Regional Roundup for Week of 8.26.16

LEADERS 

Myanmar earthquake kills three, damages scores of ancient temples – Reuters A powerful earthquake shook central Myanmar on Wednesday, killing at least three people including two children, and damaging scores of centuries-old Buddhist pagodas around the ancient capital of Bagan.

China, Myanmar to enhance trust – The Nation China and Myanmar vowed on Thursday to further enhance political trust with mutual respect, to advance major investment projects and to realize peaceful settlement of hostilities in northern Myanmar. /// Enhancing trust will be important to solving problems in the North and should encourage more Chinese investment, but at what cost? Myanmar must make sure to grant concessions that don’t hinder its long-term growth and security. An example of this would be the Myitsone dam. Allowing the dam to continue would cause more harm than good, but scrapping the dam only to allow for dams in other areas may be just as bad. The political calculus is not easy, but Myanmar must remain steadfast in ensuring the rights and protection of its most vulnerable.

Related: China and Burma vow to become ‘blood brothers’ – The Asian Correspondent – China and Burma (Myanmar) are looking bolster their bilateral relations to become “blood brothers” following Burma’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent visit to Beijing.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Visit to Beijing: Recalibrating Myanmar’s China Policy – TNI Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government faced a tough situation with China at the time of their inauguration in March. But, as she visits Beijing this week, hopes are high again in China that a redirection of Myanmar’s foreign policy could be underway and the pendulum of Myanmar’s balancing diplomacy is swinging back to the east.

Philippines drug war deaths climb to 1,800; U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ – Reuters The Philippines has recorded about 1,800 drug-related killings since President Rodrigo Duterte took office seven weeks ago and launched a war on narcotics, far higher than previously believed, according to police figures.

Suu Kyi assures China of solution to Myitsone dam – The Irrawaddy Aung San Suu Kyi told China’s premier on Thursday that her new government is willing to look for a resolution that suits both countries to a suspended Chinese-funded hydropower project in northern Burma, a senior Chinese diplomat said.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Bracing for a long road in the South China Sea Dispute – VOA News This week Chinese state media reported that Beijing is hoping to finalize next year a long-stalled code of conduct for the South China Sea, which could lessen territorial tensions among countries in the region

‘Don’t escalate tension,’ Manila urges Beijing – The Manila Times The Philippines on Friday urged China to refrain from any activity that would further escalate tension in the hotly contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

South China Sea: Fishing in troubled waters – The Diplomat Could partnered fisheries enforcement be the best follow up to the recent PCA ruling?

Singapore must choose its own place to stand on South China Sea issue, says PM Lee – Channel News Asia – The Republic must have its own principled and consistent stand on the South China Sea issue despite pressure from other countries to side with them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).

Philippines’ Duterte says Southeast Asia will insist China respects sea ruling – Reuters Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said Southeast Asian countries will insist on China respecting last month’s ruling in the Hague even if Manila does not raise it at a summit in Laos next month.

China hopes for early talks with Philippines on sea issue – Xinhua news China hopes for talks with the Philippines on the South China Sea issue at an early date, a spokesperson said on Wednesday.

‘It will be bloody’ if Philippine territory breached, Duterte warns China – The Asian Correspondent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he will walk the extra mile for peace but warns China “it will be bloody” if the militarily-superior Asian neighbor infringes on his country’s territory.

Vietnam seeks French support for ‘maritime freedom’ – The Bangkok Post France and other countries should help to keep the peace in the disputed South China Sea, Vietnam’s president told AFP Wednesday, as unease grows over China’s increasingly muscular approach in the key waterway.

RESOURCE MANAGEMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY

Indonesian haze starts to spread – The Bangkok Post Indonesia warned on Friday that haze from forest fires was floating across the Malacca Strait toward its neighbours, and that the number of blazes was rising.

