Regional roundup for week of 11.22.15

US President Obama is stealing the headlines while on a trip to twin summits in Southeast Asia this week as he continues to make good on promises to double-down the US commitment to ASEAN states.  At APEC, he stumped for continued US engagement and monitoring of the ongoing South China Sea dispute and at the ASEAN summit, he and leaders from the ten ASEAN states penned an agreement to elevate US-ASEAN to the level a strategic partnership – that means more security cooperation and deepened involvement between US and claimant states (except China) in the South China Sea issue. I’ve long said that the US will never eclipse the weight of China in Southeast Asia, given China’s gravity, but I was surprised to learn that cumulative FDI to Southeast Asia continues to outpace China and rank #1.  We can be assured that the return on that investment is much higher than China’s, and more focus should be given to what the US is investing in.  I toured a 100GW wind farm on the Mekong coastline in Bac Liue, Vietnam a few weeks ago to discover this was a GE invested project.  Later Ambassador Ted Osius described the project as win-win-win with wind – 1) US investment in 2) rural electrification in Vietnam provided by 3) sustainable energy. These are the type of projects worth doubling down on.


 China, Laos to Build $6 Billion Railway by 2020 – The Diplomat China aims to complete the long-awaited construction of a multibillion-dollar, high-speed rail project from southwestern China to Laos by 2020 as part of Beijing’s efforts to link itself to Southeast Asian markets, official sources confirmed over the weekend. The two countries agreed Friday to build a 40-billion yuan ($6.28 billion), 418-kilometer railway from Kunming, the capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, to the Laotian capital of Vientiane.//Officials have confirmed this project at least four times now – the hold up has been in the financing and bargaining over the size of concessions to the left and right of the train track. Currently, 50m on each side will be cleared, that includes forest resources (HUGE) going to China and then much space available for infrastructure and commercial investment.  Cutting a 100m wide swatch 418km long is unprecedented in railroad history.

Women fishers voice concerns about the Tonle Sap in Cambodia – Mekong Commons The people of the Kampong Phluk community, a seasonally-flooded wetlands on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, are facing impacts on their culture and livelihood especially from planned dams, such as the Lower Sesan 2 and the Mekong mainstream dams, and due to recent changes in fisheries management around Tonle Sap Lake. In this article, women in the community who depend on the fisheries in the lake for maintaining their families’ food source and livelihoods voice their perspectives and concerns.

Lower Sesan 2 dam putting livelihoods and environment at risk – Southeast Asia Globe The giant dam is one of the most controversial construction projects in Cambodia. The electricity-generation potential of the Lower Sesan 2 is massive but, for the Mekong River’s aquatic life and nearby villagers, the price of such progress could be colossal.

The Toxicity of Agriculture – The Diplomat In rural Vietnam we discover a disturbing connection between agricultural productivity and Mekong river pollution. Luc Forsyth and Gareth Bright have set out on a journey to follow the Mekong river from sea to source. The Diplomat will be sharing some of the stories they’ve found along the way. For more about the project, check out the whole series here.

Pacific trade pact praised, panned as Obama urges approval – The Jakarta Post The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the US and 11 other Pacific nations is drawing potential new members from Asia and criticism from those excluded, as it heads for a tough ride in the US Congress. Leaders of the trade grouping that spans the Pacific Rim met alongside a regional economic summit on Wednesday in the Philippines and President Barack Obama urged them to ratify the deal “as quickly as possible.”

Related: As TPP Leaders Celebrate, China Urges Creation of Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area – The Diplomat

Gunboat Diplomacy in the South China Sea – The Diplomat Two events in recent days have turned the tables on Chinese initiatives since 2009 in taking control of the vast waters of the South China Sea. On October 27, a U.S. guided missile destroyer passed within 12 miles of the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea (SCS) on a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FNO) which China condemned as a threat to its national sovereignty. Two days later the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China’s argument that the Court had no jurisdiction over the Philippines’ challenge to Chinese territorial claims in SCS.

Related: The Myth of a ‘Strategic Imbalance’ in the South China Sea – The Diplomat

Related: Who Is Really Overstepping the Bounds of International Law in the South China Sea? – The Diplomat

Interview: Jin Liqun of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank – GoKunming Jin Liqun, president-designate of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), believes that Bangladesh is on the right track in terms of ensuring sustainable development, and is therefore ready to provide support to infrastructure projects in Bangladesh before those in any other country. In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Jin lauded the country’s sustained economic growth and said, “This is a huge credit to the leadership of the government and also to the great people of Bangladesh.”



