Regional Roundup for Week of 9.1.16

LEADERS

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi faces test at ethnic peace conference – The Nation Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi faces what could be the toughest test of her leadership yet when she opens a major ethnic peace conference Wednesday aimed at ending wars that have blighted the country since its independence.

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi kicks off peace conference with appeal for unity – Reuters Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi launched a major push to end decades of fighting between the military and myriad rebel groups with an appeal on Wednesday to the country’s ethnic minorities to overcome their differences to achieve peace.

As Obama heads to Laos, signs of a tilt away from China – Reuters The secretive communist government of Laos, a country with a population of less than 7 million, rarely causes a ripple on the diplomatic circuit. And yet its sleepy capital will spring to life next week when global leaders arrive for an Asian summit.

Asean urged to look beyond consensus in decision making – Bangkok Post Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang suggested Tuesday that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations adjust its long-held practice of applying the principle of consensus in the 10-member bloc’s decision making so as to be able to deal better with contentious regional issues. /// An interesting development in the realm of ASEAN relations. Consensus decision making has long been a pillar of ASEAN relations, and if a Head of State is suggesting changes, then that must mean there are some frustrations. This likely comes from issues such as the South China Sea where Cambodia has consistently blocked formal language criticizing China. Though other issues such as Indonesian haze and dam building along the Mekong are also contentious and could benefit from a new agreement on decision making within ASEAN.  It will be interesting to watch and see if any countries jump on board, or if Tran Dai Quang’s comments are ignored.

Related: Asean solidarity essential to a peaceful, prosperous Asia Pacific: Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang – The Straits Times – It is in the interest of the entire region for all Asean member states to work towards a strong and coherent Asean, said Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.

Laos starts construction on Don Sahong Power Project – VietnamNet Bridge KPL News has reported that the commencement ceremony of the construction of Don Sahong hydropower plant took place on August 16 in Champasak in the south of Laos.//the construction actually began in January. It took a while for the ceremony to catch up with the construction.

One of the world’s biggest fisheries is on the verge of collapse – National Geographic Years ago Christopher Tubo caught a 660-pound blue marlin in the South China Sea. The fishing was good there, he says. Tuna fishermen would come home from a trip with dozens of the high-value fish as well as a good haul of other species.

How Aung San Suu Kyi is holding China to ransom – ASEAN Today When China’s foreign minister became the first foreign dignitary to visit Myanmar after Aung San Suu Kyi was elected, the $3.6 billion Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam project did not sit high on the agenda. Four months later, when Suu Kyi made her first visit outside Southeast Asia to China, it was the hot button in the two countries’ discussion.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Vietnam says all will lose in an South China Sea war – The Nation Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang warned on Tuesday there would be no winners in any armed conflict sparked by territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Philippines, China should abide by South China Sea ruling, says John Kerry – The Asian Correspondent – John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, has called for China and the Philippines to accept the Hague tribunal’s ruling on the much-disputed South China Sea region.

CHINA

China and ASEAN: Next 25-year cycle will be complicated – The Nation After China’s Premier Li Keqiang outlined his new policy approach in front of Asean members in Bandar Seri Begawan in October 2013 – known as the “two plus seven” cooperative framework – nobody predicted it would then be shelved.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Mon Groups Pledge to Block Coal Power Plant – The Irrawaddy One of the resolutions which came out of the three-day Mon National Conference has been to stand against the use of a coal power plant by a cement company in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township.

Dam project gets the go-ahead in war torn shan state – Burma News Inernational A controversial Chinese dam project in Shan State has been given the go-ahead, as local human rights organisations warned that the development could stoke ongoing conflict in the region.

Interim report from Ayeyarwady dam commission due next month – Myanmar Times The commission tasked with reviewing and scrutinising hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River met for the first time this week, with the recently formed body planning to submit an interim report on its findings next month.

Limited capacity hinders Myanmar’s water management – Eleven Myanmar River basin organisations should be established to support the activities of the National Water Resource Committee (NWRC), to enhance the country’s water management which has faced serious capacity limitations, said an official.

Vietnam needs master plan for water sources: expert – VietnamNet Bridge Mekong Delta suffered the most serious drought in the last 90 years in March and April. The situation was so serious that the State had to ask China to discharge water from its reservoirs to let water go to the lower course.