Related: Indonesia urges action against slash-and-burn clearing as haze season arrives – Reuters – Indonesia’s disaster agency urged prompt action against slash-and-burn plantation fires on Friday as the annual smoke “haze” begins to drift across the Malacca Strait to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

Myanmar green energy sector faces hurdles – The Nation Myanmar’s goal of achieving a 100 per cent electrification rate by 2030, with 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources, is achievable but several hurdles need to be tackled first, energy experts have said. /// Achieving 100 percent electrification may be a lofty goal, but it doesn’t mean that Myanmar can’t reach it. Whether or not 20 percent can come from renewable is another matter. In this case, hydropower should not be counted as “renewable”. There have been widespread protests over the Myitsone dam and many Shan groups have already said the damming of the Salween River will have devastating environmental effects. While Myanmar may have great potential for hydropower, exploiting it may cause more harm than good, especially if that electricity is exported to countries like China or Thailand.

Related: Electrifying Myanmar’s power grids – Myanmar Times By 2030, Myanmar is expected to consume around 80,000 gigawatt hours (Gwh) of electricity, more than six times its current consumption of approximately 13,000Gwh. This corresponds to a staggering growth of 14 percent year-on-year.

 Environmental Advocates: Salween River is Being ‘Sold Off’ to ChinaThe Irrawaddy Ethnic Shan environmental and human rights advocacy organizations have expressed opposition to the construction of hydropower dam projects on the Salween River in war-torn Shan State.

Related: Shan community groups want Salween dams scrapped – The Nation Representatives of Shan communities have expressed serious concerns on the ongoing plan to construct a series of hydropower dams on the Salween River, saying many areas are still plagued with ongoing fighting between minority groups and the government.

Shan groups express concern over green light for Naung Pha dam – Mizzima Two dozen Shan community groups have sent a letter to Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi calling on her government to stop the construction of hydroelectric dam projects on the Thanlwin or Salween River.

Laos damages Mekong River with more dams – Good Morning Taiwan China has built six dams on its stretch of the Mekong since the mid-1990s, which posed great threat for the downstream residents as well as the wildlife species. Now Lao government is forging ahead with more dam-building spree, meaning the future of this mighty waterway is in grave danger.

Chinese dams a threat to Lower Mekong River – VN Express China’s hydropower dams on the Upper Mekong River (Lancang in Chinese) are preventing flood waters from reaching Vietnam’s Lower Mekong Delta, Dao Trong Tu, former vice general secretary of the Vietnam National Mekong Committee, told VnExpress.

Experts: Damming places Mekong delta in peril – The Saigon Times Damming on the Mekong River mainstream, coupled with sand overexploitation, would not only hit aquaculture but also threaten the Mekong Delta’s existence in the future, experts told the Daily.

River Network Objects to Hydropower group – BNI Online Concerned about a series of dams planned along the Salween River, the Save the Salween Network has raised objections to the formation of the Hydropower Developer’s Working Group (HDWG) in Burma by the International Finance Cooperation (IFC), claiming it will assist investors while sidestepping potential negative outcomes of the dams for thousands of ethnic minority groups.

Hydropower working group launched in Myanmar – Hydroworld The International Finance Corporation and more than 100 members of Myanmar’s private hydroelectric power sector have launched a new working group to help “influence policy and identify solutions to improve upon sustainability and business operations in Myanmar.”

Philippines could suspend more mines in environmental crackdown – Reuters The Philippines could suspend more mines in a crackdown on environmental abuses that has halted operations of 10 miners, a minister said on Wednesday, dismissing a claim by mineral producers the review was a “demolition campaign” against them.

Mekong dwellers get flood alert – The Bangkok Post People living along the Mekong River have been alerted to rising water levels as authorities monitor the situation and stay prepared for emergencies around the clock.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Obama to become first US President to visit Laos – The Asian Correspondent President Barack Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Laos this September, during his 11th – and most likely final – presidential trip to Asia.

Bananas on the Lancang: Grown in Yunnan, Destined for Shanxi – The Diplomat Luc Forsyth and Gareth Bright have set out on a journey to follow the Mekong river from sea to source, The Diplomat will be sharing some of the stories they’ve found along the way. For more about the project, check out the whole series here.

Philippines remains committed to the United Nations – foreign minister – Reuters The Philippine is not leaving the United Nations, the foreign minister said on Monday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to quit the body after it called for an end to the wave of killings unleashed by his war on drugs.

