Mekong: a river rising | The Guardian


The fate of 70 million people rests on what happens to the Mekong river. With world leaders meeting in Paris for crucial UN climate talks, John Vidal journeys down south-east Asia’s vast waterway – a place that encapsulates some of the dilemmas they must solve. He meets people struggling to deal with the impacts of climate change as well as the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities

John Vidal’s first stop along the river is the tiny country of Laos. Fifty years ago, Laos began to build a series of giant dams. It was the first chance the country had to generate the electricity and money needed to emerge from deep poverty. But is this demand for clean energy creating ecological and human havoc?

Read more at Mekong: a river rising / The Guardian


China’s Achilles’ heel in Southeast Asia | The Strategist

… for many reasons, Beijing’s goal to bolster its position in Southeast Asia at Washington’s expense is very likely to fail. First, regional leaders understand very well that one cancelled presidential trip to Southeast Asia doesn’t equal a change in the US’s Asia strategy. Key regional powers such as Malaysia and Indonesia acknowledged Obama’s imperative to stay at home. Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry attended both meetings and delivered the key message Southeast Asian countries wanted to hear: America expects China and its neighbours to peacefully resolve their territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Second, this message exposed China’s Achilles’ heel in Southeast Asia: while ASEAN claimants are eager to talk, Beijing isn’t willing to compromise on its extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea. In Darussalam, China’s Premier Li Keqiang not only reiterated Beijing’s ‘indisputable rights’ within the ‘nine-dash’ line, he also warned countries not directly involved, including Australia and Japan, to stay out of the disputes. So China didn’t make much progress in persuading Southeast Asian countries about its benign intentions. Put simply, its assertive behaviour in the South China Sea has caused an almost intractable trust deficit between Beijing and ASEAN countries. It also provides an avenue for external players such as India and Japan to increase their security role in Southeast Asia.

via China’s Achilles’ heel in Southeast Asia | The Strategist.

Environmental Issues in Southeast Asia | Fair Observer°

While Southeast Asian nations encourage political actions in favor of economic growth, they struggle to promote sustainable development approaches. Governments claim to work on a balanced approach that compromises both sectors.

The reality of the situation, however, reveals that governments tend to act in contradictory manners in their creations of sustainable economies.

The European Union’s decision to subsidize biofuels was once seen as a necessary step to reduce greenhouse gas savings. However, people are beginning to criticize this decision, as the subsidization of biofuels has driven up food prices and contributed to deforestation.  And indeed, palm oil monocultures in Indonesia are clearly connected to – and may even cause —  aspects of social impoverishment and ecological tragedies. Yet another debate is the massive damming projects in Laos. While promoted as a component of sustainable development, the dams provoke critique from civil society movements and riparian states who see the dams as a threat to the ecological functioning of the Mekong River. Ecotourism is yet another example of a concept which is meant to preserve nature, but in fact is responsible for an irreversible impact on people’s livelihoods all over Southeast Asia.

Whether it is rising sea levels, the devastation of the rainforests, or greenhouse gas emission, it has become evident that environmental issues do not halt at nations’ borders. Environmental issues ought to be seen as transnational problems. Hence, policy makers in Southeast Asia are under increasing pressure to reconfigure their environmental policies to satisfy their citizens’ needs on a national level. Furthermore, Southeast Asian governments must foster a multilateral dialogue to avoid simply procrastinating problems.

via Environmental Issues in Southeast Asia | Fair Observer°.

Firms urged to tap growing middle-class market in GMS – The Nation

Bangkok Bank has urged Thai businesses to have a more active role in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) in terms of trading activities and investment, in order to tap the growing middle-class market in those countries.

Speaking at the bank’s “Trade Logistics in Greater Mekong Sub-region: GMS” seminar yesterday, executive vice president Kobsak Pootrakool said the high level of gross-domestic-product growth in emerging GMS countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar presented a great opportunity for Thai enterprises.

Cambodia has annual GDP growth of 7 per cent, while Laos’ economy is expanding by 8 per cent and Myanmar\’s by 7 per cent, he said. He said that growth in the emerging economies of the GMS, which have a combined population of around 150 million, had led to a rising number of middle-class consumers and demand for electronic gadgets and new-technology products.

“Thailand has expertise in producing those products and people in the GMS prefer buying products from Thailand, as they have confidence in our products,” said Kobsak. Thai apparel, furniture, rubber and processed products are all in high demand in GMS countries, and especially in Myanmar, he added.

via Firms urged to tap growing middle-class market in GMS – The Nation.

