Regional Roundup for Week of 2.23.2017

This week, stakeholders from Mekong region attended Regional Stakeholder Forum in Luang Prabang to discuss Laos’s Pak Beng Dam. The Thai government changed it’s mind on Krabi clean energy plant. Meanwhile, China banned North Korean coal. And the US-China disputes over South China Sea continue. Also, Europe and Asia reshape their trading relations.

EXSE FOCUS

Laos’ Pak Beng Dam Proposal Under Scrutiny – VOA Khmer Members of Mekong River Commission and civil society groups will be heading to Luang Prabang in Laos to attend the regional stakeholder meeting on Wednesday to discuss Laos’ proposal to build a third dam on the Mekong mainstream, the Pak Beng.

Related: Pak Beng inquiry sought – Phnom Penh Post 

Krabi coal-fired power plant gets go-ahead – Bangkok Post The government decided on Friday to proceed with a planned 800-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the southern province of Krabi, overriding vigorous and widespread objections.

     Related: Krabi clean energy plant gets go ahead – Thai PBS 

         Related: If coal plant rises, house of cards may fall – Bangkok Post 

Egat told public must get coal say – Bangkok Post The government has ordered the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) to renew the process of public participation in environmental and health impact studies before deciding whether the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Krabi can proceed.

Related: Opponents of coal-fired power plant do not want coal as fuel – Thai PBS 

Related: Coal plant protest ends, leaders released – Bangkok Post

China Suspends All Coal Imports From North Korea – NYT The move is part of an effort to enact United Nations Security Council sanctions aimed at stopping North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile program.

Related: Chinese Media Denies Coal Import Ban Linked to Kim Death – RFA 

Related: Is China Pushing Trump to Talk to North Korea? – NYT 

Related: Is China Serious About Banning North Korean Coal? – The Diplomat

China close to finishing buildings on South China Sea islands that could house missiles, US says – The Guardian Building the concrete structures with retractable roofs on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs could be considered a military escalation. China, in an early test of US President Donald Trump, is nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, two US officials told Reuters.

US Carrier Group Enters South China Sea Amid Calls for More Freedom of Navigation Operations – The Diplomat A carrier strike group is conducting routine patrols, but is not set up for FONOPS, despite speculation.

Related: China Mulls Maritime Law Revisions, Codifying Its South China Sea Practices – The Diplomat 

Dumped By U.S., Europe and Asia Get Together on Trade Deals – Foreign Policy The United States, after President Donald Trump took office, nixed a big trade pact with Asia, and let another big trade accord with Europe die on the vine. Now both those jilted partners are getting together — threatening to leave the United States out in the cold as the world’s biggest economic blocs reshape their trading relationships.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS 

Oldest US Ally in Asia: Thailand or the Philippines? – The Diplomat A closer look at who should truly hold that title.

Assassination of Kim Jong-nam highlights Malaysia’s close ties to North Korea – Southeast Asia Global Magazine The murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean despot Kim Jong-un, in a Malaysian airport brings into focus Malaysia’s deep ties with North Korea, but also threatens to damage the long-standing relationship between the two countries

India: Rohingya and Bangladeshis Living in Jammu Fear Expulsion – RFA Anxiety is growing among thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants who live in Indian Kashmir’s Jammu city over calls by mainstream political parties, including India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP, to kick them out and even deport them.

Thai firm to energise Poipet industrial park – Phnom Penh Post Poipet PPSEZ Co Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Phnom Penh SEZ Plc and operator of the soon to be completed Poipet Special Economic Zone (Poipet PPSEZ), signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday with a leading Thai energy provider to supply power to the 66-hectare industrial park.

Thai passport offices get OKPhnom Penh Post The Ministry of Labour announced the green light had been given on new offices in Thailand designed to hasten the issuing of passport and travel documents for Cambodian migrants working there illegally.

Laos president visits Cambodia amid border dispute – Southeast Asia Global Magazine As tensions along the Cambodia-Laos border flare, Laos President Bounnhang Vorachith is due to arrive in Phnom Penh Wednesday for a two-day state visit.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 

A Conservative Plan to Combat Global Warming – Project Syndicate A carbon tax is the simplest and economically most efficient way to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Ideally, the tax would be imposed on businesses and households at the same time that cumbersome environmental regulations are eliminated.