China helps Suu Kyi with peace talks in Myanmar – The New York Times As Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, met this past week with Chinese officials during her five-day visit here, China helped arrange a gift for her back home, a reminder that it wants to make itself Myanmar’s new best friend.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (August 20) – The Irrawaddy  

This week in Parliament (August 15 – 19) – The Irrawaddy

Govt mulls rejection of US$300 million loan from China – Myanmar Times Thanks but no thanks, the Myanmar government may be preparing to say to a major Chinese lender. As Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi discussed the future of the controversial Myitsone dam project and other aspects of Myanmar-Chinese relations in Beijing, questions were being raised as to whether the country needs to take on an additional US$300 million in Chinese debt.

Burma: Former UN Sec Gen Kofi Annan to help govt resolve Rohingya issueThe Asian Correspondent – Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has been tasked with heading an advisory panel set up by Burma’s (Myanmar) government to find “lasting solutions” to the conflict in Rakhine state.

Bombing suspect hiding in ‘Malaysia’, say Thai authorities – The Asian Correspondent The prime suspect of the bomb attacks in Thailand’s popular resort towns of Hua Hin and Phuket that killed four and wounded dozens is reportedly on the run in neighboring Malaysia.

The real meaning of Thailand’s referendum – New Mandala If history is a guide, Thailand’s latest constitution will be short-lived. Many observers of Thailand’s ongoing debilitating political crisis have been scratching their heads trying to understand how Thai voters approved a draft constitution in the referendum on 7 August which is so blatantly designed to entrench military rule.

Can Thailand really hide a rebellion? – The New York Times On Aug. 11 and 12, coordinated bombings and arson attacks in tourist destinations in seven provinces of peninsular Thailand killed four people and injured 35. No group claimed responsibility, and senior officials of the military government almost immediately decided that the bombings were not acts of terrorism.

Cops: ‘At least’ 20 from Muslim south behind recent Thai bombingsThe Asian Correspondent – Police in Thailand believe that a network of at least 20 people living in the kingdom’s Muslim-majority southern provinces were involved in the recent wave of deadly explosions that killed four tourists and injured dozens of others.

Sino-Thai high-speed railways now on track – The Nation After a long delay, the Sino-Thai high-speed railroad scheme looks set to shift into gear by year-end with Thailand funding all of the civil engineering work. The Cabinet Tuesday gave the nod to a framework of cooperation between the Thai and Chinese governments to develop high-speed railways from Map Ta Phut to Nong Khai and Bangkok to Kaeng Khoi.

Egat insists on going ahead with Thepa plant – The Nation Construction of the Thepa coal-fired power plant is set to begin in the second quarter of next year, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) said, even though many locals have refused to sell their land despite facing threats. /// Will Thailand use section 44 to move ahead with the power plant? The environmental and health impact assessment has yet to be approved, and if Egat cannot entice locals to move than, the government will be in a tricky position. Thailand has plans for several coal plants to help offset declining natural gas reserves, but protests from locals has made the construction of the plants difficult. So if Prayut gets fed up with protests, will he move forward anyway?

Flood crisis threatens to kill Vietnam’s rice bowl – VN Express Shortage of floods has resulted in a hefty 50 percent decrease in sediment deposited in the Mekong Delta each year, causing Vietnam’s largest delta to face serious subsidence and likely disappearance in the future.

Islets in southern Vietnam vanishing as erosion threatens millions – Thanh Nien News Cao Van Ba lost half of his two-hectare orchard on Son Islet due to serious erosion in the past few years. “The islet used to be more than 100 hectares but it has shrunk to around 60 hectares,” the 66-year-old farmer of Can Tho City told local media.

Vietnam in urgent need of deepwater port in Mekong delta – VN Express Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue has asked relevant ministries and agencies to consider building a deepwater port in the Mekong Delta to help ease transport barriers for goods from the country’s most productive region in terms of agriculture and aquaculture.

Hun Sen Pledges to ease restrictions on environmentalists – VOA Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday appealed to Cambodians to promote conservation at what he promised would be the first of many annual public forums to discuss the state of the country’s natural resources.

Up to $85 million earmarked to develop agriculture sector – The Phnom Penh Post Representatives of Cambodia’s rice sector and the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) met yesterday with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to discuss the implementation of a five-year program to promote the Kingdom’s agricultural products.

This week’s news digest was compiled by Peter Telaroli.

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