China’s Ambitions for the Greater Mekong Region | Asia Sentinel

Driving out of the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane one sees a large billboard featuring the overseas campus of Suzhou University in China. In a coffee shop in Vientiane two Chinese businessmen talked about the prospect of a new venture to extract copper in northern Laos. Just across the border from China in Boten, a local Lao driver talks in Chinese about the trucks full of fruit from Thailand parked minutes away from the border checkpoint near the a Chinese-built casino ghost town that once ruled the area. And on the outskirts of Yunnan’s capital city of Kunming, China’s fourth largest airport behind Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, Changshui International Airport, was opened in mid-2012.

While seemingly disparate, these anecdotes reveal the ambition of China’s “Go Southwest” strategy to politically and economically connect Southeast Asia to the PRC.

Integrating with Southeast Asia

Integrating with Southeast Asia is a key component of the PRC’s approach to multi-pronged regionalization. PRC-instigated globalization and regionalization unleashes a dual process of de-bordering and re-bordering in which the traditional barrier role of borders is yielding more to that of bridges.

As a result, once small, marginal, and remote border cities and towns have become larger and lively centers of trade, tourism, and other flows. China’s effort to engage Southeast Asia leaves many local footprints within and beyond the cities of the greater Mekong sub-region, which was launched in 1992 and consists of Yunnan Province, with the later addition of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

China’s trade with each of the subregion’s countries has grown since 1990, most rapidly since 2000. Yunnan’s advantageous geographic location has helped the province’s GDP skyrocket from US$31 billion in 2000 to US$165 billion in 2012, and even stronger cross-border economic and trade ties will promote the province’s goal of doubling that to US$329 billion by 2017.

Urban development is playing a leading role in stimulating this growth, and it is emerging as a polity priority in the next phase of development. On 6 May 2011, the PRC’s State Council issued the document entitled, “Supporting the Accelerated Construction of Yunnan as the Important Outpost for the Southwest Region.” This is a critical part of a broader ambitious plan to build up Kunming as a comprehensive center of trade, transportation, tourism, education, and R&D that reaches the bordering countries of Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and beyond.

via China’s Ambitions for the Greater Mekong Region | Asia Sentinel.

Reintegrating victims of human trafficking: Evidence from the Greater Mekong

Determining the number of people trafficked worldwide is exceedingly difficult, and of course the number of people assisted is a small fraction of the total number of victims. This makes the following statistic even more confronting: in 2012, 14,000 children and 9000 women were rescued from human trafficking in China’s Yunan Province alone.

A human rights think tank, the Nexus Institute, has released a new report on reintegrating victims of human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (the report was sponsored by the Governments of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking). Based on research with hundreds of victims of human trafficking, it concludes:

Trafficked persons throughout the Greater Mekong Sub-region have suffered diverse and often very complex and traumatic trafficking experiences. Many have received a range of assistance and support in their post-trafficking lives, intended to help them overcome and move on from their experiences. Trafficked persons have often experienced very positive post-trafficking pathways. Many have been identified in a timely and sensitive manner, referred for assistance in the immediate aftermath of trafficking, assisted to return home and offered a raft of support and services toward their sustainable (re)integration in their home community and country. A number of trafficked persons interviewed for this study were now successfully (re)integrated in their families and communities, and had moved on from their trafficking experience. Much can be learned from these experiences and “successes” in the design of future (re)integration programmes and policies.

via Reintegrating victims of human trafficking: Evidence from the Greater Mekong.

Mekong countries to try to end dog trade | Bangkok Post: news

Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are trying to save dogs, supposedly man’s best friend, from restaurants in Vietnam, where they have most favoured meat status.

The four governments agreed in principle to put an end to the trade in dogs for human consumption at a recent meeting in Hanoi, with a pledge to interdict the trafficking of canines from one country to another for the next five years.

The move, if successful, could save an estimate five million dogs from being slaughtered and eaten each year, according to the Asia Canine Protection Alliance, which spearheaded the meeting.

The alliance comprises the Change For Animals Foundation, Humane Society International, Animals Asia and the Soi Dog Foundation. It brought together anti dog-trade campaigners to meet officials of the four countries.

Smugglers in Thailand and traders in Cambodia and Laos all supply dogs to Vietnam where they are killed, cooked and served up in restaurants. Thai dog smugglers regularly take the animals across the Mekong River to Laos, from where they are sent on to Vietnam. Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and Bung Kan are the main provinces where dog smugglers operate. The dogs are transported in crowded, unhumane cages.

via Mekong countries to try to end dog trade | Bangkok Post: news.