Regional Roundup for Week of 9.29.16


Revealed: how senior Laos officials cut deals with animal traffickers—The Guardian Evidence obtained by the Guardian shows how treasury coffers swelled with 2% tax on trades worth up to $45m including tigers, rhinos and elephants.//Lao PDR is not the only Southeast Asian country that has been the target of criticism for its role in illegal wildlife trafficking this week. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is currently having its 17th annual conference of the parties, which is putting the spotlight on hubs for wildlife trafficking worldwide.

Cambodia Turns to China Amid Rice Woes—The Diplomat Senior official appeals to Beijing to quick

Related: Attempts to assist Cambodia’s ailing rice industry continue—Phnom Penh Post

China to help Cambodia in judicial reforms Thai PBS Cambodia signed a memorandum of understanding with China on Monday under which China will help the kingdom with judicial reforms and sharing expertise in overhauling judicial system// this is a really interesting development, considering that China’s strategy for engaging with its neighbors has traditionally centered around economics. This new MoU symbolizes a shift in Chinese foreign policy, as it overtly helps Cambodia to change one of its most important institutions of governance. Aside from being interesting, this story is also troubling, since as noted by an expert in the Phnom Penh Post article below, “China shouldn’t be considered a model for justice reform”

Related: China MoU to help ‘reform’ judiciary Phnom Penh Post

Sam Rainsy Considers Return to Cambodia—RFA There are signs that the long political stalemate in Cambodia may be coming to a close as opposition leader Sam Rainsy is considering a return to the country and Prime Minister Hun Sen appears to be softening his hard line against his adversaries

Related: Cambodia National Rescue Party to End Legislative Boycott–RFA

Regional NGOs meet in Myanmar to improve community involvement in infrastructure decisions—Mekong Eye This week, 50 representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across the Mekong region met in Myanmar to share successes and challenges in effectively involving local communities in environmental impact assessment (EIA) processes

Myanmar likely to join Asean Power Grid—The Nation Myanmar is likely to be the fifth Asean country to sign up for the Asean Power Grid formed by Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, energy ministers have said.

Lawmakers Push for Legal Protection for Burmese Migrant Workers—The Irrawaddy Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday discussed a proposal urging the government to enact legal protection against labor exploitation and abuse of Burmese migrant workers in foreign countries.//These are important efforts to address a pervasive and awful problem. However, any efforts to protect migrant workers will require strong collaboration from host countries, like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Related: Promises Unmet for Workers in Thai Shrimp Industry

Thailand, China agree on $5.2-billion rail project—Investvine Thailand and China agreed a price of 179 billion baht ($5.2 billion) for the 250-kilometer-long first phase of a high-speed railway linking Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard with its many industries and Bangkok to Nong Khai at the Lao border

Related: Lao and Thai Transportation Officials to Discuss Railway Project—RFA



Prospect of Philippine Thaw Slows China’s Plans in South China Sea—New York Times For Beijing, befriending the Philippines’ new president, Rodrigo Duterte, trumps building a military base 150 miles from the country’s coast.

South China Sea fishing rights at top of Philippine president’s agenda in Beijing—South China Morning Post Philippine President Rodrigo ­Duterte is expected to discuss ­crisis management and fishing rights in the disputed South China Sea when he visits Beijing next month

For Taiwan, Google Images of Disputed Island Are Too Clear—New York Times Taiwan made an unusual request to blur pictures of what appear to be new military installations on an island in the South China Sea claimed by four countries.

Duterte Calls for End to US-Philippine Military Exercises, Part of Tilt Toward China—The Diplomat Duterte once again rolls back the U.S. alliance, even while eagerly expressing hopes for ties with China.

Related: Duterte sparks confusion with vow to scrap future US-Philippines war games, citing China’s opposition—South China Morning Post

Philippines’ Duterte seeks China’s help in war on drugs—South China Morning Post Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that he wants China to control its citizens’ involvement in the illegal drug trade in his country.

