Regional Roundup for Week of 11.2.15

EXSE FOCUS

 Is Laos Building a New Illegal Dam on the Mekong River? – The Diplomat The National Assembly of Laos recently approved the concession agreement for the 260-megawatt Don Sahong hydropower project, with construction expected to begin before the end of 2015. The controversial hydroelectric project is currently the focal point of discussion surrounding development of the Mekong River given the potential negative impacts of hydropower on other sectors of the water-food-energy-livelihoods nexus.//Is it legal? Maybe. Does it need to be built? No. I’ve seen first-hand the fish pass channel that is supposed to mitigate the dam’s effects on migration and it’s highly unlikely that it will leave the vital Mekong fish stocks unaffected. For the 260Mw it’s going to produce, the Don Sahong dam is clearly not worth the costs.

Related: Laos boosts hydropower, explores coal deposits for shale gas – Thanh Nien News

Study on the Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower on the Mekong River – CGIAR The Vietnam National Mekong Committee (VNMC) would like to thank all participants for attending our Special Session on the Mekong Delta Study (MDS) at the Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy. The presentations delivered at the Forum are now available for you review.//A very useful collection of presentations highlighting the downstream impacts of hydropower dams on the Mekong on livelihoods, biological environments and fisheries.

Related: Mekong dams will wipe out fisheries, study says – The Phnom Penh Post

China May Ban New Coal-Fired Power – Radio Free Asia China’s government is reportedly considering a ban on building new coal-fired power plants, a move that could have significant effects on pollution, energy use, and jobs in the declining coal industry. On Oct. 10, a key environmental adviser told the Sydney Morning Herald that officials have been discussing a cap on coal-fired generating capacity under the next planning period for 2016 through 2020.

The Fraught Politics of the TPP – Project Syndicate This month, 12 countries on both sides of the Pacific finalized the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The scope of the TPP is vast. If ratified and implemented, it will have a monumental impact on trade and capital flows along the Pacific Rim. Indeed, it will contribute to the ongoing transformation of the international order. Unfortunately, whether this will happen remains uncertain.

Related: Indonesia Wants to Join TPP: President Jokowi – The Diplomat

US Freedom of Navigation Patrols in the South China Sea: China Reacts – The Diplomat On Tuesday the U.S. Navy finally carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificially-built islands. After months of media reports indicating Washington was coming ever closer to such patrols, the USS Lassen, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef (and possibly Mischief Reef as well), according to U.S. officials who spoke with the media.

Related: China faces mounting pressure over maritime claims – The Jakarta Post

The UK: A Success Story for China’s Educational Soft PowerThe Diplomat In an op-ed for Times Higher Education last week, Imperial College London President Alice Gast proudly proclaimed U.K. universities to be “China’s best partners in the West.” Though largely a rhetorical reference to the strategic choice made by her nation’s leaders to become China’s best friend, Gast’s statement hits the nail on the head when it comes to China’s current soft power development in the U.K.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

ASEAN’s Big Year Offers Little to Celebrate – The Diplomat A grand entrance by the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), when it launches in less than nine weeks, onto the world stage was supposed to herald the dawning of a prosperous new age for the more than 600 million people who live within the region. But the political realities are already delivering a different, unwanted take. Bad? Even Southeast Asia’s harshest critics are trying hard not to crow over the latest debacles, for fear of tempting fate with the region’s notoriously thin-skinned leaders.

Vietnam, Philippines Near New Strategic Partnership – The Diplomat On October 21, Vietnam and the Philippines convened the eighth meeting of their bilateral cooperation committee. The deliberations focused on specific measures for advancing collaboration as the two ASEAN states are expected to lift ties to a strategic partnership next month.//This agreement has everything to do with South China Sea issues and it’s no coincidence that it happens after the US made its pass-by last week. Team America gets tighter. 

Vietnam, Cambodia advance border province cooperation – Thanh Nien News Vietnam and Cambodia Wednesday agreed on directions and measures to bolster cooperation between their border provinces and effectively settle arising and complex issues, the Vietnam News Agency reported. The eighth meeting on border province cooperation and development, held in Ho Chi Minh City October 27-28, was co-chaired by Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng.

China’s president to visit Vietnam amid South China Sea tension – The South China Morning Post President Xi Jinping will visit Vietnam next week amid heightened tension in the South China Sea that has weighed on ties between the neighbours. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing on Thursday Xi would visit Vietnam on November 5-6.

