Regional Roundup for Week of 9.20.19

Week 9/9/2019

EXSE FOCUS

Start of Latest Mekong River Dam Draws Fears of River’s ‘Tipping Point’ VOA Critics of the 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi hydropower dam in northern Laos fear recent upgrades to the controversial project won’t be enough to save the Mekong River from a critical tipping point when it starts churning out electricity at full throttle next month. // Next month, the Xayaburi hydro dam begins full operations and as the 1st of 11 planned mainstream Mekong dams, it is expected to further exacerbate the vulnerabilities of downstream populations. Despite efforts made by hydropower companies to accommodate necessary sediment flow and fish migration, governments should first explore other energy options rather than single-minded hydropower development. 

Floods Kill At Least 14 in Southern Laos, Hundreds of Thousands DisplacedRadio Free Asia At least 14 people have died and at least one is missing as floods ravage Laos’ six southern provinces, stretching government relief capacity, authorities and residents said Wednesday. // 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Moon’s ASEAN Trip Reinforces New Southern PolicyThe Diplomat South Korean President Moon Jae-in returned last Friday from a weeklong trip to Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. The timing of the long-planned visit, coinciding with escalating tensions with Japan and growing uncertainty stemming from the U.S.-China trade war, further supports its impetus – Moon’s New Southern Policy.

Japan trade group promotes Lao SEZs – Phnom Penh Post The Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) Vientiane will work with the developers of four special economic zones (SEZs) to encourage more investment by Japanese companies, to boost trade and economic ties between Laos and Japan. 

Cambodia and Laos to sign 2,400-megawatt power deal todayThe Khmer Times Cambodia and Laos will sign an agreement today under which the Kingdom will purchase 2,400 megawatts from its neighbour, with the first transfer scheduled for 2024.

Myanmar to use US$1 billion loan for infrastructure projects Myanmar Times Economic development, agriculture, electricity, and infrastructure projects will be the focus of a framework for loans between South Korea and Myanmar

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Indonesia forest fires spark blame game as smoke closes hundreds of Malaysia schoolsThe Guardian Indonesia has shot back at claims the country is solely responsible for the fires that have created a thick haze across parts of Malaysia this week and forced the closure of hundreds of schools.

Ministry urges farmers to save waterMyanmar Times The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation has urged farmers to use water more efficiently as there is less water behind the country’s more than 300 reservoirs and dams despite the current rainy season. 

Projects launched to boost ties in threatened species conservationVietnam Plus The Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA) and the World Bank (WB) launched on September 10 a project on strengthening the partnership in the conservation of endangered species in Vietnam. This project is part of a global partnership programme on wildlife conservation and crime prevention for sustainable development funded by the Global Environment Fund through the WB.

CHINA

Hordes of Chinese Leave Cambodia After Ban On Online GamblingInvestine Around 120,000 Chinese nationals out of a total expat population of some 250,000 have left Cambodia since the country’s government introduced a ban on online gambling on August 18, Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service cited the country’s immigration department spokesman Ath Bony as saying.

Thai Belt and Road project bumps into finance and liability issuesNikkei Asian Review Thailand’s government is delaying China’s ambitious high-speed railway project in the country as questions over financing and liabilities of the $9.9 billion infrastructure initiative remain unresolved. 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Gia Lai Electricity to trade 204 million shares on HOSE next week – Viet Nam News The Hồ Chí Minh Stock Exchange has approved the listing of nearly 204 million shares of Gia Lai Electricity Joint Stock Company under the code GEG. 

Democrat and Future Forward parties want a House panel to assess environmental, social and economic impacts of EEC projectsThai PBS World The Democrat and Future Forward parties have separately demanded that the House set up an ad hoc committee to assess the impacts of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) projects on the environment, society and economy of the eastern seaboard.

Southeast Asia’s largest solar farm begins operations in southern VietnamVN Express The inauguration of the Dau Tieng Solar Power Complex, a joint venture between Vietnamese construction firm Xuan Cau and Thai conglomerate B.Grimm, took place Saturday in Tan Chau District, Tay Ninh Province, around 100 km (62 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City.

Week 9/16/2019

EXSE FOCUS

In Cambodia, sand mining is big business – but it comes at a pricePBS News Sand mining accounts for 85 percent of all worldwide mineral extraction, a $70 billion industry. In Cambodia, the practice is big business — but it comes with a price. The country relies upon the Mekong River for commerce and transportation, but extensive dredging to harvest sand is fundamentally changing its ecosystem and eroding its banks. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports. // Sand dredging changes the natural shape and patterns of the river. This results in the destruction of homes for the river’s human, animal, and fish residents. Additionally the Tonle Sap is endangered by the Mekong’s lowered streambed. Usually, as the Mekong waters increase, water is forced to flow in reverse back into the Tonle Sap which is a breeding ground for the region’s fish. However, the increased capacity of the Mekong may prevent this reverse flow, drying up the lake. 

All the reasons ExxonMobil may leave VietnamAsia Times Ever since Xi Jinping took power in 2013, China’s leader has led an increasingly aggressive push in the South China Sea, a policy aimed in part at controlling development of the maritime area’s rich oil and gas reserves.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

INDOPACOM Commander Introductory Visit Highlights US-Brunei Defense RelationsThe Diplomat  Last week, the chief of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific paid a trip to Brunei. Though the visit itself was just the latest interaction between the two sides, it nonetheless put the focus on some of the ongoing activity within the broader defense relationship between them.

