Category Archives: NEWS DIGEST

Regional Round-up for Week of 10.11.19


EXSE FOCUS

Mekong dying: China wants more than just electricity from dams VN Express More Chinese dams means more political leverage. Negotiation with China is crucial to address growing energy demands in downstream countries in the Mekong. // For China, upstream Mekong River dams are more than electricity generators; they can deal with water shortages and are a political pressure tool. 

Dams destroy the Mekong and damage tourismTTR Weekly This article highlights the importance of clean energy sources, such as extensive Solar PV development in Vietnam, as well as a common interest between tourism and energy in protecting the region’s most precious asset. //  Every day thousands of tourists soak up life on the Mekong River, the seventh longest river in Asia. They take cruises, stay at boutique hotels or tuck into a grand lunch at a riverside restaurant.  The river is the most compelling reason they travel to a string of destinations in the six Mekong Region countries.

Threat to the Mekong River is Critical, Critics SayAsia Sentinel Dams throughout the region threaten to turn the once mighty river into a series of lakes. // It is starting to appear that nothing can save the 800,000 sq. km Mekong River basin, which provides vital sustenance for as many as 100 million people, from environmental depredation from dams all along the 4,350 km length of the mighty river that feeds it.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Leaders’ Retreat: Singapore and Indonesia to renew US$10b currency pact for another year, step up economic cooperation The Straits Times Singapore and Indonesia announced the renewal of a US$10 billion currency pact, which will help support monetary and financial stability in the region.

ASEAN Officials Call for Cooperation on Haze Prevention Voice of America “If each country goes back and really tries to mitigate the issue, I am sure ASEAN will be able to commit” to [be] haze-free [by] 2020,” said Varawut Silpa-archa, Thailand’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister.

Vietnam’s dilemma with Chinese infrastructure investment: should it choose growth or security?South China Morning Post Various factors including a poor safety track record, territorial violations, and unease with BOT projects among the most obvious factors behind the cancellation of construction concessions. // Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport announced last month that it had cancelled an international tender invitation for eight sections of the North-South Expressway project, which will run almost the length of the country.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Climate change comes for Mekong’s coffee The Third Pole Global warming’s effect on your daily cup of joe. // In villages around the city of Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnamese farmers are waiting for the monsoon that normally arrives in April or May. “The fruits look ripe outside, but the bean is crispy and small because there was not enough rain,” says 28-year-old Y Bel Eban from Krong village, pointing to some small green beans in his hand.

Singapore’s first virtual power plant to be developed by NTU Channel News Asia VPP is a digital platform that can perform advanced forecasting and optimization functions. Advances in smart grid technology can mitigate the effects of climate change by lowering waste and inefficiencies, and provide price signals to consumers to help them make more informed decisions. // A grant to develop Singapore’s first virtual power plant (VPP) has been awarded to Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and Sembcorp on Tuesday.

Climate Change Risks to Farmers Call for Novel Policy Plans VOD Cambodia is considered to be one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world. The nation’s vulnerability is a result of an economic dependency on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and construction. Floods, drought and extreme heat all facilitate a precarious future for Cambodia’s key sectors. 

Indonesia finds one-fifth of oil palm plantations are illegal The Straits Times Recent news of forest fires and their contribution to degrading air quality are in part attributable to slash-and-burn and illegal land clearing in these very same plantations. // Indonesia is trying to clamp down on illegal oil palm plantations by first identifying the perpetrators.


CHINA 

Duterte wants to work with Beijing in the South China Sea, but so far has little to show for itSouth China Morning Post A tough position: What to do when you welcome investment and arms trade, but face pressure from the public to respond to territorial challenges? // Philippine-China relations continued with positive momentum as President Rodrigo Duterte made his fifth visit to China in late August and early September.  

Renewed conflict in Myanmar slows China’s Belt and Road projectsNikkei Asian Review A recent decision by the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, not to extend a cease-fire aimed at ethnic armed organizations excluded from a nationwide peace agreement puts the country’s Belt and Road projects in further limbo. // China has faced challenges against projects in Myanmar due to both security concerns and pushback from local citizens. In order to gain more public support, the government has launched a charm offensive, especially along the route of a planned pipeline. After the cancellation of the Myitsone dam in 2011 due to local outrage, China is investing more time to gain popular support.  

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Air Quality App ‘Under Attack’ in Vietnam Amid Heavy Hanoi Smog The Irrawaddy The dramatic decrease in air quality in southeast Asia over the past year is an urgent issue. Rather than attempt to hide information from reaching public consciousness, campaigns should attempt to bring attention to health risks and the importance of personal behavior. // Independent online air quality index monitor AirVisual said on Monday it is under “coordinated attack” by someone attempting to discredit the company after its data showed Hanoi has at times recently topped its list of 90 major cities which suffer from air pollution.

Vietnam To Build Smart City For $4.2 Billion Near Hanoi Investine Investors looking for high returns can find them in hotels, condos, and resort-style developments, but this for-the-rich, by-the-rich trend diverts capital from more wide-impact projects. // Vietnamese hotel and golf resort giant BRG Group and Japan’s Sumitomo Corp, a trading company, struck a deal to jointly spend $4.2 billion to build a smart city close by Hanoi, the public learnt at the respective launch ceremony held on October 6.

Philippines freezes climate studies loan over scrutiny of Duterte drug war Mongabay Negotiations over a $36 million loan on climate change studies in the Philippines, one of the countries most at risk from the impacts of global warming, have bogged down as President Rodrigo Duterte lashes out against international scrutiny of his human rights record.

Second phase of Nam Ou dam cascade to be operational by year’s end Asia News Network Yet another dam in operation in Laos, and another 100 potential projects in the pipeline. Realistic alternatives are necessary to shift this trend toward a more sustainable future. // A project steering committee, involving central and local sectors and project developers, met in Luang Prabang province on Monday to reveal the project’s progress and discuss solutions to social and environmental issues.

Weekly Round-up compiled by Jean Joo and Alessandro Lee

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Regional Round-up for Week of 10.04.19

EXSE FOCUS

Jokowi wants Indonesia to be more than a raw material giant The Straits Times Indonesia is far from done in its campaign to squeeze more value from its abundant natural resources, and its next target could be one of the most ubiquitous commodities of all. // Indonesia has plans to domestically process palm oil for value-added products such as soaps, cosmetics, and even palm biodiesel which would lower their dependence on petroleum. However, the increased domestic consumption along with global export may cause an overall increase in palm oil production and the clearing of forests for plantations. 

Can Southeast Asia Ditch Coal? The Diplomat The world’s dirtiest fossil fuel is in decline from the United States to western Europe. But in Southeast Asia coal has found one of its final frontiers: last year it was the only region where coal’s share of power generation grew. Yet the growing urgency of the climate crisis and increasingly affordable renewable power could help catalyze a regional shift away from the fuel towards cleaner energy. // As the industries and economies of Southeast Asian countries continue to grow, energy is crucial. The growing investments towards renewable energy sources such as the recent ADB-funded floating PV in Vietnam will help but renewable energy must remember to stay clean especially with the increase of hydropower dams that have negative impacts on the environment. 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

New air link seen to boost N-E India-Asean ties The Straits Times An inaugural flight between Bangkok and Guwahati, capital of the Indian state of Assam, has boosted hopes in India’s north-eastern states for greater people-to-people links with South-east Asia.

Shoes and Clothes Made in Vietnam? Try Phones and PCs Voice of America  LG Electronics said this year it would cut smartphone production at home in South Korea and move it to Vietnam, according to Korean news reports. Meanwhile in Vietnam, the domestic conglomerate Vingroup is hawking its four Vsmart phone models to a growing domestic middle class, sending what the Vietnam Investment Review calls “ripples” through the market. // Trade war afflicted market conditions as well as the rising cost of labor in China cause many manufacturing industries to consider relocating to Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam and Thailand. With the move of LG and with Samsung closing phone production in China to relocate to Vietnam as well as two Korean banks moving to Myanmar Moon’s New Southern Policy has more weight. 

Myanmar seeks to establish Myanmar-India-China economic corridor Myanmar Times As part of efforts to make Myanmar the doorway to ASEAN door, the government will try to establish a Myanmar-India-China economic corridor, says Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein.
Read more on Myanmar efforts in SEZ development here

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

China and Vietnam need sustainable coffee farming China Dialogue In a street renovated for Buon Ma Thuot’s seventh biennial coffee festival, tourists sat in cafes watching children sing and dance in the traditional dress of the Ede people. 

Indonesia accuses two Singaporeans over imported plastic waste Channel News Asia Indonesia is accusing two Singaporeans of importing 87 containers of plastic scrap without the correct permits, an official said on Thursday (Oct 3), marking a step up in the country’s efforts to crack down on shipments of foreign waste.
Read more on regional trash import bans here.


