Regional Roundup for Week of 2.16.2017

The US has retreated from the TPP, but the multilateral trade deal may still be alive.Laos’s Pak Beng dam is likely to start within months, however, residents in the area still know little about it. Also, Trump finally spoke to Xi by phone and agreed to support ‘One China’ policy. South China Sea disputes still go on. And North Korea could not let Trump and China take all the headlines – the Hermit Kingdom launched a missile test earlier this week; two days later Kim Jong-un’s old half-brother was assassinated in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

 

EXSE FOCUS

While Trump and Abe Eye Bilateral Pact, Australia Keeps TPP Alive – The Diplomat Tokyo and Washington look to take the bilateral track but a slimmed-down TPP may still live on.

Related: How the TPP could survive without the US – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine

 

Despite the risks, Laos goes ahead with Pak Beng dam -Asia Times With construction likely to start within months, the people most affected still have little information on the hydropower project. /// Environmental impact is not always the only concern raised by hydropower projects. 60 million people’s livelihoods depend on the Mekong river, and therefore are affected by dams. It is concerning that the majority people who live in the area do not have necessary and enough information regarding the Pak Beng dam. And if we look at the numbers given by the article – 26 villages and 4,726 people are directly affected, but there is only US$10.28 million of the US$2.7 billion project cost for their compensation and support over 25 years. It looks to be a terrifying future for someone who does not even know that their livelihoods are about to be largely affected.

 

Trump Tells Xi Jinping U.S. Will Honor ‘One China’ Policy – NYT President Trump and Mr. Xi, the Chinese leader, spoke by phone on Thursday evening after an extended chill in the two countries’ relationship.

Related: Trump agrees to support ‘One China’ policy in Xi Jinping call – The Guardian

Related: Trump and ‘One China’: Two Phone Calls, Many Interpretations – The Diplomat

Related: China’s Xi Finally Speaks to Trump, Who Affirms US ‘One China’ Policy: Major Takeaways – The Diplomat

Related: ‘The Chinese Learned that Trump Blinks’ – Foreign Policy

 

South China Sea: US reports ‘unsafe encounter’ with Chinese military aircraft – The Guardian Navy surveillance aircraft and Chinese military aircraft come within 1,000ft of each other near contested reef in apparently unintentional encounter, US says.

 

Expect a Heavier US Presence in the South China Sea, But What Can It Achieve? – The Diplomat Administration objectives are still unclear, but maintaining the regional status quo may be the most realistic.

Related: More FONOPs Coming Soon to the South China Sea? – The Diplomat

Related: How the South China Sea Could Heat Up Again in 2017 – The Diplomat

 

North Korea claims missile test success as China rejects US criticism – The Guardian US calls for it to press Pyongyang to ditch nuclear programme are pointless unless Washington looks at own role, Beijing says.

Related: Trump’s Muted Tone on North Korea Gives Hope for Nuclear Talks – NYT

 

The Guardian view on North Korea: the real cause for concern – The Guardian The death of Kim Jong-un’s brother in Malaysia raises questions about North Korea’s instability. But the pressing issue is the country’s nuclear programme – and how Donald Trump might respond to it

Related: Why Was Kim Jong-un’s Older Half-Brother Reportedly Assassinated? – The Diplomat

Related: Burmese woman detained in probe into death of N. Korea leader’s half-brotherREUTERS

Related: Kim Jong-nam death: Malaysian police arrest female suspect – The Guardian

Related: There Are No Ordinary North Korean Aristocrats– Foreign Policy 

Top Opposition Leader in Cambodia Resigns as Election Nears – NYT The move by Sam Rainsy came after the government began a series of actions that would allow it to dissolve the party he led.

Related: What’s Next for Cambodia’s Sam Rainsy? – The Diplomat

Related: With Sam Rainsy gone, what’s next for Cambodia’s opposition? – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine

Related: Why Did Cambodia’s Opposition Leader Quit? – The Diplomat

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Thai-Cambodian border trade up in January – Bangkok Post Border trade between Thailand and Cambodia through the eastern province rose by 12.71% month-on-month in January, with a 3.34% decline in Thai exports to the neighbouring country and an 89.48% increase in imports.

Malaysian Ship With Aid for Rohingya Arrives in Yangon – NYT A Malaysian ship carrying 2,300 tons of food and medicine to help members of Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority arrived in Yangon.

ASEAN lacks plan to halt violent extremism – The Bangkok Post Last year was one of rising terrorist activity for Southeast Asia. Arrests and deaths of terrorist suspects in Indonesia more than doubled to 170.

Thais seek closer ties through bilateral business council – The Bangkok Post Thai businesses are ramping up ties with their Burmese counterparts in five main areas — agriculture, border trade, energy, industrial development and tourism — to tap into vast investment opportunities in the neighbouring country.

