Category Archives: SLIDER

Regional Roundup for Week of 6.9.16

LEADERS

The Heat: China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue Review – CCTV America Known as S&ED, this year’s meeting, held in Beijing, comes at a time of tension over such issues as the South China Sea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and economic uncertainty.

China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue: Time to Move Beyond the South China Sea? – The Diplomat The South China Sea tensions have become the Rorschach Test for China-U.S. relations.

Over-Politicized ‘Overcapacity’ at US-China Dialogue – The Diplomat China’s overcapacity has replaced currency manipulation as the latest excuse for U.S. protectionism.

Excess capacity in Chinese economy distorting world markets, says Jack Lew – The Guardian US Treasury secretary hopes that talks between US and Chinese officials on industry capacity would be as fruitful as those on currency policy. China’s excess industrial capacity will have a “corrosive” impact on its future growth and efficiency unless it is reduced, US Treasury secretary Jack Lew said on Sunday, adding that it was also causing distortions in global markets.

Related: EU to investigate Chinese steel subsidies blamed for dumping – The Guardian 

U.S. and China Offer Competing Views on Disputed Sea – NYT The diverging positions by American and Chinese officials indicated that annual talks had done little to bridge differences.

 Related: Reading From the ‘Script’ on the South China Sea Issue – The Diplomat

Related: Kerry on Concerns With China – NYT 

Diverting the Mekong River into Thailand: The Khong-Loei-Chi-Mun project – Mekong Commons The Royal Irrigation Department of Thailand has recently reinvigorated plans to divert water from the Mekong River’s mainstream into the Loei River in Northeastern Thailand. But there are serious concerns form local residents, environmental activists and neighboring countries.

Myitsone Dam Resumption Would Prove Suu Kyi’s Downfall – The Irrawaddy If the NLD government decides to resume the Myitsone Dam, the Burmese people will demand that they leave office. China needs to be cognizant of this. \\This is a very delicate situation for Aung San Suu Kyi. She has enjoyed comfortable relations with Beijing in recent times and does not want to lose that. However, Myitsone Dam symbolizes environmental irresponsibility and stands against local people’s demand. It will be interesting to see how Suu Kyi tackles this.

Chinese ambassador’s Kachin visit sparks Myitsone protests – DVB Multimedia Group A visit to the Kachin State capital by China’s ambassador was met on Saturday morning with protests by activists and environmentalists opposed to the stalled Myitsone mega-dam project.

Related: Protest surrounds Chinese envoy’s hotel in Kachin state –Asia News Network 

Related: Chinese envoy pushes for Myitsone dam –Eleven Myanmar

REGIONAL RELATIONS                    

Vietnam, Cambodia beef up defense ties – The Jakarta Post Vietnam and Cambodia have agreed to fully and effectively actualize protocols on defense cooperation in order to enhance mutual understanding and trust, ensure a peaceful and stable environment for their economic development and foil plots to weaken their relations. 

Japan, Myanmar Eye Stronger Defense Ties – The Diplomat Two sides discuss defense relations during Gen Nakatani’s visit to the Southeast Asian state.

Is Myanmar Using Armed Chinese Drones For Counterinsurgency? The Diplomat Myanmar’s air force is using armed drones against rebels in the country’s north. // This news signals deep ties beyond economic cooperation between the two countries. At a time when Myanmar is facing considerable pressure from China to give a go-ahead to Chinese funded Myitsone Dam such news does not bode well for environmentalists and local people who want the dam project to be postponed. If Myanmar is to be dependent on China on multiple sectors including military then it is unlikely the NLD government will be able to go against the wish of the Chinese State Council.

Setting the Record Straight on US-India South China Sea Patrols – The Diplomat Was Washington simply being overzealous by proposing joint South China Sea patrols with India or is there more to the story?

China asks the Philippines to quit UN arbitration, talk – The Hindu China’s claims of almost all of SCS and asserts that it has held the area from ancient times. The claims are contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Related: As South China Sea Verdict Nears, Washington Must Stand with Manila – The Diplomat

Laos, Vietnam to further enhance special ties – The Jakarta Post Laos and Vietnam will jointly organize various activities to mark the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries next year.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Indonesia’s largest coal plant will be built despite protests, minister says – Eco-business Indonesia will go ahead with construction of what is set to be its largest coal-fired power plant in Batang, Central Java next year, a senior government official has said, downplaying opposition from environmental groups and the local community.

Vietnam company seeks to replace gasoline taxis with 10,000 electric vehicles taxis –Thanhnien News Ho Huy Investment Company has said its taxis will, over a 10-year period, reduce emissions by 940,000 tons and save more than 406 million liters of gasoline worth US$134 million.

 Malaysia’s Trive and China firm form solar products tie-up – The Star Online Trive Property Group Bhd has established a joint-venture (JV) company with China-based Fortunate Solar Technology Ltd to tap into solar business with a total investment of RM60mil.

CHINA

China becomes world’s biggest development lender – The Third Pole Two Chinese banks now provide as much international development finance as the next six biggest multilateral lenders combined – but are greatly exposed to political, social and environmental risks, new research says. //Chinese banks have made energy investments in troubled states like Venezuela, Pakistan, Ethopia, Sudan, etc. This means the huge amount of debt has a good chance of not being repaid. 

Related: China Pushes Back Against U.S. Complaints of Industrial Overcapacity – NYT

Chinese Company Suning Buys Majority Stake in Inter Milan – NYT  Retail giant Suning has bought a majority stake in Inter Milan, marking the latest entry into the European soccer market by cash-rich Chinese firms. // Chinese nationals have been investing in overseas assets for some time now. Initially developing countries, especially African countries, were investment destinations for China but now a lot of investment goes to Europe and US as well. Inter Milan, a big club with a lot of history behind itself was bought for US$394 million.

Chinese fighter makes ‘unsafe’ intercept of US plane over East China Sea – The Guardian Second high-speed encounter within weeks takes place as Washington warns Beijing against setting up air defence zone over disputed Asia-Pacific waters // This incident indicates that despite the tough position demonstrated by US in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue and UN arbitration panel’s ruling China remains bullish over its territorial claim.

Related: U.S. Accuses Chinese Jet of Flying Too Close to American Plane – NYT 

Uncertain Future for China’s Market Status Bid – ChinaFile It’s been 15 years since China joined the World Trade Organization, and yet China is still waiting for the WTO to grant it market economy status. During this period, some Chinese businesses have expanded overseas while others have been accused of flouting international anti-dumping rules.

South China Sea: ‘We have no fear of trouble,’ Chinese admiral warns – The Guardian China has rebuffed US pressure to curb its activity in the South China Sea on Sunday, restating its sovereignty over most of the disputed territory and saying it “has no fear of trouble”. On the last day of Asia’s biggest security summit in Singapore, Admiral Sun Jianguo said China will not be bullied, including over a pending international court ruling over its claims on the vital trade route.

Related: South China Sea: US warns Beijing against building ‘great wall of self-isolation’ – The Guardian 

 A First: Chinese Naval Vessel Enters Senkaku Contiguous Zone in East China Sea – The Diplomat Previously, China had only sent its coast guard into Japan’s territorial sea and contiguous zone. //It was expected that China will soften its stance on South China Sea dispute facing growing pressure from US and the international community. However, this news shows China has no intention to that. We can take this as a show of strength from the ruling party in China.  

Related: Japan Summons Chinese Envoy After Naval Ship Nears Disputed Islands – NYT

Related: Japan protests after Chinese warship sails near disputed islands – The Nation 

Prosecutors Paint Picture of Murder and Deception at Chinese Coal Mines – NYT Dozens have been accused of involvement in the deaths of 17 people whose bodies were used to fabricate mine accidents and extract compensation.

A Harvard Scholar on the Enduring Lessons of Chinese Philosophy – NYT Michael Puett, whose course on Chinese philosophy is one of Harvard University’s most popular offerings, explains why “embracing ourselves for who we are” may not be the path to the good life.

SOUTHEAST  ASIA

Mekong dam projects ‘could destroy livelihoods, ecology’ – The Nation Environmental groups warn areas might be totally devastated in next 10 years

Why ASEAN must pay more attention to the Mekong Delta – The Jakarta Post The Great Mekong River is at its lowest level in a century. It needs urgent collective efforts by the regional partners.

Kerrey’s Vietnam Dilemma – NYT Former Senator Bob Kerrey should not quit his role at the new Fulbright University Vietnam, despite an outcry over his war record.//This conundrum is hurtful to USA when it is trying to improve its ties with Vietnam. The news of Senator Kerrey being appointed as Chair of a new university in Vietnam reopened old wounds as the Senator is accused of killing civilians and children during Vietnam war. 

US, Cambodia Militaries Kick off Pacific Angel 2016 – The Diplomat This year’s iteration of PACANGEL Cambodia will last until June 18.

Revisiting the Ties That Bind Singapore and Suu Kyi – The Irrawaddy Myanmar and Singapore have a shared history of colonial occupation and a long relationship as Southeast Asian neighbors. As relations between Myanmar and Western nations continue to thaw and some bilateral ties are forged for the first time, Singapore and Myanmar are merely entering a new phase in their sometimes complicated but nonetheless enduring relationship.

Migrant rights groups call for action ahead of Suu Kyi’s trip to Thailand – DVB Multimedia Group Migrant rights groups are calling for Burma and Thailand to form an agreement that will ensure the process for Burmese migrants renewing documents is not strenuous, timely and expensive.

2 more Chinese lighthouses in Spratlys – The Jakarta Post China is building two new lighthouses on artificial islands in the disputed Spratly chain, state media reported, continuing with facility installation to bolster its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Minister’s Environment Day Claims In DoubtThe Cambodia Daily Environment Minister Say Sam Al on Sunday declared an end to large-scale logging in eastern Cambodia, though NGOs disagreed. In mid-January, the government set up a special task force to root out illicit timber stocks across the east and ordered an immediate halt to all wood exports to Vietnam.

Malaysian businessmen urged to invest in Cambodia –Khmer Times The President of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC has urged Malaysian investors and businessmen to invest in and do business with Cambodia.

Myanmar should tap dams for electricity: Yangon chief minister –The Nation Dams can provide an affordable means for electricity production and water storage, Yangon region Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein said at an event to inform the public about the state of electricity distribution at the Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation headquarters.

Russian nuclear agency bullish on Asean outlook –The Nation ROSATOM, Russia’s state nuclear-energy agency, is bullish on the outlook of its business in Southeast Asia after the speedy development of a project in Vietnam and a range of agreements with every country in the region except Singapore, the Philippines and Brunei.

France has agreed to extend its support for development projects in Laos –Lao National Television (broadcasted news) France has agreed to extend its support for development projects to be implemented in Laos over the next three years, with the main focus on agriculture. Two financial agreements valued at 1.5 million euros were reached on Thursday

Ash Chowdhury compiled and provided analysis for this week’s news.

 

 

 

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Regional Roundup for Week of 6.2.16

This week we welcome Ashfaqul Chowdhury as our newest compiler and analyst of last week’s news. Ash comes to us from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School where he specializes in energy policy. He’s serving as an intern at the Stimson Center for the summer months.

LEADERS

Drought and ‘Rice First’ Policy Imperil Vietnamese Farmers – NYT The Mekong Delta, Vietnam’s premier rice growing region, is suffering its worst drought since at least 1926, and saline water has swept farther up the delta than ever.

Mekong dam a threat to rare dolphins – and villagers too – The Nation The Don Sahong hydroelectric dam threatens the last 80 Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River – as well as the livelihoods of the people downstream in Cambodia, who depend heavily on the river’s resources.

Research Links Hydropower Dams To Species ExtinctionTech Times Hydropower dams may have damaging effects on species’ populations living in surrounding locations, a new study found. These negative effects can lead to the extinction of several species.

China-led AIIB expects 30 more countries to join as members by end of year GB Times The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) expects to grow its membership to almost 100 countries by the end of the year and plans to issue three batches of loans in its first year of operation.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Cambodia’s Close China Ties Concern Observers VOA Cambodia Cambodia’s large and growing debt to its northern ally China is a growing concern for observers who worry about the undue influence this may afford the regional superpower.

Xi Jinping, China’s President, Unexpectedly Meets With North Korean Envoy – NYT The meeting, which was not expected, is believed to have been the first between the Chinese president and a senior North Korean official since 2013.

The Value and Gaps in a Big San Francisco Clean-Energy Conclave – NYT Can an international gathering in San Francisco take big greenhouse-gas emitters including US and China from ambitious clean-energy pledges to real-world action?

