Regional Roundup for Week of 5.18.17

EXSE FOCUS

Mekong River Commission meets on Lao dam – The Phnom Penh Post The Mekong River Commission held its second stakeholder meeting on Laos’s controversial proposed Pak Beng dam on Friday, giving involved parties the opportunity to hear responses to concerns raised at the first meeting in February. Following this weekend’s meeting, MRC CEO Pham Tuan Phan issued a statement that struck a defensive tone, appearing to acknowledge past criticisms, while insisting that the organisation could not address them on its own.

 Pak Beng Consultation Process Improved, But to What End?  – Mekong Eye Over 190 representatives from different interest groups attended the MRC’s 2nd regional stakeholder forum on the Pak Beng dam in Vientiane in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR). The main emphasis of the meeting was to hear progress and responses on concerns raised in the 1st Regional Stakeholder Forum. It is unlikely that an even improved consultation process for Laos’ Pak Beng dam will have a different outcome, and most likely will result in the decision being put back to the national diplomatic channels.

Related: Stakeholders discuss Audomxay’s proposed Pakbeang dam  – Vientiane Times

Laos Dam Poses Environmental Dangers to Lower Mekong Basin – The Cambodia Daily Plans for the newest hydropower dam on the Mekong River will need dramatically improved environmental safeguards in order to minimize damage to fish and other wildlife in the river basin, researchers say. The intergovernmental Mekong River Commission released a draft report on the proposed Pak Beng dam in northern Laos, saying the amount of water that would flow through proposed fish passages are less than a tenth of recommended levels.

Can ASEAN Save the Mekong River – The Diplomat Amid mounting concerns surrounding the degradation of the Mekong River, authorities from four of the countries responsible for the longest river in Southeast Asia met last week in Laos, raising hopes that solutions could be found for the 70 million people who rely on the Mekong for food. It’s a task made all the more difficult since frustrated Western donors effectively abandoned the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

China wants to dynamite the Mekong River to increase trade – ABC 

Environmental groups in Thailand are concerned about China’s plan to blast shallow parts of the Mekong River to allow heavy shipping. The project will destroy habitat for the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish and could have devastating impacts for downstream countries like Cambodia and Vietnam. Fishing, agriculture and even national boundaries are likely to be affected.

Related: Local Activists in Chiang Rai Protest Against Blasting of Mekong River –Chiangrai Times

The $900bn question: What is the Belt and Road initiative? – The Guardian It’s a confusing title but it could turn out to be the largest ever infrastructure project with close to a trillion dollars being invested across the globe. On Sunday Chinese President Xi Jinping will welcome world leaders including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi to Beijing for what is billed as China’s most important diplomatic event of the year: a two-day forum celebrating Xi’s so-called ‘Belt and Road initiative’.

Related: The Real Trouble With China”s Belt and Road – The Diplomat
Related: Forum will promote infrastructure improvements – China Daily

Related: Behind China’s $1 Trillion Plan to Shake Up the Economic Order – The New York Times

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Why ASEAN Can’t Ignore the Rohingya Crisis – The Diplomat The Rohingya crisis is not just an issue for Myanmar; it will impact security and economic trends throughout the region.

China’s Xi offers help for Burma’s peace processDVB Chinese President Xi Jinping told Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday that China would continue to help the country achieve peace, and called for both sides to maintain stability on their shared border, state media said.

China, Burma Sign Five AgreementsThe Irrawaddy China and Burma signed five agreements on Tuesday regarding cooperation in economic development, health, and the preservation of historic monuments in Bagan, following a meeting between State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese business entrepreneurs interest in EECThai PBS Chinese businessmen from 60 leading companies in China are scheduled to arrive in Thailand to observe and study the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), according to the National News Bureau of Thailand. NNT reported that Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana has revealed that a group of prominent businessmen from Hong Kong and Shanghai will be in Thailand to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Office of Commission of EEC Development.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

China’s Huge Dam Will Threaten Southeast Asia as Water Scarcity Builds Downstream – Forbes China controls the life essence of eastern Asia: The towers within its domain provide water to 1.3 billion people. Up until now China has been compliant in releasing water when requested by downstream states, but the country’s water supplies are drying up. And as they do, assertions by recent scholars that 21st-century wars will be fought over water are becoming increasingly convincing.

Preconceived bad effect of Mekong clearance should not affect survey work: expert – Xinhua A Chinese expert on Wednesday asked opponents of the plan to blast islets and rocky outcrops in the Mekong River for bigger cargo ships to be more objective and wait for results of the survey work. Survey ships of a Chinese company came into the Mekong River on the border between Laos and Thailand late last month and they were confronted with protests which kept saying that such a plan would largely jeopardize the ecology environment, fish and bird habitats, natural resources and ways of life of local villagers.

Whose power plans are greener: China or India?China Dialogue China and India are the two largest emerging economies and their economic development has been fuelled primarily by coal. And lots of it. China burns more of the black stuff than any other country, with India ranking third.