Keeping Chinese relations on the rails – The Nation Having been posted in Bangkok for three-and-a-half years, Chinese Ambassador Ning Fukui discusses collaboration between China and Thailand in a Facebook Live interview

Sources say Chinese Authorities Meet KNU Leadership in Kunming – The Irrawaddy KNU Chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe believed to be invited by Chinese authorities to discuss China’s role in Burma’s peace process. /// Ethnic issues in Myanmar contribute largely to the country’s long-lasting subnational conflicts. Would NCA be able to stop the conflicts if all relevant players signed it? And what does China’s involvement in Myanmar’s peace process imply? It is worth following the development of this story. 

Will Japan Join Trilateral ASEAN Patrols in the Sulu Sea? – The Diplomat A closer look at a move that has been subject to much speculation.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Striking a balance between conservation and development at the heart of Mekong struggleThe Nation DEPENDING on who you speak to, there are naturally differing perspectives in regard to the future of the Mekong River, as most people living along the river look for a sustainable future through conservation of the existing ecosystem, while governments seek balanced resource usage and benefit-sharing arrived at via diplomacy and negotiation.

Poor households see few benefits from Qinghai solar pilot – The Third Pole The Chinese government is spending 30 billion yuan (US$4.4 billion) to reduce poverty in remote areas by installing solar power. One area seeing investment is Qinghai province in China’s north-west where solar panels are increasingly joining the herders’ tents on the high meadows.

Counterintuitive: Global Hydropower Boom Will Add to Climate Change – Mongabay For many years new hydropower dams were assumed to be zero greenhouse gas emitters. Now with 847 large (more than 100 MW) and 2,853 smaller (more than 1 MW) hydropower projects currently planned or under construction around the world, a new global study has shown that dam reservoirs are major greenhouse gas emitters.

A Thai oil firm, Indonesian seaweed farmers and Australian regulators. What happened after the Montara oil spill? – Mongabay During 74 days in late 2009, a leak in the Montara offshore drilling platform gushed tens of thousands of barrels of oil into the Timor Sea, a body of water shared by Australia and Indonesia. The spill is considered Australia’s worst offshore petroleum accident, and the third-worst spill by volume in the country’s history.

 

CHINA

‘We had to sue’: the five lawyers taking on China’s authorities over smog – The Guardian In an unprecedented legal case, a group of Chinese lawyers have charged the governments of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei with failing to protect their citizens from air pollution, which is linked to a third of all deaths in the country. /// Smog has become a life and death issue in China. But everyone seems to be playing a wrong game: trying to find someone else to blame. A clean air is everyone’s responsibility, from the government to companies to exports, and to each citizen. Imposing car restriction on citizens won’t work if the authorities don’t realize they fail to protect the citizens. Using NGOs to hold corporate accountable won’t work if exports don’t help provide solutions. Suing the government? Well, good luck. It is always hopeful to see courageous souls. To tackle the smog problem, all stakeholders, starting from the government, should take their own responsibility and hold each other accountable. There is still a long way for China’s Northern residents to see the blue sky. But can millions of lives wait?

China to establish environmentally protected areas nationwide – GoKunming The Chinese government last week issued sweeping yet vague changes to the country’s development policy, outlining a nationwide program to protect the environment. Of central concern are “natural areas with important ecological functions”, which, according to the new policy, must be identified and protected in every corner of China by 2020.

Trump, Changing Course on Taiwan, Gives China an Upper Hand – NYT In pledging to honor the “One China” policy, the president may have averted confrontation with Beijing, but some said he also sullied his reputation there.

Why Donald Trump can’t bully China on trade – The Guardian Beijing holds trillions of dollars in US debt and any trade disruption could lead to huge price rises in the budget stores on which many Americans rely

China Reshuffles Top Military Posts – The Diplomat Xi Jinping’s military reforms as seen from personnel reshuffle in the PLAN.

U.S. Eyes New Tactic to Press China – WSJ The White House is exploring a new tactic to discourage China from undervaluing its currency to boost exports, part of an evolving Trump administration strategy to challenge the practices of the U.S.’s largest trading partner while stepping back from direct confrontation.

China expels South Korean missionaries amid missile defence tensions – Reuters Beijing believed to be retaliating against Seoul’s plan to host Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system of the US military. China has expelled 32 South Korean Christian missionaries, a Seoul official has said, amid diplomatic tension between the two countries over the planned deployment of a US missile defence system.

How Xi Jinping’s global ambitions could thrive as Trump turns inward – The Guardian As Donald Trump steers the US towards isolationism and protectionism, China’s leader is casting himself as a champion of internationalism and free trade. But are Xi’s values really compatible with those of the rest of the world?