North Korea Tells China of ‘Permanent’ Nuclear PolicyNYT A North Korean official, Ri Su-yong, said during talks with the Chinese in Beijing that his country would continue trying to expand its nuclear arsenal while striving to rebuild its economy.

South China Sea fears grow before tribunal rules on disputed islands – The Guardian  Fears are growing that there will be a sharp rise in tensions in the South China Sea in the next few weeks after an international tribunal delivers a ruling on disputed islands and reefs that Beijing has said it will reject.

Related: Is China winning in the South China Sea? – The Diplomat

Related: Cambodia, Thailand edging closer to nuclear powerThe Jakarta Post

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Why an Asian super grid is a political fantasyThe Third Pole A somewhat unlikely combination of China’s State Grid, Korean Electric Power (KEPCO), the Russia grid operator PJSC ROSSETI and Softbank, the Japanese company led by Masayoshi Son, recently signed a memorandum of understanding to explore building a mega grid to cover much of northeast Asia.

The Value and Gaps in a Big San Francisco Clean-Energy Conclave – NYT Can an international gathering in San Francisco take big greenhouse-gas emitters including US and China from ambitious clean-energy pledges to real-world action?

Laos enlists Malaysian help on renewable energyThe Star Online The government of Lao PDR said it was committed to maintaining a sustainable approach to harnessing the nation’s energy resources for its rapidly growing economic activities while also protecting its natural eco-system as well as the traditions and culture of its people. Malaysia will send a high-level consulting group to advise Laos on developing strategies for the adoption of renewable energy as a driver for sustainable growth.

Solar power: Faster, Cleaner, CheaperFrontier Myanmar Solar-power plants are an obvious solution to Myanmar’s electricity shortage. They are faster to build than their fossil-fuel and hydropower alternatives and are cleaner and cheaper to operate.

Can the new government protect Myanmar’s water resources? Myanmar Times The new government is making all the right noises, but it remains to be seen if and how it can ensure water resources are sustainably prioritised, say water experts.

The developing world is outspending richer countries on renewable energy investment Quartz Developing nations invested $156 billion in renewables in 2015—a 19% increase on the year before, and more than all richer nations combined. China was top, pumping more money into the sector than any other country.

 

CHINA

Mitsubishi Materials Apologizes to Chinese World War II LaborersNYT Mitsubishi Materials apologized on Wednesday to Chinese workers who were forced to work in its predecessor company’s mines during World War II. Three survivors of those mines will each receive about $15,000 under an agreement intended to be used as a template for future settlements.

Related: Chinese Victims of Forced Labor ReactNYT 

Related: Mitsubishi offers apology and $56m for wartime use of Chinese forced labour – The Guardian

US defense secretary Ash Carter living under ‘cold war’ mentality – The Guardian China on Monday rejected criticism from the US defense secretary, Ashton Carter, accusing him of harboring a cold-war mentality and saying Beijing had no interest in “playing a role in a Hollywood movie” of Washington’s design.

Related: China has reclaimed 3,200 acres in the South China Sea, says PentagonThe Guardian 

China in Africa, Part I: The Good – The Diplomat A closer look at the fact and fiction surrounding China’s involvement on the continent.

Mining near Mondulkiri wildlife sanctuary worries organizationThe Phnom Penh Post An environmental NGO has raised concerns about potential impacts to Mondulkiri province’s Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary from a possible large-scale gold mining operation in the area.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

ASEAN and Russia: Creating a New Security ArchitectureThe Diplomat The 2016 ASEAN-Russia summit could mark a new phase in Russia’s security involvement.

Vietnam May Purchase India’s Deadly Supersonic BrahMos Cruise Missile – The Diplomat With Russian acquiescence, the supersonic cruise missile could end up in Hanoi’s inventory.Given the territorial dispute in the region, this may be an issue which would irk the Chinese.

Indonesia (Still) Mulling Purchase of Stealth Submarines from Russia – The Diplomat  Indonesia is also considering buying Russian amphibious aircraft, according to Indonesia’s ambassador to Moscow. //These last two news, involving Vietnam and Indonesia, makes it seem that these countries are strengthening their military capability with an eye on the South China sea dispute.

Does Abu Sayyaf pose a major terror threat to Southeast Asia? – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine The resurgent Abu Sayyaf terrorist group is flying the Isis flag in the Philippines – but not everyone is convinced by their posturing.

Thailand donates US$100,000 to Vietnam to fight drought – The Nation Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Phạm Binh Minh has praised continuous improvements in the strategic partnership between Vietnam and Thailand.

Today’s student activists face more complex issues than just the coupThe Nation At first, people barely noticed them. But then a group of students – calling themselves the Dao Din – fell to their knees in front of a military line about to crack down on villagers fighting against mining in the Northeast. Slowly people learned more about them, and realised that their rebellion was not merely against the coup, but embraced a wider range of policies and social issues that were of concern to everyone.

ADB has yet to act completely to displaced communities in Cambodia NGO Forum on ADB via Rappler X A Deafening silence rose when leader of project-affected communities, Sim Pov raised his community’s issues on the US $ 42 million loan to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the Cambodia Railway Rehabilitation Project.

Dam Protesters to Meet with OfficialsKhmer Times Residents from six villages in Oddar Meanchey’s Chong Kal district can now get some respite from the construction of a hydropower dam they claimed was encroaching on their land.  Provincial officials have now agreed to meet with their representatives after nearly 100 villagers from the six villages stopped construction of the dam. The Chinese Sinohydro firm is accused of illegally clearing trees on land owned by village residents near Ator Mountain in Pungro commune to make way for the dam.

Laos dam, poison blamed in Stung Treng fish deathsThe Phnom Penh Post Hundreds of kilograms of dead fish have washed up on the shores of the Mekong in Stung Treng’s Thala Barivat district in the past month, and while environmental activists blame construction of the controversial Don Sahong dam upstream.

Akara ready for a fightBangkok Post Akara Resources Plc, a gold mining operator in Phichit, has called on the government to review its cabinet resolution on May 10 that resolved not to renew or issue new gold mining licences, which could lead to the mine’s operations being suspended nationwide by the end of this year.

VN could struggle in protecting environment Vietnam News Vietnam will face challenges in implementing policies and laws on environmental protection, especially in industries seeing strong growth

YUNNAN

Is this a dagger which I see before me? Healthcare in southwest China – GoKunming  For many expats living in China, healthcare is either a major concern or a blind spot of denial.

 

 

 

 

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Looking ahead to Obama’s September visit to Laos

obama-on-air-force-one

As the Obama Administration looks to add the finishing touches to its five year Rebalance to Asia, it is likely to continue to capitalizing on building ties to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly, particularly over the last four years, towards improving bilateral and multilateral ties with ASEAN.  It has sent more high-level visits to ASEAN member states than its predecessors, had a visible presence in improving security relations with most ASEAN countries, and held the first U.S.-hosted ASEAN summit in Sunnylands last February.  And as a final feather in Obama’s cap, he’ll be the first president to visit to Laos this coming September

The visit to the small Southeast Asian country may seem minor in the current geopolitical climate; however, it is far more important in the long run.  Laos is tiny with only 6 million people earning on average just over $1000 per year, but the premise of the U.S. Rebalance has always been to re-engage with Asian countries wholesale in an effort to bolster the region.  Through Laos, the Obama Administration can solidify its objectives and spur a more holistic relationship with ASEAN.  In other words, the President’s upcoming visit to Laos represents the essence of the U.S. Rebalance to Asia as a whole.

On the surface, improving relations with Laos seems daunting.  Laos is beset by many problems in addition to economic development challenges, ranging from a lack of infrastructure to being a central thoroughfare for the region’s illicit trade network.  Historically, the U.S.-Lao bilateral relationship has been rather rocky.  Traditionally, policymakers have worked to curb relations with Laos’s Communist government that was deigned partially responsible for the U.S.’s defeat in Vietnam.  US Congress protested Laos’s entry to the WTO and criticized the Lao government’s lack of good policies to protect the Hmong minority, whose diaspora forms key constituencies in congressional districts in states like California and Minnesota.

Yet, it is because of these hurdles in the U.S. bilateral relationship that make Laos an ideal candidate for furthering the regional pivot.  The U.S. Rebalance is concerned with building bridges and opening channels to promote greater collusion between the U.S. and the whole region.  This entails reaching out to all of Asia and finding chains that can potentially help the U.S. and intra-Asian growth.  Properly mending relationships to promote a greater relationship promotes a sustainable future.  Furthering U.S. engagement with Laos will ensure the legacy of the Rebalance beyond the current administration.  To do so, the President should confront two significant regional issues: food security and UXO.

First, in conjunction with the President’s September visit, the Administration should establish new policies to improve Laos’ food security.  Laos experiences some of the highest nutritional deficiencies, child mortality, and maternal mortality in Southeast Asia. To assist with Laos’s food security problem, the Administration could build on successful frameworks for cooperation already in place.  Thus, USAID provides programs to supplement good nutrition and improve regional capacity building through the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI).  A joint effort from the Department of Defense, the Oregon Health Science University, and the Lao University of Health Sciences created the Lao American Nutrition Institute (LANI).  LANI hopes to revitalize agricultural growth knowledge and practices in Laos.  In spurring this effort, the Obama Administration can establish sustainable development policies and build capacity within the Lao government on programs that benefit the whole of Laos’ population.

Second, it is paramount for the Obama Administration to resolve the long debilitating unexploded ordnances (UXOs) in Laos.  The small munitions left over from the U.S.’ Secret Bombing Campaign over Laos (1964-1973) still saturate much of the countryside and pose a threat to the country’s agriculture and young, vulnerable population.  UXOs have been a front row issue in the prior visits by high profile Cabinet members.  Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, highlighted the UXO issue during his visit in November 2015.  As a Vietnam veteran, Secretary John Kerry expressed his sincerest wishes towards properly handling the issue and bringing closure to the UXO issue during his visit to Laos in January 2016.  Obama would benefit from boosting UXO removal efforts as prescribed by lawmakers.  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), has promoted responsible and effective strategies in removing UXOs as well as a deep concern that the U.S. owns up to the Secret Bombing Campaign over Laos by seeing that the country becomes completely UXO free.  Regardless of the approach, Obama should set a definite tone over UXOs in the upcoming visit.  Taking responsibility to end the UXO threat for good improves the U.S.’ standing in the region and will move the agenda of the Rebalance forward.

In his final months, President Obama will be setting the finishing touches on what has been a major foreign policy effort.  Above all, Obama would like to set the tone of being invested in improving the whole of Asia, exemplified through a serious responsibility to improving Laos’ development and correcting past US foreign policy decisions that proved detrimental to the region.  Laos will be Obama’s chance to set the record straight and cement a sturdy framework for constructive engagement with the region.  With this framework, future presidents will be encouraged to do the same: embrace Asia as a whole and continue an approach toward capacity building that ensures a brighter future.

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Regional Roundup for Week of 5.27.16

Obama’s visit to Vietnam rightfully overshadowed all other news coming out of the region this week as the US Rebalance to the Asia Pacific transitions into a gift that keeps on giving to Southeast Asia in terms of security and non-security support. Even though he’s a political rock star, rarely has Obama been received abroad with such mirth. This is no surprise as a recent poll said 92% of Vietnamese said the US is Vietnam’s best foreign friend. For this we should say “Thanks China” instead of “Thanks Obama.”

While the US Rebalance is deepening in the Asia Pacific, real dividends be paid when the US shifts its focus from security support to that of development support, particularly that which solves economic, social, and environmental challenges faced in Southeast Asia. On Obama’s scorecard in Vietnam, we saw much of this approach utilized this week. Lifting of the decades old arms ban is security focused, but in addition to this, Obama signed a joint statement on climate change, opened the Fulbright University, and established a Peace Corps program among other development focused initiatives. These outcomes are the result of decades of tireless support from war legacy groups in the US and Vietnam joining together to get the US back on track in Vietnam – but again wouldn’t happen without China’s mucking around in the South China Sea.

Of other news, ExSE turns 300 with this post! Big thanks to our supporters, loyal readers, and most importantly to the core group of writers who keep this website afloat and maintain its presence as a thought leader in the regional dialogue. Our hats are off to all of you. ~The Editors.

LEADERS

Southeast Asia’s Dance With China NYT As Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia face their own developmental challenges, they must also contend with maritime friction with China.//From ex-Kunminger Chris Horton with quotes from ExSE’s own Brian Eyler.

Obama’s Warm Welcome in Vietnam – The Diplomat Vietnamese people greet Obama with a frenzy, but the change they seek remains far-reached.

Excerpts From Obama’s Speech in Vietnam – AP President Obama addressed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the South China Sea and human rights in a speech in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Tuesday.

