Regional Roundup for Week of 6.30.16

It’s about time to head up to the poop deck to keep watch for the ruling on the Philippines case against China over the South China Seas. If this summer isn’t hot enough already, the temperature is about to increase by about 9 dashes.

Leaders

U.S promotes Thailand out of tier 3 – Bangkok Post The Foreign Ministry says Thailand has worked tirelessly over the past year to improve its human trafficking situation and stands by its efforts even if the country doesn’t budge from its low ranking in the US State Department’s upcoming report. /// An important ruling for Thailand as it has been working hard to get itself off the list. Moving from tier three to tier two will enable Thailand to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) just as the same move enabled Malaysia to join last year. General Prayut Chan-Ocha has signaled his willingness to join TPP, so it appears Thailand may be positioning itself to join when the second round of accession opens up. That said, there is still plenty of work to be done in the fishing industry and with other migrant labor communities, so the U.S. would be wise to monitor Thailand closely to ensure that the work it has done wasn’t all for naught.

US to downgrade Burma in annual Human Trafficking ReportThe Irrawaddy The United States has decided to place Burma on its global list of worst offenders in human trafficking, officials said; a move aimed at prodding the country’s new democratically elected government and its still-powerful military to do more to curb the use of child soldiers and forced labor. /// As Thailand goes up, Burma goes down. While the U.S. wants to curb the use of child soldiers and forced labor, this may also be a case where the U.S. is using the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report as a political tool. The U.S. can use the tier three status either as a stick or a carrot in encouraging economic, social, and legal reforms in Burma. The use of existing sanctions can encourage the military elements of the government to reform, or act as a deterrent against future bad behavior. This is most likely one reason why Aung San Suu Kyii has not asked for sanctions to be lifted.

Thailand must end trafficking of all migrant workers – New Mandala Slavery in the seafood industry is just one part of a broader problem. And here’s how it can be addressed.

China slams South China Sea case as court set to rule – Reuters An international court said on Wednesday it would deliver a hotly anticipated ruling in the Philippines’ case against China over the South China Sea on July 12, drawing an immediate rebuke from Beijing, which rejects the tribunal’s jurisdiction. /// Surprise! Well, not really. This has been the expected response from China as the decision draws near. While China has repeatedly disregarded the Hague’s jurisdiction on the case, it’s still unclear how it would act if the court rules against it. If it continues its island building and militarization of the Sea after the ruling, how the U.S. and ASEAN countries react will be critical to maintaining peace and positive relations in the region.

 

SOUTH CHINA SEA

After the South China Sea Arbitration – The Diplomat Where do we go after the panel has spoken?

Vietnam’s ‘Soft diplomacy’ in the South China Sea – The Diplomat Ly Son Island is a living museum documenting Vietnam’s claims to the Paracels and Spratlys.

China’s Curious South China Sea Negotiation Policy – The Diplomat What would China expect to achieve with bilateral negotiations on maritime disputes?

The South China Sea Moment of Truth Is Almost Here – The National Interest The Philippines’ law fare strategy in the South China Sea disputes is inching closer to a moment of truth

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Seven Indonesian Sailors Kidnapped in the Sulu Sea – Bangkok Post Seven Indonesian sailors have been kidnapped at sea in the southern Philippines, the government in Jakarta said on Friday, the latest in a spree of abductions by armed gangs in the strife-torn region.

Related: Indonesian Government asks Philippines to Guard Barges in its Regional Waters – Jakarta Post

Government Prohibits Indonesia Vessels from Sailing to Philippines – Jakarta Post

In wake of repeat kidnappings, Indonesia, Philippines boost defense cooperationThe Jakarta Post Indonesia and the Philippines have agreed to boost defense cooperation in the wake of another hostage-taking incident, with seven Indonesian crewmen abducted by armed militants in the waters off the southern Philippines.

Cambodia and Laos to boost trade, open more checkpointsThe Bangkok Post Laos has asked Cambodia to increase trade and investment in its northern neighbor as bilateral trade between the two countries is small and has plenty of room to expand.

ASEAN to Form Ecotourism Clusters – Jakarta Post Tourism chiefs of the 10 ASEAN member countries have approved a declaration manifesting their common desire to boost tourism growth and align regional ecotourism destinations during a roundtable in Champasak, Laos on Wednesday as part of the first-ever ASEAN Ecotourism Forum.

ASEAN can’t afford hollow regional Tensions – The New Mandala Southeast Asian states need to maintain unity or risk irrelevance in the face of growing tensions and rivalry in the South China Sea.

The ASEAN experiment – The New Mandala Nicholas Farrelly and Kishore Mahbubani on the organisation’s past, present and future.

What Brexit means for ASEAN – The New Mandala The split between the UK and EU will have economic, political and psychological repercussions for Southeast Asia.

