Regional Roundup: Week of 12.28.2014

In what is normally a festive time of year, this last week has been one of shock, grief and solemn remembrance for many in Southeast Asia. On December 26th, countries around the region marked the ten year anniversary of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami with memorials, prayers and promises of renewed efforts to strengthen disaster infrastructure.

 Now, however, the region’s focus is on AirAsia flight QZ8501, which has been missing since yesterday morning. The flight, which was flying from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore, lost contact not long after taking off and after 30+ hours of search efforts, the worst is now feared. According to the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, QZ5801 is now likely “on the ocean floor.” There were 162 people on the flight, with 155 Indonesian citizens. Despite rumors of wreckage found, there has been no news of any successful recovery efforts as of publishing time. The thoughts and prayers of all of us at ExSE are with the passengers’ loved ones in the wake of this tragedy.

ExSE FOCUS

Indonesia says missing AirAsia plane could be at ‘bottom of sea’ – Reuters A missing AirAsia jet carrying 162 people could be at the bottom of the sea after it was presumed to have crashed off the Indonesian coast, an official said on Monday, as countries around Asia sent ships and planes to help in the search effort.

Related: AirAsia Plane Missing After Takeoff From IndonesiaNPR

Related: Search resumes for missing AirAsia flightUSA Today

Related: Tony Fernandes, the millionaire entrepreneur behind AirAsiaThe Guardian

 Asia remembers devastating 2004 tsunami with tears and prayersReuters Memorials were held in the worst-affected countries – India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia – where monks, imams and priests held ceremonies to honor those who perished. Hundreds gathered in Indonesia’s Aceh province, many bursting into tears as poems and songs were heard and a montage was screened showing the devastation from a disaster that killed 126,741 people in Aceh alone.

Laos to Break Ground on Don Sahong Dam in Early 2015RFA Formal construction on the much-criticized Don Sahong Dam in Laos will begin early next year, according to a Lao energy official, despite a host of concerns raised during an open consultation period with stakeholders. The controversial dam is being built by Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Berhad (Mega First) on Southeast Asia’s key artery the Mekong River, just two kilometers (1.2 miles) north of Cambodia.

The project has sparked widespread concern among neighboring countries and environmentalists who say that it will block migratory fish routes, negatively affecting nutrition and livelihoods across regional boundaries.

Daovieng Phonekeo, deputy director general of the Lao Department of Electricity, told RFA’s Lao Service that full-scale construction of the 260-megawatt dam would begin shortly after the end of a six-month consultation process which began in July. “On Jan. 21, the consultation process will be completed, and after that we will begin construction during this dry season [which runs from January to May], because during the rainy season we can’t carry out the work,” he said. Opposition to dam still intense from Vietnam, Cambodia, int’l community. Highly-touted MRC consultation process doesn’t amount to much. Not really a consultation on whether to build the dam, more like a discussion on the effects. ExSE’s Brian and Will will be in the Siphandone area in the next few weeks. Look for reports in the new year.

 Related: Downstream Communities File Groundbreaking Complaint Over Don Sahong DamInternational Rivers

Related:  Vietnamese committee opposes Laos’ new damThanh Nien News

Related: Don Sahong dam in Laos: Energy at what cost?Mekong Commons

Rescuers struggle to reach flood victims in Malaysia as anger mountsThanh Nien News Rescue teams struggled Saturday to reach inundated areas of northeast Malaysia as victims accused the government of being slow to provide assistance after the country’s worst flooding in decades. Hopefully flooding will end soon, recovery efforts can get underway.2014 not a good year for Malaysia, here’s to hoping for a better 2015.

Related: Malaysia and Thailand flood crisisThanh Nien News

Gmail blocked in ChinaReuters Google Inc’s Gmail was blocked in China after months of disruptions to the world’s biggest email service, with an anti-censorship advocate suggesting the Great Firewall was to blame. Large numbers of Gmail web addresses were cut off in China on Friday, said GreatFire.org, a China-based freedom of speech advocacy group. Users said the service was still down on Monday. Rumors on Twitter that you can’t even send emails to Gmail accounts or company accounts that are hosted by Gmail from within China. If true, Chinese government is cutting off a major route to the outside world. What about Chinese companies communicating with foreign firms that have Gmail-hosted accounts? What about children of elite applying to Western universities with Gmail-hosted emails? Might be a good time to buy stock in Astrill, other VPN companies. 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Woman Killed While Protesting Chinese Copper Mine in MyanmarNYT Villagers said the 56-year-old was shot by security forces as the police and Chinese employees of the mine erected a fence after land had been seized to expand the project. An unfortunate death and probably not the last. Protests will continue if local communities aren’t included in decisions on large projects like the Latpadaung Mine.