Vietnam pushes renewable energy with a focus on solar power – VN Express International Vietnam’s electricity consumption has grown twice as fast as the country’s economic growth rate.The average energy consumption in Vietnam grew 13 percent from 2006-2010, and by about 11 percent from 2011-2015, said Le Tuan Phong, deputy head of the General Directorate of Energy. The country is on the path towards powering itself by 2030, Phong said. /// More renewables and a focus on solar is a great move for Vietnam. With a development plan that relies on coal, any push to bring in renewables bodes well for the environment. Whether or not Vietnam can sustain solar and renewable is another matter, but to reach its goal of all households using 50% by 2050, continued investment will be needed to transition from coal.

Indonesia: State of emergency declared in six provinces over haze – The Asian Correspondent – Indonesia has declared states of emergency in six provinces as peat fires shroud parts of neighboring Singapore and Malaysia in smog.

Indonesia urges neighbors to stop complaining about haze – The Asian Correspondent The Indonesian government has urged its neighbors to cease complaining about the annual haze problem, following efforts by the nation to douse forest fires caused every year by farmers clearing land for agricultural use.

Energy concession bids due in March – Bangkok Post The government plans to open bids in March 2017 for expiring oil and gas contracts held by Chevron Corp and PTT Exploration and Production, an energy ministry official said on Thursday.

NGOs up in arms over South power plants, development projects – The Nation  In the eyes of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), new coal-fired power plants and infrastructure development will give the Southern Region a new face, but sadly an ugly one.

Locals along Mekong issued flooding alert – Bangkok Post Residents along the Mekong River have been warned to prepare for overflowing after a large volume of water was released from a southern province of China.

Community opposes new PTT gas pipeline in Rayong – Bangkok Post Residents of Nong Faeb in tambon Map Ta Phut have put up banners and signboards showing their opposition to PTT Plc’s plan to lay a 5th natural gas pipeline through their community.

Get your face masks out for ‘coal’ tourism – Bangkok Post My trip to Songkhla in the south of Thailand earlier this week was not a typical sightseeing jaunt, but it was certainly worthwhile.My destination was not Muang district which is famous for its old-town quarters or Hat Yai, the well-known shopping district of the southern region, but a pristine beach in Thepa’s tambon Pak Bang which is the designated site for a controversial coal-fired power plant. /// Thailand is planning several more coal plants in the years to come to help ease its reliance on domestic natural gas that will soon be diminish. Building these plants will be a challenge as Thailand has a robust group of environmental and community activists. With Thailand relying heavily on tourism these days, it seems odd to have coal plants proposed in areas such as Krabi and Songkhla, where pristine beaches attract tourists. Does the junta have a coordinated development plan, or is it just limping along hoping things fall together?

Preserving Mekong’s biodiversity – Vientiane Times via The Nation A NEW community fisheries project in the Mekong River was launched in Vientiane on Thursday with the Laos Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF), Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry agreeing to cooperate with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF-Laos).

 MoU signed for rehabilitation work at 246-MW Angat hydropower project in the Philippines – Hydroworld – Last week, a number of stakeholders signed a memorandum of agreement (MoU) for the 47-year-old 246-MW Angat hydropower facility, located about 58 km northeast of Manila in Norzagaray, Bulacan, Philippines, to undergo a US$24 million rehabilitation project.

SNAP-Ifugao remains committed to developing 390-MW Alimit hydropower project in Philippines – HydroWorld – Developer SN Aboitiz Power-Ifugao has said it remains committed to developing the 390-MW Alimit hydropower project in the Philippines, pending consent from indigenous groups impacted by its construction.

Department of Energy sees nuke energy potential – The Manila Times The Department of Energy (DOE) is looking at the viability of nuclear energy as the Philippines intensifies its electrification programs amid increasing population and strong economic growth.

Solar firm becomes ‘first’ to link to national grid – The Phnom Penh Post State-run energy supplier Electricité du Cambodge (EDC) signed a 20-year agreement to purchase renewable energy from Singaporean solar firm Sunseap International yesterday. /// An exciting development for renewable energy. Even though Cambodia has no renewable energy target in its power development plan, solar has made slow progress in rural areas and industrial zones. Getting a solar company linked to the grid, should help Cambodia reach its goal of having 70% of the country electrified by 2030 and will hopefully lead to more solar investment in the future.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Malaysia, Thailand agree to sign border fence pact – The Asian Correspondent Malaysia and Thailand will ink an agreement to fence up their porous borders in a bid to stop smuggling, trafficking and trespassing activities that have continued unabated for decades, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said.

