Regional Roundup for Week of 3.3.2017

This week, there still are concerns in the region about Pak Beng dam after last week’s regional consultation in Luang Prabang. However, Laos does not see the need to address all concerns. Coal power is another issue as Thailand has not yet settled the Krabi dispute while Vietnam continues to double down on coal. Also, Australia announced ASEAN-Australia Special Summit to be held in 2018. Finally, the Malaysian female suspects in the Kim Jong-Nam assassination were charged with murder.

 

EXSE FOCUS

Laos Sees Little Problem With the Pak Beng Dam – RFA Laos is pushing ahead with the controversial Pak Beng dam as the government has found little reason to delay the project on the Mekong River’s mainstream, a senior government official told RFA./// In terms of local affected by the project, there is a huge gap between the numbers posted by the Government of Lao (1000 affected) versus International Rivers (6700 affected).

Related: Pak Beng meet begins in Laos – Phnom Penh Post

 The Mekong Deserves Better – Bangkok Post Last week, a regional forum was held in Luang Prabang for countries in the Mekong River Basin to discuss the Pak Beng hydroelectric dam planned by Laos. It was organised by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the only organisation that works directly with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to jointly manage the shared resources and sustainable development of the river.

Krabi coal plant to start anew – Bangkok Post Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has insisted that new environmental and health impact assessments are needed for the Krabi coal-fired power plant project and the public must be allowed to have their say.

Related: Krabi plant study ditched – Bangkok Post

Related: Set zero: The Krabi power plant is ded-sa-molay – Bangkok Post

Related: A fresh chance to boost renewable energy – Bangkok Post

Related: Anti-coal group issues deadline to halt EHIA – Bangkok Post

Vietnam Develops Coal Power Despite Environmental Concerns – VietnamNet A report from the Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) released in 2015 showed that hydropower accounted for 43.2 percent of installation capacity and made up 34.15 percent of total electricity output. Meanwhile, the figures were 33.7 percent and 34.37 percent, respectively, for coal thermal power.

What’s Behind the First ASEAN-Australia Special Summit? – The Diplomat A closer look at what the agenda will look like when both sides meet next year.

Women Suspected in Killing of Kim Jong-nam Are Charged – NYT Word of the charges came as North Korea sent diplomatic delegations to Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, a rare outreach to repair frayed ties caused by the death.

Related: Woman Held in Death of North Korean Leader’s Kin Says She Was Duped – NYT

Related: Women charged with murder in airport assassination – Bangkok Post

Related: Kuala Lumpur airport declared free from toxic contamination – Bangkok Post

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Vietnam’s Energy Exports Could Help Rebuild Ties With China – The Diplomat Can oil and gas diplomacy be Vietnam’s strategic map to re-establish normal relations with China?

China and Vietnam: Thoughts From a Chinese Sojourner in Ho Chi Minh City – The Diplomat Different interpretations of history showcase hidden tensions in the China-Vietnam relationship.

Indonesia and the Philippines hobble the mining industry – The Economist IN THE more rugged, poor and far-flung areas of the vast archipelagoes of Indonesia and the Philippines, mining is one of the few industries that shows much promise. Last year the Philippines exported nearly $1.7bn of minerals and ore—4% of the country’s exports. Mining employs over 200,000 people. By the same token, the Indonesian unit of Freeport McMoRan, an American firm that operates Grasberg, a vast copper and gold mine high in the mountains of Papua, has paid more than $16.5bn in taxes over the past 16 years. Freeport plans to expand Grasberg; over the next 25 years it expects to cough up a further $40bn. Yet the governments of both countries are imperilling this bonanza.

The Philippines pivots to China – The Economist FOR some relief from the congestion, fumes and hustle of Manila, take a day-cruise to the island of Corregidor. Guarding the entrance to Manila Bay, the “Gibraltar of the East” has seen the junks that brought Chinese trade and Islam, galleons that brought Spanish Catholicism and, in 1898, the warships of Commodore George Dewey that brought American rule. In 1941 came Japanese invaders who, as tour-guides tell it, made sport of throwing Filipino babies in the air and catching them on bayonets.

Rohingya refugees sucked into booming Bangladesh drug trade – DVB Rohingya Muslim refugee Ali Hasan is desperately looking for a bride for his 14-year-old son, jailed last year in Bangladesh for carrying the popular drug “ya ba.” He hopes the girl’s family would pay the $620 needed for Mohammed Hasan’s bail as dowry.

Chinese-owned factory attacked in Myanmar, straining bilateral ties – GoKunming Myanmar is in the midst of extremely tumultuous times caused by a quick jump to representative democracy coupled with a slew of historical problems. At times, such multifaceted concerns have put the Southeast Asian country’s government at odds with that of its largest trade partner and longtime benefactor. The newest incident — the destruction of property and brief detainment of Chinese nationals in Yangon — highlights simmering anger in Myanmar over China’s influence in the country.

