Regional Roundup for Week of 12.2.16

This special News Digest compiles the major headlines from the past two weeks. Much to pay attention to in Southeast Asia during these weeks: Ethnic violence in Myanmar continues to worsen, eliciting responses from around the region, particularly in Malaysia and China. Also this week, commentary and criticism compounds around plans to dam and divert parts of the Mekong River. Finally, at the same time as China deepens its influence in a number of Southeast Asian countries, pockets anti-Chinese sentiment is rising such as tension between Chinese and Burmese residents of Mandalay and rising fearfulness of Indonesia’s Chinese population in the wake of mass protest against Jakarta’s Governor Ahok in the capital city.


Philippines to Declare Marine Sanctuary in South China Sea—New York Times President Rodrigo Duterte has proposed a no-fishing zone within Scarborough Shoal, a reef that China also claims — a change that may have little effect.//Protecting coral reefs and fisheries sounds good, but don’t get too excited. Authors say that China is unlikely to respect the unilateral fishing ban imposed by Philippines. Plus, according to a coral reefs expert, “the lagoon sanctuary would offer only marginal fisheries protection in the absence of a corresponding fishing ban along the shoal’s outer flanks.”

Related: Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte to declare no-fishing zone for all at disputed Scarborough Shoal—South China Morning Post

China’s Influence Grows in Ashes of Trans-Pacific Trade Pact—New York Times Countries around the Asia-Pacific rim are shifting allegiances as a China-led trade deal excluding the United States gains momentum.

Related: What’s in the TPP that has been omitted from the China-led free trade option?—South China Morning Post //Headline is somewhat misleading. Yes, China is part of RCEP and has a lot of influence in its negotiation process, but the negotiation is officially being led by ASEAN, not China. This is an important distinction.

Pacific Rim States Can (And Will) Move Forward on Trade Without the US—The Diplomat With TPP’s death, China will gladly take on the burdens and benefits of regional economic leadership.//and the US will almost certainly “miss out on considerably economic opportunity as it cedes regional economic leadership — and its accompanying benefits — to China”

Changing Mekong Currents Compound Dam Anxieties in Southeast Asia—The Diplomat Several factors are disrupting the terrain for investment in large hydropower dams, and governments should take note.//Amid the news of expanding dam construction on the Mekong River, the Stimson Center’s Courtney Weatherby explains that the political and financial risks of Mekong dam development have actually been increasing. An important read for those interested in Mekong hydropower. 

Will China Take the Lead on Climate Change?—ChinaFile At a time when the world is looking to China and the United States, the leading emitters of greenhouse gasses, to cooperate under the terms of the Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015, will China now take the lead in fighting climate change?// This is great analysis from several experts. As of last Tuesday’s interview with the New York Times, Trump suggested that he might change his position on climate change, saying that “I think there is some connectivity” between humans and climate change. However, this does not change that fact the he has appointed a climate change denier as the head of the transition team for the EPA, the agency responsible for the Clean Power Plan.  As a presidential candidate, Trump’s constantly changing positions on key policy areas will continue to frustrate global leaders as they struggle to adapt to the US’s increasing unpredictability.

Related: China prepares to open national carbon market—China Dialogue//This will surpass the EU-ETS as the world’s largest carbon market. The author notes that gathering full and accurate carbon emissions data will be a major challenge

China, Asian Neighbors Step Up Drive to Curb Overuse of Antibiotics as Resistance Fears Grow—RFA Developing countries in East and Southeast Asia have been stepping up their efforts to address the growing global public health threat of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics that health experts say will increase deaths, strain health systems, and impose huge economic costs in the years to come.

‘It will blow up’: fears Myanmar’s deadly crackdown on Muslims will spiral out of control—The Guardian Generations of distrust between Rohingya Muslims and wider Buddhist population have boiled over into reprisals fuelling the spectre of an insurgency.//The escalation on violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since early October is deeply troubling. There is a lot more on this and on violence in Shan state in the “Southeast Asia” section below. 



