Regional Roundup for Week of 8.12.16

Thai Referendum

Thailand, seeking stability, approves military constitutionReuters A democratically elected government will take power in Thailand at the earliest by December 2017, a senior Thai official said on Monday, after the country endorsed a military-backed constitution paving the way for a general election.

What does Thailand’s Referendum result mean? –  The Diplomat A military-backed constitution was passed overwhelmingly by Thai voters in a national referendum on Sunday, an electoral result that will have profound implications for the polarized country’s political future. /// Thailand hits the reset button and goes back to a time where the military was much more influential in the political sphere. While elections may be held within the next year, political parties will have less power, and how that will affect electoral politics is not entirely known. It might be commonplace to think that the military will seek to ensure stability, limiting any advantage one political party has. That said, Thailand was a pattern of eschewing conventional wisdom, and with such an uncertain future, the years ahead in Thailand will be anything but conventional.

PM Appeals to Thais to accept referendum, put aside differences – Reuters Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha called on Wednesday for acceptance of the outcome of a referendum that approved a military-backed constitution, saying unity was needed to tackle problems facing the country.

Prayut outlines what’s next after referendum – The Nation Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha Wednesday evening went on TV to outline the next steps that will be taken after the draft constitution has been approved.

Thai Junta Chief Prayuth reiterates election in 2017Reuters Thailand will hold a general election in 2017, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday, seeking to allay concerns his military government might delay plans for a return to democracy, days after the country endorsed a military-backed constitution.

In Thailand, bruised opposition seeks solace in 2017 vote prospectsReuters In Thailand’s rural heartland, supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra say they will focus on winning an election next year, even though they would have to govern on military terms if they win.

Former Thai PM Yingluck says she ‘accepts’ referendum results – Asian Correspondent Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has remained magnanimous over the result of the draft charter referendum in the country which saw the majority vote in favor of constitutional amendments, providing the military more powers in the kingdom’s government.

Dim prospects for Thailand’s democracyNew Mandala As Thailand votes on a new charter this Sunday, the result can only be more deadlock in a country long-suffering from political turmoil.

A vicious cycle of coups and constitutions New Mandala Thailand has been searching for an appropriate form of government for more than 80 years. It’s unlikely to find one this Sunday when the country votes on a contentious new constitution.

Thailand’s Divisions on Display in Vote Approving New Constitution – The New York Times – Although a proposed constitution drafted by Thailand’s military government has been endorsed by a majority of voters, regional returns show that deep political divides remain, analysts said on Monday.

Thailand’s new constitution to be enacted in October – The Nation The voted charter draft should be enacted in either October or November if there is no technical snag, Constitution Drafting Commission chairman Meechai Ruchuphan said Tuesday.

US urges Thailand to restore civilian rule after pro-junta vote – The Nation The United States expressed concern Monday after Thailand approved a new military-backed constitution in a victory for the country’s ruling generals.

Decades of dominance and a junta’s demiseNew Mandala Thailand’s referendum has installed the military junta for the long haul. But could it also be their undoing? 

 

South China Sea

Photos suggest China built reinforced hangars on disputed islands: CSIS – Reuters Satellite photographs taken in late July show China appears to have built reinforced aircraft hangars on its holdings in disputed South China Sea islands, a Washington-based research group said.

China conducts ‘combat patrols over contested islands – Reuters China’s air force sent bombers and fighter jets on “combat patrols” near contested islands in the South China Sea, in a move a senior colonel said was part of an effort to normalize such drills and respond to security threats.

US Says More Military Transparency Needed in S. China Sea – VOA News The response from Beijing and others to an arbitration panel’s ruling invalidating China’s vast South China Sea maritime claims has brought no surprises, but much more military transparency is needed to reduce tensions in the region, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said Tuesday.

Exclusive: Vietnam moves new rocket launchers into disputed South China Sea – Reuters Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials.

Japan, Philippines tell China to respect ruling on disputed waters – Asian Correspondent As China defies an arbitration ruling that invalidated its vast territorial claims, two top diplomats of Japan and the Philippines have called on Beijing to avoid intimidation and follow the rule of law in disputed waters.

Sustainability and Resource Management

Offices of Mekong River Commission decamp to Laos – The Phnom Penh Post The Mekong River Commission’s secretariat in Phnom Penh – one of two for the group, charged with managing the river’s sustainable development – is being shuttered in favour of a single office in Vientiane, a decision that has provoked widespread concern among current and former MRC employees alike. /// A cause of worry for the future of the Mekong? It could simply be housekeeping, but it doesn’t look good that the MRC is shutting one of its secretariat offices in Cambodia. A critical country in the development of the Mekong, Cambodia should have direct access to the secretariat. The Mekong is vital to Cambodia’s economic and environmental well-being, and any loss of influence from moving the secretariat could have ramifications for those that depend on the river.

