Regional Roundup for Week of 9.5.15

Apologies for the late posting as team ExSE snoozed through the Labor Day weekend in the US. Biggest news this week coming through our lens was the deepening investigation and arrests related to the Erawan Shrine bombing in Bangkok.  It is apparent that Uyghur nationals, likely to have fled from China, were involved in the bombing and evidence suggests the yellow shirted bomber whose image was flung on media posts worldwide, is also Uyghur. Some analysts are saying that the Uyghur connection will only tighten the Sino-Thai bilateral relationship and further deepen China’s claims that Uyghur refugees are a destabilizing force in China and Southeast Asia, while others analysts suggest that Thailand will not again make the “mistake” of kowtowing to China (by repatriating scores of male Uyhgur nationals to China) when such actions lead to domestic and regional acts of terror with the potential to cripple Thailand’s tourism economy and threaten Prayuth Chan-ocha’s fragile military government.

EXSE FOCUS

 Dams, Climate Change Lead to Fish Decline in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap: FishermenRadio Free Asia The fish population in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake has declined significantly from a year ago, fishermen in the country’s Kampong Chhnang province said Friday, citing the construction of dams in the area and climate change, among other factors. Shortages have led to an increased price for fish in the region, making it harder for residents to put food on the table or make prahok, the fermented fish paste that is a staple of the Cambodian diet. //Although it’s cited as a contributing factor, fishing is something these families are highly dependent on – when securing food for the week is a challenge, (forget the prospect of sending your children to school), what options do they have?

 No Recourse: Upper Mekong Dam Spells End for Tibetan VillageEast by Southeast Dual influences of economic uncertainty in China and Southeast Asia and the unavoidable effects of climate change in addition to grassroots efforts are challenging the popular notion of a “domino effect” of inevitable hydropower development on the Mekong. While the domino effect on the Lower Mekong may be under question, it has prevailed in China’s stretch of the Mekong, silencing activism and subjecting affected communities and local ecologies to the vagaries of unchecked development. The 990MW Wunonglong dam, scheduled for completion in 2019, and the impacts of its reservoir on thousands of households serves as a case in point.

 Laos Officially Approves Controversial Dam ProjectThe Diplomat Laos’ parliament has approved the concession agreement for a controversial dam project, with construction expected to begin before the end of 2015, media sources reported earlier this week. The proposed 260-megawatt Don Sahong hydropower project is critical part of the Lao government’s hopes to transform the country into “the battery of Southeast Asia,” with revenues generated from exporting power to neighboring countries.//The Don Sahong dam is not a critical part of Laos’ plans to transform the country into the battery of Southeast Asia.  It’s a relatively small dam and the power will be distributed to the local area. However, the dam’s impacts will likely cut off a majority of seasonal migratory fish flows having a profound and devastating effect on fish biodiversity and food security for downstream countries of Cambodia and Vietnam.

China’s new Air Pollution Law omits key measures in war on smogChina Dialogue China’s revised Air Pollution Law has made changes almost every major article, after passing through three separate hearings and doubling in length from its original version. Several new elements have been added in the revised law, including articles about regional prevention and control of pollution, an alert system that gives warnings on weather conditions that worsen smog, and limits on particular levels of polluting compounds, particularly in vehicle fuels. Yet, for many, the revamped law is disappointing. The code fails to enshrine a basic right for China’s public to have clean air, and lacks a system for environmental public interest litigation. //With nearly half of China’s coal burning coming from industry, many are (rightfully) still waiting to see caps on coal usage for these major contributors.

Cambodia’s Political Truce Breaks DownCFR Now the longest-serving nonroyal ruler in Asia and the seventh-longest serving nonroyal ruler in the world, Hun Sen remains the ultimate survivor. For three decades, according to human rights groups, Hun Sen has used a combination of populist charm, control of the media through relations with media tycoons, outright intimidation, and relatively effective management of the economy to stay in power. Cambodia holds elections, but the deck tends to be stacked heavily against the opposition.

Related: It’s good to talk Southeast Asia Globe

Vietnam’s Boat People Mark Anniversary With Return to Refugee CampsRadio Free Asia A group of former “boat people” who fled persecution by the communist government in Hanoi at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 recently toured resettlement camps in Southeast Asia to mark their journey to sanctuary 40 years earlier, and to honor those who were not so lucky. The group set off from Australia on Aug. 20 as part of a “Back to Freedom” boat tour organized by the Archive of Vietnamese Boat People to sites in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand—four key destinations for refugees seeking asylum after the conflict.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Adrift in ASEAN: Tackling Southeast Asia’s Migration ChallengeThe Diplomat The ad hoc and variable nature of state responses to irregular migration flows in Southeast Asia reflects the absence of regional frameworks for addressing displacement and migration challenges.//Will Europe provide best practices for a coordinated ASEAN refugee policy?

Civil groups urge end to forced disappearance in ASEANThe Jakarta Post As ASEAN moves toward a single economic community, civil society groups have urged regional governments not to tolerate human rights violations and to address past abuses, including cases of forced disappearance.