CHINA 

Beijing Preps 10-Story Oil Drilling Platform for South China Sea despite Wary Vietnam Voice of America China has developed a giant new offshore oil exploration platform for possible use in disputed tracts of sea, a move that would anger Vietnam and extend years of energy-related disputes between the two Asian neighbors.

Myanmar Protesters Force Sagaing Govt to Block Chinese Copper Mine The Irrawaddy Sagaing Region’s government says it has scrapped permission for a Chinese company to do studies for a new mine after a series of protests by residents.

China Inflates Shale Gas Forecast as Risks Mount Radio Free Asia China’s government appears to be counting on inflated forecasts of domestic natural gas production as concerns about the country’s import dependence grow.

China-Backed Power Plant a Bane for Myanmar Villagers Radio Free Asia Local residents also say runoff from the Shan state plant is polluting local water supplies, and gas emissions are polluting the air. 

Provincial Official in Laos Wants to Cancel Concession for Chinese Coal Company Radio Free Asia Officials for the local government in Laos’ Houaphanh province say they want to cancel the survey contract of a Chinese coal company after learning that its operations in the province have caused hardship for villagers who have yet to see any compensation.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand PM considers moving capital as Bangkok congestion takes toll The Guardian Thailand could be the next nation in south-east Asia to relocate its capital after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha hinted such a move could be a “possibility” under his government. Read more on the current air pollution conditions in Bangkok here

Vietnam is a battleground – for commerce and investment | Opinion Commercial Appeal Vietnam today has risen dramatically in importance, for reasons having to do with commerce rather than communism. According to a new survey by “US News and World Report,” the nation is now eighth in a competitive ranking of 29 economies.

Villagers in Laos Resist 50-year Land Concession to Thai Developer Radio Free Asia Residents of seven villages in Laos’ Luang Namtha province are resisting a 7,000-hectare land concession granted to a Thai company that would force them to relocate.

Southeast Asia must find the right balance in ride-hailing regulation Nikkei Asian Review Emerging technologies are transforming our economies in profound ways. However, regulating these quickly evolving business models and services can pose a challenge for governments.

Malaysia granted request to extend decision on JB-Singapore rail link The Straits Times The deadline for Malaysia to decide on the RM4 billion (S$1.3 billion) Rapid Transit System (RTS) project to link Johor Baru and Singapore has been extended by one more month.

Tuas mega port will allow Singapore to ‘rethink the future of shipping’, says PM Lee Channel News Asia The future Tuas mega port presents Singapore with an opportunity to “rethink the future of shipping”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Oct 3).

Thousands in Indonesia Protest Bills to Limit Rights and Ban Extramarital Sex The New York Times Thousands of protesters gathered outside of Parliament and in cities across Indonesia on Monday urging the president, Joko Widodo, to halt legislation aimed at crippling anti-corruption efforts and sharply reducing personal freedom.

Regional Round-Up compiled by Jean Joo and Alex Lee

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Regional Round-Up for Week of 9.27.19

EXSE FOCUS

Climate change adds a new dimension to Laos’ UXO challengesASEAN Today Unpredictable weather patterns pose new UXO threats to Laotians. To meet these threats, international governments will have to make changes in the current aid distribution model. // Floods have become more common in Laos with southern provinces still recovering from the recent floods. In the long road to recovery, Laotians have to deal with another threat as UXOs become dislodged and are carried to new locations, some of which may be previously cleared or even to populous areas. 

Vietnam says ‘urgent measures’ are needed to combat Mekong Delta erosionReuters Six provinces in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region have been scrambling to battle the severe erosion of the sprawling river and coastal network, with some areas now requiring “urgent measures”, state media said on Tuesday. // As a downstream country on the Mekong, Vietnam faces the brunt of the consequences as the Mekong River changes. As more upstream dams get built and sand mining continues unregulated, Vietnam receives less sediment flow. Also erosion is a positive cycle in that erosion leads to more erosion. The capacity and water flow of the eroded Mekong increases leading to even more erosion. This could increase risk and cause the collapse of villages, farms, key infrastructure, and wildlife habitats. 

Mekong River Commission Defends Seven-Week Silence on Lao Dam Project SubmissionRadio Free Asia The Mekong River Commission (MRC) Wednesday defended its decision to wait nearly seven weeks before officially notifying the public that Laos began a preliminary procedure for the construction of a large dam that would be its fifth on the Mekong river. // Despite environmental concerns and experts pointing to the consequences of the previously built Xayaburi dam, Laos has given the go ahead to the controversial Luangprabang dam. Although the project is still undergoing the consultation process, Laos is still the final decision maker and situations like these highlight the MRC’s lack of enforcement power.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Vietnam’s CMC strives for IoT with Samsung’s commitment – Nikkei Asian Review South Korean investment in Vietnam’s retail, food, banking, and electronics conglomerates on the rise. // A unit of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics has bought a 30% stake for more than $40 million in Vietnam’s second-largest IT company CMC Corp. which hopes to use most of those proceeds to focus on developing the “internet of things” and artificial intelligence technologies. 

Asia-Pacific’s new climate reality: Daily China contributorThe Straits Times Many recognize the economic and social benefits of investing early in our future, but can institutions mobilize quickly enough amid competing priorities to save us from the worst? //On Monday (Sept 23), world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York for the Climate Action Summit to increase ambition and accelerate action in the face of a mounting climate emergency.

Lambasting China over its emissions might impress the US but it could be costly for Australia The Guardian Recognizing the beam in our eye before pointing out the speck in our brother’s is a refreshing tone to take. Nevertheless, this article points out that China also exports its carbon-heavy projects abroad through BRI investments, making the true picture of sustainable development a bit more complex. // Visiting the United States, Australia’s prime minister demanded of China “participation in addressing important global environmental challenges” in light of its “new status and responsibilities”.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

A Blood Red Sky: Fires Leave a Million Indonesians GaspingNew York Times 2 million acres destroyed — an alarming development parallel with Amazon fires. // Nearly 2,000 wildfires are burning across Indonesia, turning the sky blood red over central Sumatra and creating dense clouds of smoke that have caused respiratory problems for nearly a million people.

Thai NGOs Speak Out Against Proposed Dam in LaosRadio Free Asia With Xayaburi having proceeded with impunity despite opposition from downstream communities, the Luangprabang Hydropower Project comes under scrutiny for many of the same reasons as Xayaburi. Each dam compounds pressures on people and wildlife and erodes the very source of livelihood for much of the region. // A new dam planned for construction on the Mekong River in Laos is causing great concern for environmental NGOs from Thailand, who say Laos’ fifth big dam on the river will have adverse effects on fish and people in the region.

Cambodia’s lifeline threatened as Mekong recedes to historic lowAl Jazeera As world leaders meet in New York from Monday to discuss the global challenge of climate change, thousands of kilometres away people in Cambodia are grappling with dramatic changes to the country’s ecosystem, including the lowest water levels in the crucially-important Mekong River ever recorded. // Good overview of the consequences that the decline of the Mekong can have on Cambodia. 

Mekong Delta agriculture adapts to climate changeVietnam Plus Despite forward-thinking advances in agricultural practices, scale of sustainable model implementation lacks coordination and quick response to rapidly changing climate conditions. // The Mekong Delta has restructured agriculture towards climate-change adaptation and market demand by establishing specialised farming areas for its key agricultural products, and by growing other crops on ineffective rice fields or rotating rice with other crops on the same field. 

Oil Spilling Into the Java SeaThe Diplomat A fleet of 44 vessels has not been enough to contain a spill reaching as far as 60 km from leak point. // In mid-July, one of three oil wells owned by the Indonesian state-owned oil and gas company, PT Pertamina, under an offshore platform in the North West Java (ONWJ) Offshore Block began leaking into the sea north of Karawang City, West Java.

CHINA

China storms past US and Japan to take the lead in wind and solar power – Nikkei Asian Review To give perspective, China’s Envision Group alone manages a network of 100 MW equal to all of Japan’s renewable capacity. // China has come to dominate worldwide solar and wind energy generation, in terms of both its own capacity and its companies’ share of global markets, leaving previous powerhouses — particularly the U.S. and Japan — to play catch-up.

Belt and Road countries will make or break the Paris AgreementThe Third Pole Developing countries are forecast to emit more carbon dioxide than developed ones by mid-century. Chinese investment is projected to speed up that process in key countries linked to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s global infrastructure plan, according to a new report. // Despite Chinese investments in renewable energies, they must make sure that they are being implemented in their international projects as well if they really seek to be a global leader in sustainable practices. BRI projects can determine the energy trajectory of countries for a long period of time.  

Sihanoukville’s big gamble: the sleepy beach town in Cambodia that bet its future on Chinese moneySouth China Morning Post Close relations between the late king Norodom Sihanouk and Mao Zedong paved the road for dramatic business and infrastructure investment from China. Today, rent spikes, crime, environmental degradation, and lethal safety violations have angered locals. Law enforcement must be enforced to prevent further degradation. // Sihanoukville may be more than 3,500km away from Beijing, but it feels more like a Chinese city than a sleepy beach town in Cambodia.

