Regional Roundup for Week of 9.26.2015

One week after the Lao government confirmed construction would begin on the Don Sahong dam in southern Laos, ripples of rumors are leaking that the Lao government might soon commence the notification process for the Pak Beng dam, 100km north of Luang Prabang. Yet another domino to fall in Mekong hydropower development or if built will Pak Beng be a tipping point for regional governments to react with stronger measure against Laos’s plans to become the battery of Asia with little consideration to downstream impacts. Pak Beng’s developer is China’s Datang Corporation. This will mark China’s first official foray into building dams on the mainstream, although it is likely Sinohydro will be awarded the contract for Don Sahong by year’s end.

EXSE FOCUS

Xi Jinping of China Arriving in U.S. at Moment of Vulnerability-NYT The chill on the Chinese economy has eroded some of the sheen attached to Mr. Xi, and some analysts say he may want to project an especially strong image when holding talks in the United States. China’s economy has slowed more abruptly than policy makers have appeared ready for, alarming investors around the world. The government overestimated its ability to keep stock prices aloft, spending billions to bolster the Chinese markets. Mr. Xi’s ambitious reform agenda, including an effort to revive a bloated state sector, has yielded few concrete results.//With the Pope stealing all the thunder earlier in the week, the Xi visit hardly felt like happened aside from an announcement of China’s carbon cap-and-trade program and a few empty promises on cyber-security.  Where was the pressure on the South China Sea, Obama?

Related: Conflict Flavors Obama’s Meeting With Chinese Leader-NYT

Related: Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle Offers Cold Shoulder to Western Officials-NYT

Related: The Obama-Xi State Visit: Any Room for Human Rights?-The Diplomat

Related: 6 Takeaways from Xi Jinping’s US Visit-The Diplomat

Related: Xi Jinping Hears Tough Complaints of American Business-NYT

Xi Jinping Pledges to Work With U.S. to Stop Cybercrimes-NYT The president faced a crowd concerned over China’s barriers to market access, rampant commercial cybertheft and the imposition of intrusive security measures. President Xi Jinping pledged in a speech here on Tuesday night to work with the United States on fighting cybercrime, saying that the Chinese government was a staunch defender of cybersecurity.“The Chinese government will not in whatever form engage in commercial theft, and hacking against government networks are crimes that must be punished in accordance with the law and relevant international treaties,” Mr. Xi said in an address to American business executives. //According to a Guardian article (Xi Jinping says China is not guilty of cyber attacks as he prepares for US visit), Xi denied that China was responsible for cybercrimes—will be interesting to see, if and when Obama applies related economic sanctions.

Related: The Limits of a US-China Cyber Deal-The Diplomat

REGIONAL RELATIONS

What’s behind Beijing’s drive to control the South China Sea?-The Guardian On 26 May, CNN broadcast an unusual clip of a US navy intelligence flight over the South China Sea. The P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane – one of the newest weapons in the Pentagon’s arsenal – had taken off, with a CNN reporter on board, from Clark airbase in the Philippines, once part of America’s largest overseas base complex during the cold war. After about 45 minutes, the plane reached its first target – which had, until recently, been an obscure, almost entirely submerged feature in the Spratly Island group. Fifteen thousand feet below, dozens of Chinese ships tossed at anchor. Their crews had been working day and night for weeks, dredging sand and rock from the ocean floor to fill in a stunning blue lagoon – turning a 3.7-mile-long reef that had only partially revealed itself to the daylight at low tide into a sizable man-made island nearly 1,000 miles away from the Chinese mainland.

Related: The Truth About US Freedom of Navigation Patrols in the South China Sea-The Diplomat

Why ASEAN Economic Community Can’t Ignore the Environment-The Diplomat While the EU has relied on the unbridled supra-nationalism of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), that unsung hero responsible for ensuring the harmonization of standards for all member states, the ASEAN economic community shies away from such lofty institutions. And unlike the EU, ASEAN emerges in a completely different historical age, one where concern for the environment goes hand-in-hand with growth. Without the strong hand of the ECJ orchestrating the binding common standards that put the word ‘sustainable’ in ‘sustainable development,’ ASEAN risks sending its already embattled ecosystem off a cliff. The Southeast Asian region is home to some of the world’s most magnificent and biodiverse rainforests, but today these countries’ environments are being increasingly threatened with environmental disasters that have yet to be addressed seriously.

China’s ‘Silk Road’ Initiative Is at Risk of Failure-The Diplomat The Silk Road Initiative is the major project for Chinese President Xi Jinping. On every state visit and within every diplomatic forum, he has promoted his idea of “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR). Beijing wants to create China-centered infrastructure networks in order to expand its own economic and political influence in Eurasia. But the time when the country was able to make economically unprofitable investments on the basis of political motives is long gone. Beijing had intended to invest more than $900 billion in infrastructure expansion in Eurasia. However, the money is now needed to stabilize its stagnating economy and nervous financial markets. China‘s currency reserves decreased drastically in August.//China is forgiving debt to poorer developing countries. However, if the Silk Road doesn’t work, how will China find new markets for imports and inputs to keep its economy going? Without new infrastructure development deals how can China export its excess steel capacity? Setting up markets with central Asia is much less risky than doing it in Africa. Are China’s choices narrowing?

