Regional Roundup for Week of 5.5.17

The Trump administration is slowly  coming around to see the importance of US-ASEAN relations, but will downplaying human rights and democratization produce unintended consequences? The Philippines hosted the thirtieth ASEAN summit last weekend. Despite the opposition in China, THAAD became operational. Today, the MRC holds its second regional consultation on the Pak Beng Dam.

 EXSE FOCUS

The Thirtieth ASEAN Summit: Winners – Asia Unbound Over the weekend, the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held the Thirtieth ASEAN Summit, in Manila—the Philippines is the chair of ASEAN this year. As has become usual, much of the discussion before the summit centered on a potential joint statement about the South China Sea, which has become one of the most divisive issues in Southeast Asia. Countries growing closer to China, like Cambodia and Thailand (which also have no direct claims in the South China Sea), and those that have direct claims and are increasingly suspicious of Beijing’s activities, like Vietnam, have faced off over South China Sea statements at many ASEAN meetings. In addition, the summit provided an opportunity for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to play up his role as a statesman and host.

Related: Duterte stresses non-interference policy at ASEAN summit (full speech) – Invistine

Philippines Sends Defense Chief to Disputed South China Sea Island – NYT Even before officials reached the island, which is also claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, the Chinese challenged the flight on the radio several times.

Related: The Truth About Duterte’s ASEAN South China Sea Blow – The Diplomat

Related: After Summit, ASEAN Remains Divided on South China Sea – The Diplomat

Tillerson urges ASEAN to cut North Korea funding, minimize ties – Reuters U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Thursday to do more to help cut funding streams for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and to minimize diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. In his first ministerial meeting with all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Tillerson also called on nations with competing claims in the South China Sea to cease all island building and militarization while talks aimed at creating a maritime code of conduct were under way.

Donald Trump builds relations with authoritarian Asian leaders – The Guardian US president invites controversial leaders of Thailand and Philippines to the White House amid growing North Korean tensions. Donald Trump has revived US relations with two of Asia’s most authoritarian heads of state – the leader of Thailand’s junta and the president of the Philippines – by inviting them to the White House.

Related: After Trump’s Phone Call to Philippines Leader, China’s President Calls Him – NYT

It’s Official: THAAD Missile Defense Is Up and Running in South Korea – The Diplomat The controversial missile defense system has become operational, days ahead of South Korea’s 2017 presidential election.

Striking a Fair Balance on Mekong Dams – Bangkok Post This Friday, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) will hold their second Regional Stakeholder Forum under the Prior Consultation procedure for the Pak Beng dam, the third hydropower project proposed for the lower Mekong River mainstem. For Pak Beng, the information put forward by the developers for the Prior Consultation process is similarly inadequate to assess environmental and social impacts on the Mekong. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) and supporting documents demonstrate major gaps in baseline data, which is essential in designing mitigation measures targeted to the local context. Much of the data is taken from studies conducted in 2011 and earlier, failing to take account of the projects along the Mekong that are now under construction. That the Prior Consultation process was initiated on the basis of this limited information is in itself questionable.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

ASEAN and North Korea: Strange Bedfellows? – The Diplomat North Korea asked ASEAN to take its side against the United States.

China ready to mediate between Burma, Bangladesh over refugees row – DVB China offered on Tuesday to help tackle a diplomatic row between Bangladesh and Burma over the flight of minority Rohingya Muslims from the latter, two Bangladesh foreign ministry officials said.

More Signs of Refugee Repatriation on the Thai-Burma Border The Irrawaddy Community workers are busy with meetings, travel, and workshops as Burma prepares for the repatriation of some 98,000 refugees living on the Thai-Burma border.

Belt and Road Initiative bringing tangible benefits to Laos: Official – China Economic Net Laos strongly supports China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the initiative has been producing tangible benefits for the country, a high-ranking Lao official has said.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Make or break time for the Mekong SEA Globe As drought lingers and unfettered dam construction plugs the Mekong river, managing the life-giving waterway becomes ever more crucial. All eyes are now on a new China-led initiative that claims to have the region’s best interests at heart

Blackening the Mekong Delta – Mekong Commons Up to 14 coal fired-power plants are set to be built in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta as part of Vietnam’s Power Development Plan (PDP). Nguyen Thi Ha looks at how the coal plants already operating in the delta area are affecting the health, salt and fish farms, and local livelihoods of thousands of communities living in the delta.