U.N. Urges Inquiry Into Attack on Cambodian Opposition LawmakersNYT The United Nations expressed concern on Friday over a crackdown on Cambodia’s political opposition, urging an independent and thorough investigation of a mob attack this week that seriously injured two opposition lawmakers.

Indonesia’s leader says his country to join Asia trade pactThe Jakarta Post Indonesia’s leader looked to cement his nation’s growing ties with the United States, declaring after a meeting Monday with President Barack Obama that Southeast Asia’s largest economy intended to join a sweeping U.S.-backed Pacific Rim trade deal.//The TPP makes sense for Jokowi and the US should take this opportunity work hard to make this happen. 

America’s Society Is Wealthier Than China’s – And It Doesn’t MatterThe Diplomat One quick, simplistic way to compare China and the United States: China has a wealthy state and a poor society, while America has a poor government but a wealthy society. Yet the average American enjoys a considerably higher standard of living than the average Chinese. Some analysts argue this huge gap in private wealth ensures that China is not poised to overtake the United States as the world’s top economic power and therefore China is not a threat to American global pre-eminence in the foreseeable future. This analysis, however, is flawed.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Forest Management Group Strips Vietnamese Rubber Company of Certification – Radio Free Asia A global forest management organization has stripped a Vietnamese rubber company of its certification after finding that the state-owned entity committed human rights violations and illegally destroyed thousands of acres of forest for rubber plantations in Cambodia. The U.S.-based Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international nonprofit organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests, publicly announced the decision Monday after finding evidence that Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG) had illegally seized land from local villagers in Cambodia and decimated at least 50,000 hectares (123,600 acres) of forest.

Cambodia: peaceful direct action has saved one of our most beautiful forestsThe Guardian An environmental activist explains how a grassroots campaign has stalled the building of a dam in Cambodia.//One of the growing number of success stories for grassroots environmental groups in SE Asia. Curious that as SE Asia sees a weakening of democratic institutions, grassroots orgs gain more power. 

Vietnam launches its largest hi-tech research and development centerThanh Nien News The center are expected to produce hi-tech mechanical devices, energy-saving chips and solar panels.

CHINA

 China to allow all couples two children to counter aging population – Thanh Nien News China will ease family planning restrictions to allow all couples to have two children after decades of a strict one-child policy, the ruling Communist Party said on Thursday, a move aimed at alleviating demographic strains on the economy.//I remember asking people on the street in Beijing about this policy 5 years ago for Chinese class. The vast majority said that the policy would continue for at least another 10 to 15 years. There’s no quick fix to China’s looming demographic problems, but this is a start. I know plenty of government employees (who would lose their job before the policy change) who are getting ready for their second child now. 

Related: Q. and A.: Mei Fong on the Impact of China’s ‘One Child’ Policy – NYT

 Chinese lawmakers among nearly 900 people arrested in anti-corruption crackdown this year in Shanxi province – The South China Morning Post Chinese police have arrested nearly 900 suspected members of 150 organised crime gangs, including lawmakers – all from the same province – so far this year, mainland media has reported.

 China’s Fifth Plenum: What You Need to Know – The Diplomat The CCP’s fifth plenum laid out the plan for China’s development over the next five years.

 Chinese president Xi Jinping’s trusted general in line for top PLA roleThe South China Morning Post The top decision-making body of the Communist Party is to use its ongoing meeting in Beijing to vet top candidates to lead the military after 2017. The Politburo Standing Committee would use its fifth plenum to consider who would lead the Central Military Commission (CMC) after that date, sources close to the army said.

 China’s Meritocracy Vs. Western Democracy – The Diplomat Is China’s meritocracy actually a better alternative to Western-style democracy?

 Innovation with Chinese Characteristics – Project Syndicate SHANGHAI – China’s slowing growth has dominated global economic news this year – and for good reason. Beyond being the world’s second-largest economy, China is the largest manufacturer and consumer of raw materials; so any sign of weakening there is bad news for the global economy. But, while concerns about growth certainly merit attention, they should be viewed in the context of China’s longer-term economic trajectory, especially its emergence as a global hub of innovation.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Cambodian Opposition MPs Beaten as Political Truce Falters – The Irrawaddy PHNOM PENH — Two opposition lawmakers were beaten outside Cambodia’s parliament on Monday during a demonstration in support of the ruling party, witnesses and the opposition said, in the first case of violence since a political truce broke down in July.

