Regional Roundup for Week of 9.22.16


China Faces Tougher Laws in Myanmar—The Diplomat In the wake of the controversial Myitsone dam, Aung San Suu Kyi is demanding more from investors in high risk projects.

ASEAN Steps Up Zika Battle in Special Meeting—The Diplomat Health ministers vow to take action to stem the virus//ASEAN has been gradually expanding its cooperation on non-traditional security threats, including regional health issues. If Zika continues to pose a major threat to the region, it could be the third major health crisis that ASEAN confronts. The groundwork for ASEAN cooperation on health issues was laid in 2003 with the SARS epidemic and in 2007 with the H1N1 ‘bird flu’ virus, but public health issues still constitute a relatively new and underdeveloped area of cooperation for ASEAN. This most recent joint statement on Zika is a promising development and will hopefully be the beginning of an effective regional approach to addressing the threats posed by the Zika virus.

The Mekong Part II: How Dams May Damage Children’s Health—RFA

 China-Thailand Rail Project Back on Track With Cost Agreement—The Diplomat The two sides agree on the cost of the first phase of a key project in Beijing’s infrastructure ambitions in Southeast Asia.

Related: Thai-Chinese meeting to discuss high-speed train project—The Nation

Vietnam and China: A Delicate Balancing Act—The Diplomat Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s first visit to China hints at Hanoi’s constraints in approaching its giant neighbor.//



Japan building Mekong supply chain—Phnom Penh Post Greater connectivity between Japan and Cambodia is tightening economic links between the two countries while catalysing Japan’s ambitions to develop a chain of industrial complexes that cut a tract through the Lower Mekong region.

Vietnam to delay TPP ratification: Lawmaker—Channel News Asia Vietnam will delay ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) until after the US elections, a lawmaker said on Wednesday (Sep 21), in the latest blow to the massive trade pact.// Vietnam, who arguably stands to benefit most from the agreement, is questioning President Obama’s ability to get the agreement passed by the end of his term. The US’s failure to ratify the TPP would have disastrous political consequences for the US in Asia. If the US were unable to follow through on its commitment to the TPP, the next US president, be it Trump or Clinton, would find it difficult to get leaders in Asia to work with them again as partners.

USAID to help finance Burma’s ‘missing middle’—DVB A new microfinance programme backed by the US government’s foreign aid agency USAID aims to promote the growth of medium-sized businesses in Burma and fill the “missing middle” in the country’s economy.

Obama’s Move to End Myanmar Sanctions Promises a Lift for Its Economy—New York Times The decision could fuel the growth of smaller businesses in the Southeast Asian country, even as individuals and companies currently blacklisted also prosper.

Related: Microsoft unveils country office in Rangoon—DVB

Related: In Myanmar, Mixed Reactions to The Lifting of U.S. Sanctions—RFA

Japan Set to Intensify South China Sea Involvement—The Diplomat Despite Chinese warnings, Japan isn’t about to leave the South China Sea.

Philippines to Deepen China Talks Despite South China Sea Differences—The Diplomat The foreign secretary says Manila will move forward with official talks with Beijing.

The Danger of Letting China Set the Pace in the South China Sea—The Diplomat ASEAN-China Code of Conduct will languish as long as China sets the pace in the South China Sea.

US-Indonesia Economic Ties At $90 Billion: Report—The Diplomat A new report argues that the relationship is more valuable than often appreciated and holds great promise

GE to Open Office in Laos, Help Build Skills and Regional Connectivity—US Embassy in Laos// An important outcome of President Obama’s historic visit to Laos. Will we continue to see US businesses make inroads into Laos? Currently China is the largest investor in Laos.

The Trouble With India’s Projects in Myanmar—The Diplomat India has great ambitions for infrastructure construction in Myanmar, but falls short in implementation.

A look at Russia’s own ‘pivot to Asia’—Southeast Asia Globe Barack Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ has been snatching all the headlines, but Russia embarked on a pivot of its own well before the US


The tragedy of communal land in Indonesia—New Mandala New research reports low land-use efficiency in communally owned land in eastern Indonesia. But as Stein Kristiansen and Linda Sulistiawati find, it is underuse rather than overexploitation of common–pool resources on agricultural, pastoral and forest land that is the problem.