Laos’ thirst for Mekong River dams imperils fishing, farming – AP Dismissing its neighbors’ pleas, impoverished Laos is rapidly building a Mekong River dam that threatens fisheries crucial to millions of Southeast Asia’s poorest people.

Megaprojects to get boost from Yes vote – Bangkok Post The government’s 20 planned megaprojects with a combined valued of 1.41 trillion baht are set to move forward smoothly after the Yes vote for the new constitution.

Govt to survey dams nationwide – Myanmar Times The government is planning on reviewing the status of dams throughout the country to see if they are worth keeping. U Htun Win, deputy minister for agriculture, livestock and irrigation, told parliament on August 2 that the review would take into account the efficiency, cost-effectiveness and long-term benefit of the dams.

Cambodia Pushing for More Benefits From Mekong Integration – VOA News The government is seeking to develop ways of increasing the benefit felt by Cambodia from economic corridors opened throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion.

China

China drafts new rules to curb mining pollutionReuters China plans to raise environmental standards in its highly-polluting mining sector, according to a policy draft circulated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

China to spend $65 billion to improve water suppliesReuters China plans to spend a total of 430 billion yuan ($65 billion) on around 4,800 separate projects aimed at improving the quality of its water supplies, the environment ministry said late on Monday.

Thousands in Eastern Chinese City Protest Nuclear Waste Project – The New York Times China’s efforts to expand its nuclear power sector suffered a backlash in one eastern seaboard city over the weekend, as thousands of residents took to the streets to oppose any decision to build a reprocessing plant in the area for spent nuclear fuel.

China’s 5-year plan for energy – The Diplomat China’s 13th Five-Year Plan for energy (Energy 13FYP) might be one of the most anticipated official documents in the world and is one that will have far-reaching impacts on the carbon trajectory of the world’s number one emitter. Recently, information about the plan begins to surface in the Chinese media.

A year on, survivors haunted by China’s Tianjin chemical blasts – Reuters Survivors grieved on Thursday for the 165 people killed in chemical warehouse explosions a year ago in China’s port city of Tianjin, as environmentalists raised safety concerns despite government promises of tighter industry regulations.

Regional News

ASEAN Disunity Heightens Sea Tension – Experts – The Manila Times The lack of unity among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in stopping China’s continuing construction work in disputed waters is increasing the conflict in the already tense West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), legal experts said.

Philippines envoy ‘optimistic’ about ice breaking China tripReuters Former Philippines President Fidel Ramos on Tuesday named the head of a Chinese government think-tank among the experts and officials he hoped to meet on a trip to rekindle ties with China soured by a maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

Suu Kyi to Visit China Next Week – The Irrawaddy Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s state counselor and foreign minister, is scheduled to visit China for four days from next week, according to the President’s Office.

Women are potential boost to ASEAN economy – The Phnom Penh Post By most measures, the ASEAN region is an economic powerhouse. It is the seventh-largest economy in the world. Labour force expansion and productivity improvements drive GDP growth and the 10 member states are making impressive strides in both areas.

Asean, trade partners projecting 3.1% global economic growth – The Nation Economic ministers of Asean members and its major trading partners expect a moderate global economic growth of 3.1 percent this year, despite the persistence of downside risks across markets.

Ties with Vietnam much warmer after cool start – The Nation In the first of a two-part report to mark the 40th anniversary of relations between Thailand Vietnam, which were formally established on August 6, 1976, Vietnam’s Ambassador to Thailand Nguyen Tat Thanh tells how Vietnamese viewed ties over the past 40 years and foresee the decade ahead.

Are Southeast Asia’s Strongmen Here to Stay? – The Diplomat From the sultanate of Brunei to the single-party socialist republic of Laos, Southeast Asian strongmen appear to have a firm grasp on political power across the region. As countries like Myanmar and Indonesia have offered powerful examples of democratic transition in their neighborhood, are these powerful autarchs here to stay, or is this their last hurrah?

The Point of ASEAN – The Diplomat ASEAN’s potential lies not in solving the South China Sea issue, but in creating a truly “people-centric” community.

Lao, Myanmar presidents highly value their bilateral ties – Vientiane Times President Bounnhang Vorachit, his wife, and a high-level delegation made a one-day state visit to Myanmar on Friday at the invitation of Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw.

