Regional Roundup for Week of 3.1.19

EXSE FOCUS

Biodiversity, people’s livelihoods at risk in Chindwin River Basin – The Myanmar Times The Chindwin River, the largest tributary of the Ayeyarwady River, is vital to the lives of thousands of communities in Myanmar. Its basin ecosystem offers ecological services and biological diversity that provide the essential needs for six million people, from drinking and irrigation water, food and fibre, to fuel.//Unchecked development projects like hydropower dams, logging, and mining have compounded the issues that climate change has already created in the Chindwin River Basin. 

Can Laos afford to be the ‘Battery of Asia’? – The Nation The Debate over Laos’ strategy to become the “Battery of Asia” continues months after the deadly disaster at the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy hydropower dam, even as the Lao government keeps building more dams.//Lesson learned? Despite the deadly disaster at the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy hydropower dam and a previous decision to suspend new hydropower projects the government has decided to move forward with more dam projects.

How Far Does the China Belt and Road ‘Pushback’ Really Go? – The Diplomat With just a few weeks more to go until the next Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit China, expected in April, it is clear that the BRI continues to suffer some serious setbacks even as Beijing continues to try to lock in additional wins.//As we await the second Belt and Road Initiative Summit coming up in April, Prashanth Parameswaran reminds us to not overestimate the pushback the BRI has received.

The Mekong is mighty no more: demise of the great river system lamented in Brian Eyler’s new book – South China Morning Post The mystique of the Mekong River has long enchanted explorers, motivated traders and beguiled travellers. Its bio­diversity – including dolphins, crocodiles and almost 1,000 species of fish – has made it one of the great rivers of the world.//Tom Fawthrop reviews Stimson’s Brian Eyler’s book Last Days of the Mighty Mekong.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Southern provinces debate cooperation in Triangle Development Area – Vientiane Times Officials from Saravan, Champassak, Xekong, and Attapeu provinces met in Saravan province on Wednesday to discuss cooperation with Cambodia and Vietnam in the Triangle Development Area.

China, India and Myitsone: the power game to come – Frontier Myanmar Myanmar has two major assets that interest China: access to the Indian Ocean and plentiful natural resources. During the rule of Myanmar’s military junta, 1988-2011, China won access to both by protecting the regime from the impact of sanctions and condemnation by Western countries.

ASEAN and Japan to ink revamped economic pact in March – Nikkei Asian Review Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are finalizing updates to their economic partnership agreement to resolve shelved issues on liberalizing the investment and service fields, completing a deal that took effect over a decade ago.

US and Vietnam look to improve ties, with China in sight – Nikkei Asian Review U.S. President Donald Trump is set to hold summit talks with Vietnamese leaders Wednesday, a move that analysts say underscores a key initiative of his administration — countering China’s growing influence in the region.

Will the US Capitulate to China? – Project Syndicate The most important problem that a bilateral deal between the United States and China needs to resolve is Chinese theft of US firms’ technology. Unless the Chinese agree to stop stealing technology, and the two sides devise a way to enforce that agreement, the US will not have achieved anything useful from Trump’s tariffs.

Time for bolder steps from ASEAN – East Asia Forum ASEAN is now facing circumstances that are fundamentally different from anything it has dealt with before. They require a much more proactive approach on international and regional integration strategies. ASEAN is unlikely to maintain its centrality unless its leaders are prepared to take bold steps, beyond ‘business as usual’.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

New recycling plan taps energy fund – Bangkok Post The government has agreed to use the remaining cash from the Energy Conservation Fund to support a new recycling plan for discarded solar panels and vehicle batteries, in line with the goal of creating a circular economy.

Climate change may undermine Kingdom’s mango production – The Phnom Penh Post Mango production is expected to decrease this year as climate change severely impacts yields, according to a mango association in Kampong Speu province – the Kingdom’s largest regional producer of the fruit.

Will Malaysia become Southeast Asia’s clean energy leader? (commentary) – Mongabay A silver lining of global warming is that it is forcing every nation to rethink its future, to open its mind to new possibilities. The latest IPCC report gives the world only 12 years to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions or condemn future generations to climate change catastrophe. There is no choice but to act.