US lifts decades-long embargo on arms sales to Vietnam – Guardian Barack Obama announces removal of ban on first visit, saying there is a new level of trust and cooperation with former enemy. The US has lifted a decades-old arms embargo on Vietnam in a historic move that follows the country’s growing assertiveness against China’s influence in the region.

Will Vietnam Buy F-16 Fighter Jets and US Sub Hunting Planes? – The Diplomat With the lifting of the arms embargo, Vietnam is purportedly mulling the purchase of U.S. military aircraft.

A Look Back at Obama’s Visit to Vietnam – NYT President Obama made a three-day trip to Vietnam to improve the United States’ relations in Asia, addressing trade, China and civil liberties.

Despite Obama’s Moves, Asian Nations Skeptical of U.S. Commitment – NYT The American political mood has darkened toward longtime alliances and international trade. For Asian allies, this means the U.S. might pivot away//Again, it’s about the US doubling down on development support. This means more money, more human resources dedicated, and better coordination within US institutions – but slight improvements here will bring big gains.

The Guardian view on Obama’s Vietnam visit: human rights have been marginalised – Guardian The visit to Vietnam was a good opportunity to emphasise two overarching themes that Mr Obama has placed at the centre of his diplomacy: his willingness to turn the page on old grievances inherited from the cold war, and his focus on rebalancing US strategic priorities towards Asia, the region to which global power is shifting. But deciding how those choices could be squared with a message on fundamental values and human rights quickly became more complicated than he perhaps expected.

Vietnam jails four asylum seekers returned by Australia – Reuters – Human Rights Watch says action violates defendants’ right under international law to leave their own country. A court in Vietnam has jailed two men and two women for “organising others to flee abroad illegally” after Australia sent back a group of asylum seekers, their lawyer said.

Pull the other one – Economist BARACK OBAMA fooled no one this week when, having announced that America was lifting its embargo on selling weapons to Vietnam, he denied that the decision was “based on China or any other considerations”. It was a tactful fib, to portray the move as merely part of Mr Obama’s legacy-building mission of reconciliation with historic enemies, to be followed days later by a historic visit to the site of America’s atom-bombing of Hiroshima.

Obama backs Vietnam in South China Sea dispute with Beijing – Guardian In a speech in Hanoi, US president does not refer to China by name but says ‘big nations should not bully smaller ones.’Barack Obama has said Washington supports Vietnam’s territorial claims against

Barack Obama stops off at streetside restaurant in Vietnam for $6 dinner – Guardian President Barack Obama pops in for a low-key meal at Hanoi’s famous Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant with chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain, who picked up the $6 bill for dinner. Crowds gather outside to get a glimpse of the US president.//The running joke in Vietnam is how Vietnam bought USD 100million worth of airplanes and Obama spent 6 bucks. Aside, I’m looking forward to my next visit to Bun Cha Huong Lien!

Mekong region could rely on 100% clean energy by 2050: WWF – The Nation The study conflicts with a government plan that discounts renewables.//Great thinkpiece, but the report unrealistically downplays hydropower and coal. Energy mixes in the region need to include hydro and coal, because regional governments will not abandon these resources – however, if convinced, these governments will minimize the use of these resources.  

China and the Mekong: The Floodgates of Power – The Diplomat China now has a chokehold on the Mekong River, the lifeline for the Indochina peninsula.//What’s needed between China and Southeast Asia is a water-sharing compact guaranteeing minimal flows during the dry season.

Small is worrying: tributaries, ‘small’ hydro and the Mekong hydropower debate – WLE Mekong  When decision-makers decide upon whether or not to go ahead with a dam, I argued, they tend to think about the pros and cons of the individual dam. In the dam illustrated (an irrigation dam in Central Laos), I imagined that they would have thought about the irrigation values, the water supply values (for domestic consumption), and perhaps fisheries and wetland values. But when one small dam is one of 2,492 other small dams and weirs in the Xebang Hieng catchment, then it is not so innocent. Combined, these dams send out immense vibrations across the system.//From Kim Geheb, arguably the region’s most knowledgeable water-energy expert.

Cambodian Police Raid Opposition Party Headquarters – RFA – Cambodian security forces raided the headquarters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party on Thursday as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government appears to be ramping up its efforts to prosecute CNRP members.//Sad to see these antics play out to this degree. We’ve visited the complex many times to talk to CNRP officials, hope to continue doing the same in the future.

In Obama’s Visit to Hiroshima, a Complex Calculus of Asian Politics – NYT The president’s visit to Vietnam and particularly Japan highlights old grievances as well as the current power struggles among nations big and small in Asia.

Two years since Thailand’s military coup, country heading for turmoil – SEAGlobe This Sunday marks two years since a military coup in Thailand, and the junta’s promised stability seems a long way off.//What happens when Thailand’s democracy dream is deferred? Tick tick tick

Advancing Gender Advocacy in Myanmar: Beyond False Promises & Deep Divides East by Southeast Women living in Myanmar’s conflict areas face enormous pressure from ethnic autonomous organizations to support a war effort that does not necessarily serve their interests. These pressures are subtle, and often invisible to development actors who focus on tackling intersections of gender and conflict that are more overt. As a result, advocacy efforts do not always reach women who need them most at the ground level.//3rd part of a critically impactful series.

Tra Su wetlands in the Mekong delta losing its biodiversity due to drought – Mekong Commons Three large rivers flow through the Mekong delta province of An Giang in Vietnam: the Hau, Tien and Vam Co Rivers. The entire province is dotted by a number of seasonally flooded small islands. The delta province’s rivers, canals, and rich wetlands forests have proved attractive for tourism with about 6.2 million people visiting An Giang every year.// The circle dykes in An Giang probably have more to do with this. Historically, An Giang was the cistern of the delta – now it flushes all of its water out at the beginning of the dry season. This is a solvable problem.

REGIONAL RELATIONS

East Timor Hopes for ASEAN Membership by 2017 – The Diplomat Admission into the regional grouping finally looks within reach for the country.

Tsai Ing-wen Sworn In as Taiwan’s President, as China Watches Closely NYT The island’s first female leader takes power with the economy in a slump and the region watching her first moves with a juggernaut neighbor.

Benigno Aquino Says U.S. Must Act if China Moves on Reef in South China SeaNYT The Philippine leader said that if Beijing decided to develop the Scarborough Shoal, the United States would be forced to defend the Philippines or risk losing credibility.

US, Thailand Launch Naval Exercise in Andaman Sea – The Diplomat

India takes part in joint Mekong drug suppression push as seizures increase – The Nation INDIA JOINED the discussion about the Mekong memorandum of understanding (MoU) on drug control for the first time at a special session on the inter-regional flow of drugs and precursor chemicals in Thailand yesterday.//Putting the Indo back into Indo-China

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Hydropower surges across the Himalayas – The Third Pole Tajikistan is leading the way in Asia. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is providing concessionary financing to upgrade the Qairokkum dam in northern Tajikistan is bolster its resilience to climate change.  Tajikistan relies on hydropower for 98% of its electricity from rivers fed by glaciers and snowmelt. In recent years, lower river levels in winter have reduced power outputs and led to significant power cuts.

Electricity Rates Spike in Laos, the ‘Battery’ for Southeast- RFA Asia Electricity rates are skyrocketing in Laos, just as the hot season tightens its grip on a country that aims to be the “battery” that powers Southeast Asia with hydropower from river dams. Some people have watched as their rates for electricity have more than tripled, and they are scratching their heads as to why they are suddenly paying so much for power when Vientiane has been touting the country’s power generating ability as a way to bring Laos out of poverty.//Laos needs to build a better battery.

China’s environmental journalists shine despite dark times for local media -ChinaDialogue It’s a common view that standards in mainstream Chinese journalism have been deteriorating for some time now.  But when disaster strikes – for example, as in theTianijn explosions – it is not just firefighters rushing towards the scene. Journalists follow close behind. The public know that their most reliable source of information during these fast moving events are the reports filed from the scene by professional reporters.

Vietnam’s New Environmental Politics: A Fish out of Water? – The Diplomat Are Vietnam’s recent protests really about the environment, or are there deeper issues at play?

Drone footage captures Cambodian canal overrun by rubbish – Guardian Drone footage shot by Khmer Times shows mass pollution in the Cambodian Phnom Penh waterways, with the canal system blocked by rubbish ranging from plastic to sewage. The canals and waterways in Phnom Penh are some of the most polluted in the region, leading environmental activists to call on the government to immediately take action

Tourist hordes put strain on Luang Prabang’s heritage – SEAGlobe  Sea Globe Editorial The enthusiasm of tourists for Luang Prabang’s heady charms has brought prosperity to the Lao town, but is the visitor influx damaging its cultural treasures? //The jewel of Southeast Asia begins to tarnish after reaching critical mass? See it while you still can folks!

Landslide at Myanmar Jade Mine Kills at Least 12 – NYT The landslide, in Kachin State, came after heavy rainfall in recent days, and as many as 100 people were feared missing, an official said.

Murdered After Defending Thailand’s Environment – NYT A series of photos enshrine Thai activists at sites where they were killed after opposing powerful economic interests.

British woman among three killed after speedboat capsizes in Thailand – Guardian Speedboat carrying 28 passengers overturns in rough seas off Koh Samui, killing Briton as well as German woman and Hong Kong woman

CHINA

Rocking boats, shaking mountains – Economist – THE “China dream” of the president, Xi Jinping, is of a rejuvenated, rich and strong country that will once again enjoy the respect and fealty in Asia commanded by the empires of old. That last part is not happening: from a recalcitrant young despot, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, on its north-eastern border, to those ungrateful Vietnamese Communists to the south, flirting with America, insolent insubordination abounds. And perhaps most alarming of all, the people of “inalienable” territories wrested from the motherland by predatory imperialists—Hong Kong and Taiwan—show no enthusiasm at all for a return to its bosom.

China and the End of Reform – ChinaFile Is the Chinese Communist Party putting an end to the decades-long process of China’s opening to the outside world? Is the era of liberal reform over? Consider the latest piece of evidence: on April 28, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed the long-awaited Foreign NGO Management Law.

China Needs Market Reforms Now – The Diplomat The writing is on the wall for Beijing.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Is ASEAN the next big growth play for global bond investors? — by Donghyun Park The external vote of confidence in ASEAN bond markets seems to be driven by the region’s strong medium- and long-term growth prospects, which bodes well for their future beyond the short term.

Demystifying Rodrigo Duterte – CFR  Philippines’ new president, former Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte, won last week in a five-way vote. His tough-talking style, effective social media campaign, and vows to reduce the power of the country’s elite and crack down on crime resonated enough to deliver him the win. Promises to give political autonomy and fiscal resources to peripheral regions also helped with many voters, especially in the central and southern Philippines. //Follow closely the work of Richard Javad Heydarian. We hope to see him to DC later this year.

Peace in Suu Kyi’s time? – DVB Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in her role as state counsellor, is taking concrete steps to kick-start the country’s beleaguered peace process and will address a newly appointed peace committee later today. Everything has been in abeyance, since eight ethnic groups signed a national ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the Thein Sein government last October, but some eight others refused to participate.

John Kerry and Aung San Suu Kyi: A Milestone Meeting in Myanmar, Tempered by Questions – NYT Topics included Myanmar’s brutal treatment of a Muslim minority group and on the delicate question of whether Burmese military leaders once had a program in place to build a nuclear weapon.

Cambodia’s ‘Black Monday’ Protests Enter Third Week – RFA Authorities in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh stepped up their crackdown on anti-government protests on Monday, clashing with villagers in the capital’s Boeung Kak Lake district after ordering over the weekend that so-called “Black Monday” campaigners must obtain government permission before posting their views online, sources said.//Boeung Kak lake villagers were evicted five years ago and this is still going on. Real estate development has halted, from my understanding – an ongoing testimony to why it’s important to engage with the public in development projects – ignore affected stakeholders and pay the consequential reputational damages and costs of delay…

Cambodia PM Sets 2018 Election Date, Opposition Faces Legal Charges –Irrawaddy Cambodia’s next election will be in July 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Wednesday, as leaders of the opposition face legal charges they say are politically motivated to stop them challenging the veteran premier in the vote. Long before the Southeast Asian nation goes to the ballot box, political tension has risen. The last election in 2013 marked self-styled strongman Hun Sen’s toughest challenge in three decades of rule.