Averting a China-Vietnam Military Clash-The Diplomat The risk of a military confrontation between China and Vietnam is rising. Although the two countries have enjoyed close party-to-party ties for decades, since 2011 they have both asserted conflicting claims to the South China Sea. Beijing claims 90 percent of the sea as its exclusive economic zone. China has repeatedly moved oil rigs into disputed areas, dredged and occupied parts of the disputed Paracel Islands, and constructed at least one and potentially multiple airstrips, possibly for military use, in the Spratly Islands.//Chinese think tanks are discussing this possibility more and more frequently.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Fading Coal Industry in China May Offer Chance to Aid Climate-NYT The subject of greenhouse gas emissions will be on the table when President Obama hosts President Xi Jinping of China at the White House. Across China’s grimy coal heartland, mines have fallen silent, reduced production or shut down. Miners, owners and officials here wonder whether boom times will return for the “black gold” that has fed the nation’s craving for cheap but dirty energy. “I think it’s finished,” said Wang Jinwang, a longtime miner whose salary has been cut by one-fifth.

Enacting Cap-and-Trade Will Present Challenges Under China’s System-NYT With its heavy-handed interventions, poor statistics and corruption, China will need years to build a market that substantially cuts emissions, experts said. American officials have applauded President Xi Jinping’s commitment to a national market for greenhouse gas quotas as a breakthrough in environmental cooperation. But to work well, Mr. Xi’s pledge, made at the White House on Friday, will demand big changes from a Chinese government accustomed to heavy-handed intervention and skewed statistics. It will take years of effort to build a substantial market that plays a major role in curbing emissions, and even then, it could founder, like similar initiatives elsewhere, experts said.

Related: What You Need to Know About China’s Cap-and-Trade Announcement-The Diplomat

Related: Why the US-China Climate Deal Matters-The Diplomat

China and US agree on ivory ban in bid to end illegal trade globally-The Guardian The two largest markets for illegal ivory agree to enact a nearly complete ban on the import and export of ivory to help reduce the loss of elephants to poaching. While differences on cyber security and talk of sanctions dominated the headlines for Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to the US, the two countries also signed up to a major agreement to end the global trade in ivory. The ban would cover “significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies” as well as unspecified “significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.” // Collaboration between China and the U.S. is absolutely necessary to end illegal wildlife trade; however, the details from this agreement appear vague and lack specific action. Stay tuned to see if any action ensues as a result of this agreement.

Related: Pressure to halt Hong Kong ivory trade increases after US-China deal-South China Morning Post

Rethinking Hydropower: Reflections on the Lower Sesan 2 Dam-CGIAR The Cambodian government has collaborated with private companies to build dams in the Sesan River, a lower Mekong River tributary which flows through Central Vietnam and northeast Cambodia. The much-anticipated 400-megawatt dam, also known as the Lower Sesan 2 dam project, has an investment of $816 million and was started in November 2012. Primarily owned by China’s Hydrolancang International Energy and Cambodia’s Royal Group, the dam is being built on a section of the Sesan River in Stueng Treng province in Cambodia’s northeast. Most of the electricity will reportedly be sold to state energy provider Electricite Du Cambodge (EDC) or exported to Vietnam under a 40-year contract.

CHINA

Osborne kicks off China visit vowing to be Beijing’s best friend-The Guardian Despite criticism for ignoring growing human rights crisis, chancellor determined for UK to be ‘best partner in the west’. George Osborne has started a five-day tour of China by vowing to make Britain Beijing’s “best partner in the west” despite accusations that the Tory government is cosying up to the Communist party and ignoring a growing human rights crisis and the fight for democracy in Hong Kong. “Where some people are cautious about getting more involved in China, we say quite the reverse. We want to get more involved with China,” Osborne said during a brief question and answer session in Beijing on Sunday that was moderated by Chinese state media.

Google is returning to China? It never really left-The Guardian Google Analytics has continued to transmit data across the Great Firewall despite other services being blocked. With Google reportedly in talks with Chinese authorities about opening a new Android app store, speculation is rife that an agreement could see government-approved apps would come automatically installed on Google’s Android smartphones designed for the Chinese market. Many interpret this step as Google planting a seed for its eventual return to China after exiting the Chinese market five years ago – yet our research at the University of Pennsylvania shows that Google has never completely left.

China manufacturing index falls to six-year low in September-The Guardian Global investors unsettled as survey shows China’s factories cut output, staffing and prices at a faster pace as both new export orders and overall new orders fall. Chinese manufacturing activity fell to its lowest in more than six years in the latest sign of the slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy, according to a survey released on Wednesday. The latest data was worse than economists had expected and unsettled global financial markets. Uncertainty about the extent of China’s slowdown has been on the radar of investors, particularly after the Federal Reserve mentioned China as one of its reasons for not raising interest rates last week.

Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, One Year Later-The Diplomat It has been a year since Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” first fanned hopes that we were witnessing a people power movement capable of pressuring the Central Peoples’ Government into fulfilling the democratic promise of Article 45 of the Basic Law. The Umbrella movement has now all but fizzled out, of course. Public support for the movement waned as the protests caused economic disruption, and activists were eventually cleared out of the streets by December.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

In Myanmar, Peace for Ethnic Rights-NYT If the government wants its nationwide cease-fire signed before the election, it must grant ethnic minorities more autonomy now. For months, the government of Myanmar has been touting progress on a nationwide cease-fire deal, claiming it is a major step toward ending the country’s long-running armed conflicts. But the latest summit meeting on Sept. 9, attended by President Thein Sein and representatives of more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, ended inconclusively.

Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape: Vibrant, But Uncertain-The Diplomat On September 8, Myanmar entered a two-month election campaign period, the culmination of at least a year of excitement, political intrigue, and wrangling among different players. The United States and other international players have been concerned that the elections, expected to take place on November 8, will not be entirely free and fair. But a closer look reveals a very dynamic and fluid picture.

Thailand Blames Uighur Militants for Bombing at Bangkok Shrine-NYT The national police chief was the first top official to explicitly attribute the attack to members of the aggrieved minority in western China. Nearly a month after the deadliest bombing in recent Thai historyThailand’s national police chief made his most explicit comments on Tuesday about who carried out the attack here and why. The perpetrators, he said, were linked to Uighur militants, radical members of an aggrieved ethnic minority in western China, who struck to avenge Thailand’s forced repatriation of Uighurs to China and Thailand’s dismantling of a human smuggling ring.

Related: Thai police say Uighur trafficking ring behind Bangkok bombing-The Guardian

Related: Thai police say first arrested suspect is the Bangkok bomber-The Guardian

Cambodia activists pin hopes on apps to turn tide of violence against women-The Guardian Women’s groups in Cambodia are using the youth obsession with technology to try to change attitudes in a society where many think domestic violence is normal In Phnom Penh’s bustling cafes, hip-looking young people hunch over their mobile devices. According to Dany Sun, a women’s rights activist likewise armed with a smartphone, this relatively new trend is representative of modern Cambodia. But the technological progress, Sun observes, has not been accompanied by advances on gender equality. Traditional attitudes and cultural norms, which portray women as subservient and inferior to men, continue to underlie the country’s harrowing statistics on violence against women.

Phnom Penh, City Interrupted-The Diplomat Few cities have a more troubled past than Phnom Penh. Once known as the Paris of the East, it was thrown into chaos near the end of the Cambodian civil war, and in 1975 lost its entire population (over 2 million) during one of history’s most atrociously sadistic social experiments. Four years later, Vietnamese troops chased the murderous regime out of Phnom Penh and into isolation, and Cambodia began the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding. This included re-populating a ghost city, the once-vibrant capital where only a few foragers and scofflaws remained to survive on what the exodus left behind.

Lao Officials Fail to Enforce Government Ban on Timber Exports-Radio Free Asia A recent ban on the export of raw logs imposed by the Lao government to increase the value of processed wood products is not being enforced in the country’s southern provinces because some national leaders are involved in timber smuggling, a civil society official with knowledge of the situation said. Although Vientiane imposed the export ban on Aug. 18, hundreds of trucks in Champasak, Salavan, Sekong and Attapue provinces, which have more timber than do the northern provinces, are continuing to transport wood to neighboring Vietnam around the clock, the official, who requested anonymity, and locals told RFA’s Lao Service.

YUNNAN

Yunnan’s place in Xi Jinping’s United States trip-GoKunming Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the middle of his first state visit to the United States this week. While the subject of Yunnan was most likely not high on the list of priorities during the president’s first major stop, a small gesture signaled good news for growing business links between the US and his country’s southwestern-most province. On the eve of Xi’s arrival, a Starbucks press release and announced the company hopes to “connect our cultures and people across China and the US”. While a press release and the drinking of a single cup of joe may seem small gestures, coffee has come to have great significance in one of China’s poorest provinces. According to news service Xinhua, Yunnan produces 99 percent of all coffee grown in the country. The industry is expected to generate at least US$5.6 billion in annual revenue by 2020, to a great extent based on Starbucks’ projected store growth.

Animal traffickers busted with 1.4 million yuan in contraband-GoKunming Police in western Yunnan have taken three people into custody suspected of trafficking and selling endangered animal products. The arrests took place in Dehong Prefecture (德宏) following a month-long investigation. More than 200 items were seized, including tiger pelts, rhinoceros horns and ivory. Investigators opened the case in late July after receiving an anonymous tip. The haul of confiscated goods included tiger claws and teeth, tiger skins, red deer antlers, rhino horns, snake skins and jewelry believed to have been carved out ofelephant ivory. Police estimated the seized items to be worth a combined 1.39 million yuan (US$218,000).

This week’s digest was compiled by Brooke Rose with analysis by Brooke Rose and Brian Eyler.

 

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