Regional Roundup for Week of 3.8.19

EXSE FOCUS

Women’s rights and river protection – Asia Times Usually at this time of year during the dry season in northern Thailand, the Mekong River recedes, and sand and pebble beaches appear. Covering the pebbles, through the clear and shallow water, one can see the pale green kai, a river weed of the Mekong.//This International Women’s Day (March 8) we celebrate the women convening in Nepal this week to chart a new course as part of the first-ever international Women and Rivers Congress.

A Chinatown mysteriously emerges in backwoods Myanmar – Asia Times The town is still under construction but it already has a distinct Chinese flavor. There are Chinese restaurants, beauty salons and karaoke parlors. Chinese residents live in temporary barrack-style buildings while waiting for new apartment blocks and villas to be completed.//Unclear intentions: A Chinese-sponsored mega-project has caused a stir in Shwe Kokko, a border city in Myanmar.  Details of the project and it’s intentions  have not yet been divulged.

China’s chequebook diplomacy in Cambodia a double-edged sword creating resentment – Channel News Asia Billions of dollars have been flowing from China into Cambodia, turning parts of the once war-stricken country into modern cities. The economy is booming, jobs have been created and the market values of land have gone up.//String’s attached: China is the biggest foreign investor in Cambodia and owns about two-fifths of Cambodia’s debt.  Locals worry about the impact this inequitable development could have on their livelihoods.

Are We Seeing the Mekong River’s ‘Last Days’? – The Diplomat In the introduction to his new book, Brian Eyler cautions that “the reader should not get the impression from the book’s title that the Mekong River is in its death throes.” Yet 320 pages later, he signs off with a warning: “Unless we begin today to see the river and the landscape around it as a connected system and act jointly for its conservation, the Mighty Mekong’s last days are here and now.”//Review of Stimson’s Brian Eyler’s book Last Days of the Mighty Mekong.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Korea approves US$15 million for Attapeu flood recovery – Vientiane Times The government of the Republic of Korea has approved US$15 million (over 128 billion kip) to implement a flood recovery programme and assist the people of Sanamxay district in Attapeu province.

Indonesia and Australia Ink Free Trade Agreement – The Diplomat Indonesia and Australia signed a free trade agreement Monday that will eliminate many tariffs, allow Australian-owned hospitals to operate in the giant Southeast Asian country, and increase work visas for young Indonesians.

Key priorities agreed for Cambodia-Lao PDR joint transboundary project – Mekong River Commission Officials from National Mekong Committees and line agencies of Cambodia and Lao PDR last week agreed on joint actions of key priorities for a joint project on cross-border water resource development and management between Cambodia (Stung Treng) and Lao PDR (Champasak).

Lim Guan Eng hopeful East Coast Rail Link talks with China will conclude next month – Channel News Asia Malaysia Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng on Thursday (Mar 7) expressed hope that a decision on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will be taken before Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visits China next month.

Prak Sokhonn slams EU over EBA’s review – Khmer Times Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has lashed out at the European Union for applying a double standard with Cambodia over a review of Every Thing but arms preferential status, saying that they failed to act against Laos and Myanmar.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Smog in North takes big toll on public health – The Nation Nearly A quarter of a million people in the North sought medical treatment for four different kinds of ailments that flared up amid the intense air pollution between February 17 and 23.

The hidden costs of hydro: We need to reconsider world’s dam plans – Mongabay As thousands of hydroelectric dams are planned worldwide, including 147 in the Amazon, a new study finds that the true socio-environmental and cultural costs of dams are rarely evaluated before construction. Were such factors counted into the lifetime cost of the dams, many would not be built.

Thais plan to cut sea debris by 50%  – Bangkok Post Thailand made a political commitment Tuesday to reduce marine debris by at least 50% by 2027, according to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Ministry promotes sustainable development – Phnom Penh Post The Ministry of Industry and Handicraft’s National Productivity Centre of Cambodia (NPCC) launched a three-day national conference on Tuesday to promote awareness of sustainable development and competitive agribusiness in Cambodia.

Chinese Banana Plantations in Lao District Leave Locals With Little Land to Farm – Radio Free Asia Concessions of land made by the government of Laos to Chinese banana farms are leaving villagers in one northern district without enough land of their own to feed their families, sources in the communist Southeast Asian country say.

Gripped By Drought, Cambodian Farmers Struggle Against Changing Climate – Voice of America Trapaing Thmar reservoir, the largest of the Khmer Rouge regime’s irrigation projects built atop the bones of the dead, is running dry amid one of the worst droughts to hit Cambodia in living memory.

Coal to dominate Vietnam’s power expansion: Analysis – Vietnam Net Fitch Solutions Marco Research, a unit of Fitch Group, has just announced an outlook for Vietnam’s power and renewables sector, claiming that the country had traditionally relied on hydropower and natural gas for its power generation. However, it could meet several obstacles to continued growth in these two sectors.

Indonesia court allows dam in orangutan habitat to proceed – AP News Environmentalists lost a court challenge Monday to a Chinese-backed dam in Indonesia that will rip through the habitat of the most critically endangered orangutan species.

