Regional Roundup for Week of 6.16.16


The Truth Behind ASEAN’s vanishing South China Sea Statement – Forbes Over the last two days, ASEAN reportedly released a strongly worded statement showing unity against China over the South China Sea. Within hours, the statement had been retracted, with some Southeast Asian countries declaring it had been issued in error.//The hottest story coming out of ASEAN glaringly shows how China manipulates regional diplomacy and maintains its swagger in the region by leaning on weak states. China may be willing to take on the reputational costs of collateral damage to can Laos and Cambodia afford to continually disappoint ASEAN and the rest of the world?

Related: China, not ASEAN, the real failure on South China Sea at Kunming Meeting -The Diplomat

Related: ASEAN Foreign Ministers Issue, Then Retract Communique Referencing South China Sea – The Diplomat

Related: East Sea dominates Asean-China talks – The Nation

Related: China’s South China Sea meeting with ASEAN ends in confusion – Thanhnien News

Kunming-Singapore rail link stuck in Laos –The Rakyat Post For the southwestern city of Kunming, China’s plan to extend a high-speed rail link 3,000 km south to Singapore is already a boon – pristine expressways, a gleaming station and something of a real estate boom, as young buyers crowd property showrooms. But in Laos, work has yet to start on what should be the first overseas leg of a rail line stretching throughout Southeast Asia. The country, one of the region’s poorest, could struggle to finance even part of the US$7 billion cost and has yet to agree financial terms with China.//China: Hey Laos, why don’t you muck up that joint statement on South China Sea? We’ll consider lowering the cost of that railway we’re building for you…

 No authority to prevent new Mekong River projects: MRC – The Nation The Mekong Commission (MRC) does not have the authority to stop projects even if they have transboundary effects, delegates to the fourth Green Mekong Forum said on Monday, while the Thai Irrigation Department presented a water diversion project to fight poverty. The recent forum in Bangkok about latest developments in infrastructure and water resource management in the Mekong Region was disclosed that major development projects are necessary for solving poverty, even though it was admitted that the transborder impacts are real.//The MRC never had such authority. What’s disappointing is that the MRC has not and will likely never emerge as a negotiating platform for transboundary water management as once thought. If this is the case, then we need to think practically about the actual future role and function of the MRC because it will continue as a player in regional watershed management, but at a much lower and less dynamic capacity.

The water conflict on the Mekong –The Mekong Eye Located at the end of the Mekong River basin, the Mekong Delta in Vietnam is currently experiencing the most severe drought and salinity intrusion in 100 years.  According to experts, the principal reason is development activities in Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries related to the use of the Mekong River’s water resources, including the operation and construction of mega-dams along the river as well as water diversion for agricultural purposes.//Subscribe to the Mekong Eye which promotes emerging regional voices and issues that often fail to be picked up in traditional media. 

Related: Loss of Mekong freshwater dolphin affecting more than 1000 households’ livelihood –FanKhmer

PR | UN Envoys Report Concern over Don Sahong Dam Impacts to Human Rights Council – International River’s General The United Nations Special Procedures have raised serious concerns over the human rights impacts of the controversial Don Sahong Dam under construction on the Mekong River in Laos. A report detailing these concerns has been submitted to the Human Rights Council for consideration at its 32nd session, which commences today.

Don Sahong vs Dolphins: How the Dam Is Affecting Local Residents –Khmer Times Residents of Preah Rumkel commune in Thala Barivat district, Stung Treng province, have been demanding authorities suspend construction of the dam to no avail. The project has taken on a new life for local residents now that the booms of dynamite blasts and the sounds of rocks smashing under the weight of machines have become an ever-present part of their daily lives. But what residents of Preah Rumkel commune are most worried about is the loss of the dolphins that are native to Anlong Chher Teal, which attract tourists and provides incomes for people in the area.

Officials in Greater Mekong Sub-region call for enhanced cooperation – Participants to the GMS (Greater Mekong Sub-region) Economic Corridor 2016 Governors Forum on Friday called for enhanced cooperation in face of economic, social and environmental challenges. The GMS Economic Cooperation Program, launched in 1992 by six countries along the Mekong River — Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, is aimed at pooling efforts to improve regional infrastructure, and to promote trade, investment and economic growth.//they’ve been doing it for years.  GMS countries are looking for new, innovative leadership.