Call for UN to investigate beating of Cambodian opposition parliamentarians – SEAGlobe A new Human Rights Watch report says the trial of men accused of beating opposition politicians “only scratches the surface” of involvement by high-ranking political and military figures

Drought and government inaction hit Cambodia’s rice industry hard – SEAGlobe The effects of Cambodia’s recent drought will serve to exacerbate existing structural weaknesses in the rice sector, say experts

Burmese Everest climbers reach peak – DVB Mountaineers Pyae Phyo Aung and Win Ko Ko made climbing history this morning by becoming the first Burmese nationals to scale the world’s highest mountain.

Thailand’s Junta and the Southern Insurgency – CFR Earlier this month, Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha lamented the ongoing bloodshed in southern Thailand and implicitly criticized his own government’s feeble attempts to restart talks with the insurgents.

YUNNAN

China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River | National Geographic Springing from Tibetan glaciers and flowing to the Andaman Sea, China’s Nu River sluices around a horseshoe bend near Bingzhongluo in Yunnan Province. Plans to build a cascade of dams down the river now appear to be on hold.

China’s two-legged goat becomes minor celebrity – GoKunming It’s a bit of a slow news week around Yunnan apparently. Dominating headlines — and conveniently burying a few small-time corruption cases — is the story of a two-legged goat. That’s right. The animal, born south of Kunming in Xinping Yi and Dai Autonomous County (新平彝族傣族自治县), has been swept up in a minor media storm, and is fast becoming known internationally.

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Advancing Gender Advocacy in Myanmar: Beyond False Promises & Deep Divides

A young female recruit of the Kachin Independence Army. Photo: Asian Correspondent

A young female recruit of the Kachin Independence Army. Photo: Asian Correspondent

Women living in Myanmar’s conflict areas face enormous pressure from ethnic autonomous organizations to support a war effort that does not necessarily serve their interests. These pressures are subtle, and often invisible to development actors who focus on tackling intersections of gender and conflict that are more overt. As a result, advocacy efforts do not always reach women who need them most at the ground level. Building on my previous discussions of the need to see beyond the visible, and overcome divides between international and national-level peacebuilding actors, here I argue that gender advocates should work alongside women in communities to understand the social dimensions of conflict. To do this, we need a new approach to gender advocacy—one that incorporates an ethic of partnership dedicated to bringing these “invisible” spaces to light.

I have a good friend who is an ethnic women’s rights activist in Myanmar. Recently, we sat together in a teashop in Yangon and she told me the story of her mother, who was born in a rural village in Kachin, Burma’s northernmost ethnic state. As a child, her mother traveled on foot weekly between her village and the border of China, where she traded goods to help her family survive. At fourteen, after completing grade eight, she was recruited to join the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA.

She became a soldier and went to fight. She was told this was all for a cause—a cause much greater than her, that meant life or death and the survival of her people. This cause, she was told, was more important than going to school, than pursuing her own aspirations, or escaping to some other, far away-seeming world. This was her world.

She was expected to marry, and have children. Her new husband was also a soldier, and always put the war effort first. In the momentum of these choices that were made for her—choices that were never hers to make—she gave up the possibility of advancing goals beyond those of the movement she was told to support. Goals that her daughter, living out in a world her mother never knew, is now realizing.

My friend is not close with her mother. “She doesn’t understand women’s activism,” she explained. In fact, she added, her mother doesn’t understand the idea of gender equality at all.

There is a rift between this mother and her daughter—a rift around what it means to commit to a cause that is greater than oneself, a cause more important than women’s lives, centered around national identity and the unity of a people. This rift reveals that conflict in Myanmar is not limited to what takes place between ethnic communities and the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar army)—it happens within communities, and within families themselves.

Women are often made false promises during times of war. As Dyan Mazurana (2012) has noted, ethnic armed organizations often promise women a better life after the conflict is over, reasoning that when peace comes, the goals of gender equality will finally be realized. In the meantime, however, women are expected to take up arms, migrate across borders, or forgo education to support a conflict that is not of their making. These sacrifices go unnoticed until they grow roots and are entrenched—the mother who tells her daughter she should not seek a higher education because it isn’t necessary to advancing the family’s status in society (only marriage and children can do that). The daughter who bears the guilt of her mother’s limitations and sends money home—whatever small amount she can—month by month, from her good job in Yangon. She is welcomed home, but she can never really go home. Her feminist work has set her apart from the very women that work ultimately tries to empower.

 

The social dimensions of gender advocacy

Responding to the plight of women like my friend’s mother, many gender advocacy organizations in Myanmar strive to reach beneficiaries at the most local levels of society. Part of this work involves raising awareness on the ground about conventions such as UNSCR 1325, which is dedicated to women’s participation and representation in conflict prevention and resolution, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which draws a conceptual link between gender parity, peace and development. Grassroots women’s rights organizations seek to advance the goals of these agreements by advocating for women’s participation in peace negotiations and bringing international attention to the effects of armed conflict on women. These organizations also work to combat traditional gender stereotypes, educate communities about peacebuilding and justice, and organize workshops on gender-based violence in ethnic communities.

Yet the impacts of these gender-related programs are not always felt by women at the village level. Conversely, being caught between allegiances within one’s community or family is a social constraint seldom addressed in high-level policy negotiations, or given voice in projects looking at gender discrimination. This may have to do with the fact that many grassroots women’s organizations are, to varying degrees, themselves aligned with the armed organizations controlling the territories in which they work. Some organizations report having difficulty advocating for gender equality among armed actors, revealing a tension constantly felt by advocates who live and work in these environments.

Moreover, being caught between allegiances—what I am calling a “social dimension” of conflict—can affect women working in the structures of rights organizations themselves. An example of this can be seen in the case of another friend, who worked for an ethnic women’s rights organization for many years. At a certain point, she felt ready to advance her career by seeking a job in an international development organization that would afford her a better salary and advance her career. Such opportunities, previously unavailable to Myanmar nationals when the country was still closed, are now on offer to those with the right qualifications. However, when the organization learned about her desire to leave, she was told that doing so would be a betrayal—that the “cause” was more important than her own personal advancement. In essence, the rights organization mirrored the tactics used by conflict actors to hold women back.

Again, we see the subtle ways in which conflict entrenches itself into women’s lives. While international convention and gender advocacy groups work hard to press for change at the policy level, the experiences of women who live and work in conflict-affected communities remains comparatively less understood.

 

Women’s rights and the narrative of war

Ethnic autonomous organizations have, on occasion, spoken out about women’s rights. But their advocacy is rarely attuned to the social dimensions of conflict I am describing. Instead, women’s rights are presented through the lens of the war narrative itself, showcasing how the “other” conflict actor is to blame for women’s mistreatment. In this way, “women’s issues” are used to exemplify the way armed conflict—not the social constraints that perpetuate it—keeps women oppressed.

This dynamic can be seen in the case of the rape and murder of two Kachin schoolteachers in Northern Shan State in early 2015.  Civil society actors quickly assigned blame for these crimes to the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s army, which is notorious for committing acts of sexual violence against civilians with impunity. Recently, senior Tatmadaw members agreed to testify in a civilian court—a landmark achievement for ethnic actors seeking to bring the Myanmar military to account for its systemic crimes of sexual violence in conflict. The trial, however, has since derailed due to army’s blocking civilian involvement, preventing Kachin community leaders question the defendants directly. The case highlights the sweeping powers of the military and the lack of recourse for ethnic leaders to seek justice for what they see as being war crimes.

This case, and its fallout, is an illustration of the way women’s bodies and lives are impacted by conflict. But it is more than that. The case also shows us how women’s experiences of violence are used by armed actors themselves to serve a narrative of war. This narrative eclipses the fact that war inherently endangers all women and degrades their human rights. Moreover, and critically, it leaves out the voices of the very women who have been most impacted by conflict—in this case, the Kachin school teachers themselves.

 

The role of international advocates

By focusing on the more overt and dramatic effects of conflict, as well as on policy advocacy issues, gender advocates risk overlooking the more subtle divides and social constraints that many women experience on a daily basis. However, these areas of focus do not have to be exclusive. International gender advocates can work to raise awareness around the seemingly “invisible,” difficult-to-reach spaces of social divide while also advancing policy advocacy aims.

International actors are, in fact, in a unique position to take on these dual challenges. As “outside” actors looking through a more detached lens, they are well-positioned to call attention to the constraints that ethnic women face, but do not feel authorized or safe to push against. They can help shed light on problematic cultural norms and on the “taken-for-granted” ways that ethnic communities hold women back.

Often though, as I’ve pointed out in my previous writing, Western actors doing this type of work are treated with suspicion, seen as paternalistic, or worse, as seeking to advance an agenda of dominance. The “Western versus third world feminist” divide—discussed extensively by post-colonial feminist scholars, is an ongoing problem in many development spaces. This divide, which Chandra Mohanty (2002) characterized as the “third world difference” illustrates the problem of Western feminists who “speak on behalf of” women in the developing world. In doing so, Mohanty explained, Western feminists enact an arrogant assumption that they know what’s best for women in these contexts. As elsewhere, Western gender advocates in Myanmar risk falling into this trap.

In order to avoid replicating this divide, I suggest that Western practitioners re-frame the way we look at gender advocacy, by taking into account the experiences of women who may not seem to be affected by armed conflict in overt ways. The rift between mothers who have had no choice but to follow the mandate of war and their daughters who, in becoming women’s rights activists, have seemingly “abandoned” that cause; the pressures faced by women’s rights organization members who are equally bound to a cause considered more important than their own needs; and the ways in which women’s experiences of sexual violence in conflict become co-opted to support a narrative of war, while leaving out the experiences of the very women who have suffered this violence, all speak to a need for a different kind of attention to gender and conflict.

 

An ethic of partnership

How can development practitioners working on gender strengthen the approach we take to gender and conflict? I suggest we begin by incorporating a new ethic into our work, one that puts importance on women’s experiences of everyday life. I would call this approach an “ethic of partnership.” From a practical standpoint, this approach would take several forms.

First, it would require focusing advocacy efforts on places where women are not currently being reached. Program design should be based on, and inclusive of women at the local level who are rarely given a voice in conversations about women’s rights—in part because they do not have any pre-existing framework to guide their understanding of these issues. Allowing women to speak about their experiences, and taking those experiences seriously, requires being attuned to the paternalism Mohanty warned against. It also requires not being afraid to tackle social problems that are happening within ethnic communities out of fear of being insensitive to culture.

Next, an ethic of partnership would ask that advocates prioritize social inquiries at an institutional level. This would involve utilizing the structures of international organizations to access funding and raise awareness about the seemingly less-obvious places where gender and conflict intersect. International actors are well-positioned to work within these structures, which are inaccessible to many local women. They can build relationships with donors and access fundraising channels that, if done right, can benefit people on the ground in meaningful ways. This requires that local and international practitioners strengthen alliances between their organizations.

Finally, incorporating an ethic of partnership into gender advocacy means approaching this space with a new curiosity about women’s experiences of the mundane. Research in this area could look at the dynamics of family, work, and faith, and connect these inquiries to advocacy projects. It would allow for a diverse array of disciplines to inform new types of interventions. On the programming side, funds benchmarked for “gender” issues should not be considered ancillary to peacebuilding or development work—they should, instead, be made integral components.

Women caught in the throes of conflict grapple with conflicting allegiances—not only to armed organizations, but also to family members, communities, and women’s rights organizations themselves. These struggles show us how women’s everyday lives are impacted by armed conflict. In order to better understand these issues, development practitioners should take a new approach to the places we look and the lens through which we see. Above all else, we need to constantly interrogate the ethical approach we take to our work. Doing so could help give voice to—and ultimately repair—the seemingly impenetrable spaces of division experienced by so many women in Myanmar.

This article is the third in a series by Erin Kamler on gender, development, and Myanmar’s peace process. Here are links to the first and second parts of the series.

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Improving the US-Laos relationship through UXO cleanup

UXO Lao clearance operators use a loop detector to scan for sub-surface munitions. Photo: Cluster Munition Coalition

UXO Lao clearance operators use a loop detector to scan for sub-surface munitions. Photo: Cluster Munition Coalition

The recent leadership change in Laos and the country’s tenure as chair of ASEAN mean that now is an ideal time for the U.S. to step up engagement.  This dynamic situation gives U.S. policymakers room to pursue important goals in sustainable development and hydropower on the Mekong.  To do so, the U.S. must overcome significant hurdles.  Historically, Washington has seen little need to engage with the small, landlocked, and communist country that reminds the U.S. of struggles during the Vietnam War.  In 1997, Congress opposed Laos’ entrance to the WTO over marginalization of the Hmong minority.  Above all, the U.S.’s wartime legacy issues have been detrimental.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. saturated Laos with cluster bombs, leaving dangerous remnants throughout the countryside.  Unexploded ordnances (UXOs) continue to injure and kill, hindering Laos’ development.  Yet, even with these obstacles, the political climate is ideal.  The U.S. government should aim for better engagement with Laos by committing to economic development and accountability in UXO removal.