Related: Activists fighting to save orangutan habitat from dam unfazed by legal setback – Mongabay News

Vietnamese provinces say “no” to coal plants–government and industry still want more – Mekong Eye Duong Thi Canh lives near the sea at Hai Phong village in Ky Loi commune, Ha Tinh province. Her home is about 500 meters from Vung Ang 1 coal power plant in central Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Energy Dilemma Is About To Become A Crisis – Oil Price Vietnam can’t seem to get a break. The country lies just beneath China, its giant neighbor to the north, and shares many of the same socialist ideals that Beijing promulgates. However, Sino-Vietnamese relations have been a source of tension for years dating back to the colonization of Vietnam by China centuries ago – a historical fact that the average Vietnamese citizen has never forgotten.

CHINA
China builds Latin America’s largest solar plant – China Dialogue In the northern Argentine province of Jujuy, at a dizzying 4,000 metres above sea level, red and blue banners inscribed with Chinese characters flap outside a temporary office perched on a barren desert. 

Demystifying Debt Along China’s New Silk Road – The Diplomat China has one of the biggest global development footprints in the world. The only country with bigger official international finance flows is the United States.

China boosts spending in cleaning up soil and water as it shifts gears in fight against pollution – The Straits Times China is shifting gears in its fight against pollution, dramatically increasing spending to clean up its soil and waters. The prevention and control of water and soil pollution will be strengthened, said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as he delivered the work report at the opening of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s annual meeting of parliament on Tuesday (March 5).

China becoming more aggressive – The ASEAN Post China’s diplomats aren’t being very diplomatic. In the past few months, its envoy to Canada publicly accused his hosts of “white supremacy,” its ambassador in Sweden labelled the Swedish police “inhumane” and blasted the country’s “so-called freedom of expression,” and its chief emissary in South Africa said President Donald Trump’s policies were making the United States (US) “the enemy of the whole world.”

Chinese companies sign deal to fish in Somali waters – China Dialogue Legal experts and local fishing groups have warned that a deal between the Somali government and a consortium of Chinese companies will be difficult to regulate, may encourage piracy and could lead to the levels of overfishing seen in West Africa.
SOUTHEAST ASIA

Myanmar land ownership law could displace millions of farmers – DW News Under a land reformation act, millions of farmers across Myanmar could be forced from land they have tilled for generations. Many are unaware of the danger they face. Peter Yeung and Carlotta Dotto report from Yangon.

What ever happened to Cambodia’s Dragon City – Southeast Asia Globe Nine years ago, Cambodia’s Land Ministry proposed a new, high-tech capital called “Dragon City” on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Nearly a decade later, the $80 billion development has yet to break ground – but the visionary behind the ambitious project is hoping that changing the Kingdom’s strict foreign ownership laws may tempt Chinese investors back to the bargaining table

Related: The man behind Cambodia’s most ambitious development project – Southeast Asia Globe

Hun Sen tells diplomats to work on reducing foreign aid dependence – Khmer Times Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called on all diplomats to focus on reducing the Kingdom’s foreign aid dependency by “turning challenges into opportunities”.

The 99% election: Thais are worse off after five years of military rule – Nikkei Asian Review When business started to sag a year ago at the shoe factory where she and her husband work, Nui Kalathai began to borrow money from relatives in her village in Khon Kaen, one of the largest provinces in Thailand’s northeastern plateau.

Will Thailand’s Chinese High-Speed Railway Be Worth It? – The Diplomat Since late last year, Thailand’s military government has been quietly rushing forward on its Chinese high-speed rail project, making long-held plans on the venture increasingly, irreversibly concrete.

Thai court dissolves key Shinawatra-linked party – Southeast Asia Globe A key party linked to Thailand’s powerful Shinawatra clan was dissolved Thursday by a court, just weeks before a general election, over its ill-starred bid to front a princess as a candidate for premier.

Related: Thailand court bans party that nominated princess for PMThe Guardian

Three Lao Workers Killed in Landslide While Diverting Water to DamRadio Free Asia Three Lao workers trapped last week by a landslide while digging a passage to divert creek water to a nearby dam were found dead this week, with a fourth worker badly hurt, sources in the country say.

Laos Stops Chinese-backed Tourism Development Survey in 3 Villages – Radio Free Asia Surveys for a Chinese development project in Laos have been suspended indefinitely in three villages after pushback from locals scared to lose their homes, sources say.

Child Malnutrition Rates Still High in Laos Despite Best Efforts – Radio Free Asia Large numbers of children remain malnourished in Laos, especially in poorer rural parts of the country, despite efforts by the U.N. World Food Programme and other concerned organizations to provide better food, sources in Laos say.

Fast trains to Laos ‘in 4 years’  – Bangkok Post The government will push for completion of the Thai-Sino high-speed railway project linking Bangkok and Nong Khai by 2023 so it can connect to another fast rail project in Laos, said Nathporn Chatusripitak, a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

Chinese corporations want to invest in the North-South highway – Vietnam Net On March 7, at the meeting with the Ministry of Transport, Mr. Nghiem Gioi Hoa, founder and Chairman of the Pacific Group from China suggested the North-South highway project in Vietnam. can invest in two forms: EPC and BTO. 

ADB, WB steps up online bidding in Vietnam – Vietnam Plus The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB) have decided to use the Vietnam National E-Procurement System (VNEPS) to conduct online bidding for construction and goods supply contracts for their projects.

Governing the Ayeyarwady – Frontier Myanmar The continuing conundrum over Myitsone, concern among farmers over river bank erosion in the dry zone and the delta and reports of declining riverine resources in Sagaing Region all indicate the need for coherent and coordinated governance of the Ayeyarwady River.

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

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