Smooth flows: some benefits of dams, water diplomacy –Vietnam News Viet Nam News published an article titled “Mekong water diplomacy vital”. The article quoted several statements by Dr Lê Anh Tuấn, Deputy Director of the Research Institute for Climate Change at Cần Thơ University. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat takes this opportunity to respond to some of the statements in the article and highlight where water diplomacy is influencing outcome.

Hydropower boom in China and along Asia’s rivers outpaces regional electricity demand – The Third Pole For the past two decades, China has been in the midst of an unprecedented dam-building boom, developing over 300 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower. But coal-fuelled development in many of its cities has left them choking from air pollution and lent urgency to alternatives such as solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower. China has the world’s largest potential hydropower resource and could develop around 540 GW, as part of efforts to decarbonise the country’s economy.

ADB dedicates $4.2B to water resource projects – Phnom Penh Post The Asia Development Bank (ADB) raised it water operations budget to $4.2 billion for projects mitigating effects of rapid population growth and climate change in the Asia Pacific region, the bank said yesterday. The new budget nearly doubles last year’s $2.4 billion allocated to water management.

 

CHINA

Thousands Protest Chemical Plant Pollution in China’s Hebei – RFA Thousands of people protested in the northern Chinese province of Hebei on Wednesday after a leak at a chemical plant releases toxic gases into the air.

Trump’s indifference to climate change has not changed China’s viewThe Economist RESIDENTS have found something else to blame for the toxic smog that envelops many Chinese cities for much of the year. Until recently the culprits that were usually fingered were the obvious ones: emissions from coal-fired power plants, exhaust fumes from cars and dust from building sites. This year, however, reports began to appear in state-run media that climate change is now reckoned to be a factor, too. Chinese scientists say that in eastern China global warming is resulting in less rain and wind to clear the pollutants. The government’s weather bureau illustrated its online account of the discovery with a picture of zombie-looking figures in hazmat suits shrouded by haze.

China’s Environmental Woes, in Films That Go Viral, Then Vanish – NYT Wang Jiuliang’s documentaries on topics like unregulated garbage dumps are internet sensations in China, but they are short-lived online.

The Silk Roads, Past and Future – The Diplomat If China’s ambitious initiative can recapture the magic of the ancient Silk Roads, it will change the world.

Chinese economy cools as key sectors continue to slow – The Guardian Manufacturing and services fall as Beijing tries to rein in property and credit boom. China’s economy has shown more signs of cooling with key barometers from its manufacturing and services sectors dipping in April. The latest data comes as Beijing attempts to rein in a booming property market and rapid credit growth.

China bans religious names for Muslim babies in Xinjiang The Guardian List of banned baby names released amid ongoing crackdown on religion that includes law against veils and beards. Many couples fret over choosing the perfect name for their newborn, but for Muslims in western China that decision has now become even more fraught: pick the wrong name and your child will be denied education and government benefits.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand

Egat looks to ride renewable wave – Bangkok Post The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) plans to overhaul its long-term business strategy to tap into the rising renewable energy trend, says its chairman of the board. The plan is due to be discussed by the company’s executives next weekend, said chairman Areepong Bhoocha-oom. Egat, which is focused on generating power mostly from fossil resources, will start diversifying into other energy fields and businesses, he said.

Govt allays concerns over China’s Mekong channel – Bangkok Post

It is too early to worry about China’s survey of the Mekong River in Thailand in connection with a plan to facilitate its cargo boat navigation there, authorities said on Tuesday. Chinese officials are surveying the Thai section of the Mekong River in Chiang Rai province for a feasibility study and no decision has been made nor has any action been taken that should justify public concerns.

China’s Silk Road push in Thailand may founder on Mekong row – DVB China’s plan to blast open more of the Mekong River for bigger cargo ships could founder on a remote outcrop of half-submerged rocks that Thai protesters have vowed to protect against Beijing’s economic expansion in Southeast Asia.

Chinese Environmental Protester Seeks Refuge in Thailand Ahead of Earth Day – RFA A Chinese rights activist involved in recent environmental protests in the southern province of Guangdong has fled the country to seek political refugee status in Thailand. Wang Xili had been giving help and advice to residents of Junpu village near Guangdong’s Chaozhou city who were protesting pollution from a battery recycling plant near their homes and plans to build other factories nearby. But the February protests ended in violent suppression by police, who detained 12 people. A string of formal arrests on public order charges followed earlier this month.

PM accepts Trump’s invitation to Washington – Thai PBS Government deputy spokesman Lt Gen Weeracon Sukhothapatipak said today that President Trump talked on the phone with the prime minister yesterday and invited him to Washington to discuss the regional situation and economic cooperation.

