Regional Roundup for Week of 8.4.2016

LEADERS

Malaysia’s Leader, Dogged by a Billion-Dollar Scandal, Proves UntouchableThe New York Times – The conspirators were confident. They planned to confront Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, at a cabinet meeting and demand his resignation. Prosecutors had collected evidence that Mr. Najib had deposited millions of dollars of public money into his personal bank account.

Related: Malaysian democracy group plans 1MDB protest rally – Reuters Malaysian democracy group Bersih plans a protest rally to demand greater government accountability and action to tackle a multi-billion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB, an official of the group said on Wednesday.

Lamenting 1MDB – New Mandala The damage from Malaysia’s latest financial scandal runs deep. Here’s how it will impact politics in the long-term. /// Meredith Weiss lays out many of the problems associated with Malaysian politics and how 1MDB may signal a systemic crisis. Moving forward, Malaysia has many hurdles to overcome: namely, rejuvenating a stifled press and the need for UMNO to reform itself by finding younger politicians and moving forward with an investigation into 1MDB. With Prime Minister Najib Razak seemingly untouchable at this point, don’t expect much to change. Outside investigations may reveal more information, but as long as UMNO continues to win votes, don’t look for the 1MDB scandal to catalyze structural political change.

Stage one of Sesan dam to be complete next year, PM reveals – The Phnom Penh Post The first stage of the controversial lower Sesan II hydropower dam in Stung Treng province will be complete in October 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday during a visit to the construction site. /// Slowly but surely Lower Sesan II is being built. All is not well though as 180 families have refused to be relocated and government negotiations with the families don’t seem to be moving forward. Ensuring the dam is up and running on time, and that local communities are given adequate compensation while not infringing upon their human rights will be an enormous task for Cambodia. With several dams planned for the 3S tributaries, any problems with the Lower Sesan II may augur problems for the other dams.

             Related: Rough Waters of Lower Sesan II Dam – Mekong Eye  

Body Count Rises as Philippine President Wages War on Drugs – The New York Times Since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines just over a month ago, promising to get tough on crime by having the police and the military kill drug suspects, 420 people have been killed in the campaign, according to tallies of police reports by the local news media. 

            Related: The dark side of Duterte’s deadly but popular drug war – Reuters

 SOUTH CHINA SEA

Philippines complied with UNCLOS to win ArbitrationThe Manila Times The Philippines won in almost all its submissions against China in the South China Sea award by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLOS) Arbitration Tribunal, including the main issues that compelled the Philippines to urgently file the arbitration complaint, namely: that China had prohibited Philippine fishermen from exercising their historic rights to fish in Scarborough Shoal, and that China had unlawfully interfered with Philippine petroleum exploration in the Reed Bank which is within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

Avoid China-claimed shoal, Philippines tells fishermen – Bangkok Post The Philippines told its fishermen Wednesday to steer clear of a fishing ground in the disputed South China Sea to avoid harassment from Chinese authorities.

Russia to Join China in Naval Exercise in Disputed South China Sea – The New York Times  – Russian naval forces plan to join Chinese forces for a joint exercise in the South China Sea, highlighting Moscow’s partnership with Beijing after a recent international legal ruling underlined rifts between China and Southeast Asian nations over rival claims across the sea.

Major Chinese state paper calls for a military strike on Australian ships that enter the South China Sea – Business Insider – China’s state-run Global Times has published an editorial attacking Australia for supporting the recent international ruling on China’s activities in the South China Sea and called for strikes on any Australian ships which might undertake “freedom-of-navigation” activities in the region.

It’s typhoon season in the South China Sea—and China’s fake islands could be washed away – Quartz – Typhoon Nida is barreling through the South China Sea, after dumping over 300 millimeters of rain on the Philippines over the weekend. As Hong Kong braces for landfall sometime tonight (Aug. 1), some controversial, much-less-populated landmasses may already be feeling the brunt of the storm. /// An interesting topic not often mentioned when talking about the South China Sea. How will artificial islands hold up under immense typhoons and the continuous pounding of waves? It’d be ironic for China to ignore UNCLOS verdict only to have their island building project stopped by the true law of the sea: nature.

South China Sea: Beijing vows to prosecute ‘trespassers’ – CNN China has sent a clear warning to foreigners who enter contested areas of the South China Sea — stay away or you’ll be prosecuted.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

China’s More Proactive Policy Could Hold the Key to Peace in Burma – The Irrawaddy So that they could attend the summit in the border town of Mai Ja Yang in Kachin State, the Chinese authorities allowed ethnic armed group leaders to travel freely through Chinese territory from the Muse border in northern Shan State—a marked departure from previous practice.

Cambodia asks China to double rice quota – The Phnom Penh Post Commerce Minister Pan Sorasak lobbied his visiting Chinese counterpart, Gao Hucheng, yesterday to consider doubling Cambodia’s annual rice export quota to China while also proposing a host of agricultural trade agreements.