Laos, as Southeast Asia’s fastest growing country, has shown positive movement in its own economic development, but major improvements are lacking. Timber and copper exports have generated a steady source of revenue.  USAID development projects in the agricultural and sustainable livelihood sectors are bringing Laos within reach of middle income status by 2020.  Newly designated Prime Minister, Thongloun Sisoulith, has expressed a desire to capitalize on emerging opportunities and open Laos to more intra-ASEAN trade and tourism.  Smart investment efforts ensure a brighter future for Laos, yet the country is still very poor and hindered by more complex issues.

Laos lies at the intersection of the Golden Triangle, an illicit drug trading center that undermines good economies.  Nutrition is a major problem.  44% of children in Laos are malnourished and 27% are underweight.  Moreover, an estimated 70% of Laos’ population is under the age of 30.  At best, present day Laos is in a state of transition.  Laos requires capacity building initiatives to improve continuing development strategies.  However, economic development in Laos is not a quick fix as issues literally under the surface threaten Laos’ human security.

The toll of unexploded ordnance on Laos’s security and development is significant.  From 1964 to 1973, according to Lao’s National Regulatory Authority for UXO, over 50,000 Lao citizens were injured by UXO from 1969 to 2008.  The most prominent casualties ranged farmers and children doing everyday essential activities, everything from building a fire to playing in a field.  Travel through rural areas is noticeably dangerous, as casualties during cross-country travel are frequent.  UXOs have dangerously outlived their purpose.  At the start of the secret bombings over Laos, soldiers were the predominant UXO victims. Now agricultural workers and children comprise over 80% of quantifiable post-conflict victims up to 2008.  Their injuries increasingly lead to amputation or death.

Pile of defused ordnance used for scrap metal in Laos. Photo: MAG

Pile of defused ordnance used for scrap metal in Laos. Photo: MAG

UXOs are an inherent threat to Laos’ human security and economic development.  UXO contamination can render lands unusable, much to the detriment of the Lao economy.  The care and treatment for UXO victims adversely affects Laos’ public health and labor resources.  Simply put, Laos’ continued growth cannot happen with UXOs strewn across the country.  Development strategies that fail to address the UXO issue may cause Laos’ future prospects may flounder.  UXOs are an impediment to the comprehensive growth strategy that Laos requires.  A vulnerable population is less likely to improve its capacity for development.  The UXO problem is a chronic barrier plaguing a country looking to take a major step in its development.  Continuing UXO contamination weakens Lao citizens’ prospects for a sustainable future.

Yet, the UXO threat may be gone in the future, as ongoing diplomatic engagement is paving the way for enhanced U.S.-Laos engagement.  High profile visits have improved amity between the two nations.  Laos has hosted more senior members of the U.S. government in a recent five year span than in the last twenty years put together.

President Obama is set to be the first U.S. president to visit Laos in September.  In addition to the high profile visits, the U.S. government has pledged enriched development output to Laos in the form of improving nationwide nutrition and education.  During his recent visit to Laos, Secretary Kerry announced that the U.S. would provide $6 million for school meals to supplement children’s daily nutrition and even pledged $19.5 million for weapons removal and abatement.

FSD deminer Mr Dasone Sitthipone working with a detector at a UXO clearance area, begins excavating an unidentified object. Photo: Australia DFAT

FSD deminer Mr Dasone Sitthipone working with a detector at a UXO clearance area, begins excavating an unidentified object. Photo: Australia DFAT

Moving forward, the U.S. should build on the framework set by these visits.  Fundamentally, working towards development goals in Laos improves U.S.-Laos bilateral relations, which in turn improve the U.S.’s access to the Mekong and the prospect for sustainable livelihoods on the Mekong.  Fostering a renewed relationship with Laos is a core value of the U.S.-Rebalance.  If the U.S. is to truly gain access to Asia’s dynamism, it must engage with all members of ASEAN.  Bolstering Laos is a smaller but important step toward improving ASEAN’s resiliency.

In any case, cleaning up war legacy issues must be high on the U.S.’s policy goals.  Above all, UXO removal is a moral imperative, and the U.S. is uniquely equipped towards removing the UXO.  As the responsible party for saturating Laos with cluster bombs, the U.S. is accountable in cleaning its remains.  In the waning months of the Obama Administration, the U.S. government has the potential to properly re-engage in Southeast Asia.  By taking a vested interest in Laos’ development through and with UXO removal, the U.S. is laying the path back to Southeast Asia.  Interestingly enough, the contentious issue that separated these countries for so long can become the key issue that brings the closer together.

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Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Overlooks the Real Key to Peace and Prosperity: Mekong People

When I first heard the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism (LMC) last year, the name of the river stood out. I initially thought it was only a mechanism for water management among the six countries that share the longest, mighty river in Southeast Asia. I was not completely wrong, but water management is only a tiny bit of the whole deal.

At the public forum “The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation: Challenges, Opportunities and Ways Forward” organized on April 28 by the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS), Mr Yang Yi, secretary general of the Chinese Institute of International Studies repeatedly asserts that the LMC is a mechanism to enhance the idea of “Shared River, Shared Future” among the six Mekong countries. It entails a platform to seek peace and prosperity via three cooperation pillars —political and security; economic and sustainable development; and social, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. It is no accident that these three pillars coincide with ASEAN three pillars of the same name because the LMC aims to pave way for China to strengthen its political and economic influence in ASEAN.

Water resource ranks among the top five priorities of the LMC. Of the 26 measures specified in the declaration to outline the activities of connectivity, production capacity, cross-border economic cooperation, water resources and agriculture and poverty reduction, only one is dedicated directly to water resources management. It lists the establishment of centers for technical exchanges, capacity building, data and information sharing, and joint research projects . The majority of the measures, however, focus on various investment and trade opportunities such as the Belt and Road Initiative, ASEAN+3 partnerships, financial assistance for infrastructure development which opens the door for China to invest in the region.

Other panelists, Cambodian Ambassador Pou Sothirak and Professor Dao Trong Tu, criticized China’s previous lack of engagement in the Mekong River Commission, an organization is set up to promote sustainable development and water management among Mekong countries. Nonetheless, they agreed that the LMC could lead to more discussion potentially on a water treaty, which clearly delegates how the shared international river could be managed—something MRC has failed to do.

But I don’t think it is going to be that simple when China never admits that its upstream projects have destroyed the ecological harmony of the Mekong River.

In the middle of the dry season, between January and February 2016, the Chiang Khong riverbank community, located in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, 200 kilometers downstream of Jinghong Dam, suffered from the abrupt rise of the Mekong River. This is the time when local villagers tend river gardens and reap dry season harvests due to the robust sediment deposited along the river bank during the monsoon season. But this year, the fluctuating water level caused locals to shake their heads when their source of food and income submerged under water.

LMC_01

Further down in Loei, a fishery network lamented for the decreasing catches and damaged fishing equipment due to the “Water Tsunami.” In Bung Karn Province, 200 kilometers downstream from Loei, the Mekong level rose 2 meters and flooded locals’ riverbank gardens. Some gardeners had to pick up remaining scallions and corns.

In March 2016, the Mekong River at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand rose rapidly again and showing no sign of subsiding. It was officially the beginning of summertime and a month away from Songkran, Thailand’s traditional new year and the most important family gathering occasion in the country. Religious sites that usually submerged under Mekong River in rainy season would appear for Thais and Laotians as well as tourists to revere for the annual special occasion. Locals usually set up restaurants and leisure rest spots for tourists on the riverine sand bars in the middle of the Mekong River. But this year, sand bars were inundated; religious sites remained underwater. Less tourists showed up.

On April 13, 2016, the first day of Songkran, the water still remained high. Subsequently, district chief of Woen Phra Baht in Nakhon Phanom cancelled the annual Buddha footprint ceremony, an ancient religious ceremony that attracts local Thais and Laotians for centuries. The new year became a quiet time by the Mekong River. Restaurant owners indicated that they usually earn between 500,000 to 1,000,000 baht (15,000-30000 USD) during the December to April dry season (December-April), but that income had been unstable and decreasing over the past several years due to fluctuating Mekong flow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Mekong River first meets Thai border at a river town called Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai province. Here, the Mekong River Commission set up a hydrological station as part of its effort to contribute data for better-practice water management among the four downstream Mekong countries, namely Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Chiang Saen Hydrological Station shows the water flow rate between March and April in 2016 remained high around 2,000 cubic meters per second and dropped to 1,000 cubic meters per second within a couple of days. After a week, the graph climbed up to near 1,500 cubic meters per second. What happened?

On March 16, Xinhua reported that China would release water from its dam following Vietnam’s request. Ministry spokesman Lu Kang stated 2,000 cubic meter of water will be discharged from the dam every second between March 15 to April 10. In response, Pham Binh Minh , Vietnamese deputy prime minister at the time, congratulated the positive move to alleviate drought. Thailand’s coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha  cheered happily for China’s considerate move. Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen  joined the acclaim. Laos took a step forward and announced that it too would discharge water to help relief devastating condition downstream.

Looking back at the hydrological data, the Mekong flow rate has been fluctuating for the past few years when, naturally, the volume ought to be decreasing in dry season. Comparing the flow rate between 2014, 2015 and 2016, the number remain around 2,000 cubic meters between March and April for second for all three years. Simply said, China’s altruistic move is actually turning into an annual practice. But locals are not aware of this change unless China announces its plan and notify Mekong downstream authorities to spread the news. Nonetheless, by the time the notification reaches riparian communities, the fish are already gone and the riverbank gardens are already submerged.

LMC_03

The Lancang River contributes nearly 70 percent of total Mekong catchment area at Chiang Saen in wet season. The number jumps closer to 100 percent in dry season. For this reason, downstream communities will feel any changes happening upstream. It also means that China is in control of how the river flows.

LMC_05_dryseason LMC_04_wetseason

As of 2016, China has already built at least six mega-dams on the Lancang with a total capacity over 15,000 megawatts. The closest dam to lower Mekong countries is the Jinghong dam located in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan less 100km from China’s border with Laos and Myanmar.  This dam is often mentioned in China’s media release on water discharge. The Jinghong dam is China’s water gate, thus China has complete control over when it shall open or close.

Downstream riparian communities have been asking China for prior notification on dry season  discharge from Lancang dams and to share hydrological information for many years already. Nonetheless, China never taken full responsibility.

“It becomes politics when China announces its discharge,” said Montree Chantawong, a researcher who has been monitoring the Mekong flow for more than a decade now. He illustrates the water flow graph to show that China’s dam discharge is nothing new. The higher volume aims to facilitate Chinese large cargo ships during the dry season. The discharge also helps to generate electricity and make way for new water in the reservoir during the rainy season. What’s new is China’s approach to talk about Mekong water management through the LMC mechanism.

China’s altruistic move came before the release of Sanya Declaration at the first LMC summit on Hainan Island on March 23-24 . The two-day meeting marks the official beginning of cooperation among Mekong countries. However, Kavi Chongkittavorn, senior fellow at ISIS and one of the panelists at the LMC public forum, left the audience with a note to think about China’s spatial location and subsequent posture towards Mekong downstream countries. “If China sees its neighbors as the front yard, it would treat its neighbor with respect. If it sees it as its backyard, then the treatment would be different.”

LMC_06

On the same day that leaders gathered in Sanya, the Network of Thai People in Eight Mekong Provinces released a statement to the same leaders. The call was simple: admit the transboundary impacts caused by development projects, mainly dams and rapids blasting. The impacts of Chinese dam discharge on Mekong downstream ecosystems and livelihoods were immense in the beginning of 2016—a clear example of transboundary impacts of dams.

The network further emphasized the need for respect and involvement of Mekong grassroots communities . As many riparian communities still depend deeply on Mekong fluvial ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods and nourish their cultures, the Mekong governments ought to take this into account when they design development plans for their countries. To ensure that the needs of the people are met, it is crucial for all Mekong governments to recognize the importance of grassroots riparian communities and respect their indigenous knowledge for the river they depend on for their livelihoods, cultures and economy. A democratic process is more than ever necessary to leverage the voice from the ground to be heard at the international geopolitical platform especially in the region where grassroots participation increasingly become restricted while dictatorship flourishes in the region. In addition, the statement calls Mekong governments to take responsibility to provide mitigation for damages and losses caused by dams and navigation projects. An accountable and participatory water management mechanism must be assured and enforced to prevent further negative environmental and social impacts on downstream communities, rather than transforming a mother river to a dead river.

