds and rain that rekindled fears and memories from the catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Jakarta offers $1.50 reward for each rat as it launches massive rodent hunt—South China Morning Post The Indonesian capital Jakarta, one of the world’s most overcrowded and polluted megacities, has launched a new bid to rid its streets of vermin – by offering residents $1.50 for every rat they catch. //Interested to see how effective this policy is. The rat race is on.

Indonesia tracking dozens of militants returned from Syria, police chief says—South China Morning Post Dozens of Indonesians who joined Islamic State in Syria have returned home with combat experience and pose a major threat to the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, the police chief said on Monday.

90 refugees set to return to Karen State next week—DVB Ninety residents of the Nu Po refugee camp in Thailand’s Tak Province are set to return to Burma next week in the first round of official repatriations for refugees since a peace deal was struck late last year.

UN aid not reaching Arakan, as lockdown continues—DVB Violence in a Muslim-majority region of Burma is stopping aid agencies from delivering food and medicines

Related: NGOs Face Difficulties Getting Aid to Maungdaw Residents in Myanmar’s Rakhine State—RFA

End To US Sanctions a Boon to Burma’s Economy, But Woes Remain—The Irrawaddy KFC’s grinning Colonel Sanders and his goatee are among the few prominent signs of US brands or business in Burma’s biggest city, Rangoon.

Philippine Police Van Rams Protesters at U.S. Embassy, Hurting Dozens New York Times Dozens of protesters were hurt on Wednesday after a Philippine police officer used a van to ram into them during a demonstration against the United States in the capital.

Duterte administration to seek loan from AIIB for infrastructure projects—Thai PBS The Duterte government is gearing up for the Philippines to formally join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in time for President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Beijing this week

Kem Ley’s Spirit Still Powerful in Cambodia—RFA The spirt of slain government critic Kem Ley still casts a shadow over Cambodia as thousands of people clogged the main roads on Sunday for the close of his 100-day ritual ceremony and some of his former students began selling a compilation of his political essays.

Cambodia worst in region for rule of law: report—Phnom Penh Post Cambodia ranked 112 out of 113 countries surveyed globally and dead last in the East Asia and Pacific region when it comes to the perceived rule of law, a new report released today states.

Failure of dams leads to flooding in Phnom Penh, Kampong Speu—Phnom Penh Post Thousands of homes in Phnom Penh and Kampong Speu have been flooded after three dams were seriously damaged following two weeks of torrential rain and warnings from government officials.

Singapore Unveils New ASEAN Cyber Initiative—The Diplomat City-state steps up efforts to promote regional cooperation in the cyber domain.

 

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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.13.16


Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) passed away this afternoon at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital. The 88-year-old monarch led Thailand for 70 years. Prime Minister and military junta leader Prayut Chan-ocha said that Thailand will hold a one-year period of national mourning and that flags will fly at half-mast for the next month. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was named as successor in the early 1970s and is expected by many to ascend the throne.

The East by Southeast team extends our sincere condolences to our Thai contributors and all of our Thai readers. 

King Rama IX oversaw great changes in Thailand over his seven-decade reign. He was seen domestically as a stabilizing force in the country during its many periods of political turbulence and multiple coups, the most recent coming in 2014. However, critics argue that the palace has played a central role in the country’s coups and human rights abuses.

King Rama IX’s death opens the door for a long-feared period of instability in the kingdom. The king’s health has been deteriorating for years and questions over his eventual death and the succession plan swirled in the background of the 2014 military coup. The Crown Prince is largely disliked by Thais and whether or not he will actually succeed the throne is still unknown. Prime Minister Prayut was quoted as saying the Crown Prince did not want to be proclaimed king immediately, first desiring “to take some time to mourn, together with the people of Thailand.”

This delay has raised questions over succession plans. Powerful members of the royal advisory Privy Council are known to find the Crown Prince unfit to rule and his sister, Crown Princess Sirindhorn, is seen by many as a more popular choice for the next monarch or regent. The following few months will be crucial for the future of Thailand and the region and a smooth transition of power, while desirable, is not entirely likely. 

EXSE FOCUS

What now?—New Mandala With news of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s ailing health, Llewellyn McCann outlines three key developments to watch after his reign ends.

Related: What the Death of Thailand’s King Means, and What’s Next—The New York Times

Related: PM: Nation is in its greatest sorrow, expects new King by tradition—Bangkok Post

Dozens Believed Killed as Violence Erupts in Myanmar—New York Times The bloodshed in Rakhine State, home to members of the Rohingya Muslim minority, was set off by attacks on police posts.

Related: Escalation of violent clashes involving troops in Myanmar’s Rakhine state leaves twelve dead—South China Morning Post

Related: ‘Groupism’ and sectarian violence in Arakan—DVB

Gov’t, Vietnam exchange blame on logging—Phnom Penh Post Cambodian conservation officials spoke publicly for the first time on Monday about what they described as nearly three years of corrupt practices by their Vietnamese counterparts in facilitating the multibillion-dollar illicit trade in Siamese rosewood. //Cambodia is taking serious steps to combat illegal logging in its borders, but it can’t do it alone. Similar commitment must come from its regional partners, particularly Vietnam, which accounts for much of the demand for illegal Cambodian timber from.

Related: Ministry eyeing wood stockpiles, says Samal—Phnom Penh Post

Related: Multiple timber busts in busy weekend for Forestry Administration—Phnom Penh Post

Behind Duterte’s Bluster, a Philippine Shift Away From the U.S.—New York Times The move is a radical departure for a country that has historically been the most dependable American ally in Southeast Asia, and could undermine President Obama’s foreign policy

China’s new rules for Xinjiang ban parents from encouraging or forcing children into religion—South China Morning Post Parents and guardians in China’s heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang who encourage or force their children into religious activities will be reported to police, the government said on Wednesday while unveiling new education rules// Very interesting. We should watch closely to see how these new laws are legitimized and enforced by the Chinese government.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

US is bright spot for Southeast Asia as its exports to China drop—South China Morning Post After years of looking to China as a source of growth, Southeast Asian countries are turning their attention back to the world’s largest economy on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

Washington Should Stop Militarizing the Pacific—New York Times China’s leaders feel their country has the right to be the main power in the neighborhood.

Russia Seeks to Reopen Military Bases in Vietnam and Cuba—New York Times The Russian deputy defense minister said that the Kremlin was working to re-establish the former bases, which closed in 2002.

Philippines’ defence minister says military can cope without US aid—The Guardian Lorenzana’s remarks suggest he is following other top government officials in rallying behind maverick president Duterte’s tough anti-US agenda//Since Duterte began making waves with his controversial anti-American remarks, we’ve been reassured  by experts who say that Duterte does not have much support for his anti-American agenda within the government’s ministries and that the working relationship between the US and the Philippines will remain strong.  Do the statements of the Philippines’ defense minister mean than individuals within the government are warming to Duterte’s foreign policy agenda?

‘America has failed us’: Foreign Secretary Yasay explains why the Philippines wants to break away from US—South China Morning Post The Philippines’s top diplomat said President Rodrigo Duterte is seeking an independent foreign policy for the country because “America has failed us” in the decades since it gained independence from its former colonial master.

South China Sea Disputes Are On Duterte’s China Agenda Ahead of Visit, But to What Ends?—The Diplomat Can Duterte make China a workable offer concerning the South China Sea disputes?

Philippine Government Eyes Chinese Investment Ahead of Duterte Visit to Beijing—The Diplomat

South China Sea: Indonesian Military Stages Massive Natuna Sea Exercise—The Diplomat Indonesian President Joko Widodo observed the exercises, underlining the importance of the Natuna Islands.

Related: Indonesia air force holds major military drill at South China Sea islands—South China Morning Post

Obama and Indonesia: Strong Progress But an Uncertain Future—The Diplomat The U.S. has done its part to deepen relations; the ball is now in Indonesia’s court.

China-Thailand Relations in the Spotlight with Activist Deportation—The Diplomat A recent incident has raised questions about how beholden Bangkok is to Beijing.

Chinese president to touch down in Cambodia as nations consolidate ties—Southeast Asia Globe Cambodia is edging increasingly close to China, as the superpower lavishes aid on the Asean nation that has proved a robust ally in the South China Sea dispute

India in ASEAN—New Mandala As Washington’s influence in the region wanes and the China factor increases, New Delhi needs to build lasting strategic and economic ties with Southeast Asia, write Tridivesh Singh Maini and Maithili Parikh.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Coal outgrows hydropower—Phnom Penh Post As Cambodia’s demand for electricity grows and domestic energy production increases, new data released from the Ministry of Mines and Energy yesterday show that coal-fired energy generation surpassed hydroelectricity for the first time last year.

Biomass power plants affect health: study—The Nation A recent study on health risks from biomass power plants in Surin province has confirmed that nearby residents are being exposed to tiny dust particles in amounts that exceed the level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Thousands flee fighting near site of dam backed by Thailand—The Nation Nearby villages flooded with refugees facing imminent crisis.

Authorities divert water in effort to prevent Bangkok flooding—The Nation

Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday authorities would try to divert water runoff and floodwater to minimise the impact on Bangkok.//Flood policy is fraught with complicated and controversial decision-making that often end up in outcomes that protect the most economically “valuable” regions at the expense of less valuable regions . For this reason, flooding is increasingly being thought of as an environmental justice issue. Concerns over the environmental justice dimensions of flood risk management will only become more pronounced in the region as climate change makes rainy seasons wetter and dry seasons drier.  

ADB Loan for Enhanced Flood Risk Management In Banten, MalukuADB The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $109 million loan to support flood risk management for communities in the Banten and Maluku provinces of Indonesia to enhance preparation for future threats while ensuring infrastructure meets high standards of resilience.

NGO urges halt to Kaiduan Dam project—The Star  A proposed dam project in the south-western Papar district should be scrapped following the arrests of two Sabah Water Department officials for alleged graft, says an NGO representing the affected communities near here.

Mass fish death in Mae Klong river prompts official investigation Thai PBS The investigation team led by Samut Sakhon governor and director of the Veterinary Medical Aquatic Animal Research Center (VMAARC) – Chulalongkorn University inspected the river and some fish cage farms along the river yesterday and tested the quality of the water.

CHINA

Taiwan’s President Calls for New Talks With Beijing—New York Times In her first National Day speech, Tsai Ing-wen emphasized that Beijing should acknowledge the island’s choice to become a democracy.

Building Collapse in Chinese City of Wenzhou Kills at Least 22—New York Times The toll makes it one of the deadliest episodes of its kind in recent years. Six people have been pulled from the rubble, including a 3-year-old girl.

China Jails Environmental Activist For ‘Revealing State Secrets’—RFA Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Hunan have jailed a prominent environmentalist on charges of “revealing state secrets” in a move that activists said is likely a form of political revenge.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Vietnam Arrests Mother Mushroom, a Top Blogger, for Criticizing Government—New York Times Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a co-founder of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, has challenged leaders over topics including a dump of toxic chemicals.

Vietnam declares US-based activist group is a terrorist organization—The Guardian The Viet Tan is accused of training operatives and the government says the California-based organization instigates violence

Vietnam Ramps Up Trade Talks Amid Economic Uncertainty—The Diplomat Things don’t seem to be looking that good for Hanoi.

