Regional Roundup for Week of 9.16.16


Obama Pledges to Lift All Sanctions Against Myanmar—New York Times President Obama, who met on Wednesday with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, sought to reward the country for its efforts to establish a more democratic government.//while in the big picture, the US believes the benefits outweigh the costs to keeping the sanctions regime in place, there are many who say it’s too soon to lift all sanctions. With this plan, US firms could do business with some of the worst of the worst firms and individuals in Myanmar and further empower military. If the investment flowing to these bad guys is robust, this could derail both the peace process and democratic transition – or at least make things much more difficult than expected for Daw Suu who has put perhaps too much trust in the USG.

Related: US Lifts Sanctions, Retains Limitations on Military-The Irrawaddy

Related: Ethnic Civil Society Groups Want US Sanctions on Burma’s Military to ContinueIrrawaddy

Related: Without Sanctions, Burmese Govt Must Hold Cronies Accountable—The Irrawaddy

Chinese, Russian Navies to Hold 8 Days of Naval Exercises in the South China Sea—The Diplomat Beijing and Moscow will hold the first-ever South China Sea iteration of their Joint Sea exercises

China’s New Silk Road Could Expand Asia’s Deserts—The Diplomat Desertification, soil degradation, and drought are serious issues in most of the countries along the Belt and Road.

Mega project to take 4 billion m3 of water from Mekong River—Mekong Eye On the Loei River, a tributary of the Mekong River, an “unreal” project of water diversion by Thailand is about to commence, which would cause severe conflicts on water usage on the Mekong.

Ethnic Activists Voice Alarm Over Salween Dams—Mekong Eye Ethnic Shan, Mon and Karenni environmental activists have voiced strong concern over alleged government plans to push ahead with hydropower dams on the Salween River, which they believe would destroy the livelihoods of ethnic communities.

Related: Report Details Harm Salween River Dams Could Cause—Mekong Eye

            Salween dam assessment continues, despite opposition—DVB



Cambodia, China Ink New Economic Pact—The Diplomat Agreement seen as boost for the bilateral economic relationship.

Leaving Asia, Obama Predicts U.S. Tilt Toward Region Will Be Lasting—New York Times The president defended the success of the meetings on his tour and dismissed the distractions that caught the news media’s attention as overblown.

Related: Pressing Asia Agenda, Obama Treads Lightly on Human Rights—New York Times

U.S. Still Concerned Over Disappearance of Lao Rural Development Expert—Radio Free Asia While the U.S. appears to have taken no overt steps to prod the Lao government over the disappearance of U.S.-educated rural development expert Sombath Somphone during President Barack Obama’s visit to the country, his wife received assurances that his abduction still has Washington’s attention.//Crickets.

US Training of Burma’s Military Could Help Democratization: David Steinberg—The Irrawaddy The Irrawaddy speaks with veteran Burma scholar David Steinberg .

For Myanmar’s Leader, More Power, but More Expectations, Too—New York Times As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi nears her first trip to the U.S. as leader of Myanmar, officials are discussing whether to lift sanctions against the country.

Related: Obama Meets With Myanmar’s Leader(Video)—New York Times

            Related: Myanmar’s Foreign Policy Rebalance—The Diplomat

US-China Competition in ASEAN on the South China Sea: Who Won This Round?—The Diplomat A closer look at how the two powers did in the recent round of regional summitry in Laos.

Related: The Surprising New Challenge for the US in the South China Sea—The Diplomat

Related: Malcolm Turnbull says there is ‘cautious optimism’ about deal on South China Sea—The Guardian

Is the Philippines Still a US Ally?—The Diplomat How long can the U.S.-Philippines alliance remain “rock solid” in the face of Duterte’s fiery rhetoric?//President Duterte is responsible for some of the most puzzling stories of the week. While Duterte has called for the withdrawal of US military advisers in the Philippines and has made a number of anti-American statements, it is unclear how his most recent statements will affect the currently strong working relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines. It is, however, a warning of some of the challenges that can arise when a nation elects a leader with an impulsive personality, loose lips, and a tendency to insult his allies. Be aware, American voters.

Related: Will Duterte’s Loose Lips Sink the US-Philippines Alliance?—The Diplomat

            Duterte seeks arms from China, ends joint patrols with U.S.—Thanh Nien Daily Philippine leader says figher jets like F-16s of no use to him

 Philippines to Get 2 US Military Aircraft—The Diplomat C-23 Sherpa planes expected in December in a boost for the country’s capabilities.

Why India and Vietnam Need Each Other—The Diplomat Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Vietnam forged new inroads in an important Asian bilateral.

Related: Not So Lonely at the Top: Vietnam’s Next Step in Power Balancing—The Diplomat

China, Singapore to Hold Naval Exercise—The Diplomat The two countries will conduct their second-ever round of bilateral drills.