While the leaders smile and hold hands tight for an unprecedented moment in history that could lead to sustainable water governance in the Mekong Region, grassroots riparian communities suffer from unnatural flow of the Mekong River. The applause for China’s move towards regional peace and prosperity will only be a façade if the Mekong leaders never take a moment to seriously promote public participation. It will only set up the beginning of a countdown to water conflicts.

Four numbers of the Sanya Declarations: 6, 3, 5 and 26.

  • 6 indicates the six member countries in the Mekong Region.
  • 3 points at the three cooperation pillars: political and security, economic and sustainable development and social, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. The three pillars coincides with ASEAN’s three cooperation pillars. This is no accident. The Sanya Declaration paves way for China to strengthen its political and economic partnership with ASEAN.
  • 5 is the key priorities during the initial stage, namely connectivity, production capacity, cross-border economic cooperation, water resources and agriculture and poverty reduction. Simply put, these are the main programs China hopes to implement and enhance its domination over other members.
  • 26 means the twenty-six measures detailing the five key priorities. Most of them map out how to place downstream countries in China’s “go global” economic policies like the Belt and Road Initiative and affirms its influences in ASEAN+3 partnership.

 

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Regional Roundup for Week of 5.18.2016

LEADERS

Obama in Vietnam Will Focus on Future, Rather Than the Past – NYTimes. For Mr. Obama, the trip to Vietnam offers an opportunity to help solidify not only his promised pivot of American policy toward Asia, but also to deepen economic and security ties with an increasingly important regional player. But for the U.S.’ Vietnam War veterans, a presidential trip is weighted with powerful emotions and never-ending debates about that war’s consequences.//The countdown is on for Obama’s historic visit to Vietnam starting this weekend. Pronouncements on climate change in the President’s speeches will go far to strengthen US-Vietnam cooperation on this critical regional issue. If he listens to the Vietnamese leadership, he does need to address war legacy issues first before the relationship is taken into the future.

Laos New Premier in Vietnam for First Ever Overseas Visit – The Diplomat. Laos’ premier is in Vietnam for his first trip abroad since assuming office last month following leadership transitions in the two communist neighbors. The two countries discuss bilateral and regional issues following key leadership transitions.

Peace Process” Versus “Peacebuilding Project” – Why Nuance Matters in Myanmar’s Development Landscape – East by Southeast. Development practitioners in Myanmar should view the phenomenon of “peacebuilding” as two separate, but intersecting projects—one driven by Myanmar nationals, and the other driven by international actors. The “peace process” is a closed system invested in the balance of power between ethnic communities and the Myanmar government, while another project—what I call the “peacebuilding project” represents, among other things, an international contest for geopolitical control in Mainland Southeast Asia.

U.S. condemns arrest of Thai activist’s mother over one-word Facebook post – The Guardian. Patnaree Chankij charged with violating Thailand’s severe royal defamation law on Friday and could face up to 15 years in prison. The United States has condemned Thailand’s arrest of an activist’s mother for allegedly insulting the royal family in a one-word Facebook post. Patnaree Chankij, 40, was charged with violating Thailand’s severe royal defamation law and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Welcome, Lord Prime Minister: Cambodian media told to use leader’s full royal title – The Guardian. Print, radio and TV organisations told to use Hun Sen’s honorary six-word title in opening lines of all stories about him or face legal action. For years, some Cambodian media have referred to the country’s longtime leader as Prime Minister Hun Sen – but, as of Thursday, authorities have warned that this must stop. Starting in August, all media must use his full, honorary, six-word title – “Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen” – in the opening lines of print articles, radio and TV stories about him.

Related Article: Plight of journalists in Cambodia

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Cult of Personality – The Diplomat.  Aung San Suu Kyi’s contributions to Myanmar’s democracy are undeniable. She endured 15 years of house arrest under the country’s military junta. She has helped release political prisoners. And she has brought international attention to a nation that desperately needed it. The saintly status surrounding Suu Kyi has led to tunnel vision in the NLD and the international community.

Xi Jinping Tech Speech Signals Tougher Times for Foreign Firms – The Diplomat. Xi’s latest remarks on cyber tech hint that Beijing remains determined to push foreign firms out of the Chinese market.

 

REGIONAL RELATIONS

Indonesia’s Grand Defense Vision – The Diplomat. Indonesia’s new Defense White Paper, released at the end of April 2016 (originally due in 2013-2014, but delayed due to a change of administration and consultations), offers a comprehensive view of Indonesia’s defense grand vision, incorporating various issues and dynamics. However, it reiterates lofty ambitions, with little advice on how to turn vision into reality.

How Far Have India-US Ties Come After Two Years of Modi? – The Diplomat. The Modi government, over the past two years, has certainly scored major victories in building positive ties between India and the United States. The prime minister himself has taken proactive measures to build a rapport with important U.S. political leaders. He met Obama six times just in his first 24 months in office and visited the United States three times.

Australia, Thailand Host Regional Peacekeeping Exercise – The Diplomat. Australia and Thailand are co-hosting a regional peacekeeping exercise this month. The exercise, which initially involved only the two nations, is now conducted with regional military, police and civilian training audience participation.

Philippines, France Ink New Defense Pact – The Diplomat. Last week, the Philippines and France inked a new defense pact in a boost for bilateral cooperation. Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and French Ambassador to the Philippines Thierry Mathou signed the agreement at a ceremony at the Department of National Defense in Camp Aguinaldo on May 11. Both sides had been negotiating the defense pact since 2014.

How China Boosts Japan’s Security Role in Southeast Asia – The Diplomat. China’s claims to the South China Sea are accelerating a trend of growing security cooperation between Japan and ASEAN.

Burma MPs look to Japan for training assistance – DVB Multimedia Group. The lower house’s Committee or the Promotion of Education said technical training may be provided for Burmese citizens with Japan’s assistance.

US to renew most Burma sanctions with changes to aid businesses – DVB Multimedia Group. The United States plans to renew the bulk of its sanctions against Burma when they expire next week, but will make some changes aimed at boosting investment and trade, according to several senior US officials and congressional aides.

 

SUSTAINABLE AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Thailand closes ‘overcrowded’ Koh Tachai island to tourists – The Guardian. Andaman Sea island to close for indefinite period from October as record numbers of tourists threaten beaches and coral reefs. Thailand has closed an island in the Andaman Sea to visitors in an attempt to ease the negative effects of tourism on its once-pristine beaches and surrounding coral reefs. Koh Tachai, an island in the famous Similan national park in south-west Thailand, would close for an “indefinite period” from 15 October, the Bangkok Post reported.

Jakarta’s water management fight echoes around the world – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine. Jakarta’s water is controlled by big businesses, but activists are pushing for the city to follow a worldwide water management trend back to public ownership.

Indonesian fisheries minister Pudjiastuti making waves – Southeast Asia Globe Magazine. Susi Pudjiastuti’s tough stance on illegal fishing is doing wonders for her public profile but angering local fishermen and neighbouring countries. Inside the formerly dull Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, a recent, sleek renovation of the buildings is reflective of ongoing efforts to overhaul the country’s maritime sector.

 

Indian air pollution a “national crisis” – The Third Pole. Air pollution in cities is rising at an alarming rate, new data from the World Health Organisation has revealed, particularly in emerging economies like India, where pollutants harm human health and hastening glacier melt.

 

CHINA

China Quietly Targets U.S. Tech Companies in Security Reviews. – NYTimes. Chinese authorities are quietly scrutinizing technology products sold in China by Apple and other big foreign companies, focusing on whether they pose potential security threats to the country and its consumers and opening up a new front in an already tense relationship with Washington over digital security.

Landslide at Chinese dam site signals looming risks – The Third Pole. Thirty four construction workers were killed after a torrent of mud and rocks tore through a hydropower dam site on May 8 in Taining county in China’s southeast Fujian province. The landslide was believed to have been triggered by heavy rain.

Chinese Newspaper Breaks Silence on Cultural Revolution – NYTimes. Fifty years to the day since Communist Party leaders formally set in motion Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, miring China in a decade of bloody political upheaval, the party’s main newspaper broke the general silence about the anniversary and urged people to accept the past condemnation of the event and focus on the future.

Huge security operation in Hong Kong as senior Chinese official visits – The Guardian. Thousands of police officers deployed as Zhang Dejiang becomes highest-ranking Communist party official to visit the territory since 2012. Hong Kong authorities have rolled out a massive security operation as they braced for protests during a top Beijing official visit to the semiautonomous city, which has been the scene of rising discontent with Chinese rule. Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, is the highest-ranking Communist party official to come to Hong Kong since then-president Hu Jintao paid a visit in 2012.

            Related: Hong Kong glues bricks to pavements as top Beijing official makes visit

Escalation in the South China Sea – ChinaFile. International tensions are rising over the shipping lanes and land formations in the South China Sea. Last week, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force scrambled fighter jets in response to a U.S. Navy ship sailing near the disputed Fiery Cross Reef. Sometime very soon, possibly this month, the United Nations is expected to resolve South China Sea claims by the Philippines, where the President elect, Rodrigo Duterte, is making offers to broker peace in the region.

Why China’s Nuclear Exports May Struggle to Find a Market – ChinaFile. China’s nuclear power industry has eyed up a big push to export its technologies as countries around the world consider low-carbon alternatives to coal. But despite an increasingly clearer field for Chinese nuclear exports—mainly because of the woes dragging down French and Russian competitors—selling reactors abroad is likely to prove to be a much tougher task than had first been thought.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Vietnamese bank foils $1m cyber heist – The Guardian. Tien Phong Bank says it spotted the fraud on the Swift messaging system quickly enough to prevent Bangladesh-style theft. A Vietnamese bank has foiled an attempted cyber heist that involved the use of fraudulent messages, the same technique at the heart of February’s theft from the Bangladesh central bank. Hanoi-based Tien Phong Bank said on Sunday that in the fourth quarter of last year it identified suspicious requests through fraudulent messages on the global interbank messaging system Swift to transfer more than $1m.

Why Restoring Cambodia’s Lost Tigers May be a Good Idea – The Diplomat. When Cambodia announced plans to reintroduce tigers into the wild, the response was predictably negative. The country’s overarching reputation for corruption and mismanagement rose to the fore with its critics using an endangered species to carp about well-documented inadequacies.

Singapore Responds to First Zika Virus Case – The Diplomat. Singapore has responded swiftly to the first ever case of Zika virus reported in the city-state, making it the latest among Southeast Asian states to be hit.

Koh Tao defense team ready to submit appeal – DVB Multimedia Group. A team of representatives appointed by the Burmese embassy in Thailand to assist two Burmese nationals on death row for the murder of two British tourists on the holiday island of Koh Tao said an appeal against the defendants’ guilty verdict has been prepared and is ready to be presented in court on 23 May.

Philippine President-Elect to Offer Cabinet Post to Rebels – The Irrawaddy. Presumptive Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he will re-impose the death penalty, offer Cabinet posts to communist rebels, and move to amend the constitution to give more power to the provinces, in some of his first policy pronouncements since winning last week’s election based on an unofficial count.

Blasts Rock Two Jade-Mining Companies in Northern Myanmar – Radio Free Asia. Unknown assailants blew up the offices of two jade-mining companies in Hpakant township in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state on Sunday, destroying heavy vehicles, trucks and workers’ hostels, a local official said. The blast appeared to be a retaliatory act for the operator’s refusal to give in to demands for “taxes” by local extortionists, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reported, citing locals.

 

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“Peace Process” Versus “Peacebuilding Project” – Why Nuance Matters in Myanmar’s Development Landscape

gender myanmar

This article is the second of a three part series on development, peace, and gender in Myanmar. The first article in the series is linked here.

Development practitioners in Myanmar should view the phenomenon of “peacebuilding” as two separate, but intersecting projects—one driven by Myanmar nationals, and the other driven by international actors. The “peace process” is a closed system invested in the balance of power between ethnic communities and the Myanmar government, while another project—what I call the “peacebuilding project” represents, among other things, an international contest for geopolitical control in Mainland Southeast Asia. In this piece, I will discuss the nuances of these two different, but intersecting projects, the limitations of development practice within them, and the implications of all of this for women on the ground.

Since Myanmar opened its doors to the world in 2012 after decades of isolation, many international organizations and the governments supporting them have turned their efforts to repairing a nation perpetually reliant on armed conflict to solve disputes over ethnic autonomy and resource control. The UK, The US, Norway, the European Union and others have bolstered funding for peace-related programming and inter-communal violence reduction, resulting in a flourish of new initiatives by civil society, local and international organizations. This investment has occurred alongside the lifting of economic sanctions—a policy shift that Western governments believe is key to helping the country transition to democracy.