Moving beyond the Myitsone dam dilemma—New Mandala How a historical border treaty between China and Myanmar could keep both countries out of troubled waters when it comes to the controversial and stalled project.

China offers Myanmar support to end ethnic unrest near border—South China Morning Post China told Myanmar on Wednesday that the two nations should work together to stabilise their shared border, in the wake of a series of attacks by ethnic armed groups on Myanmese security forces and thousands of people crossing into China to escape the violence.//China has a long a complicated relationship with Myanmar. This Diplomat article from 2015 is still useful in understanding China’s tricky situation with regard to Myanmar’s domestic affairs.

China and Laos promise to deepen bilateral ties—South China Morning Post China and Laos pledged on Monday to step up military ties and international ­cooperation, marking the start of Laotian Prime ­Minister Thongloun Sisoulith’s first trip to China since taking ­office in April

China plans US$2 billion film studio and ‘One Belt, One Road’ theme park—South China Morning Post China’s government has announced plans to build a US$2 billion film studio as part of a national push to expand its cultural influence.

Vietnam expanding South China Sea runway, US analysts say—South China Morning Post Vietnam is extending a runway on an island it claims in the South China Sea in apparent response to China’s building of military facilities on artificial islands in the region, a US think tank reported on Thursday


Laos Dam Projects Put Entire Region at Risk | The Bangkok Post—International Rivers Construction is expected to begin in early 2017 on the Pak Beng Hydropower Project, located in the upper reaches of the Mekong River in Pak Beng district, Oudomxay province.

Related: Lao Dam Tests Regional Cooperation—RFA

Xayaburi dam: ‘Testing ground for untried technologies’—Mekong Eye “I miss the Mekong.” A sad smile flickered across the face of Thongkham Phalibai, a mother of two and owner of a grocery store in Luang Prabang.

Killing the Mekong, Dam by Dam—The Diplomat Regional governments have been underestimating the environmental and economic costs of Mekong dams.

Managing the Mekong’s Economy for Whom?—Mekong Eye “Water is liquid capital” proclaims the lead-out of World Wide Fund for Nature’s new report “The Role of the Mekong in the Economy.”

Cambodia’s timber exports to Vietnam continue despite ban—Phnom Penh Post Despite the establishment of a dedicated anti-logging taskforce and the implementation of a ban on the export of logs, Cambodia exported $121 million of wood to Vietnam in the first nine months of this year, according to Vietnamese customs data shared with the Post by NGO Forest Trends.

Environmentalists, solar sector see hope in treaty—Phnom Penh Post A new treaty signed by Cambodia’s delegation to the COP22 climate conference in Marrakesh aims to bolster the country’s nascent solar energy industry, though some say substantial outside assistance is needed for solar to take off.

Related: Fledgling Cambodian solar industry sees glimpse of light—Channel News Asia

Vietnam abandons plan for first nuclear power plants—Channel News Asia Vietnam’s National Assembly voted on Tuesday to scrap plans to build two multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plants with Russia and Japan, after officials cited lower demand forecasts, rising costs and safety concerns.

Despite Climate Change Vow, China Pushes to Dig More Coal—New York Times China is reopening mines amid worries about power supplies, demonstrating how difficult it will be to wean its giant economy from coal dependence.

China to investigate illegal expansion in coal and steel sectors—South China Morning Post China will send inspection teams to investigate and severely punish illegal expansion by coal and steel firms as part of its efforts to slim down the two industries, the country’s cabinet said on Thursday

Migratory birds in peril from trappers—China Dialogue Autumn again and countless birds are preparing to fly south for the winter, unaware of what their journey will bring. During China’s National Day holiday in early October, volunteers took down two large swathes of illegal bird nets, stretching over 20 kilometres.

Despite tough talk, Indonesia’s government is struggling to stem deforestation—The Economist But the weather is helping a little//The author identifies a key challenge for combatting deforestation in Indonesia—lack of capacity at the district level to enforce national forestry regulations.