Stronger US-Vietnam Relations Are Not At China’s Expense – The Diplomat The recent boost in bilateral ties following Obama’s visit must be put into proper perspective.

China Woos Suu Kyi, Seeking a Fresh Start in Myanmar – Wall Street Journal Beijing hopes the support of country’s de facto leader will help ease opposition to Chinese mine, dam project.

Nixed China Aid Leaves Myanmar Agency in Debt, Citizens in Danger – The Diplomat Without assistance for a tunnel, an irrigation department is in debt and hundreds of thousands are at risk from flooding.

With Russian help, region looks to a nuclear-powered future – The Nation Nuclear power generation appears to be an emerging trend in ASEAN, with many countries here signing up for related technologies. //We saw somewhat familiar news last week as Vietnam and Russia’s relationship centering on nuclear power generation was on the spotlight. This report seems to confirm that this is a trend throughout the region.

 Japan, Thailand Eye Stronger Security Ties – The Diplomat Tokyo and Bangkok looked to boost their defense relations during Gen Nakatani’s recent visit.

Vietnam mulls $701 mln expressway to Cambodia – Thanhnien News It will be part of an expressway linking Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh that will halve travel time between the two cities to three hours//like many other regional linkages, this is much needed to improve market access and regional commerce. Projects like this are well-received where Vietnamese rubber and illegal logging activities are not.

South China Sea: An Eyewitness Account of Tensions at Scarborough Shoal – The Diplomat  Anders Corr, who traveled with activists to Scarborough Shoal, joins The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda for a discussion.

ASEAN-China trade growth: facts, factors and prospects –  New Mandala What explains the sharp growth in ASEAN-China trade, and can this be sustained? //This issue is particularly important as a backdrop to the ongoing tension in South China Sea. China is the largest trading partner with ASEAN region both in terms of exports and imports. As trade usually represents a symbiotic relation we could expect large amount of trade would impede China and ASEAN countries from falling into a lengthy, bitter dispute. However, it seems ASEAN countries are more dependent on China than vice versa meaning this may ultimately become a tool for China to coerce these countries to agree to the much disputed nine-dash line in South China Sea.  

How a systems-scale approach can solve Myanmar’s electrification woes and more  –Devex Environmental advocates are calling for a holistic, streamlined approach to building out Myanmar’s hydropower sector, which is attracting growing interest from donors and investors, including multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank as well as countries such as China. Systems-scale planning, can help encapsulate sustainability, environment, economic and social concerns into projects’ design, implementation and impact. The approach looks at and guides design and implementation of projects based on a system — such as river basins or lakes — and not as individual projects that are not well-coordinated and which can lead to inefficiencies, conflicts, degradation and missed opportunities.//The Nature Conservancy’s Hydropower by Design team discussed their work on system scale approach to hydropower in Myanmar earlier this week at the Stimson Center. See video here.

Myanmar – Thailand – China will discuss about Mong Tong Hydropower Project –Eleven News The developers of the Mong Tong Hydropower project (China Three Gorges Corporation, China Southern Power Grid, Power Construction of China; Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand International, Myanmar’s International Group of Entrepreneurs Co,Ltd) will discuss about the design of the proposed project. Ms. Maria Lorea Cleto from SMEC International Pty Ltd said, they will redesign the project with cascade, and it will discuss at the 3rd meeting with the Ministry of Electrical Power.  CSOs and local communities have opposed these projects in several occasions and SMEC face difficulties in doing the EIA. The proposed dam will be the highest in South East Asia, which could produce 7100MW of electricity; 90% of which will go to Thailand and China.

Public Statement on The Mong Ton Dam on the Salween River International River’s General Activists under the umbrella of The Network of People in Salween Basin issue statement calling for the Mong Ton Dam, a joint project between Thailand and Myanmar, to be reevaluated.

Related: Saving the Salween: Southeast Asia’s last major undammed river –The Ecologist 

Thanlwin dams criticised ahead of state counsellor’s Thailand visit –Myanmar Times Another civil society group has joined the mounting campaign against dams planned along the Thanlwin River, also known as the Salween, ahead of an upcoming energy meeting between Thailand and Myanmar. The local network called on the state counsellor, who is set to visit Thailand from June 23 to 25, to consider “the importance of the Thanlwin River as the home of ethnic minority peoples and as an invaluable source of biodiversity and natural resources”. The network also demanded the suspension of any dams until communities have been consulted.


