Weekly Round-up for Week of 12.20.2019


Control of the Mighty Mekong and its EvaporationElite Plus The 4,700-kilometre mighty Mekong that flows from China through, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam appears to be drying up. In November, the Mekong River Commission reported that it was at its lowest levels in 60 years; other organizations have said it is at its lowest in a century, and where it is felt most is in the delta in south-western Vietnam. 

Mekong basin’s vanishing fish signal tough times ahead for CambodiaThe Guardian Tbong sits in the shade of a makeshift stilt hut over the edge of Tonlé Sap lake, surrounded by curious children. “Snake, catfish, elephant fish …” he says, his eyes crinkled against the sun. “Before, a long time ago … the lake had a lot of catfish.” But in just one generation, everything has changed. Fish species are dwindling, plant life is dying and the entire Mekong system is breaking apart. For the children gathered around Tbong, a plentiful Tonlé Sap is nothing but a story.

Plundering Cambodia’s Forests – Al Jazeera Under a rickety wooden stilt house near Cambodia’s Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the country’s leading environmental campaigners is preparing dinner. Ouch Leng stuffs raw meat into an empty beer can and throws it into the fire. It’s a poor man’s feast for his team of investigators to fuel them through a night’s surveillance. Chewing pork and buffalo, their infrared optics and cameras ready to record, they wait patiently for trucks to emerge from the darkness. // The extent of timber that is being plunder from protected areas is very shocking and the swipe comparison images of forest sanctuaries in 2009 and 2019 was extremely disheartening. Despite protection status by the government, there is obviously no enforcement mechanisms and is turning a blind eye as shown by the involvement of Hun Sen’s advisor, Try Pheap. Regionally, efforts to mitigate smuggling at illegal crossing should be supported as well as increasing protections for environmental activists like Ouch Leng. 


Indonesia hits European Union with WTO lawsuit over palm oil Channel News Asia Indonesia has filed a World Trade Organization lawsuit against the European Union over plans to phase out palm oil-based biofuel for cars, the trade ministry said. The action could escalate a trade dispute between Indonesia – the world’s top palm oil producer – and the EU, which plans to end its use of biofuels by 2030, citing concerns over widespread deforestation caused by the sector. 

China closes Mekong River stretchBangkok Post China has declared a 60-kilometre section of Mekong River off-limits to all types of boats indefinitely while rock blasting is undertaken to widen the channel for commercial shipping operations.

Australia, the US, and the Race for ASEAN’s Infrastructure The DiplomatAustralia and the U.S. are both providing infrastructure investments in ASEAN, sometimes in direct competition with each other. //The United States and Australia are two countries that share a close cooperative relationship with ASEAN, especially in the infrastructure sector. However, this cooperation has not been carried out together; both the United States and Australia have separate infrastructure cooperation initiatives with ASEAN. 

Vietnam’s Crucial ASEAN Leadership Role in South China Sea Asia Sentinel In 2020, the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations falls to Vietnam. For Hanoi, the immediacy of the South China Sea problem was underscored this year when a Chinese oil survey ship and its escort vessels roamed for months inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. 

Philippines postpones ASEAN Para Games over ‘funding constraints’ Channel News Asia The 10th ASEAN Para Games in Manila will be rescheduled to March 2020, Philippine Paralympic Committee (PPC) president Michael Barredo said on Friday (Dec 20), local media reported. The Games, initially slated to take place from Jan 18 to Jan 25, is a twin event of the Southeast Asian Games, which ended last week. 

South China Sea joint energy deals will fail in face of maritime disputes, study finds South China Morning Post China scholar Song Xue examined 19 joint development projects worldwide between 1958 and 2008 and found territorial disputes that hurt bilateral ties often caused pacts to fail. She cited the Philippines-China venture as an example where both sides had set aside claims for ‘mutual economic gains’. 


Floods hit several states in Malaysia; thousands evacuated The Straits Times More than 3,800 people were in flood evacuation centres in south-east Johor yesterday, with the authorities predicting more rain as several Malaysian states were hit by floods at the weekend.

The states affected included Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak, with more than 5,000 forced to leave their homes.