Environment Ministry plants mangroves in coastal provinces—Phnom Penh Post Ministry of Environment officials spent Saturday planting mangrove trees in a bid to boost the nation’s dwindling population of the vital shrubs.

The Trouble With Chinese Mega Projects—The Diplomat Breakneck speed and rampant corruption threaten Chinese engineering projects, from the flashy to the mundane.

China’s sinking coal mining towns and villages – in pictures—The Guardian Thousands of residents in China’s Shanxi province have been evacuated as villages next to mines have started sinking, after decades of reckless coal mining

China’s Dam Problem With Myanmar—Project Syndicate Myanmar’s suspension of the $3.6-billion Myitsone Dam project in 2011 was a slap in the face to China

Thailand plans to dust off Hatgyi Dam; EGATi awaits Myanmar Govt to negotiate with ethnic group—Mekong Eye Thailand plans to dust off Hatgyi Dam in Myanmar and divert “surplus” water to Bhumipol Dam to alleviate drought.

Why silt is so important for the Mekong—The Third Pole The Mekong river carries massive loads of sediment and nutrients from upstream to downstream and across national borders, replenishing and enriching the land as it goes.//This piece highlights a troubling but often overlooked aspect of Mekong River resource use—sand mining. While concerns have been raised about the impacts of hydropower development on sediment flow in the Mekong River, these environmental impacts will be greatly exacerbated by the continued extraction of sediment from the river for use in cement production. A system to monitor the amount of sediment being mined from the river must be developed in order for this critical resource to be managed more effectively.

As Mekong Changes Course, Development Trumps ConservationMekong Eye

Dam the Mekong, Thailand Buys More Hydroelectricity from Laos—Mekong Eye A power purchasing agreement was signed on Tuesday, during Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth chan-Ocha’s visit to the Prime Minister of Laos Thongloun Sisoulith.

Thailand: Communities deeply divided over southern power plant plansThe Nation Pink and green flags…represent a clear division over plans for a major coal-fired power plant on their doorstep.

Hydropower dam tunnel collapses in central Vietnam flash floods, many missing—Thanh Nien Daily

We breathe easier this September Clearer skies due to Indonesia’s action—The Star It has been a sunny September with mostly clear skies so far, unlike the hazy days during the same period last year. //Though the wetter weather during Indonesia’s “burning season” helped to control haze pollution, there are signs that the Indonesian government is taking real steps to curb forest fires and the resulting haze. This reflects the success of pressure applied by neighboring states in previous years and President Joko Widodo’s efforts to preserve Indonesia’s reputation and leadership role within ASEAN.  Will the continued success of ASEAN’s efforts to stop transboundary haze encourage further ASEAN involvement in transboundary environmental issues?

Burning forests is forbidden, rules Indonesian Islamic council– Southeast Asia Globe Indonesia’s top Islamic clerical body has issued a religious decree denouncing the burning of forests, a significant factor in the haze problem that plagues neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia every year

Melting glaciers may impact hydropower plans—China Dialogue Glaciers are retreating due to climate change. What does that mean for water flow in the streams and rivers downhill.

How to build environmental protection into ‘New Silk Road’—China Dialogue China’s reputation as a major overseas investor and the credibility of its vast “One Belt One Road” infrastructure plan will suffer unless Chinese firms follow environmental policies.

Southern Vietnam faces power starvation—Mekong Eye Southern Vietnam… may face more power shortages from 2017.

German companies eye young solar energy market in Vietnam—Mekong Eye Representatives of six German companies on Monday began their business trip in Vietnam to explore the potential of the local solar photovoltaic market.


An Unlikely Crime in One-Party China: Election Fraud–New York Times Forty-five lawmakers, all from Liaoning Province, have been expelled from the National People’s Congress in a vote-buying scandal, the state news media said.

Riot Breaks Out in Chinese Village—New York Times A riot broke out in Wukan, in southern China, on Tuesday. Footage shows police in riot gear using tear gas against dozens of people protesting over earlier raids that led to the arrests of local activists.

The Meaning of the People’s Liberation Army Reforms—The Diplomat China goes for stronger joint operations capabilities and political stability.

Why China Should be Concerned About ZikaCFR



Thailand and Malaysia plan wall along border to combat trafficking—Southeast Asia Globe  A meeting today between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was expected to focus on security and investment, including discussion of a proposed wall that would stem trafficking between the two countries

Thailand, Malaysia Mull New High-Speed Rail LinkThe Diplomat Both sides focus on advancing prosperity amid lingering border woes.

Related: Malaysia and Thailand to study high-speed link—The Nation

Behind the rifts in modern Malaysia—New Mandala A rise in nativism, eroding civic values, and a failing democracy are exacerbating already dangerous divisions.