SUSTAINABILTY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Egat reaffirms coal-fired power plants – The Bangkok Post The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand has confirmed it will complete six new coal-fired power plants by 2025 and boost its share of the power supply market to 50% from 37%. /// EGAT continues its strategy to make Thailand less reliant on natural gas, but increasing its reliance on cheap coal could prove to backfire as civil society organizations push back against coal plants as they have in Krabi. The military government has said it will not use section 44 of the constitution to override environmental impact assessments or community rights, so how it deals with possible opposition to the plants will be something to watch.

Thailand’s nuclear plans inch forward with new bill – Nikkei Asian Review  Advocates of nuclear energy in Thailand, like their counterparts around the world, were given pause when a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan five years ago triggered a series of meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant — the worst such accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Petroleum Bills Sail through First Reading – The Nation The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) yesterday passed the amended drafts of two controversial petroleum bills by an overwhelming majority in the first reading.

LPG import to stop next month – The Bangkok Post The Energy Business Department has reaffirmed Thailand will stop importing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from next month for the first time in eight years because of sufficient domestic supply and falling demand, says Witoon Kulcharoenwirat, the department’s director-general.

Murdered while Defending Thailand’s Environment – NYT Bangkok-based photographer Luke Doggleby showcases his work highlighting the danger of working as an environmentalist in Thailand. The exhibition uses photos of 37 people who have lost their lives protecting Thailand’s environment.

Dam displaced villagers protest Chinese firmThe Cambodia Daily Nearly 100 villagers protested at the site of the under-construction Stung Treng 2 irrigation dam in Od­dar Meanchey province on Thursday, demanding replacement plots for the farmland they lost to the project.

Koh Kong Fisherman Struggle in the Shadow of Sand Dredgers – The Phnom Penh Post Phen Sophany cuts the motor as the boat nears the centre of a mangrove-lined estuary in Koh Kong province, near the isolated fishing village of Koh Sralav. “This is where the island used to be,” the 38-year-old member of environmental activist group Mother Nature says, the village visible in the distance.

Solar’s Future looks a bit Brighter – The Phnom Penh Post For a country drenched in sunshine, Cambodia has made remarkably little effort to harness the abundant energy of the sun. The Post’s Kali Kotoski sat down with Jim Gramberg, CEO of Solar Partner Asia, to discuss what is holding back solar energy initiatives, and recent baby steps toward private sector involvement.

The Myitsone Dam: China’s three optionsFrontier Myanmar As China steps up the pressure for a resumption of work on the controversial Myitsone dam, Myanmar is told it faces three options over the project’s future.

Indonesia faces environmental time bomb after coal bust – Reuters  Thousands of mines are closing in Indonesia’s tropical coal belt as prices languish and seams run dry. But almost none of the companies have paid their share of billions of dollars owed to repair the badly scarred landscape they have left behind.

Vietnam drought leaves one million in urgent need of food aid – EU – Thomson Reuters Foundation An El Niño-induced drought in Vietnam has left 1 million people in urgent need of food assistance and 2 million people lacking access to drinking water, Europe’s humanitarian aid agency said.

Chinese giant paper plant claims not a threat to Mekong River – Vietnam Express In response to concerns about the possible environmental damage a $1.2 billion paper plant could do to the Mekong River, Chinese investors say they will use a high-tech treatment system to purify waste water from the plant.

Mekong Delta loses $210 million to drought and salinity – Talk Vietnam Vietnam’s Mekong Delta has suffered losses worth more than VND4.7 trillion ($210 million) due to the severe and prolonged drought and saltwater intrusion during dry season, Malaysian National News Agency Bernama cited the Southwest Region Steering Committee as saying.

Mekong Delta should learn from Weaknesses to grow Further – Talk Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has asked Mekong Delta localities to be aware of the region’s weaknesses, carry out appropriate measures to address difficulties and pursue sustainable agricultural restructuring to ensure locals’ stable livelihoods.

Laos Speeds up Hydropower Plant on Mekong River despite Concerns – Thanh Nien News

Construction work on the Don Sahong Dam in Laos is progressing at a rapid pace, amid urgent questions about its impacts on the food security and livelihoods of those near the site as well as up and downstream the Mekong River.

Damming the Nam Tha in Northern Laos – The Diplomat This photographic essay by Scott Ezell showcases dam construction on the Nam Tha River in Northern Laos. The photo essay starts with the Nam Tha as he experienced it in 2014, then switches to the way he encountered it in 2016.

Related: A companion piece from New Mandala (from Nov 24, 2015): The Silenced River

South China Sea reefs ‘decimated’ as giant clams harvested in bulk – Reuters Ornaments made from the shells of endangered giant clams, renowned in China for having auspicious powers and the luster of ivory, have become coveted luxuries, a trend which has wreaked havoc on the ecosystem of the South China Sea.

 

CHINA

Chinese Firm floats proposal for rail link to capital’s portThe Phnom Penh Post A Chinese state railway construction contractor has approached the [Cambodian] government with a bid to conduct a feasibility study on connecting the capital’s river port to the Kingdom’s sole operating railway line, a state official said yesterday.