World Bank finds cash moving to renewables –UPI Investments in renewable energy made up more than half of all private investments last year, signaling a low-carbon shift is under way, the World Bank said. A report from the bank finds global private investments held relatively steady from 2014 to total $111.6 billion last year. Investments in renewable energy, however, were higher in 2015 than during the past five years.  

Energy access: It’s the policy, stupid –Decentralized Energy Renewable energy companies in emerging markets in Africa and Asia frequently lament the shortage of financing as the main barrier to scaling decentralized solutions such as rooftop solar and mini-grids. But at a summit this month, industry leaders singled out the lack of supportive national energy policies as the biggest obstacle to accelerated growth. The decentralized renewable energy industry, which will play a central role in solving energy poverty for the 1.1 billion people (17% of humanity) worldwide without access to electricity, is booming and significant advances in policy are being made.//a gap is emerging between the renewable energy achievements in the developed world and high hurdles to jump over to gain similar achievements in the developing world. Poor governance and policy regimes widen that gap.

 In numbers: the region’s energy sector – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine An infographic illustrating the fossil fuel consumption, total energy consumption and primary energy sources in Southeast Asia

Solar power dawns on Datong as coal industry declines – Chinadialogue While solar power cannot compete with nearby coal-fired power plants in terms of output, new government subsidies have made the price of energy for consumers more competitive.


Tackling pollution: Beijing’s electric bikes and buses – in pictures– NYT Vehicles are the source of a third of the air pollution in the Chinese capital, which restricts their use during episodes of heavy smog. Electric cars, buses, scooters and bicycles offer an alternative, cleaner form of transport //but electric bikes are being banned in certain districts and some Chinese cities are taking them off the street entirely.

Green Finance: A Strategic Imperative for China – The Diplomat China’s “green financing” could be the key to making sure the Paris agreement comes to fruition.

China’s Innovation Dream: Mission Impossible? – The Diplomat Chinese innovation will be stifled by political limits and censorship, unless the Party is willing to make a change.//Could have written this in 1995 or 2005. Welcome to the last century, China! 

Reality Check: The South China Sea Does Not Define the US-China Relationship – The Diplomat The relationship between the world’s two most important countries is far broader than the South China Sea disputes.

China’s ‘Belt and Road’: Where Is Africa? – The Diplomat Africa was missing from China’s “Belt and Road” roadmap, but including the continent makes good sense.//actually it’s all about Africa and here’s how. 

Canada should join China-led bank, AIIB –CCTV  The creation of the AIIB offers a strong presence that will encourage multilateral organizations to act more green, efficient and effective, providing a competitive angle that demonstrates AIIB’s advantages. The AIIB offers secure assets to institutional investors, such as issuing long-dated bonds that will provide a measurable return on funding infrastructure. China-led bank will expand its influence, making it advantageous decision for Canada to join in, since it will provide opportunities for Canada to be a standalone nation without being overly-influenced by the U.S. and Japan.


World Bank to loan Vietnam $310 mln for climate resilience –Thanhnien News The World Bank has approved a US$310 million loan to help Vietnam build climate resilience and ensure sustainable livelihoods for 1.2 million people in the Mekong Delta region. The approved Mekong Delta Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Project supports better climate-smart planning and improved climate resilience of land and water management practices.//Looking forward to critical outside analysis of this plan.

Singapore, Malaysia among biggest investors in Vietnam: report – Thanhnien News Eight out of 10 member states of ASEAN have made investments in Vietnam with a total pledge of $56.32 billion for 2,681 projects, the Foreign Investment Agency recently reported.

Formosa asked to install automatic emissions monitoring equipment –Vietnam News The Natural Resources and Environment Department in central province of Hà Tĩnh has asked two companies to install automatic monitoring equipment for testing emissions and the dust of emission discharge systems. According to the department head, Formosa Steel Ltd. Co and Vũng Áng Thermal Power Plant I were selected for this task. The equipment will automatically transmit data every hour to the department’s control centre.

PM: Marine environment must be protected –Vietnam News Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc has called for joint efforts to protect the marine environment and maintain sovereignty peacefully on the Việt Nam Sea. Addressing a ceremony to mark 2016 Việt Nam Seas and Islands Week and World Oceans Day, Phúc directed the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to co-operate with relevant agencies to inspect and severely punish any organisation or individual violating regulations on discharging wastewater into the sea.

