Regional Roundup for Week of 3.24.2017

The controversial Sambor Dam project scheduled for construction after 2020 in Cambodia is hitting the headlines. This week we also take a look at the prospects of Trump policy toward Southeast Asia. Then, it’s on to Myanmar where as more hydropower investment flows into the country, ethnic peoples are mounting protests to protect their livelihoods and cultural values.

 EXSE FOCUS

Cambodia’s Sambor Dam Plans Cause Controversy As Public Left In The Dark – Mongabay The Sambor Dam is one of Cambodia’s priority energy projects, according to the country’s “Master plan for the development of energy generation.” This plan was a well-kept secret until two pages from it appeared Feb. 17 in a snapshot posted on the Facebook page of Phay Siphan, a government spokesman. The plan posted by Siphan states the Sambor Dam will be completed in three stages from 2025-2027, with a total power output of 1,800 megawatts.

What does Trump’s ‘America First’ policy mean for Southeast Asia? – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine After just two months in office, it seems that the US president has turned his back on the region

 What Happens to Congressional Southeast Asia Policy Under a New U.S. Administration? – Asia Unbound Unlike many regions of the world, where U.S. foreign policy has in recent decades been dominated by the executive branch, since the end of the Cold War Congress has played a major role in policy toward much of Southeast Asia. In mainland Southeast Asia, in fact, Congress has often been the dominant foreign policy actor, in part because successive U.S. administrations—throughout the 1990s and 2000s—placed a relatively low priority on mainland Southeast Asia.

Karen IDPs ask KNU leadership to reject hydropower dams – Burma News International As the Karen National Union prepares to elect a new leadership body this week, displaced Karen families joined a local environmental group in lobbying for the next chairperson to reject hydropower proposals.

Related: Ethnic communities protest dams risking lives, cultures and environments – DVB

Related: China-backed Dam Project May Threaten Myanmar Wildlife Sanctuary – VOA

Kachin residents attack dams – Eleven About 2,000 residents of Chipwi Township staged a protest on March 14 against eight proposed dams on the May Kha River and the Ngaw Chan Kha River in Kachin State. They called for conservation of the rivers and warned the companies to respect the rights of residents.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Stuck between China and the US – Bangkok Post Southeast Asia is looking for a precarious balance between the United States and China in order to feel more secure in the region, worried as it is by the behaviour of these two giants in its orbit.

Vietnam Seeks South Korean Backing in the South China Sea – The Diplomat On Monday, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se met Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi. The Vietnamese premier sought Yun’s support on the country’s position on the South China Sea disputes, where Vietnam is a claimant in both the Paracel and the Spratly group. Yun’s trip to Vietnam came shortly after he met U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to Seoul last week. This year marks the 25th anniversary of bilateral ties between South Korea and Vietnam.

North Korea-Cambodia Relations: The Sound of Silence – The Diplomat Cambodia and North Korea had enjoyed a special relationship for decades. Their close ties date back to the height of the Cold War, when this country’s longtime and often troubled monarch and political leader, Norodom Sihanouk, sought Chinese patronage and refuge in Pyongyang.

Visiting Burma, Philippines’ Duterte calls European critics ‘crazies’ – DVB Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has described European lawmakers as “crazies” in a salty-tongued rebuttal of criticism of his deadly drug war, while vowing again that all traffickers will be killed.

Thailand, Philippines to sign new cooperation deals during Duterte visit – Investine Thailand and Philippines will ink three government-to-government deals when Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte makes his first official state visit to Bangkok from March 20 to 22, Philippine Ambassador to Thailand Mary Jo Bernardo-Aragon told reporters at the first day of Duterte’s visit.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

China takes another step to reduce coal-fired power – China Dialogue China’s National People’s Congress wrapped up March 15 and once again the government sent a clear signal about how seriously it takes the need to scale back new coal-fired power.

Why I think there’s still hope for the climate in 2017 | Adam Levy – The Guardian Despite Trump halting reduction of the US’s vast CO2 emissions, climate change is being taken seriously around the world from China to Sweden.