China-Led Development Bank Starts with $509 Million in Loans for 4 Projects – NY Times A new Chinese-led international development bank announced its first four loans on Saturday, pledging to lend $509 million for projects to spread electric power in rural Bangladesh, upgrade living conditions in slums in Indonesia, and improve roads in Pakistan and Tajikistan.

China’s Xi urges caution over U.S. missile deployment in South Korea – Reuters Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday urged South Korea to pay attention to China’s concerns about the deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system to the country and “cautiously” address the plan.

China dam water release captured by drone – The Straits times A photographer used a drone to capture spectacular images of cascades of water gushing from a dam in central China, an annual event attracting thousands of tourists.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thai PM Supports Delayed Burmese Refugee Return – The Irrawaddy Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha announced ahead of his meeting with Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu-Kyi that Thailand is open to repatriation of the roughly 100,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand, but that Myanmar must be given more time to prepare for their arrival.

Related: PM Proposes Joint Working Group to Study Repatriation – The Nation

Related: Nearly 200 Burmese refugees to be repatriated from Thailand – The Irrawaddy The Burmese government plans to repatriate 196 Burmese nationals displaced by conflict from refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, according to Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The two countries agreed to cooperate on refugee returns during the visit of Burma’s State Counselor/Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi to Thailand last week.

Thailand defeated in UNSC bid – The Bangkok Post Kazakhstan easily defeated Thailand’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, with just 55 countries backing Thailand against 138 for Kazakhstan.

Ethnic Strife Flares again in Myanmar as Buddhists ransack Mosque – The Nation Violence erupted in the village of Thuye Thai Mein in Bago province as 200 Buddhists attacked Muslims and a mosque. The violence was triggered by an argument between a Muslim man and Buddhist woman about a school being constructed in the village. Around 70 Muslims sought refuge in a police station overnight and others have fled the area.

Related – Burma: Officials hesitate to take action after Buddhist-Muslim dispute, fearing further violence – Asian Correspondent It has almost been a week since an angry, 200-strong mob in a Burmese village assaulted a Muslim man, ransacked his home, and destroyed the village mosque and Muslim cemetery, and yet police have yet to launch an investigation into the matter.

Observers Urge Govt To Create New Export Markets, Boost Trade VolumeThe Irrawaddy A recent World Bank report says that trade growth in Burma could reduce poverty and boost prosperity, but local observers say in order for that to happen the government must implement economic policies that increase export markets.

Malaysia PM sacks party deputy, still considering cabinet reshuffle – Reuters

Prime Minister Najib Razak sacked his former deputy from the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), along with Mukhriz Mahatir, the son of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. /// Prime Minister Najib Razak continues his consolidation of power after promising election results for the dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in Sarawak , Kuala Kangsar, and Sungai Besar. Having dismissed himself of any wrong doing in the 1MDB corruption case, Prime Minister Razak has set himself up with an eventual confrontation with his former mentor, Mahathir Mohamad, who has left the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) and the BN coalition.

Related: Malaysia PM reshuffles cabinet in anticipation of snap election – Bangkok Post

Malaysia: Top opposition leader Lim Guan Eng charged with graft – Asian Correspondent A prominent Malaysian opposition leader and critic of Prime Minister Najib Razak was charged by authorities for corruption on Thursday.          

Malaysian ex-PM claims former party ‘bought votes’ in recent polls – Asian Correspondent Malaysian ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has accused his former party United Malays National Organization (UMNO) of vote-buying after it won two by-elections in landslide victories earlier this month.

Duterte in, Aquino out – The Manila Times President-elect Rodrigo Duterte will formally assume office today [June 29] to start his six-year term as the country’s 16th President. /// Often (wrongfully) compared to Donald Trump, President Rodrigo Duterte’s first days in office will be closely watched to see if his actions match his rhetoric. I, for one, don’t see this as likely because Duterte will run into the same problem that other popularly elected presidents like Obama and Jokowi have run into: institutions. While he does hold a majority in parliament, Duterte will still have to work with the land-holding elite who he has been openly hostile to. Given that, it’s unlikely that Duterte will be able to unilaterally solve problems like the South China Sea, in which he once stated that he would “ride on a jet ski” to take on China himself.

As Duterte takes over in Philippines, police killings stir fear – Reuters Two things catch the eye in the office of Joselito Esquivel, a police colonel enforcing a national crackdown on drugs in the Philippines’ most crime-ridden district: a pair of boxing gloves in a display cabinet and an M4 assault rifle lying beside him.

Incoming Cabinet and other incoming senior government officials – The Manila Times President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed 23 cabinet secretaries and 18 other officials to key government bureaus and agencies.

 China, Japan to impact Philippine Exports – The Manila Times Slowing growth in China and continuing tepid growth in Japan will continue to provide headwinds against the Philippines’ trade position, but the impact on the overall current account will be limited, Fitch-owned BMI Research said.

This week’s news digest was authored by Peter Telaroli. Welcome to Stimson Pete!

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