Slower, smaller, and cheaper: the reality of the China-Myanmar Economic CorridorFrontier Myanmar Article suggests that project implementation has not compared to the scale reached in the China-Pakistan economic corridor, nor has it proceeded smoothly. More detail is needed on whether capital flows have taken place and proportion of investments by sector and over time. // Despite perceptions that it will bring a rush of Chinese financing for massive infrastructure projects, implementation of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor has so far been relatively cautious.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Slavery on the high seas: how Southeast Asia can end forced labour on fishing boatsSouth China Morning Post At the production level of much of the seafood industry, input costs are artificially low, failing to account for the high human costs incurred by migrants and other vulnerable people trapped and enslaved abroad. // Slave labour renders business models in the Southeast Asian seafood sector not only unsustainable but dangerous. An industry-wide no-slavery policy, greater business accountability and better rehabilitation of rescued workers show the way forward.

Myanmar Energy Analysts Alarmed at Floating Power Plant Plans for YangonThe Irrawaddy What is cheap today might become expensive tomorrow: short sighted investment in “emergency” power capacity leaves technocrats concerned about sustainability as with transparency. // Industry experts have criticized the Ministry of Electricity and Energy’s plan to produce electricity with gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) via a floating power plant to meet the rising demand in Yangon by mid-2020. 

Govt speeding up megaprojectsBangkok Post Issues with land appropriation besetting major transport projects such as the Bang Yai  – Kanchanaburi motorway to be given special attention and priority by the Prime Minister. //The government is expediting the Transport Ministry’s mega-investment projects worth almost 2 trillion baht to stimulate financial flows and deal with anticipated volatility in the global economy next year.

Murders of land activists spike under Philippines’ Duterte: WatchdogThe Straits Times Elected on a crime-fighting platform, President Duterte’s campaign against drugs as often caught political obstacles and activists between his cross hairs, with deaths estimated between 5,500 and 20,000 since his election. // Murders of environmental activists and land defenders in the Philippines have risen sharply under President Rodrigo Duterte, an international rights watchdog said on Tuesday (Sept 24), alleging his speeches and policies have “emboldened” the killers.

Regional Round-Up compiled by Jean Joo and Alex Lee

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Regional Roundup for Week of 9.20.19

Week 9/9/2019

EXSE FOCUS

Start of Latest Mekong River Dam Draws Fears of River’s ‘Tipping Point’ VOA Critics of the 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi hydropower dam in northern Laos fear recent upgrades to the controversial project won’t be enough to save the Mekong River from a critical tipping point when it starts churning out electricity at full throttle next month. // Next month, the Xayaburi hydro dam begins full operations and as the 1st of 11 planned mainstream Mekong dams, it is expected to further exacerbate the vulnerabilities of downstream populations. Despite efforts made by hydropower companies to accommodate necessary sediment flow and fish migration, governments should first explore other energy options rather than single-minded hydropower development. 

Floods Kill At Least 14 in Southern Laos, Hundreds of Thousands DisplacedRadio Free Asia At least 14 people have died and at least one is missing as floods ravage Laos’ six southern provinces, stretching government relief capacity, authorities and residents said Wednesday. // 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Moon’s ASEAN Trip Reinforces New Southern PolicyThe Diplomat South Korean President Moon Jae-in returned last Friday from a weeklong trip to Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. The timing of the long-planned visit, coinciding with escalating tensions with Japan and growing uncertainty stemming from the U.S.-China trade war, further supports its impetus – Moon’s New Southern Policy.

Japan trade group promotes Lao SEZs – Phnom Penh Post The Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) Vientiane will work with the developers of four special economic zones (SEZs) to encourage more investment by Japanese companies, to boost trade and economic ties between Laos and Japan. 

Cambodia and Laos to sign 2,400-megawatt power deal todayThe Khmer Times Cambodia and Laos will sign an agreement today under which the Kingdom will purchase 2,400 megawatts from its neighbour, with the first transfer scheduled for 2024.

Myanmar to use US$1 billion loan for infrastructure projects Myanmar Times Economic development, agriculture, electricity, and infrastructure projects will be the focus of a framework for loans between South Korea and Myanmar

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Indonesia forest fires spark blame game as smoke closes hundreds of Malaysia schoolsThe Guardian Indonesia has shot back at claims the country is solely responsible for the fires that have created a thick haze across parts of Malaysia this week and forced the closure of hundreds of schools.

Ministry urges farmers to save waterMyanmar Times The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation has urged farmers to use water more efficiently as there is less water behind the country’s more than 300 reservoirs and dams despite the current rainy season. 

Projects launched to boost ties in threatened species conservationVietnam Plus The Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA) and the World Bank (WB) launched on September 10 a project on strengthening the partnership in the conservation of endangered species in Vietnam. This project is part of a global partnership programme on wildlife conservation and crime prevention for sustainable development funded by the Global Environment Fund through the WB.

CHINA

Hordes of Chinese Leave Cambodia After Ban On Online GamblingInvestine Around 120,000 Chinese nationals out of a total expat population of some 250,000 have left Cambodia since the country’s government introduced a ban on online gambling on August 18, Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service cited the country’s immigration department spokesman Ath Bony as saying.

Thai Belt and Road project bumps into finance and liability issuesNikkei Asian Review Thailand’s government is delaying China’s ambitious high-speed railway project in the country as questions over financing and liabilities of the $9.9 billion infrastructure initiative remain unresolved. 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Gia Lai Electricity to trade 204 million shares on HOSE next week – Viet Nam News The Hồ Chí Minh Stock Exchange has approved the listing of nearly 204 million shares of Gia Lai Electricity Joint Stock Company under the code GEG. 

Democrat and Future Forward parties want a House panel to assess environmental, social and economic impacts of EEC projectsThai PBS World The Democrat and Future Forward parties have separately demanded that the House set up an ad hoc committee to assess the impacts of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) projects on the environment, society and economy of the eastern seaboard.

Southeast Asia’s largest solar farm begins operations in southern VietnamVN Express The inauguration of the Dau Tieng Solar Power Complex, a joint venture between Vietnamese construction firm Xuan Cau and Thai conglomerate B.Grimm, took place Saturday in Tan Chau District, Tay Ninh Province, around 100 km (62 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City.

Week 9/16/2019

EXSE FOCUS

In Cambodia, sand mining is big business – but it comes at a pricePBS News Sand mining accounts for 85 percent of all worldwide mineral extraction, a $70 billion industry. In Cambodia, the practice is big business — but it comes with a price. The country relies upon the Mekong River for commerce and transportation, but extensive dredging to harvest sand is fundamentally changing its ecosystem and eroding its banks. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports. // Sand dredging changes the natural shape and patterns of the river. This results in the destruction of homes for the river’s human, animal, and fish residents. Additionally the Tonle Sap is endangered by the Mekong’s lowered streambed. Usually, as the Mekong waters increase, water is forced to flow in reverse back into the Tonle Sap which is a breeding ground for the region’s fish. However, the increased capacity of the Mekong may prevent this reverse flow, drying up the lake. 

All the reasons ExxonMobil may leave VietnamAsia Times Ever since Xi Jinping took power in 2013, China’s leader has led an increasingly aggressive push in the South China Sea, a policy aimed in part at controlling development of the maritime area’s rich oil and gas reserves.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

INDOPACOM Commander Introductory Visit Highlights US-Brunei Defense RelationsThe Diplomat  Last week, the chief of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific paid a trip to Brunei. Though the visit itself was just the latest interaction between the two sides, it nonetheless put the focus on some of the ongoing activity within the broader defense relationship between them.

What’s Behind the First India-Singapore-Thailand Trilateral Maritime Exercise?The Diplomat  This week, India finally hosted a trilateral maritime exercise that it had been mulling with Singapore and Thailand. As the exercise continues to be held through this week, it deserves attention both on its own terms as well as within the context of broader trends in the Indo-Pacific region.

World Bank approve $1 billion in development assistanceKhmer Times The World Bank has officially approved the disbursement of $1 billion to develop priority sectors in Cambodia, the Ministry of Economy and Finance announced Monday.

After a China-Vietnam Standoff, Expect a Turn to the US The Diplomat China and Vietnam are engaged in a high stakes standoff on the high seas. Since early July, a Chinese ship has intermittently surveyed oil and gas blocks located within Vietnam’s continental shelf. 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

USAID project assists Thua Thien-Hue in forest managementVietnam Plus The US Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Green Annamites Project has recently equipped the central province of Thua Thien-Hue  with a forest management system. As part of the nearly 10 million-USD-project, the system allows automatic connection to the Google Earth Engine (GEE) based-tool developed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Project for Sustainable Natural Resource Management (SNRM).