Protected areas found to be ‘significant’ sources of carbon emissions – Mongabay Deforestation is a big source of atmospheric carbon, one that is increasingly targeted by climate change mitigation projects around the world. Now, even forests in protected areas can be “significant” sources of carbon emissions, researchers say.

Why Is Asia Returning to Coal? – The Diplomat The fossil fuel is undergoing an unexpected renaissance in the region.

China submits Mekong survey – Bangkok Post A Chinese company contracted to survey the Mekong River for navigation purposes has submitted a plan to Thailand’s Marine Department.

Chinese aquafarming feeds global overfishing crisis – ChinaDialogue Ten years ago, amateur tilapia farmers in China were able to dig a pond, fill it with fish, add antibiotics and chemicals, and then later sell the fish to numerous unregulated processors. In those early days, fish farming created a great economic boom for first-time aquaculture farmers, though with many costs to the environment.

Cleaner energy for all – Bangkok Post It sounds like a pipe dream when Liu Zhenya talks about China’s aspiration to become the regional leader in renewable energy. Such talk appears at odds with the image many people have of smoke-belching fossil-fuel power plants and some of the world’s most polluted cities.

CHINA

What Does the Kim Jong-Nam Assassination Mean for China? – The Diplomat Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother was reportedly living under Chinese protection before he was killed.

America’s affirmation of the one-China policy pleased Taiwan, too – The Economist THE idea that China and Taiwan might be separate countries, rather than estranged parts of “one China”, is anathema in Beijing. So on February 9th, when Donald Trump told his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that America would respect the one-China policy after all (having previously questioned this polite fiction), Chinese officials were profoundly relieved. So, oddly, was Taiwan’s government, which thought that questioning the policy had been bad for Taiwan and scrapping it would have been worse.

The Future of NGOs in US-China Relations – The Diplomat Insights from Travis Tanner. Explain the impact of China’s new Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations’ (NGOs) Activities in China.

China’s Hukou Reforms and the Urbanization Challenge – The Diplomat China is speeding up hukou reform, but that won’t be enough to solve the migrant worker problem.

Chinese Security Forces Rally in Xinjiang in a Show of Power – NYT The gatherings, which official websites said were the largest in recent years, seemed disproportional to the current threat level, one expert said.

Related: China orders hundreds of thousands of private cars to have GPS trackers installed for monitoring – The Guardian 

Related: Chinese troops stage show of force in Xinjiang and vow to ‘relentlessly beat’ separatists – The Guardian 

Officials in China are stifling debate about reform – The Economist IT HARDLY seemed a threatening scene when, on a Friday afternoon in February, dozens of finance wonks gathered in Beijing for a three-hour symposium on China’s exchange-rate mechanism.

Chinese Feminist Group’s Social Media Account Suspended – NYT Feminist Voices was banned from Weibo, a Twitter-like service, for 30 days after it posted an article about a women’s strike planned in the U.S. in March. /// The January 21 women’s march was a powerful form of advocacy for gender equality. However, in the Chinese government’s eye, the march was seen as a dangerous anti-authority movement, especially given the unknown future of the US-China relations. So, yes, even gender is political. It is reasonable for Chinese feminists to look up the US feminist movements and spread the voice of women in China. But, even though feminists in the US are relatively free to protest or organize, how much has changed comparing to its own feminist movements since the 1970s? Freedom of speech, unfortunately, is not the root cause of gender inequality in China. A patriarchal society and a government system ruled by masculinity, just as the same as most of cultures and countries, are. Chinese feminists need to be smarter in advocating women’s rights, given the political context in the country. If the Chinese feminists completely take and advocate the US model, they could lose the battle at the expense of women’s right.

Related: Trump’s feminist critics gagged by Chinese internet giant Weibo – The Guardian

Greenpeace Links Beijing’s Air Pollution Surge to Steel Factories – NYT A report shows how state-owned enterprises and local officials have acted to keep steel companies operating out of self-interest despite an overcapacity problem.

‘Forest cities’: the radical plan to save China from air pollution – The Guardian Stefano Boeri, the architect famous for his plant-covered skyscrapers, has designs to create entire new green settlements in a nation plagued by dirty air.

Where the wind blows: how China’s dirty air becomes Hong Kong’s problem – The Guardian Last month there were 300,000 doctor’s visits in Hong Kong linked to smog – much of which wafts over from mainland China. But in a busy town obsessed with money, will it take a direct economic hit to wake people to the danger?

