Regional Roundup for Week of 12.14.14

Will & Brian, ExSE founders, recently returned from an 18 day field trip to Thailand and Laos with many new stories to tell and much analysis to deliver to the readership.  By far the biggest topic heard far and wide while on the river was the run-up to last Friday’s regional consultation put on by the Mekong River Commission regarding the controversial 250MW Don Sahong dam on the Mekong in southern Laos. By most accounts the regional consultation is a step in the right direction, but it’s affect will likely be minimal and hosting the event after initial construction has already begun is out of step with the MRC’s mandate and obviously too late to have a meaningful impact.  What we did confirm on our trip to Laos was that the dam builder, Malaysia’s Megafirst, has subcontracted most of the dam’s work to Sinohydro, both China’s and the world’s largest hydropower developer – perhaps a good move for Megafirst, a firm that has never built a dam, but not a good move for China in terms of its regional image and soft power projection.  No major press releases were released on Friday’s findings, so keep your eyes posted to relevant news outlets like ones listed below as well as to ExSE for analysis on this controversial project by the end of the week.


Stop gambling with our future: Cancel the Don Sahong dam – The Nation Today, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) is holding its first regional public consultation on the Don Sahong Dam in Pakse. We believe the Don Sahong Dam poses an unacceptable risk to regional fisheries, food security and the future of the Mekong and, as such, should be immediately cancelled.

 Related WWF to Boycott Don Sahong Dam Meeting in Laos – Cambodia Daily The World Wildlife Fund on Thursday said it would boycott a regional public consultation today over Laos’ controversial Don Sahong hydropower dam, accusing those behind the project of ignoring the potentially devastating impact it could have on Cambodia’s communities, fisheries and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

 Related MRC will hold regional public consultation on Don Sahong Hydropower Project – MRC 12-Dec consultation and online feedback submission are among channels for stakeholders to participate in the project’s prior consultation.

 Wife of Missing Lao Civil Society Leader Vows to Keep Pushing For Answers – RFA  The wife of a missing prominent civil society leader in Laos vowed to continue pushing the authorities for answers over the disappearance of her husband, who vanished under mysterious circumstances in the capital Vientiane two years ago.//Sombath disappeared two years ago today.  Those who knew Sombath are celebrating his life and works this week on the Laofab gmail group.  For more information write 

 Related Authorities look the other way as activists disappear in Asia – The Nation The wife of missing Laotian activist Sombath Somphone says his abductors still enjoy impunity two years after his disappearance – an ugly reality across a region where powerful business interests and murky state actors stand accused of routinely “disappearing” opponents.


Thai Princess, Queen-to-Be, Gives Up Title – NYT Princess Srirasm, mother of a presumed heir to the Thai throne, lost her title after the recent arrests of her relatives and amid King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s health problems.

Analysis What the Turmoil in Thailand’s Palace Means for Thai Politics (Perhaps) – CFR Asia Unbound As I noted last week, Thailand has been consumed by recent news that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn appears to be on the verge of divorcing his third wife, Srirasmi, and erasing all remnants of her and her family from his life and from the royal palace. Of course, no Thai media are openly reporting this news, since saying almost anything at all about the crown prince or any other leading member of the royal family (or even about royal events that allegedly took place hundreds of years ago) can get one slapped with harsh lèse-majesté charges.//Josh Kurlantzick with interesting analysis gleaned from his SEA network as well as his reading of Andrew McGregor Marshall’s new book on the Thai royal family Kingdom in Crisis.  Essentially the crown prince’s divorcing of this third wife is a ploy to distance himself from the Red Shirt Thaksin clique (which by the way is not going anywhere anytime soon folks), and make good with the military and the  military led government.  Elite politics is on a continual slide to the conservative side in Thailand

The Year of Sustainable Development – Project Syndicate Next year represents this generation’s greatest opportunity to progress toward sustainable development. Three summits in the latter half of 2015 can reshape the global development agenda, and give an important push to vital changes in the functioning of the world economy.//by Jeffrey Sachs

 Global economy – a year of divergence looms – The Guardian The major players in the world economy all have the potential to grow at different speeds while taking divergent paths – policymakers should take note of the risks. In the coming year, “divergence” will be a major global economic theme, applying to economic trends, policies, and performance. As the year progresses, these divergences will become increasingly difficult to reconcile, leaving policymakers with a choice: overcome the obstacles that have so far impeded effective action, or risk allowing their economies to be destabilised.



The Silk Railway: freight train from China pulls up in Madrid – The Guardian Madrid mayor welcomes first cargo train from China after epic 8,111-mile rail trip inaugurates the longest rail link in the world. The longest rail link in the world and the first direct link between China and Spain is up and running after a train from Yiwu in coastal China completed its maiden journey of 8,111 miles to Madrid.//Impressive, but how much did it cost?  Certainly the costs will be dropping into the future as long as the Sino-Russian relationship holds up.