Laos, China want better synergy in development – Vientiane Times Laos and China are aiming to achieve better synergy in development with the relevant sectors from both countries to work together to merge Laos’ Eighth five-year National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) with China’s 13th five year NSEDP. /// Does more synergy mean more investments for China’s SOEs in Laos? So far, the fruits of Chinese investment in Laos have not trickled down to the people living in Lao. Further synergy, then, likely implies more large-scale investments that could generate significant economic growth but have little benefit for the average person in Laos.

Indonesia, Cambodia discuss defence cooperation – The Phnom Penh Post Indonesia is willing to offer Cambodia’s navy ships at a discount and would like the Kingdom to be involved in joint patrols in the region, Indonesia’s Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu yesterday told the Post, amid his meetings with government leaders.

Southeast Asia

Change is not coming so quickly for some thingsThe Manila Times My original topic for today’s column was unfortunately trapped inside my home computer at about 10:55 am yesterday, when a sweeping power outage began and affected a large part of Metro Manila and provinces to the south.

Has the Philippines become an oligarchipelago?  – The Manila Times I planned to reserve the term “oligarchipelago” for a book that I am writing and which keeps me awake most nights these days, but President Duterte‘s loud blast against oligarchs last Wednesday in Malacanang has forced a change of plans.

President Duterte publicly accuses more than 150 officials of links to drug trade – Asian CorrespondentPhilippine President Rodrigo Duterte publicly announced the names of more than 150 current and former officials, accusing them of having links to the drug trade in a nationally televised speech on Sunday.

U.S. govt summons Philippines envoy after Duterte hurls insults at ambassadorAsian Correspondent – The Philippines envoy to the United States has been asked to clarify an incident involving derogatory remarks reportedly made by President Rodrigo Duterte towards the U.S. ambassador to Manila recently.  

Thai govt announces plans to track foreigners’ movements with SIM cardsAsian Correspondent – The junta-led Thai government has unveiled its plan to monitor the movements of foreigners in the country via a special SIM card to be installed in their mobile phones, local media reports.

EU-US urge end to restrictions on freedom of speech – The Nation The United States and the European Union urged the Thai junta to end restrictions on freedom of speech, to allow inclusive discussion on the new constitution after the historic referendum vote on Sunday.

Yingluck says rice scheme was not victim of neglect  – Bangkok Post Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has dismissed accusations that she turned a blind eye to graft under her rice-pledging programme, saying several panels had been set up to scrutinise the scheme.

PM to retain Article 44 power – The Nation Special power will be used when necessary, say Prayut while promising general elections ‘will be held in about a year. /// The operative word in the above sentence is ‘necessary’. What exactly will the military junta decide is necessary when it comes to article 44? Now that the referendum has passed, further entrenching the junta, will it run roughshod over the rights and desires of the Thai people?

 This Week in Parliament (August 1-5) The Irrawaddy A summary of parliamentary news in Burma.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (August 6, 2016) The Irrawaddy A summary of business news in Burma.

 Suu Kyi sets date for crunch peace talks – The Nation Myanmar will begin long-planned talks with armed ethnic groups at the end of the month, as the government’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi targets peace as a prelude to rebooting the economy.

 Thilawa Zone B to start in November – Bangkok Post Construction of Thilawa Special Economic Zone B will begin this November on 700 hectares of land, an official responsible for the project said.

Unregulated border drives meth epidemic in Myanmar – Bangkok Post Myanmar has seen a surge in the smuggling of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine from India with is fueling the country’s methamphetamine epidemic

World Bank Loan Will Not Be Used for Govt Salary Increases, Says President’s Office SpokespersonThe Irrawaddy – Government employees’ salaries will not increase despite plans to take out a loan worth US$100 million from the World Bank, aimed at covering a state deficit by separating salaries from the budget, according to government officials.

Floods Affect Hundreds of Thousands in Irrawaddy DivisionThe Irrawaddy More than 350,000 people from some 700 villages have been affected by flooding in three of the Irrawaddy Division’s districts, said the divisional government.

With Sanctions Eased, US Sees Economic Potential in Myanmar – VOA News U.S. officials are looking to boost economic engagement with Myanmar, a country that has been dubbed by some as “the final frontier” because it is one of the last markets largely untouched by Western companies.

Desperate times for Cambodia’s Farmers – The Diplomat After facing a long drought, Cambodian farmers now fear the arrival of La Niña and possible floods.

Cambodian migrants to Thailand still lack paper: IOM – The Phnom Penh Post The vast majority of Cambodian migrant workers to Thailand are continuing to use unofficial channels to enter the country, choosing not to use a passport or worker permit due to the high cost and long wait times, according to a survey released on Monday.

 

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