New lease on life beckons for Arroceros, Manila’s hidden jungleMongabay It’s said that when the mayor of the Philippine capital Manila looks out the window of his office, he often sees four things: the murky yet thriving Pasig River; the dilapidated Metropolitan theater, famed for its art deco furnishings; the busy train terminal; and the only patch of green in the gray and grime of the city: Arroceros Forest Park, a 2.2-hectare (5.4-acre) mini jungle that’s home to centuries-old trees and a favorite resting place for migrating birds.

Climate change is forcing Asian cities to rethink their flood defencesThe Economist In north Jakarta, not far from a quayside where workers unload frozen mackerel, a derelict building stands a metre deep in murky water. The warehouse was flooded in 2007, after torrential rains and a tidal surge submerged half the city under nearly four metres of water, displacing half a million people and causing $550m in damage. The building has remained inundated and abandoned ever since—barring the hardy soul who seems to be camping on the first floor, aided by a rowing boat.

CHINA

China’s New Transport Ship Will Help Fortify Islands in Disputed SeaVOA Cambodia A new large supply transport ship will help the Beijing government ferry supplies to its holdings in the disputed South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway contested by other countries.

How China is using tourists to realise its geopolitical goals – East Asia Forum Decades of astonishing economic growth have given China new tools for extending its influence abroad and achieving its political goals. Some of these tools are inducements, including Belt and Road Initiative projects and new development financial institutions. But China has demonstrated that it will use its new economic leverage in pursuit of political goals unrelated to economic exchange, swiftly shifting inducements to punishments. One example lies in the field of tourism. // The use of tourism as a political tool could be highly influential in countries like Thailand that depend heavily on tourism, especially Chinese tourism. Although no major signs of contention have cropped up, China could use this tool to expedite Belt and Road negotiations or add leverage to Chinese businesses. // Read more on this topic here.

Chinese Charm Offensive Aims to Win Support for Giant Pipeline in MyanmarThe Irawaddy China has launched a public-relations drive along the route of the proposed Chinese twin oil and natural gas pipeline project to pacify environmental and safety concerns and demands for proper compensation. 

China plans 226 GW of new coal power projects: environmental groupsReuters China’s total planned coal-fired power projects now stand at 226.2 gigawatts (GW), the highest in the world and more than twice the amount of new capacity on the books in India, according to data published by environmental groups on Thursday. // China is greatly involved in power projects in Southeast Asia. Will their propensity towards coal be reflected in future projects in the region? 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand’s Renewable Energy Targets To Open New Business ModelsBusiness News Thailand’s goal of generating a third of its overall energy consumption from renewable sources in 18 years is expected to open unexplored business models that could create new jobs in the country.

Lao Authorities Arrest Woman for Criticizing Flood Relief Efforts on FacebookVOA A woman in Laos was arrested last week on charges of defaming the country after she posted criticism on Facebook of the slow government response to severe floods in the country’s southern provinces, sources say.

Rohingya still in Myanmar still face ‘threat of genocide’: United NationsReuters Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who remain inside Myanmar face systematic persecution and are living under the threat of genocide, a U.N. fact-finding mission said on Monday, repeating calls for top generals to face trial.

Philippines declares new polio outbreak after 19 yearsJapan Times Philippine health officials on Thursday declared a polio outbreak in the country, nearly two decades after the World Health Organization declared it to be free of the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease.

New city to be built in Siem Reap provinceKhmer Times A new urban centre will be built in Siem Reap, with the project having recently been included in the province’s tourism master plan.

Indonesia returning hundreds of containers of waste to WestThe Straits Times Indonesia is sending back hundreds of containers of contaminated waste to the West after shipments supposedly containing plastic meant for recycling were found to hide hazardous substances, customs officials said.

Young climate strikers ‘drop dead’ at Thai environment ministryChannel News Asia More than 200 young people in Thailand stormed into the environment ministry on Friday (Sep 20) and dropped to the ground feigning death as they demanded government action on climate change along with thousands of strikers around the world.

Regional Round-Up compiled by Jean Joo and Alex Lee.

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Regional Round-Up for Week of 8.30.19

EXSE FOCUS

A Conversation on the Mekong and a Changing Southeast AsiaThe Diplomat The region awaits for the Tonle Sap River’s annual reversal toward the Tonle Sap Lake which has been delayed.//While the Mekong River – one of the world’s longest and largest rivers – has long been in peril, its future has gotten more attention over the past few years both on its own terms as well as within the context of other geopolitical trends such as the development of mainland Southeast Asian states and the rise of China.

Related: When the river runs dry

Coal plant deemed too polluting for China heads to CambodiaChina Dialogue  Chinese companies and banks have pursued building and financing overseas coal power projects for the past two decades and continue to look abroad for new markets.// In the seaside hills of Ou Treh, Cambodia, Peng Mom led the way to her house along a train track – the only access to her village, which is surrounded by a thicket of palms and vines. Inside, soot coated her cooking pots and furniture.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

New Frigate Upgrade Deal Puts South Korea-Philippines Military Ties Into FocusThe Diplomat Last Friday, the Philippine defense ministry announced that a South Korean firm had won a contract to upgrade some of the Southeast Asian state’s vessels. While the development was only one aspect of the wider South Korea-Philippine defense relationship, it nonetheless highlighted ongoing efforts by both countries to boost their military ties.

Vietnam Seeks Australia’s Support on the South China SeaThe Diplomat Scott Morrison’s visit will mesh with Vietnam’s strategy of seeking assurances over its maritime disputes with China.

Myanmar to join US-Asean maritime drills despite sanctionsThe Straits Times Myanmar’s navy will join maritime drills with the US in South-east Asia next week, a spokesman said yesterday, in a rare show of military cooperation despite Washington slapping sanctions on the country’s top army brass over the Rohingya crisis.

Thai Firm To Build $1-Billion Smart City At The Outskirts Of YangonInvestvine Myanmar’s commercial hub of Yangon will be expanded by a newly constructed smart city in a northeastern district with the help of a Thai industrial estate developer.

Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia Join Forces To Develop Regional TourismInvestvine Tourism officials from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are discussing a draft plan on tourism development in the triangle area covering 13 provinces of the three countries.

Southeast Asian startups gain global venture capital spotlightNikkei Asian Review Low-profile Southeast Asia has gained the attention of venture capitalists from other parts of the globe where trade fracases are slowing commerce. In the first seven months of this year, VCs collected $2.62 billion in commitments for the region’s unicorns and other promising startups.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Don’t dismiss regenerated forests as ‘green deserts’, scientists sayThe Straits Times Replanted forests and those left to recover after logging activities can preserve vital insect and plant life in a similar way to old-growth forests, scientists have found, as interest grows in expanding the world’s forests to curb climate change.

Thailand steps up efforts to cut ocean plastic waste and conserve endangered marine lifeThe Straits Times Thailand is stepping up efforts to curb ocean plastic waste and conserve endangered marine life, through a comprehensive programme named after well-loved baby dugong Mariam who died after consuming plastic.

Indonesia bans food labeled ‘palm oil-free,’ in move welcomed by industryMongabay The Indonesian government has banned food labeled as being “palm oil-free,” in its latest push to protect the commodity against a growing consumer backlash.

A remote Indonesian district juggles road building with nature conservationMongabay For nearly a week this summer, the residents of Ujoh Bilang in Indonesian Borneo’s East Kalimantan province were virtually disconnected from the rest of the world. Situated in the upper reaches of the Mahakam River, or Mahakam, the villagers rely on the river for transport downstream to the larger towns and the provincial capital, Samarinda.

CHINA

Ongoing Fighting Decimates Myanmar-China Border TradeIrrawaddy Myanmar’s border trade with China through the Muse border trade zone has virtually halted due to clashes in northern Shan State, causing huge losses to Myanmar producers and exporters, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Duterte meets Xi to build bridges with China, says Philippine envoyThe Straits Times Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Thursday (Aug 29), their eighth meeting in three years in what Manila’s top envoy in Beijing described as a high-stakes meeting with the intent “to build bridges, not to burn”.

China fishing group apologises for Philippine boat sinking in South China SeaThe Straits Times China has admitted that its trawler was at fault in the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat at Recto Bank in the South China Sea in June, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Wednesday (Aug 28).

Vietnam seeks ‘peaceful’ solution to South China Sea tensionsNikkei Asian Review Vietnam will work with its Southeast Asian neighbors to seek a peaceful solution to tensions in the South China Sea, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told reporters here Tuesday after a meeting with Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad.

Mine Runoff Adds to Controversy Over Chinese-Backed Nickel Mine in MyanmarRadio Free Asia The Chinese-backed operators of a controversial nickel mine embroiled in a longstanding dispute with villagers in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region over accusations of shortchanging them for land now face allegations that waste byproducts from the metal-processing plant have contaminated local land and water resources.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

The Truth About Cambodia’s So-Called Corruption CrackdownThe Diplomat Over the past few weeks, we have seen some indications of calls for greater focus on anti-corruption in Cambodia.