Bali’s drugged, smuggled orangutan headed back to the wild Channel News Asia A baby orangutan that was drugged by a Russian trafficker in a failed bid to smuggle it out of Bali will be released back into the wild. The case made headlines in March when suspicious authorities on the Indonesian holiday island stopped Andrei Zhestkov, who was flying back to Russia, and opened his luggage to find a two-year-old orangutan sleeping inside a rattan basket.

Tigers Extinct in LaosThe Revelator Are tigers extinct in Laos? That’s the conclusion of a detailed new study that found no evidence wild tigers still exist in the country. What researchers did find during a five-year camera survey of the biodiversity-rich Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area was evidence of snares — lots and lots of deadly snares, which are designed to trap and kill any animals that stumble across them. It appears that tigers have now paid the ultimate price for the snaring crisis that plagues Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia.

After decades in darkness, this entire Thai village is now powered by solar energy – Channel News Asia Patcharin In-juang was pregnant when she agreed to move to the home village of her husband in Pranburi district in central Thailand back in 2004. She was from the city, so she was expecting a different life in the rural community. But she was shocked to find out when she arrived at Wong Wan village that her new home had no access to electricity. It was a detail her husband had failed to mention.

Early saltwater intrusion threatens yet another Mekong Delta crisisVN Express With saltwater intruding deep and earlier than expected, people living in the Mekong Delta face a crippling freshwater shortage. One morning in mid December Le Minh Hieu of Hung Khanh Trung B Commune in Ben Tre Province’s Cho Lach District went to a canal behind his house with a worried face. He got some water from it and tested it using a salinity meter: the level read 2.0 parts per thousand. // The increasing salinization of the water is harmful for many farmers that grow agricultural products such as flowers and fruit that are sensitive to water salinity. 

Shipping Industry Proposes Fund to Tackle Carbon Emissions Voice of America A global shipping industry organization is proposing a research and development program to help cut carbon dioxide emissions, funded by about $5 billion from shipping companies over a decade.

Indonesia Lets Plastic Burnings Continue Despite Warning on Toxins – The New York Times The Indonesian government, stung by a report that found burning plastic for fuel is poisoning residents in an East Java village, is allowing the illegal burning to continue while it challenges the environmental study.

Orangutans returned to Indonesian homeland Bangkok Post Thailand continues to repatriate illegally trafficked animals. Wildlife authorities sent two orangutans back to Indonesia on Friday as part of a collaborative effort to combat the illicit wildlife trade.

From seeds to forests: How one man is growing Thailand’s future Mongabay When Nopporn Nontapha couldn’t become a forestry official, he turned his passion for Thailand’s forests into a thriving online community. Nontapha’s community now gives away seedlings to people across the country, growing a new generation of trees in a country whose forests have been hammered by deforestation.


Beijing protests after US expels two Chinese diplomats who drove onto military baseSouth China Morning Post Foreign ministry says allegations not in line with the facts and calls for Washington to ‘correct its mistake and cancel the decision’. The officials were expelled on suspicion of espionage in September. 

China and the West Race to the Top Project Syndicate Although macroeconomic stability and efficient markets are essential conditions for economic growth, they do not drive it. If the West wants to compete effectively against China and other fast-growing Asian countries, governments need to make innovation central to their economic policies.

The invisible water shortage in Hebei’s capital China Dialogue Shijiazhuang in northern China is suffering from a serious water shortage. Why do local people think otherwise? // The stalks left after the soy harvest in the village of Tatou are still green. By mid-autumn, most crops in northern China have been harvested. But here on the outskirts of the city of Shijiazhuang, radishes and cabbages remain in the ground, soaking up a little more nutrition before the frosts arrive. You would never think this place has a water shortage.

China’s 1st home-built carrier deploys to South China Sea Nikkei Asian Review China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier entered into service Tuesday, backing up Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea from its home port on the southern island of Hainan.

Cambodians struggle to be compensated for Dara Sakor megaproject China Dialogue Saing Puy has been waiting a decade for compensation. She represents 77 of the families in Cambodia’s southwestern province of Koh Kong displaced by a US$3.8 billion Chinese megaproject called Dara Sakor.