Despite the international community’s desire to be involved, Myanmar’s peace process is highly internal—what I would, in fact, call a “closed system.” The country’s Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, comprised of sixteen Ethnic Armed Organizations and the Union Peace-making Work Committee, the peace-making arm of the government (now termed the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee) have been in dialogue since 2013, all the while resisting international involvement. One notable exception was the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2015, which international and local actors were invited to observe.

Myanmar’s peace process differs from that of other countries in recent history. The 2004 peace agreement in Aceh, Indonesia, for example, was brokered by the government of Finland, with the goal of allowing the international community to provide humanitarian aid to a country reeling from both conflict and natural disaster. Similarly, the Bantay Ceasefire agreement of Mindanao, in The Philippines, incorporated an international ceasefire monitoring team. Unlike these countries, which championed international involvement in ending civil conflict, Myanmar’s peace actors seem committed to keeping the international community at bay.

But the international community is not just sitting idly by. Parallel to Myanmar’s peace process, another project is underway, which operates independently of ethnic armed actors and the Myanmar government. This project, led by international actors, is also invested in helping Myanmar achieve peace—only for different reasons. I call it Myanmar’s “peacebuilding project”—a movement led from the outside by international governments who, in addition to advancing humanitarian aims, are also working to further their own geopolitical interests in Mainland Southeast Asia.

These objectives, while shared by a number of Western governments, are heavily US-dominated. With tens of millions of dollars in aid invested in Myanmar’s development in 2015 alone, the US has taken the lead among Western governments in engaging the former pariah state—now making sweeping economic, political and social reforms. Doing so is part of the US’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region—a process of re-orienting foreign policy toward an area of the world that the US sees as central to the political and economic gains of the 21st century. As part of this re-balancing act, the US’s engagement with Myanmar has already been hailed as a success.

Within this context, the US is playing out a number of agendas in the form of its “peacebuiliding project.” The primary goal involves balancing against China’s rise in the region. Seen as a heavy-handed northern neighbor intent on plundering Myanmar of natural resources in the form of its hydroelectric dam, oil and gas pipeline, copper mining and logging projects, China’s reputation in Myanmar has recently diminished. Myanmar’s government has accused China of stalling the peace process by supporting ethnic autonomous organizations such as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in the north—groups who refuse to sign the NCA due to grievances over the its non-inclusivity. Capitalizing on this unpopular sentiment, the US seems intent to drive home the point that by contrast, its own peace agenda is benign in nature.

The second goal of the US’s peacebuilding project is to divert international attention away from the US’s disastrous involvement in the Middle East. Helping Myanmar achieve peace represents a step in the right direction for the US as it struggles to uphold its brand of promoting democratization and human rights around the world. Ever concerned with the potential decline of its image, the US is relying on the success of Myanmar’s democratic elections coupled with advances in the peace process as a marker of its own foreign policy gains. The hard part, of course, comes with the slow progress being made toward actual peace.

Finally, in addition to these political motivations, I suggest that there is a genuine ethical incentive on the part of the US government to advance a peacebuilding agenda in Myanmar. While a decisive end to armed conflict has yet to be seen, US agencies are investing in programs being implemented by international, local and civil society groups that work to empower people on the ground in conflict areas. Examples include a US Embassy small grants program that supports local civil society organizations conducting human rights, environmental awareness and civic engagement training; USAID funding for humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in conflict-affected areas; and peace education and social integration programs that have successfully impacted ethnic communities. While geopolitical concerns do steer the peacebuilding project, I suggest that this project should not simply be seen as a form of Western dominance. Rather, like all complicated processes, it should be understood according to its nuances, and not painted over with too broad a brush.

Problematic polarizations

The problem, however, is that many actors working in the peacebuilding arena—as well as those critiquing it from the outside—do just that. Because the West’s “peacebuilding project”—a project that means many things to many people—is so complex, national actors in Myanmar often conflate the “good” development work being done around peace with the West’s less altruistic geopolitical aims. This, in turn, has created a culture of mistrust in Myanmar’s development space—an ongoing assumption that international actors are trying to “meddle” in a process that should remain internal. Some national actors have suggested that international organizations are moving too quickly to implement humanitarian and economic strategies in a country still fragile and rife with conflict. Others have gone so far as to suggest that the international community “take its money elsewhere,” expressing disdain for what they see as being a disingenuous agenda.

These actors represent a diverse array of civil society human rights activists and organizations, many of whom worked in exile prior to Myanmar’s “opening” in early 2012. Indeed, the history of Myanmar’s civil society activist culture is characterized by an “inside-outside” dichotomy, in which numerous groups were forced to conduct their efforts across the border in Thailand for fear of being discovered by a repressive and hostile government. Many suffered the consequences of their bravery in protesting, demonstrating, and taking up arms. Now, the country has officially “opened” to these groups and their constituents, in a radical reversal accompanied by an influx of donor support.

An example of this reversal can be seen in the case of the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand, or KWAT, a civil society organization with whom I worked between 2011 and 2014. Prior to 2012, KWAT was wary of being coded as a “rebel” organization by the US government, who, the organization members suspected, viewed them suspiciously because of their involvement with the Kachin Independence Organization. Now, KWAT receives support from that very same government in the form of a grant to research the trafficking of women in Kachin State. Given the quick and quite radical shift in support for civil society actors like KWAT, it is understandable why critics would be skeptical of international involvement.

I suggest, however, that this “broad brush” suspicion of international involvement in peacebuilding can be dangerous for those who live under the conditions of armed conflict. As other scholars have noted, peace processes in which international communities play an ambiguous role can end up entrenching existing conflict dynamics, even after peace agreements are signed. This can happen when ethnic armed groups are authorized to make vague deals that circumvent the rule of law—deals legitimized by an international community whose involvement is too weak to put pressure on national actors to adhere to human rights standards.

This occurred in Bosnia, where, as Mary Kaldor (2016) has explained, following the Dayton Agreement that officially brought an end to war, police and judicial reform processes were implemented at the behest of international community. These reforms, however, were obstructed by corrupt political leadership. While the peace agreement held, the power dynamics of the conflict actors became entrenched. Kaldor notes that this often occurs in post conflict situations, where remnants of the conflict and the return to war loom as constant possibilities. Police rarely attend to human rights violations, and a historic culture of impunity leaves people in fear.

These dangers are ever-present in the Myanmar context, where armed conflict still rages, and gains of the ceasefire agreements in place are fragile, at best. Thus, a strong international presence that holds conflict actors accountable is not only desirable, it is essential. For this reason, Myanmar nationals who genuinely want to empower their communities should resist the temptation to see all international actors as nefarious.

Implications for women

All of this has implications for women living under the conditions of conflict. By viewing international involvement in the peace process with suspicion, national actors reinforce an agenda of keeping that process “closed.”  In doing so, however, women who are affected by the outcomes of this process could end up at a stark disadvantage. This could happen in a number of ways.

First, keeping the peace process internal leaves open the potential for social norms that do a disservice to women to go unchanged. Cultural practices like customary laws that discriminate against women, for example, often hold strong under the guise of ethnic nationalism. By resisting—or flat out rejecting—international involvement, national actors risk creating barriers for women who need these structures to change. As I will discuss in my next article, international efforts around gender advocacy could make important strides in resisting these norms.

Moreover, keeping the process internal risks cementing women’s inequality in peace agreements themselves. In the Myanmar context, the continuous breaches of bilateral ceasefire agreements, the escalation of conflict in various parts of the country during the signing of the NCA, and the NCA’s vague stance on gender inclusivity reveal the weak nature of the agreements in place. Until these agreements are strengthened and taken seriously, women’s needs will go unaddressed. While there is a call on the national level to strengthen gender equity within the NCA, this call risks being overridden by the need to achieve consensus around its signing. In the rush to bring all parties to the table, neither the gender inclusion component of this agreement, nor the rule of law that would enforce it are being adequately addressed. International actors could put pressure on the parties involved to make gender equality an imperative in the NCA, and in rule of law capacity building more broadly.

Finally, if the international community doesn’t take a hard look at its own contradictory agendas, it risks mis-stepping in ways that could have detrimental consequences. Clarifying the agendas of the “peacebuilding project” will require international actors to make some difficult decisions about which investments best serve the needs of communities in Myanmar.

For example, relief programs for internally displaced persons that fail to comprehensively assess the conditions of conflict areas can create more harm than good. Weak accountability mechanisms of international financial institutions investing in development projects pose threats to women in rural environments where those projects are operationalized. Additionally, power relations between ethnic armed organizations and women who live in the territories they control should be taken into consideration in programming that engages these actors. As development practitioners, we must constantly interrogate our own interventions to ensure they are not doing a disservice to the very people we are trying to help.

The politics of peace are not without consequence for women. The closed system of the peace process poses specific risks—as does the international peacebuilding project, if its complexities and contradictions are not fully understood. One resists outside involvement, while the other balances multiple, sometimes competing aims. Understanding the nuances of these projects will not only advance development practice around peacebuilding, it will also illuminate the pitfalls and possibilities for ethnic women in Myanmar, who stand to lose the most from the continuation of armed conflict.

This article is the second of a three part series on development, peace, and gender in Myanmar. Read on to the third part here. The first article in the series is linked here.  

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An alternate past/future for Mekong River dams under the UN Watercourses Convention: Part 3

The author presenting at the Mekong River Commissions's PNPCA workshop, February 2016.

The author presenting at the Mekong River Commissions’s PNPCA workshop, February 2016.

This article is the third in a series looking at dams in the Mekong. Part 1 can be accessed here and Part 2 here.

Notification, consultation & negotiation

The following scenario is a simplified alternative history where the basic elements of the Xayaburi Dam dispute discussed in

Part 2 are applied to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNWC) framework operating alongside both the Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River (Mekong Agreement) and its supplementary Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA). An alternative legal framework and vision for the future of Mekong dam development is thus proposed. This three-piece article concludes with potential next steps for improved transboundary cooperation in the Mekong.

As proposed in the PNPCA and required under the UNWC (Arts. 12-13), Laos would be legally bound to notify potentially impacted riparian states of its plans for the Xayaburi Dam because of the possible significant transboundary impacts this ‘planned measure’ might have on the Mekong River. Hence, Laos’ written submission, complete with available information and any initial Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) results, would have been directly provided to the other Mekong River Commission (MRC) states’ governments, ideally up to six months prior as stated in the PNPCA, before any construction or permits were obtained (UNWC Arts. 11-12). Under the UNWC, the other riparians would then have had six months to reply in writing during which time Laos could not advance any aspect of the dam project without their consent (Arts. 13(a), 14(b)).

Given the actual voiced concerns, it is most probable that the downstream states of Cambodia and Vietnam would have requested a delay in the project initiation, so further studies could be conducted on the dam’s cross-border impacts. Laos would then have been obliged to extend the reply period by an additional six months (Art. 13(b)). It is also highly probable that these delay requests would have required under the UNWC Article 17(3) for Laos to cease any planning for the dam project, including contract negotiations, clearing land, building roads, or initiating construction. As is their right under the UNWC, Cambodia and Vietnam may have likely replied before the extended deadline with justification for their findings that the dam would cause significant transboundary harm, therefore recommending possible alternatives or improved designs be investigated (Art. 15).

After the six-month extension, if no agreement were reached, Laos and the other states would have officially entered into consultations and negotiations, as required under the UNWC (Art 17(1)), with the primary facilitation forum still being the MRC.

Obligation to cooperate in good faith and exchange information

Laos may have then, as they did, commissioned another EIA, this time investigating cross-border impacts. Ideally this would occur at the outset of the proposal given it is a global due diligence — demonstrating reasonable steps to avoid harm — obligation upon states, endorsed by the ICJ.1 No construction would have been allowed during this study (Art. 17(3)), and all available information and EIA results would have had to have been released to the other states in a timely fashion (Art. 11).

Concurrently, throughout the notification, reply, consultation, and negotiation stages, all states would have cooperated in good faith by adhering strictly to all procedures under the Mekong Agreement and the PNPCA, including the open and timely exchange of available information to work to peacefully settle issues (Art, 17).

All of the above would have been beneficial to Cambodia and Vietnam as potentially impacted states having timely access to all the available data in order to be best informed to meaningfully engage in consultations but also to Laos in terms of fostering political goodwill from its fellow MRC members. It could also have been much more efficient for Laos in seeking to avoid potential project delays – as experienced in reality in relation to the various disputed dam designs and inadequate environmental impact and resettlement studies (see Part 2) – if they could have demonstrated full adherence to all applicable UNWC (and PNPCA) processes. This may have given fewer grounds for process-related disagreements between states, and in-turn diminished the need for retrospective actions such as multiple EIAs and the Pöyry report (see Part 2) to seemingly rectify procedural and information-related gaps.

