Regional Roundup for Week of 7.15.2016


Hague Tribunal Rejects Beijing’s Claims in South China Sea NYT The panel delivered a sweeping rebuke on Tuesday of China’s behavior, deciding that its expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis. // Skeptics are of the opinion that this will have no impact as China ‘neither recognizes nor accepts’ the tribunal’s decision. However, there will undoubtedly be impacts- some symbolic, some literal. First, China’s attitude towards the court sends a signal that China is now a reckless if not irresponsible power without respect for international laws and norms. Second, this gives Philippines and other disputées (Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei) a bargaining chip to go to the negotiation table with China. Third, this provides somewhat dangerously the international community a basis to intervene in the region in support of the smaller nations if China continues to disrespect lawful claims of other countries.   

         Related: Hague Announces Decision on South China Sea

Related: Our Boat Was Intercepted by China

Related: China’s legal setback could spur more South China Sea claims 

 China: Tribunal Ruling ‘Null and Void’, Will Not Affect South China Sea Claims – The Diplomat Beijing continues to push its South China Sea claims, though many were struck down by an arbitral tribunal today.

Related: South China Sea Verdict: US Reactions

What the South China Sea Ruling Means – The Diplomat A look at the potential implications of the verdict on the Philippines’ South China Sea case.

Related: South China Sea ruling: Verdict means precious little if parties don’t respect it, actors don’t enforce it – The Straits Times

Cambodian Opposition Figure’s Killing Recalls Darker Times –NYT A prominent Cambodian political commentator who had recently helped found a new independent political party was gunned down at a gas station in central Phnom Penh on Sunday.

Cambodian PM orders ‘vigorous’ investigation into critic’s killing – The Guardian Cambodia’s prime minister has promised a “vigorous investigation” into the shooting of a prominent critic and called for the opposition not to politicise the assassination. Kem Ley, a 46-year-old grassroots campaigner, was shot three times at a petrol station in Phnom Penh on Sunday while drinking his morning coffee. His attacker, arrested by police shortly afterwards, was filmed confessing and said the high-profile activist had failed to repay a US$3,000 (£2,322) loan.

Pak Beng Hydropower Project construction to begin next year – Lao News Agency “The purpose of this project is to utilise the great hydropower resources that Laos has been blessed with in order to produce power for domestic supply and export,” Mr Daovong said yesterday in Vientiane Capital during a meeting with editors from National Television, Pasaxon, the Vientiane Times, the Lao News Agency and relevant sectors. Construction is expected to be complete by 2023 with commercial operations beginning in early 2024.//The third dam on the mainstream in Lower Mekong basin must go through the PNPCA process before construction begins. Expect more scrutiny than Don Sahong from downstream countries.

The Mekong: Slow Death of a River –RFA Millions of people living along the Mekong River face a possibly irreversible depletion of key food supplies resulting from dam building and other diversions of its waters. Deforestation upstream along the riverbanks and poor land and water use practices in Vietnam’s downstream Mekong Delta have added to what can only be called a looming crisis.

Laos PM advises expansion of hydropower feasibility studies – Vientiane Times The numbers of hydropower plants and their installed capacity might be higher than what has been planned and studied, MrThongloun commented. “However we have to choose experienced and famous companies from throughout the world to join the feasibility studies, designs and social and environmental impact assessments for sustainability,” he warned.

World Bank loans Vietnam $560 million to support Mekong climate fight – Vietnam Breaking News Vietnam will use $250 million for the Can Tho Urban Development and Resilience Project, to reduce flood risk and improve connectivity between Can Tho’s city center and new urban areas, benefiting more than 420,000 urban dwellers while the remaining $310 million will be used to build climate resilience and ensure sustainable livelihoods for 1.2 million people living in nine Mekong Delta provinces affected by climate change, saline intrusion, coastal erosion and flooding.


Philippines and China React to Tribunal Decision –NYT A panel in The Hague rejected Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea on Tuesday, in a landmark case. China vehemently protested the decision while Philippines called for restraint.

Philippines v. China: Q. and A. on South China Sea Court Case – NYT An international court is scheduled to release a landmark ruling Tuesday on Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over 90 percent of the South China Sea.

Vietnam to deport 64 illegal Chinese workers of Nha Trang travel firm –Thanh Nien News Silent Bay hired the workers despite a ban on foreign tour guides.

Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore react to South China Sea Ruling  – ABS-CBN News Hague Tribunal’s decision caught attention of other regional players apart from China and Philippines.