Thailand steps up security after warning of Bangkok bomb plot—The Guardian Increased police patrols at airports and tourist hotspots amid suspicion armed group may be plotting attacks near capital

Rice exports rebound firmly in September—Phnom Penh Post Cambodian rice exports soared by 54 percent year-on-year in September, after failing to meet last year’s levels for six consecutive months from March through August

Cambodia’s CNRP Again Boycotts Parliament—RFA Less than two weeks after promising to end a months-long legislative boycott of Cambodia’s National Assembly, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) backed away from its pledge on Friday, citing unspecified threats to opposition lawmakers.

Another case added to long list of Rainsy suits—Phnom Penh Post The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has issued yet another summons for Sam Rainsy, demanding the opposition leader appear at court to face questioning over a new incitement case.

Reconciliation in Rakhine State—New Mandala Now that a state of emergency has been lifted, Myanmar must come up with immediate solutions on local orders that oppress the state’s minority groups, writes Thulasi Wigneswaran.

Govt prepares for repatriation of 90 refugees—DVB Around 90 residents of the Nu Po refugee camp in western Thailand have signed up for official repatriation to Burma.

When Silence Hurts More Than a Bullet—The Irrawaddy

Malaysia’s secular versus religious divide—New Mandala The uneasy co-existence of civil and Sharia law in Malaysia and the polarising ethnic and religious divides within its population could be improved by establishing an independent mediation committee

Is Duterte ‘Nation-Building’ in the Philippines?—The Diplomat Whether his efforts to use simplified history and us-versus-them narratives is a good way to build a nation is another question.

Inside Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug purge: how local residents work with Philippine police to compile ‘hit lists’—South China Morning Post Barangay officials are the foot soldiers in a war on drugs that has led to the killing of more than 3,600 people since Duterte took office in June

Philippine president Duterte’s next campaign: public smoking ban—South China Morning Post Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is turning to another battle aside from illegal drugs: smoking

Progress in the Philippine Peace Process Under Duterte—The Diplomat

The initiative is arguably a silver lining in the president’s controversial tenure thus far.

Is Singapore ready to join the fight against Isis?—Southeast Asia Globe  After a planned attack on Marina Bay Sands was foiled, Singapore’s government is taking the fight to the Islamic State

Will the Village Law change rural Indonesia?—New Mandala Indonesia’s new Village Law has been hailed as a game-changer for rural areas and people. But a long-term view shows that it may not deliver all that it promises, writes Jacqueline Vel.

Southeast Asia Still Has Weak Information Security Against Cyber Threats—The Diplomat With the huge increase in internet use, Southeast Asia is more prone to attacks from outside sources.

Related: Indonesia, Singapore Talk Terror, Cyber in Defense Meeting—The Diplomat

ASEAN centre to tackle animal-borne illnesses—Phnom Penh Post Cambodia joined other Southeast Asian countries earlier this week in a commitment to establish a new ASEAN centre to tackle diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, for which exposure is common in the Kingdom’s rural areas.

BOOK REVIEWS

Review of “The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam” by Christopher Goscha—CFR In forty years, the relationship between the United States and Vietnam has swung about as widely as is possible.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 10.6.16

EXSE FOCUS

 Investment Law Approved in Lower House—The Irrawaddy Burma’s Lower House of Parliament passed the long-awaited Myanmar Investment Law on Wednesday, and it now moves to the Upper House before the parliamentary session closes in early October.//  The Burmese government is in a hurry to lay the political groundwork for an inflow of new Western investment.

Thousands of Kachin Locals Call on Burma Army to Stop Assaults—The Irrawaddy Following intensified clashes between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an estimated 10,000 members of the Kachin public staged a demonstration on Monday…calling for an end to ongoing armed conflict.

The war on homosexuality in Indonesia—New Mandala How hetero- and homo-nationalisms are colliding in debates about LGBT rights. 

 Sam Rainsy: How the global community can help strengthen democracy in Cambodia—Phnom Penh Post Editor, With the situation in Cambodia reaching a critical point, the international community in general, and the West in particular, can exert a stronger influence than most people may think. The key word is legitimacy. // Sam Rainsy, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), writes from self-imposed exile, urging the international community to call Hun Sen’s government out on its political repression and “illegitimate elections.” The editorial was published the day after CNRP leader, Kem Sokha left his party headquarters for the first time since his attempted arrest in May.

Why Referendums Aren’t as Democratic as They Seem—New York Times Though such votes are portrayed as popular governance in its purest form, studies have found that they often subvert democracy rather than serve it.//A fascinating look at national referendums and why they sometimes subvert democracy rather than serving it. The authors write, “voters must make their decisions with relatively little information, forcing them to rely on political messaging—which puts power in the hands of political elites rather than those of voters.” The example of Thailand’s referendum in August to approve a new Constitution is used to should how governments can sometimes exert significant control over the outcome of a referendum, while giving the illusion of popular legitimacy.

The Brutal Bangkok Crackdown that was Hushed Up for Years – BBC When Thai soldiers opened fire on students demonstrating at Thammasat University in Bangkok they killed at least 46 people, effectively ending a brief period of democracy in Thailand. The brutal killings that took place on 6 October 1976 were quickly swept under the carpet and not investigated by the new military authorities or discussed for many years.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

ADB to muscle up its lending with pledge of $1B—Phnom Penh Post Cambodia could receive over $1 billion in developmental aid and grant funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the coming four years as the multilateral financial institution consolidates its lending arms and scales up operations across the region

Duterte, Philippine President, Raises Doubts About Military Alliance With U.S.—New York Times Defense and diplomatic officials were facing a quandary after the president vowed to end military exercises with the U.S. and strengthen ties with China and Russia.// The Philippines-US relationship is going through a tumultuous and confusing period. One question to ask ourselves is whether or not this will affect the US relationship with ASEAN as the Philippines prepares to take the lead at the 2017 ASEAN chair. Currently, US relations with ASEAN are better than ever, but the ASEAN chair has the responsibility of setting the agenda for the year’s summits and if Duterte continues to try to break down ties with the US, it could affect the US’s ability to engage with ASEAN in 2017.

Related: The US-Philippine Alliance in the Duterte Era: A Path to Recalibration—The Guardian

Related: Duterte says he may break up ties with the US—Thai PBS

Related: U.S.-Philippine Military Exercises Open, Perhaps for Last Time—Wall Street Journal

The US, Myanmar and the dragon in the background—New Mandala Moves by the Obama administration to soften sanctions and reward Myanmar’s progress to democracy, while welcome, are not enough to meet the country’s economic growth needs, giving China a strategic advantage

Employers in Malaysia who hire or harbor illegal foreign workers face assets and bank accounts seizureThai PBS Effective as of October 1, employers in Malaysia who continue to hire and harbour illegal foreign workers will have their assets and bank accounts frozen

US will ‘sharpen military edge’ in Asia Pacific, says Pentagon chief—The Guardian Defense secretary Ash Carter signals US intention to remain the dominant power in the region despite China’s rising might

Related: US Unveils New Maritime Security Initiatives at ASEAN Defense Meeting—The Diplomat

How to Boost Innovation in Asia—The Diplomat Promoting science, technology, and innovation will be crucial to achieving sustainable development.

United States warships make first visit to Vietnam base in decades—South China Morning Post Two American warships stopped in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay this week for the first time since the two nations normalised relations 21 years ago, the US Navy said on Tuesday.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Outrage Over Fish Kill in Vietnam Simmers 6 Months Later—New York Times Thousands of demonstrators swarmed a steel factory in Ha Tinh Province over the weekend, echoing the street protests in the country’s major cities in April.//It is interesting to watch how the CPV handles these protests, which do not seem to be going away. After already being accused of trying to hide information and project the Taiwanese company, it must take concrete steps to help the demonstrators get sufficient compensation or risk losing its legitimacy. 

Related: Thousands in Vietnam protest against Taiwanese steel plant over mass fish deaths—South China Morning Post

Soak it up: China’s ambitious plan to solve urban flooding with ‘sponge cities’—New York Times Designers working on the unprecedented, government-funded programme will proritise using permeable materials, green spaces and connected waterways

 Hadabuan Hills: The Forgotten Rainforest of Sumatra—The Diplomat Surrounded by palm oil plantations, an oasis of rainforest provides a welcome shelter for rare species.

 Smugglers Take New Routes to Circumvent The Lao Lumber Ban—RFA The Lao government’s attempt to strangle the illicit lumber trade is forcing smugglers to become more creative as they play a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities

 Expert: Act on water security issue now—The Star A water specialist has called on the authorities to immediately address the issue of water security in the country.

Salween dams threaten river communities—Bangkok Post: Opinion

The Thai government’s recent push to speed up its energy investment in Myanmar’s Salween River contradicts its own efforts to warn Thai investors from operating overseas projects that violate human rights.

Karen clashes linked to controversial dam project, say activists—DVB Recent fighting in the Maethawaw area of Karen State is directly related to plans to build a dam on the Salween River, according to a group opposed to the project.

Chipwe, Hsawlaw residents join anti-Myitsone chorus in Kachin State—Mekong Eye Residents of Chipwe and Hsawlaw townships in Kachin State have joined growing calls for the government to scrap seven hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River

Lower Sesan II Dam on Schedule—Mekong Eye The Lower Sesan II dam is expected to generate electricity as planned by 2017, filling a power void in the country as national grid construction is under way, according to the deputy provincial governor of Stung Treng.

Coal-fired power plants threaten Vietnam deltas—Mekong Eye Vietnam’s plan to take its total number of coal-fired power plants to 31 by 2020 has raised environmental concerns.

Will Climate Change Sink The Mekong Delta?—Mongabay No delta region in the world is more threatened by climate change. Will Vietnam act in time to save it?

Ticking water time bombs in hydropower plants?—Mekong Eye A tunnel break in the Song Bung 2 hydroelectric power plant in the central province of Quang Nam released nearly 30 million cubic metres of water that rushed to thousands of villagers living downstream, killing two, and caused at least VND5 billion of losses.

Vietnam province scraps coal plant over environmental concerns—Mekong Eye The Mekong Delta’s Bac Lieu Province scrapped plans for a coal-fired thermal power plant to pursue clean-energy options, last week.

Illegal fishing arrests down from last year—Phnom Penh Post Cambodian authorities have caught fewer illegal fishermen so far this year compared to 2015, which fishery officials ascribed to a combination of delayed rains and heightened law-abiding

Questions for: ‘What’s Clogging Jakarta’s Waterways? You Name It’—New York Times What are examples of the different types of trash that have been found in the Ciliwung River?

CHINA

Xi Jinping May Delay Picking China’s Next Leader, Stoking Speculation—New York Times The apparent plan by the Chinese president has unsettled the party elite and created uncertainty over whether Mr. Xi will try to stay in power beyond the usual two terms.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Myanmar Repeals 1950 Law Long Used to Silence Dissidents—New York Times Among other measures, the law had authorized prison terms of up to seven years for reading foreign newspapers or listening to broadcasters like the BBC.

Myanmar’s absent generation—The Guardian In Karen state in Myanmar work is so scarce that villagers have to travel to neighbouring Thailand to find employment.

Thousands Flee as Fighting Erupts in Myanmar’s Shan State—RFA According to a spokesman for the SSA-S, the fighting broke out when Myanmar army units attacked a drug-rehabilitation camp managed by local villagers in an area under their control.