How Will Myanmar’s Elections Affect Relations With China? – The Diplomat The landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in last Sunday’s elections is a turning point in Myanmar’ s history. The NLD will have an opportunity to rule alone, given its super majority in the national parliament. How will an NLD government in Myanmar affect the country’s ties with China? Already, analysts are debating the possible impact of this new government on China-Myanmar relations. There are some legitimate worries that matters could deteriorate.

Vietnam wants good relations with China, defends sovereignty – The Jakarta Post Vietnam’s prime minister said Wednesday that the communist country will do its best to develop good relations with China, but at the same time will defend its sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea. The prime minister also called for a boost in national defense and security, and international support for its national construction and defense. Vietnam and China along with several other countries are locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where recent Chinese land reclamation projects have raised concerns.

Asean Summit: South China Sea disputes get non-claimant countries’ attentionThe Star KUALA LUMPUR: The South China Sea maritime and territorial disputes are causing alarm even among non-claimant countries, with leaders from India and Japan asking all parties to settle the issue peacefully. The topic is expected to be raised during the East Asia Summit here today as leaders from the Asean 10 meet their dialogue partners from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.

Related: Asean leaders raise concern about South China Sea island-building as China tries to keep it off the table – The South China Morning Post

US Announces Maritime Security Boost for Southeast Asia – The Diplomat The United States is boosting maritime security assistance to Southeast Asia, the White House announced November 17 as U.S. President Barack Obama kicked off a weeklong visit to Asia for the latest round of summitry. “We are increasing the maritime security capacity of our allies and partners, to respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region,” the statement said.

US, ASEAN to Ink New Strategic Partnership – The Diplomat The United States is set to elevate its relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by inking a new strategic partnership following upcoming U.S.-ASEAN consultations in Kuala Lumpur, sources confirmed to The Diplomat this week.

TPP Signatories Must Press Vietnam to Drop Proposed ‘Draconian’ Laws: Rights Group – Radio Free Asia The United States and other signatories to a major free trade agreement between Pacific Rim countries should pressure Vietnam to drop proposed laws that would allow the authorities to expand a crackdown on critics of the one party communist government, a rights group said Friday. Vietnam is using vague national security laws to stifle dissent, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement, adding that signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) must push Vietnam to halt legislation that would add even more penalties to its “already draconian criminal code.”



INTERVIEW – How should China decarbonise? – China Dialogue China Dialogue interviewed Teng Fei, an expert on China’s climate and energy policy and associate professor at the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University, on how China can make big cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions in the longer term following a projected peak by 2030 or earlier. Decarbonising the Chinese economy and other large emitters by 2050 is viewed as crucial if the world is avoid runaway climate change. Teng is is also a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Samoa Gets Additional Funds to Boost Hydropower, Cut Fuel Use – ADB The Asian Development Bank (ADB)-assisted, Samoa Renewable Energy Development and Power Sector Rehabilitation Project, is getting additional combined cofinance of $7.55 million to help the country cut its reliance on fuel oil and to increase energy security.



After Paris Attacks, China Seeks More International Help Fighting Xinjiang Separatists – The Diplomat On November 16, in the first regular press conference after the Paris attacks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei called terrorism “a common challenge faced by all humanity” and urged “joint efforts … to address both the symptoms and the root causes of terrorism. Hong added that “double standards should be abandoned,” a reference to China’s displeasure when the West is slow to call violent attacks in China terrorist actions. Part of the world’s “joint efforts” to combat terrorism, Hong said, should involve targeting Uyghur separatists. “Clamping down on the ETIM should be an integral part of the global fight against terrorism,” Hong argued.

Chinese Debate Proper Response to Hostage’s Killing – NYT As news spread on Thursday that Islamic State militants had executed a Chinese hostage, some Chinese called on their government to send troops to the Middle East, while others cautioned that such a move could invite terrorism at home.