NGOs want environmental impact report access – Khmer Times Civil society organisations dealing with environmental issues yesterday urged the Environment Ministry to disclose environmental impact assessment reports due to a lack of public information on whether or not companies comply with their reports after development projects have been approved.

Poachers kill elephant in Cambodia wildlife sanctuary – Asia One An elephant has been found dead with its tusks and tail sliced off in a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia, where wild elephant numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred due to poaching and deforestation.

Saying no to ‘Say No’ campaigns – Tackling Thailand’s plastic bag problem – The Thaiger Some timid but long overdue steps are now being taken towards reducing Thailand’s plastic waste. Baby steps to start with but there is no doubt that the issue has now entered the Thai national psyche. In reaction, so far, Thai businesses have, for the most part, made only cursory PR efforts at tackling the bigger problem but, again, it’s a start.

MoNRE works on pollution caused by Quảng Ngãi solid waste treatment plant – Vietnam News MD Solid Waste Treatment Plant in central Quảng Ngãi Province has failed to meet emission standards, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Trần Hồng Hà has said.

Toxic byproducts of Agent Orange continue to pollute Vietnam environment – Science Daily During the Vietnam War, United States aircraft sprayed more than 20 million gallons of herbicides, including dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange, on the country’s rain forests, wetlands, and croplands. Agent Orange defoliated the thick jungle vegetation concealing Viet Cong fighters and destroyed a portion of the country’s food crops, but it was primarily the dioxin contaminant that harmed so many Vietnamese and U.S. military personnel.

CHINA

China: Internet users turn to the blockchain to fight govt censorship – Asian Correspondent Thanks to blockchain, internet users have achieved some victories in the fight against China’s strict internet censorship. A historic moment was made on April 23. Peking University‘s former student, Yue Xin, had penned a letter detailing the university’s attempts to hide sexual misconduct. The case involved a student, Gao Yan, who committed suicide in 1998 after a professor sexually assaulted and then harassed her.

China’s Entrepreneurs Are Wary of Its Future – New York Times Behind the scenes, businesspeople worry that Beijing has become more interested in solidifying its control over people’s lives than promoting economic growth.

2019 Is a Sensitive Year for China. Xi Is Nervous. – New York Times China’s leader, Xi Jinping, abruptly summoned hundreds of officials to Beijing recently, forcing some to reschedule long-planned local assemblies. The meeting seemed orchestrated to convey anxious urgency. The Communist Party, Mr. Xi told the officials, faces major risks on all fronts and must batten down the hatches.

China’s prosecutors force government action on pollution – The Third Pole On New Year’s Day, the government of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in north-west China’s Qinghai province, issued an official notice banning the release of non-native fish species in the waters of the Sanjiangyuan, the source of the Yangtze, Mekong and Yellow rivers.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Indonesia Moves to Establish Fishing Zone Near South China Sea – Radio Free Asia Indonesia is pushing ahead with plans to develop a fishing zone on the edge of the South China Sea, a senior official said Tuesday, as the country seeks to assert sovereignty amid claims of overlapping rights by China. The government plans to construct the Integrated Marine and Fisheries Center, which would include a cold storage facility that has been in development for two years on the Natuna Islands, Maritime Affairs Coordinating Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said.

Unspoken challenges of Asean: Jakarta Post contributor – The Straits Times According to the alphabetic rules set for the annual rotation of the Asean chair, Thailand is to steward the grouping through 2019 in between Singapore and Vietnam. One year is short for any country to leave a mark and produce significant impacts, especially when the institution is a regional body known to be slow in taking action.

Haze lingers as farmers keep burning – Bangkok Post Despite the recent campaign against burning sugarcane and repeated reminders from police that violators will be prosecuted, local farmers continue to practice slash-and-burn farming — leaving several communities choked by black smoke.

Five things to know as Thai election race enters final month – Nikkei Asian Review The run-up to Thailand’s first general election in eight years has already been full of drama and surprises — and there is still a month to go. Here are answers to five burning questions about the country’s rocky return to democracy after five years of military rule.

