Regional Roundup for Week of 5.25.18


Leaked report warns Cambodia’s biggest dam could ‘literally kill’ Mekong river–The guardian Government-commissioned report says proposed site at Sambor reach is the ‘worst possible place’ for hydropower due to impact on wildlife. The report, which was commissioned by the government in Phnom Penh, has been kept secret since it was submitted last year, prompting concerns that ministers are inclined to push ahead regardless of the dire impact it predicts on river dolphins and one of the world’s largest migrations of freshwater fish. // To be sure, this is not a leaked report. It was made publicly available on the NHI website for several months and the report’s author is actively promoting the key message of the report: there’s a better alternative to the Sambor Dam design which is very much worth exploring.

Germany provides EUR 5 million for Vietnam’s smart grids–Nhan Dan Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh has approved a project in which Germany will provide EUR5 million to help Vietnam develop smart grids for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The project, known as SGRE-EE, costs nearly EUR5.3 million and will be implemented during the 2018-2022 period.

China is making Mekong friends–East Asia Forum Since Chinese President Xi Jinping took over power in 2012, Southeast Asia has become a focal point of China’s geopolitical ambitions. Instead of the clandestine and illegal tactics seen under Mao Zedong, the current strategy combines two major approaches: building Chinese-led institutional mechanisms and buying support with a flood of aid, concessional loans and investments.

Asia’s Environment Is at a Tipping Point–The Diplomat The Asia-Pacific region continues to lead the world’s economic growth, but a recent ground-breaking report by more than 130 of the region’s leading scientists and experts calls the future of this trajectory into question. The report provides extensive evidence that growth has been achieved at significant environmental cost and that we need to urgently reduce and, where possible reverse, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation to ensure a more sustainable future for our children.


 Vietnam Is A Test For What Happens When The U.S. Abandons Climate Diplomacy–Huffpost Nearly a year after President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords, Vietnam has effectively become a canary in the coal mine for how closely other nations will stick to the global agreement’s goals as the U.S. abandons them.//Wise words from former US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius.

Japan invests in future of Cambodia through education scholarships–Khmer Times The government yesterday revealed that Japan will contribute about $3 million in aid to improve Cambodia’s education system by ensuring that students will have the chance to acquire scholarships to further their studies in 2018.

India-Myanmar Open Border Policy: A Travesty for Sustainable, Traditional Agriculture–The Irrawaddy Magazine Up in the hills some 1,524 meters above sea level the practice of slash and burn agriculture, popularly known as “jhum cultivation,” has carried on uninterrupted feeding several thousands of people in the Naga hills for generations. This unique practice of hill farming has in fact debunked myths about shifting cultivation (as jhum is also known) being harmful and environmentally destructive and has proven it to be one of the most resilient forms of agriculture in the highlands, which are mostly inhabited by indigenous communities.

ASEAN and soft balancing: Time to declare South China Sea a zone of peace?–The Straits Times Member states of Asean have been pursuing a strategy based largely on soft balancing and diplomatic engagement towards China for over three decades. The soft balancing makes use of institutional mechanisms such as the Asean Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit and the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus.

Philippines To Lift OFW Ban to Kuwait In Steps–investvine The Philippines is starting to lift the complete ban of deploying Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to Kuwait after the two countries reached an agreement on the regulation and protection of migrant workers, particularly household helpers, in the Gulf state.

Philippines, Japan ink ¥2-billion grant for Marawi rehab–Philstar The Philippines and Japan on Tuesday sealed a ¥2-billion (about P970 million) grant for the restoration of the war-torn city of Marawi, which was stormed by ISIS-inspired terrorists last year. The grant is the fourth aid package provided by Japan to the Philippines for the rehabilitation of the battle-scarred Islamic city.

PM assures South Koreans of friendly investing climate–Bangkok Post Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha Wednesday urged South Korean investors to ramp up investment and trade with Thailand and pledged to facilitate their investment in the country.

PH, PNG to boost bilateral cooperation on agriculture, aquaculture, agri-business dev’t–Manila Bulletin The Philippines and Papua New Guinea have agreed to boost bilateral cooperation on agriculture, aquaculture, and agri-business development in a bid to help ensure food security. The Joint Declaration on Agricultural Cooperation between the two countries was signed after President Duterte held talks with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill in Malacañang on revitalizing economic and trade relations and exploring new areas of cooperation.



Road might pose even bigger threat to Southeast Asian forests, biodiversity than previously understood–Mongabay Southeast Asia is a global biodiversity hotspot, and Indonesia and Malaysia are no exception, harboring some of the highest levels of species diversity in the world. Yet those two countries also supply more than 80 percent of the world’s palm oil, and it’s widely acknowledged that the expansion of oil palm plantations in the Indo-Malaysian region has led to massive deforestation, imperiling biodiversity.

This Clean Energy Champion Is Out To Break Vietnam’s Coal Habit–Forbes Vietnam is addicted to coal. Its economy has grown over 6%, on average, since the turn of the century, among the fastest of its Southeast Asian peers, yet that growth is fueled by coal, the most polluting fuel source on the planet.