World set for climate disaster, say activists, as Lima talks falter – The Guardian Proposals too weak to keep global warming to the agreed limit of two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Frustrated climate campaigners have claimed that the world was on course for an unsustainable four-degree rise in temperatures, as two weeks of negotiations for a climate change agreement headed for an unsatisfying conclusion.

Related Strange Climate Event: Warmth Toward U.S. – NYT

Related At Climate Meeting, China Balks at Verifying Cuts in Carbon Emissions – NYT

Related China pledges US$20 million a year to its new South-South Cooperation Fund – The Third Pole


Chinese tourists who scalded Thai stewardess with hot water, noodles to be punished – SCMP Chinese authorities vowed to severely punish Chinese travellers who threw hot water and noodles on a Thai flight attendant and threatened to bomb the plane.//Waiting for a US late night pundit to start a “Chinese people behaving badly” segment.  All jokes aside, what legal grounds does the Chinese government have to charge Chinese citizens with crimes and misdemeanors occurring over Thai airspace and on Malaysia’s property (AirAsia being Malaysian owned?)

Ancient Trade Route Delivers New Opportunities to Greater Mekong Subregion – ADB A modern highway and bridge connecting three countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion are reviving an ancient trade route and bringing new life to local communities

UN report: Golden Triangle opium trade still expanding –GoKunming  A report released this week by the United Nations shows opium production in Southeast Asia continues to rise despite eradication efforts in several countries. Demand for the drug and its derivatives, specifically heroin, remains highest in China and the vast majority arrives via Yunnan province.//Ancient trade route delivers ancient products – counter to headline above.  Blame the faltering peace process in Myanmar and big Yunnan agrobusiness for this – at least for resumed opium production in Laos.  Obviously the Chinese central government doesn’t want drugs flowing in from the Golden Triangle, but provincial Yunnanese agrofirms are buying huge tracts of land in northern Laos for rubber and banana plantation and driving small farmers off their land and into opium production.  5 years ago, opium production in northern Laos was negligible, but now is beginning to thrive again.   

Kunming to Vietnam border by rail soon to be reality – GoKunming  Yunnan’s newest railroad opened this week to test traffic, indicating work is all but finished following more than five years of slow and steady construction. Although more of an extension than a dedicated line, the Mengzi-Hekou Railway Line (蒙河铁路) will soon allow freight and passenger traffic from Kunming to travel uninterrupted to an international border.//this is a big deal.  It means that you can jump on a train in Kunming at noon and arrive in Hanoi by train at 5am the following morning. 100 years ago a rail line opened parallel to this one joining Vietnam’s Haiphong port to Kunming – that ride took nearly 5 days.  The old passenger line went out of commission 14 years ago. 

Searching for Burmese Jade, and Finding Misery – The Guardian A New York Times documentary and article look at mine workers in Myanmar struggling with poverty and drug addiction even as the country’s jade industry is booming because of demand from China.//this too slows the peace process in Myanmar.

Related: The Life and Times of an Addict in Myanmar – The Guardian

Related: An Addict on the Jade Trail to China – The Guardian

 Malaysian police detain 15 Burmese over series of gruesome murders – AFP Officials suspect killing of at least 18 Burmese nationals in Penang may be result of revenge attacks over violence at home. Malaysian police have detained 15 people from Burma over a series of gruesome murders in a popular tourist destination, and believe the killings are linked to ethnic unrest in their home country, reports say.

 India and China Slug It Out in South Asia – The Diplomat India-China competition in South Asia is as hot as ever, but India could be losing out to China in important ways.

Vietnam dismisses China’s position paper on East Sea claims Thanh Nien News Vietnam’s foreign ministry condemned Thursday a position paper China has used to outline its arguments against the jurisdiction of an international arbitration case which the Philippines has been seeking to challenge Beijing’s expansive maritime claims.

Related China’s Maritime Machinations: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – The Diplomat



European Union agrees to investigate Cambodian sugar industry – The Guardian Booming industry faces allegations of human rights abuses such as land grabs, forced displacement and child labour. The European Union has agreed to investigate forced displacement claims in relation to Cambodia’s troubled sugar industry. The move could see thousands of villagers compensated for illegally confiscated land and loss of earnings.

Traders welcome ‘Rubber Fund’ as good step to push up prices – The Nation Rubber traders yesterday welcomed the planned Bt420-million “Rubber Fund” as a good start to ensure a brighter outlook for their industry, hoping that it could help shore up prices of the commodity.//entire mountainsides of rubber production will go online in 2015-16 as trees reach maturity in southern Yunnan and northern Laos.  Look for a spike from the fund and then another dip when those trees go online.  The falling price of oil also further promotes the production of synthetic rubber.  



Hong Kong Protesters Lose a Last Bastion, but Vow to Go On – NYT Even in their defeat, the protesters, mostly college students, left with a new sense of political identity and a willingness to challenge the power holders in Beijing.