Philippines, Vietnam to sign partnership deal by year-endThanh Nien News The Philippines and Vietnam will sign a “strategic partnership” agreement by the end of the year to bolster defence, political and economic ties, officials have said. “As strategic partners, we aim to deliver results… a cooperation at the highest possible level,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters late Wednesday. The deal would make Vietnam the Philippines’ second “strategic partner” after Japan, with which the Philippines is also bolstering military ties.

Related: Philippines, Vietnam to Ink Strategic Partnership by End of 2015The Diplomat

Chinese ships headed home after Bering Sea sighting: U.S. NavyThanh Nien News Five Chinese Navy ships sighted in the Bering Sea off Alaska during a visit to the region by U.S. President Barack Obama have begun their “return transit,” the U.S. Navy’s top uniformed officer told Reuters on Thursday. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said he did not view the incident, an apparent first for China’s military, as unexpected or alarming.//The Bering strait is a critical chokepoint for China’s ever-growing Arctic trade. The Chinese, Russian, and US navy will see increased activity in this region into the future.  Will naval crowding in the arctic lead to tension or provide an arena for joint cooperation? The US should push for the latter option.

Related: In a First, Chinese Navy Sails Off AlaskaNYT

What To Expect From Xi Jinping’s Visit to the US – The Diplomat With Chinese President Xi Jinping scheduled to visit the United States late this month, U.S. commentators and presidential hopefuls are debating whether Xi’s planned state visit should be downgraded or even cancelled. Organizers of the visit settled on the September timing knowing full well the presidential campaign would likely produce a toxic media environment. To understand Xi’s coming U.S. visit, one must look beyond the Beltway—at least as far as Manhattan.

Related: Rethinking the Obama-Xi SummitThe Diplomat

Australia alarmed by strategic rivalry in South China Sea – Thanh Nien News Australia expressed alarm on Wednesday at escalating strategic rivalry in the South China Sea, saying it puts Asia at the risk of a military blunder with potentially serious consequences. China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea has increased military and diplomatic tensions between it and rival claimants, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Large dams are not the answer to climate change in the Mekong RegionEast by Southeast The Mekong River basin is home to over 65 million people. The ecological diversity within the basin sustains the region’s food security. The Mekong River is second to none when it comes to the amount and diversity of fish species which provide both food and income sources in Southeast Asia. But climate change is affecting many people now and it is not stopping. If high emitters of greenhouse gases are serious about addressing climate change, it is time that they started learning about climate justice. They need to learn about the myriad impacts of dams on people and the environment, which are already well known to millions of dam affected people globally.

Why Did China Opt Out of the Arctic Climate Change Statement?The Diplomat On Sunday and Monday, foreign ministers and other international leaders met in Anchorage, Alaska to attend the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER). After the conference, the representatives of the Arctic Council members signed a joint statement affirming “our commitment to take urgent action to slow the pace of warming in the Arctic.” The Arctic states were joined by 10 of the 12 Arctic Council permanent observers – with China and India as the holdouts.

 TNB’s power in 11,000 treesThe Star Online In an effort to conserve the environment, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has set a goal of planting 11,000 trees in 11 selected locations in the peninsula. TNB chairman Tan Sri Leo Moggie said the Tree for a Tree programme was an expression of the power company’s concern and commitment towards the sustainability of the environment in line with the country’s development.

Pelni, ASDP told to begin energy-conversion programThe Jakarta Post State-Owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno has called on state-owned shipping firm Pelni and state-owned ferry operator PT ASDP Indonesia Ferry to immediately start their oil-to-gas energy conversion programs.

 

CHINA

Xi says China no threat, announces military cuts at paradeThanh Nien News As fighter jets streaked through the skies of Beijing and tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square to commemorate the end of World War II, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the world that the nation was committed to peace and announced the biggest cuts to the army in almost two decades. Xi said that army personnel would be reduced by 300,000, the largest reduction to the 2.3 million-strong military since 1997. The announcement foreshadows the most sweeping overhaul of the military in at least three decades, moving it closer to a U.S.-style joint command structure, people familiar with the matter said. //Not exactly in agreement with China’s display at the parade. Also, see article below about China’s unveiling of largest killer drone yet.

Related: China’s second world war commemorations – in pictures The Guardian

            Related: China’s leaner army may pose a bigger challenge to U.S.Thanh Nien News

China Unveils Its Largest Killer Drone To Date – The Diplomat China’s heaviest attack and reconnaissance drone to date, the Caihong 5 (CH-5), or Rainbow 5 recently made its maiden flight at an undisclosed airfield in Gansu province, according to China Military Online. According to the South China Morning Post, Chinese state television announced that the debut of the Rainbow 5 will “change the game in airstrikes.”

Weeks After Tianjin Blasts, Many Residents Await Compensation for Damaged HomesNYT The chemical blasts that rocked the northeastern port city of Tianjin last month damaged an estimated 17,000 homes, shattering windows, overturning furniture and knocking down walls. But more than three weeks after the explosions, many Tianjin residents have yet to receive compensation for their losses, and some say they have been pressured into dropping their claims. //Over 100 fatalities and many more injured, still waiting to be compensated. The consequences of corruption and official negligence at its worst.