South China Sea: How to Prevent China From Changing the Status Quo—The Diplomat “China appears to be testing opportunities on its maritime borders – where is the weak spot it can exploit?”

What to Make of China in the South Pacific?—The Diplomat Long motivated by a recognition war with Taiwan, China’s latest diplomacy in the region takes on a strategic tone.

After Obama, What’s Next for ASEAN Centrality?—The Diplomat Rather than relying on attention from the U.S., ASEAN members should work to maintain the bloc’s relevance.

Related: ASEAN’s Hedging Strategy—The Diplomat

New Dengue Vaccine Potential Game Changer for Asia—The Diplomat

A recent WHO recommendation on vaccination signals a potential tipping point in the global fight against dengue.

ASEAN a New Opportunity for the Eurasian Economic Union—The Diplomat A free trade pact between the EEU and Vietnam could be just the beginning of a productive economic relationship.

Indonesia Wants UN Security Council Seat—The Diplomat Vice president officially announces Jakarta’s bid for a non-permanent seat in the body.

Southeast Asian representatives take to the global stage at UN General Assembly meeting—Southeast Asia Globe Representatives from across Southeast Asia used the 71st meeting of the UN General Assembly to defend and extol their domestic policies to the international community



SNLD Urges Govt Transparency on Salween Dam Projects—The Irrawaddy The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) has urged the government to be transparent and to ensure accountability and responsibility regarding large hydropower dam projects proposed on the Salween River in eastern Burma

Illegal Log Trade Continues on Salween River—The Irrawaddy The 25 tons of teak logs recently seized on the Salween River in Karen State show that the illegal trade persists despite a nationwide logging ban.

Vietnamese fishermen sue Taiwanese steel firm after toxic chemical spill kills sea fish—South China Morning Post Hundreds of Vietnamese fishermen have filed claims seeking compensation from a Taiwanese steel company that admitted its toxic chemicals caused the death of many fish

Paris climate goals will cost Asia US$300B a year, but rewards are huge, says ADB—South China Morning Post Developing Asia will mean forking out US$300 billion per year until 2050 if governments intend to uphold their 2015 Paris climate summit goals

Asia Can Reap Solid Returns From Low-Carbon Transition – ADB

Rare Yangtze sturgeons at risk from mass fish escape—ChinaDialogue In July, water discharged by a hydropower station on the Qing River surged downstream, taking with it almost 10,000 tonnes of sturgeon. The surge blew them out of fish farm cages, and down the Qing, a tributary river, into the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze.

Report: China’s native bees at risk—GoKunming China has so far avoided the massive losses of bees seen in the West, but the country’s diverse range of native bees face their own set of growing threats.//According to the study’s author “farmers in one county in Sichuan are now forced to pollinate their fruit crops by hand because natural pollinators have been wiped out.” This is a fascinating, but alarming article. A decline in China’s important pollinator populations would have devastating impacts on global food security. 

Vietnam needs solar energy policies—Mekong Eye A shortage of policies on power tariffs for renewable energy, particularly solar electricity, has prevented the sector from attracting investors

Sambo Hydro Dam Info Urged—Mekong Eye Youth groups and environmental activists have requested the government release the latest documents concerning the proposed Sambo hydroelectric dam in Kratie province, amid lingering concerns of the possible environmental damage the dam may cause.

Related: Activists call for info on dam—Phnom Penh Post

EU provides satellite training for Forestry Administration—Phnom Penh Post

The European Union has begun training Cambodia’s Forestry Administration to use satellite imagery to crack down on deforestation.

Sustainable energy options for Cambodia discussed—Phnom Penh Post Representatives from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Ministry of Environment and a handful of climate advocates met in Phnom Penh yesterday to brainstorm ways the country can transition to a “sustainable energy future”



Modern Life Presents Nomads of China’s Steppe With a ‘Tragic Choice’—New York Times The Yugurs are struggling to maintain the language and culture that distinguish them as a people, the products of centuries of swirling Asian history.