Dispute resolution 

What if, despite all of these positive improvements, disputes about the project were to still arise? Perhaps, as actually occurred, Cambodia and Vietnam would have disputed the new EIA results saying Laos did not share all project data to which Laos would have responded that these states were unreasonably blocking development of its legitimate hydropower energy potential (see Part 2).

The first step would have been to take the issue to the MRC, but resolution may not have been achieved. Under the Mekong Agreement, the matter would then be referred to bilateral channels to seek a diplomatic solution although under Article 33 of the UNWC a request for mediation would also be possible at this juncture. If resolution were still elusive, a third party fact-finding body could impartially gather and analyse all the available information and then provide its key recommendations (Arts 33(3)-(9)). If the states still failed to reach agreement concerning the Xayaburi Dam, the UNWC would permit any of the dispute parties to seek arbitration by an independent tribunal or to appeal to the ICJ for a final ruling (Art. 33(10); Annex). All dispute parties would consequently be obliged to implement all of the findings from any ruling.

An alternative future vision for Mekong River dams with the UNWC in force

With so many variables, it is impossible to know if any of the Xayaburi Dam issues would have turned out differently from the current reality if the UNWC had been in force between the relevant states. Even having the UNWC and Mekong Agreement with its PNPCA operating collectively is unlikely to resolve all disputes. Nevertheless, the above fictional scenario demonstrates that having both treaties – the UNWC and Mekong Agreement – operating concurrently and complementing each other would certainly improve predictability and transparency by guiding expectations about how states can act regarding project proposals on both the Mekong’s mainstream and tributaries.

Moreover, it would underpin the PNPCA with clearer, legally-binding and largely time-bound sequential procedures, while allowing the MRC to continue to be the primary negotiation forum with additional dispute outlets available through third-parties. Such changes would not only have impacted the Xayaburi Dam proposal process but also the processes for the other ten dam projects currently being planned or built that might harm regional development as a whole.2

Previous academic research examining controversial dam projects on the Mekong mainstream (the Xayaburi Dam in Laos) and its tributaries (the Yali Falls Dam in Vietnam) supports this assertion that having the UNWC in force would have clarified some divisive substantive and procedural, legal elements.3,4 Moreover, many researchers argue that having the UNWC in force in the Mekong would go a long way to ensuring international best practice standards for due diligence and cooperation regarding future hydropower projects, especially regarding the PNPCA framework and Mekong Agreement dispute resolution procedures.5,6,7,8,9,10,11

In sum, the UNWC would provide a strengthened legal foundation of detailed and binding principles and procedures upon which the Lower Mekong Basin states could improve water governance and resolve ongoing conflicts. Accordingly, as a globally-recognised platform, the UNWC would support a balanced and level ‘playing-field’ for all the MRC states to govern the lower basin more equitably, especially between upstream and downstream riparians. In-turn, hopefully many of the major threats to the river and its people might be alleviated via a clearer and compulsory set of rules to abide by for hydropower development.

Revitalising processes for sustainable development that people can believe in: The time is now

As the pace of dam construction rapidly accelerates and as the region’s economies develop, it has become evidently clear that the legal obligations of the Mekong Agreement and the PNPCA urgently need significant clarifying and strengthening to evolve and cope with these and other regional trends.

China is pushing the LMCM as a viable water cooperation platform uniting the Upper-Lower Mekong Basins and was very quick to signify its own strategic position upstream and future importance to Mekong water relations downstream, especially negotiations over water supply, by opening a dam days before the March meeting supposedly in response to Vietnam’s request for increased flows (see Part 1).13,16,17 Portrayed as a symbolic act of goodwill and ‘hydro-diplomacy’, critics dispute China’s supposedly benevolent rationale with some saying it was simply a fortuitously-timed routine exercise and others highlighting that it will have no major benefits downstream, especially in the Mekong Delta where it is needed most.18,19,20,21In November 2015, the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism (LMCM) was launched by foreign Ministers from all the Mekong River basin states with the inaugural leaders’ meeting held on 23 March 2016.12,13 Not only is this the first multilateral agreement between all Mekong riparians that incorporates water resources, but China – Asia’s upstream superpower or ‘hydro-hegemon’ – rarely signs treaties or establishes institutions for joint-management of shared rivers.14,15

Despite the LMCM emerging on the regional agenda and seemingly being positioned by China as a legitimate alternative to the Mekong Agreement, MRC member states finally appear to have recognised strengthening the existing PNPCA as a crucial priority. A workshop entitled ‘Dialogue of Lessons Learnt from the Implementation of the PNPCA and Guidelines’ was convened in February 2016 by the MRC Secretariat. Its stated aim was to draw lessons from states’ PNPCA experiences of both the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams in order to improve the procedures and guidelines.22 One of the workshop’s thematic sessions specifically investigated how guidance from the global water conventions and applicable international case law might support implementing legal ‘best practice’ standards for notification and prior consultation procedures within the PNPCA and its Guidelines.1,11

Additionally, several NGOs, including WWF and IUCN, have led calls for all Mekong basin states to join Vietnam in acceding to the UNWC for enhanced transboundary cooperation on sustainable dam development. Awareness-raising and technical capacity-building events around this goal have increased in recent years.23,24,25,26

A number of legal studies and policy papers have also been produced investigating the role, relevance, and application of the UNWC within the Lower Mekong Basin. One just published in March 2016 by IUCN entitled ‘A window of opportunity for the Mekong Basin: The UN Watercourses Convention as a basis for cooperation’ is a comparative legal analysis of how the UNWC complements the Mekong Agreement.7 Interest in the UNWC is clearly building across the region, and the time is now to seize upon it to improve water cooperation and processes for sustainable river development.

Hopefully the newly appointed MRC CEO – the first national from a riparian state – will see the value added and be bold in encouraging all member states to support and revitalise the Mekong Agreement and PNPCA framework through adoption of the UNWC.27

Just over 21 years since adopting the feted Mekong Agreement, a renewed opportunity has arisen for all the lower basin states to help strengthen water governance across the Mekong River mainstream and its tributaries. Should all MRC states be politically willing to further clarify and make binding their cooperative commitments within and between each other, the UNWC offers the global legal framework with balanced procedures which, operating alongside the Mekong Agreement and PNPCA, could collectively guide an alternative vision for the Mekong’s future sustainable development; one that all the people in this region may be able to believe in once more, as they did back in 1995.

References:

  1. McIntyre, O. (2011). The World Court’s ongoing contribution to international water law: The Pulp Mills Case between Argentina and Uruguay. Water Alternatives, 4(2), 124.
  2. Barron, L. (2015, January 29). Xayaburi redux at Lao meet. The Phnom Penh Post. Available from:http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/xayaburi-redux-lao-meet
  3. Rieu-Clarke, A. (2015). Notification and consultation procedures under the Mekong Agreement: insights from the Xayaburi controversy. Asian Journal of International Law. 5(1), 143.
  4. Rieu-Clarke, A., & Gooch, G. (2009-2010). Governing the Tributaries of the Mekong-The Contribution of International Law and Institutions to Enhancing Equitable Cooperation Over the Sesan. Pacific McGeorge Global Business & Development Law Journal.22, 193.
  5. Bearden, B.L. (2010). The legal regime of the Mekong River: a look back and some proposals for the way ahead.Water Policy. 12, 798
  6. Bearden, B.L., (2012). Following the proper channels: tributaries in the Mekong legal regime. Water Policy. 14, 991
  7. IUCN. (2016). A window of opportunity for the Mekong Basin: The UN Watercourses Convention as a basis for cooperation (A legal analysis of how the UN Watercourses Convention complements the Mekong Agreement): IUCN. 27pp.
  8. Kinna, R. (2015, November 24). UN Watercourses Convention: Can it revitalise the Mekong Agreement 20 years on? Mekong Commons. Available from: http://www.mekongcommons.org/un-watercourses-convention-can-it-revitalise-mekong-agreement-20-years-on/
  9. Pech, S. (2011). UN Watercourses Convention and Greater Mekong Sub-region. Consultancy paper by Hatfield Consultants. July 2011. Available from: http://www.unwatercoursesconvention.org/images/2012/10/Mekong-and-UNWC.pdf
  10. Van Duyen, N. (2001). The Inadequacies of Environmental Protection Mechanisms in the Mekong River Basin Agreement. Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law. 6, 349
  11. Rieu-Clarke, A. (2014). Notification and Consultation on Planned Measures Concerning International Watercourses: Learning Lessons from the Pulp Mills and Kishenganga Cases. Yearbook of International Environmental Law. 24(1), 102.
  12. Biba, S. (2016, February 1). China drives water cooperation with Mekong countries. TheThirdPole.net. Available at: http://www.thethirdpole.net/2016/02/01/china-drives-water-cooperation-with-mekong-countries/
  13. Xinhuanet. (2016, March 24). Commentary: Lancang-Mekong cooperation to boost regional prosperity. Available from: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-03/24/c_135219925.htm
  14. Chen, H., Rieu-Clarke, A. &Wouters, P. (2013).Exploring China’s transboundary water treaty practice through the prism of the UN Watercourses Convention.Water International. 38(2), 217-230
  15. Waslekar, S. (2016, January 10). Asia’s water can be a source of harmony, not conflict. South China Morning Post.Available from: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1899067/asias-water-can-be-source-harmony-not-conflict
  16. Ganjanakhundee, S. (2016, March 23). China leaves little doubt who is master of the Mekong. The Nation. Available from: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/politics/China-leaves-little-doubt-who-is-master-of-the-Mek-30282244.html
  17. Yee, T.H. (2016, March 22). Beijing sweetens ground for China-led regional initiative. The Straits Times. Available from: http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/beijing-sweetens-ground-for-china-led-regional-initiative
  18. Kossov, I. (2016, March 22). No great hopes for China’s Mekong release. The Phnom Penh Post. Available from:http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/no-great-hopes-chinas-mekong-release
  19. The Mekong Eye. (2016, March 23). NGOs question China’s dam release. Available from:http://www.mekongeye.com/2016/03/24/ngos-question-chinas-dam-release/
  20. The Nation. (2016, March 19). Water diplomacy by China offers drought relief. Available from:http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/Water-diplomacy-by-China-offers-drought-relief-30281969.html
  21. Zhou, M. (2016, March 23). China and the Mekong Delta: Water Savior or Water Tyrant? The Diplomat. Available from: http://thediplomat.com/2016/03/china-and-the-mekong-delta-water-savior-or-water-tyrant/
  22. MRC. (2016, February 25). MRC Discuss Lessons Learnt from Its Procedure on Water Diplomacy. Available from:http://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/events/mrc-discuss-lessons-learnt-from-its-procedure-on-water-diplomacy/
  23. Brunner, J. (2015, June 24). Why the region needs the UN Watercourses Convention. IUCN. Available athttps://www.iucn.org/news_homepage/news_by_date/?21567/Why-the-region-needs-the-UN-Watercourses-Convention
  24. Goichot, M. (2016, January 14). UN convention could help solve Mekong pact’s weaknesses. Phnom Penh Post. Available from: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/analysis-and-op-ed/un-convention-could-help-solve-mekong-pacts-weaknesses
  25. Kinna, R., Glemet, R., & Brunner, J. (2015, September 29). Reinvigorating the Mekong Spirit.Myanmar Times.Available from: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/opinion/16719-reinvigorating-the-mekong-spirit.html
  26. Suy, P. (2015). Group Proposes Signing UN Water Pact. Khmer Times. Available from:http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/16099/group-proposes-signing-un-water-pact/
  27. MRC. (2016, January 18). First riparian Chief Executive Officer assumes his office today. Available from:http://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/first-riparian-chief-executive-officer-assumes-his-office/

Rémy Kinna is an Australian international water law, policy and governance specialist and Principal Consultant with Transboundary Water Law (TWL) Global Consulting (www.transboundarywaterlaw.com) currently based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is an Honorary Research Associate with the Institute of Marine and Environmental Law at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and an Expert – International Water Law and Policy with the London Centre of International Law Practice’s Centre for International Water Law and Security. Rémy can be contacted via email (remy@transboundarywaterlaw) or found on TwitterAll views and errors remain those of the author and do not represent those of the states, organisations and individuals mentioned in this piece. The author would like to sincerely thank Kathryn Pharr for her editorial work and Dr Alistair Rieu-Clarke for his feedback on an earlier version of this piece.

This article was originally printed here on the World Water Forum website.  It is reposted with permission from the author and the World Water Forum.

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