Regional Roundup for Week of 11.29.15

This week marks the start of the controversial case brought by Thai villagers to Thailand’s Constitutional Court over the legality of the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong river. That the case is being heard is simply a victory for civil society in Thailand and Southeast Asia. While the result likely will not end in the cancellation or postponement of the dam project, the Stimson Center’s Dr. Richard Cronin says in a recent online commentary “Regardless of what the Supreme Administrative Court ultimately decides it will be very difficult for Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand at a minimum to enter into a future Power Purchase Agreement with any foreign company or country without credible transboundary EIAs and SIAs.” Read more on this critical case representing the future of Mekong hydropower development here.

EXSE FOCUS

The Mekong river: stories from the heart of the climate crisis – The Guardian The fate of 70 million people rests on what happens to the Mekong river. With world leaders meeting in Paris next week for crucial UN climate talks, John Vidal journeys down south-east Asia’s vast waterway – a place that encapsulates some of the dilemmas they must solve. He meets people struggling to deal with the impacts of climate change as well as the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities. // As the West sits relatively unscathed from climate change, people in the Mekong are already feeling the effects. This region will change drastically in the next 50 years, this Guardian piece has great stories from locals and visuals.  

No Time for Complacency on ISIS Threats in Southeast Asia – CogitASIA The November 13 coordinated attacks in Paris by followers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which led to the death of 129 people, have revived fears of the movement’s spread to Southeast Asia, especially among the political leadership in Indonesia and Malaysia. ISIS is a threat to the region, but a manageable one. While regional governments cannot afford to be complacent about ISIS, fear-mongering can also be counter-productive. There are roughly 800-1,000 Southeast Asians who have traveled to Syria and Iraq, but not all are combatants. Some are family members and dependents of those who signed up to fight for ISIS; there is already a Bahasa-language school in Raqqa, Syria. This number also includes those detained by Turkish authorities and deported back to Southeast Asia, as well as those who have been killed. // Great and timely piece on an underreported issue. Terrorism in Southeast Asia is extremely complex and Abuza breaks it down extremely clearly and comprehensively.

UN tribunal at The Hague to rule on rival claims to South China Sea islands – The Guardian Philippines disputes China claim to sovereignty over Spratly archipelago, where Beijing is building military bases on artificial islands. Rival claims to strategic reefs and atolls in the disputed waters of the South China Sea are to go before an international tribunal in The Hague. The hearing on Tuesday – prompted by the Philippines’ claim – comes as China steps up its divisive programme of building airstrips and defences in the Spratly Islands. As well as the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei all dispute sovereignty over the mid-ocean outcrops. // China’s feeling pressure from U.S. FON exercises in the SCS and now this case. It is hard to find legal basis for a 12nm territorial sea from the features that China “occupies”; maybe China will go with the flow on this given its econ woes, or maybe it will defy international convention in order to show that it’s a strong power.

Yunnan’s Muslims: The Hui minority in Southwest China – GoKunming Of all of China’s 56 minority nationalities, the only one that qualified for such designation by religion alone, rather than language or ethnic identification, were the Hui, who are Muslim, but ethnically Han Chinese. Some of them are descendants of the first converts from coastal ports visited by Muslim Arab traders in the seventh and eighth centuries. From there they eventually spread further inland, but the main components of what would become a separate Hui identity were Muslim warriors who were part of the Mongol forces that conquered China in the thirteenth century, stayed in the country, intermarried with local women and, except for retaining their religion, adopted Chinese customs and lifestyles.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Salvador’s goes to Thailand – GoKunming “This is good grass. Somebody should graze some cows here.” “Look at that empty lot. What a waste of land. Somebody should build a building there.” “The rice here is very cheap, and of good quality.” Xiao Hui, meet Thailand. Thailand, meet Xiao Hui. A gregarious denizen of Wenlin Jie, Xiao Hui is widely known amongst foreigners residing in downtown Kunming. He’s helped many of us register at the Public Security Bureau, rain carnage upon rat infestations in our apartments, or procure some obscure metal fastener from a far-flung construction supplies market — always with a smile on his face and a semi-maniacal intensity of purpose.

Locals Urge Japan to Rule Out Burma Coal Plant Funding – The Irrawaddy Villagers have urged overseas development agencies and corporate investors in Japan not to underwrite three contentious coal power projects in southern Burma, each of which has been subject to sustained local opposition. A delegation of locals from Irrawaddy Division, Mon State and Tenasserim Division are now in Tokyo in an attempt to meet with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), along with companies that have already committed to investing in the projects. They are seeking guarantees that prospective Japanese investors will rule out funding any future coal project, in addition to the three already tied to Japanese financing and investment.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Wild things return to Angkor Wat – The Guardian Decades after poachers stripped the forests surrounding Angkor Wat of large mammals, an innovative conservation group is bringing them back. Already, Wildlife Alliance has rewilded the forest with gibbons and langurs. And more are coming. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to wake to gibbons’ song piercing the rainforest fog, you’ll know there are few sounds more haunting on our little planet. The 30-minute songs of these lesser apes – often duets between monogamous lovers – seem to combine musical elements from timber wolves, humpback whales and fire engines. But gibbons are in trouble, facing unprecedented deforestation and a booming illegal wildlife trade, and have disappeared from many parts of their range. One of these places was the world-famous Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia. Yet, thanks to innovative rewildling efforts by conservation group, Wildlife Alliance, the millions of tourists that pass through Angkor Wat every year now have a chance to hear the morning duet of gibbon lovers.