Related: The Latpadaung Mine StoryDVB

Cambodia, Vietnam Vow to Boost Bilateral TiesThe Diplomat Vietnamese president’s state visit sees neighbors advance comprehensive cooperation

Malaysia’s Janakuasa, Vietnam reach deal on 1,200 MW power plantThanh Nien News Vietnam has reached a preliminary agreement with Malaysian company Teknik Janakuasa on a build-operate-transfer contract for a 1,200-megawatt coal-fired power plant, the country’s first such facility to use imported coal, Vietnam’s industry and trade ministry said. Despite all the talk of hydropower among SE Asia watchers, coal still rules the market and makes up more than half of the region’s energy profile.

SUSTAINABILITY & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

U.N. Disaster Chief Warns of More Natural Catastrophes to ComeNYT Margareta Wahlstrom, the top United Nations official on disasters, said the frequency of global hurricanes, flooding and other natural events would continue to rise. On the anniversary of the 2004 tsunami, Thailand and Malaysia are struggling with the worst flooding in 60 years. Many parts of SE Asia aren’t prepared for natural disasters and will suffer the consequences as climate change effects worsen.

2015 Set to Be a Tough Year for CommoditiesThe Diplomat The region’s miners have had a year to forget. Will 2015 be any better? Much of the region’s economic growth based on resource extraction. Falling commodities prices aren’t a welcome sign in places like Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia.

Water From China’s South-North Transfer Project Flows to BeijingNYT Within days, Beijing’s faucets are expected to begin spewing water that has traveled hundreds of miles to the capital from Hubei Province via one of the world’s most ambitious, and controversial, engineering projects.

Financing Climate SafetyProject Syndicate When the global financial system works properly, savings are channeled into investments that raise living standards; when it malfunctions, savings finance real-estate bubbles and environmentally harmful projects, including those that worsen climate change. Next year will be a turning point in the effort to create a better system.

What happened to The Third Pole’s environment in 2014?The Third Pole The series of natural disasters that battered the Himalayan region and South Asia during 2014 threw in stark relief the region’s vulnerability to climate change as well as poor planning and development policies.

Police Chief, RCAF Official Arrested for LoggingThe Cambodia Daily A commune police chief and a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces border police commander were arrested in Ratanakkiri province on Friday for involvement in “forestry crime,” according to officials, who would not go into detail about what crime the pair had committed.

CHINA

The Elusive Chinese DreamNYT The Communist Party should be more confident than ever. So why is it so anxious?

 China to send 700 combat troops to South SudanThe Guardian Deployment marks shift in Africa policy and will be first Chinese infantry battalion to take part in a UN peacekeeping mission. China is to send 700 combat troops to South Sudan in what analysts describe as a significant shift from its stated policy of non-interference in African conflicts. The first Chinese infantry battalion to take part in a UN peacekeeping mission will be equipped with drones, armoured carriers, antitank missiles, mortars and other weapons, “completely for self-defence purpose”, state media reported.

China Urges Companies to ‘Go Global’The Diplomat Increasing China’s outbound investment is part of Beijing’s long-term economic and political strategy.

Chinese Hit Back Against a Foreign Intrusion: ChristmasNYT As some Chinese enjoy the trappings of Western-style Christmas, and retailers enjoy some of their highest sales in late December, others are calling for bans on any celebrations. Friends in the US – Has Fox News been reporting on this? Would make a great addition to the annual ‘War on Christmas’ story.

China’s Growth SecretProject Syndicate Many people are profoundly pessimistic about the Chinese economy’s growth prospects, owing to the emergence of massive debt, overcapacity, and excessive investment. But China’s flexible approach to institutional reform has imbued its economy with the capacity to overcome such challenges.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Koh Tao murder trial rescheduledThe Nation Court sets hearing dates from July; Myanmar embassy arranges bail guarantee money for the two suspects who allegedly murdered two British tourists earlier this year.

Landmark City Elections Underway in RangoonThe Irrawaddy Rangoon residents went to the polls on Saturday to elect a portion of their municipal government for the first time in more than 60 years, though initial reports indicated the landmark vote was under attended by an ill-informed electorate. 

Suu Kyi Says Wants West to Spur Reform not Reimpose SanctionsThe Irrawaddy Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday called on the West to encourage her country’s government to enter meaningful reform talks but told it not to reintroduce punitive sanctions even though democratic reforms were foundering.

Vietnam economic growth quickens on exports, beating targetThanh Nien News Vietnam’s economic growth accelerated in the fourth quarter as banks increased lending and rising foreign investment boosted exports.

Prem thanks Prayut for staging coupThe Nation Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda Monday expressed appreciation to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other military leaders, noting that they had done “a great thing” for the country on May 22. This is just Prem patting himself on the back, seeing as the Privy Council was a major driver of the coup in the first place. The military, Privy Council and His Majesty are what many Thais call ‘conservative forces’ and they’re thick as thieves.

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