Cambodia Says EU Rice Tariffs Hurting FarmersIrrawaddy Cambodia said on Thursday European Union tariffs on its rice had hurt half a million farmers with a sharp decline of exports to the bloc, as it reviews the Southeast Asian nation’s duty-free trading access over human rights concerns.

Indonesia’s Jokowi seeks to speed up development of four tourist destinationsThe Straits Times Indonesian President Joko Widodo is seeking to speed up the development of four priority tourist destinations across the country, as part of his administration’s efforts to boost the country’s tourism industry.

Indonesian capital move could prompt new environmental crisis in KalimantanThe Straits Times Abandoning Jakarta for a new capital in Borneo would not save the fast-sinking Indonesian megacity from disaster and could even spark a fresh environmental crisis in a region home to rainforests and endangered orangutans, critics have warned.

Indonesian police investigating palm oil companies over forest firesReuters Indonesian police are investigating three palm oil companies on suspicion of starting fires on Borneo island, where environmentalists say extensive deforestation has occurred to make way for plantations, a government ministry has said.

What’s in the Malaysia Palm Oil Defense Countertrade Chatter?-The Diplomat Earlier this week, Malaysia’s defense ministry again suggested that the country was looking at options with several countries where palm oil would be part of a barter system to buy military equipment.

Myanmar: Filmmaker Jailing Highlights Rising Rights ConcernsThe Diplomat The case comes amid growing worries about a deteriorating rights situation in the Southeast Asian country.

Bodies of 3 Myanmar Workers Killed in Mine Collapse FoundIrrawaddy The bodies of two coal miners killed in Sunday’s collapse of a coal mine in Magwe Region’s Minhla Township were recovered on Tuesday, and a third had been located.

Related: Four Trapped in Collapsed, Flooded Coal Mine in Central Myanmar

Vingroup leans on government and ride-hailer to boost auto salesNikkei Asian Review Vingroup, the ambitious Vietnamese conglomerate that recently added an automaker to its portfolio of companies, is giving the government a sales pitch while offering incentives to ride-hailing drivers looking to buy a new car.

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Regional Round-up for Week of 8.23.19

EXSE FOCUS

UN WARNS MEKONG RIVER IS A DISASTER HOTSPOTKhaosodenglish Vulnerable populations living around the Mekong River suffer from a high risk of exposure to flooding and drought. In order to mitigate risks, nations must strengthen cooperation amongst one another and address water issues that affect the region.// The Mekong River basin was identified as a major disaster risk hotspot by the United Nations today. 

Related: Mekong River Strikes Another Record Low

Myanmar Fishermen, Farmers Fear Losses From Kyaukphyu Sea-Port ProjectRadio Free Asia Local access to water and fishing must be considered and solutions that benefit all parties must be found when the state government opens special economic zones to foreign entities.//  Villagers living near the site of a proposed deep-sea port in the town of Kyaukphyu in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state fear losses as the joint project with China gets under way, with fishermen already restricted from access to the sea, sources say.

Indigenous Communities in Myanmar Take Action Against Top-Down ConservationThe Diplomat When it comes to conservation efforts, local communities should be consulted for their expertise and be a vital force when efforts are executed.// The need to put indigenous peoples at the center of conservation efforts could not be clearer. Evidence is mounting that indigenous stewardship of natural resources is key to combating the climate crisis and protecting the biodiversity that sustains the planet.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Thai, Indian Firms Selected to Supply Power, Gas to Myanmar New City Near YangonIrrawaddy The main developer of a controversial new city slated for construction on the western bank of the Yangon River has selected two foreign companies to supply and distribute electricity and natural to for the project.

US, Japan Vow to Back ‘Responsible Investment’ in MyanmarIrrawaddy Japan and the US stand with Myanmar to promote responsible, quality and ethical investment “for the benefit of the people of Myanmar” and “for the country’s economic development”, the two countries’ embassies said on Tuesday.

Vietnam Seeks Australia’s Support on the South China SeaThe Diplomat Vietnam is hosting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison amid escalated tensions between Hanoi and China in the South China Sea.

What’s in the New India-Vietnam Patrol Vessel Project Launch?The Diplomat Both sides broke ground on the first specific project to operationalize their defense partnership in this realm. 

Southeast Asia’s Hidden Female Genital Mutilation ChallengeThe Diplomat Activists have launched a new Asia-wide network to end the lesser-known practice of FGM in the region.

US and ASEAN to hold first joint naval drills near South China SeaNikkei Asian Review The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is holding its first joint military exercise with the U.S. Navy in the Gulf of Thailand early next month.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Australia branded a leading ’emissions exporter’ over coal, LNG shipmentsStraits Times Australia is the world’s third-largest emissions exporter, with more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide shipped abroad each year in the form of coal and liquefied natural gas, a think tank study showed on Monday (Aug 19).

Waste wars: Indonesian government faces uphill battle to rid country of imported refuseStraits Times The government of Indonesia faces an uphill battle to rid the country of imported refuse as low-income citizens fail to see the harm of turning trash into cash.

Malaysia’s Mahathir says linking palm oil to deforestation ‘baseless’Reuters Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Friday (Aug 23) said linking the production of palm oil to deforestation was “baseless, unfair and unjustified”, and that the industry has grown responsibly.

CHINA

Myanmar’s Cross-Border Trade with China Halted by Clashes-Irrawaddy Myanmar’s border trade with China through Muse in northern Shan State has come to a complete halt due to the destruction of bridges by rebel forces on the Mandalay-Muse Road, and ongoing clashes.

Philippine online casino ban highlights Duterte’s unwise China policyNikkei Asian Review Gambling has brought flood of money but also corruption, xenophobia and threats.

Trouble in paradise: Thailand fears decline in Chinese visitorsFinancial Times Once a driver of economic growth, the country’s tourist industry is struggling to adapt to the era of Airbnb

Vietnam and Indonesia stand out as Belt and Road bets, reports showAsian Nikkei Review Southeast Asia is becoming ever more of a hotbed for investment related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, two separate reports issued this month show.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Cambodia Says EU Rice Tariffs Hurting FarmersReuters Cambodia said on Thursday European Union tariffs on its rice had hurt half a million farmers with a sharp decline of exports to the bloc, as it reviews the Southeast Asian nation’s duty-free trading access over human rights concerns.

Cambodian PM Hun Sen sues opposition leader Sam Rainsy in French courtStraits Times Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has filed a defamation lawsuit in French court against his longtime political enemy Sam Rainsy, a lawyer for the South-east Asian leader said on Tuesday (Aug 20).

Cambodia Bans Online GamblingBangkok Post Cambodia will no longer issue licenses to online gambling businesses, and all existing licenses will not be renewed when they are expired, the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a directive on August 19.

The Future of Indonesia’s ‘Millennials Party’The Diplomat Amid of the hectic atmosphere of Indonesian politics preceding the elections of April 2019, eyes were almost exclusively focused on the Jokowi-Prabowo presidential race.

Race and religion remain Malaysia’s most divisive issues: The Star columnistThe Star In his commentary, the writer says that recent events, such as the furore against Indian Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik, show that the Pakatan Harapan is not much different from Barisan Nasional.

On the Armed Conflict in Northern MyanmarIrrawaddy Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we talk about the recent attacks of the military coalition the Northern Alliance (NA).

German Firm to Advise Central Bank of Myanmar on Licensing Foreign LendersIrrawaddy Amid the ongoing liberalization of Myanmar’s financial sector, the central bank has hired a German consulting firm to provide advisory services on the process of awarding licenses to foreign banks looking to do business here.

Myanmar girls sold as brides to men in ChinaStraits Times Gender imbalance in China fuels human trafficking in border areas.

Thailand asks tech firms to set up centres against ‘fake news’ in South-east AsiaReuters hailand is proposing that tech companies set up centres in each of the 10 South-east Asian countries to curb the flow of “fake news” and fake accounts, the country’s telecommunications regulator said on Monday (Aug 19).

Thai govt unveils $14b economic stimulus packageStraits Times Thailand’s new government yesterday unveiled a 316 billion baht (S$14.2 billion) plan to stimulate the country’s economy, which posted its slowest growth in nearly five years in the second quarter.

Related: Thailand’s economy expands at slowest pace in nearly five yearsNikkei Asian Review US-China trade war forces government to cut annual growth-rate forecast

Vietnam Among Top Ten Fastest-Growing Tourism Destinations WorldwideInvestvine Vietnam has been ranked as one of the world’s ten fastest-growing tourism destinations by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), according to information revealed at a conference themed “The world tourism development trend and the impact on Vietnamese tourism” organised by the General Department of Tourism on August 20 in Hanoi.

This week’s news digest was curated by Anvy Tran.

