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NEWS DIGEST #169

February 28, 2018

Cambodia, Laos losing the last of their trees - Asia Times
Despite official pledges to halt the trade, smugglers in Cambodia and Laos are finding ways to illegally ship timber to neighboring Vietnam. The precious hardwood is often used in furniture factories that ship their products largely to China.
Greenhouse gas emissions of Mekong hydro - Env. Research Letters
New research suggests that Mekong hydropower cannot be considered as low-emission energy. Thier GHG emissions should be carefully considered case-by-case together with the other impacts on the natural and social environment.
Sediment loss in Mekong River killing southern delta - Vietnam+
A recent study conducted by the Agence Francaise de Developpement and the European Union finds that Mekong River sediments arriving down the Cuu Long Delta fell from 65 to 75 percent since the 1990s, and by half over the last few years.
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Mekong countries forge growth plan - Bangkok Post
Member countries of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) are working to develop a master development plan for 2019-23 to strengthen sustainable economic growth and enact better economic management.

Tropical neighbours chase energy goals - Bangkok Post
Recent work by the Stimson Centre, IUCN, the University of California-Berkeley, and The Nature Conservancy shows if Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam take advantage of recent advances in renewable power generation and transmission technologies, they can achieve energy security at significantly lower social, environmental and political risks.

CAMBODIA

Cambodia 'shocked' by 'disrespectful' U.S. aid cut, says democracy intact - Reuters
Cambodia said on Wednesday it was saddened and shocked by a “disrespectful” U.S. decision to rein back aid programs because of perceived democratic setbacks and defended its record on democracy.

Tracking Cambodia's illegal loggers - Deutsche Welle (audio)
The export of Cambodian wood to Vietnam has been banned for five years, but smugglers are still transporting huge quantities across the border. DW's Kris Janssens risked a journey into the depths of Cambodia’s forests to find out more.

The death of Cambodia’s “Highway of Death” - Asian Sentinel
If one is looking for some kind of “Wild East” Adventure in Eastern Cambodia, “the oil palm scourge, which has ravaged so many areas of the tropics, is set to annihilate Cambodia’s last mysterious places too”.

In Cambodia’s courts, it’s a man’s world - Phnom Penh Post
The number of women in the Cambodian judicial system remains stubbornly low, new statistics compiled by the Cambodian National Council for Women show, with the detrimental effects of that imbalance felt throughout the court system.

Cambodia touts plan to slash electricity fees for businesses - Nikkei Asain Review
Cambodia seeks to lower electricity fees for companies in the country to off-set an increase of labor costs due to a higher minimum wage, says a Cambodian minister in charge of foreign direct investment.

Industrial sector grows, but still reliant on garment factories - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia had a total of 1,522 registered factories in 2017, about two-thirds of which produced garments. Though up 37 percent from five years ago, the number is in decline from its all-time high of 1,579 in 2016.

Media under threat: report - Phnom Penh Post
Media outlets in Cambodia have came under increasing threat over the past year, according to a new report by the International Federation of Journalists, though the Ministry of Information, responding to a similar recent report, has insisted freedom of expression and the press is guaranteed in the Kingdom.

LAOS

Why Laos’ reliance on Chinese money could bankrupt the country - ASEAN Today
The government has faced a dilemma. To push Laos’ development forward, it had to spend. With limited capital, it had to borrow the money. It now hopes that its development projects will generate enough funds to pay back the loans.

Global surveys indicate uphill battle for Laos - The Nation
At least three global surveys disclosed their findings recently, with all indicating that Laos is going backwards in term of global development rankings.

Lao detainee dies in custody, relatives doubt official ‘suicide’ claim - RFA
A Lao villager detained since July 2017 in a dispute over village land has died in custody, with relatives challenging government claims that the man had killed himself. Somsavanh, one of a group of 14 villagers in Sekong province held for obstructing workers and cutting down trees on land granted by the Lao government to a Vietnamese rubber company, died almost a month ago.

