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Mekong Eye News Digest #130: Dam benefits for Cambodia, Thai journo’s Myanmar mining troubles, Belt & Road explainers & more

Dam benefits for Cambodia, Thai journo’s Myanmar mining troubles, Belt & Road explainers & more

By The Mekong Eye

Mekong Region, May 18, 2017

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT – DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT – GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE – RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT 

China wants to dynamite the Mekong River to increase trade – ABC
Environmental groups in Thailand are concerned about China’s plan to blast shallow parts of the Mekong River to allow heavy shipping. The project will destroy habitat for the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish and could have devastating impacts for downstream countries like Cambodia and Vietnam. Fishing, agriculture and even national boundaries are likely to be affected. (Also see: Thai Resistance to China’s downstream ambitions – Asia Times, Local Activists in Chiang Rai Protest Against Blasting of Mekong River –Chiangrai Times)

How will Southeast Asia feed its people in 2030 – Eco-Business via Mekong Eye
According to the World Food Programme, 795 million people — one in nine — go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Even more – one in three – suffer from some form of malnutrition. Some 60.5 million of the world’s undernourished are in Southeast Asia. The region’s population is expected to reach 721 million by 2030, up from 608 million people now, placing the food supply under intense pressure. So, how will Southeast Asia bring about a resilient and sustainable food future for its people over the next 15 years?

We need to reform fossil fuel subsidies – Bangkok Post (Opinion)
Energy has been heavily subsidised across the globe.In Southeast Asia alone, fossil fuel subsidies amounted to US$51 billion (1.77 trillion baht) in 2012, according to an estimate of the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA) and the International Energy Agency. Fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful energy use and burden government budgets. They also defer investment in energy infrastructure and efficient technology, and undermine renewable energy undertakings.

ASEAN gets funding boost for sustainable infrastructure projects –Eco-Business
A new platform to support infrastructure finance in Southeast Asia was launched on Friday at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Asean 2017, with Cambodia becoming the first regional government to sign up. Created by the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership (SDIP), the new SDIP Asean Hub aims to support infrastructure development in the Southeast Asian region by helping local projects attain funding and promoting blended finance.

Environmental connectivity and economic growth – The Phnom Penh Post
This week, regional leaders met in Phnom Penh to discuss how to build a more connected, prosperous Southeast Asia at the World Economic Forum on Asean. They will talk about how technology, infrastructure and closer trade ties will help Asean’s youth – a rising powerhouse – shape the economic future of the region and the globe. But there is one key element missing from this discussion that can make or break this vision: the Mekong River.

CAMBODIA
China-constructed hydro electric stations ensure reliable, affordable electricity for Cambodians – Khmer Times
Deep in the jungles of Mondol Sima district in southwestern Koh Kong province, about a seven-hour drive from the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh, is the lower Stung Russei Chrum hydropower station, one of the six hydroelectric stations that were constructed by China. Within the framework of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, the hydroelectric station was built by China Huadian Corp and began operations in January 2015 after nearly five years of construction.

Dam Will Not Damage the Environment, Hun Sen Says – Cambodia Daily
A long-anticipated hydro-electric dam in Stung Treng province is set for completion in September, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on his personal Facebook page, touting the contentious project’s lack of societal and environmental repercussions, a claim environmentalists quickly rebutted.

LAOS
Cash and Chemicals: For Laos, Chinese Banana Boom a Blessing and Curse –  VOA
Kongkaew Vonusak smiles when he recalls the arrival of Chinese investors in his tranquil village in northern Laos in 2014. With them came easy money, he said. Three years later, the Chinese-driven banana boom has left few locals untouched, but not everyone is smiling. Experts say the Chinese have brought jobs and higher wages to northern Laos, but have also drenched plantations with pesticides and other chemicals.

Belt and Road Forum: President calls for support for least developed, landlocked countries –  Vientiane Times
President Bounnhang Vorachit has called for greater support and cooperation to be extended to least developed and landlocked countries in developing their connectivity systems under the Belt and Road Initiative. The Lao president made the comment at the first ever Leaders Roundtable of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on May 15 in Beijing, China.