What’s Behind the First India-Singapore-Thailand Trilateral Maritime Exercise?The Diplomat  This week, India finally hosted a trilateral maritime exercise that it had been mulling with Singapore and Thailand. As the exercise continues to be held through this week, it deserves attention both on its own terms as well as within the context of broader trends in the Indo-Pacific region.

World Bank approve $1 billion in development assistanceKhmer Times The World Bank has officially approved the disbursement of $1 billion to develop priority sectors in Cambodia, the Ministry of Economy and Finance announced Monday.

After a China-Vietnam Standoff, Expect a Turn to the US The Diplomat China and Vietnam are engaged in a high stakes standoff on the high seas. Since early July, a Chinese ship has intermittently surveyed oil and gas blocks located within Vietnam’s continental shelf. 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

USAID project assists Thua Thien-Hue in forest managementVietnam Plus The US Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Green Annamites Project has recently equipped the central province of Thua Thien-Hue  with a forest management system. As part of the nearly 10 million-USD-project, the system allows automatic connection to the Google Earth Engine (GEE) based-tool developed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Project for Sustainable Natural Resource Management (SNRM).

New lease on life beckons for Arroceros, Manila’s hidden jungleMongabay It’s said that when the mayor of the Philippine capital Manila looks out the window of his office, he often sees four things: the murky yet thriving Pasig River; the dilapidated Metropolitan theater, famed for its art deco furnishings; the busy train terminal; and the only patch of green in the gray and grime of the city: Arroceros Forest Park, a 2.2-hectare (5.4-acre) mini jungle that’s home to centuries-old trees and a favorite resting place for migrating birds.

Climate change is forcing Asian cities to rethink their flood defencesThe Economist In north Jakarta, not far from a quayside where workers unload frozen mackerel, a derelict building stands a metre deep in murky water. The warehouse was flooded in 2007, after torrential rains and a tidal surge submerged half the city under nearly four metres of water, displacing half a million people and causing $550m in damage. The building has remained inundated and abandoned ever since—barring the hardy soul who seems to be camping on the first floor, aided by a rowing boat.

CHINA

China’s New Transport Ship Will Help Fortify Islands in Disputed SeaVOA Cambodia A new large supply transport ship will help the Beijing government ferry supplies to its holdings in the disputed South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway contested by other countries.

How China is using tourists to realise its geopolitical goals – East Asia Forum Decades of astonishing economic growth have given China new tools for extending its influence abroad and achieving its political goals. Some of these tools are inducements, including Belt and Road Initiative projects and new development financial institutions. But China has demonstrated that it will use its new economic leverage in pursuit of political goals unrelated to economic exchange, swiftly shifting inducements to punishments. One example lies in the field of tourism. // The use of tourism as a political tool could be highly influential in countries like Thailand that depend heavily on tourism, especially Chinese tourism. Although no major signs of contention have cropped up, China could use this tool to expedite Belt and Road negotiations or add leverage to Chinese businesses. // Read more on this topic here.

Chinese Charm Offensive Aims to Win Support for Giant Pipeline in MyanmarThe Irawaddy China has launched a public-relations drive along the route of the proposed Chinese twin oil and natural gas pipeline project to pacify environmental and safety concerns and demands for proper compensation. 

China plans 226 GW of new coal power projects: environmental groupsReuters China’s total planned coal-fired power projects now stand at 226.2 gigawatts (GW), the highest in the world and more than twice the amount of new capacity on the books in India, according to data published by environmental groups on Thursday. // China is greatly involved in power projects in Southeast Asia. Will their propensity towards coal be reflected in future projects in the region? 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand’s Renewable Energy Targets To Open New Business ModelsBusiness News Thailand’s goal of generating a third of its overall energy consumption from renewable sources in 18 years is expected to open unexplored business models that could create new jobs in the country.

Lao Authorities Arrest Woman for Criticizing Flood Relief Efforts on FacebookVOA A woman in Laos was arrested last week on charges of defaming the country after she posted criticism on Facebook of the slow government response to severe floods in the country’s southern provinces, sources say.

Rohingya still in Myanmar still face ‘threat of genocide’: United NationsReuters Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who remain inside Myanmar face systematic persecution and are living under the threat of genocide, a U.N. fact-finding mission said on Monday, repeating calls for top generals to face trial.

Philippines declares new polio outbreak after 19 yearsJapan Times Philippine health officials on Thursday declared a polio outbreak in the country, nearly two decades after the World Health Organization declared it to be free of the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease.

New city to be built in Siem Reap provinceKhmer Times A new urban centre will be built in Siem Reap, with the project having recently been included in the province’s tourism master plan.

Indonesia returning hundreds of containers of waste to WestThe Straits Times Indonesia is sending back hundreds of containers of contaminated waste to the West after shipments supposedly containing plastic meant for recycling were found to hide hazardous substances, customs officials said.

Young climate strikers ‘drop dead’ at Thai environment ministryChannel News Asia More than 200 young people in Thailand stormed into the environment ministry on Friday (Sep 20) and dropped to the ground feigning death as they demanded government action on climate change along with thousands of strikers around the world.

Regional Round-Up compiled by Jean Joo and Alex Lee.

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