Unlikely Partners: Cambodia and the Eurasian Economic Union – The Diplomat Why is Cambodia buying crocheted fabric from Belarus and leather saddles from Kyrgyzstan? In its efforts to bolster trade and forge new international alliances, the Southeast Asian Kingdom has opted to increase ties with some unlikely partners: the members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Thai mine ‘destroyed Myanmar water sources’ – The Nation PEOPLE in Heinda district in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region have been deprived of clean water, amid claims that a tin mine operated by a Thai firm has contaminated the river and water sources with heavy metals.

Related: Thai-owned mine allegedly polluted creek – Bangkok Post

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Sand mining: the global environmental crisis you’ve never heard of – The Guardian From Cambodia to California, industrial-scale sand mining is causing wildlife to die, local trade to wither and bridges to collapse. And booming urbanisation means the demand for this increasingly valuable resource is unlikely to let up

China turns to energy storage to push renewables – ChinaDialogue Despite another banner year for renewables growth in China, the country’s grid is still struggling to bring clean electricity to consumers. The problem is so serious in China’s north and west that turbines were forced to sit idle for much of 2016.

Why do hydro-hegemons cooperate? China’s and India’s transboundary river policies – Global Water Forum Hydro-hegemons are states which assert power over other riparian states in a shared river basin.  In Asia, both China and India are hydro-hegemons. China is the upstream riparian on many of Asia’s most important international rivers, including the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Sutlej, Indus, Salween, and Irrawaddy. India is middle riparian on the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, and upstream from Pakistan on the Indus and Bangladesh on the Ganges.

Siem Reap hotel is aiming for solar sustainability – Phnom Penh Post The Templation Hotel, located just north of Siem Reap town, claims to be the first in the Kingdom to try to supply the majority of its electricity from solar power, and is testing a model in sustainability that the MAADS hotel group may scale out to other non-urban properties. The group owns seven hotels, three shops and several restaurants.

 

CHINA

Did Trump Get Something Out of Xi in Exchange for Affirming ‘One China’? – The Diplomat “The president always gets something.”

Related: ‘The president always gets something’: Spicer suggests Trump gained concession from China – The Guardian

Related: High-Ranking Chinese Envoy Visits Trump’s Washington: What’s on the Agenda? – The Diplomat

U.S. Wary of Its New Neighbor in Djibouti: A Chinese Naval Base – NYT With tensions between the rivals increasing, American strategists worry that operations at the Pentagon’s Camp Lemonnier will be observed once China completes its military port.

Is Beijing outflanking the United States in the South China Sea? – Reuters For much of the last week, the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson has been patrolling the South China Sea. It is just the kind of display of Washington’s power and global reach that the U.S. Navy excels at – both to reassure allies and, in this case, send a message to potential foes.

Britain concerned over challenges to Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ deal – The Guardian Bi-annual report on former colony saying confidence in its systems is under threat comes after repeated interventions from Beijing. Developments in Hong Kong have affected confidence in the city’s autonomy, though its rule of law remained robust “despite challenges”, the British government has said.

North Korea Accuses China of ‘Mean Behavior’ After It Tightens Sanctions – NYT The criticism focused on China’s decision to suspend coal imports from North Korea, which depends on China for 90 percent of its external trade.

Related: China and North Korea Reveal Sudden, and Deep, Cracks in Their Friendship – NYT

China’s coal consumption drops for third year in a row – ChinaDialogue New research reveals that China burned 4.7% less coal in 2016 than in the previous year, meaning that annual coal consumption has dropped for the third consecutive year since 2014.

Only China Can Save the Planet – Foreign Policy The United States is lost in the delusions of climate change deniers. Fortunately, Beijing could be up for leading the fight.

U.N. Human Rights Experts Unite to Condemn China Over Expulsions of Tibetans – NYT A half-dozen experts have banded together to condemn China for the expulsions of monks and nuns from major religious enclaves in a Tibetan region.

China ‘anti-terror’ rallies: thousands of troops on streets of Urumqi – The Guardian Thousands of troops have poured on to the streets of one of west China’s most important cities for the second time in just over a week, as a senior Communist party leader heralded an “all-out offensive” against terrorism in the violence-stricken region.