Thai-Lao relations caught in limbo despite common interests and goals –The Nation The two countries face a common challenge over the utilisation of the Mekong. Judging from the government statement, it seems like neither side has an idea how to tackle the issue. The two premiers did, however, agree to conduct a study on water management and to discuss systematic management of the river with other stakeholders.

Cambodia should be cautious when it comes to Chinese aid –East Asia Forum China’s current approach to development with Cambodia offers opportunities but also entails some risks for Cambodian foreign relations and development policy. As claimed by the Cambodian government, aid and investment from China is important for social and economic development. They present it as coming without conditions, helping develop the Cambodian economy while enabling Cambodia to maintain sovereignty and pursue an independent foreign policy on the international stage.


Report on China’s Coal Power Projects –NYT Even though China has promised to reduce its dependency on coal power, there are 210 new coal-fired power plant projects approved for construction. //China has pledged to peak coal consumption by 2030 in COP21. However, this should not mean China will increase coal consumption irresponsibly until that point. China has made large investments in coal in recent past and is finding it tough to let go of the practice. Importantly, China has invested billions of dollars in coal power outside China too.

Related: China Pledged to Curb Coal Plants. Greenpeace Says It’s Still Adding Them.

Don Sahong Dam Casts Wide Shadow Over Mekong – The Bangkok Post Fishermen are anxious about their future as construction of the dam continues disregarding concerns from Cambodian, Vietnamese and Thai government.

PM mulls forestry protection for sustainable hydropower –Vientiane Times Prime Minister of Lao Thongloun Sisoulith has stressed the need for forestry protection to ensure the long term sustainability of hydropower development, which promotes economic growth and poverty reduction. Speaking at the meeting in Vientiane, he advised the ministry and other sectors to pay more attention to feasibility studies and to estimate the societal and environmental impacts of hydropower development projects together with developers before approving any more schemes.

Hydropower dams, major development projects suspended in Shan State: ministerMyanmar Times The Naungpha hydropower dam is one of several major projects in Shan State that have been suspended until cost-benefit field analyses are performed, according to the state minister for finance and planning. Projects related to coal-fired power, large-acreage and border development, and hotels – all approved under the previous government – are on hold until the assessments are complete. The Naungpha dam, a joint venture between local conglomerate IGE and China’s Hydrochina Corporation, and seven other hydropower projects are among the developments halted pending review.

There is a fourth option on the Myitsone Dam –Frontier Myanmar Now, Myanmar has an opportunity to move beyond ad-hoc decisions about single dam projects and begin a process of coordinated long-term planning to meet the country’s energy needs, while at the same time preserving the precious natural and cultural heritage of its river systems. It is also a golden opportunity for Chinese companies to involve themselves in projects that the Myanmar people see as beneficial for the country’s future.


U.S. Navy’s Futuristic New Weapons Could be Key to Limiting a Clash with China – The Diplomat Lasers, railguns, and hi-velocity projectiles may let warships defend themselves without escalation.

Defusing Asia’s Arms Race – Project Syndicate China’s goals in Asia are to prevent its neighbors from uniting against it and to diminish the role of international law in a region where it seeks strategic hegemony. Now that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has ruled against its claims to the South China Sea, will China take the path of militarism or diplomacy?

China’s Menacing Words for a Boat in Disputed Waters: ‘Get Out!’ – NYT A reporter who set out to see Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea found his boat quickly intercepted by the Chinese Coast Guard.

China Keeps the Upper Hand, South China Sea Arbitration Ruling Notwithstanding – The Diplomat The judicial ruling could actually give China the advantage, if Beijing proves it can flout the law with impunity.

Britain and the South China Sea Conflict: End to Ambiguity? – The Diplomat How should the U.K. respond to the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling expected this week?

Another Meeting on Trans-Atlantic Trade, and China to Report Its G.D.P. –NYT The United States and the European Union have struggled to reach an agreement in agriculture and financial services. And China’s gross domestic product has probably continued to slow.

South China Sea: Days Before International Court Verdict, Chinese Navy Stages Live-Fire Drills – The Diplomat The Chinese Navy staged live-fire drills near the Paracel Islands, days before a highly anticipated international legal verdict.

Chinese Developer in Talks With Blackstone on Property Purchase –NYT China Vanke said it was working with other partners on a $1.9 billion acquisition of commercial property in China from the American group.