Duterte apologizes to JewsThai PBS “I apologize profoundly and deeply to Jewish community. There was never any intention on my part to derogate the memory of six million Jews”

Is Duterte Wrecking the Philippine Economy?—The Diplomat A closer look at how the Philippine president is impacting his country’s economic prospects.

When Will Timor-Leste Join ASEAN?—The Diplomat A look at where the country’s admission to the regional grouping stands.

Torture Under Thailand’s Military Junta—The Diplomat A new report exposes the extent of the practice under the current government.

Malaysia’s Own Yellows Vs. Reds Battleground—The Diplomat As Bersih celebrates its 10 year anniversary, it has grown large enough to spark an organized counter movement.

Time for Malaysia’s Najib to Step Aside—The Diplomat The premier needs to give his country a much-needed respite.

Malaysia’s Parties Prepare for 2018 Elections—CFR

An Arms Race in Southeast Asia?—The Diplomat Yes, Southeast Asian states are bulking up their militaries – but that doesn’t necessarily translate to an arms race.

ASEAN’s Hedging Strategy—The Diplomat Recent summits in Vientiane offered some insights into the regional bloc’s diplomatic strategy.

Asean summit provides platform for Laos’ revamped foreign policySea Globe Editorial The recent Asean Summit held in the Lao capital of Vientiane provided a perfect opportunity for the country to start carving out a more independent foreign policy

Thailand: The dangers of farsightedness—The Economist The junta lavishes attention on the economy’s future but neglects the poor of today

Abortion legal in some Zika cases, child health unit says—The Nation Abortion is a legal choice for Zika-infected women.

Related: All pregnant women to be tested in 16 Zika provinces –The Nation

Related: Thailand Confirms Two Cases of Zika-linked Microcephaly, First in region—The Irrawaddy

 Thailand: No respite from flooding—The Nation Capital’s chronic problems created by insufficient pumping and drainage.

Related: Rains and floods continue to wreak extensive havoc in several provinces in N, NE, E, and Central Plain—Thai PBS

Chao Phraya Dam discharge level reduced—The Nation Officials have lowered the amount of water being discharged from Chao Phraya Dam after upstream flooding decreased despite predictions of more rain across the country this week.

Pro-establishment Thai MPs plan military-backed party to keep junta chief as prime minister—South China Morning Post Pro-establishment lawmakers in Thailand said they plan to ensure junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha stays on as prime minister by fielding a proxy political party backed by the military in a general election planned for next year

Thais crack down as anti-migrant sentiment rises—DVB Thailand is cracking down on migrant workers from neighbouring countries, saying they are “stealing jobs from Thais”, amid fears that anti-immigrant sentiment is rising as Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy stagnates.

Thailand Cracks Down on Migrant Workers—The Irrawaddy

Cambodia opposition leader leaves headquarters for first time in five months—South China Morning Post Cambodia’s main opposition party on Wednesday welcomed a sign of cooling political tension after authorities refrained from arresting its leader, Kem Sokha, on his emergence from months of being holed up in party headquarters.

Cambodia Gives Garment Workers a Raise—RFA The Cambodian government agreed to raise the minimum wage for clothing and footwear workers by about 9 percent in a move that failed to satisfy either the garment workers’ unions or the manufacturers.

Related: Government sets minimum wage at $153 a month

ADB Loan for Enhanced Flood Risk Management In Banten, Maluku—ADB The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $109 million loan to support flood risk management for communities in the Banten and Maluku provinces of Indonesia to enhance preparation for future threats while ensuring infrastructure meets high standards of resilience.

ADB Helps Launch First-Ever Local Bank ATMs in Dili—ADB The Government of Timor-Leste and ADB officiated the launch of Banco Nacional de Comércio’s first ever automated teller machines.

Southeast Asia—The Islamic State’s New Front?CFR Over the past year, as the Islamic State (ISIS) has suffered multiple losses in Syria and Iraq, the group has clearly been looking to widen its impact, taking the fight to countries outside of the Middle East.

 Duterte Shakes Up Philippine Foreign Policy—CFR The Philippines’ controversial president, Rodrigo Duterte, has once again grabbed global headlines with his inflammatory statements.

 Hunger for Beef Gnaws at Indonesia’s Economic Nationalism—Wall Street Journal Indonesia’s penchant for protecting local producers is under pressure from its own expanding consumer class, amid complaints about perpetually high prices.

This week’s news digest was curated by Gabriella Neusner.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.29.16

EXSE FOCUS

Revealed: how senior Laos officials cut deals with animal traffickers—The Guardian Evidence obtained by the Guardian shows how treasury coffers swelled with 2% tax on trades worth up to $45m including tigers, rhinos and elephants.//Lao PDR is not the only Southeast Asian country that has been the target of criticism for its role in illegal wildlife trafficking this week. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is currently having its 17th annual conference of the parties, which is putting the spotlight on hubs for wildlife trafficking worldwide.

Cambodia Turns to China Amid Rice Woes—The Diplomat Senior official appeals to Beijing to quick

Related: Attempts to assist Cambodia’s ailing rice industry continue—Phnom Penh Post

China to help Cambodia in judicial reforms Thai PBS Cambodia signed a memorandum of understanding with China on Monday under which China will help the kingdom with judicial reforms and sharing expertise in overhauling judicial system// this is a really interesting development, considering that China’s strategy for engaging with its neighbors has traditionally centered around economics. This new MoU symbolizes a shift in Chinese foreign policy, as it overtly helps Cambodia to change one of its most important institutions of governance. Aside from being interesting, this story is also troubling, since as noted by an expert in the Phnom Penh Post article below, “China shouldn’t be considered a model for justice reform”

Related: China MoU to help ‘reform’ judiciary Phnom Penh Post

Sam Rainsy Considers Return to Cambodia—RFA There are signs that the long political stalemate in Cambodia may be coming to a close as opposition leader Sam Rainsy is considering a return to the country and Prime Minister Hun Sen appears to be softening his hard line against his adversaries

Related: Cambodia National Rescue Party to End Legislative Boycott–RFA

Regional NGOs meet in Myanmar to improve community involvement in infrastructure decisions—Mekong Eye This week, 50 representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across the Mekong region met in Myanmar to share successes and challenges in effectively involving local communities in environmental impact assessment (EIA) processes

Myanmar likely to join Asean Power Grid—The Nation Myanmar is likely to be the fifth Asean country to sign up for the Asean Power Grid formed by Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, energy ministers have said.

Lawmakers Push for Legal Protection for Burmese Migrant Workers—The Irrawaddy Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday discussed a proposal urging the government to enact legal protection against labor exploitation and abuse of Burmese migrant workers in foreign countries.//These are important efforts to address a pervasive and awful problem. However, any efforts to protect migrant workers will require strong collaboration from host countries, like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Related: Promises Unmet for Workers in Thai Shrimp Industry

Thailand, China agree on $5.2-billion rail project—Investvine Thailand and China agreed a price of 179 billion baht ($5.2 billion) for the 250-kilometer-long first phase of a high-speed railway linking Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard with its many industries and Bangkok to Nong Khai at the Lao border

Related: Lao and Thai Transportation Officials to Discuss Railway Project—RFA

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Prospect of Philippine Thaw Slows China’s Plans in South China Sea—New York Times For Beijing, befriending the Philippines’ new president, Rodrigo Duterte, trumps building a military base 150 miles from the country’s coast.

South China Sea fishing rights at top of Philippine president’s agenda in Beijing—South China Morning Post Philippine President Rodrigo ­Duterte is expected to discuss ­crisis management and fishing rights in the disputed South China Sea when he visits Beijing next month

For Taiwan, Google Images of Disputed Island Are Too Clear—New York Times Taiwan made an unusual request to blur pictures of what appear to be new military installations on an island in the South China Sea claimed by four countries.

Duterte Calls for End to US-Philippine Military Exercises, Part of Tilt Toward China—The Diplomat Duterte once again rolls back the U.S. alliance, even while eagerly expressing hopes for ties with China.

Related: Duterte sparks confusion with vow to scrap future US-Philippines war games, citing China’s opposition—South China Morning Post

Philippines’ Duterte seeks China’s help in war on drugs—South China Morning Post Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that he wants China to control its citizens’ involvement in the illegal drug trade in his country.

South China Sea: How to Prevent China From Changing the Status Quo—The Diplomat “China appears to be testing opportunities on its maritime borders – where is the weak spot it can exploit?”

What to Make of China in the South Pacific?—The Diplomat Long motivated by a recognition war with Taiwan, China’s latest diplomacy in the region takes on a strategic tone.

After Obama, What’s Next for ASEAN Centrality?—The Diplomat Rather than relying on attention from the U.S., ASEAN members should work to maintain the bloc’s relevance.

Related: ASEAN’s Hedging Strategy—The Diplomat

New Dengue Vaccine Potential Game Changer for Asia—The Diplomat

A recent WHO recommendation on vaccination signals a potential tipping point in the global fight against dengue.

ASEAN a New Opportunity for the Eurasian Economic Union—The Diplomat A free trade pact between the EEU and Vietnam could be just the beginning of a productive economic relationship.

Indonesia Wants UN Security Council Seat—The Diplomat Vice president officially announces Jakarta’s bid for a non-permanent seat in the body.

Southeast Asian representatives take to the global stage at UN General Assembly meeting—Southeast Asia Globe Representatives from across Southeast Asia used the 71st meeting of the UN General Assembly to defend and extol their domestic policies to the international community

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

SNLD Urges Govt Transparency on Salween Dam Projects—The Irrawaddy The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) has urged the government to be transparent and to ensure accountability and responsibility regarding large hydropower dam projects proposed on the Salween River in eastern Burma

Illegal Log Trade Continues on Salween River—The Irrawaddy The 25 tons of teak logs recently seized on the Salween River in Karen State show that the illegal trade persists despite a nationwide logging ban.

Vietnamese fishermen sue Taiwanese steel firm after toxic chemical spill kills sea fish—South China Morning Post Hundreds of Vietnamese fishermen have filed claims seeking compensation from a Taiwanese steel company that admitted its toxic chemicals caused the death of many fish

Paris climate goals will cost Asia US$300B a year, but rewards are huge, says ADB—South China Morning Post Developing Asia will mean forking out US$300 billion per year until 2050 if governments intend to uphold their 2015 Paris climate summit goals

Asia Can Reap Solid Returns From Low-Carbon Transition – ADB

Rare Yangtze sturgeons at risk from mass fish escape—ChinaDialogue In July, water discharged by a hydropower station on the Qing River surged downstream, taking with it almost 10,000 tonnes of sturgeon. The surge blew them out of fish farm cages, and down the Qing, a tributary river, into the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze.

Report: China’s native bees at risk—GoKunming China has so far avoided the massive losses of bees seen in the West, but the country’s diverse range of native bees face their own set of growing threats.//According to the study’s author “farmers in one county in Sichuan are now forced to pollinate their fruit crops by hand because natural pollinators have been wiped out.” This is a fascinating, but alarming article. A decline in China’s important pollinator populations would have devastating impacts on global food security. 

Vietnam needs solar energy policies—Mekong Eye A shortage of policies on power tariffs for renewable energy, particularly solar electricity, has prevented the sector from attracting investors

Sambo Hydro Dam Info Urged—Mekong Eye Youth groups and environmental activists have requested the government release the latest documents concerning the proposed Sambo hydroelectric dam in Kratie province, amid lingering concerns of the possible environmental damage the dam may cause.