Related: The Guardian view on the final dispersal of the Hong Kong protests | Editorial – The Guardian

 Liu Xiaobo sends message to the world: pay attention to other Chinese activists – AP Jailed Nobel peace prize winner tells friend he is doing well, has been reading and thinking and is convinced he has no enemies. The jailed Chinese Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has told an overseas friend that he is relatively healthy but wants the world to pay more attention to other Chinese activists

Allen Grane: Combating the African Wildlife Trade in China – CFR Asia Unbound Recently, the Animal Planet aired a documentary entitled “Saving Africa’s Giants with Yao Ming.” The show, developed in conjunction with the environmental non-governmental organization WildAid, depicts Yao meeting with wildlife conservationists to discuss the future of African elephants and rhinoceroses.

China’s water diversion project starts to flow to Beijing – The Guardian  £48bn scheme may provide relief to the parched north, but at what cost to the drought-ridden south and its displaced farmers? On Friday afternoon, China quietly inaugurated one of the biggest engineering projects of all time: the South-North Water Diversion, a £48bn, 2,400km network of canals and tunnels, designed to divert 44.8bn cubic metres of water annually from China’s humid south to its parched, industrialised north.

Chinese Health Care Draws Investors NYT Despite the system’s challenges, the sector is becoming one of the most popular for those seeking the next great untapped market.

A Top Target of China’s Graft Purge Gets Life in Prison NYT Liu Tienan was one of the first and most visible targets of the push by President Xi Jinping to take down both “tigers” and “flies” — powerful and minor officials.

China Announces Record Trade Surplus, Helped by Weak Oil Price – NYT The Shanghai stock market rose sharply after the data was released and has now climbed 26 percent since a rate cut on Nov. 21.

China Sets Economic Reform Targets for 2015 Diplomat The Central Economic Work Conference gave an overview of China’s economic goals for 2015. Topping the agenda: reform.



How can ‘carpocalypse’ be avoided in Hanoi? The Guardian Vehicle ownership is status symbol in Vietnam, but congested streets are making the city unliveable. What will turn the tide?  The everyday commute in Hanoi is a test of endurance; it requires perseverance and concentration, and involves pollution, bizarre noises, and mysterious aromas. Traffic lights act more like loose guidelines for the flow of traffic, and with busy crowded streets, public buses are the most feared among bicyclists for their accelerator-happy feet.//We’ll be posting a similar article on Kunming’s traffic problems later this week.

Vietnamese blogger arrested for ‘anti-state articles’ The Guardian Press freedom group says charges are bogus. A blogger was detained in Vietnam on Saturday on anti-state charges for postings deemed critical of the government, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

World’s largest cave in Vietnam threatened by cable car – The Guardian Vietnamese are protesting plans to build a cable car through remote Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park that could carry 1,000 visitors an hour to Son Doong cave.  Plans for a cable car in Vietnam’s Unesco-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park would open up the world’s largest cave to mass tourism. But Vietnamese are protesting the project, and experts warn the environmental impact could be devastating.

US Sends Mixed Message to Burma Military –  DVB  Human rights advocates and some lawmakers say the United States is sending the wrong signal by opening the door for broader engagement with Burma’s widely criticized military just weeks after President Barack Obama assured opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that closer ties weren’t going to happen soon.

 Survey Finds Waning Confidence In Direction Country Is Headed – The Cambodia Daily Just 32 percent of Cambodians believe the country is headed in the right direction, down from 81 percent a decade ago, according to a report released on Wednesday by the U.S.-based Asia Foundation.

Cross-Border Energy Trade Powers Development in Cambodia – ADB A Greater Mekong Subregion project helps builds a transmission line from Viet Nam to Cambodia to provide a steady supply of electricity to communities and industries in the southern part of the country.

Through the eyes of a killer – SEA Globe The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s second film about Indonesia’s communist purges of the 1960s. The first film, the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, was centred on the murderers; this time the focus is shifted to the victims, who have been afraid to raise the matter for half a century.//If you haven’t seen The Act of Killing yet, do so soon.  Netflix carries it.  

Fighting fire with fire – SEA Globe One of the region’s longest-running and most intractable conflicts continues to smoulder in Thailand’s deep south. The new military government has promised peace, but one of its first moves was handing out military-grade weapons to locals

Education in Indonesia: School’s in – The Economist WITH roughly 55m students, 3m teachers and more than 236,000 schools in 500 districts, Indonesia has the world’s fourth-largest education system. But the system does not work nearly as well as it should. The country’s new president, Joko Widodo, generally known as Jokowi, hopes to change that with help from his new education secretary, Anies Baswedan, a former university president and creator of a programme that sends graduates to teach in remote areas.Like so much else in the sprawling archipelago, nothing is simple.

Malaysia Airlines appoints Aer Lingus boss as first foreign chief executive – SCMP Malaysia’s government has picked Christoph Mueller, the chief executive of Ireland’s Aer Lingus, as the new head of its beleaguered flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines.

Tourist Influx Helps Rural Lao PDR Thrive – ADB  Completion of the last overland link in the North-South Economic Corridor brings prosperity to poor provinces in the Lao PDR, a landlocked country that lies at the heart of the Greater Mekong Subregion.


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