Thai-Chinese rail build gets B179bn capBangkok Post The Transport Ministry has agreed to cap the cost of the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima high-speed train project at 179 billion baht after months of arguments with Beijing on the final figure.

Laos – China’s gateway to Southeast Asia – The Nation Boten, once a remote village on the China-Laos border, has gone from boom to bust within a few short years and is now preparing for another boom.

Singapore’s prime minister says America’s credibility on the line over TPP – Asian Corespondent – The outcome of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal has put America’s credibility on the line, Singapore’s prime minister said in a candid assessment of the pact.

Obama, Singapore leader push Pacific trade deal in state visit – Reuters President Barack Obama and Singapore’s prime minister on Tuesday made sales pitches for a Pacific Rim trade deal that both U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have derided and that has been stalled in Congress.

Asean expects China, Brexit to slow economic growth – Bangkok Post Economic growth in Asean countries was expected to dip to 4.5% in 2016 from 4.7% last year due to China’s slowdown and uncertainties related to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the member states said in a statement.

Group Warns of Rising ASEAN Land Grab Conflicts – VOA News An international human rights organization says Southeast Asia is facing increasing conflicts and violence over land grab activity. A “land grab” relates to taking land quickly, forcefully and often illegally.

Mekong mainland coalesces after Asean rift – Bangkok Post  Although it was established 49 years ago, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as we know it has been around only since 1999 when Cambodia joined Southeast Asia’s premier regional organization as its 10th member state after Laos and Myanmar had entered two years earlier. Asean was originally set up on different rationales and for different purposes than what it has become today as a loosely structured grouping of a diplomatic community with ambitious regionalisation plans that require a central strategic role in Asia.

Beijing Banks on Fractured ASEAN – Al-Jazeera  At last week’s summit in Laos, Phnom Penh effectively blocked any reference to The Hague ruling. /// It’s déjà vu all over again as Cambodia blocked a unified ASEAN statement. That said, if a majority of ASEAN countries were on board and it only took one country to block a statement, can it really be that ASEAN is as fractured as it is made out to be? It’s clear several countries are against China’s territorial usurpation and that Beijing influenced Cambodia. While a statement from ASEAN would send a signal of unification, I would imagine behind the scenes that many countries are unified and will continue to counter Beijing’s influence.

CHINA

Hydropower Country Profile: China – Hydropower.com For the tenth consecutive year, China added more new installed hydropower capacity than the rest of the world combined, cementing the country’s leading role in global hydropower development.

Xinhua Insight: Foreign trade steams ahead in China’s southwest –  Xinhua Chongqing Municipality in southwest China has seen a boom in foreign trade in recent years, primarily due to the extensive expansion of its transport network.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

VN urged to reduce raw mineral exports as natural resources decline – Vietnam Net The industrial production value growth in the first six months of the year slowed largely because of a decline in the mining industry.

Fears over Mekong River’s future – Vietmaz.com Vu Trong Hong, chairman of the Vietnam Irrigation Association has warned about the dangers Vietnam could face when Laos build a new hydropower plant on the Mekong River.

Mekong water diversion projects threaten Vietnam – Vietnam Net With the support of Pan Nature (People & Nature Reconciliation), a team of experts have conducted a fact-finding trip to Cambodia and some provinces in the northeast of Thailand to learn more about the Mekong river diversion projects.

Damming menaces water security in Mekong Delta – Vietnam Net Nguyen Nhan Quang, an independent expert in river basin management, said at a workshop in Hanoi last week that the Mekong Delta suffered the worst drought in 100 years in the 2015-2016 dry season. Drought worsened saltwater intrusion, taking a heavy toll on agriculture and people in the country’s largest rice producing region.

Everbright to Build Vietnam’s First Waste to Energy Project – Waste Management World China Everbright International has been awarded a contract to develop Vietnam’s first waste to energy project, a 7.5 MW plant in Can Tho.

River of Change: Hydropower dams and the Mekong River’s uncertain future – VOA Cambodia – Irrevocably change is underway upriver and downriver – from China to the Mekong delta – as countries along the river’s length pursue hydroelectric dams as a path to power generation.

A Tale of Two shrimpers – how will the Mekong Delta adapt to Climate Change? – The World Bank  – Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is famous for its rice fields, shrimp ponds, embankments and canals. This fertile patchwork sustains the livelihoods of more than 17 million people. But climate change, water scarcity and pollution are fraying the fabric of economic life in the delta. New approaches to managing land and water in uncertain times are needed.

Active and Engaged: Indigenous Women Make Their Voices Heard with Cambodian Mining Company – Mekong Citizen – Women – especially indigenous women – are often the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of development projects. Socheat Penh from Mekong Partnership for the Environment shares the story of Sok Sreymom, an indigenous woman in Cambodia who is turning that vulnerability into active engagement with a mining company.