Coal-reliant Philippines struggles to power up clean energy–Reuters Renewable energy costs are falling around the globe, but the Philippines, up to now, has shown few signs of moving away from coal. Today, the Philippines has some of the highest power generation charges in Southeast Asia according to the country’s energy agency.

Multimedia Project Launched to Increase Awareness on Bilateral Water Cooperation–MRC  Fisheries, delta, wetland, lake and river basins management – officials and community members from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam working on transboundary water issues kicked off a multimedia project last week with regional workshops in Phnom Penh, and discussed how to showcase bilateral cooperation over these issues.

Gold Mine Waste Blamed for Deadly Poisoning in Cambodia–Radio Free Asia  Toxic substances including chromium and cyanide used to flush gold mines were improperly handled and seeped into a river, sickening hundreds and killing more than a dozen people in two northeastern Cambodian provinces, the country’s industry minister said on Thursday.

The truth behind Phnom Penh’s smoggy skies–Southeast Asia Globe A year ago, Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment began monitoring Phnom Penh’s levels of the most damaging known air pollutant, PM2.5. Will this new knowledge be used to prevent potentially deadly air pollution, or will the ministry’s efforts prove futile?// To avoid worsening air pollution in the country, Cambodian government needs to launch series of policies covering energy, transportation and education areas to mitigate the greenhouse gas emission and raise public awareness.

Vietnam, US launch joint project to combat wildlife crime–Vietnam Express Vietnam’s agriculture ministry and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Friday launched a project to combat wildlife trafficking in Vietnam, with a focus on urban centers where the demand is high.

 Organisation concerned over river’s water quality–Khmer Times Two international organisations have expressed concerns over water quality in the Sesan, Srepok and Sekong rivers which threatens the livelihood of about 3.4 million people in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam because of human activity and hydropower dam development.

Vietnam’s demand for investment in environmental remains huge–Vietnam net Nguyen Viet Thang, deputy head of the Vietnam Environment Administration’s Department of Science Technology and International Cooperation, said that Vietnam needs 93 trillion VND (4.07 billion USD) to produce environmental equipment by 2020, and the figure will rise to 222 trillion VND (9.7 billion USD) by 2030. Among 357 Vietnamese firms operating in this field, 22 percent want to invest in environmentally friendly technology.

Farm chemicals’ pose a threat to public health–The Nation Academics urged the government to prioritise the protection of people’s health from the threat of chemical contamination and ensure a healthy environment in keeping with the county’s pledge to pursue Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Myanmar ‘s Inle Lake: an ecosystem fighting to survive–The Irish Times At 22km long from north to south, Inle lake is the main life source for communities in this part of Myanmar’s rural Shan plateau region. But today, the lake is threatened like never before. A growing population, upwards of 200,000 people, and the use of chemicals and fertilisers in the floating gardens, as well as silt accumulations and climate change events have put huge pressure on its ecosystem.


U.S. and China Tout Trade Talks as Success, but Leave the Details for Later–NYT China will increase its purchase of American goods and services in order to reduce the multibillion-dollar trade imbalance with the United States, the two countries said in a joint statement Saturday.

Related: Trump says China trade deal is ‘too hard to get done’–The guardian

Another problem with China’s coal: Mercury in rice–China Dialogue Mercury pollution is a problem usually associated with fish consumption. Pregnant women and children in many parts of the world are advised to eat fish low in mercury to protect against the adverse health impacts, including neurological damages, posed by a particularly toxic form of mercury, methylmercury.

Can China head off its looming water crisis?–The Third Pole Over the last 40 years the Chinese Communist Party has shown itself flexible in meeting the challenges of reforming a once sclerotic system. It has successfully “muddled through”. But some problems do not lend themselves to muddling through: you can print money, but you cannot print water.

Can Chinese cities leave the car behind?–China Dialogue Plagued by congestion and pollution, China’s cities are exploring models of transportation that are more sustainable in terms of their social, environmental and climate impacts. Some have emerged as global leaders, such as Hangzhou, south-west of Shanghai, which in 2017 won an international award for its municipal bike sharing scheme. More recently Shenzhen, a major city north of Hong Kong, electrified its entire fleet of public buses, gaining worldwide recognition.

China Launches Its First Domestically Made Aircraft Carrier–NYT China launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier to begin sea trials on Sunday, reaching another milestone in the expansion of the country’s navy. The aircraft carrier, as yet unnamed, left its berth at a shipyard in the northeastern port of Dalian after a blow of its horn and a display of fireworks, according to reports in state news media.

China’s environment watchdog targets waste as pollution battle escalates–Reuters China plans to carry out nationwide inspections targeting the illegal transfer and dumping of waste that damages water resources and soil, the environmental watchdog said on Friday as Beijing launches a new front in its years-long war on pollution.

Chinese smartphone makers in all-out blitz for Southeast Asia–Nikkei Asian Review The combined sales of three Chinese mobile phone brands in Southeast Asia edged past Samsung Electronics‘ tally for the first time last year. As Chinese makers move to counter their saturated home market and an increasingly disputatious U.S., they have gone on the offensive in the rest of Asia.