 

CHINA

China’s Belt and Road Initiative Still Pushing Coal – China Dialogue Officials and leaders from over 110 countries will gather in Beijing on May 14-15 for the first ever Belt and Road Forum. China’s ambitious attempt to boost economic growth across a vast area stretching from its southeast coast all the way to Africa is known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Its two parts – a Silk Road Economic Belt and a Maritime Silk Road – are focused on channelling enormous investment in infrastructure to connect the region and to open new markets for Chinese products, services and capital.

The west is mired in ‘soft’ development. China is trying the ‘hard’ stuff –The Guardian The massive One Belt One Road project harkens back to a pre-Washington-consensus when rich countries built bridges rather than soft power

The world must unite like a ‘flock of geese’, says China’s Xi JinpingThe Guardian President urges global cooperation, as Germany warns it could refuse to sign up to Belt and Road initiative unless free tenders are guaranteed

China Tests New Missile Close to Korean Peninsula – The Diplomat China has purportedly conducted a number of missile tests in the Bohai Sea close to the Korean Peninsula.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand

Outrage over Mekong EIA process – The Nation Thai activists and academics are angry that Chinese officials and companies working on the Mekong River Navigation Channel Improvement Project will be the decision maker on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project. The TEAM Group of Companies, a Thai consultancy hired by the Chinese state-owned company, met yesterday with local environmental group Rak Chiang Khong in Chiang Khong district in Chiang Rai to discuss the EIA procedures for the project and assured that there would be proper public participation.

EGATi to explore investment in renewable energy abroad – The Nation The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT)has tasked its subsidiary Egat International (EGATi) with looking for opportunities to invest in renewable energy projects abroad. Egat chairman Areepong Bhoocha-Oom said EGATi, which is Egat’s overseas investment arm, would have to catch up with the global trend of green energy. Egat definitely wants two gigawatts of renewable energy. It will focus on Thailand and EGATi elsewhere to reach that target.

 

Myanmar

China seeks upto 85 percent stake in strategic port in Myanmar – Reuters China is looking to take a stake of up to 85 percent in a strategically important sea port in Myanmar in a move that could heighten tensions over China’s growing economic clout in the country. Beijing has been pushing for preferential access to the deep sea port of Kyauk Pyu on the Bay of Bengal, as part of its ambitious “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure investment plan to deepen its links with economies throughout Asia and beyond. 

Coal for electricity in Myanmar a long way off – Myanmar Times Coal for electricity is  commonly used by Myanmar’s neighbours such as Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines which have built coal-fired power plants by using this technology. In Myanmar, electricity from coal is not commonly used at the moment. Electricity produced from coal has some negative effects which is why it is not widely used here. Clean coal technology, which is used by the world’s superpowers also remains out of reach for the country.

SCG to use clean coal tech for Mon State plant – Myanmar Times Cement Limited (MCL) managing director Surachai, said that the construction of MCL, which is one of the subsidiary companies of SCG, has reached its final stages and won’t damage the natural resources or the environment of Myanmar. He also said that MCL is using premium quality coal with low sulfur content from Indonesia and that they have standardised all processes and strictly abide by existing laws.

Natural gas power plant in Thilawa SEZ to be completed in 2017-18 – Eleven The natural gas power plant in Thilawa Special Industrial Zone will be completed in 2017-2017, and it will be a 50 Megawatt power plant. The plant will be built with a loan from Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) ODA and after completion, it will provide  sufficient electricity to industries in the zone.

Why Does Burma Stand on China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ – The Irrawaddy China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative is new to many of the Burmese public, though the magnitude of the massively ambitious project would need a specialized task force to understand. Burma won’t reject the BRI; the interesting element is how the country’s leadership deals with the initiative. It is time to negotiate from a position of strength.

 

Cambodia

Tycoon strikes Thai hydro deal – Khmer Times Tycoon Ly Yong Phat has struck a deal with Thailand’s state-owned electricity company to build a small-scale hydroelectric dam on the border of Koh Kong and Pursat provinces. The $100 million Stung Nam dam venture will bring together Mr Yong Phat’s LYP Group with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. Mr Yong Phat told Khmer Times his company had been negotiating the deal for some time and would open the project for tender soon.

Complaint filed over villagers’ dam protest – The Phnom Penh Post With several villages downstream from the Lower Sesan II dam expecting to be inundated this rainy season, Stung Treng provincial authorities filed a complaint yesterday against seven ethnic Lao villagers who participated in a protest in March to block the clearing of a forest where the reservoir will be, though the exact source of the suit was unclear yesterday.

Cambodia Dismisses Claims of Illicit Sand Exports Despite Ban – RFA Cambodia’s government on Friday dismissed accusations by an environmental group that the country is still exporting sand, despite a national ban, saying a vessel seen loading the material in a video the group posted on social media was doing nothing illicit. On May 1, the NGO Mother Nature Cambodia posted a video to its Facebook page purportedly showing a vessel named the Deryoung Sunflower loading white sand for export.
Ministry approves mining in four provinces –Khmer Times The Ministry of Mines and Energy is inviting companies to bid for metal mining concessions in four provinces.The sites earmarked cover 525 square kilometres in Kampong Thom, Kampot, Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces. Energy Minister Suy Sem said local and foreign firms registered in Cambodia had until May 30 to apply for the concessions for mining metals such as gold and copper.