Report: Three Parallel Rivers plagued by unregulated mining – Go Kunming

One of Yunnan’s most famous natural landscapes is under threat from unsupervised mining, according to a new report. A study published by non-governmental environmental organization Greenpeace claims industrial activity in the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is seriously damaging China’s most biodiverse region.

Solar Revolution: French Aid Can Boost or Stifle Growth – The Cambodia Daily

If renewable energy—especially solar—is going to thrive in Cambodia, we need net metering. Without a net metering law or policy, solar will plod along. With it, solar will spread rapidly nationwide.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Focus: Philippines crime war packs decaying jails – The Manila Times Mario Dimaculangan shares a toilet with 130 other inmates in one of the Philippines’ most overcrowded jails, and conditions are getting worse as police wage an unprecedented war on crime.

Philippines’ Duterte says nation can survive without mining companies – Reuters Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday warned mining companies to strictly follow tighter environmental rules or shut down, saying the Southeast Asian nation could survive without a mining industry.

Vietnam: More than 200,000 people affected by Taiwanese Steel Plant Pollution – Asian Correspondent– The livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen, have been severely affected by the toxic pollution caused by a Taiwanese-owned steel complex, said the Vietnamese government.

New Malaysian security law gives PM sweeping powers, threatens human rights –Asian Correspondent- Amnesty International has warned that a Malaysian security law that comes into force Monday will give the government “unchecked and abusive powers”.

Related:New Malaysia security law debuts as PM fights critics  – Bangkok Post Tough new security legislation came into force in Malaysia on Monday, with critics saying the “draconian” law threatens democracy and could be used against opponents of the scandal-tainted prime minister.

Look who’s back: A sweeping cabinet reshuffle installs an unloved former generalThe Economist – Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, universally known as Jokowi, reshuffled his cabinet on July 27th for the second time since taking office in late 2014. Although observers had expected only minor fiddling, he made big changes.

Indonesia to sink scores of boats in fishing fight – Bangkok Post Indonesia will sink up to 71 impounded foreign boats this month on its Independence Day, a minister said Monday, ramping up a campaign to deter illegal fishing in its vast waters.

Indonesian seaweed farmers sue Thailand’s PTT over Australian oil spill – Reuters Indonesian seaweed farmers on Wednesday sued Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production for potentially more than A$200 million ($152 million) to cover damages from Australia’s worst oil spill in 2009.

Charting Changes in Japanese FDIThe Phnom Penh Post Japan’s investment in Cambodia continues to grow and its investors are playing a leading role in developing and diversifying the Kingdom’s light industrial sector. The Post’s Hor Kimsay sat down with Yasuhara Hiroto, head of the Japan Desk at the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), to discuss what is drawing Japanese investors to Cambodia, and where they are directing their capital.

Army ‘image’ trumps the people’s truth – Bangkok Post Her uncle was beaten to death in an army camp and now she has been sued for revealing what happened. On Monday, Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat was arrested and charged for defamation and disseminating “false information”

Thailand: Military to sue former PM Yingluck over rice subsidy scheme losses – Asian Correspondent – Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be taken to court over billions of dollars allegedly lost by her administration’s rice subsidy program, the military government said.

Embassy Warns Burmese in Thailand About Pre-Referendum Crackdown – The Irrawaddy – The Burmese embassy in Bangkok has sent warning notices to Burmese migrants in Thailand alerting them of a surge in raids and surprise checks by Thai police and the army on migrants’ workplaces and living quarters.

The Dark Secrets of Thailand’s Military – The Diplomat The Thai army has is once again mired in controversy after a series of young cadets were found dead while undergoing military training.

As vote looms, Thailand’s powerful army aims to preserve role – Reuters Thailand votes on Sunday for a new constitution that aims to subdue political parties and give the generals a permanent role in overseeing the country’s economic development, senior military officers say. /// Thailand’s military will try one more time to subdue political parties and make itself the preeminent institution in Thai politics. A “no” vote on the referendum would signal a blow to the military and leave General Prayut Chan-Ocha’s path to democracy in question (again!). Whatever the vote, the military likely has a contingency plan to stay in power as long as possible – because the only way to prevent the country from degenerating into parliamentary democracy that gives each citizen an equal vote, would be to stay in power. After all, Father Prayut knows best.

Suu Kyi tackles military land grabs in test of new Myanmar government – Reuters By the standards of her village in Myanmar’s swampy Ayeyarwady Delta, Than Shin was a prosperous woman. She had 20 acres of farmland on which her family grew rice. But her fortunes changed in 2000 when the military government informed her it was taking possession of her land.

Social Welfare Minister: Deforestation and Exploitation of Resources Contributed to Flooding – The Irrawaddy – As Burma once again experiences serious flooding, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has invited civil society organizations (CSOs) to join the ministry’s relief and rescue efforts.

This week’s news digest was authored by Pete Telaroli.

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