Related: China: The Accidental World Leader? – The Diplomat

China’s Prices Rise at Fastest Clip in More Than Two Years – WSJ Prices in China climbed at their fastest pace last month in over two years, boosted by rising energy prices and Lunar New Year demand for food, though economists expect the momentum to wane before midyear.

Thousands Protest Aluminum Plant in Chinese Oil City of Daqing – RFA Thousands of people took to the streets of northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province on Tuesday in protest over plans to build an aluminum plant near their home, protesters told RFA.

China Claims Coal Cutback Despite Doubts – RFA China has cut coal production for the third year in a row, according to government figures, despite a host of reasons to doubt that it did. Based on official data, China’s mines produced 3.36 billion metric tons of coal last year, down sharply by 9.4 percent from 2015. The decrease marked the biggest annual drop so far since production peaked in 2013.

SOUTHEAST ASIA 

Southeast Asia is in the grip of a biodiversity crisis – Chinadialogue Rich in wildlife, Southeast Asia includes at least six of the world’s 25 “biodiversity hotspots” – the areas of the world that contain an exceptional concentration of species, and are exceptionally endangered. The region contains 20% of the planet’s vertebrate and plant species and the world’s third-largest tropical forest.

Anti-coal protesters shrug off PM’s threat – Bangkok Post Once again, Bangkok is to become a scene of protests for anti-coal activists, as the top energy policy agency will meet and make a decision on the contentious coal-fired power plant in Krabi

Related: Kill all coal energy plans – Bangkok Post     

Co-ops seek lucky draw for solar power grid plan – Bangkok Post Agriculture cooperatives nationwide will submit a petition to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha Tuesday asking the government to use a lucky draw to select solar farm projects which will supply electricity to the national power grid, instead of bidding as proposed.

Trump and the US-Thailand Alliance – The Diplomat The new chapter some are hoping for may not read the way Bangkok would like it to.

Related: US, Thailand to Launch 2017 Cobra Gold Military Exercises – The Diplomat

Manhunt Scours Laos for Accomplices in ‘Mr. X’ Drug Ring – RFA Lao and Thai authorities have launched a manhunt for five people believed to be part of a major drug gang that operated in the Mekong River region, according to Thai authorities.

Xayaboury to Halt Banana Plantations mid This Year – Lao News Agency The northern province of Xayaboury has decided that as of mid-this year, no more Chinese investments in banana plantations will be allowed.  Currently, there are over 520 ha of banana plantations in the province.

Vietnam plans large warehouses at border – Phnom Penh Post The Vietnamese government has launched a trade-development scheme that aims to construct 116 warehouses to store imports and exports along the Cambodian and Lao borders with a tentative completion date of 2035, a Vietnamese government official said.

A Race to Document Rare Plants Before These Cliffs Are Ground to Dust –NYT The species native to Cambodia’s limestone karsts exist nowhere else. Now these unique environments are being pulverized for cement.

Government Delays New Studies on Dams Backed By Kith Meng – The Cambodia Daily The Mines and Energy Ministry has yet to sign a memorandum of understanding with business mogul Kith Meng to undertake studies of three new hydropower dams, more than three months after the Council of Ministers gave it permission to do so.

The Rohingya Insurgents: Myanmar Creates Its Own Frankenstein – The Diplomat Harakah al-Yaqin, a new insurgent group in Rakhine state, is different that its predecessors.

Burma to probe police over alleged crimes against Rohingya – Reuters Burma is to investigate whether police have committed abuses against Rohingya Muslims, the government has said, after officials promised that allegations of atrocities against members of the Muslim minority would be looked into.

Related: Myanmar Investigation Commission Says it Cannot Verify UN Report on Rakhine Violence – RFA

Former army officer suspected in killing of Ko Ni – Reuters The President’s Office on Wednesday said a former military officer is suspected to have hired the killer of a prominent lawyer advising Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party, in a likely bid to destabilise the country.

Related: Myanmar Says Ex-Army Officer Ordered Prominent Lawyer’s Murder – NYT

Government earns $20 million in Letpadaung mine revenues – DVB The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation said Tuesday that the government has netted almost $20 million in revenue from the Letpadaung copper mining project through the first 10 months of the current fiscal year.

Dawei SEZ development loan on trackThe Bangkok Post Plans for the Dawei special economic zone have inched ahead after the Burmese government agreed to borrow 4.5 billion baht ($128 million) from Thailand to finance the construction of a 132­-kilometre road from Dawei’s proposed deep-­sea port to Ban Phu Nam Ron in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province.

Foreign Direct Investment Goal Reached Ahead of Schedule – The Irrawaddy The Myanmar Investment Commission expects to surpass its annual goal of US$6 billion in foreign investment before the fiscal year ends.

This week’s news digest is curated by Sonya Zhao.

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