Related: Is China’s Counterterrorism Policy in Xinjiang Working? – The Diplomat

Related: Officials Ban Dozens of Religious Practices, Foreign Missionaries in China’s Xinjiang – RFA

China considers paying couples to have a second child – The Guardian After abolishing the one-child policy, Communist party mulls financial incentives to parents who have more than one baby. China is considering introducing birth rewards and subsidies to encourage people to have a second child, after surveys showed economic constraints were making many reluctant to expand their families, the state-owned China Daily has reported. /// From birth penalties to birth rewards, it took three decades at the expense of the 80s generation labeled “loneliest generation” in China. These children of the one child policy are carrying the burden of competitive jobs, unaffordable housing, providing for two parents (and four grandparents), and (possibly) two children and their future schooling. It’s going to take much more than the birth rewards to solve that.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Vietnam

‘Black Holes’ in the South China Sea: Vietnam Commissions 2 New Attack Submarines – The Diplomat The Vietnamese Navy commissioned the last two of six Russian-made diesel electric attack submarines this week.

Trump’s Trade Retreat Could Hurt Push for Labor Rights Abroad – NYT The T.P.P. and other trade deals required tougher labor and environment measures. Some call them fig leaves, but others bemoan their loss.

In Kim Jong-nam Killing, a Common Migration Tale Takes a Dark Turn – NYT Before being accused in the death of Kim Jong-un’s half brother, Doan Thi Huong was one of millions of Southeast Asians living abroad in search of work.

Cambodia

Donald Trump’s media ban inspires Cambodian attack on press freedom – The Guardian And so it has happened. Less than 100 days into his presidency, Donald Trump is being cited by a corrupt and despotic regime to justify new restrictions on rights and freedoms. On Saturday, Cambodia’s council of ministers spokesman Phay Siphan vowed to “crush” media entities that endanger the “peace and security” of the kingdom, calling on all “foreign agents” to self-censor or be shut down. He justified this threat by citing Trump’s recent expulsion of critical media outlets from a White House briefing (Report, 25 January).

Related: Cambodian Government Cites Trump in Threatening Foreign News Outlets – NYT

Who are Cambodia’s new deputy opposition leaders?  – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine On Tuesday, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) announced that three of its politicians – Mu Sochua, Eng Chhay Eang and Pol Ham – would replace Kem Sokha as vice presidents of the party after he was made the new party president. The announcement came a little over two weeks after CNRP figurehead Sam Rainsy stepped down as president of the party in the face of threats from Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to dissolve the opposition.

Faith in flux: wealthy Middle Eastern donors bring uncertainty to Cambodia’s Cham Muslims – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine Islamic organisations from the Middle East are pouring money into Cambodia’s Cham Muslim communities, spreading hardline teachings and threatening to drive a wedge between the Muslim minority and their Buddhist neighbours

Tep Vanny hit with 30-month jail sentence – Phnom Penh Post Violence marred the trial of prominent land activist Tep Vanny, who was sentenced earlier this morning to two years and six months for aggravated intentional violence in relation to a 2013 protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in Phnom Penh.

Myanmar

Governing Myanmar – The Diplomat The NLD government’s first year in office was difficult, and more challenges remain ahead.

Legal advocacy group urges halt to SEZ expansion – DVB An international legal association is calling for a moratorium on expansion work at Burma’s special economic zones (SEZs), a key component of the country’s development agenda.

Related: Thilawa SEZ Commences Second Phase of Project – The Irrawaddy

Army defends operation against Rohingya, denies reports of abuses – DVB Burma’s military defended its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority as a lawful counterinsurgency operation at a rare news conference on Tuesday, adding it was necessary to defend the country.

Suu Kyi breaks silence on killing of top lawyer – DVB Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has broken a month long silence on the daylight assassination of her advisor, calling his killing a “great loss” for the country’s democracy struggle.

Related: Suu Kyi legal advisor Ko Ni killed by extremist patriotism, says Burmese police – DVB

Related: Police Chief: Assassination of U Ko Ni Was Driven by ‘Personal Grudge’ – The Irrawaddy

Ethnic Militias Decide Not to Sign Myanmar Government’s Cease-fire Agreement –RFA A group of ethnic militias decided on Friday not to sign the Myanmar government’s nationwide peace pact on the last day of their three-day summit at the headquarters of the country’s strongest ethnic rebel force, but instead formed a committee to discuss a “new path to peace,” a military official from the conference said.

Leaders from seven ethnic militias that have not signed the government’s October 2015 nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA)—including the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), attended the conference which began Wednesday.

 

YUNNAN

China’s Domestic Dams: Hydropower not only an export for world’s biggest dam builder – Mongabay YUNNAN, China — The building site of the Wunonglong hydropower dam is not ringed by barbed wire fences and security guards as one might expect. Instead, visitors to this remote northern stretch of China’s Yunnan province find themselves standing on a specially built viewing platform surrounded by a small but tidy ornamental garden and informative signage about the dam’s projected output. Though the dam is more than a year from completion, manicured bonsai trees and imported wild grasses have already been planted.

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

 

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