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Plan B for South power – Bangkok Post In light of the indefinite delay in development of the Krabi coal-fired power plant, coupled with rising demand for electricity in the South, energy policymakers are pushing to complete a 63.2-billion-baht high-voltage transmission line (HVTL) project by year-end.

‘I could be arrested or killed’: the activists defending Cambodia’s forests – The Guardian Timber tycoons are collaborating with Cambodian officials to strip Prey Lang forest. John Vidal meets the activists risking their lives to stop deforestation.

New platform revolutionises the way Cambodian businesses borrow money – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine Frustrated by limited funding options for small businesses, Chansamrach Lem launched the country’s first online peer-to-peer lending platform. 

Cambodian parliament passes law that could destroy the opposition – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine The move gives the government power to dissolve rival political parties and could keep former opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning to power.

Related: Cambodia MPs back change that bars leader’s rival – Reuters

Gov’t approves coastal 135MW coal-fired plant – Phnom Penh Post The government has approved an additional 135-megawatt coal-fired plant to be built in Preah Sihanouk province, a Ministry of Mines and Energy representative said yesterday.

The new normal: facing climate change – Phnom Penh Post Last year’s drought caused a nationwide crisis, with harvests ruined, forest fires raging and many rural families struggling to feed themselves. As experts take stock of the impact, news of another potential El Niño raises a question: Is Cambodia prepared for the next drought?

Hope for Hanoi? New bus system could cut pollution … if enough people use it – The Guardian A new $53m BRT (bus rapid transit) system has the power to reduce Hanoi’s dreadful air pollution. Persuading residents of Vietnam’s rapidly expanding capital to ditch their motorbikes and private cars, however, will be another story.

Red v green in Vietnam – The Economist FISHING boats in Dong Hoi, a tranquil provincial capital on the central coast of Vietnam, are decorated with bits of cactus. These prickly charms are said to protect seafarers from storms and other perils, but they did not ward off the misfortune that struck the town last spring. In April the tides spewed thousands of dead fish onto Dong Hoi’s beaches. Authorities dithered for months before naming the culprit: a new steel mill up the coast which had flushed its pipes with toxic bilge.

In NLD era, why do political prisoners remain? – DVB When I was celebrating the National League for Democracy’s election victory in November 2015, I was very hopeful about my country’s future. One of the things I was so sure of, and hoped to see, was the release of all of the country’s political prisoners. Now, nearly a year since the NLD formed a government, I am very shocked and frustrated to see that there are still many political prisoners in jail — and people are still being targeted for peaceful political activities.

Assassination of Myanmar lawyer suggests divide between government and military – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine Though a clear motive has yet to emerge for the assassination of prominent Myanmar lawyer Ko Ni, many are pointing to his work to curtail the military’s power.

NCA non-signatories meet in Wa enclave amid fears of peace process ‘stagnation’ – DVB Ethnic armed groups that are not signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on Tuesday kicked off a meeting at the United Wa State Army’s Panghsang headquarters as a spokesperson for one of the groups lamented a “stagnation” in Burma’s peace process.

Related: Ethnic leader calls on Suu Kyi to include all armed groups in NCA – DVB 

UN rights envoy calls for inquiry into abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar – The Guardian Special rapporteur for Myanmar to push for resolution at UN human rights council meeting next month for investigation into reports of military atrocities

Australian Mining Firm Faces ‘Continuous Delays’ in Karenni State – The Irrawaddy Eumeralla Resources is awaiting approval from the Union government to explore a large swathe of Karenni State.

Advocacy Group Calls for Reform of Burma’s Drug Laws and Policies – The Irrawaddy The Drug Policy Advocacy Group calls for new policies focusing on the rehabilitation of drug users.

 

YUNNAN 

Provincial audit reveals enormous government waste in Yunnan – GoKunming In a somewhat shocking news story raising far more questions than it answers, state auditors disclosed this week that more than five percent of Yunnan’s 502 billion yuan (US$72.8) provincial government budget for fiscal year 2016 was “lost, mismanaged, wasted” or otherwise “misappropriated”.

Yunnan coffee bean output grows 50 percent – GoKunming Farms across the southern reaches of Yunnan province combined to grow 50 percent more coffee beans in 2016 than in the previous year. The jump in production — and subsequent mini-glut — mirrors previous market expansions in similar cash crops, including Pu’er tea and rubber.

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

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