Second Lao governor dismissed over illegal logging claims - RFA
Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisolith has ordered the governor of the country’s northeastern Xieng Khouang province moved from his job to an obscure government post amid renewed efforts to rein in profiteering from the trade in illegal timber.

Firms to conduct feasibility studies for Vientiane-Pakse highway - Lao News Agency
The Vientiane-Pakse highway is related to the Vientiane-Hanoi highway project. The immediate step will be the negotiation of signing an MoU on conducting a feasibility study and a technical design. (See also: Vientiane-Xayaboury travels smooth - Borneo Bulletin)

MYANMAR

Dawei SEZ is for the few, not the many - Myanmar Times
A few elites will benefit from reviving Dawei SEZ, but what about the rest? Civil society organisations demand authorities to halt the controversial Dawei project and rethink.

Sounding the alarm over abuse of wetlands -  Myanmar Times
Conservationists have expressed grave concern over the deterioration of the country’s wetlands mainly due to pollution, converting them to farmland and climate change. 

Samsung scraps plans to build facilities in Myanmar - Korea Times
Samsung decided not to make any investment as the Myanmar government demanded that Samsung construct power plants and roads (at the company’s own expense) that are essential to build and operate a factory.

Over 190 mining sites to expire, environmental plans drawn up - Myanmar Eleven
Their licences will no longer be available for renewal and environmental management plans are being forged for the mining sites. The licences will be shared among the Union Government and respective States and Regions Government Committees

Trash to treasure: Myanmar start-up spins rubbish into handicrafts - Channel News Asia
Their products are sold at established social-enterprises in downtown Yangon, where they fetch decent prices that reflect the hard work behind the production. Villagers get paid 1,000 kyats (US$0.75) per hour for turning rubbish into goods. Every process is done manually, from selecting usable parts to cleaning and making artistic, eco-friendly products out of them. 
 

THAILAND

Greenpeace appeals to Thai PM to tackle air pollution 'crisis' - Reuters
Air pollution has been under the spotlight in Bangkok, one of the world's most popular tourist cities, with many residents complaining about smog. Greenpeace said Bangkok suffered the worst air pollution in its history between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21.

Environmental fears as EEC plans rushed - The Nation
The most prominent concerns include the shortened period for the Environmental and Health Impact Assessments for EEC projects, the lack of public participation of people living in the development area and unsolved environmental problems from its predecessor project, the Eastern Seaboard Development Programme.

Ministry downplays need for southern power plants - Bangkok Post
The government says construction of new large-scale power plants in southern Thailand is unlikely over the next five years, arguing that existing power plants are capable of meeting demand. (See also: Energy minister: No construction of mega power plant in the South in five years - Thai PBS, Scrap coal energy plans - (editorial) Bangkok Post)

Why the derailing of the Japan-Thailand train deal makes sense - The Diplomat
Japan’s diplomatic ambition to compete with China in maintaining its foothold in Thailand is at risk following a failed deal for the high-speed train project between the Japanese and Thai governments. Might this suggest a more unpredictable trajectory for their bilateral ties, or does the derailing make sense for both sides?

High-speed rail linking 3 airports wins first nod - Bangkok Post
The Eastern Economic Corridor Board has approved in principle a 260km high-speed train project seamlessly linking Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-Tapao airports at a cost of 200 billion baht.

Thailand sets up technological center for Belt and Road Initiative - Xinhua
The National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) together with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has announced the Digital Belt and Road (DBAR) International Center of Excellence Bangkok to focus on cooperation on climate change, disaster risk reduction, environmental research, capacity building, among others.

VIETNAM

Is Vietnam going the way of China? - The Diplomat
2017 saw an unprecedented shake-up in Vietnam’s elite leadership, as the CPV purged many high-profile officials for corruption, economic mismanagement, deliberate violations of state regulations, embezzlement, and abuse of power. These moves have helped to establish General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong as Vietnam’s most powerful leader in decades. Within such a context, Vietnam is slowly crawling from one-party to one-man rule, just like China under Xi.