Related: Behind Deadly Tianjin Blast, Shortcuts and Lax RulesNYT

IMF: Impact of China slowdown larger than expectedThe Jakarta Post China’s economic slowdown is having a broader impact on the global economy than originally expected, especially on emerging markets, the International Monetary Fund said late Wednesday. In a report for Group of 20 finance chiefs meeting this week in Ankara, the IMF said the turmoil in China and other factors like capital flow reversals were increasing the risks to economic growth around the world.

China-led AIIB to offer loans with fewer strings attached: sourcesThe South China Morning Post The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will require projects to be legally transparent and protect social and environmental interests, but will not ask borrowers to privatise or deregulate businesses for loans.

The China Economy: What Lessons for Africa? – Jakarta As the Chinese stock market falters, the economy slows and China’s economic footing doesn’t seem quite as secure as it did even just a few months ago, doubts are beginning to surface in Africa over whether it might be time to look beyond the China model.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Post-bomb Bangkok Moves on, But With New Sense of InsecurityThe Irrawaddy One Bangkok resident says he can’t shake the horrid sight of what he saw, or the smell of death. Another says the initial shock is gone and he’s returned to his old routine—work, happy hour and taking selfies. Two weeks have now passed since the bombing at a central Bangkok shrine, giving residents of the Thai capital time to digest what authorities call the deadliest attack the country has ever experienced.

Related: Bangkok bomb: police say man arrested unlikely to be main suspectThe Guardian

Vietnam needs over $3.86 billion to upgrade north-south railway: reportThanh Nien News Vietnam will possibly need nearly VND88.2 trillion (US$3.86 billion) to upgrade its north-south railway and increase the speed to 80-90 kilometers per hour from 50 kph at the moment, news website Dau Tu recently reported. The 1,726-kilometer railway will be able to transport 16 million passengers and 6 million tons of goods a year by 2020, it quoted the Vietnam Railway Authority as saying.

Garment Factories Downsize in Response to Minimum WageThe Irrawaddy At least one factory has shut down, and several others have reduced their workforces and cut allowances, following the government’s adoption of a minimum wage. Ahead of the introduction of a 3,600 kyats (US$2.80) minimum wage, which took effect on Sept. 1, the Sabel Pwint Garment Factory in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone closed its doors. It is believed the company provided termination payments to all of its 237 employees.

Myanmar’s Election Chief Vows Free and Fair ElectionsRadio Free Asia Myanmar’s election chief gave a verbal assurance on Wednesday that the country’s general elections in November will be free and fair, while one ethnic minority party called on the government to delay the vote because of damage caused by heavy flooding. “It will be free and fair; otherwise, I wouldn’t hold the elections,” said Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission (UEC), the body responsible for the polls in the country’s upcoming Nov. 8 general elections.

Related: Myanmar Election Body Rejects Muslim Parliamentary CandidatesRadio Free Asia

ADB, Myanmar Sign $3 Million Grant Flood ReliefADB The Government of Myanmar and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) today signed a $3 million grant agreement to finance relief efforts for communities affected by recent flooding and landslides. The agreement was signed by U Maung Maung Win, Permanent Secretary of Myanmar’s Ministry of Finance, and Winfried Wicklein, ADB’s Myanmar Country Director.

Rice Fields at Risk in Western Cambodia With Lack of RainfallRadio Free Asia
A delay to the beginning of the rainy season, which typically lasts from the end of May through the first half of October, has devastated provinces that are home to the country’s largest area of rice fields and plantations, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management Nhim Vanda told RFA’s Khmer Service. “In my experience, if there is no rain in September, the rice in Pursat and Battambang provinces will be destroyed,” he said. According to Nhim Vanda, several thousand hectares (one hectare = 2.5 acres) of rice fields across Pursat and Battambang—as well as in the provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Takeo, Kampot, Kampong Speu and Siem Reap—are at risk of failure if the rains do not come.

At least 13 dead after migrant boat sinks off Malaysia: officialThe Jakarta Post At least 13 people have drowned after a small wooden boat, believed to have been carrying about 70 Indonesian migrants, sank in the Malacca Strait early Thursday, Malaysian officials said.

 

YUNNAN

Remembering Yunnan’s role in World War TwoGoKunming While the capital celebrates and hundreds of millions watch the Beijing parade on television, Yunnan residents quietly reflect on their province’s stand in what is officially called the ‘Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression’. Although no parades will be held this year in Kunming commemorating those who fought and died, Yunnan’s stature as one of China’s last bastions of hope remains undiminished, if often a bit misunderstood.

Anning refinery fined for violation of national environmental lawsGoKunming Yunnan Petrochemical Company, a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, was fined 200,000 yuan (US$31,000) for violating articles 19 and 24 of the national Environmental Protection Act. Specific details were not disclosed beyond mention of “significant changes and unauthorized construction” without the company filing required environmental impact assessment (EIA) documents.

This week’s digest was compiled by Rachel Tritsch with analysis by Rachel Tritsch and Brian Eyler.

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