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Regional Round-Up for Week of 8.16.19

EXSE FOCUS

A dam-building race threatens the Mekong RiverDW Low water levels from drought is exacerbated by Chinese dams holding back water. “Downstream countries should not have to ask China to release water to relieve drought,” Brian Eyler, Southeast Asia Program Director at the Washington-based Stimson Center, told DW.// The Mekong River is a lifeline to many communities in Southeast Asia. But an ongoing drought and dozens of hydroelectric power plants are lowering water levels and damaging a fragile ecosystem.

Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake Under ThreatAsia Sentinel
The Tonle Sap’s flood pulse is being monitored. “Traditionally the annual reversal of the Tonle Sap Lake happens in late July or early August, but with this year’s drought, the reversal will come late or perhaps not at all,” said Brian Eyler, the Energy, Water, Sustainability Program Director for the Washington, DC-based Stimson Center. // In July the Mekong River, the precious lifeline for four Southeast Asian countries and China’s Yunnan Province, fell to its lowest levels in 100 years, the victim of increasing climate change, agricultural runoff and a plethora of upstream dams that threaten its existence.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

ASEAN joins the Indo-Pacific conversationEast Asia Forum After months of deliberation and hesitation, ASEAN finally contributed to the discussion on the evolving Indo-Pacific concept. The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) was officially released at the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok at the end of June 2019.

A model city in Japan is helping Asian cities go greenUN Environment In the 1960s, officials measuring the levels of dissolved oxygen in the city of Kitakyushu’s Dokai Bay registered an alarming reading: the dissolved oxygen in the bay was near zero. There was virtually none.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Solar to make up 15 pct of local energy production by 2020Khmer Times About 15 percent of all energy produced in the Kingdom will come from solar panels by 2020, the government said yesterday.

Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recyclingStraits Times Indonesia’s crackdown on imported foreign waste has upset the village of Bangun, where residents say they earn more money sorting through piles of rubbish than growing rice in once-lush paddy fields.

Indonesia forest-clearing ban is made permanent, but labeled ‘propaganda’Mongabay Indonesia’s president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging. It’s a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere “propaganda.”

CHINA

Philippines expresses concern over Chinese warships in its watersStraits Times The Philippine government on Thursday (Aug 15) expressed concern over the passage of Chinese warships in the country’s waters without prior coordination, saying it was not “an act of friendship”.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Cambodia garment exports at risk as EU wraps up tariff reviewNikkei Asian Review Business groups in Cambodia are warning that tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars worth of exports may be at risk as the European Union comes a step closer to deciding whether it will end preferential trade arrangement for the Southeast Asian country.

Tourism Arrivals In Philippines, Cambodia JumpInvestvine Tourism arrivals have been significantly rising in both the Philippines and Cambodia in the first half of the year, mainly owing to more visitors from China and a shift from traditional holiday countries such as Thailand, which currently suffers from stagnating numbers due to a strong baht, immigration bureaucracy and deteriorating services in the sector.

Cambodian Tycoon Kong Kroeng Detained Over Suspected Illegal Logging OperationRadio Free Asia Powerful business tycoon Kong Kroeng was detained on Thursday after being questioned by authorities in eastern Cambodia’s Kratie province over his alleged involvement in an illicit timber operation, according to the National Military Police.

Acting Cambodia Opposition Chief Sam Rainsy Walks Back Plan to Return From Exile Next MonthRadio Free Asia Acting opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy has walked back plans to return to Cambodia from self-imposed exile by late next month, but said he plans to travel there before “the end of the year,” despite the threat of prison.

Indonesia accounts for almost 80% of hotspots detected in Asean in past monthStraits Times Nearly 80 per cent of hotspots detected in the Asean region over the past 29 days are located in Indonesia, figures from the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) show.

Jokowi formally proposes moving Indonesia’s capital to BorneoNikkei Asian Review President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo formally proposed to parliament on Friday a plan to relocate Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Water levels at Johor plants fall as dry spell, heatwave continueStraits Times Water levels have fallen at several treatment plants in Johor because of the ongoing dry spell and high temperatures, an official said, adding that two plants in the Malaysian state were close to reaching their critical thresholds.

Myanmar Military Uses Threat of Prison to Stifle Criticism Ahead of ElectionsNew York Times More than two dozen Myanmar Army colonels have bypassed the battlefield to fight their adversaries in civilian courts, using criminal defamation cases to stifle criticism of the army’s authority ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

Myanmar landslide death toll hits 57Straits Times The death toll from a horrific landslide in southern Myanmar reached 57 on Monday (Aug 12) as rain continued to pound the region and submerge villages.

Thailand unveils $10bn stimulus package to ease trade war painNikkei Asian Review Thailand’s Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana on Friday unveiled an economic stimulus package totaling 316 billion baht ($10.2 billion) to support farmers, lower-income earners and ultimately the entire Thai economy.

Thai ruling coalition on shaky ground after party defectionNikkei Asian Review Thailand’s pro-military ruling coalition lost a minority partner Tuesday, putting the Prayuth government’s slim majority at risk less than a month after the cabinet was sworn in.

Southeast Asia poised for export boost from new US tariffsNikkei Asian Review Southeast Asia will likely enjoy a boost in exports from the new U.S. tariffs on China announced recently, with more companies diverting production and shipments through the region in order to avoid higher rates.

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Regional Round-up for Week of 8.9.19

EXSE FOCUS

One Year After Laos Dam Disaster 10,000 Survivors Have Returned Home But Still Struggle to Rebuild-Radio Free Asia Villagers are still contending with the consequences of the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy dam collapse in Laos one year later. The disaster highlighted one of the risks that poor dam construction can impose on downstream communities.// One year after a dam collapse in Laos caused a major flooding disaster, 10,000 survivors have returned to their villages, but are still suffering hardship as they try to piece their homes and lives together.

Giant freshwater fishes are in alarming decline-Nature The Mekong River is home to the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish that has been at risk due to habitat loss and overfishing. The pattern of  freshwater megafauna numbers dwindling can be seen from all of the world’s rivers and lakes.//Freshwater megafish — giants weighing more than 30 kilograms that can live for decades — declined by more than 94% between 1970 and 2012, according to a recent study.

Myanmar floods force tens of thousands from homesStrait Times Extreme weather conditions from the monsoonal rains have caused flooding, landslides, and displaced thousands of people.// Raging floods across Myanmar have forced tens of thousands of people from their homes in recent weeks, officials said Thursday (Aug 8), as monsoon rains pummel the nation.

Related: Weather Concerns Halt Water Transit in Irrawaddy Region

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Indonesia’s Jokowi moots cooperation or merger of state oil companies with Malaysia-Strait Times The state oil companies of Malaysia and Indonesia could cooperate or even merge to expand their businesses together, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Friday (Aug 9) during a state visit to Kuala Lumpur.

Myanmar, Korea to Build Industrial Facility North of Yangon-Irrawaddy Myanmar’s Urban and Housing Development Department (UHDD) on Thursday signed a joint venture agreement with Korea Land and Housing Corporation to establish a joint industrial complex in Hlegu, north of the commercial capital Yangon.

Japanese Firms to Push Growth in Myanmar Insurance Market-Irrawaddy With Myanmar’s Ministry of Planning and Finance giving the green light to six joint ventures between local and foreign insurance companies at the end of July, Japanese insurance firms are poised to dominate the country’s insurance market.

Can a Japan–China rivalry drive high-speed rail sustainability?-East Asia Forum Seeking transparent, responsible and sustainable financing for quality infrastructure projects, the G20 leaders endorsed the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment at this year’s summit.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Australian leaders agree to ban exports of recyclable waste-Strait Times Australia has signalled its commitment to stop exporting recyclable waste, amid a pushback by regional neighbours, including Indonesia and Malaysia.

Land use and abuse in South-east Asia have implications for global climate change: Experts-Strait Times Between a garden salad and a slab of steak, which is the more environmentally-friendly option? The answer is the former.

Indonesian farmers need help to clear land with tractors, not with burning: President Jokowi-Strait Times Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called on all related parties, including provincial governors, to help farmers acquire equipment such as excavators and tractors to ensure they do not resort to the slash-and-burn method when clearing plantation land.

CHINA

Is Malaysia benefitting from the US–China trade war?-East Asia Forum It has been almost a year since the first round of US tariffs were imposed on US$34 billion worth of Chinese imports. 

Philippines to protest against Chinese ships’ presence amid troubled ties-Strait Times The Philippines will lodge a protest over the unannounced presence of two Chinese research vessels in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), one of at least three diplomatic challenges in recent weeks amid a souring of relations.

Related: Philippines’ Duterte plans China visit to discuss South China Sea ruling

Vietnam says Chinese ship has left its waters-Strait Times A Chinese survey ship embroiled in a tense month-long stand-off with Vietnamese vessels has left Vietnam’s continental shelf, the South-east Asian nation’s Foreign Ministry confirmed yesterday.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

‘Fake news’, the law and self-censorship in Southeast Asia-East Asia Forum In recent years, Southeast Asian governments have been actively enacting new laws governing the spread of online disinformation and misinformation, also known as ‘fake news’. What are their stated reasons for doing so? What are the new legislations’ potential consequences for freedom of expression in the region?