Related: Activists call for info on dam—Phnom Penh Post

EU provides satellite training for Forestry Administration—Phnom Penh Post

The European Union has begun training Cambodia’s Forestry Administration to use satellite imagery to crack down on deforestation.

Sustainable energy options for Cambodia discussed—Phnom Penh Post Representatives from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Ministry of Environment and a handful of climate advocates met in Phnom Penh yesterday to brainstorm ways the country can transition to a “sustainable energy future”

 

CHINA

Modern Life Presents Nomads of China’s Steppe With a ‘Tragic Choice’—New York Times The Yugurs are struggling to maintain the language and culture that distinguish them as a people, the products of centuries of swirling Asian history.

 3 Labor Activists in China Get Suspended Prison Terms—New York Times The organizers’ activities had long been tolerated, but the prosecution and sentences suggested a tougher government line now that growth is slowing.

 On the Verge of Extinction, a Chinese Fishing Village Resists—New York Times Officials, who restricted fishing because of a devastated supply, have tried to promote tourism as an alternative. But villagers say tourists are demanding what the sea cannot give.

A glowing future—The Economist China wants its nuclear industry to grow dauntingly fast

Typhoon Megi: dozens missing after landslides hit two Chinese villages—The Guardian Heavy typhoon rains caused the landslides to crash into Sucun and Baofeng village in Zheijiang province, destroying scores of buildings

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thai junta allows ‘culture of torture’ to flourish: Amnesty—DVB International human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Thailand‘s military government of allowing a “culture of torture” to flourish since the army seized power in a 2014 coup.

Related: Briefing on Claims of Thai Government Torture Is Canceled—New York Times

Related: Amnesty calls off launch of Thai torture report after police warning—The Guardian

Thailand investigates suspected cases of Zika-linked microcephaly—The Guardian Country researching link to mosquito-borne disease after three children and an unborn baby affected by birth defect

Promenade will change the river’s flow and eco-system—The Nation If the riverside promenade goes ahead, it will have an inevitable impact on the waterway and the Chao Phraya ecosystem

Related: Cabinet set to consider Bt35-bn Chao Phraya promenade project—The Nation

Governors ordered to set up flood prevention and assistance centres—The Nation The Interior Ministry yesterday ordered governors of provinces nationwide except in the South to set up flood prevention and alleviation centres to deal with ongoing flooding in many provinces.

Flooding in parts of Chao Phraya basin—The Nation There was flooding in several downstream provinces yesterday after a decision to release water from the Chao Phraya Dam in Chai Nat province was exacerbated by heavy downpours and runoff.

Laos: Reform or Revolution—The Diplomat What is the likelihood that political change will come to Laos?

How Singapore is becoming a world leader in fintech—Southeast Asia Globe With the rise of financial technology, or fintech, changing the way the world does business, Singapore is positioning itself as a major industry player

Burma Army continues advance on KIA positionsDVB Government forces in northern Burma are continuing to close in on Kachin Independence Army (KIA) positions, according to sources from the ethnic armed group.

KNLA: Current Military Movement in Karen State Threatens Terms of NCA—The Irrawaddy Military activity and tension at the site of the Hat Gyi dam in Karen State threatens a breakdown of Burma’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) as concerns grow over potential clashes between the Burma Army and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

Kachin Locals Oppose Dam in Militia-Controlled Area—The Irrawaddy Locals have sent an open letter to Burma’s President opposing the planned hydropower project to be built over the May Kha River and Ngaw Chan Kha Creek in Kachin State’s Chipwi and Tsawlaw townships.

Podcast: Myanmar’s “Democratic” Reform—CFR

Investment Law Approved in Lower House—The Irrawaddy Burma’s Lower House of Parliament passed the long-awaited Myanmar Investment Law on Wednesday, and it now moves to the Upper House before the parliamentary session closes in early October.

Myanmar’s Home Affairs Ministry Reverses Course on Devolution of Power—RFA Myanmar’s military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday cancelled plans to give partial control of five of its departments to regional and state chief ministers, following the leaking of an office memo about the change on social media.

500 homes flooded after sluice gates ordered open in Magwe—DVB Nearly 500 homes in the Magwe Division town of Taungdwingyi have been inundated by flash floods for the fourth time, when operators of a nearby reservoir opened its sluice gates on Thursday to avoid overflow following a period of severe rains.

 

Philippines defends deadly drug war at UN, claims nation’s actions grabbed headlines for ‘wrong reasons’—South China Morning Post Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay has told the United Nations his country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, had an “unprecedented” mandate and the world should not interfere in his crackdown on crime.

A rise in anti-Chinese rhetoric—New Mandala Politics, economics and religion are to blame for a growing trend in Indonesia and Malaysia

This week’s news digest was curated by Gabriella Neusner.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.22.16

EXSE FOCUS

China Faces Tougher Laws in Myanmar—The Diplomat In the wake of the controversial Myitsone dam, Aung San Suu Kyi is demanding more from investors in high risk projects.

ASEAN Steps Up Zika Battle in Special Meeting—The Diplomat Health ministers vow to take action to stem the virus//ASEAN has been gradually expanding its cooperation on non-traditional security threats, including regional health issues. If Zika continues to pose a major threat to the region, it could be the third major health crisis that ASEAN confronts. The groundwork for ASEAN cooperation on health issues was laid in 2003 with the SARS epidemic and in 2007 with the H1N1 ‘bird flu’ virus, but public health issues still constitute a relatively new and underdeveloped area of cooperation for ASEAN. This most recent joint statement on Zika is a promising development and will hopefully be the beginning of an effective regional approach to addressing the threats posed by the Zika virus.

The Mekong Part II: How Dams May Damage Children’s Health—RFA

 China-Thailand Rail Project Back on Track With Cost Agreement—The Diplomat The two sides agree on the cost of the first phase of a key project in Beijing’s infrastructure ambitions in Southeast Asia.

Related: Thai-Chinese meeting to discuss high-speed train project—The Nation

Vietnam and China: A Delicate Balancing Act—The Diplomat Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s first visit to China hints at Hanoi’s constraints in approaching its giant neighbor.//

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Japan building Mekong supply chain—Phnom Penh Post Greater connectivity between Japan and Cambodia is tightening economic links between the two countries while catalysing Japan’s ambitions to develop a chain of industrial complexes that cut a tract through the Lower Mekong region.

Vietnam to delay TPP ratification: Lawmaker—Channel News Asia Vietnam will delay ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) until after the US elections, a lawmaker said on Wednesday (Sep 21), in the latest blow to the massive trade pact.// Vietnam, who arguably stands to benefit most from the agreement, is questioning President Obama’s ability to get the agreement passed by the end of his term. The US’s failure to ratify the TPP would have disastrous political consequences for the US in Asia. If the US were unable to follow through on its commitment to the TPP, the next US president, be it Trump or Clinton, would find it difficult to get leaders in Asia to work with them again as partners.

USAID to help finance Burma’s ‘missing middle’—DVB A new microfinance programme backed by the US government’s foreign aid agency USAID aims to promote the growth of medium-sized businesses in Burma and fill the “missing middle” in the country’s economy.

Obama’s Move to End Myanmar Sanctions Promises a Lift for Its Economy—New York Times The decision could fuel the growth of smaller businesses in the Southeast Asian country, even as individuals and companies currently blacklisted also prosper.

Related: Microsoft unveils country office in Rangoon—DVB

Related: In Myanmar, Mixed Reactions to The Lifting of U.S. Sanctions—RFA

Japan Set to Intensify South China Sea Involvement—The Diplomat Despite Chinese warnings, Japan isn’t about to leave the South China Sea.

Philippines to Deepen China Talks Despite South China Sea Differences—The Diplomat The foreign secretary says Manila will move forward with official talks with Beijing.

The Danger of Letting China Set the Pace in the South China Sea—The Diplomat ASEAN-China Code of Conduct will languish as long as China sets the pace in the South China Sea.

US-Indonesia Economic Ties At $90 Billion: Report—The Diplomat A new report argues that the relationship is more valuable than often appreciated and holds great promise

GE to Open Office in Laos, Help Build Skills and Regional Connectivity—US Embassy in Laos// An important outcome of President Obama’s historic visit to Laos. Will we continue to see US businesses make inroads into Laos? Currently China is the largest investor in Laos.

The Trouble With India’s Projects in Myanmar—The Diplomat India has great ambitions for infrastructure construction in Myanmar, but falls short in implementation.

A look at Russia’s own ‘pivot to Asia’—Southeast Asia Globe Barack Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ has been snatching all the headlines, but Russia embarked on a pivot of its own well before the US

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

The tragedy of communal land in Indonesia—New Mandala New research reports low land-use efficiency in communally owned land in eastern Indonesia. But as Stein Kristiansen and Linda Sulistiawati find, it is underuse rather than overexploitation of common–pool resources on agricultural, pastoral and forest land that is the problem.

Indonesia forest fires well-managed, fewer hotspots this year: Minister—Channel News Asia  Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has said that the forest fires this year have been well-managed as seen by the reduction of hotspots of up to 88 per cent as compared to 2015

Blazes in Southeast Asia May Have Led to Deaths of Over 100,000, Study Says—New York Times The vast number of cases were in Indonesia, where the government claimed last year that only 19 people died.//To many Indonesian leaders, the results of this study were particularly unwelcome. The study turns attention towards the catastrophic damage caused by last year’s fires and away from the dramatic reduction in forest fires this year compared to in 2015.

Related: How Deadly Is ASEAN’s Killer Haze?—The Diplomat

Related: Nothing to see here: Southeast Asia dismiss haze death study—South China Morning Post

Regime’s absolute power is a danger to environment: experts—Mekong Eye Thailand faces many environmental issues as major development plans are being pushed ahead across the country, organic laws about the environment and community rights remain to be drafted and the forest reclamation campaign continues to cause conflicts, experts said on Wednesday.

Experts warn of water scarcity—The Nation Low levels at dams could lead to problems if resources not carefully managed

North floods ease but drought threat looms—The Nation Floodwaters have receded in the North, but the threat of drought looms in many other areas across the country with 12 dams at less than 30 per cent capacity.

Cambodian Banks Commit to Developing Sustainable Financing Principles—Mekong Eye The Association of Banks in Cambodia (ABC) took a first major step towards sustainable lending practices this week by committing to develop sustainable finance principles

Related: What’s the Deal with “Sustainable Banking”?—Mekong Eye

 Cambodia’s Ruling Elite One Step Closer to International Court—The Diplomat Court rules that company bosses and complicit politicians can be tried for land grabbing and environmental destruction.

How Politics Is Killing Cambodia’s Forests—The Diplomat Political and economic calculations in Cambodia, China, and Vietnam are contributing to widespread illegal logging

Three New Protected Areas Listed –The Khmer Times The government on Tuesday created three more protected areas covering nearly 28,000 hectares to be under Environment Ministry control.

Fishing Communities Struggle as Rivers Ebb –VOA Cambodia According to a report by the Global Nature Fund, the Tonle Sap is considered one of world’s the most threatened rivers.