Laos needs regional cooperation to realise its land-bridge dream – Asia News Network A UN official in charge of helping landlocked nations around the world to fulfil their development potential has asked Thailand to play a greater role in assisting Laos to become a regional land link. 

After Decades of Conflict, Land Deadline Looms for Myanmar Villagers – Voice of America Naw Pa Eh was just a child when fighting broke out between ethnic Karen and the Myanmar army in her village of Kye Zu Daw in the country’s south. Her father was among those killed as she and other villagers fled in 1992. Villagers were able to return only after a cease-fire was signed in 2012. By then, their village was gone, the land taken for the Tanintharyi Nature Reserve and a palm oil plantation that sprawled across about 610 acres (250 hectares).

Gen. Aung San’s Ill-fated Economic Plan for Myanmar – The Irrawaddy Seventy-two years ago today, at the request of the British Chamber of Commerce looking to know the future economic policies of Burma which was about to be granted independence, Gen. Aung San announced his economic plans for the future government. He planned to nationalize important industries, and revealed that plans had been drawn to revamp the damaged economy. 

NGOs Seek Slow Down on EEC Due to Impact on Local People – The Nation The Assembly of NGOs for the Protection and Conservation of the Environment and Natural Resources yesterday submitted a petition to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, urging him to revoke all special laws aimed at promoting the EEC, amend the EEC Act and suspend harmful investment projects. The petition also called for a study strategic environmental assessment(SEA) and a review of the city plan and land usage in EEC provinces.

Censorship and silence: south-east Asia suffers under press crackdown – The Guardian Standing on the court steps earlier this month after spending a night in detention, Philippine journalist Maria Ressa spoke defiantly to the dozens of gathered cameras. This was, she pointed out, the sixth time she had posted bail in the space of two months. “I will pay more bail than convicted criminals,” said Ressa. “I will pay more bail than Imelda Marcos.”

If the price is right then ECRL may go ahead, says Malaysian PM Mahathir – The Straits Times The cost of building the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) is too much for Malaysia under the current circumstances. Given this, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said, there were two options for the country, which was either to bring down the cost and proceed when the price is right or to postpone the implementation of the project.

The Mekong: troubled waters in autocratic lands – AEC News For the Mekong countries, including Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, 2018 was a big year both domestically and regionally. Key developments from last year will inevitably continue to shape the politics of the region in 2019. In terms of domestic affairs, the most worrying trend is the consolidation of autocratic power in almost all countries.

WB Ready to Help Vietnam Meet Growing Infrastructure Demands – Modern Diplomacy With a 7.1 percent growth rate in 2018, Vietnam’s fast-paced economic development is boosting demand for infrastructure, the World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure Makhtar Diop said today, during his first visit to the country. According to World Bank estimates, Vietnam’s sustainable infrastructure needs will require investments of up to US$25 billion per year.

Vietnam Activists Regret No Apparent Mention of Rights in Trump-Trong Talks – Radio Free Asia A brief meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Phu Trong in Hanoi Wednesday yielded some $21 billion in airline orders and service contracts for American companies, but no apparent mention of human rights, disappointing some activists suffering from Vietnam’s latest crackdown.

Vietnam’s high-speed rail project revived – The ASEAN Post Vietnam’s proposed North-South High-Speed Railway (HSR) is expected to improve transport quality for nearly half of the country’s population.  The country’s Ministry of Transportation presented a pre-feasibility study for the project to Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc earlier this month, and the report created with the support of a foreign consultancy team found that north-south transport routes currently benefit 49 percent of the nation and serve a population which accounts for 61 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Vietnam’s Foreign Policy in the US-North Korea Summit Spotlight – The Diplomat
The holding of the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi will highlight the extent to which progress is being made on continued engagement between Washington and Pyongyang. That will dominate much of the attention. But much like the Singapore Summit held last year, the meeting will also spotlight aspects of a Southeast Asian state’s foreign relations more generally, including, in this case, Vietnam’s involvement in summit diplomacy and regional issues as well as its relationships with the United States and the two Koreas.

Related: Vietnam relishes role as peace maker in Trump-Kim summit as it seeks to balance ties – The Straits Times

This week’s news digest was curated by Kathryn Hundley.

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