Japan to offer Myanmar ¥100bn in loans – Bangkok Post Japan plans to offer ¥100 billion (US$995 million) in loans to Myanmar for infrastructure development, a Japanese government source said on Friday.

Malaysia: PM Najib will take on Duterte to defend disputed state – The Asian Correspondent – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has vowed to defend the sovereignty and security of the state of Sabah from foreign claims, saying he will do so if he meets with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte.

Myanmar looks to new rice agreement with Jakarta–Bangkok Post The governments of Indonesia and Myanmar will sign a memorandum of understanding next month on continued rice exports, but the two commerce ministers then face an unresolved issue over payment for a previous shipment that failed to comply with Indonesian regulations.

India seeks gateway to ASEAN – The Phnom Penh Post Indian business leaders see strong potential to develop trade and investment ties with Cambodia given its liberal investment climate and strong record of economic growth, and many recognise the Kingdom as a potential link in their quest to access ASEAN’s 600-million-strong consumer market, trade representatives from both countries said this week.

Burma, India agree to cooperate on defense, energy, infrastructure – The Irrawaddy Burma and India have inked four memorandums of understanding (MoU) to promote bilateral cooperation in the areas of traditional medicine, renewable energy and infrastructural connectivity.

US fears IS rise in Southeast Asia – The Manila Times Islamic State jihadists are eyeing expansion into Southeast Asia by joining forces with local extremists, a senior US counter-terrorism official warned.

Why ASEAN is here to stay and what that means for the U.S. – The Diplomat As U.S. President Barack Obama departs for Asia to attend his final ASEAN-led East Asia Summit (EAS) in Vientiane, Laos, as well as the G20 in China, it is a good time to take stock of ASEAN’s imperfections, ability to endure, and utility to the United States. Especially in the United States, commentary has concentrated on ASEAN’s inability to forge consensus on the South China Sea (SCS).

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Massive highway project displaces Karen communities: rights groups – The Irrawaddy A major highway project that will serve as a trade link between Burma and Thailand has been displacing local communities who live along the route in Karen State, southeastern Burma, say human rights organizations.

 

Malaysia student protesters demand 1MDB arrest – Reuters Nearly a thousand protesters marched in the heart of the Malaysian capital on Saturday calling for the arrest of an unnamed high-ranking government official who U.S. investigators say received $700 million skimmed from a sovereign fund.

Philippines’ Duterte offers reward for corrupt police linked to drugs – Reuters Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday promised rewards running to tens of thousands of dollars for information leading to the capture of police officers protecting drug syndicates and warned corrupt officials they would face “a day of reckoning”.

Philippine government and communist revels extend ceasefire – The New York Times The Philippine government and Communist rebels agreed on Friday to extend a mutual cease-fire and return to the negotiating table in October as they wrapped up their first round of peace talks after a five-year impasse.

Death toll in Philippines’ drug war hits 2,000 – Reuters The number of drug-related killings in the Philippines since Rodrigo Duterte became president two months ago on a pledge to wipe out the illegal drug trade, has reached around 2,000, according to data released on Tuesday.

Obama to meet Duterte – The Manila Times US President Barack Obama will meet controversial Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte next week, the White House said, despite concerns over a war on crime that has claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Singapore confims 41 cases of locally transmitted zika virus – The New York Times Singapore has confirmed 41 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus, mostly among foreign construction workers, and said it expected more cases to be identified.

U.S.-Singapore relations and Obama’s rebalance to Asia – The Diplomat The Diplomat‘s Ankit Panda and Prashanth Parameswaran discuss U.S.-Singapore relations following Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s state visit to the United States.

Laos’ investment promotion law undergoes amendments to boost growth – Vientiane Times via The Nation – Drafted amendments to the Investment Promotion Law that policy makers are currently drawing up are set to offer maximum profit tax exemptions of up to eight years for businesses operating in certain promoted areas.

This week’s news digest was compiled by Peter Telaroli. Big thanks to Pete for his contributions this summer!

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