Overfishing, climate change threatens Thai fishermen—Bangkok Post Environmental groups warn that Thailand and its multi-billion-dollar fishing industry face a losing battle against the impact of overfishing and climate change.



Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines unite against Abu Sayyaf—The Star Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have agreed to initiate joint army training to advance efforts to secure the Sulu Sea from rampant piracy.

Malaysia to Summon Burmese Ambassador as Protests Mount Over Treatment of Rohingya—The Irrawaddy Protesters across Southeast Asia demonstrate against the rising violence in Arakan State.

Related: Malaysia Calls on ASEAN to Review Myanmar’s Membership Over Rohingya Crisis

Malaysia plans pilot work scheme for Rohingya refugees—Bangkok Post The UN refugee agency said on Thursday it was working with Malaysia on a pilot scheme to allow refugees from Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority to work in the country, in a move that it described as a “win-win” solution.


Fresh clampdown on Malaysian activists reveals Najib’s ‘failed governance’, critics say—South China Morning Post Malaysia’s government is attempting to quash political activism through new security laws and fresh arrests. But its critics say the extreme measures only reveal the extent of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s authoritarian regime.

Thousands expected at Malaysian anti-government rally despite arrests—South China Morning Post Thousands of anti-government protesters are expected to gather in Malaysia’s capital on Saturday to demand the resignation of scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak, despite the arrest of activists and opposition leaders just hours before the rally.

Malaysia’s Najib warns of ‘nightmares’ if ruling party loses power in coming elections—South China Morning Post Scandal-tainted Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed to fight to the end for Malays and Islam on Thursday, as he called on his ruling party to prepare for elections that are “coming soon”.

Crossing the line—New Mandala Are electoral boundaries being redrawn in Malaysia to stifle the opposition vote?


Philippines’ Duterte Threatens to Quit International Criminal Court—Wall Street Journal President Rodrigo Duterte said he might withdraw from the International Criminal Court, where his critics say he could be charged over the thousands killed in his war on drugs.

Duterte’s bodyguards ambushed in southern Philippines on eve of president’s trip—South China Morning Post Seven military bodyguards of President Rodrigo Duterte and two other soldiers were wounded yesterday in an ambush by suspected Islamic militants on the eve of his planned visit to the southern Philippines

Hero or Villain? Burial Reveals Philippines’ Deep Divide on Ferdinand Marcos—The Diplomat Marcos’ burial at Heroes’ Cemetery points to a deep divide: Was the Marcos era the “good old days” or a reign of terror?


Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar ‘turned away by Bangladesh’—The Guardian Border guards detain hundreds, says Amnesty, while others left in makeshift camps face shortages of food and water

Animosity in a Burmese Hub Deepens as Chinese Get Richer—New York Times The Chinese dominate the economy in Mandalay, Myanmar, a trading town known for dealing in minerals, timber and drugs.

Myanmar’s Opening: Doing Business in Asia’s Final Frontier-The Diplomat Myanmar looks to be on the path to a prosperous future and a fast-growing, dynamic economy.

One year after Myanmar’s historic elections, where is the country headed?—Southeast Asia Globe For decades, Myanmar languished under a military junta, decried as a pariah state by the international community. Following a historic election last November, the country has moved closer to democracy – but the process of real reform has only just begun

Hundreds of Rohingya cross into Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar—South China Morning Post Hundreds of Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh after fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar, community leaders said on Tuesday, but border guards have pushed back hundreds more despite a United Nations plea to let them in.

Thousands flee to China during govt, militia clashes—South China Morning Post China is giving shelter to more than 3,000 people who have fled Burma after fighting between the government and rebels, and stray shells have fallen inside Chinese territory causing minor damage but no deaths, state media said on Tuesday.

Myanmar Urged by U.N. Expert to Let Aid Flow to Rakhine State—New York Times The expert also said the government should investigate allegations of military reprisals against Rohingya Muslims instead of brushing them aside.