Two New Power Plants Planned –The Khmer Times Two new power plants are being planned for Cambodia, a $167 million garbage-fueled plant for Phnom Penh, and an $89 million solar plant for Siem Reap province

Burma: The Next Great Land Tenure Reform Story?—The Irrawaddy Since World War II, there have been five great Asian development success stories founded upon land tenure reforms that allocated land ownership, or equivalent long-term land rights, into the hands of small farmers. Will Burma be the sixth?

Lawmaker Calls For Action Against Illegal Logging in Kachin State—The Irrawaddy A lawmaker from Kachin State urged the Upper House to look into illegal logging carried out by local militia groups in Kachin State’s Kawnglangphu Township on the Sino-Burma border.

Water Conflicts and the Fate of Mekong Delta—Mekong Eye Water conflict of Mekong River is getting increasingly tense and the fate of Mekong Delta is really being threatened by drought and salinity intrusion.

Dam committee meets Myitsone residents—Mekong Eye Kachin residents have expressed their refusal to accept the Myitsone dam project when the Investigation Commission for Hydropower Projects on the Ayeyawady River visited Myitsone.

 

CHINA

Thousands displaced, rail service halted by Yunnan mudslides—GoKunming Relentless rains sweeping across central Yunnan over the past week have triggered multiple landslides in Yunnan’s Chuxiong Prefecture

In a Parched Corner of Xinjiang, Ancient Water Tunnels Are Running Dry—New York Times The karez channels that bring water from the mountains to the farmers of Turpan are under threat, a victim of global warming, oil drillers and industrial-scale agriculture.

Dozens dead and missing after typhoon lashes eastern China—The Guardian Typhoon Meranti has damaged more than 18,300 houses and caused direct economic losses of more than 16.9bn yuan ($2.5bn)

China’s Wukan Democracy Experiment Comes to a Violent End—The Diplomat Chinese authorities have begun a harsh crackdown on dissent in the village.

The plateau, unpacified—The Economist Tibetans’ culture is changing, by their own will as well as by force

Thousands Protest Planned Copper Smelting Plant in China’s Heilongjiang—RFA

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Southeast Asia Replaces Africa as the World’s Hotbed of Piracy—New York Times Militants from Abu Sayyaf and other criminal groups have stepped up kidnappings and thefts in the seas around Indonesia and the Philippines.

Vietnam Jails an Activist as Hanoi Grabs More Land—RFA A court in Hanoi sentenced a land rights activist to nearly two years in prison on Tuesday for her role in protesting government-sanctioned evictions that are being used to clear the way for commercial real estate developments in Vietnam.

Singapore’s Presidential Review: Change You Should Believe in?—The Diplomat Proposed changes to the elected presidency have been met with a variety of responses.

Related: Singapore Reviews Elected Presidency—The Diplomat

Malaysia: Can a leopard change its spots? The Economist From a cavernous office in a posh part of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, Mahathir Mohamad is sowing dissent.

Jakarta’s suspended giant sea wall project is to resume—Thai PBS Jakarta is to revive the ambitious reclamation plan to build a 24-km sea wall of 17 artificial islets which was suspended in April after it was discovered that the project may block off sea water needed to cool the Muara Karang power plan

Where Next for Cambodian Politics?—CFR

Cambodia National Rescue Party Plans to End National Assembly Boycott—RFA Opposition lawmakers are offering Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen an olive branch as the Cambodia National Rescue Party plans to end its four-month-long parliamentary boycott.

Related: CNRP to end boycott, return to National Assembly—Phnom Penh Post

Cambodian Opposition: Army Soldiers Deployed to Manipulate Vote—RFA In a country dogged by accusations of voter fraud, opposition party officials tell RFA’s Khmer Service that Cambodian military personnel are being transferred into districts to register to vote where they are not residents.

Homes, farmland swamped by floods—The Nation As heavy rains brought by tropical storm “Rai” persisted over the upper part of Thailand yesterday, many homes and tracts of farmland in downstream provinces were flooded by runoff.

Related: Officials in downstream provinces warned to prepare for runoff from North—The Nation

Thailand finds labour rights activist guilty—Phnom Penh Post British labour activist Andy Hall, who has long highlighted abuse of workers in Thailand, often Cambodian migrants, was found guilty by a Bangkok court yesterday of defamation and breaching cyber crime laws in relation to a 2013 report he authored.

Thailand Deports Thousands of Cambodians and Vietnamese in Crackdown on Illegal Immigration—RFA Thai authorities are making good on their promise to crack down on illegal immigrants as each day they are sending thousands of migrant workers back to Cambodia and Vietnam

What is Duterte’s Strategy Toward the Abu Sayyaf?—CFR

Assessing Duterte’s Diplomacy—CFR

Related: Philippine Leader Duterte’s Policy Shifts Confound U.S. Allies Wall Street Journal

Related: Stocks, peso drop as foreign investors start worrying about Duterte’s course—Investvine

 This Philippine senator is a vocal critic of Duterte’s drug war – and she’s been ousted from the killing inquiry she started—South China Morning Post The leading critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drug crime has been ousted as head of a Senate investigation into the campaign, which has cost thousands of lives.

New Investment Law Expected to be Approved SoonThe Irrawaddy The new Myanmar Investment Law has been submitted to Parliament and is expected to be approved by October, following discussion by lawmakers and before the current parliamentary session ends.

Suu Kyi makes first UN speech, appeals for understanding as Myanmar wrestles with sectarian issues—South China Morning Post Aung San Suu Kyi made her first speech Wednesday at the UN General Assembly since forming a democratically elected government.

Related Suu Kyi defends stance on Rohingya in UN address—DVB

Thousands of Red Shan march for self-rule—DVB Thousands of ethnic Tai Leng, also known as Red Shan, marched the streets of Homalin in Sagaing Division on Saturday demanding a self-administered Tai Leng state.

A taxing problem—New Mandala ‘Duty’ isn’t enough to boost Myanmar’s tax revenue, writes Gerard McCarthy. Instead the government must enlist non-state actors, and show the benefits of giving.

Demolition of Religious Buildings in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Set to Start—RFA Rakhine state government officials are moving to demolish more than 3,000 allegedly illegal buildings, including a dozen mosques and more than 30 other religious buildings, in the Maungdaw District

This week’s news digest was curated by Gabriella Neusner.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.16.16

EXSE FOCUS

Obama Pledges to Lift All Sanctions Against Myanmar—New York Times President Obama, who met on Wednesday with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, sought to reward the country for its efforts to establish a more democratic government.//while in the big picture, the US believes the benefits outweigh the costs to keeping the sanctions regime in place, there are many who say it’s too soon to lift all sanctions. With this plan, US firms could do business with some of the worst of the worst firms and individuals in Myanmar and further empower military. If the investment flowing to these bad guys is robust, this could derail both the peace process and democratic transition – or at least make things much more difficult than expected for Daw Suu who has put perhaps too much trust in the USG.

Related: US Lifts Sanctions, Retains Limitations on Military-The Irrawaddy

Related: Ethnic Civil Society Groups Want US Sanctions on Burma’s Military to ContinueIrrawaddy

Related: Without Sanctions, Burmese Govt Must Hold Cronies Accountable—The Irrawaddy

Chinese, Russian Navies to Hold 8 Days of Naval Exercises in the South China Sea—The Diplomat Beijing and Moscow will hold the first-ever South China Sea iteration of their Joint Sea exercises

China’s New Silk Road Could Expand Asia’s Deserts—The Diplomat Desertification, soil degradation, and drought are serious issues in most of the countries along the Belt and Road.

Mega project to take 4 billion m3 of water from Mekong River—Mekong Eye On the Loei River, a tributary of the Mekong River, an “unreal” project of water diversion by Thailand is about to commence, which would cause severe conflicts on water usage on the Mekong.

Ethnic Activists Voice Alarm Over Salween Dams—Mekong Eye Ethnic Shan, Mon and Karenni environmental activists have voiced strong concern over alleged government plans to push ahead with hydropower dams on the Salween River, which they believe would destroy the livelihoods of ethnic communities.

Related: Report Details Harm Salween River Dams Could Cause—Mekong Eye

            Salween dam assessment continues, despite opposition—DVB

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Cambodia, China Ink New Economic Pact—The Diplomat Agreement seen as boost for the bilateral economic relationship.

Leaving Asia, Obama Predicts U.S. Tilt Toward Region Will Be Lasting—New York Times The president defended the success of the meetings on his tour and dismissed the distractions that caught the news media’s attention as overblown.

Related: Pressing Asia Agenda, Obama Treads Lightly on Human Rights—New York Times

U.S. Still Concerned Over Disappearance of Lao Rural Development Expert—Radio Free Asia While the U.S. appears to have taken no overt steps to prod the Lao government over the disappearance of U.S.-educated rural development expert Sombath Somphone during President Barack Obama’s visit to the country, his wife received assurances that his abduction still has Washington’s attention.//Crickets.

US Training of Burma’s Military Could Help Democratization: David Steinberg—The Irrawaddy The Irrawaddy speaks with veteran Burma scholar David Steinberg .

For Myanmar’s Leader, More Power, but More Expectations, Too—New York Times As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi nears her first trip to the U.S. as leader of Myanmar, officials are discussing whether to lift sanctions against the country.

Related: Obama Meets With Myanmar’s Leader(Video)—New York Times

            Related: Myanmar’s Foreign Policy Rebalance—The Diplomat

US-China Competition in ASEAN on the South China Sea: Who Won This Round?—The Diplomat A closer look at how the two powers did in the recent round of regional summitry in Laos.

Related: The Surprising New Challenge for the US in the South China Sea—The Diplomat

Related: Malcolm Turnbull says there is ‘cautious optimism’ about deal on South China Sea—The Guardian

Is the Philippines Still a US Ally?—The Diplomat How long can the U.S.-Philippines alliance remain “rock solid” in the face of Duterte’s fiery rhetoric?//President Duterte is responsible for some of the most puzzling stories of the week. While Duterte has called for the withdrawal of US military advisers in the Philippines and has made a number of anti-American statements, it is unclear how his most recent statements will affect the currently strong working relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines. It is, however, a warning of some of the challenges that can arise when a nation elects a leader with an impulsive personality, loose lips, and a tendency to insult his allies. Be aware, American voters.

Related: Will Duterte’s Loose Lips Sink the US-Philippines Alliance?—The Diplomat

            Duterte seeks arms from China, ends joint patrols with U.S.—Thanh Nien Daily Philippine leader says figher jets like F-16s of no use to him

 Philippines to Get 2 US Military Aircraft—The Diplomat C-23 Sherpa planes expected in December in a boost for the country’s capabilities.

Why India and Vietnam Need Each Other—The Diplomat Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Vietnam forged new inroads in an important Asian bilateral.

Related: Not So Lonely at the Top: Vietnam’s Next Step in Power Balancing—The Diplomat

China, Singapore to Hold Naval Exercise—The Diplomat The two countries will conduct their second-ever round of bilateral drills.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Environment Ministry plants mangroves in coastal provinces—Phnom Penh Post Ministry of Environment officials spent Saturday planting mangrove trees in a bid to boost the nation’s dwindling population of the vital shrubs.

The Trouble With Chinese Mega Projects—The Diplomat Breakneck speed and rampant corruption threaten Chinese engineering projects, from the flashy to the mundane.