Related: Thai-American ties to be the ‘closest’ – Bangkok Post

 

Myanmar

Environmental Challenges Confronting Northern Chin State – The Irrawaddy TEDIM and FALAM TOWNSHIPS, Chin State — Chin State is considered one of Burma’s least-developed and most impoverished areas, but it is also a region of great natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Locals protest copper company’s building of fences – Myanmar Times The unhappy locals, who were already having disputes with the company, staged a protest over the matter on Sunday. A local Ko Tint Aung Soe said the locals had already asked for the fences to be removed via Hluttaw representative U Thein Naing. The company, which was expanding its premises, had been told early last week in a meeting with regional government officials not to build the fences without solving the land issue with the locals.

China is raring to move ahead with the Kyauk Phyu SEZ – BNI China is eager to get the Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone off the ground as soon possibly and is waiting only for Myanmar’s green light, an official from the Communist Party of China’s central committee told Rakhine State residents this week.During a local consultation in Kyauk Phyu on April 24, Wang Yajun, assistant minister of the CPC central committee’s international department, said, “China is ready to implement this project. We will start as soon as Myanmar is ready.”

Public skips meeting on Tigyit coal-fired power plant – BNI Slamming the government for a lack of transparency, local residents boycotted an April 29 meeting to discuss the Tigyit coal-fired power plant. The southern Shan State locals said only a small number of people were invited to take part in the last minute, closed-door meeting. “The invitation was sent on the 27th. Thirty-nine villages will be affected by the Tigyit project but only 70 people were invited,”

Rampant nationalism in Myanmar leaves Rohingya without allies SEA Globe Nearly 100,000 people, overwhelmingly from the long-suffering Muslim Rohingya community, have been displaced in the five months since a security operation began in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. The tens of thousands who streamed across the border to take refuge in Bangladesh have offered harrowing testimony of killings and mass rapes allegedly committed by security forces, while a review of satellite footage commissioned by Human Rights Watch appears to implicate soldiers in the razing of entire Rohingya villages.

Aung San Suu Kyi rejects UN inquiry into crimes against Rohingya – The Guardian Myanmar leader says resolution for the investigation is ‘not in keeping with what is happening on the ground’

Media Experts Say Access to Information ‘More Difficult’ Under Current Govt – The Irrawaddy RANGOON — Members of the Burmese media on Wednesday urged the government to avoid complacency in trying to advance press freedom in the country after it climbed 12 places on a recently released Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) index, but dropped 3.66 points in comparison to 2016.

 

Cambodia

Dam to bring power, pain – The Phnom Penh Post Set Nhal, 89, remembers when the French colonisers ruled in Stung Treng, when the Vietnamese invaded in the late 1970s after the bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge.  But soon, Nhal’s whole life, and his traditions, will be quite literally washed away. The Lower Sesan II hydropower dam, a 400-megawatt hydropower project, lies on the Sesan River, a tributary of the larger Mekong River just 25 kilometres from Stung Treng.

Lack of Incentives Leaves Low Carbon Energy in Question – The Cambodia Daily Cambodia’s possible pursuit of lower carbon-emitting energy sources appears to have waned after government officials this week cited a lack of incentives and higher-priority energy goals, a stance that a researcher and an activist respectively said was “short-sighted’ and the “wrong decision.”

ADB gives Kingdom $9.2M loan for solar farm – The Phnom Penh Post The Asia Development Bank (ADB) announced yesterday that it will provide a $9.2 million loan to Singapore-based energy provider Sunseap Group for the construction of Cambodia’s first large-scale solar farm.

General Electric signs sales agreement for 135Mw coal plant – The Phnom Penh Post Us-based energy giant General Electric (GE) signed a sales agreement yesterday to outfit the new 135-megawatt coal-fired plant in Preah Sihanouk province that is being constructed by a subsidiary of Japanese electronics manufacturer Toshiba.

Pulling the plug on power in Cambodia – Bangkok Post A crop of modern buildings has sprung up in the past five years in Phnom Penh. The construction of roads, malls and high-rise residences has become a ubiquitous sight. According to the Council for Development of Cambodia, China is the country’s biggest source of foreign direct investment. Despite a global economic slowdown, the country’s gross domestic product has grown at a rapid average of 7% since 2011. The tourism market is growing rapidly too, with the number of tourist arrivals tripling between 2006 and last year.