Indonesia forest fires well-managed, fewer hotspots this year: Minister—Channel News Asia  Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has said that the forest fires this year have been well-managed as seen by the reduction of hotspots of up to 88 per cent as compared to 2015

Blazes in Southeast Asia May Have Led to Deaths of Over 100,000, Study Says—New York Times The vast number of cases were in Indonesia, where the government claimed last year that only 19 people died.//To many Indonesian leaders, the results of this study were particularly unwelcome. The study turns attention towards the catastrophic damage caused by last year’s fires and away from the dramatic reduction in forest fires this year compared to in 2015.

Related: How Deadly Is ASEAN’s Killer Haze?—The Diplomat

Related: Nothing to see here: Southeast Asia dismiss haze death study—South China Morning Post

Regime’s absolute power is a danger to environment: experts—Mekong Eye Thailand faces many environmental issues as major development plans are being pushed ahead across the country, organic laws about the environment and community rights remain to be drafted and the forest reclamation campaign continues to cause conflicts, experts said on Wednesday.

Experts warn of water scarcity—The Nation Low levels at dams could lead to problems if resources not carefully managed

North floods ease but drought threat looms—The Nation Floodwaters have receded in the North, but the threat of drought looms in many other areas across the country with 12 dams at less than 30 per cent capacity.

Cambodian Banks Commit to Developing Sustainable Financing Principles—Mekong Eye The Association of Banks in Cambodia (ABC) took a first major step towards sustainable lending practices this week by committing to develop sustainable finance principles

Related: What’s the Deal with “Sustainable Banking”?—Mekong Eye

 Cambodia’s Ruling Elite One Step Closer to International Court—The Diplomat Court rules that company bosses and complicit politicians can be tried for land grabbing and environmental destruction.

How Politics Is Killing Cambodia’s Forests—The Diplomat Political and economic calculations in Cambodia, China, and Vietnam are contributing to widespread illegal logging

Three New Protected Areas Listed –The Khmer Times The government on Tuesday created three more protected areas covering nearly 28,000 hectares to be under Environment Ministry control.

Fishing Communities Struggle as Rivers Ebb –VOA Cambodia According to a report by the Global Nature Fund, the Tonle Sap is considered one of world’s the most threatened rivers.

Two New Power Plants Planned –The Khmer Times Two new power plants are being planned for Cambodia, a $167 million garbage-fueled plant for Phnom Penh, and an $89 million solar plant for Siem Reap province

Burma: The Next Great Land Tenure Reform Story?—The Irrawaddy Since World War II, there have been five great Asian development success stories founded upon land tenure reforms that allocated land ownership, or equivalent long-term land rights, into the hands of small farmers. Will Burma be the sixth?

Lawmaker Calls For Action Against Illegal Logging in Kachin State—The Irrawaddy A lawmaker from Kachin State urged the Upper House to look into illegal logging carried out by local militia groups in Kachin State’s Kawnglangphu Township on the Sino-Burma border.

Water Conflicts and the Fate of Mekong Delta—Mekong Eye Water conflict of Mekong River is getting increasingly tense and the fate of Mekong Delta is really being threatened by drought and salinity intrusion.

Dam committee meets Myitsone residents—Mekong Eye Kachin residents have expressed their refusal to accept the Myitsone dam project when the Investigation Commission for Hydropower Projects on the Ayeyawady River visited Myitsone.



Thousands displaced, rail service halted by Yunnan mudslides—GoKunming Relentless rains sweeping across central Yunnan over the past week have triggered multiple landslides in Yunnan’s Chuxiong Prefecture

In a Parched Corner of Xinjiang, Ancient Water Tunnels Are Running Dry—New York Times The karez channels that bring water from the mountains to the farmers of Turpan are under threat, a victim of global warming, oil drillers and industrial-scale agriculture.

Dozens dead and missing after typhoon lashes eastern China—The Guardian Typhoon Meranti has damaged more than 18,300 houses and caused direct economic losses of more than 16.9bn yuan ($2.5bn)

China’s Wukan Democracy Experiment Comes to a Violent End—The Diplomat Chinese authorities have begun a harsh crackdown on dissent in the village.