A special multinational zone of prosperity and productivity  – China Daily After 10 years of construction, the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone in the southern coastal city in Cambodia has attracted 109 companies and changed the lives of local people. The SEZ, jointly developed by the Cambodian and Chinese governments, is about a four-hour drive from Phnom Penh,The expansion of economic activities will be buoyant this year, with the Belt and Road Initiative expected to allow Cambodia to increase its investment and trade with China and other economies along the Initiative. 

China-constructed hydro electric stations ensure reliable, affordable electricity for Cambodians – Khmer Times Deep in the jungles of Mondol Sima district in southwestern Koh Kong province, about a seven-hour drive from the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh, is the lower Stung Russei Chrum hydropower station, one of the six hydroelectric stations that were constructed by China. Within the framework of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, the hydroelectric station was built by China Huadian Corp and began operations in January 2015 after nearly five years of construction.

Dam Will Not Damage the Environment, Hun Sen Says – Cambodia Daily
A long-anticipated hydro-electric dam in Stung Treng province is set for completion in September, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on his personal Facebook page, touting the contentious project’s lack of societal and environmental repercussions, a claim environmentalists quickly rebutted.

Cambodia’s Lower Sesan 2 Dam Reservoir Used to Launder Illegal Timber: Police – RFA A company owned by business magnate Kith Meng is using its license to clear a reservoir for the Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam in Cambodia’s Stung Treng province as a cover to launder illegally logged timber, according to a report by the country’s police force.

Energy policy needs flexibility – Phenom Penh Post Despite Cambodia’s growing power generation, grid access is limited and the country still imports electricity from its neighbours.

 

Vietnam

Sands of time: VN faces severe shortage – Vietnam News Poor planning and management of sand mining has led to a stunning but unsurprising warning: Việt Nam is very likely to run out of sand in less than 15 years. A report by the Department of Construction Materials (DoCM) of the Ministry of Construction says the demand for sand in 2015 stood at 92 million cubic metres, and will surge by some 40 per cent to about 130 million in 2020.

Vietnam urges Laos to rethink Mekong River dams – VietnamNet

“Viet Nam wants all upstream Mekong River nations to adopt proper policies in exploiting the river, especially in hydropower dam construction, in order to ensure rights for downstream nations, like Viet Nam,” Minister of Natural Resources and Environment and chairman of the Viet Nam Mekong River Commission, Tran Hong Ha, said in his opening speech. “Viet Nam is seriously worried about the increasing exploitation of hydropower in the Mekong River in recent years by upstream nations. Viet Nam has recently suffered severe drought, saline intrusion and land sinking,” he added.

Son Doong Cave: Tourism and conservation coexist in one of Vietnam’s largest national parks – Mongabay Deep in the forests of central Vietnam, home to rare flora and fauna and the world’s most spectacular system of caves, tourism is benefiting the local environment. While other parts of the country have seen severe environmental degradation at the hands of tourism development – such as two tons of garbage is dumped into world-famous Ha Long Bay every day – the opposite has been the case here. UNESCO-certified Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, located in Quang Binh province, is one of the country’s largest national parks.

Laos

Electricity Law Amended for Sustainable Hydropower Development – Lao News Agency The Law on Electricity of Laos has been amended for the third time to ensure sustainable development in the hydropower industry as well as to consider the highest interests of the state and people. Amendments to the law were presented on May 9 by Minister of Energy and Mines, Mr Khammany Inthirath at the ongoing 3rd Ordinary Session of the National Assembly’s 8th Legislature for debate and consideration by lawmakers.

15 mining projects see concessions revoked – Vientiane Times Fifteen mining operations have had their concessions revoked after investors failed to implement their projects as agreed after they were granted concessions by the government. Speaking at the ongoing ordinary session of the National Assembly last week, Minister of Energy and Mines Dr Khammany Inthirath said “Some companies just held [concessions without implementing them] purely in order to resell them.”

Belt and Road Forum: President calls for support for least developed, landlocked countries –  Vientiane Times President Bounnhang Vorachit has called for greater support and cooperation to be extended to least developed and landlocked countries in developing their connectivity systems under the Belt and Road Initiative. The Lao president made the comment at the first ever Leaders Roundtable of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on May 15 in Beijing, China.

Lao Officials Not Doing Enough to Enforce Land Concession Regulations – RFA Unlawful land concessions in Laos are increasingly forcing villagers to abandon their livelihoods and move far away from their homes to find alternative employment, a sign that government officials are not enforcing regulations meant to mitigate the adverse impact of involuntary land acquisitions, a legal expert on land issues and a villager said.

This week’s news digest was curated by Sonya Zhao. Sonya’s moving on, so big thanks for her help this spring!

 

 

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