Goldman Sachs 1MDB case moved to higher court in MalaysiaThe Straits Times Two Goldman Sachs Group units facing criminal charges for their alleged role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal had their cases moved to a higher court in Malaysia.

The High Court on Monday (Dec 16) approved the transfer from the Magistrate’s Court for the charges against Goldman Sachs (Asia) and Goldman Sachs International (UK). The petition to transfer the case against a third unit, Goldman Sachs (Singapore), is still pending and will be reviewed at another hearing on Dec 26.

Philippine parts industry gets jump start from Japan automakersNikkei Asian ReviewThe Philippines’ auto industry appears to be coming into its own thanks to government support, with Toyota Motor and Mitsubishi Motors using a majority of locally supplied parts when assembling flagship models in the Southeast Asian nation. 

Philippines court throws out US$3.9 billion Marcos family forfeiture case South China Morning Post Judges acknowledged the atrocities and plunder of state resources committed under the regime of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. But they found insufficient evidence to order his family return any funds – ruling photocopied documents could not be used as evidence. 

Malaysia’s Northern States boosted by infrastructural aid, US-China trade war The Straits Times Driving up to Malaysia’s north-west, one is more likely to be greeted by endless padi fields than rows of factories and trucks transporting cargo. But it belies a tremendous surge of investment interest in recent years. The Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER), which covers Perlis, Penang, Kedah and northern Perak, is in fact second only to Johor’s Iskandar, in terms of investments, among Malaysia’s five development corridors.

Cambodia’s economy in the post-EBA era East Asia Forum It has been yet another impressive year for Cambodia’s economy. Thanks to continued strength in traditional sectors such as garments, tourism, trade and construction, Cambodia’s GDP grew 7 per cent in 2019 — the highest growth in the ASEAN region according to the IMF.

Northern Alliance, Myanmar Govt Fail to Reach Deal at Latest Peace Talks in China The Irrawaddy Members of the Northern Alliance met Myanmar government representatives in the Chinese city of Kunming on Saturday in an unsuccessful attempt to end the deadlock in peace negotiations, according to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

Indonesia president seeks to speed up ‘Silicon Valley’-like new capital Channel News AsiaIndonesian President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday (Dec 18) he had ordered his cabinet to speed up a US$33 billion project to move the capital city from Jakarta to forested Borneo island so that the new “Silicon Valley”-like city could be ready by 2023.

Backlash against migrant workers in Asia-Pacific sparks slavery concerns The Straits Times Public support for migrant workers in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand is decreasing, a United Nations poll found on Wednesday (Dec 18) that campaigners said raised concerns about the risk of slavery.

Vietnam Turning into Medical Tourism Destination for Dental, Cosmetic Care Voice of America Foreign tourists normally pour into Vietnam to see colonial architecture and limestone jutting out of the sea. Now some are headed to Vietnam’s clinics and hospitals. They’re part of Asia’s latest medical tourism industry.

Air pollution soars in Thai capital Bangkok, authorities issue warning Channel News Asia Authorities in Thailand’s capital warned people to wear face masks or stay indoors on Thursday (Dec 19) after choking air pollution returned to Bangkok following months of clear air in one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Chinese Tourists to Cambodia Grow, But Yield Little Revenue For Locals Radio Free Asia More than two million Chinese tourists visited Cambodia in the first 10 months of the year, the government said in a report, representing nearly a quarter increase for the same period in 2018, but a local tourism association suggested numbers had dwindled and yielded little revenue for Cambodians.

12-year-old Xeo Chu, Vietnam’s ‘young Jackson Pollock’, opens New York exhibition South China Morning Post Art prodogy’s abstract paintings have sold for more than US$150,000. Chu started painting at age 4 and made his first sale two years later. 

Vietnamese tanker captain jailed over Shell oil heist in SingaporeChannel News Asia Vietnamese tanker captain has been jailed in Singapore for his part in a scheme that saw about US$150 million (S$203 million) worth of oil stolen from energy giant Shell’s largest refinery, authorities said Friday (Dec 20). The theft took place over several years from a huge industrial site in Singapore, described by the Anglo-Dutch firm as one of its most important production centres in the world.

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