China’s sinking coal mining towns and villages – in pictures—The Guardian Thousands of residents in China’s Shanxi province have been evacuated as villages next to mines have started sinking, after decades of reckless coal mining

China’s Dam Problem With Myanmar—Project Syndicate Myanmar’s suspension of the $3.6-billion Myitsone Dam project in 2011 was a slap in the face to China

Thailand plans to dust off Hatgyi Dam; EGATi awaits Myanmar Govt to negotiate with ethnic group—Mekong Eye Thailand plans to dust off Hatgyi Dam in Myanmar and divert “surplus” water to Bhumipol Dam to alleviate drought.

Why silt is so important for the Mekong—The Third Pole The Mekong river carries massive loads of sediment and nutrients from upstream to downstream and across national borders, replenishing and enriching the land as it goes.//This piece highlights a troubling but often overlooked aspect of Mekong River resource use—sand mining. While concerns have been raised about the impacts of hydropower development on sediment flow in the Mekong River, these environmental impacts will be greatly exacerbated by the continued extraction of sediment from the river for use in cement production. A system to monitor the amount of sediment being mined from the river must be developed in order for this critical resource to be managed more effectively.

As Mekong Changes Course, Development Trumps ConservationMekong Eye

Dam the Mekong, Thailand Buys More Hydroelectricity from Laos—Mekong Eye A power purchasing agreement was signed on Tuesday, during Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth chan-Ocha’s visit to the Prime Minister of Laos Thongloun Sisoulith.

Thailand: Communities deeply divided over southern power plant plansThe Nation Pink and green flags…represent a clear division over plans for a major coal-fired power plant on their doorstep.

Hydropower dam tunnel collapses in central Vietnam flash floods, many missing—Thanh Nien Daily

We breathe easier this September Clearer skies due to Indonesia’s action—The Star It has been a sunny September with mostly clear skies so far, unlike the hazy days during the same period last year. //Though the wetter weather during Indonesia’s “burning season” helped to control haze pollution, there are signs that the Indonesian government is taking real steps to curb forest fires and the resulting haze. This reflects the success of pressure applied by neighboring states in previous years and President Joko Widodo’s efforts to preserve Indonesia’s reputation and leadership role within ASEAN.  Will the continued success of ASEAN’s efforts to stop transboundary haze encourage further ASEAN involvement in transboundary environmental issues?

Burning forests is forbidden, rules Indonesian Islamic council– Southeast Asia Globe Indonesia’s top Islamic clerical body has issued a religious decree denouncing the burning of forests, a significant factor in the haze problem that plagues neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia every year

Melting glaciers may impact hydropower plans—China Dialogue Glaciers are retreating due to climate change. What does that mean for water flow in the streams and rivers downhill.

How to build environmental protection into ‘New Silk Road’—China Dialogue China’s reputation as a major overseas investor and the credibility of its vast “One Belt One Road” infrastructure plan will suffer unless Chinese firms follow environmental policies.

Southern Vietnam faces power starvation—Mekong Eye Southern Vietnam… may face more power shortages from 2017.

German companies eye young solar energy market in Vietnam—Mekong Eye Representatives of six German companies on Monday began their business trip in Vietnam to explore the potential of the local solar photovoltaic market.

CHINA 

An Unlikely Crime in One-Party China: Election Fraud–New York Times Forty-five lawmakers, all from Liaoning Province, have been expelled from the National People’s Congress in a vote-buying scandal, the state news media said.

Riot Breaks Out in Chinese Village—New York Times A riot broke out in Wukan, in southern China, on Tuesday. Footage shows police in riot gear using tear gas against dozens of people protesting over earlier raids that led to the arrests of local activists.

The Meaning of the People’s Liberation Army Reforms—The Diplomat China goes for stronger joint operations capabilities and political stability.

Why China Should be Concerned About ZikaCFR

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand and Malaysia plan wall along border to combat trafficking—Southeast Asia Globe  A meeting today between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was expected to focus on security and investment, including discussion of a proposed wall that would stem trafficking between the two countries

Thailand, Malaysia Mull New High-Speed Rail LinkThe Diplomat Both sides focus on advancing prosperity amid lingering border woes.

Related: Malaysia and Thailand to study high-speed link—The Nation

Behind the rifts in modern Malaysia—New Mandala A rise in nativism, eroding civic values, and a failing democracy are exacerbating already dangerous divisions.

Married Off by the Khmer Rouge, and ‘Nobody Could Help Me’—New York Times Cambodians have testified about abuse and heartache after being paired with strangers, as a tribunal considers allegations of crimes against humanity under the 1970s regime

Related: Forced marriage a crime against both sexes: expert—Phnom Penh Post

Will Cambodia’s Rulers Be Dragged to Court?—The Diplomat The murder of a government critic may be added to the regime’s growing list of transgressions.

Cambodian opposition leader sentenced to five months in prison—The Guardian Lawyer for Kem Sokha, who was not in court, says he will appeal, as opponents of Hun Sen continue to challenge his regime

Related: Cambodian parties square off following conviction of Kem Sokha—Southeast Asia Globe

Countries Condemn ‘Escalation of Political Tensions’ in Cambodia—Radio Free Asia As Prime Minister Hun Sen’s elite military bodyguard unit continues to harass the opposition, a group of 36 countries approved a statement criticizing the “current escalation of political tensions” in the country.

Can Laos Create a Startup Economy?—The Diplomat Alongside the ASEAN summitry, a different group descended on Laos: angel investors.

Thailand’s Deepening Fractures—The Diplomat Thailand faces two legitimacy crises at its peripheries — and the junta is only making them worse.

Thailand: Nationwide effort to combat Zika virus steps up a levelThe Nation The Chief of the Department of Disease Control (DDC) has instructed all 12 Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) around the country to scale up their response from Level 1 to Level 2 to contain the Zika virus outbreak.

Related: Thai authorities downplay Zika risk, worried by tourism impactThe Nation

Great Promise, but Still Huge Obstacles to Myanmar Peace—CFR Over the past week, Myanmar has held its eagerly awaited national peace conference in Naypyidaw.

Related: Annan stresses need for international approach to Arakan tensions—DVB

A long roadThe Economist Myanmar’s new government sets about making peace with its many ethnic minorities

Myanmar’s Rohingya need tomorrow’s fairer world today—New Mandala Myanmar’s appointment of a Kofi Annan-chaired commission to look at Rakhine state is a positive step for the country’s Rohingya Muslims, but cannot be allowed lead to another year of waiting for action. 

Advocacy Group to Govt: Join UN Convention Against Torture—The Irrawaddy An advocacy group for Burmese political prisoners urged State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to join the United Nations’ Convention against Torture (CAT) to help eradicate the practice in Burma.

Leaders Meet to Resolve Shan State Conflict—The Irawaddy A half-day meeting in Chiang Mai attended by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta’ang National Party (TNP) in a bid to resolve an almost year-long conflict…has yielded positive results.

More Than 3,000 Villagers Flee Escalating Conflict in Karen StateThe Irrawaddy More than 3,000 villagers in Karen State have fled escalating conflict between a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and a joint force of the Burma Army and its allied Border Guard Force (BGF)

Related: Burmese govt launches aid effort for IDPs in Karen State—DVB

 

KNU, NMSP troops clash in Tenasserim—DVB The Karen National Union (KNU) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) clashed in Tenasserim’s Yebyu Township on Thursday in the first clash between the two major ethnic armed groups since they agreed to cease hostilities 28 years ago.

Related: Mon and Karen Forces Clash in Dawei District—The Irrawaddy

 Nationalists Clash with Locals, Reporters at Rally in Rangoon—The Irrawaddy A protest in Rangoon’s Bahan Township against the Arakan State Advisory Commission saw confrontations between firebrand nationalists and frustrated locals on Sunday.

Related: Buddhist nationalists clash with Rangoon residents—DVB

Burma, Thailand still committed to Dawei project—DVB Multimedia Group Thai officials and their Burmese counterparts remain committed to the long-awaited Dawei megaproject, with the Myanmar-Thailand Joint High-Level Committee (JHC) and the Joint Coordinating Committee (JCC) to be set up soon to foster development.

ADB, Myanmar Sign Agreements to Improve Urban Services in Mandalay—ADB ADB and the Government of Myanmar signed agreements for a $60 million loan and $4 million grant to provide Mandalay—the country’s second largest city—with a sustainable, modern wastewater and drainage management system.

Prayut, Najib to work |on meaningful peace process in the South—The Nation Forging a meaningful peace process in the predominantly Muslim deep South was a key agenda item during a meeting between visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and PM Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday.

Indonesia resumes construction of sea wall to protect Jakarta—Investvine In what could be a role model for Bangkok, the Indonesian government decided to resume with the planned construction of a sea wall plus artificial islands in Jakarta Bay to prevent the capital from sinking below sea level

Indonesia inspired by Duterte’s bloody anti-drug war—Investvine Indonesia’s anti-drugs chief is supporting to implement a bloody crackdown on drug traffickers in his country similar to the war on crime in the Philippines.

Related: Indonesian official calls for Philippines-style ‘war on drugs’—Southeast Asia Globe

The Changing Face of ASEAN—The Diplomat Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam offer an unlikely breath of fresh air.

This week’s news digest was curated by Gabriella Neusner.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.1.16

LEADERS

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi faces test at ethnic peace conference – The Nation Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi faces what could be the toughest test of her leadership yet when she opens a major ethnic peace conference Wednesday aimed at ending wars that have blighted the country since its independence.

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi kicks off peace conference with appeal for unity – Reuters Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi launched a major push to end decades of fighting between the military and myriad rebel groups with an appeal on Wednesday to the country’s ethnic minorities to overcome their differences to achieve peace.

As Obama heads to Laos, signs of a tilt away from China – Reuters The secretive communist government of Laos, a country with a population of less than 7 million, rarely causes a ripple on the diplomatic circuit. And yet its sleepy capital will spring to life next week when global leaders arrive for an Asian summit.

Asean urged to look beyond consensus in decision making – Bangkok Post Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang suggested Tuesday that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations adjust its long-held practice of applying the principle of consensus in the 10-member bloc’s decision making so as to be able to deal better with contentious regional issues. /// An interesting development in the realm of ASEAN relations. Consensus decision making has long been a pillar of ASEAN relations, and if a Head of State is suggesting changes, then that must mean there are some frustrations. This likely comes from issues such as the South China Sea where Cambodia has consistently blocked formal language criticizing China. Though other issues such as Indonesian haze and dam building along the Mekong are also contentious and could benefit from a new agreement on decision making within ASEAN.  It will be interesting to watch and see if any countries jump on board, or if Tran Dai Quang’s comments are ignored.

Related: Asean solidarity essential to a peaceful, prosperous Asia Pacific: Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang – The Straits Times – It is in the interest of the entire region for all Asean member states to work towards a strong and coherent Asean, said Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.

Laos starts construction on Don Sahong Power Project – VietnamNet Bridge KPL News has reported that the commencement ceremony of the construction of Don Sahong hydropower plant took place on August 16 in Champasak in the south of Laos.//the construction actually began in January. It took a while for the ceremony to catch up with the construction.

One of the world’s biggest fisheries is on the verge of collapse – National Geographic Years ago Christopher Tubo caught a 660-pound blue marlin in the South China Sea. The fishing was good there, he says. Tuna fishermen would come home from a trip with dozens of the high-value fish as well as a good haul of other species.