Ethnic Armed Groups Launch Joint Offensive in Northern Shan State—The Irrawaddy Col. Tar Bong Kyaw of the TNLA says the attack came because of recent Burma Army offensives against the ethnic armed groups.

Related: Kachin Independence Army Teams Up with Other Fighters in Myanmar Attack—RFA

‘We are surviving without a dream’—New Mandala Helen Mears details the many hardships faced by Kachin refugees in Malaysia.

Busting the myth that Myanmar is a sanctions success story—New Mandala Engagement succeeded where sanctions failed in encouraging Myanmar’s political reform

Fire on the Salween: Dams in conflict zones could threaten Myanmar’s fragile peace process—Mongabay The five large hydroelectric projects planned for Myanmar’s stretch of the Salween River all fall in or near areas of contested governance. Pushing the projects through could undermine already troubled efforts to end decades of conflict in Myanmar’s ethnic border states.


Thailand seeks to tighten cyber security, raising questions about privacy protection—Channel News Asia Thailand’s military government, which has cracked down on online dissent since seizing power in 2014, is pushing ahead with cyber security bills that rights groups say could mean more extensive online monitoring, raising concerns over privacy protection.

Is there any hope for peace in Thailand’s troubled south?—Southeast Asia Globe Amid faltering peace talks between Thailand’s government and Deep South rebels, insurgents have begun targeting tourist areas and the capital in the hope of gaining leverage at the negotiating table

A Chance for Change in the New Thailand—Foreign Policy Now that the king is gone, can Thailand’s opposition come together to challenge the ruling military junta?

Thailand’s cabinet acknowledges appointment of a new king, paving the way for Rama X’s ascension—South China Morning Post Thailand’s cabinet on Tuesday acknowledged the appointment of a new king, Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said, more than one month after the death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thai human rights activists live in growing fear while fighting legal battles—South China Morning Post Leading Thai human rights defenders said there was a growing sense of fear in the country amid judicial and official harassment of activists in an effort to silence criticism.


Who constructed LGBT identity in Indonesia?—New Mandala In Indonesia the State has shown its fierce opposition to homosexuality. But at the same time, they have helped move LGBT identities from the margins to the mainstream, writes Hendri Yulius.

Jakarta’s violent identity crisis: behind the vilification of Chinese-Indonesians—The Guardian The minority group has had a huge impact on Indonesia’s capital. But the success of its small elite has led to recurring discrimination and bloodshed – which has come to a head as Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese governor runs for election

Protests by Islamic hardliners against Indonesian governor awaken fears for ethnic Chinese—South China Morning Post The capital of Muslim-majority Indonesia is on edge ahead of what is expected to be a second massive protest by conservative Muslims against its Christian governor and no group more so than its Chinese minority.

Related: Fears Rise Among Indonesia’s Ethnic Chinese Amid Blasphemy Probe WSJ

Echoes of past violence haunt Indonesia—New Mandala The mass demonstration that gripped Jakarta earlier this month stirred up memories of the May 1998 riots, Danau Tanu writes.

What’s in your shopping basket? Top companies Kellogg’s, Unilever and Nestlé linked to ‘child-labour palm oil’—South China Morning Post Global firms behind popular brands such as Kit Kat, Colgate toothpaste and Dove cosmetics use palm oil produced by child workers in dangerous conditions, Amnesty International has claimed.


Achieving sustainable, inclusive growth—Phnom Penh Post Cambodia is a fast-growing, highly open economy, and just attained lower-middle-income status this year.

Cambodian court upholds life sentences for Khmer Rouge leaders—The Guardian Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan – first leaders of murderous regime to be jailed – lose appeal against conviction over deaths of two million Cambodians


Privatizing State-Owned Enterprises in Vietnam: Government Dilemmas—The Diplomat “Stalled growth through the failure of SOEs is a threat to political stability.”

Vietnam vows full speed ahead with economic reforms, with or without the TPP—South China Morning Post As Donald Trump prepares to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade pact is helping to spur the biggest overhaul of Vietnam’s economy in decades.

This week’s news digest was curated by Gabriella Neusner.

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