Related: Vietnamese Activists Cry Slander at Documentary Accusing them of Incitement

EU struggles to strike trade pacts with major ASEAN countries-Nikkei Asian Review After the European Union secured free trade agreements this year with Singapore and Vietnam, there is even greater incentive for other large Southeast Asian economies to speed up the pace of clinching their own trade pacts, but negotiations with the EU are certain to prove difficult.

Tiny Loans Lead to Bigger Debts, Land Losses in Cambodia-Reuters The rapid rise of tiny loans aimed at helping poor Cambodians has led to more debt, with many borrowers forced to sell land, migrate or put their children to work, human rights groups said on Wednesday.

Indonesia President Jokowi criticises state power company over blackouts– Strait Times Indonesian President Joko Widodo has chastised state-owned electricity company PLN for the massive blackout that hit Jakarta and its neighbouring provinces on Sunday (Aug 4).

Oil spill affects 13 villages, at least 7,800 people in West Java-Strait Times Oil spill affects 13 villages, at least 7,800 people in West Java.

Indonesia threatens tariff hike on EU dairy in trade spat-Strait Times Indonesia’s trade minister on Friday (Aug 9) threatened to impose higher tariffs on European Union dairy imports in response to the bloc’s proposed move to hit biodiesel made from palm oil with anti-subsidy duties.

Indonesia’s biggest party PDI-P re-elects Megawati, chairman of 20 years-Strait Times Indonesia’s biggest political party PDI-P has elected Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri as its chairman by acclamation, continuing her grip on power after 20 years at its helm.

Is Indonesia’s anti-corruption reform slipping?-East Asia Forum Until July 2019, Indonesia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK or Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi) had not, since its establishment in 2003, lost any of the hundreds of cases it brought to full trial. This was a remarkable achievement in a country renowned for entrenched and widespread corruption at the highest levels.

Indonesia’s Jokowi says he’ll fire officials if they fail to tackle forest blazes
Strait Times With a surge in forest fires in Indonesia threatening a repeat of the deadly haze that blanketed much of Southeast Asia in 2015, President Joko Widodo said officials failing to tackle the menace will be fired.

Lao Protest Villagers Held Since 2017 Have Been Sentenced-Radio Free Asia Nine Lao villagers held for over two years for protesting the loss of land awarded by the government to a Vietnamese rubber company have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to six years, sources in the communist Southeast Asian state said.

Philippines ‘open’ to dengue vaccine as outbreak kills hundreds-Strait Times As hundreds die in a severe dengue outbreak in the Philippines, many of them children, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday (Aug 8) he was open to lifting his government’s blanket ban on the Dengvaxia vaccine.

Vietnam mulls importing US coal for power generation as it looks to narrow trade surplus-Strait Times Vietnam is considering importing coal from the United States to meet rising demand for fuel for power generation, state media reported on Tuesday (Aug 6), as the South-east Asian country plans to build more coal-fired power plants.

This week’s news digest was curated by Anvy Tran.

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Regional Round-Up for Week of 8.2.2019

EXSE FOCUS

Worrying days for the Mekong – The ASEAN Post Water levels at Southeast Asia’s largest river may be at its lowest levels in a century. Low rainfall, high temperatures and poor dam regulations are contributing to a historic low at the Mekong, affecting the region’s agriculture and fishing industries and leading to rapidly drying taps. // While weather conditions are difficult to control (other than a root cause = climate change), dam regulations can be controlled by human, especially policymakers in the Mekong region. They should examine the current situation carefully, plan wisely and implement immediately.

Pompeo reverts to China criticism after meeting top diplomat, hits out over Mekong dams, South China Sea – The Straits Times US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reverted on Thursday (Aug 1) to criticism of China’s actions in Asia, speaking out at a regional forum against Chinese “coercion” in disputes over the South China Sea and dam-building on the Mekong River. // U.S. understanding and warning on the current drought is the first step to move forward. The next step is U.S. involvement to take actions with the Mekong region and other partners to improve the situation.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Trump’s incomplete Asia strategy – East Asia Forum It took some time, but the United States has officially embraced a new approach toward Asia — the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) strategy. First named during US President Donald Trump’s speech at APEC in late 2017, the strategy remained little more than an idea for nearly 18 months.

Working with China on humanitarian aid in the Pacific – East Asia Forum China’s fast-growing foreign aid programs have led to grave concerns from traditional donors. Development cooperation is becoming a new area of strategic competition as traditional donors, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand, have pledged to increase aid spending in the Pacific region in response to China’s growing presence. Despite competition in areas such as infrastructure development, there is potential for cooperation in humanitarian aid between China and traditional donors.

Cambodia to increase arms purchases from China – The Straits Times Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday (July 29) that an additional US$40 million (S$55 million) would be spent on weapons from China to modernise the South-east Asian country’s military.

Cambodia’s electric Chinese aid and investment affair – East Asia Forum The debate about China’s rapidly growing global investment and development financing footprint has focused on deciphering Chinese intentions — whether China aims to revise or maintain the US-led ‘liberal international order’.

Rising South China Sea tensions, US-China trade talks cast shadow over Asean summit – The Straits Times Rising tensions in the South China Sea and the fallout from US-China trade war are set to dominate talks this week as top diplomats converge in Bangkok for a key Southeast Asia summit.

Negotiating an effective China–ASEAN South China Sea Code of Conduct – East Asia Forum In August 2018 a single draft negotiating text for a South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) was first put forward with an agreement reached by China and ASEAN to finalise the COC within three years, starting from 2019.

Related: South China Sea negotiations between Asean and China cross key milestone – The Straits Times

Thailand seeks deeper cooperation as Asean ministers meet – Bangkok Post Southeast Asian foreign ministers opened their annual meeting Wednesday with a call from host Thailand for deeper integration to expand trade and bolster prosperity in the region amid rising global challenges.

Vietnamese Fishermen Call for Action on Chinese Intrusions in the South China Sea – Radio Free Asia A Vietnamese fishermen’s group blasted China this week for what it called Beijing’s intrusion into Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea, urging Hanoi at the same time to take a stronger line to defend Vietnam’s interests.

South China Sea talks between Asean, China reach milestone – The Straits Times Attempts to reduce tension in the contested South China Sea reached a milestone yesterday when Beijing revealed that Asean and China had completed the first reading of the single draft negotiating text for a code of conduct (COC).

Related: Talks on a South China Sea code of conduct will resume in October – The Straits Times

Pompeo says US doesn’t ask South-east Asian nations to take sides – The Straits Times US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told South-east Asian counterparts at a meeting in Bangkok on Thursday (Aug 1) that the United States never asked Indo-Pacific nations to take sides.

Australia pledges US$55 million to fight human trafficking in South-east Asia – The Straits Times Australia pledged US$55 million (S$75.6 million) to fight human trafficking in South-east Asia on Thursday (Aug 1), vowing to tackle “modern slavery” ensnaring vulnerable populations across the region, from low-paid workers to underage brides and Rohingya refugees.

Australia’s middle power role in the Asia Pacific – East Asia Forum China has successfully established itself as a power that has to be taken seriously in the Asia Pacific. Meanwhile, serious doubts are mounting about US willingness and capacity to remain the dominant power in the region. These are matters of serious concern for Australia’s security and foreign policymakers.

SUSTAINABILITY & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Shanghai’s waste scheme may spark recycling revolution – The Straits Times Trash sorting initiative, if successful, would point way for rest of China after past failures.

Pray and Protect: Faith Saves Forests of Cambodia – The Irrawaddy As a Buddhist monk, Khoeum Saray’s day is governed by a ritual of prayer, meditation, alms and temple chores, with one big exception: he also patrols a sprawling Cambodian forest and shows villagers how to protect it.

Global weather chaos is also shrivelling Asia crop production – The Straits Times In a year when record heat is scorching Europe and the heaviest rain in decades has inundated parts of the US Midwest, the Asia Pacific region is suffering from its own maelstrom of extreme weather.

Plastic junk spawns desert island disaster in Pacific – The Straits Times Floating plastic garbage has swamped a remote Pacific island once regarded as an environmental jewel and scientists say little can be done to save it while a throwaway culture persists.

Extreme weather hurting crop output in Asia-Pacific – The Straits Times In a year when record heat is scorching Europe and the heaviest rain in decades has inundated parts of the American Midwest, the Asia-Pacific region is suffering from its own maelstrom of extreme weather.

CHINA

Can China electrify all new passenger cars by 2030? – China Dialogue China’s electric vehicle industry is entering a new phase of accelerating development, President Xi Jinping wrote in a congratulatory message to participants of a new energy vehicle conference in early July.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Severe Drought in Mekong Region Reduces Rice Planting in Laos – Radio Free Asia Lao farmers have planted rice on less than half the country’s cultivable land this year because of a persistent drought in the Mekong River region that has seen severely reduced water levels and the delay of seasonal monsoon rains which have yet to begin.