The Truth About Myanmar’s New Ceasefire Agreement – The Diplomat The recently concluded nationwide ceasefire agreement is a step in the right direction.//It is a step in the right direction. The question is “Is it a big enough step to maintain stability through the political changes of the next few months. 

‘I can’t take it anymore’: Desperation drives Indonesian residents from epicentre of Southeast Asia’s haze crisis – The South China Morning Post When the smoke from forest fires turned a thick, acrid yellow, casting an apocalyptic glow over Palangkaraya, Kartika Sari decided to grab her child and flee the Indonesian city at the epicentre of the haze crisis smothering Southeast Asia.

 Vietnam commits to ASEAN’s goal to end forest fire haze in 2020 – Thanh Nien News Environment ministers from Southeast Asia have agreed to a five-year plan to end Indonesian forest fire haze that has persisted every year and sickened hundreds of thousands this year.

Too hot to work: climate change ‘puts south-east Asia economies at risk’ – The Guardian Rising temperatures and humidity due to climate change are likely to increase the number of days with unsafe “heat stress”, putting south-east Asia at great risk of significant drops in productivity, a research firm said on Wednesday. South-east Asia over the next three decades could lose 16% of its labour capacity due to rising heat stress, which could cause absenteeism due to dizziness, fatigue, nausea and even death in extreme cases, the British firm Verisk Maplecroft said.//Not only will this temperature rise put stress on workers, it will put stress on regional food security, as a dramatic rise in temperature will decrease fish stocks and rice yields.

Lao Officials Investigate Massive Increase in Illegal Logging – Radio Free Asia A leaked report by an international environmental group revealing huge increases in illegal logging in Laos with an implication of government collusion has prompted officials in the small Southeast Asian nation to take action to examine discrepancies in timber export and import figures with China and Vietnam.

 Police submit shrine bomb report with military courtThe Nation The official report into the August 17 Erawan Shrine bombing, which also encompasses the Sathorn Pier bombing the following day, has been submitted to the chief military prosecutor by Pol Lt-General Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul, acting deputy police chief.

Vietnam on track to replace China as new manufacturing hub: experts – Thanh Nien News With increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into its manufacturing sector, Vietnam stands a great chance of leaping ahead and replace China as the new production center, experts have said. They were speaking at a conference recently organized by the State Bank of Vietnam in collaboration with the World Bank. Victoria Kwakwa, the World Bank’s Country Director for Vietnam, said FDI flows into Vietnam’s manufacturing sector has rapidly increased over the past 10 years and will possibly rise more.

YUNNAN

China’s first provincial ‘tourism police’ approved for Yunnan – GoKunming Over the past decade, the domestic tourism industry has grown to become one of China’s most potent economic drivers. As money poured into sightseeing destinations, an accompanying growth in fraudulent and coercive schemes emerged. Yunnan, where many of the most blatant cases have taken place, was recently chosen to lead a pilot program establishing the country’s first provincial tourism police force. The Yunnan Tourism Police Corps officially (YTPC) came into being October 28, jointly created by the National Tourism Bureau and officials representing the provincial government.

 Study: Modern-day southern Chinese, SE Asians, from Yunnan – GoKunming The world of anthropology is experiencing some tumultuous upheavals these days. First, a trove of ancient bones uncovered in South Africa threatened to rewrite human evolution, and now a Chinese academic believes his research shows the modern day residents of southern China, most of Southeast Asia and eastern India are descended from a common patriarchal figure who once lived in what is today Yunnan province.//Linguistically, it’s clear that the Bamar, the Thai, Lao and Shan, among a host of upland ethnic groups all passed through Yunnan on their way to their modern-day homes. 

Rich Man, Pu’er Man: A Fermented Tea’s Steep Ascent – ChinaFile Beginning in the 1990s, tea connoisseurs from Taiwan, who enjoyed naturally aged pu’er grown decades earlier in Yunnan and stored in the form of compressed cakes, started to travel to Xishuangbanna to learn the origin of the tea, celebrating the link to Chinese history and the notion of artisanal production. Their interest helped convince local officials and businesspeople to try to revive traditional tea production, meanwhile promoting pu’er tea as the distilled essence of rural virtue and simple beauty; in effect, drinkable nostalgia.

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