Lao cultural treasure faces river trade dilemma – Asia Times
Laos’ world heritage enclave of Luang Prabang comprises over 120 sites of cultural and historic importance, all squeezed between a few kilometers of cobblestone alleys, ornate temples and picturesque hillsides at the confluence of two rivers, including the Mekong. But how much longer can the conservation success story be maintained?

MYANMAR
Myanmar hydropower– can we learn from the Mekong experience? – The Nation
Across the globe, hydropower is an emotive subject that results in strong ideological pro-dam and anti-dam positions.This often results in the marginalisation of the middle ground, making it harder for informed and objective discussions to take place. And there are plenty of examples of individual projects that fuel this debate. That is why involvement in an initiative in Myanmar to assess the full dimensions of the benefits and impacts is to be encouraged.

Shan coal power plant to run health tests – ELEVEN
Tikyit coal-fired power plant in southern Shan State will be tested for one year and if the results point to serious consequences, it will be stopped, says Swe Thein, Shan State’s minister for electric power, energy and industry. Wuxi Huaguang Electric Power Engineering Co Ltd hired the plant from the ministry on a 22-year lease. He said: “We have a meeting at Tikyit. We will organise many committees, including one concerned with health care in cooperation with Khun San Lwin, leader of Pa-O self-administered zone. If there are serious health problems during trials, the plant will be closed.”

Why Does Myanmar Stand on China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ – The Irrawaddy
China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative is new to many of the Burmese public, though the magnitude of the massively ambitious project would need a specialized task force to understand. Burma won’t reject the BRI; the interesting element is how the country’s leadership deals with the initiative. It is time to negotiate from a position of strength.

Aust firms urged to invest in Myanmar – The Nation
Though Australian businesses are still cautious about doing business in Myanmar, they should not hesitate to enter the country, as both governments are committed to supporting bilateral economic ties, according to an Australian diplomat. Nick Cumpston, counsellor at the Australian Embassy, said in an interview that the Australian government would encourage its businesses to seize enormous opportunities in the emerging market, thanks to Myanmar’s potential for faster growth in the near future.

Authorities crack down on jade scavengers in Kani – Eleven
Authorities have imposed Section 143 of the Penal Code in mining areas of Kani on Monday in a move to clear out jade scavengers. The announcement was made by Kani township general administrative office, which said jade scavengers were living illegally in Nansibon and Makyankha mines, trespassing in groups to search for jade and other valuable items, as well as urging people to rob and destroy property.

Land rights major risk for EU- Myanmar IPA – Myanmar Times
As EU-Myanmar Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) negotiations entered the fifth round, a report released by ACT-Alliance on the potential risks and opportunities of the agreement has named Myanmar’s widespread land conflicts, land-related human rights, the need for policy space and limited institutional capacity as major obstacles to the forthcoming IPA.

THAILAND 
4,000 river structures to go in anti-floods push – Bangkok Post
Half of more than 8,000 buildings and structures along the Chao Phraya River will be removed in five years to allow higher water flow capacity aimed at reducing the impact of flooding in nearby areas, according to the Royal Irrigation Department. Somkiat Prajamwong, the department’s deputy director-general, said staff have been working closely with other state agencies to deal with structures built on the river which have now become water-flow barriers hindering water drainage to the sea.

EGATi to explore investment in renewable energy abroad – The Nation
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT)has tasked its subsidiary Egat International (EGATi) with looking for opportunities to invest in renewable energy projects abroad. Egat chairman Areepong Bhoocha-Oom said EGATi, which is Egat’s overseas investment arm, would have to catch up with the global trend of green energy. Egat definitely wants two gigawatts of renewable energy. It will focus on Thailand and EGATi elsewhere to reach that target.

A changing Mekong, changing lives in Ubon Ratchathani – Prachatai
Dams constructed by Chinese government along the Mekong river are forcing villagers in Ubon Ratchathani into lives of uncertainty, even as they reap no benefits from the dams themselves. On 19 April 2017, seven exploration ships from China arrived in Chiang Khong District, Chiang Rai Province. The ships were assigned to navigate Thailand’s Mekong river as part of a plan to bomb outcrops along the riverbank to clear the way for commercial ships.