Making Solar Big Enough to Matter – NYT Solar energy has become big business. Photovoltaic solar could provide up to 16 percent of the world’s electricity by midcentury. But for solar to realize its potential, governments will need to overhaul their solar policies to make them ruthlessly economically efficient. Today, China utterly dominates global solar-panel manufacturing. But now, China’s solar industry is changing in little-noticed ways that create both an imperative and an opportunity for the United States to up its game.

Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds – The Guardian Green groups’ report says move to cleaner energy in China and India is discouraging the building of coal-fired units. The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall. The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm.

What Does Climate Change Mean for Asia’s Future Infrastructure? – ADB Asia needs to invest $1.7 trillion a year in infrastructure to maintain growth—16% of the funds are needed for climate adaptation and mitigation measures.

 

CHINA

Would a China-backed Pacific trade bloc be bad for the environment? – China Dialogue Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) dead? Is China seeking to replace the faltering regional free trade bloc and supplant the US as a champion of free trade among Pacific nations and around the world? And just how does one navigate the “alphabetti spaghetti” of abbreviated Pacific trade deals on the table right now (see also the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, FTAAP)?

Rex Tillerson and Xi Jinping Meet in China and Emphasize Cooperation – NYT The U.S. secretary of state and the Chinese president kept away from contentious issues even as North Korea defiantly showed off a new missile engine.

Related: All Eyes on China as U.S. Signals New Tack on North Korea – NYT

Related: US Secretary of State Tillerson Meets Chinese President Xi – The Diplomat

Related: Taiwan to ask US for stealth fighters to combat China threat – The Guardian Defence minister announces air force overhaul after defence review says island faces increased risk from Beijing.

Will China’s children solve its crippling water shortage problem? – The Guardian China is home to 21% of the world’s population but just 7% of its freshwater. One NGO teaches young people to make tackling water scarcity a priority. In Beijing’s Tongzhou Number Six school, around 100 impeccably-behaved middle school students are being lectured about water. The visiting teacher tells them that, among other things, they should take shorter showers, buy less clothes, eat less meat and drink tea rather than coffee, to help alleviate China’s water scarcity problems.

China is whipping up public anger against South Korea – The Economist THE aisles at Lotte Mart in Beijing’s Wangjing district were strangely quiet early this week. A few elderly shoppers pushed trolleys; shop assistants tidied the supermarket’s shelves. Customers have been scarce since “something happened” a few weeks ago, says one cashier. That event was a deal signed on February 28th by Lotte, a South Korean firm, allowing America to build an anti-missile system on land the company owns in South Korea. China’s government has responded by encouraging an outpouring of public anger directed not just at Lotte, whose shops in China are now being boycotted, but almost anything South Korean. /// Ben Aderson once said “nation is an imagined political community-and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” Touche!

China Shelves Central Asia Gas Plan – RFA After two decades of investing in Central Asia’s energy sector, China appears to be shelving its gas pipeline expansion plans, prompting doubts about its economy and demand for the cleaner fuel.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand

B.Grimm Power allots B1.8bn for Laos – Bangkok Post B.Grimm Power Co, a unit of B.Grimm Group, plans to invest 17 billion baht in 2017-18, including for the development of hydropower in neighbouring Laos.
Rally blocks deep-sea port public hearing – Bangkok Post The first environment public hearing for the planned Pak Bara deep-sea port project was abruptly cancelled Thursday after several hundred protesters rallied at the venue to block the hearing.

Related: Protesters Shut Down Hearing on Pak Bara Port – The Maritime Executive

Myanmar

Beset by Delays, Burma-China Oil Pipeline Nears Start-up – The Irrawaddy Nearly a decade in the making, a project to pump oil 770 kilometers (480 miles) across Burma to southwest China is set for imminent start-up, with a supertanker nearing the port of Kyaukphyu, Arakan State, marking the opening of a new oil trading route.

Myanmar could see foreign investment plummet by 30% – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Myanmar looks set to drop roughly 30% for the year ending 31 March, reports Nikkei Asian Review. A drop in oil and gas investments, it says, has underscored the government’s need to target other industries with more attractive economic policies.