How Aung San Suu Kyi is holding China to ransom – ASEAN Today When China’s foreign minister became the first foreign dignitary to visit Myanmar after Aung San Suu Kyi was elected, the $3.6 billion Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam project did not sit high on the agenda. Four months later, when Suu Kyi made her first visit outside Southeast Asia to China, it was the hot button in the two countries’ discussion.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Vietnam says all will lose in an South China Sea war – The Nation Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang warned on Tuesday there would be no winners in any armed conflict sparked by territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Philippines, China should abide by South China Sea ruling, says John Kerry – The Asian Correspondent – John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, has called for China and the Philippines to accept the Hague tribunal’s ruling on the much-disputed South China Sea region.

CHINA

China and ASEAN: Next 25-year cycle will be complicated – The Nation After China’s Premier Li Keqiang outlined his new policy approach in front of Asean members in Bandar Seri Begawan in October 2013 – known as the “two plus seven” cooperative framework – nobody predicted it would then be shelved.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Mon Groups Pledge to Block Coal Power Plant – The Irrawaddy One of the resolutions which came out of the three-day Mon National Conference has been to stand against the use of a coal power plant by a cement company in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township.

Dam project gets the go-ahead in war torn shan state – Burma News Inernational A controversial Chinese dam project in Shan State has been given the go-ahead, as local human rights organisations warned that the development could stoke ongoing conflict in the region.

Interim report from Ayeyarwady dam commission due next month – Myanmar Times The commission tasked with reviewing and scrutinising hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River met for the first time this week, with the recently formed body planning to submit an interim report on its findings next month.

Limited capacity hinders Myanmar’s water management – Eleven Myanmar River basin organisations should be established to support the activities of the National Water Resource Committee (NWRC), to enhance the country’s water management which has faced serious capacity limitations, said an official.

Vietnam needs master plan for water sources: expert – VietnamNet Bridge Mekong Delta suffered the most serious drought in the last 90 years in March and April. The situation was so serious that the State had to ask China to discharge water from its reservoirs to let water go to the lower course.

Vietnam pushes renewable energy with a focus on solar power – VN Express International Vietnam’s electricity consumption has grown twice as fast as the country’s economic growth rate.The average energy consumption in Vietnam grew 13 percent from 2006-2010, and by about 11 percent from 2011-2015, said Le Tuan Phong, deputy head of the General Directorate of Energy. The country is on the path towards powering itself by 2030, Phong said. /// More renewables and a focus on solar is a great move for Vietnam. With a development plan that relies on coal, any push to bring in renewables bodes well for the environment. Whether or not Vietnam can sustain solar and renewable is another matter, but to reach its goal of all households using 50% by 2050, continued investment will be needed to transition from coal.

Indonesia: State of emergency declared in six provinces over haze – The Asian Correspondent – Indonesia has declared states of emergency in six provinces as peat fires shroud parts of neighboring Singapore and Malaysia in smog.

Indonesia urges neighbors to stop complaining about haze – The Asian Correspondent The Indonesian government has urged its neighbors to cease complaining about the annual haze problem, following efforts by the nation to douse forest fires caused every year by farmers clearing land for agricultural use.

Energy concession bids due in March – Bangkok Post The government plans to open bids in March 2017 for expiring oil and gas contracts held by Chevron Corp and PTT Exploration and Production, an energy ministry official said on Thursday.

NGOs up in arms over South power plants, development projects – The Nation  In the eyes of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), new coal-fired power plants and infrastructure development will give the Southern Region a new face, but sadly an ugly one.

Locals along Mekong issued flooding alert – Bangkok Post Residents along the Mekong River have been warned to prepare for overflowing after a large volume of water was released from a southern province of China.

Community opposes new PTT gas pipeline in Rayong – Bangkok Post Residents of Nong Faeb in tambon Map Ta Phut have put up banners and signboards showing their opposition to PTT Plc’s plan to lay a 5th natural gas pipeline through their community.

Get your face masks out for ‘coal’ tourism – Bangkok Post My trip to Songkhla in the south of Thailand earlier this week was not a typical sightseeing jaunt, but it was certainly worthwhile.My destination was not Muang district which is famous for its old-town quarters or Hat Yai, the well-known shopping district of the southern region, but a pristine beach in Thepa’s tambon Pak Bang which is the designated site for a controversial coal-fired power plant. /// Thailand is planning several more coal plants in the years to come to help ease its reliance on domestic natural gas that will soon be diminish. Building these plants will be a challenge as Thailand has a robust group of environmental and community activists. With Thailand relying heavily on tourism these days, it seems odd to have coal plants proposed in areas such as Krabi and Songkhla, where pristine beaches attract tourists. Does the junta have a coordinated development plan, or is it just limping along hoping things fall together?

Preserving Mekong’s biodiversity – Vientiane Times via The Nation A NEW community fisheries project in the Mekong River was launched in Vientiane on Thursday with the Laos Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF), Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry agreeing to cooperate with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF-Laos).

 MoU signed for rehabilitation work at 246-MW Angat hydropower project in the Philippines – Hydroworld – Last week, a number of stakeholders signed a memorandum of agreement (MoU) for the 47-year-old 246-MW Angat hydropower facility, located about 58 km northeast of Manila in Norzagaray, Bulacan, Philippines, to undergo a US$24 million rehabilitation project.

SNAP-Ifugao remains committed to developing 390-MW Alimit hydropower project in Philippines – HydroWorld – Developer SN Aboitiz Power-Ifugao has said it remains committed to developing the 390-MW Alimit hydropower project in the Philippines, pending consent from indigenous groups impacted by its construction.

Department of Energy sees nuke energy potential – The Manila Times The Department of Energy (DOE) is looking at the viability of nuclear energy as the Philippines intensifies its electrification programs amid increasing population and strong economic growth.

Solar firm becomes ‘first’ to link to national grid – The Phnom Penh Post State-run energy supplier Electricité du Cambodge (EDC) signed a 20-year agreement to purchase renewable energy from Singaporean solar firm Sunseap International yesterday. /// An exciting development for renewable energy. Even though Cambodia has no renewable energy target in its power development plan, solar has made slow progress in rural areas and industrial zones. Getting a solar company linked to the grid, should help Cambodia reach its goal of having 70% of the country electrified by 2030 and will hopefully lead to more solar investment in the future.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Malaysia, Thailand agree to sign border fence pact – The Asian Correspondent Malaysia and Thailand will ink an agreement to fence up their porous borders in a bid to stop smuggling, trafficking and trespassing activities that have continued unabated for decades, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said.

Japan to offer Myanmar ¥100bn in loans – Bangkok Post Japan plans to offer ¥100 billion (US$995 million) in loans to Myanmar for infrastructure development, a Japanese government source said on Friday.

Malaysia: PM Najib will take on Duterte to defend disputed state – The Asian Correspondent – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has vowed to defend the sovereignty and security of the state of Sabah from foreign claims, saying he will do so if he meets with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte.

Myanmar looks to new rice agreement with Jakarta–Bangkok Post The governments of Indonesia and Myanmar will sign a memorandum of understanding next month on continued rice exports, but the two commerce ministers then face an unresolved issue over payment for a previous shipment that failed to comply with Indonesian regulations.

India seeks gateway to ASEAN – The Phnom Penh Post Indian business leaders see strong potential to develop trade and investment ties with Cambodia given its liberal investment climate and strong record of economic growth, and many recognise the Kingdom as a potential link in their quest to access ASEAN’s 600-million-strong consumer market, trade representatives from both countries said this week.

Burma, India agree to cooperate on defense, energy, infrastructure – The Irrawaddy Burma and India have inked four memorandums of understanding (MoU) to promote bilateral cooperation in the areas of traditional medicine, renewable energy and infrastructural connectivity.

US fears IS rise in Southeast Asia – The Manila Times Islamic State jihadists are eyeing expansion into Southeast Asia by joining forces with local extremists, a senior US counter-terrorism official warned.

Why ASEAN is here to stay and what that means for the U.S. – The Diplomat As U.S. President Barack Obama departs for Asia to attend his final ASEAN-led East Asia Summit (EAS) in Vientiane, Laos, as well as the G20 in China, it is a good time to take stock of ASEAN’s imperfections, ability to endure, and utility to the United States. Especially in the United States, commentary has concentrated on ASEAN’s inability to forge consensus on the South China Sea (SCS).

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Massive highway project displaces Karen communities: rights groups – The Irrawaddy A major highway project that will serve as a trade link between Burma and Thailand has been displacing local communities who live along the route in Karen State, southeastern Burma, say human rights organizations.

 

Malaysia student protesters demand 1MDB arrest – Reuters Nearly a thousand protesters marched in the heart of the Malaysian capital on Saturday calling for the arrest of an unnamed high-ranking government official who U.S. investigators say received $700 million skimmed from a sovereign fund.

Philippines’ Duterte offers reward for corrupt police linked to drugs – Reuters Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday promised rewards running to tens of thousands of dollars for information leading to the capture of police officers protecting drug syndicates and warned corrupt officials they would face “a day of reckoning”.

Philippine government and communist revels extend ceasefire – The New York Times The Philippine government and Communist rebels agreed on Friday to extend a mutual cease-fire and return to the negotiating table in October as they wrapped up their first round of peace talks after a five-year impasse.

Death toll in Philippines’ drug war hits 2,000 – Reuters The number of drug-related killings in the Philippines since Rodrigo Duterte became president two months ago on a pledge to wipe out the illegal drug trade, has reached around 2,000, according to data released on Tuesday.

Obama to meet Duterte – The Manila Times US President Barack Obama will meet controversial Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte next week, the White House said, despite concerns over a war on crime that has claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Singapore confims 41 cases of locally transmitted zika virus – The New York Times Singapore has confirmed 41 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus, mostly among foreign construction workers, and said it expected more cases to be identified.

U.S.-Singapore relations and Obama’s rebalance to Asia – The Diplomat The Diplomat‘s Ankit Panda and Prashanth Parameswaran discuss U.S.-Singapore relations following Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s state visit to the United States.

Laos’ investment promotion law undergoes amendments to boost growth – Vientiane Times via The Nation – Drafted amendments to the Investment Promotion Law that policy makers are currently drawing up are set to offer maximum profit tax exemptions of up to eight years for businesses operating in certain promoted areas.

This week’s news digest was compiled by Peter Telaroli. Big thanks to Pete for his contributions this summer!

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Regional Roundup for Week of 8.26.16

LEADERS 

Myanmar earthquake kills three, damages scores of ancient temples – Reuters A powerful earthquake shook central Myanmar on Wednesday, killing at least three people including two children, and damaging scores of centuries-old Buddhist pagodas around the ancient capital of Bagan.

China, Myanmar to enhance trust – The Nation China and Myanmar vowed on Thursday to further enhance political trust with mutual respect, to advance major investment projects and to realize peaceful settlement of hostilities in northern Myanmar. /// Enhancing trust will be important to solving problems in the North and should encourage more Chinese investment, but at what cost? Myanmar must make sure to grant concessions that don’t hinder its long-term growth and security. An example of this would be the Myitsone dam. Allowing the dam to continue would cause more harm than good, but scrapping the dam only to allow for dams in other areas may be just as bad. The political calculus is not easy, but Myanmar must remain steadfast in ensuring the rights and protection of its most vulnerable.