VIETNAM
Vietnam urges Laos to rethink Mekong River dams – VietnamNet
“Viet Nam wants all upstream Mekong River nations to adopt proper policies in exploiting the river, especially in hydropower dam construction, in order to ensure rights for downstream nations, like Viet Nam,” Minister of Natural Resources and Environment and chairman of the Viet Nam Mekong River Commission, Tran Hong Ha, said in his opening speech. “Viet Nam is seriously worried about the increasing exploitation of hydropower in the Mekong River in recent years by upstream nations. Viet Nam has recently suffered severe drought, saline intrusion and land sinking,” he added.

Mekong Delta faces increased risk of landslides as sediment loss continues –  VietnamNet
Nguyen Huu Thien, an independent expert, said the Mekong Delta has been taking shape for the last 6,000 years thanks to alluvial accretion. But the volume of sediment in the river and canal system has decreased gradually, leading to an increased risk of landslides. The coastal provinces in the western part of the southern region are also directly affected by the change. The alluvium from river mouths to the sea has the function of protecting the coast, easing the impact from waves hitting the coast.

Thanh Hoa calls for investment in 50 big projects – Vietnam Plus
The central province of Thanh Hoa is offering numerous incentives to call for investment in 50 projects totaling 5 billion USD in the locality. They include exempting land rental fees and providing financial assistance for industrial parks (IPs) infrastructure construction and solid garbage treatment. Organisations and individuals who encourage enterprises to invest in the local IPs will also get a cash award of up to 500 million VND (22,000 USD).

Vietnam Defends Arrest of Anti- Formosa Activist – Radio Free Asia
Authorities in central Vietnam’s Nghe An province on Tuesday defended the arrest of an activist who had campaigned against Hanoi’s handling of a devastating toxic waste spill, saying he was responsible for a demonstration that took over a government office and created social disorder. Nghe An provincial police on Monday detained Hoang Duc Binh, 34, for “opposing officers on duty” and “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state” under Articles 257 and 258 of Vietnam’s penal code. The activist will be held for 90 days, police said.

DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT

CAMBODIA
Government Investigates Vietnamese Logging Operation –  The Cambodia Daily
Environment Minister Say Sam Al on Sunday said the government was investigating fresh evidence of industrial-scale illegal logging by Vietnamese companies in northeastern Cambodia and had already been probing related reports for the past year. The revelation raises new questions about how the ministry could have let a massive timber smuggling operation it was at least partially aware of go ahead.

Cambodia looks to China for ‘governance’ guidance – Asia Times
When Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first official visit to Cambodia last October, bringing with him a new aid deal worth US$237 million and a promise to forgive almost US$90 million in Phnom Penh-owed debts, he was greeted with open arms by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The long-serving Southeast Asian leader said that Cambodia’s recent fast development “could not have happened without the generosity of our Chinese friend.” Xi repaid the compliment, referring to Hun Sen as an “ironclad friend of China.

MYANMAR
Tinkering for science on the Irrawaddy – BBC
Drop twigs over a bridge on the upstream side and then race over to the downstream side to see which bits of wood appear first. Good fun, for sure, but the scientist in you may also learn something about stream behaviour. This is essentially what Delft University of Technology’s Thom Bogaard and Rolf Hut have been doing in Myanmar. Together with local students, they’ve been playing a kind of poohsticks on the Irrawaddy River with coconuts.

MRCB chief advises on how to address Myanmar’s challenges – The Nation
Myanmar’s aim to become Asia’s last frontier may not be realised if the government fails to urgently address the challenges it faces in promoting responsible businesses, according to Vicky Bowman, director of Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business. Bowman said in an interview Myanmar government must build up its capacity to prioritise on benefit sharing across the nation, as decision-making and management play a crucial role in maintaining the growth momentum.

THAILAND
Myanmar and Thai NGOs support ‘Nation’ reporter hit by suit for defaming ‘mining company – The Nation
The group of 80 human rights and environmental protection organisations led by Reporters without Borders issued a joint statement urging the Thai government to protect press freedom, decriminalise defamation, and align the 2007 Computer Crime Act with international laws and standards. The groups also demanded that Myanmar Phongpipat Co Ltd, the Thai mining company operating in Myanmar, withdraw all criminal proceedings against Pratch and The Nation newspaper immediately.