The Dawei development dream left high and dry – Bangkok Post Over a decade ago, the Myaung Pyo creek in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region was clean and crystal clear — a steady, trickling life source. The creek, running alongside a stretch of lush farmland, was relied on by villagers for various daily tasks such as watering crops.

No foreign investment allowed in mining sector by NLD government – Eleven Secretary of Myanmar Investment Commission, Aung Naing Oo, said that the MIC did not allow foreign investment in mining sector and the mining sector is not included in the list of sectors for which foreign investment will be encouraged.

Close all IDP camps in Arakan, says Advisory Commission – DVB All internally displaced person (IDP) camps in Arakan State should be closed down—that is the recommendation of the commission tasked with investigating the problems in the conflict-marred region.

Local Militia Expels Myanmar Internal Refugees From Land in Kachin State – RFA A local militia in the northern Myanmar town of Waingmaw has started clearing out refugees who have been staying on its land since 2012 when they were displaced by hostilities between ethnic rebels and the government army, villagers and a lawmaker from Kachin state said Thursday.

European Union Calls on UN For International Probe of Rakhine Violence in Myanmar – RFA The European Union on Thursday submitted a draft resolution to the U.N. Human Rights Council calling for an immediate international probe of human rights violations by the military against Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Cambodia

Environmental Experts Voice Concern About Effects of Dam Projects in Cambodia – RFA Cambodian environmental experts have expressed concern that the country’s various hydropower dams will harm the livelihoods of people who live in the Lower Mekong Basin, especially since the government is permitting investment projects to be built along the country’s rivers despite expected negative impacts.

Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest: Youth campaigns to prevent the destruction of this ecological treasure – Mekong Commons In the last few years, the Prey Lang forest has come under destruction from logging and large-scale tree plantations. After the Royal Government of Cambodia established the Prey Lang Forest as a protected area in May 2016, people started to hold a little more hope for the conservation of the forest ecosystem.

Democracy in Cambodia Under Threat Amid ‘Climate of Fear’ – RFA Cambodia’s ruling party under Prime Minister Hun Sen has created a “climate of fear” as the government widens a crackdown on the opposition and activists ahead of commune elections in June, a group of Southeast Asian politicians said Monday.

World Bank hurting locals, report says – Phnom Penh Post The World Bank indirectly fosters evictions, land-grabbing and environmental destruction by investing in conflict-driven projects in Cambodia through private equity funds and banks, a new report by the NGO Inclusive Development International argues.

Probe finds high-ranking officials involved in smuggling timber to Vietnam – Phnom Penh Post An official investigation has found that more than a dozen police, military police and army officials allegedly colluded with Vietnamese timber smugglers to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in bribes, according to a letter from National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun.

Vietnam

Saving Vietnam’s Floating Markets – The Diplomat Long a staple of Mekong Delta culture, Vietnam’s floating markets must now adapt or fade away.

Will the Environment Be the Vietnam Government’s Downfall? – The Diplomat Environmental protests are proving a tough challenge for the communist regime.

Vietnam holds record for bribery in Southeast Asia – Investine The new report “People and Corruption 2017: Asia-Pacific” released by anti-graft organisation Transparency International comes to the conclusion that an estimated 900 million people across 16 surveyed countries and territories in Asia-Pacific had paid a bribe in the past year when trying to access basic public services such as education or healthcare.

HCM City opposes $5bn Long An thermal power plant – Vietnam Net The Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) is planning to build a $5 billion thermal power plant in the Mekong Delta’s Long An province, which borders Ho Chi Minh City’s Can Gio district, sparking concerns in the city about environmental pollution.The project is now in the research and site selection stage and the center is expected to come into operation in 2024 and resolve power shortages in the southern region.

Laos

Laos to Step Up Patrols on Vietnam Border Amid Drug Trafficking Spike – RFA Authorities in Laos are increasing cooperation with their counterparts in neighboring Vietnam and deploying additional security forces along the boundary shared between the two countries

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

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