The plateau, unpacified—The Economist Tibetans’ culture is changing, by their own will as well as by force

Thousands Protest Planned Copper Smelting Plant in China’s Heilongjiang—RFA



Southeast Asia Replaces Africa as the World’s Hotbed of Piracy—New York Times Militants from Abu Sayyaf and other criminal groups have stepped up kidnappings and thefts in the seas around Indonesia and the Philippines.

Vietnam Jails an Activist as Hanoi Grabs More Land—RFA A court in Hanoi sentenced a land rights activist to nearly two years in prison on Tuesday for her role in protesting government-sanctioned evictions that are being used to clear the way for commercial real estate developments in Vietnam.

Singapore’s Presidential Review: Change You Should Believe in?—The Diplomat Proposed changes to the elected presidency have been met with a variety of responses.

Related: Singapore Reviews Elected Presidency—The Diplomat

Malaysia: Can a leopard change its spots? The Economist From a cavernous office in a posh part of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, Mahathir Mohamad is sowing dissent.

Jakarta’s suspended giant sea wall project is to resume—Thai PBS Jakarta is to revive the ambitious reclamation plan to build a 24-km sea wall of 17 artificial islets which was suspended in April after it was discovered that the project may block off sea water needed to cool the Muara Karang power plan

Where Next for Cambodian Politics?—CFR

Cambodia National Rescue Party Plans to End National Assembly Boycott—RFA Opposition lawmakers are offering Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen an olive branch as the Cambodia National Rescue Party plans to end its four-month-long parliamentary boycott.

Related: CNRP to end boycott, return to National Assembly—Phnom Penh Post

Cambodian Opposition: Army Soldiers Deployed to Manipulate Vote—RFA In a country dogged by accusations of voter fraud, opposition party officials tell RFA’s Khmer Service that Cambodian military personnel are being transferred into districts to register to vote where they are not residents.

Homes, farmland swamped by floods—The Nation As heavy rains brought by tropical storm “Rai” persisted over the upper part of Thailand yesterday, many homes and tracts of farmland in downstream provinces were flooded by runoff.

Related: Officials in downstream provinces warned to prepare for runoff from North—The Nation

Thailand finds labour rights activist guilty—Phnom Penh Post British labour activist Andy Hall, who has long highlighted abuse of workers in Thailand, often Cambodian migrants, was found guilty by a Bangkok court yesterday of defamation and breaching cyber crime laws in relation to a 2013 report he authored.

Thailand Deports Thousands of Cambodians and Vietnamese in Crackdown on Illegal Immigration—RFA Thai authorities are making good on their promise to crack down on illegal immigrants as each day they are sending thousands of migrant workers back to Cambodia and Vietnam

What is Duterte’s Strategy Toward the Abu Sayyaf?—CFR

Assessing Duterte’s Diplomacy—CFR

Related: Philippine Leader Duterte’s Policy Shifts Confound U.S. Allies Wall Street Journal

Related: Stocks, peso drop as foreign investors start worrying about Duterte’s course—Investvine

 This Philippine senator is a vocal critic of Duterte’s drug war – and she’s been ousted from the killing inquiry she started—South China Morning Post The leading critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drug crime has been ousted as head of a Senate investigation into the campaign, which has cost thousands of lives.

New Investment Law Expected to be Approved SoonThe Irrawaddy The new Myanmar Investment Law has been submitted to Parliament and is expected to be approved by October, following discussion by lawmakers and before the current parliamentary session ends.

Suu Kyi makes first UN speech, appeals for understanding as Myanmar wrestles with sectarian issues—South China Morning Post Aung San Suu Kyi made her first speech Wednesday at the UN General Assembly since forming a democratically elected government.

Related Suu Kyi defends stance on Rohingya in UN address—DVB

Thousands of Red Shan march for self-rule—DVB Thousands of ethnic Tai Leng, also known as Red Shan, marched the streets of Homalin in Sagaing Division on Saturday demanding a self-administered Tai Leng state.

A taxing problem—New Mandala ‘Duty’ isn’t enough to boost Myanmar’s tax revenue, writes Gerard McCarthy. Instead the government must enlist non-state actors, and show the benefits of giving.

Demolition of Religious Buildings in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Set to Start—RFA Rakhine state government officials are moving to demolish more than 3,000 allegedly illegal buildings, including a dozen mosques and more than 30 other religious buildings, in the Maungdaw District

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

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