Regional Roundup for Week of 10.6.16


 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.


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.



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?


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.



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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