Related: China and Burma vow to become ‘blood brothers’ – The Asian Correspondent – China and Burma (Myanmar) are looking bolster their bilateral relations to become “blood brothers” following Burma’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent visit to Beijing.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Visit to Beijing: Recalibrating Myanmar’s China Policy – TNI Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government faced a tough situation with China at the time of their inauguration in March. But, as she visits Beijing this week, hopes are high again in China that a redirection of Myanmar’s foreign policy could be underway and the pendulum of Myanmar’s balancing diplomacy is swinging back to the east.

Philippines drug war deaths climb to 1,800; U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ – Reuters The Philippines has recorded about 1,800 drug-related killings since President Rodrigo Duterte took office seven weeks ago and launched a war on narcotics, far higher than previously believed, according to police figures.

Suu Kyi assures China of solution to Myitsone dam – The Irrawaddy Aung San Suu Kyi told China’s premier on Thursday that her new government is willing to look for a resolution that suits both countries to a suspended Chinese-funded hydropower project in northern Burma, a senior Chinese diplomat said.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Bracing for a long road in the South China Sea Dispute – VOA News This week Chinese state media reported that Beijing is hoping to finalize next year a long-stalled code of conduct for the South China Sea, which could lessen territorial tensions among countries in the region

‘Don’t escalate tension,’ Manila urges Beijing – The Manila Times The Philippines on Friday urged China to refrain from any activity that would further escalate tension in the hotly contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

South China Sea: Fishing in troubled waters – The Diplomat Could partnered fisheries enforcement be the best follow up to the recent PCA ruling?

Singapore must choose its own place to stand on South China Sea issue, says PM Lee – Channel News Asia – The Republic must have its own principled and consistent stand on the South China Sea issue despite pressure from other countries to side with them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).

Philippines’ Duterte says Southeast Asia will insist China respects sea ruling – Reuters Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said Southeast Asian countries will insist on China respecting last month’s ruling in the Hague even if Manila does not raise it at a summit in Laos next month.

China hopes for early talks with Philippines on sea issue – Xinhua news China hopes for talks with the Philippines on the South China Sea issue at an early date, a spokesperson said on Wednesday.

‘It will be bloody’ if Philippine territory breached, Duterte warns China – The Asian Correspondent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he will walk the extra mile for peace but warns China “it will be bloody” if the militarily-superior Asian neighbor infringes on his country’s territory.

Vietnam seeks French support for ‘maritime freedom’ – The Bangkok Post France and other countries should help to keep the peace in the disputed South China Sea, Vietnam’s president told AFP Wednesday, as unease grows over China’s increasingly muscular approach in the key waterway.

RESOURCE MANAGEMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY

Indonesian haze starts to spread – The Bangkok Post Indonesia warned on Friday that haze from forest fires was floating across the Malacca Strait toward its neighbours, and that the number of blazes was rising.

Related: Indonesia urges action against slash-and-burn clearing as haze season arrives – Reuters – Indonesia’s disaster agency urged prompt action against slash-and-burn plantation fires on Friday as the annual smoke “haze” begins to drift across the Malacca Strait to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

Myanmar green energy sector faces hurdles – The Nation Myanmar’s goal of achieving a 100 per cent electrification rate by 2030, with 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources, is achievable but several hurdles need to be tackled first, energy experts have said. /// Achieving 100 percent electrification may be a lofty goal, but it doesn’t mean that Myanmar can’t reach it. Whether or not 20 percent can come from renewable is another matter. In this case, hydropower should not be counted as “renewable”. There have been widespread protests over the Myitsone dam and many Shan groups have already said the damming of the Salween River will have devastating environmental effects. While Myanmar may have great potential for hydropower, exploiting it may cause more harm than good, especially if that electricity is exported to countries like China or Thailand.

Related: Electrifying Myanmar’s power grids – Myanmar Times By 2030, Myanmar is expected to consume around 80,000 gigawatt hours (Gwh) of electricity, more than six times its current consumption of approximately 13,000Gwh. This corresponds to a staggering growth of 14 percent year-on-year.

 Environmental Advocates: Salween River is Being ‘Sold Off’ to ChinaThe Irrawaddy Ethnic Shan environmental and human rights advocacy organizations have expressed opposition to the construction of hydropower dam projects on the Salween River in war-torn Shan State.

Related: Shan community groups want Salween dams scrapped – The Nation Representatives of Shan communities have expressed serious concerns on the ongoing plan to construct a series of hydropower dams on the Salween River, saying many areas are still plagued with ongoing fighting between minority groups and the government.

Shan groups express concern over green light for Naung Pha dam – Mizzima Two dozen Shan community groups have sent a letter to Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi calling on her government to stop the construction of hydroelectric dam projects on the Thanlwin or Salween River.

Laos damages Mekong River with more dams – Good Morning Taiwan China has built six dams on its stretch of the Mekong since the mid-1990s, which posed great threat for the downstream residents as well as the wildlife species. Now Lao government is forging ahead with more dam-building spree, meaning the future of this mighty waterway is in grave danger.

Chinese dams a threat to Lower Mekong River – VN Express China’s hydropower dams on the Upper Mekong River (Lancang in Chinese) are preventing flood waters from reaching Vietnam’s Lower Mekong Delta, Dao Trong Tu, former vice general secretary of the Vietnam National Mekong Committee, told VnExpress.

Experts: Damming places Mekong delta in peril – The Saigon Times Damming on the Mekong River mainstream, coupled with sand overexploitation, would not only hit aquaculture but also threaten the Mekong Delta’s existence in the future, experts told the Daily.

River Network Objects to Hydropower group – BNI Online Concerned about a series of dams planned along the Salween River, the Save the Salween Network has raised objections to the formation of the Hydropower Developer’s Working Group (HDWG) in Burma by the International Finance Cooperation (IFC), claiming it will assist investors while sidestepping potential negative outcomes of the dams for thousands of ethnic minority groups.

Hydropower working group launched in Myanmar – Hydroworld The International Finance Corporation and more than 100 members of Myanmar’s private hydroelectric power sector have launched a new working group to help “influence policy and identify solutions to improve upon sustainability and business operations in Myanmar.”

Philippines could suspend more mines in environmental crackdown – Reuters The Philippines could suspend more mines in a crackdown on environmental abuses that has halted operations of 10 miners, a minister said on Wednesday, dismissing a claim by mineral producers the review was a “demolition campaign” against them.

Mekong dwellers get flood alert – The Bangkok Post People living along the Mekong River have been alerted to rising water levels as authorities monitor the situation and stay prepared for emergencies around the clock.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Obama to become first US President to visit Laos – The Asian Correspondent President Barack Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Laos this September, during his 11th – and most likely final – presidential trip to Asia.

Bananas on the Lancang: Grown in Yunnan, Destined for Shanxi – The Diplomat Luc Forsyth and Gareth Bright have set out on a journey to follow the Mekong river from sea to source, The Diplomat will be sharing some of the stories they’ve found along the way. For more about the project, check out the whole series here.

Philippines remains committed to the United Nations – foreign minister – Reuters The Philippine is not leaving the United Nations, the foreign minister said on Monday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to quit the body after it called for an end to the wave of killings unleashed by his war on drugs.

China helps Suu Kyi with peace talks in Myanmar – The New York Times As Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, met this past week with Chinese officials during her five-day visit here, China helped arrange a gift for her back home, a reminder that it wants to make itself Myanmar’s new best friend.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (August 20) – The Irrawaddy  

This week in Parliament (August 15 – 19) – The Irrawaddy

Govt mulls rejection of US$300 million loan from China – Myanmar Times Thanks but no thanks, the Myanmar government may be preparing to say to a major Chinese lender. As Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi discussed the future of the controversial Myitsone dam project and other aspects of Myanmar-Chinese relations in Beijing, questions were being raised as to whether the country needs to take on an additional US$300 million in Chinese debt.

Burma: Former UN Sec Gen Kofi Annan to help govt resolve Rohingya issueThe Asian Correspondent – Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has been tasked with heading an advisory panel set up by Burma’s (Myanmar) government to find “lasting solutions” to the conflict in Rakhine state.

Bombing suspect hiding in ‘Malaysia’, say Thai authorities – The Asian Correspondent The prime suspect of the bomb attacks in Thailand’s popular resort towns of Hua Hin and Phuket that killed four and wounded dozens is reportedly on the run in neighboring Malaysia.

The real meaning of Thailand’s referendum – New Mandala If history is a guide, Thailand’s latest constitution will be short-lived. Many observers of Thailand’s ongoing debilitating political crisis have been scratching their heads trying to understand how Thai voters approved a draft constitution in the referendum on 7 August which is so blatantly designed to entrench military rule.

Can Thailand really hide a rebellion? – The New York Times On Aug. 11 and 12, coordinated bombings and arson attacks in tourist destinations in seven provinces of peninsular Thailand killed four people and injured 35. No group claimed responsibility, and senior officials of the military government almost immediately decided that the bombings were not acts of terrorism.

Cops: ‘At least’ 20 from Muslim south behind recent Thai bombingsThe Asian Correspondent – Police in Thailand believe that a network of at least 20 people living in the kingdom’s Muslim-majority southern provinces were involved in the recent wave of deadly explosions that killed four tourists and injured dozens of others.

Sino-Thai high-speed railways now on track – The Nation After a long delay, the Sino-Thai high-speed railroad scheme looks set to shift into gear by year-end with Thailand funding all of the civil engineering work. The Cabinet Tuesday gave the nod to a framework of cooperation between the Thai and Chinese governments to develop high-speed railways from Map Ta Phut to Nong Khai and Bangkok to Kaeng Khoi.

Egat insists on going ahead with Thepa plant – The Nation Construction of the Thepa coal-fired power plant is set to begin in the second quarter of next year, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) said, even though many locals have refused to sell their land despite facing threats. /// Will Thailand use section 44 to move ahead with the power plant? The environmental and health impact assessment has yet to be approved, and if Egat cannot entice locals to move than, the government will be in a tricky position. Thailand has plans for several coal plants to help offset declining natural gas reserves, but protests from locals has made the construction of the plants difficult. So if Prayut gets fed up with protests, will he move forward anyway?

Flood crisis threatens to kill Vietnam’s rice bowl – VN Express Shortage of floods has resulted in a hefty 50 percent decrease in sediment deposited in the Mekong Delta each year, causing Vietnam’s largest delta to face serious subsidence and likely disappearance in the future.

Islets in southern Vietnam vanishing as erosion threatens millions – Thanh Nien News Cao Van Ba lost half of his two-hectare orchard on Son Islet due to serious erosion in the past few years. “The islet used to be more than 100 hectares but it has shrunk to around 60 hectares,” the 66-year-old farmer of Can Tho City told local media.

Vietnam in urgent need of deepwater port in Mekong delta – VN Express Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue has asked relevant ministries and agencies to consider building a deepwater port in the Mekong Delta to help ease transport barriers for goods from the country’s most productive region in terms of agriculture and aquaculture.

Hun Sen Pledges to ease restrictions on environmentalists – VOA Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday appealed to Cambodians to promote conservation at what he promised would be the first of many annual public forums to discuss the state of the country’s natural resources.

Up to $85 million earmarked to develop agriculture sector – The Phnom Penh Post Representatives of Cambodia’s rice sector and the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) met yesterday with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to discuss the implementation of a five-year program to promote the Kingdom’s agricultural products.

This week’s news digest was compiled by Peter Telaroli.

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