Hundreds protest against polluting steel factories - Vietnam Express
Hundreds of people have been protesting outside two factories in Da Nang since Monday night demanding authorities fulfill their promise to relocate people from the polluted area.

Vietnam lags behind region in economic freedom - Vietnam Net
Though Vietnam has managed a modest rise in its overall score, it still is at the bottom position in the region in the latest ranking by the US-based Heritage Foundation in terms of economic freedom.

US$5.4 billion petrochemical complex starts construction - The Nation
The project, at Long Sơn Commune, Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu Province, 100km away from HCM City, is the first integrated petrochemical complex in Vietnam with total olefins capacity of 1.6 million tonnes each year. It is designed to produce various petrochemical products, including essential plastic materials such as polyethylene, polypropylene and other products in excess of 2 million tonnes each year.

Finance Ministry proposes environmental tax hike - Vietnam+
Taxes on oil and petroleum products are proposed to go up from 3,000 VND (13 US cents) to the ceiling level of 4,000 VND (17 cents) per litre beginning July 1, 2018. Plastic bags are also expected to see higher environmental taxes, rising from the current 30,000 VND to 50,000 VND per kilo, if the proposal is approved.

India, Vietnam set to ink nuclear energy pact, boost defense tie - LiveMint
In a move that could put China on the back foot, strategic partners India and Vietnam are to boost defence ties and sign pacts on civil nuclear cooperation and port development during a visit by Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang later this week.

EU helps Vietnam’s rural areas access sustainable energy - Vietnam+
The programme is expected to help the Vietnamese Government fulfil the target of providing electricity for 1.2 million rural households from 2013-2020, while enhancing State management in the energy sector to facilitate the country’s transition towards a more sustainable energy sector. 

REGIONAL/GLOBAL CONTEXT

Can Japan compete with China over development aid? - Deutsche Welle
Japan's net official development assistance (ODA) comes to around US$10.4 billion (€8.5 billion) a year, representing 0.2 percent of gross national income and making Japan the fourth largest donor nation in the world and the largest in Asia. Yet, Tokyo finds itself in competition with China, which has deeper pockets and fewer scruples about the governments that it chooses to support.

Asian coal demand to offset EU and US decline - Nikkei Asian Review
Although the cost of producing renewable energy is falling, coal retains a competitive edge given that it is not subject to seasonal or climatic factors, and that advanced technologies have improved efficiency and lowered emissions. (See also: ASEAN could face a crisis over its appetite for coal - Global Risk Insights; Southeast Asia: hotspot for renewables or dumping ground for coal? - Green ID; Renewables to drive economic growth in SE Asia - PV Magazine)

The future of fish farming - Eco Business
For the long term, experts generally offer two ways forward: land-based recirculating systems and offshore aquaculture. Both could potentially mitigate the negative externalities of aquaculture and make fish production sustainable well into the future.

River deltas: Scaling up community-driven approaches to sustainable intensification - CGIAR
The residents of the Ganges and Mekong River deltas face serious challenges from rising sea levels, saltwater intrusion, pollution from upstream sources, growing populations, and infrastructure that no longer works as planned. In both deltas, scientists working for nearly two decades with communities, local governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have demonstrated the potential to overcome these challenges and substantially improve people’s livelihoods. 

BGrimm gets ADB funding for boost to Asean energy - The Nation
ADB’s financing will support BGrimm Power’s implementation of the Asean Distributed Power Project, which will expand renewable and distributed power generation into new markets in Asean including Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam. 
The Mekong Eye's weekly News Digest curates news, commentary and resources on development, its environmental and social impacts, and the context affecting the Mekong region. We reach nearly 6000 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists. Submit stories, press releases, resources or feedback to: editor@mekongeye.com
 
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