 3 Labor Activists in China Get Suspended Prison Terms—New York Times The organizers’ activities had long been tolerated, but the prosecution and sentences suggested a tougher government line now that growth is slowing.

 On the Verge of Extinction, a Chinese Fishing Village Resists—New York Times Officials, who restricted fishing because of a devastated supply, have tried to promote tourism as an alternative. But villagers say tourists are demanding what the sea cannot give.

A glowing future—The Economist China wants its nuclear industry to grow dauntingly fast

Typhoon Megi: dozens missing after landslides hit two Chinese villages—The Guardian Heavy typhoon rains caused the landslides to crash into Sucun and Baofeng village in Zheijiang province, destroying scores of buildings


Thai junta allows ‘culture of torture’ to flourish: Amnesty—DVB International human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Thailand‘s military government of allowing a “culture of torture” to flourish since the army seized power in a 2014 coup.

Related: Briefing on Claims of Thai Government Torture Is Canceled—New York Times

Related: Amnesty calls off launch of Thai torture report after police warning—The Guardian

Thailand investigates suspected cases of Zika-linked microcephaly—The Guardian Country researching link to mosquito-borne disease after three children and an unborn baby affected by birth defect

Promenade will change the river’s flow and eco-system—The Nation If the riverside promenade goes ahead, it will have an inevitable impact on the waterway and the Chao Phraya ecosystem

Related: Cabinet set to consider Bt35-bn Chao Phraya promenade project—The Nation

Governors ordered to set up flood prevention and assistance centres—The Nation The Interior Ministry yesterday ordered governors of provinces nationwide except in the South to set up flood prevention and alleviation centres to deal with ongoing flooding in many provinces.

Flooding in parts of Chao Phraya basin—The Nation There was flooding in several downstream provinces yesterday after a decision to release water from the Chao Phraya Dam in Chai Nat province was exacerbated by heavy downpours and runoff.

Laos: Reform or Revolution—The Diplomat What is the likelihood that political change will come to Laos?

How Singapore is becoming a world leader in fintech—Southeast Asia Globe With the rise of financial technology, or fintech, changing the way the world does business, Singapore is positioning itself as a major industry player

Burma Army continues advance on KIA positionsDVB Government forces in northern Burma are continuing to close in on Kachin Independence Army (KIA) positions, according to sources from the ethnic armed group.

KNLA: Current Military Movement in Karen State Threatens Terms of NCA—The Irrawaddy Military activity and tension at the site of the Hat Gyi dam in Karen State threatens a breakdown of Burma’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) as concerns grow over potential clashes between the Burma Army and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

Kachin Locals Oppose Dam in Militia-Controlled Area—The Irrawaddy Locals have sent an open letter to Burma’s President opposing the planned hydropower project to be built over the May Kha River and Ngaw Chan Kha Creek in Kachin State’s Chipwi and Tsawlaw townships.

Podcast: Myanmar’s “Democratic” Reform—CFR

Investment Law Approved in Lower House—The Irrawaddy Burma’s Lower House of Parliament passed the long-awaited Myanmar Investment Law on Wednesday, and it now moves to the Upper House before the parliamentary session closes in early October.

Myanmar’s Home Affairs Ministry Reverses Course on Devolution of Power—RFA Myanmar’s military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday cancelled plans to give partial control of five of its departments to regional and state chief ministers, following the leaking of an office memo about the change on social media.

500 homes flooded after sluice gates ordered open in Magwe—DVB Nearly 500 homes in the Magwe Division town of Taungdwingyi have been inundated by flash floods for the fourth time, when operators of a nearby reservoir opened its sluice gates on Thursday to avoid overflow following a period of severe rains.


Philippines defends deadly drug war at UN, claims nation’s actions grabbed headlines for ‘wrong reasons’—South China Morning Post Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay has told the United Nations his country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, had an “unprecedented” mandate and the world should not interfere in his crackdown on crime.

A rise in anti-Chinese rhetoric—New Mandala Politics, economics and religion are to blame for a growing trend in Indonesia and Malaysia

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

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