Xayaburi Dam in clear, says operator – Bangkok Post The unseasonal drought currently affecting the lower Mekong Region has alerted both the public and the authorities to the activities of a series of dams further upstream on the international river.

Myanmar Tourism Arrivals Recovering – Investvine Tourist arrivals in Myanmar are on the rise again despite international condemnation over the systematic campaign of violence of the country’s military against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Unsafe roads hurt GDP – Bangkok Post One way to improve Thailand’s staggering economy might be to have motorists to drive more slowly, claims a new report.

First Mekong Bridge Of China-Laos High Speed Rail Completed – Investvine The main section of the first huge Mekong river bridge for the China-Laos high speed railway connection has been completed on July 28, seven months ahead of schedule despite challenging conditions, Xinhua reported.

Chinese Tourism in Myanmar Growing, While Industry Still Adapts – The Irrawaddy Chinese arrivals in Myanmar have increased by nearly 200,000 over the last year thanks to Myanmar’s relaxed visa stipulations, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

Economy poised to grow at slower clip than BoT’s forecast – Bangkok Post The economy is likely to expand at a slower pace than the Bank of Thailand’s 3.3% forecast for the year because of subdued exports and domestic consumption, adding to signs of a further projection rollback.

This week’s news digest was curated by Hiroshi Yasui.

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Regional Round-up for Week of 7.26.19

EXSE FOCUS

Relief urged for looming water crisis – Bangkok Post Prime Minster Prayut Chan-o-cha will be asked to approve seven urgent measures to deal with the looming water scarcity in 20 northern and northeastern provinces. // Historical low-level of rainfall itself might be an extreme weather caused by man-made climate change. The test of Xayaburi dam in the upstream Mekong, which is now delayed by Lao government, is another man-made factor worsening the drought in the downstream Mekong.

Pompeo Visit Important for Region, Not Just Thailand – The Irrawaddy When US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stops in Bangkok for a three-day visit at the end of this month, he will find that Washington’s good old ally Thailand is ready to tango. Relations will no longer be based on reaction and counter-reaction to a cycle of coups. // Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Southeast Asia is expected as reengaging the U.S. role in the Mekong region stronger than before. It should include viewpoints of U.S. contribution to improvement of local people’s livelihood and local ecosystem preservation, not just viewpoints of security cooperation and U.S. firms’ interest.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Cambodia denies deal to allow armed Chinese forces at its naval base – The Straits Times China will be able to place armed forces at a Cambodian naval base under a secret agreement the two nations have reached, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday (July 21), although Cambodian officials denied such a deal had been struck.

Related: Cambodian Opposition Chief Warns Against China’s Growing Dominance, Military Presence – Radio Free Asia

Vietnam demands ‘immediate withdrawal’ of China ship in disputed sea – The Straits Times Vietnam on Thursday (July 25) called for the “immediate withdrawal” of a Chinese ship in the South China Sea, as the stand-off over the disputed waters intensified.

JICA, VASS step up cooperation for Vietnam’s sustainable development – Vietnam Plus The Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Vietnam signed a cooperation deal on July 24 in Hanoi, looking to contribute to promoting sustainable development in Vietnam.

SUSTAINABILITY & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

As global hunger grows, easy solutions disappear – The Third Pole One of the Sustainable Development Goals was to reduce Global Hunger to zero by 2030, but the latest UN report shows the world is going backwards and that goal may not be so easy to reach.

New initiative aims to jump-start stalled drive toward zero deforestation – Mongabay Over the past decade there has been a rise in corporate zero-deforestation commitments, but very few companies have shown progress in meeting their goals of reducing deforestation in their supply chains by 2020.

Plastic from Burlap? Bangladesh Invents a Green Throw-Away Bag – The Irrawaddy As countries around the world try to cut down on throw-away plastic shopping bags, Bangladesh is hoping to cash in on an alternative: plastic-like bags made from jute, the plant fiber used to produce burlap bags.

South Pacific islanders threatened by climate change and overfishing – China Dialogue Ocean Tony Yao used to fish in his outrigger canoe in the coastal waters off Tahiti in French Polynesia. But the decline in fish populations has forced his family to move in order to find less exploited fishing grounds.

CHINA

Caribbean countries turn to China’s Belt and Road – East Asia Forum China’s ability to connect Caribbean nations to the Maritime Silk Road is an important barometer of the Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) global applicability. In recent years, the United States has become an absent steward over the Caribbean. Aid is dwindling, ambassador posts remain empty, and a chorus of Caribbean leaders are showing a willingness to accept BRI funding as a way to meet badly needed infrastructure improvements.

Global Warming Reshapes Almanac for Tea Growers in China’s Yunnan – The Irrawaddy Que Liu and his wife Si En spend their mornings picking pu’er leaves in an ancient tea garden in a forest not far from their hillside village, one of many that dot the subtropical highlands of southwest China.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Is Vietnam swimming naked? – East Asia Forum Vietnam’s economy has benefitted from a redirection of FDI from China due to a combination of rising wages in China, a shrinking domestic labour force and trade tensions. With US$1.5 billion entering Vietnam every month, employment is full, poverty is declining and growth sits at a brisk 7 per cent.

Will Vietnam’s Trong loosen his grip on absolute power? – East Asia Forum The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is preparing for its 13th Congress scheduled to be held in early 2021. Surely it will elect someone else to take over from 75-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong as general secretary.

Diesel pollution prompts water cuts to consumers in Malaysia’s Klang Valley in second outage in days – The Straits Times A diesel pollutant detected in Sungai Selangor in the Malaysian state of Selangor forced the shutdown of four water treatment plants on Sunday (July 21), affecting consumers in the Klang Valley, one of the country’s most densely populated areas.

Exports dip for fourth straight month in June – Bangkok Post Thailand’s exports dropped for the fourth straight month in June, attributed to weak global demand because of the world’s economic slowdown, ongoing international trade tensions between the US and China, and lower oil prices.

Cambodia Launches Probe Into Chinese Firm That Imported 1,600 Tons of Plastic Waste to Sihanoukville – Radio Free Asia Authorities in Cambodia on Friday said they have launched an investigation into a Chinese firm found to have imported 1,600 tons of banned plastic waste into the coastal city of Sihanoukville, but environmental activists suggested that those conducting the probe are likely complicit in the crime.

Related: Cambodian Authorities Did Not Approve Importing of Banned Plastic Waste, Official Says – Radio Free Asia

Droughts in Cambodia Spell Doom for Farmers and Fishermen – Radio Free Asia An extended drought in Cambodia has caused the tributaries of Tonle Sap lake to dry up, spelling ruin for farmers and fishermen in Battambang province.

Survivors of deadly Laos dam collapse homeless a year on: Report – The Straits Times Thousands are languishing in displacement camps in Laos a year after a dam break unleashed flood waters and killed dozens of people in the impoverished state, a new report on the anniversary of the disaster said on Tuesday (July 23).

Related: Survivors of Dam Collapse in Laos to Receive Half Compensation on Anniversary of Disaster – Radio Free Asia

Related: New Report Pleads for Accountability on First Anniversary of Laos Dam Collapse – Radio Free Asia

At Least 7 Dead, Dozens Missing in Magwe Land Dispute – The Irrawaddy A land dispute between residents of two villages in Magwe Divison’s Yaynanchaung Township erupted into deadly violence on Tuesday, leaving at least seven people dead and 36 missing, according to police.

Low rainfall dries up rice exports – Bangkok Post Low rainfall, if it extends until August, will possibly lower rice exports to 8.5 million tonnes this year, the lowest volume in seven years, according to shippers.

IMF Recommends Thailand Fiscal Reform And Monetary Easing – Investvine In the wake of slowing GDP growth amid rising global trade tensions and the lack of internal stimulus, Thailand should adopt an expansionary policy mix, including fiscal reforms, monetary easing and measures to increase labour productivity in order to help turn things around, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in a statement on July 22.

Foreign Partners Poised to Aid Growth in Myanmar’s Life Insurance Sector – The Irrawaddy While joint-venture proposals from foreign insurance companies are being reviewed by the country’s insurance business regulatory board, some of Myanmar’s largest insurance companies are already building bridges to leverage foreign expertise for the growth of Myanmar’s nascent insurance industry.

Thai govt urged not to buy power from Laos dam – The Straits Times The Thai government must suspend plans to buy electricity from a dam in Laos, conservationists said on Friday (July 26), as water levels along the kingdom’s section of Mekong river plummet to near-record lows.

Missing Mekong waters rouse suspicions of China – The Straits Times By this time of year, the Mekong River should have been rising steadily with the monsoon rains, bringing fishermen a bounty of fat fish.

This week’s news digest was curated by Hiroshi Yasui

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