Power to the provinces – Khmer Times People in Svay Rieng, Prey Veng and Kandal provinces are to benefit from stable electricity supplies after a $75 million project to expand the national grid went online yesterday. Under the project, 115 kilovolt transmission lines will link Phnom Penh to Bavet in Svay Rieng province via a sub-station in Prey Veng orovince’s Preah Sdach district. The power will travel along a network of power lines, able to transmit 150 megawatts at first. The lines will later be upgraded to transmit up to 300MW.

 

Vietnam

Vietnam Turns to Technology to Solve Energy Dilemma –VOA Vietnam is facing a power dilemma, with officials in Hanoi trying to figure out how to supply all of its surging energy needs without destroying its environment in the process. Southeast Asia in general will see energy use jump 80 percent in the next two decades, according to Trilliant, a software firm for electricity grids. But for Vietnam, that number is closer to 200 percent. Some stakeholders believe the remedy is a combination of technology, renewable power, and greater energy efficiency. But the answers aren’t so simple to decision makers in Hanoi.

Vietnam Delta faces erosion threat –  Vietnam Net Dr Dao Trong Tu from the Vietnam River Network said climate change was not the main and only cause of the erosion in the Mekong Delta. He blamed rapid urbanisation in coastal areas and bad practices. “The three and four-storey houses that weigh tens of tonnes put huge pressure on the land. The hydropower plants prevent alluvial soil from getting downstream. Moreover, illegal sand exploitation in this area is worsening the situation,”

PM applauds Binh Thuan development plan – Vietnam News Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc lauded plans to develop the southern coastal province of Bình Thuận into a green, clean and sustainable economy during a local investment promotion conference yesterday. In his speech to more than 240 local and foreign businesses and investors, he said the province’s progress in infrastructure, export-import, vocational training and investment climate have attracted more businesses and investors to the locality.

Laos

Lao Government Should Grant Concession Leases Based on Investments: Former Official – RFA The Lao government must grant land leases based on type of investment, according to a former official, who said a recently amended law that limits leases to 50 years would do little to curb the ill effects of gambling at concessions where casinos are located. He said that while economic zones with factories, such as Savan-Seno, bring employment opportunities, those featuring casinos do more damage than good to local communities.

Chinese company to build modern agricultural industrial park in Laos  – Mekong Eye Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China’s Xuanye (Lao) Co., Ltd/AVIC International Beijing Co., Ltd on a modern agricultural industrial park project in Laos.

Nam Ou 7 Hydropower Project 10% Complete – Lao News Agency The ongoing Nam Ou 7 Hydropower Project in the northern province of Phongsaly is reportedly 10 percent complete since the project was launched in May 2016. The dam is being constructed by Sinohydro, a Chinese contractor. The progress of the project construction was reported last week to Deputy Prime Minister Mr Sonexay Siphandone as he was on a working visit joined by Phongsaly Governor Mr Khamchen Vongphosy. The project is expected to divert the river to pave the way for the construction of a barrage by the end of this year.

ADB Reaffirms Long-Term Commitment, Partnership with Lao PDR – ADB ADB, through its Lao PDR Resident Mission, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly organized an event to celebrate 50 years of development partnership between the country and ADB.

 

YUNNAN

Dam-building threatens endangered green peacock – The Third Pole It only took a feather to send my team flying to Yunnan in southern China. Specifically, a tail feather from a green peacock spotted in a image taken by an amateur wildlife photographer. Peacocks in general aren’t rare. Those seen in China are usually blue peacocks (pavo cristatus), which originate in India. But the green peacock (pavo muticus) is a different species and much less common. So much so that it’s listed on the IUCN Red List as endangered. There are less than 20,000 worldwide.

Bigger fish to fry: Yunnan looks to supply world tilapia crazeGoKunming People familiar with Yunnan may be surprised to find the province is in the process of nurturing an aquaculture industry. The niche market increasingly involves raising tilapia in reservoirs originally created to produce hydropower. While still in its infancy, farming of the freshwater fish is being hailed as an industry for the future, one that can help diversify local economies and help supplement the incomes of poor farmers.

Scientists show rising mountains compel and incubate plant evolutionGoKunming As a region, western Sichuan and Yunnan encompass one of the most spectacular repositories of wildlife remaining in China. This environment is partly a product of historical remoteness, but a study published earlier this month links species diversification in alpine areas to the geological age of mountains. Of specific focus was the Hengduan range (横断山脉), a sprawling collection of peaks significantly younger and more biodiverse than its towering neighbor to the west, the Himalayas.

 This week’s news digest was curated by Sonya Zhao

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