The walls are closing in on Thai journos – Bangkok Post (Commentary)
I’ve often been asked what it’s like working as a journalist during periods of political upheaval in Thailand. My immediate answer is usually feeling as if my life is at stake. And secondly, I feel we live under a climate of intimidation. Over the past few years, the state’s suppression of opinions on social media platforms has grown. More and more people have been arrested or faced charges for expressing their thoughts, sharing information or reporting facts.

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

The Real Trouble With China”s Belt and Road – The Diplomat
The Belt and Road Initiative, a signature foreign policy priority of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is often referred to as the largest initiative of its kind launched by a single country. And its scale  certainly is intimidating. Keep this in mind as you get flooded with headlines with impressive statistics and shiny new deals as the Belt and Road Forum gets underway next week. The real trouble with the Belt and Road Initiatives is not simply a question of perception management or scale, but underlying structural challenges that will need to be addressed if it intends to truly succeed. (Also see: Forum will promote infrastructure improvements – China Daily,  ‘One Belt, One Road’ welcomed with some caution – Eleven, Behind China’s $1 Trillion Plan to Shake Up the Economic Order – The New York Times, What is China’s Belt and Road Initiative?– The Economist)

China’s Belt and Road Initiative Still Pushing Coal – China Dialogue
Officials and leaders from over 110 countries will gather in Beijing on May 14-15 for the first ever Belt and Road Forum. China’s ambitious attempt to boost economic growth across a vast area stretching from its southeast coast all the way to Africa is known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Its two parts – a Silk Road Economic Belt and a Maritime Silk Road – are focused on channelling enormous investment in infrastructure to connect the region and to open new markets for Chinese products, services and capital.

Hydropower as an Energy Source: Need to Find the Right Balance – IDSA
Tapping hydropower is considered a key priority area in view of India’s growing energy requirement. It is noteworthy that India became a net exporter of electricity for the first time between April 2016 and February 2017, exporting around 5,585 million units to Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. However, every stakeholder needs to contemplate the impact that hydropower dams would have on the environment, and also the potential impact of climate change on dams, both before and after their construction.

Sandmining is destroying Asia’s rivers – The Third Pole
There is no house or road or bridge or port in South Asia whose builders can claim to have built it with legally obtained sand alone. Illegal mining of sand from riverbeds is so ubiquitous in the subcontinent that on the rare occasions it is stopped temporarily by a judicial order, house prices go up and editorials criticising the judgement are written in financial newspapers.

APEC trade policy on environmental services deliberated – Vietnam News
The dialogue was designed to provide information about the classification of environmental services, study the combination of environmental products and services and discuss ways for APEC member economies to support each other in speeding up negotiations on environmental services.

RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

RESOURCE: Online Security & Privacy Guide for Journalists 2017 – VPN Mentor via Mekong Eye

Protect your sources, information and security with these tools, apps, websites and tips. Useful for journalists, activists and anyone concerned about online privacy. (Also see: Update: Mekong Journalism Workshops and Resources  – Mekong Eye)

RESEARCH PAPER : Economic Evaluation of Hydropower Projects in the Lower Mekong Basin – MFU via Mekong Eye
This paper is an update of a previous study entitled ‘Working Paper on Economic, Environmental and Social Impacts of Hydropower Development in the Lower Mekong Basin’ published in 2015

NEW WEBSITE: Corruption in Coal – advocacy site with info on coal sites in Myanmar, China and global –Corruption in Coal

VIDEO: China’s new Silk Road, explained for American children – QUARTZ

VIDEO:Thai investment abroad affects communities in Dawei, Myanmar. The Thai Human Rights Commission visited to see how– Earth Rights International

DOCUMENTARY: New documentary sheds light on link between gems and war in Myanmar –  Global Witness

 

The Mekong Eye‘s weekly Digest curates news, commentary and resources on development, environmental impacts and related issues affecting the Mekong region. We reach nearly 6000 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.

 

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