Married Off by the Khmer Rouge, and ‘Nobody Could Help Me’—New York Times Cambodians have testified about abuse and heartache after being paired with strangers, as a tribunal considers allegations of crimes against humanity under the 1970s regime

Related: Forced marriage a crime against both sexes: expert—Phnom Penh Post

Will Cambodia’s Rulers Be Dragged to Court?—The Diplomat The murder of a government critic may be added to the regime’s growing list of transgressions.

Cambodian opposition leader sentenced to five months in prison—The Guardian Lawyer for Kem Sokha, who was not in court, says he will appeal, as opponents of Hun Sen continue to challenge his regime

Related: Cambodian parties square off following conviction of Kem Sokha—Southeast Asia Globe

Countries Condemn ‘Escalation of Political Tensions’ in Cambodia—Radio Free Asia As Prime Minister Hun Sen’s elite military bodyguard unit continues to harass the opposition, a group of 36 countries approved a statement criticizing the “current escalation of political tensions” in the country.

Can Laos Create a Startup Economy?—The Diplomat Alongside the ASEAN summitry, a different group descended on Laos: angel investors.

Thailand’s Deepening Fractures—The Diplomat Thailand faces two legitimacy crises at its peripheries — and the junta is only making them worse.

Thailand: Nationwide effort to combat Zika virus steps up a levelThe Nation The Chief of the Department of Disease Control (DDC) has instructed all 12 Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) around the country to scale up their response from Level 1 to Level 2 to contain the Zika virus outbreak.

Related: Thai authorities downplay Zika risk, worried by tourism impactThe Nation

Great Promise, but Still Huge Obstacles to Myanmar Peace—CFR Over the past week, Myanmar has held its eagerly awaited national peace conference in Naypyidaw.

Related: Annan stresses need for international approach to Arakan tensions—DVB

A long roadThe Economist Myanmar’s new government sets about making peace with its many ethnic minorities

Myanmar’s Rohingya need tomorrow’s fairer world today—New Mandala Myanmar’s appointment of a Kofi Annan-chaired commission to look at Rakhine state is a positive step for the country’s Rohingya Muslims, but cannot be allowed lead to another year of waiting for action. 

Advocacy Group to Govt: Join UN Convention Against Torture—The Irrawaddy An advocacy group for Burmese political prisoners urged State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to join the United Nations’ Convention against Torture (CAT) to help eradicate the practice in Burma.

Leaders Meet to Resolve Shan State Conflict—The Irawaddy A half-day meeting in Chiang Mai attended by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta’ang National Party (TNP) in a bid to resolve an almost year-long conflict…has yielded positive results.

More Than 3,000 Villagers Flee Escalating Conflict in Karen StateThe Irrawaddy More than 3,000 villagers in Karen State have fled escalating conflict between a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and a joint force of the Burma Army and its allied Border Guard Force (BGF)

Related: Burmese govt launches aid effort for IDPs in Karen State—DVB


KNU, NMSP troops clash in Tenasserim—DVB The Karen National Union (KNU) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) clashed in Tenasserim’s Yebyu Township on Thursday in the first clash between the two major ethnic armed groups since they agreed to cease hostilities 28 years ago.

Related: Mon and Karen Forces Clash in Dawei District—The Irrawaddy

 Nationalists Clash with Locals, Reporters at Rally in Rangoon—The Irrawaddy A protest in Rangoon’s Bahan Township against the Arakan State Advisory Commission saw confrontations between firebrand nationalists and frustrated locals on Sunday.

Related: Buddhist nationalists clash with Rangoon residents—DVB

Burma, Thailand still committed to Dawei project—DVB Multimedia Group Thai officials and their Burmese counterparts remain committed to the long-awaited Dawei megaproject, with the Myanmar-Thailand Joint High-Level Committee (JHC) and the Joint Coordinating Committee (JCC) to be set up soon to foster development.

ADB, Myanmar Sign Agreements to Improve Urban Services in Mandalay—ADB ADB and the Government of Myanmar signed agreements for a $60 million loan and $4 million grant to provide Mandalay—the country’s second largest city—with a sustainable, modern wastewater and drainage management system.

Prayut, Najib to work |on meaningful peace process in the South—The Nation Forging a meaningful peace process in the predominantly Muslim deep South was a key agenda item during a meeting between visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and PM Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday.

Indonesia resumes construction of sea wall to protect Jakarta—Investvine In what could be a role model for Bangkok, the Indonesian government decided to resume with the planned construction of a sea wall plus artificial islands in Jakarta Bay to prevent the capital from sinking below sea level

Indonesia inspired by Duterte’s bloody anti-drug war—Investvine Indonesia’s anti-drugs chief is supporting to implement a bloody crackdown on drug traffickers in his country similar to the war on crime in the Philippines.

Related: Indonesian official calls for Philippines-style ‘war on drugs’—Southeast Asia Globe

The Changing Face of ASEAN—The Diplomat Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam offer an unlikely breath of fresh air.

This week’s news digest was curated by Gabriella Neusner.

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