 Trump, Clinton and the Future of US-Vietnam Relations – The Diplomat Bilateral relations have come a long way. How might they fare under the next U.S. president?

ADB to more than double loans to Burma – DVB Multimedia Group Myanmar wants money to spend on large infrastructure and energy projects

Related: ADB President Commends Myanmar’s Progress, Announces Expanded Assistance -Asian Development Bank news release

Turkish Foreign Minister Visits Burma, Offers Assistance to Arakan State – The Irrawaddy  Visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu thanked the Burmese government on Monday for its efforts to quell racial and sectarian violence in Arakan State, expressing a desire for mutual cooperation to resolve the issue.

Rohingya Reject New Citizenship Verification Cards – The Irrawaddy A citizenship verification exercise aimed at stateless Muslims in Arakan State, which resumed last month, has been temporarily suspended in Ponnagyun Township, where residents of a small Rohingya village have refused to cooperate as the program does not identify them as Rohingyas.

A Moment of Clarity at Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Tribunal – The Diplomat Testimony unveils more details about one of the world’s worst genocides.

Indonesia To Coordinate South China Sea Policy Ahead of Court Verdict – The Diplomat President Jokowi asks ministries to formulate uniformed position to ‘have the same answers.’

 Indonesia’s coal addiction reaches new heights – South East Asia Globe As the rest of the world moves away from fossil fuels, Indonesia is reacting to a drop in its coal exports by ramping up local production, putting the country’s health, environment and economy in danger

Behind Indonesia’s Red Scare – The Diplomat Why is the Indonesian military again warning of an imminent communist revolution?

Strong need expected for distributed power generation –The Nation The inadequacy of transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure and the topographical challenges have created strong demand for distributed power generation (DPG) in Southeast Asia. According to a new analysis, the overall installed capacity of the DPG market was estimated at 20,450 megawatts last year and is forecast to reach 34,747MW by 2020. The key types of power plants analysed are those fuelled by biomass or waste, solar photovoltaic (PV) plants, those based on internal combustion engines (fuelled by diesel, heavy fuel oil or HFO, gas, or combinations), and temporary rental power plants.

Party, State to facilitate better business in Laos –Vietnam News The Party and State will facilitate Vietnamese investment and business in Laos, President Trần Đại Quang said during a working session with Vietnamese investors in Laos.  He hailed the efforts of businesses and of the Association of Vietnamese Investors in Laos to overcome difficulties and to ensure their projects are implemented on schedule. He also asked the association and relevant ministries to co-ordinate with the Lao side to better facilitate business operations and to take more social responsibility to reduce poverty, protect the environment, and ensure social welfare.

Laos gives the nod to foreign investors –The Nation The Laotian government has reaffirmed its commitment to giving the green light to foreign businesses seeking opportunities for investment in the country. “Following the common policy to attract foreign investment set by the government and given that the country is rich in natural resources, this will help increase the number of investors, especially Chinese businesses,” Deputy Prime Minister Dr Sonexay Siphandone said.

720 sq km of destroyed forests reclaimed –Bangkok Post  A total of 450,000 rai of forestland has been reclaimed from encroachers in the past two years, and about 200,000 rai of it redistributed to the poor, according to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) . Spokesman Peerawat Saengthong said that Isoc, together with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Interior Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the National Council for Peace and Order and the Royal Thai Police Office launched a forest reclamation campaign on June 17, 2014.

Laos cracks down on social media critics –Aljazeera Three Laos nationals quietly apologise on state TV for betraying the country through anti-government Facebook posts, a striking parade of apparent confessions in the communist regime’s latest crackdown on dissent. The ominous broadcast in late May was the first news of the trio for families desperate to know their whereabouts since they were arrested in March.


Rainy season arrives in Yunnan with a vengeance –GoKunming Nearly continuous rains are causing problems both in Kunming and across the province. While the Spring City has seen limited flooding over the past several days, in other more rugged areas of Yunnan, stormy weather has turned deadly.//what has been a devastatingly dry rainy season in mainland Southeast Asia has been an incredibly wet dry season in Yunnan and now the monsoons have arrived!

This week’s news was compiled by Ash Chowdhury with analysis and commentary by Ash Chowdhury and Brian Eyler.

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