Related: Islamic State hostage killing: China vows justice after confirming death – The Guardian

China Says Kills 28 Suspects in Xinjiang Coal Mine Attack After 56-day ManhuntRadio Free Asia Chinese official media reported on Friday that police killed 28 members of a “terrorist group” in the mainly Muslim Xinjiang region, following a two-month manhunt for suspects in a deadly coalmine attack in September. The Xinjiang regional government’s Tianshan web portal, in a posting that included photos of armed police dressed in black patrolling against the backdrop of a mountainous, snowy landscape, said the slain group had committed “a violent terrorist attack under the direct command of an overseas extremist organization.”

China Burns Much More Coal Than Reported, Complicating Climate Talks – NYT China, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases from coal, has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data. The finding could complicate the already difficult efforts to limit global warming.

China’s Nuclear Vision Collides With Villagers’ Fears – NYT HUBIN VILLAGE, China – This placid, leafy hamlet tucked beside a dam in the countryside hardly seems like the next testing ground over China’s efforts to cut smog and greenhouse gases. But here among cornfields and crumbling stone homes skirted by persimmon trees, the government intends to build a nuclear power plant.



An Interactive History of the Xayaburi DamInternational Rivers The following timeline gives an interactive view of the history of the Xayaburi Dam project. The first dam proposed and under construction on the lower stretch of the Mekong River mainstream in Laos, the Xayaburi Dam has faced significant opposition from local communities, Mekong Governments, the Mekong River Commission (MRC), scientists and stakeholders from around the world. Despite being under construction it continues to be the subject of lawsuits, human rights complaints and OECD Guidelines complaints.

Cambodia Denies Sam Rainsy Arrest Warrant Was Politically MotivatedRadio Free Asia Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday dismissed claims that a court decision to issue an arrest warrant for Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy was politically motivated and said his lawyer had acted alone in pursuing a defamation case against the opposition chief. Speaking to foreign diplomats and a representative for the United Nations’ human rights office, Hor Namhong said the warrant “was not triggered by [tensions between] the [ruling] Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) and the CNRP,” despite claims by rights groups and the international community linking it to the situation.

Assessment Highlights Ongoing Deficiencies of Burma’s Human Rights Commission – The Irrawaddy RANGOON — Burma’s human rights commission is at risk of being viewed as an “alibi institution” in the service of the government, according to the findings of a fact-finding mission, presented at a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday. FORUM-ASIA and Burma Partnership, together with Smile Education and Development Foundation and Equality Myanmar, led a mission to the country from Nov. 16-18 to assess the impact and effectiveness of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHCR), over a year since its reconstitution.

Ethnic aspects of the electionsDVB As anticipated, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in last week’s polls. This is a massive and historic achievement; nothing will be the same again in Burmese politics. Over the past couple of days, a number of ethnic nationality friends have been in touch to express disappointment regarding the poor showing of ethnic political parties – at least beyond parts of Arakan [Rakhine], Chin and Shan states. A large majority of Burma’s citizens voted for change: out with the military-backed government, and in with ‘The Lady’. Many citizens who identify with their ethnic nationality nevertheless voted for the long-standing symbol of opposition to military rule.

Burma Army Offensive Continues in Kachin State – The Irrawaddy RANGOON — Burma’s Armed Forces continued their offensive on Kachin Independence Army (KIA) positions in Kachin State’s Mohnyin Township on Thursday, firing artillery rounds since 7 am, according to locals.



Grassroots forest management in Yunnan’s Xinqi – GoKunming Today, Xinqi is a pleasant village that reaps the benefits of its grassroots decision to manage and live off its forests. It produces furniture and other timber products, as well as non-timber forest products. Examples include but are not limited to honey, walnuts, mushrooms, camellia oil and other traditional soap ingredients. Where farms have not been replaced by forest, they often apply tree intercropping techniques where the trees fertilize and stabilize the soil while regulating crop humidity and moisture. Additional future income is expected from eco-tourism. A guesthouse with lots of wood features and a view of the mountains is being constructed for that very purpose, and the forests attract crowds searching for natural beauty.

China International Travel Mart generates massive interest – GoKunming Yunnan’s strategic importance in foreign relations is growing, and growing quickly. Reflecting this, a formerly pedestrian event in Kunming moved to the forefront of both economic and political relations between China and the wider world this past weekend. The 2015 China International Travel Mart (2015中国国际旅游交易会) ended November 15, concluding after three days of furious networking and international outreach.

This week’s digest was compiled by Rachel Tristch with brief commentary by Brian Eyler. 

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