China to launch nationwide inspections targeting illegal dumping of waste–The Straits Times China will soon launch nationwide inspections targeting the illegal transfer and dumping of waste, Zhou Zhiqiang, a senior official with China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) said at a regular press briefing on Friday (May 11)



Southeast Asia’s race to combat growing cancer crisis–Southeast Asia Globe Cancer claimed an estimated 1.2 million lives in Southeast Asia in 2012, making it the region’s number one killer. And rates are predicted to skyrocket 40% by 2030. Governments are finally addressing this ongoing health crisis, forcing medical professionals to play catchup in building quality cancer care systems.

Thailand economic growth surges to 5-year high in Q1 as exports climb–The Strait Times Thailand’s economic growth surged to a five-year high last quarter, beating all economists’ estimates as rebounding farm output added to gains from exports and private consumption.

ASEAN needs to develop Crisis Management Capacity–New Delhi Times ASEAN has been a success story in trade and regional economic cooperation. But ASEAN cannot content being a mere economic organisation. The organisation needs to devise mechanisms that give it a strategic clout in matters of regional as well as global politics. One of the important aspects related with ASEAN’s strategic needs is the development of an effective crisis management policy.

World Bank Supports Lao’s Agricultural Sector–The Laotian Times The US$25 million Lao PDR Agriculture Competitiveness Project aims to help over 140,000 people by making the planting of rice, maize, and vegetables more productive and profitable. The agreement was signed on Thursday by the World Bank Country Manager Inguna Dobraja and Finance Vice Minister Thipphakone Chanthavongsa.

ASEAN vows to do more to build regional power grid–Xinhua More work is needed for ASEAN’s power grid to be connected to enhance cross-border electricity trade, officials and experts from energy sectors have agreed here at the ASEAN Power Grid Summit held from Monday to Wednesday.

Mobile payment firms struggle to dethrone cash in Southeast Asia–Reuters Mobile payments are ubiquitous in China; a consumer can spend a day without using cash at all in Beijing or Shanghai, and even some beggars accept mobile payments. But cash remains king in Southeast Asia. Hard currency, paid on delivery, accounted for 44 percent of total e-commerce transactions last year and is likely to remain the most popular payment option for at least the next three years, according to data by research firm IDC.

Thailand’s Junta Cracks Down on Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party–The Diplomat Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is intensifying its crackdown on the political opposition ahead of national elections now plannedfor February 2019 after repeated delays. The polls would mark the first potential transfer of power to a civilian administration since the Thai army seized power four years ago.

Why Southeast Asia’s children are facing an obesity epidemic–Southeast Asia Globe Malnutrition is leaving Southeast Asia’s children predisposed to obesity and fatal diseases later in life. With the rise of processed foods and less active lifestyles, these health impacts are only going to get worse unless children become the focal point of change.

The Strategic Implications of Malaysia’s Election Stunner–CFR Malaysia’s recent national election was a stunner for many reasons. Not only did the election return a nonagenarian to power, but it also ended the six-decades-long one-party hegemony of Barisan Nasional (BN). Mahathir Mohamad’s return to power is not only potentially transformative for Malaysian domestic politics. It also has far-reaching strategic implications.

Related: What’s Next for Malaysia-China Relations After the 2018 Elections?–The Diplomat

Related: Malaysia’s opposition icon released from prison with full royal pardon–Southeast Asia Globe

What’s in Indonesia’s Indo-Pacific Cooperation Concept?–The Diplomat At the Center for Strategic and International Studies Global Dialogue on May 8 in Jakarta, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi unveiled the Southeast Asian state’s Indo-Pacific cooperation concept. The concept is based on the principles of being “open, transparent and inclusive, promoting the habit of dialogue, promoting cooperation and friendship, and upholding international law.”

Is Laos Really Launching a New Corruption Crackdown?–The Diplomat Since coming to power in April 2016, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has made grandiose claims about tackling corruption. He wants to rid it from the country’s most important sectors, he has said, and he aims to restore the image of Communist Party officials in the eyes of the public. For years, apparatchiks have been considered opulent, distant, and, most importantly, perennially on the take.

Thailand to issue rules on cryptocurrency by end-June: SEC chief–Reuters Thailand’s securities and exchange commission expects to issue regulations on cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings by the end of June after holding a public hearing, the SEC chief said on Tuesday.



Garbage dump meat operation broken up by Yunnan police–GoKunming For two years, opportunistic villagers in Yunnan province have been raiding a landfill where authorities dispose of frozen meat smuggled from Vietnam. They would then resell the contraband at market, according to an exposé aired Thursday on local television. Authorities in Jinping County are now vowing to solve the problem of frozen food thievery.


Taiwan, the Philippines to set up demonstration sites for agriculture exchanges–Taiwan News The 7th Taiwan-Philippines Agricultural Meeting took place in Taipei on May 14, during which the two sides discussed a broad range of agricultural topics and sought ways to increase bilateral cooperation in agriculture and fisheries technologies.// Apart from the Philippines, Taiwan needs to keep deepening its cooperation with other Southeast Asia countries under the ‘New Southbound Policy.’ With more cooperation, the policy can be more effective and raise more attention globally.



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