China-Nigeria Relations: A Success Story for Beijing’s Soft Power – The Diplomat According to one survey, Nigeria has the world’s most positive view of China.

After the South China Sea Verdict, Chance of Protests in China? – The Diplomat After Tuesday’s verdict, are anti-American protests in China likely?

EU Must Push China on Human Rights, With or Without the UK – The Diplomat China might think Europe is weak right now, but the EU must not water down its commitment to human rights and democracy.


South China Sea: The French Are Coming – The Diplomat France, also an Indo-Pacific nation, has its own stake in the South China Sea.

The climate change scenario for Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is very bleak – Thanh Nien News Rising sea level caused by climate change could sink nearly 40 percent of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta by the end of the century, with negative weather conditions already taking their toll on agricultural production according to the Southern Institute of Water Resources Research in Vietnam.

Taiwan, After Rejecting South China Sea Decision, Sends Patrol Ship –NYT Taiwan’s claims in the contested waters match China’s, but it has not pushed them as aggressively as its neighbor and rival. //Taiwan’s claim to South China Sea mirrors that of China’s. This news means Taiwan is serious about their claim which makes the already muddy waters even more contentious. Philippines and other countries in the region now see not one but two claimants of their exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

DFA calls for restraint, sobriety after tribunal favors Philippines – The Philippine Star  Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Tuesday called for “restraint and sobriety” after a milestone ruling by an international arbitration court that there is no basis for China’s “nine-dash line” claim over a large part of the South China Sea.

Related: After Celebrating South China Sea Win, Reality Sets In for the Philippines

Philippines Faces Post-Arbitration Dilemma Over Reed Bank – The Diplomat Would Manila accept exploration of Reed Bank or joint development on Chinese terms?

Japan, Philippines to Launch Maritime Exercise Amid South China Sea Uncertainty – The Diplomat Tokyo and Manila will hold joint drills just after a verdict on the Philippines’ South China Sea case against China.

Ending Torture of Prisoners of Conscience in Vietnam – The Diplomat So much more needs to be done if ending torture in Vietnam is ever likely to become a reality.

Related: New report shows horrors faced by Vietnam’s political prisoners – The Sea Globe

Why the Philippines-Australia Comprehensive Partnership Matters – The Diplomat The relationship has implications not just for bilateral ties, but potentially for the region and world as well.

Ma Ba Tha Calls Off Anti-Govt Protests – The Irrawaddy Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha has urged its followers not to stage planned nationwide protests in response to criticism of the organization from the Rangoon Division chief minister, saying that they no longer take his comments seriously. //Buddhists and Muslims are involved in a lengthy, bitter dispute in Myanmar. At a moment when the country is coming back to democracy, Buddhist groups are desperate to mark their stamp on the the state. There are complaints of ethnic cleansing and denial of Muslim identity in the country, especially in Arakan region. The fiery protests by Ma Ba Tha against a statement by a Union Minister branding the group ‘unnecessary’ was another incident where monks flexed their muscle against any opinion expressed against their ultra-nationalistic sentiments.

Related: State-Backed Monks’ Council Decries Ma Ba Tha as ‘Unlawful’

Indonesia on track to become world’s largest tobacco market – The Sea Globe If current trends hold, Indonesia is on track to become the world’s largest market for tobacco. As other countries move to regulate the industry, why is Indonesia having such a tough time kicking the habit?

Industry inputs sought for Greater Mekong Subregion’s future development –TTG Asia More cross-country communication, conservation efforts, open borders, co-operation between governments and the private sector, and a stronger emphasis on providing quality experiences are essential to transform the GMS into a more attractive tourist destination, said industry stakeholders at this year’s Mekong Tourism Forum in Sihanoukville.

How Buddhist monks are battling deforestation in CambodiaDW Cambodia has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. But a group of Buddhist monks are stepping up efforts to save forests by publicly revealing wrongdoings and mobilizing local villagers. Large parts of the forest have already disappeared to make space for plantations. In areas that are protected from such land concessions, illegal loggers cut down tree after tree.


National environmental audit comes to Yunnan – Go Kunming Yunnan has been added to a growing list of Chinese municipalities and provinces undergoing an environmental audit. Carried out under the auspices of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), such reviews have been underway since 2015. At that time, Beijing targeted several first-tier capital cities, essentially putting bureaucrats across the country on notice that they can be held personally accountable for failed or bungled eco-management policies.

This week’s news digest was authored by Ash Chowdhury. 






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