Laos counts the cost of climate change: record floods, drought and landslides – The Guardian Extreme weather risks the food security of thousands of Lao villages. At the COP 21 talks, will rich countries honour their pledge of $100bn a year by 2020 to help? Namai village in remote, mountainous central Laos has seen immense change in just 20 years. Its isolation only ended when a road was pushed up the valley in 2003, and electricity came several years later. Today Namai villagers mostly have televisions and refrigerators but they, and thousands of other communities, face a new set of problems that are forcing them to develop in ways they never imagined.

CHINA 

China and U.S. Say They’ve Made Strides in Trade Talks – NYTimes In their first top-level trade talks since President PObama hosted China’s leader in September, the United States and China said on Monday that they had made progress on sticking points, including revenbting the thefyt of trade secrets and opening the Chinese market more broadly to American multinations. Still, the lack of larger breakthroughs on bigger issues – like negotiations for a broader trade deal – contrasted with America’s improving economic ties with the rest of Asia. The two countries have been eyeing each other cautiously.

Xi Jinping Announces Overhaul of China’s Military Forces – NYTimes President Xi Jinping of China has announced a major reorganization of the nation’;s military, state-backed news media reported on Thursday, laying out plans to create new command syustems intened to integrate and rebalance land, air and sea forces into a more nimble People’s Liberation Army. Mr. Xi told a meeting of over 200 senior military officers that the changes would takje years and were essnential to ensuring that the people’s Libration Army could shoulder its increasingly complex and broad responsibilities, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

China Retools Its Military With a First Overseas Outpost in Djibouti – NYTimes China announced on Thursday that it would establish its first overseas military outpost and unveiled a sweeping plan to reorganize its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad. The outpost, in the East African nation of Djibouti, breaks with Beijing’s longstanding policy against emulating the United States in building military facilities abroad. The Foreign Ministry refrained form describving the new installation as a military base, saying that it would be sued to resully Chinese Navy ships that have been participating in the United Nations antipiracy missions.

$50bn Nicaragua canal postponed as Chinese tycoon’s fortunes falter – The Guardian The world’s biggest canal project – a $50bn interoceanic canal through Nicaragua – has been delayed, following an environmental report and a collapse in the fortunes of the Chinese businessman behind the company that planned to build it. The Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) Group announced on Wednesday that it would be another year before the start of major works on the proposed rival to the Panama canal. The company said the “design of the canal is being fine tuned”, in accordance with recommendations contained in an environmental impact assessment.

Chinese Cash Floods U.S. Real Estate Market – NYTimes Some of the Chinese money pouring into the global economy has gone into residential property, in major American cities and places like Corinth, Tex. Canyon Lake Ranch was once a playground for Christian day campers, and then was a corporate retreat with water-skiing, barbecues and cowboy shoot-‘em-up shows. Hawks now circle above 108 sunbaked acres occupied by copperhead snakes, a few coyotes, and the occasional construction truck. Soon this ranch will be a gated subdivision of 99 mini-mansions designed for buyers from mainland China. The developer, Zhang Long, a Beijing businessman, is keeping three plots to build his own estate along the side of an old rodeo arena.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA 

Indonesia Increases Security after Video Calls For Attack – Reuters via The Irrawaddy Authorities increased security across Indonesia after a video appearing on social media threatened attacks against police and other targets, police and officials said Wednesday. Security was raised at airports, the presidential palace, foreign embassies, and shopping centers in the capital after a threat was made by an Islamic militant group, said Jakarta police chief Maj. Gen. Tito Karnavian. “There will be enhanced security,” Karnavian told reporters. “But public vigilance and caution on suspicious behavior in their neighborhood is particularly important to ward off terror attacks.” The video calling for attacks on Jakarta police headquarters and the presidential palace appeared on social media, including Facebook this weekend. It was blocked by authorities on Monday.

Vietnam law change introduces transgender rights – AFP via The Guardian New legislation will allow those who have undergone reassignment to register under new gender as nation moves towards more progressive views on sexuality. Vietnam passed a law on Tuesday enshrining rights for transgender people in a move advocacy groups say paves the way for gender reassignment surgery in the authoritarian communist nation. People who want the operation, which is illegal, tend to have it done in nearby Thailand. The new legislation will allow those who have undergone reassignment to register under their new gender. The law will come into effect early in 2017 after 282 of 366 lawmakers voted in favour.

Fifth refugee secretly moved from Nauru to Cambodia under $55m deal – The Guardian The ethnic Rohingya man from Myanmar arrived in Phnom Penh last week under the resettlement arrangements, as Cambodian political divisions deepen. A fifth refugee from Nauru has been secretly moved to Cambodia, arriving last week under Australia’s controversial $55m deal with the south-east Asian nation. The man, understood to be an ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, arrived in Phnom Penh as always-fractious political tensions inside Cambodia escalated further, and the UN warned the country was headed towards “a dangerous tipping point”.

Interpol ramps up response to crime in Southeast Asia – Sea Globe The economic integration of Asean this month is expected to open up borders in the region, bringing the promise of more financial opportunities. But national governments and Interpol are also wary of increased cross-border crime. In an increasingly globalised and connected world, transnational organised crime continually seeks to exploit weak points in our interdependent border security architecture. Increased economic development, the movement of people and goods and closer regional integration – including in Southeast Asia – must contend with the criminal networks behind irregular migration, trafficking in illicit goods and the cross-border movement of extremists and terror suspects.

YUNNAN 

Kunming Shines At 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – PR Newswire Kunming, China was under the spotlight on Thanksgiving,November 26, 2015 in the United States as Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade presented for the first time, the spectacular scenery of Kunming and the richness of Chinese ethnic culture. Kunming, known as “the City of Eternal Spring” for its pleasant climate and flowers that bloom all year, was portrayed vividly on a float at the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City before 3.5 million people during the parade and over 50 million on television.

This week’s new digest and analysis was compiled by John Juenemann. 

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